Larger Mammals

Larger Mammals in Mountain Lakes
Whitetail Deer
Deer and their tracks are observed throughout Mountain Lakes; in the larger wooded tracts and smaller ones, in athletic fields, occasionally crossing roads, and in yards and lawn areas. Deer are graceful and beautiful animals but left to their own devices, they can soon become too numerous and do great damage to the woodlands.     The goal of the Woodlands Commission is to manage the population to less than 10 deer per square mile.  To that end, the Commission works with the United Bow Hunters of NJ.  In 2010 and 2011, the hunters took approximately 12 doe each year.  Given the success of these efforts (which come at no expense to tax payers), it is estimated that the current deer population is approximately 45.  This level is deemed sustainable.

The success of the hunting program can be seen in the vegetation of the larger wooded tracts.  Wilcox Park and the Yorke Road woodlands now have a healthy and growing understory of shrub and tree saplings.  They are returning to forest health.  Young oak, tulip and other tree saplings are increasing, as are shrub species such as spicebush, blueberry species, maple-leaved viburnum, elderberry, and others.  Deer browse on the buds and young stems of these plants is minimal and usually not recent, indicating that they will continue to grow and spread.  When large trees fall due to storms and disease, there will be populations of young trees to take their place.

Woods in the Tower Hill and Frederick Park tracts also have a recovering sapling and shrub layer, but there are more deer tracks at these sites, and deer browse on buds and young stems is more extensive and more recent.  In other words, there are more deer at these sites, and hunting has not thinned the herds as extensively.  Deer tracks at these two sites are of smaller animals.

Smaller tracts—such as those in the vicinity of the municipal building, near St. Catherine’s Church along Pocono Road, and areas around the YMCA and the high school also have healthy recovering sapling and shrub layers, with some deer browse; though none appeared to be very recent.

Black Bear
Black bear tracks and scat are found in the Wilcox Park, Tower Hill, and Yorke Road woodlands tracts.  The sizes of tracks and scat indicate that at least three and perhaps four black bears were present in the Borough during the 2008 survey period, including a large animal—possibly a male because of its size—and a small, young bear; the other two were of intermediate size but differing tracks.   One animal was photographed apparently attempting to den-up under a deck in condominiums near Yorke Road; this is novel behavior for the species.

Because Mountain Lakes is surrounded by large contiguous tracts of parkland and preserved land in Boonton Township and nearby Rockaway Township, where black bears are known to be year-round residents, the Borough will continue to have stray bears wandering through, particularly in fall and spring.

Eastern Coyote
A group of three eastern coyotes was seen in Frederick Park along Morris Avenue in late December.  Coyote tracks were also seen in Wilcox Park, Tower Hill, and the Yorke Road woodlands; along the Boulevard near the Wilson School; in the parking lot of St. Catherine’s Church; in the train station parking lot; around the municipal building parking area and in woods across the street; and in the parking area at the rear of the YMCA.  Several animals also howled in response to a Screech Owl tape played near Birchwood Lake in early December.  This indicates that coyotes are distributed throughout the Borough, with a population of perhaps fifteen to twenty animals; perhaps three family groups.  That they are rarely seen by residents is not surprising, as coyotes are usually nocturnal and are very wary and remarkably intelligent, traits produced by centuries of hunting.

Although they are a healthy part of the local environment—they are very effective rodent predators—coyotes will take roaming cats and small dogs, and are a potential, if rare, threat to very small children if they are left unattended; a 2007 coyote attack on a child in Middletown (Monmouth County) was reported in the Newark Star Ledger.

Beavers, an actively maintained beaver dam, and evidence of beaver foraging activity were seen along the small stream which arises in Wilcox Park, continues through the Tourne, and drains into the Rockaway River near St. Claire’s-Riverside.  A number of small and medium-sized trees have been killed and the rise in the water level will kill larger trees in the future.  For this reason the County has begun to  manage the beaver population, traping 4 young beavers in 2012.

No signs of beavers were found in other areas of the town, though the animals may seek new habitats in the lakes and ponds in the future.