WEST AMWELL/LAMBERTVILLE: Deer graze away at the Sourland forest understory

Forum to concentrate on deer management

By Gene Robbins, Packet Media Group
   Deer are killing the Sourland Mountain.
   Overpopulation of white-tailed deer is “the greatest single threat to the health of the Sourland forest,” says a press release from the Sourland Conservancy, a nonprofit organization working to protect the 90-square-mile area of the mountain that lies in parts of seven municipalities in Somerset, Hunterdon and Mercer counties.
   The Sourland Conservancy will sponsor a free symposium from 7-9 tonight, Thursday, Nov. 21, to educate residents and landowners about “responsible hunting” at Otto Kaufman Community Center, 356 Skillman Road, Montgomery Township.
   Conservancy President Cliff Wilson has given presentations to the Hillsborough Open Space Advisory Board and Environmental Commission and the Montgomery Open Space Committee. He is scheduled to present to Montgomery’s Environmental Commission in early December.
   His talk covered the results of a conservancy survey on the impacts of white-tailed deer overpopulation on human health and the health of the Sourland forest.
   The conservancy says on its website that the Sourland forest’s understory is being nibbled away by an overpopulation of white-tailed deer destroying saplings and seedlings, leaving no “next generation” as mature trees die. Invasive plants proliferate, creating permanent holes in the forest, the website says.
      In much of the Sourlands, the deer population is more than 80 per square mile — about 15 times the sustainable level, it says.
   Effects of too many deer on humans include epidemic levels of Lyme disease (spread by deer ticks), high rates of automobile accidents, and the destruction of gardens and landscaping.
   The conservancy would like these groups to urge their townships to ask Somerset County to open its 3,200-acre Sourland Preserve to hunting, said Caroline Katmann, executive director of the conservancy.
   Tonight’s symposium will feature presentations on the impacts of deer overpopulation, basic hunting rules and regulations, and a review of local deer management efforts. The presentations will be followed by a question-and-answer period and a panel discussion. Refreshments and time for socializing will follow at the end of the program.
   Symposium attendees will get previews of two programs:
   — The Hunter Connection, a new web site that will help landowners find responsible hunters for their Sourland-area properties, and
   — The Venison Connection, a program that will help non-hunters get access to fresh venison.
   Another prong of the deer management program — to facilitate more hunting access on privately owned land — will be discussed at the symposium.
   The conservancy is working on a Sourland deer management plan through funding of the Raritan-Piedmont Wildlife Habitat Partnership and the state Department of Environmental Protection. The deer management symposium is one of the education and outreach components of the deer management plan.
   The Sourland Mountain lies in parts of Lambertville and East and West Amwell townships in Hunterdon County, Hillsborough and Montgomery in Somerset and Hopewell Borough and Township in Mercer.
   The conservancy’s stated mission is to protect ecological integrity, historic resources and special character of the Sourland Mountain region. Learn about the Sourland Mountain region and the Sourland Conservancy at www.sourland.org.
   Advance registration is requested for tonight. Visit the events page at www.sourland.org to register. For information, email director@sourland.org.