Township Deer Hunting Program To Be Subject Of Open Space Committee Review

The township’s Open Space Advisory Committee is set to review Franklin’s deer hunting program, with an eye toward possibly recommending its expansion.

With its last recommendation on the subject barely seven months old, the Open Space Advisory Committee Jan. 16 agreed to take a “full-scale” look at the township’s deer hunting program.

The decision came after Mayor Phil Kramer told the committee that some members of the Township Council were interested in exploring expanding the program.

Discussion on the program will probably be scheduled for the committee’s March and April meetings.

Township Administrator Robert Vornlocker suggested that deer management experts be brought in during those meetings to review the township’s options for dealing with the deer population.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here who’s suited to make those recommendations, that’s why I think we need to bring someone in,” Vornlocker said.

A final recommendation needs to be made by May, to be able to get whatever necessary signage up for the start of the next hunting season, which begins in September.

The Township Council last dealt with the issue in July 2017, when it adopted a recommendation by the Open Space Committee to limit firearms hunting in Negri Nepote Native Grassland Preserve and the Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve/Bunker Hill Environmental Center during hunting season 3, which runs from late November to early February. The Trails Advisory Committee and the Wildlife Control Committee, both of which also reviewed the policy, recommended against the change.

That recommendation came at the request of several township residents, who successfully argued that people who use the preserves for hiking and walking should be given more time to do so.

Kramer suggested that the committee create a chart listing all of the properties in Franklin on which hunting is permitted, the options for hunting on those individual properties, and the expected impact on the deer herd.

From there, he said, the council could make its decisions.

“The way you do it,” Vornlocker said, “is you get somebody here who can get us off the ground with the choices that we have. Then we can do a cost analysis on it and we can do an impact analysis on it, then we can make a recommendation that makes sense.”

Committee member Robert Puskas, who is a farmer and hunter, said that there isn’t much more the township can do because hunting is not permitted on many properties on which deer gather.

He said that there are properties owned by Rutgers University on which deer hunting is not permitted, as well as “Colonial Park that harbor the deer, we’ve got zoning for large lot areas, and now those large lots are harboring deer, so … need to look at township-owned properties, and see what we can get aggressive about.”

He also noted that deer-favorite parks such as Inman and Middlebush are also off-limits to hunters.

Vornlocker said the township does have other options for those kinds of properties.

“You can bring in professional hunters who can work at night, and who can work in parks where they won’t be limited to 450 feet, because that’s not how that program works,” he said. Firearms hunters are required to be 450 feet away from the nearest home.

“They can go into Inman Park, or they can go into Middlebush Park, they can go into Colonial Park if the county allows it,” he said.” Shut the park down, limit access, do it at night. This is not sport, this is deer management. That’s an option. It costs money. They don’t do it for free, they don’t do it for deer meat in the freezer.”

Vornlocker said that another option is to “lobby the (state Department of Environmental Protection) to change the regulations for Six Mile Run to allow shotgun hunting. To be perfectly honest with you, the bow hunters can do a decent job, they get more days, but it’s a whole lot more of a challenge to shoot a deer with a bow than it is with a shotgun.”

“And if you open that property up to shotgun hunting, you open it up to more opportunity to bring the number of the herd down,” he said. “That’s 2,600 acres in the middle of our town that right now is off-limits to shotgun hunters, unless it’s leased property by a farmer that’s then allowed as part of their deer management plan to have hunters with shotguns.”

Puskas noted what he said were two problems with Vornlocker’s idea.

“The first problem we have is (Gov. Phil Murphy) is anti-hunting,” he said. “And the second problem we’ve got, if you’re going to open up Six Mile Run … the problem you’re going to run into is with your (mountain) bikers. They control what goes on in Six Mile Run, and they will have you by the neck. They have free run of what they do out there, and the state doesn’t care.”

Vornlocker said the committee in 2016 had a speaker from the state DEP’s Fish and Wildlife Division who talked about “community based deer management programs, which allow a municipality to expand beyond the limits of the state as far as seasons are concerned. You’re limited in the number of days people can hunt with shotguns by the state.”

“If you create this community based deer management program, the town can expand that beyond the dates that the state allows, only for your properties, ones you have control over,” he said.” That’s also going to limit the number of days and the times of day that these properties are open to others.”


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