Deer Dumpster Program Spurs Citizen Science on CWD
Cazenovia’s Doug Duren smiles when recalling how a Richland County committee responded two years ago when he asked them to help pay for dumpsters so hunters could safely and conveniently dispose of deer bones.
Duren had this crazy idea: The more deer bones hunters remove from the landscape, the more they’d slow the spread of chronic wasting disease in southwestern Wisconsin.
He reminded everyone that it’s unclear how the always-fatal disease spreads in deer herds, but it’s possible CWD-causing prions in deer eyes, brains, spinal columns and lymph nodes get picked up and moved around when we don’t bury their bones. After all, countless rodents, big birds, and other scavengers feed on carcasses left in rural ditches and woodlots after hunters process their deer.
And so Duren conceived a pilot program for six dumpsters in northern Richland and northwestern Sauk counties in autumn 2018. By providing dumpsters in convenient locations, Duren hoped hunters would fill them with deer bones. And if any of those deer were carrying CWD, their bones would soon be buried in landfills.
Besides, even if most deer aren’t infected, no one likes seeing boned-out carcasses in roadside ditches or in parking lots on public lands.
So, why is Duren still smiling, even chuckling, about the committee’s response to his modest request? Because they basically told him he was naïve, and didn’t know what he was risking.
“I got a list of their 10 concerns; their reasons why dumpsters wouldn’t work,” Duren said. “They assumed people would fill the dumpsters with old TVs, debris and other garbage. They said it would stink to high heaven. They said it would attract scavengers. And they offered advice on what I should do instead. In short, they didn’t give a dime.”
Neither would lawmakers help with funding. Nor did the Department of Natural Resources, initially. A year ago, however, the DNR launched a cost-sharing program that reimburses individuals and private organizations half their costs for providing and monitoring dumpsters. About 30 private “sponsors” maintained dumpsters in 2019 with DNR help, and all of them are participating this fall, too.
As is Duren. He’s again operating a dumpster on his family’s farm about a mile south of Cazenovia on state Highway 58. He also helps with dumpsters in Rockbridge and four other nearby sites.
To locate those dumpsters or a nearby cooperating landfill, get on your computer or smartphone, find the DNR’s website or “Hunt Wild” app, and visit the “CWD Sampling and Disposal” page.
Duren also operates a CWD sampling kiosk beside his dumpster so hunters can get their deer tested for CWD. The tests are free, and results usually available within a week.
One reason the DNR got involved in the dumpster program was because Duren hit the agency and lawmakers with some facts and figures from his 2018 pilot program:
-- Each 20-square-yard dumpster holds about 200 deer carcasses.
-- Each carcass costs about $4.50 to $5 to hold and haul away.
-- Assuming average CWD prevalence in Sauk and Richland counties was 16% in 2018, Duren’s six dumpsters removed 220 CWD-positive carcasses from the land.
With the dumpster program now in its third year, it’s clear Duren knew something about its prospects when he launched the idea. And what about the county officials’ concerns?
“None of their fears came true,” Duren said. “No one has dumped anything besides deer bones in our dumpsters. We control the odors, and we don’t see gangs of pests and scavengers lurking in the shadows. We’re providing a great public service that hunters appreciate.”
Still, setting up and overseeing kiosks and dumpsters isn’t free. Even with DNR help, Duren and other cooperators pay $500 to $600 per dumpster. Duren provides a donation box, and encourages people to visit his website, https://www.dougduren.com/, to buy T-shirts and other merchandise to offset his costs. Likewise, Wisconsin’s Green Fire conservation organization set up a “GoFundMe” account, https://www.gofundme.com/f/hunter039s-chronic-wasting-disease-fund, for its “Dumpsters for Deer Conservation” work.
Duren agrees with Green Fire’s Tom Hauge, who thinks the state should pick up more or all funding for the dumpsters and self-serve kiosks. Still, Duren sees value in citizens contributing, setting up, monitoring, and maintaining the dumpster sites. He said citizen involvement ensures wide support and credibility among hunters and other locals.
“You need citizen support,” Duren said. “When people drive by my farm and see the dumpster, they know it’s on my land and I’m taking care of it. I’m one of them. They stop, ask questions, and thank me. They don’t drive in and dump old TVs, bald tires, and worn-out couches and mattresses. Unfortunately, some people dump that junk at our public hunting and fishing grounds a few miles south of me, and I hope they get caught.”
Duren, however, said the dumpsters highlight a problem he didn’t foresee: Some hunters must work on their butchering skills, and remove as much venison as possible from each deer.
“Too much venison is going to waste,” Duren said. “Most hunters do a good job, but everyone should remove the rib meat, and trim everything from the legs and neck. Then package and freeze it separately until you get the test results.”
He also encourages hunters to process their own deer. After all, COVID-19 is forcing smaller butcher shops to take jobs that larger operations can’t handle because of worker shortages. Duren fears that could cause less commercial deer processing this fall.
Besides, boning out and packaging deer isn’t hard.
“I tell people to go to YouTube or TheMeatEater.com and type in ‘deer processing,’” he said. “They can watch Steve Rinella or Janis Putelis skin deer, break them down, and package all the meat. Nothing should go to waste.”
And how about it, Doug? Do you eat venison from deer that test positive for CWD?
“No, I don’t,” Duren said. “We’ve had four positive CWD tests so far. We didn’t eat those deer. The best scientists working on CWD say not to eat meat from diseased deer. I don’t argue with people who know more about it than I do.”
Doug Duren, foreground, provides a dumpster and self-serve testing kiosk on his farm in Richland County so hunters can dispose of deer bones and get deer tested for chronic wasting disease. — Patrick Durkin photo