2012-01-05 / Front Page

Cheesequake deer hunt over after reaching 100 mark

Bow hunt at state park lasted 87 days; state may hold again later this year
BY CHRIS ZAWISTOWSKI
Staff Writer

Just over four months since the first arrow was shot, the deer hunt is over at Cheesequake State Park.

Bow hunters removed 100 deer during the 87-day hunt, helping to reduce a massive deer population that threatened the future ecosystem of the park, said park Superintendent David Donnelly.

With no injuries or safety issues reported, Donnelly said he was pleased with the way the hunt was run.

“It was very safe — that was the key focus. And it was very efficient,” Donnelly said. “It worked out great.”

With pre-hunt research finding nearly 200 deer in the approximately 2.5-squaremile park, Donnelly said reducing that population was important as the animals were over-consuming and harming native plants and trees in the forest. The loss of vegetation could spell trouble down the road for Cheesequake, Donnelly said, as the plants are vital in protecting the soil in the watershed and for supplying food to other animals in the park.

Park officials will do distance sampling in the spring to determine the park’s deer population and then decide whether to hold another deer hunt next year.

“We will look at the numbers next year and see if we have to do it again,” Donnelly said. “If we do it again, it will be just as efficient and just as safe.”

While he did hear some complaints from local residents as well as some of the 50 permitted hunters, Donnelly said all were very cooperative throughout the process, and he thanked both sides “for their efforts and cooperation [in] helping us to conserve our natural resources in the park.”

Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry also said he thinks the hunt went well, noting that the huge deer population at the park had to be dealt with.

“They didn’t do this just to do it,” Henry said. “They had just cause.”

But with the park so small, some oncefrequent parkgoers are still concerned with the way Cheesequake officials handled the hunt.

Old Bridge resident Nancy Kimmel, who noted that she is not speaking in her capacity as a park volunteer, said she used to walk around the park every day prior to the hunt. But once it started, she only went on Sundays, when there was no hunting allowed, before finally stopping altogether. Because the park is so small and located in such a populated area, Kimmel said a season-long hunt is simply inappropriate.

“I couldn’t go in there while there was hunting because I didn’t want one of my dogs speared by an arrow,” Kimmel said. “They let the hunters have a run of the park.”

She also takes issue with the reporting system. Hunters contacted the park or checked in online when they removed a deer instead of going to a check-in station. Kimmel said that this could encourage some hunters to skip reporting their kills in an effort to extend the hunt.

“There was no oversight whatsoever,” Kimmel said.

But Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the new system is actually more ef- fective than the paper-based check-in system. He noted that hunters currently could still flout the system — perhaps by not bringing a deer they killed to the check-in station — but there will still be random checks to keep hunters as honest as possible.

And through the observations ofworkers in the field, he said that 99 percent of hunters play by the rules, and those who don’t are caught and punished.

Contact Chris Zawistowski at czawistowski@gmnews.com.

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