The Sourland Conservancy advocates for policy and legal change, to communicate its mission, and to provide education on these subjects.
We reach out to officials in all branches of government and to members of the public. We often partner with other civic groups and work to galvanize members and supporters to take action on issues that benefit the environment, renewable energy, stewardship, living sustainably, historical and cultural values, and other important aspects of the Sourlands Region.
The overpopulation of white-tailed deer poses an existential threat to the the Sourlands, where the deer population can reach more than 130 per square mile — more than 10 times the sustainable level.
The effects on humans include epidemic levels of Lyme disease (spread by deer ticks), high rates of automobile accidents, and the destruction of gardens and landscaping.
Because deer browse and kill nearly all the saplings and seedlings they encounter, the herd poses an existential threat to the forest itself. As mature trees die, there are few viable young trees to take their place. Invasive plants proliferate in these openings, creating permanent holes in the forest.
Why manage deer? Aren’t deer a natural part of the ecosystem?
White-tailed deer are important native animals in intact natural ecosystems. However, the scale of the deer population has exploded beyond the carrying capacity of our remaining wild landscapes.
Deer overpopulation has had negative impacts on native plants and wildlife, agriculture and human health, and the health of the deer themselves.
In the Sourlands, deer population counts from spring 2013 project a post-birthing population of 135 deer/square mile. This is more than 13 times the estimate of 10/square mile that wildlife biologists have made for deer populations before the year 1492.
In our area, natural predators of deer — bears, wolves, cougars and bobcats — have been eliminated, or very nearly so. Human hunting patterns have changed from year-round subsistence hunting practiced by Native Americans and early colonists to seasonal hunting with an emphasis on taking trophy bucks instead of does.
At the same time, forests have been fragmented by development, creating more of the edge-of-woods, suburban, and agricultural habitat preferred by deer. These factors have permitted the deer population to grow to an unsustainable extent.
What impacts do deer overpopulation have?
Deer overpopulation causes adverse economic impacts, human health and safety issues, and ecological degradation.
Human Health and Safety
Deer are now the second-largest cause of automobile accidents in New Jersey, trailing only drunken driving.
The current epidemic of Lyme disease — a serious and potentially debilitating infectious disease — is largely attributable to deer ticks.
Farmers in New Jersey suffer crop losses of over $15 million annually due to deer herbivory. Damage to landscaping in neighboring New York State amounts to $49 million annually, no figures were available for New Jersey. The economic impact of deer-vehicle collisions in New Jersey is $38 million dollars a year.
Impact on Other Wildlife and Plants
A healthy forest should have canopy trees, saplings, shrubs, and an herb layer of flowers and grasses. Unsustainable levels of deer browse inhibit tree regeneration and decrease diversity and abundance of native wildflowers and shrubs.
Degradation of natural plant communities directly impacts the numerous wildlife species that depend on native plants for shelter and sustenance, dramatically diminishing populations of species ranging from songbirds to butterflies.
The destruction of tree seedlings and saplings means that when canopy trees die, there are no juvenile trees to replace them.
Deer overbrowse also leads to the invasion of non-native plant species, which fill the void left by the disappearance of native plants but do not adequately fill ecological roles as sustenance and structure for wildlife.
How much property do I need in order to hunt?
Deer hunting can occur on any property as long as hunters are at least 150ft (bowhunting) or 450ft (guns) from the nearest potentially occupied structure. Hunting within these safety zones is also possible but requires permission from all affected property owners and/or neighbors whose zones are hunted within.
How can I find a hunter?
Hunters are often looking for huntable land. Spreading the word among friends, family, and acquaintances can result in finding hunters for your property. However, it is important to interview potential hunters to establish a level of trust and to ensure that prospective hunters are willing to work towards your deer management goals.
Hunters are sometimes willing to pay for the privilege of hunting land. Alternately, the service of deer herd reduction can be looked at as adequate compensation for hunting access.
