The woods at Rider and the deer overpopulation issue

By Ashley Murphy

Are you tired of doing schoolwork and need a nature break? The Rider University woods, located in the back of campus, is the place for you. These woodland areas include a scenic stream that stretches through its entirety, ever-growing plant life and plenty of wildlife. The species you can find in the woods range from the salamanders you spot underneath a log to the families of deer you see grazing the woodland floor.

But did you know these deer are extremely overpopulated in New Jersey? Due to the dense population, our woods aren’t as lush as they should be. The reason behind this overpopulation is the lack of predators for deer on campus and throughout the United States. The effects of this are very apparent when you take a stroll through the campus woods. When looking down nature’s path, it is obvious where the woods begin and end. This is the largest sign of overpopulation. This occurrence is from deer overfeeding on the understory.

Each spring, new saplings pop up through the woodland floor in an effort to grow into new trees. These species include, but are not limited to American Beech, Pignut Hickory, Sweet Gum and Red Maple. Yet, these tree species have a low probability of growing to their full potential due to deer intervening and consuming new growth. The large population of deer is constantly in competition, causing many to starve due to the scarce resources.

If you ever stumbled upon the deer fence in Rider’s Woods, there is a current experiment being conducted to understand what our woods could look like with a controlled number of deer. Kerrie Sendall, Ecology professor, initiated this experiment on our campus two summers ago. Rider students have been tracking new growth within the fence to see what new species appear in the absence of deer. The number of new saplings each year has been slow and steady, yet impressive so far in comparison to outside the deer fence. During the summer months, the enclosed fence is emerging with new growth. This is just the beginning of what our woods should look like. A study published in Canadian Journal of Forest Research conducted in 2015 experimented with multiple deer fences at a larger scale with similar tree species as those in the Rider woods including maples, beech and oak trees. They found little change within the first five years, but 11 years later, their deer fences are booming with biodiversity. Due to this we do not expect a drastic change in Rider’s deer fence for at least three more years. With new growth safe, saplings have a chance to thrive and reach their mature size of trees in the Rider woods.

As these studies continue, these woods located right on our campus are still a wonderful place to decompress from all of your schoolwork. Rider’s community is incredibly lucky to be surrounded by amazing nature trails that all can appreciate. 

Many students go to the woods for relaxation time, projects and to just appreciate their surroundings. The trails can be found across the back of campus, all leading to beautiful scenic views. Brenna Edwards, a junior liberal studies major, said “The Rider Woods, for some reason, has an incomparable amount of gorgeous, gorgeous scenery. … I always love a jaunt in the woods.”

There will be an upcoming Woods Walk & Talk with the Eco-Reps on Oct. 27. Look out for advertisements on campus, or email us at for more information!

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