Top deer cull opponent arrested at bait site

Head of Mercer County Deer Alliance charged with contaminating area in Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve.

By: David Campbell
   The head of Mercer County Deer Alliance was charged this week with contaminating a deer bait site at the Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve set up as part of Princeton Township’s deer-management program, which began its fourth year of culling this week.
   Township police said Nancy Bowman of East Windsor admitted to spraying an over-the-counter chemical animal repellant on feed at the bait site because she did not agree with the township’s culling of the deer herd.
   An employee of White Buffalo Inc. observed a woman spraying something on a deer bait site in the reserve off Route 206 and Mountain Avenue around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Police were summoned and approached the individual, later identified as Ms. Bowman, as she was spraying repellant on feed at the site, police said.
   Ms. Bowman, 62, who heads animal-advocacy group Mercer County Deer Alliance, which has long opposed the township cull on grounds it is inhumane and a threat to public safety, faces a fine of up to $1,250 and up to 90 days of jail time or community service, police said.
   Falk Engel, Ms. Bowman’s attorney, said Wednesday that the Deer Alliance has been a longtime advocate of deer repellant as an alternative to lethal culling.
   But Mr. Engel said the police allegations against his client appear to stem from an isolated incident, not from an organized effort or campaign by the animal-advocacy group.
   "It’s certainly not part of any Deer Alliance activities," continued Mr. Engel, who noted that Ms. Bowman regularly sprays the repellant on vegetation around the Mountain Lakes House where he said she works. She is office manager for Friends of Princeton Open Space, which maintains offices at the house.
   Mr. Engel said the incident Tuesday was a "personal confrontation" between Ms. Bowman and a White Buffalo staffer.
   While deer watching in the reserve woods, she demonstratively sprayed repellant on the ground in front of the staffer because he had been following her around through the woods for some time, the attorney said.
   "This was a purely personal confrontation between two people in the woods who obviously are on opposing sides of a political issue," Mr. Engel said.
   The fourth year of the township’s deer-management program began Monday night and to date 18 deer have been killed, White Buffalo President Anthony DeNicola said Wednesday. Sixteen deer were culled on Monday and two on Tuesday.
   White Buffalo did not work Wednesday night due to windy weather but planned to resume culling Thursday night, Mr. DeNicola said Thursday.
   Poor weather has proven problematic to the program all week. Mr. DeNicola had said Monday that the start of the cull would likely be postponed to Tuesday night due to heavy rains, but the program began Monday night despite the foul conditions.
   Mr. DeNicola’s Connecticut-based firm has contracted with the township for up to $155,000 to cull deer at bait sites with rifles and captive bolting, and to immunize deer under a pilot birth-control program currently under way in the southeastern part of the municipality.
   Work by White Buffalo in the township this winter is expected to last from five to six weeks. Mr. DeNicola has said he expects to reduce the herd by 150 to 200 deer to the township’s goal density of about 20 to 22 deer per square mile — a population of roughly 350 animals total.
   In October, Susan Martka, lead biologist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, estimated the township’s herd at around 610 deer, or about 48 deer per square mile. In 2001, before culling began, the herd was estimated at around 1,600 deer.
   While this could be the final year of all-out culling under a program that began in 2001, Mr. DeNicola has said he will likely return in subsequent winters to trim the herd by 75 to 100 deer annually.
   White Buffalo has set up 38 bait sites in the township this winter — 35 on private property and three on public land.
   Sharpshooting will be the preferred method where it can be conducted safely and with legal authorization, while captive bolting will be used where firearms cannot, specifically south of Rosedale Road to Mercer Road and in the neighborhood of Cherry Hill Road, according to White Buffalo.
   Captive bolting, which has proven controversial for the township, kills with a retractable metal bolt to an animal’s head.
   In conjunction with culling, Mr. DeNicola will continue the deer birth-control pilot program begun last winter in the southeast corner of the township.
   Twenty does were vaccinated last winter — three of which have since died — using the experimental one-shot drug SpayVac. Mr. DeNicola has said he plans to vaccinate about 50 more deer this winter.
   Including animals culled Monday and Tuesday of this week, a total of 923 deer have been culled since the township program began in 2001.