Deer are in the headlights these days, maimed along the nation's roadways and nibbling away at suburban gardens. Now they're closing in on one of America's poshest addresses -- New Jersey's Short Hills Mall, home to high-end stories like Cartier and Coach -- and local officials are striking back.
On Jan. 29, Essex County will send sharpshooters into South Mountain Reservation, a 2,000-acre swath of woodland that sits smack in the middle of tony towns like Maplewood, Milburn and the Oranges for a month-long deer kill.
New Jersey is no stranger to marauding wildlife. In 2004, the state shot more than 328 black bears in one season after widespread reports of the animals invading backyards.. It was the first such hunt in more than three decades, and environmentalists say development is to blame.
Suburbanites from Massachusetts to Minnesota have taken similar action as deer populations find feeding grounds in new subdivisions, causing traffic accidents and carrying ticks that can transmit Lyme disease.
Meghan Berry, a 27-year-old New Jersey graduate student, collided with "an absolutely gigantic" deer while driving one night. After killing the deer, she was traumatized by the fur it left behind on the demolished car.
Days later, a deer plunged into the swimming pool at her New Egypt, N.J., home, damaging the pool cover and nearly drowning.
"I consider myself an environmentalist, and I love animals and am very much against hunting," she said. "But when you consider the quality of life of deer living in the suburbs and getting hit on the highways, it's unsettling to see the two worlds colliding. We are killing them because they are in our way. But I can see that population control is necessary."
Other cities are struggling with similar problems. Last year, Kansas City, Mo., had bow hunts for the first time in two public parks. Alamosa, Colo., allows hunting by bows and shotguns on a city-owned golf course until Feb. 28.
In New Jersey, trained marksmen will work two full days a week during daylight hours, and the reservation will be closed to the public. Sharpshooters who finish eight shifts will be rewarded with 40 pounds of venison. The rest of the meat will go to the needy, said county officials.
"It's a safety program," said county executive Joseph DiVincenzo. "It's not something I want to do, but something I have to do. There are too many deer, and it's inhumane what happens to them."
But some opponents of the play say the wildlife reservation is so close to civilization that the deer hunt endangers citizens and their pets. Less than a mile from the shooting range are not only million-dollar homes but a dog park, Girl Scout camp, zoo and skating arena.
Carol Rivielle, a 60-year-old retired teacher from West Orange, N.J., whose home is only one block from the reservation, has led the fight against the hunt, urging deer contraception instead of bullets.
"They're bringing violence into my community," she said. "I object to the killing and cutting up of deer and the danger it puts people are in."