A New Jersey lawmaker wants to lift the state’s ban on commercial deer hunting to reduce whitetail numbers, deer-related vehicle collisions, and incidences of Lyme disease. The hope is that more hunters would be motivated by the option to sell their venison to butchers, supermarkets, and restaurants.
According to the Asbury Park Press, it is currently illegal for New Jersey hunters to sell deer meat, antlers, and other parts, aside from their hides, tails, and lower legs. The sale of wild game has been restricted across the country for more than 100 years, and commercially sold venison typically comes from New Zealand or U.S. deer farms.
In recent years, New Jersey wildlife officials have lengthened hunting seasons, increased bag limits, and provided other incentives to hunters to deal with the overabundance of deer. In August, the Township Committee in Colts Neck voted to allow bowhunting within 150 feet of buildings and firearm hunting on land parcels as small as 5 acres. Now, Monmouth County Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R) wants to take additional steps to cull the herd out of concern for public health and safety.
“Anybody who lives in Monmouth County and is driving around is able to see a deer population that has exploded,” said Casagrande, who first introduced her Assembly bill on commercial hunting back in March. “I’m concerned about the high number of Lyme cases and I’m also very concerned about the car accidents, half of which occur between October and December.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 2,785 confirmed cases and 981 probable cases of Lyme disease in New Jersey last year. Research by State Farm Insurance showed that deer were involved in 26,860 motor vehicle accidents in the state in 2013. Compare that to the 1.5 million deer-related collisions that occur each year nationwide, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.
The Asbury Park Press story suggests that conservationists believe pressure from animal rights groups—and sportsmen who don’t wish to compete with commercial hunters—will make the Assemblywoman’s bill “politically explosive.” The state director of the Sierra Club said policy makers “should be looking more at non-lethal deer population control methods,” but the current commercial game hunting laws “are sort of silly in a state that has so many deer.”
According to an Oct. 2013 story in the Wall Street Journal, the Wildlife Society held a 4-hour panel on the subject of legalizing the sale of wild venison at its national convention last year. The group anticipated controversy, but most of the 70 attendees were “open to the idea, with reservations.”