In the fall of 2021, The Lawrenceville School began culling the campus deer herd as part of a land stewardship plan in partnership with the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS). To date, the deer management program has resulted in 24 deer being harvested, with the venison donated to a local animal shelter.
Deer populations in Mercer County have reached up to 100 animals per square mile, 10 times the number recommended by ecologists. At current high densities, deer are causing major damage to our tree and plant populations and put our School and local community at increased risk of deer-vehicle collision incidents and Lyme Disease.
Deer management projects have been implemented in locations around the region and country for several decades and involve rigorous safety protocols followed by professional management hunters. In our area, deer management has occurred in Princeton Township, Princeton University, several Mercer County Parks, and other local natural areas such as the Mount Rose Preserve for over 20 years.
The School’s land stewardship plan involves ecological survey work, student-centered ecological restoration projects, and culling of deer following in the footsteps of School alumnus and noted ecologist Aldo Leopold, Class of 1905. Leopold wrote about several aspects of this issue in the essay "Thinking Like a Mountain" from his landmark 1949 book A Sand County Almanac. Reducing deer population density on School property will improve the health of our campus ecosystem and the deer herd itself.
Ecological and Economic Damage
Many studies have been conducted on other deer reduction strategies with unsuccessful results or lack of feasibility for our location. Using chemical birth control approaches poses a human health risk, since humans eating deer that have ingested birth control would consume meat with elevated hormone levels. Fencing off land would be impractical for the School given the high installation and maintenance costs for a property of our size. Since the School is not a licensed game farm, receiving approval for this method from the state of New Jersey would also require removal of all deer from the property into neighboring properties as the fencing is completed, which would increase deer population size in nearby areas. From a cost standpoint, other large sites with fencing require a full-time staff member dedicated to fence maintenance. In comparison to other approaches, management hunting has therefore been shown to be much more effective and financially feasible.