What hunter safety measures are in place?
All hunters in New Jersey are required to be licensed by the State’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. The licensing process includes hunter education as well as marksmanship testing.
Safety zones, as described above, reduce the risk of hunting related accidents by buffering potentially occupied structures.
The common practice of hunting from an elevated stand and shooting downward reduces the potential travel distance of arrows and shot.
Many land management entities require that hunters carry $1 million in general liability insurance. This insurance coverage is easily available to hunters through sportsmen’s associations.
How does deer management differ from deer hunting?
Deer management employs hunting in a strategic manner with the goal of bringing the deer herd into balance with the carrying capacity of the land and reducing impacts to human health and the economy.
Deer hunting without management techniques does not necessarily result in positive changes to population numbers.
A game management philosophy known as “Quality Deer Management” has widespread support among hunters and wildlife managers. Many of the management recommendations below are adapted from the QDM philosophy.
How do hunters benefit from a management approach?
Bringing the deer herd into balance with the carrying capacity of the land is a critical ecological service provided to us by the hunting community.
Hunters benefit from management outcomes by having larger, healthier deer to hunt, including dramatically larger bucks. A more appropriate balance of female and male deer and variety of age classes leads to deer herd dynamics and behavior that are more natural and leads to more challenging and rewarding sport.
Reducing population densities can also reduce the spread of epidemic diseases within the deer herd.
The Sourland Conservancy is a leader in the fight against this dirty, dangerous pipeline.
The PennEast pipeline is a proposed pipeline construction project headed by company PennEast. The pipeline would run through Pennsylvania to New Jersey, even cutting into our own beloved Sourland Mountain region. Penn East has claimed it will be beneficial for residents, but has not denied that fracked gas may be sent to offshore companies. Families will be uprooted from their homes, preserved natural areas will be ripped up, ecosystems will be permanently damaged and potential pollution can leak into waterways.
In recent news, New Jersey took PennEast to the Supreme Court because they were planning on taking 40 parcels of land. Many counties and organizations have spent billions of dollars to preserve farmland, wildlife habitat, and recreational lands that are supposed to be legally protected from further development. At least 31 streams designated by NJDEP as “Category One” water bodies due to their strong ecological worth will be destroyed. The value this land holds is immeasurable.
Unfortunately on June 27, the Court ruled that PennEast had been properly delegated the power of eminent domain from the federal government, to which by their nature, states had agreed upon joining the union. In other words, privileged companies, like PennEast, are permitted to take public land through eminent domain.
While this ruling is not the outcome we had anticipated, there is still hope! New Jersey can still continue to stop the progression of this pipeline through the rejection of permits that PennEast must request. Sign the petition here to urge Governor Murphy to fight against PennEast and its destructive pipeline!
Updated July 2021
Moratorium on new fossil fuel projects
The Sourland Conservancy is a founding member of a coalition of civic groups supporting a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects. Instead of approving new fossil fuel energy projects – like more fossil-fuel pipelines, coal burning power plants and the like – that will continue our reliance on dirty energy generation, public policy should promote the transition to renewable energy and clean energy jobs. You can watch our Board of Trustees President, Dante DiPirro, speak at the State Capital against the proposed PennEast Pipeline at the December 5, 2018 rally for a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects.
The Sourland Conservancy continues to monitor and advocate for measures that will protect water quality, safeguard wetlands, and control noise pollution at the Gibraltar Quarry in Montgomery Township on the Eastern portion of the Sourlands. Please see our Stewardship page to learn more about becoming a Sourland Stream Monitor.
East Amwell Helipad
The Sourland Conservancy has testified against the proposal to construct a helipad in East Amwell and has marshaled the presentation of data on the potential harm to wildlife and recreation.
Hillsborough Country Club
April 2020 update: Under pressure from the Conservancy and its partners, the applicant withdrew their request for a variance at this critical location. We will continue to monitor developments in this area.