The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division got an update Tuesday on the state’s efforts to contain chronic wasting disease in its deer population.
The fatal neurological disease affects cervids such as white-tailed deer worldwide, including about half the states in the U.S. There is no cure for the brain disease, with afflicted deer only surviving about two years.
The disease is relatively rare in Minnesota and was first discovered in wild deer in southeast Minnesota in 2016.
In an effort to protect the state’s billion-dollar deer hunting industry, lawmakers allocated $50,000 in 2019 for a program setting up dumpsters for hunters to more safely dispose of carcasses in areas where the disease has been detected, rather than dispose of them in the wild and possibly spread the disease.
Bryan Lueth, habitat program manager for the Department of Natural Resources, said the Adopt-a-Dumpster program is likely to cost $175,000, eclipsing the budget.
The state has run into trouble trying to find landfills willing to accept the carcasses, however. Landfills are the best way to contain the carcasses in the DNR’s view, since there’s no human health risk associated; the only health advisory is tied to eating CWD-positive venison.
Dave Benke, director of the resource management and assistance division for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said a landfill working group – including meat processors, taxidermists and waste haulers – is working on how to best create a disposal system.
Officials said dumpster program carcasses in Crow Wing County were disposed of in three steps: carcasses were incinerated, the ash was disposed at the top of a cell that is capped, and the field was fenced with a 9-foot woven wire fence to keep deer out.
Benke said issues with disposal of the carcasses in southeast Minnesota led to them being disposed of across the border in La Crosse County because a more permanent solution is still being worked on.
In southeast Minnesota, where the infection is more persistent, more than 12,000 deer were sampled in the fall hunter harvest, and 27 tested positive.
“It is still at a very low prevalence,” said Barb Keller, big game program supervisor for the DNR.
The DNR was appropriated $2.8 million last session for CWD surveillance and management, and is on track to spend it all.