County commissioners, wildlife officials, waste haulers and volunteers patched together plans to dispose of deer carcasses last year in chronic wasting disease zones, but the issue remains touchy and unsolved, a pollution manager said Friday at the DNR Roundtable.
David Benke, director of the Resource Management & Assistance Division of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said disposal challenges differ from county to county and the issue should be addressed in each locale before a local CWD crisis pops up. His remarks were made at one of 15 information sessions at the roundtable, an annual gathering of invited DNR stakeholders held this year at a Bloomington hotel.
Benke said that as last year’s firearms deer season was drawing near in Crow Wing County and in southeastern Minnesota, officials had to scramble for places to empty public-use dumpsters loaded with deer remains. Prions, the infectious agent for CWD, can travel from carcasses of infected animals to the landscape. Proper disposal is part of the answer to slow the deer disease from spreading.
“We need to have additional conversations,’’ Benke said.
And while officials have so far focused their attention on large-scale dumpster programs, Benke said it’s likely that discussions ultimately will deal with carcass disposal rules for individual taxidermists and hunters.
“That’s probably not too far off,’’ he said.
Crow Wing County operates its own landfill and the leachate from it is periodically sprayed on designated fields. Because of a new CWD outbreak north of Brainerd, the DNR mandated that area hunters test every deer for the disease. At each testing site, dumpsters were installed to collect carcasses.
But before the hunting season, the county concluded it couldn’t take on the risk of accepting the waste, Benke said. It took many talks to arrive at a solution.
Instead of allowing the deer to be dumped in the landfill, where prions could conceivably end up in leachate and on area fields that are home to healthy deer, the county took steps to incinerate the bones at a temperature high enough to denature any prions. The county also found a special place in the landfill to dump the ash.
“Crow Wing was a fantastic partner,’’ Benke said.
In southeastern Minnesota, similar talks with Olmsted County officials and others didn’t produce a local solution, Benke said. Leachate from the landfill in Olmsted gets processed by a wastewater treatment plant, and managers didn’t feel comfortable with the risk of adding prions to the mix.
Instead, deer carcasses collected in the county as part of the DNR’s mandatory CWD testing protocol were placed into a waste flow that takes garbage from areas of southeastern Minnesota to a disposal site in La Crosse, Wis. The Wisconsin site uses soils to hold contaminants in place.
Benke said that in Fillmore County, home to the state’s largest number of CWD-positive deer, talks were held successfully with Winneshiek County in Iowa to ensure safe emptying of Fillmore’s deer dumpsters. Winneshiek County is the regular recipient of Fillmore County’s waste.
DNR Big Game Program manager Barb Keller said the DNR will need more money to continue its deer dumpster program in 2020 and beyond. The dumpsters are vital in CWD management zones where the agency restricts the movement of carcasses.