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For Doug Duren, house hunting always carries a risk of developing a chronic wasting disease.

His family farm is in Richland County, Wisconsin, one of more than 30 counties in that state that treat positive cases of the deadly prion disease, which typically infects elk and deer.

Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources tested nearly 1,550 animal samples collected in Richland County and about one in five tested positive.

One of the ways the department has encouraged hunters like Duren to help stop the spread of disease is by properly disposing of elk or deer carcasses. But the right disposal sites are not always close at hand.

“What happens a lot in rural areas with the carcasses? You have bones, a head, a spine and after boning the meat you have some things left. So sometimes people just throw it in the trash or in a ditch, ”Duren said. “If you want the carcasses to be disposed of properly, so you don’t move them, the easier you make it, the more there is going to be done. “

Improper disposal only increases the risk of the carcass transmitting the disease to the animals. In an effort to slow the spread, Duren thought of a solution.

He bought a dumpster.

Chronic wasting disease afflicts herds of wild deer and elk in nearly half of the states in the United States. Arizona has not recorded any positive cases, but it shares a border with three states that have faced it for years.

An imminent threat: Dieback epidemic would endanger Arizona’s wildlife, lucrative hunting industry

Wildlife agencies in Arizona are currently employing recommended preventative measures. Less common precautions practiced in rural areas of infected states may add to existing safeguards.

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In Wisconsin, surveillance for the disease began in 1999, with the first positive case recorded in 2002. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded positive cases of the disease in nearly 45% of counties in the region. ‘State.

To slow the spread of the disease, Duren founded the Adopt-A-Dumpster program.

He financed and maintained a dumpster on his family farm, which gave local hunters a more accessible place to properly dispose of carcasses. The bodies collected in these huge dumpsters would later be transported to designated landfills.

“Dumpsters are a real handy fruit that you can do to slow disease,” Duren said. “By reducing the amount of infectious material in the landscape, we reduce the risk.”

A year after Duren launched the program, the natural resources department began to share the costs. At the end of 2020, the ministry was sponsoring 105 dumpsters. Locals contributed to the cost sharing of more than half of these sites.

According to Eric Canania, a wildlife biologist in the Department of Natural Resources, while the running expenses of each bucket depended on its weight, the department paid 50% of the bill, up to $ 500.

“Our goal is to provide resources for hunters and land managers to manage this disease as best we know how,” Canania said. “There are no simple management solutions, which is why we are investing in different programs and projects.”

Richland County is one of 18 in the Department’s Southern District, which Canania oversees. He says the district has some of the highest concentrations of chronic wasting disease in the state.In 2020, the southern district housed 33 garbage dumpsters.

“We all benefit from proper deer disposal. It is definitely worth planning ahead and getting the basic idea of ​​this program before an outbreak. It would be helpful if these dumpsters were ready for deployment to hunters immediately after the first case, ”Canania said. “It’s hard to say how much this program would have helped Wisconsin if we had it ready during the first outbreak, but it certainly would have … helped buy time.” “

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was quick to follow its Wisconsin counterparts and also experimented with the program, collecting more than 200 tons of deer carcasses from 26 dumpster locations. In a section of a Minnesota legislative report titled “Lessons Learned,” one of the biggest problems with dumpsters was related to heavy rainfall.

“Would it have helped slow down CWD if we had it ready in the first outbreak?” The short answer is yes, ”said Duren. “One of the lessons we’ve learned is that before an outbreak, states should already have controls in place for the movement of carcasses. A trash can program only makes sense.

While Duren believes a similar program could be of use to Arizona hunters now, he says it wouldn’t need to be started until a positive case of the disease was recorded in the state.

The Arizona Department of Gaming and Fisheries has been preparing for this scenario for years, in 2017 developing a 30-page response plan covering both short-term and long-term management tactics.

While the department’s management tactics employ many of the best practices suggested by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, they currently do not include a carcass disposal plan that is associates with local hunters and private landowners.

The introduction to the Western Association’s document states that “Agencies seeking to use an adaptive management approach must be prepared to invest resources in public participation, communication, data collection, experimental design and research. Evaluation “.

“It’s important that all of these state agency plans involve the locals,” Duren said. “We need to get involved with each other to keep our wildlife safe. “

Duren says being proactive and identifying dumpster locations in high-risk areas, budgeting for operational costs and assessing hunters’ interest, could save valuable time in the event of an outbreak.

“I can give you a hundred reasons not to do it, but I can give you a good one to do it: it works,” said Duren. “This is something we can all do together… If Arizona has the idea of ​​this setup and running it in mind before a real epidemic, it could really help.”

Anton L. Delgado is an environmental reporter for The Arizona Republic / azcentral. Follow her report on Twitter at @antonldelgado and tell him stories at [email protected]

Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic’s environmental reporting team on environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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