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Deer hunt Investigation Launched Regarding Violations Of County Rules


Following some 30 complaints from residents, Union County Police Chief Richard Mannix announced at the March 13 Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting that he has launched an investigation to determine if sharpshooters had violated the rules of the county’s deer hunt. The hunt, which began January 4, ended on March 14.

Chief Mannix explained that his office is looking into whether sharpshooters went beyond the boundaries and time schedules set by county officials. These guidelines were hand-delivered by a county courier to all residences within the Watchung Reservation where the hunts have been conducted the past three years.

Residents have alleged that the marksmen got too close to homes in the Watchung Reservation.

The Freeholders approved the first hunt in the history of the 2,000-acre reservation in 1993. Hunters, which were picked through a lottery system, conducted the first hunt in the winter of 1994. Sharpshooters, many of which are law enforcement officers, were utilized the following year in an effort to reduce the overall cost of the program.

Following the recommendations of the Watchung Reservation Deer Management Subcommittee, which was formed to address deer overpopulation in 1993, a five-year program of controlled shooting was approved by the Freeholders in 1993.

The deer management program, the first of its kind in the state, was approved to help restore "a balance in the park’s ecology in order to preserve it for future generations," according to a letter distributed to the 1,500 homes in the reservation this winter.

Patricia Bryden of Mountainside, a mother of two children, said the deer hunts have a harmful impact on the "quality of life" of her children. She said her children are afraid to be driven through the reservation.

"Your guidelines have been broken chronically," she said, noting that the most recent violation occurred on March 7 along West Tracy Drive in the area of the Prospect Street water tower.

Mrs. Bryden said that, according to the county guidelines on the hunt, the water tower was one of the areas listed as a non-shooting area. However, she said as she drove down the two-lane roadway gun shots were fired "over our heads."

She noted that a number of pedestrians were walking in the area at the time "because we thought your guidelines were gospel."

Mrs. Bryden said the shots have caused dogs to bark as well as the activation of house alarms. She asked the board to change the county law to forbid hunting in the reservation. The Freeholders amended that county ordinance in order to hold the first hunt. The change remains in effect today.

Denise Suskie, also of Mountainside, informed the board of another violation of the guidelines which occurred on February 28.

She said while driving with her mother-in-law and 4-year-old, she observed hunters crossing Summit Lane near the Watchung Stables -- another area listed as off limits for marksmen.

According to the guidelines, it would be "rare" for shots to be fired between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mrs. Suskie said when she questioned the hunters, they informed her that Parks and Recreation officials had told them "rules and regulations had changed" from those sent to residents.

She said shooting had been occurring behind the homes of residents. County guidelines state that hunters may not come closer than 600 feet of homes.

"We are being terrorized in that park. This has to stop," Mrs. Suskie said.

Freeholder Chairwoman Linda d. Stender said an aerial survey was slated to be completed last week to determine how much the deer herd was reduced by the hunt.

Mrs. Stender said the board will wait for county police to gather information regarding the allegations made concerning the deer hunt before discussing the issue further.

She said she expected the board "to take a close look at the whole program" once all the information regarding this winter’s program has been released by county parks officials.

William Russell of Scotch Plains, whose wife serves on the Deer Management Subcommittee, suggested that the hunt be held constantly for one week to help reduce the impact on residents the three-month hunts have caused.

Due to the shots in the reservation, Mr. Russell said his wife has spent the past two winters out-of-state. He said he saw non-hunters, possibly county employees, going into the reservation off Glenside Avenue, in the vicinity of the Bowcraft Amusement Park on Route 22, trying to "flush out" the deer into the reservation for the hunters.

Diane Beeny of Westfield said the county’s system for deer counting is inaccurate. She called the plan for this year’s hunt to kill 189, "a disgusting goal."

"A park should be a place where people go to find peace and to experience nature. It should not be a place where you find blood and gunfire and dying animals," she told the board.

She asked the board to end the program stating, "We have to stop this violence now."

The county’s deer management program was supervised by Union County Police and representatives from the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife.

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TheWestfield Leader.
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