Imagine if, on your next trip to a Missouri stream, the picturesque scenery and cool, clear water were ruined by the putrid stench of a decaying deer carcass. Some Missouri streams are being affected by illegally dumped deer carcasses.
Missouri's wake-up call came in November, when a motorist discovered a dozen rotting deer carcasses in a creek just off I-70 in Warren County. Highway cleanup crews had piled the road-killed animals on an embankment near the creek. When the embankment collapsed, the deer ended up in the stream.
With the January extension of firearms deer season approaching, the Missouri Department of Conservation asks hunters to responsibly dispose of deer carcasses after removing edible portions.
Deer dumping not only results in unpleasant scenes and odor, it also is against the law.
"It is a violation of the Wildlife Code of Missouri to abandon portions of wildlife commonly used as food," said Protection Division Unit Chief Bob White. "It's not a major problem, but occasionally we get calls about deer that have been dumped into a stream. Most hunters would never waste meat in this matter. Usually only the head and a few bones are left after processing. And most hunters arrange to return those remains to the area where the deer was harvested, where the scraps are quickly eaten by coyotes and other wildlife."
The sickening smell of decaying flesh is the most obvious problem associated with deer dumping, but Conservation Department Fisheries Pathologist Dr. Scott Syska said the action can lead to bigger problems.
"If there is a disease outbreak, deer dumping increases the risk of spreading the disease to other deer, especially during winter when running streams often are the only open water source," Syska said. "Diseases and parasites from dead deer may travel downstream and infect deer drinking from the stream."
Deer dumping also poses health risks to humans. Syska says rotting carcasses can increase the chances of infections in people wading downstream. The bacteria are able to enter cuts or open wounds. Food, garbage or manure dumped into a stream also increase bacteria levels.
Syska says disposing of deer in streams also can degrade water quality. A concentration of decaying carcasses can cause a build up of organic matter that stimulates the growth of algae and bacteria. This can deplete oxygen in the water, killing fish. Large game fish are most susceptible to low oxygen levels.
Hunters should contact a refuse collection company about safe methods for disposing of the scraps from deer they process. Those who don't want to keep the meat from their deer should contact the Share the Harvest program. Share the Harvest was established in 1992 to give hunters an easy way to donate deer meat to the needy.
Hunters who want to participate in the program simply take their venison to an approved processing plant and tell the processor how much venison they wish to donate. The processor packages and stores the meat for pickup by a local sponsoring agency, which delivers the venison to local organizations for distribution to the needy.
For more information on the Share the Harvest program, contact your local conservation agent or Bob White at (573) 751-4115, ext. 3819.