ST. PAUL — Ten days before the Minnesota deer opener, state Department of Natural Resources officials on Tuesday, Oct. 29, told lawmakers they were scrambling to find waste haulers willing to take deer carcasses in areas of the state where chronic wasting disease had been reported.
Less than two weeks before hunters are set to head out for the Nov. 9 rifle hunting season opener, DNR officials said they'd had waste haulers back out of state contracts to Dumpsters loaded with deer carcasses to area landfills. The designated Dumpsters in north-central and southeastern Minnesota are intended to prevent the transport of thousands of carcasses potentially infected with the deadly disease.
“We’re pretty much left to scramble to figure out how we are going to handle this program from here on,” Bryan Lueth, with the DNR said.
Lawmakers earlier this year approved $50,000 for the adopt-a-Dumpster program to stave off the spread of CWD in the areas where it has been detected. Lueth told lawmakers the state was reviewing bids that the department had previously rejected and could potentially bring on additional DNR employees to haul the carcasses to nearby landfills if no other option materialized in the next week and a half.
In particular, haulers in Crow Wing County and Olmsted County raised health concerns about transporting the remains due to health concerns.
Fifty wild deer have tested positive for CWD in southeast Minnesota since 2016, according to the DNR. And one wild deer in Crow Wing County was confirmed to have the disease in February.
Minnesota DNR and other state agencies this year have increased precautions aimed at stopping the spread of chronic wasting disease. And as part of that effort, hunters in southeast Minnesota, north-central Minnesota will face additional restrictions in permitting areas where the disease has been reported or in areas bordering those zones.
In some of those areas, CWD testing will be mandatory, and hunters will be asked to butcher, taxidermy, hang or dispose of their deer in the area. If tests determine the disease is not detected, hunters will be able to remove the entire deer carcass from that area. Test results are sent to labs at the University of Colorado and typically are completed within three to four business days.
For hunters who can't wait that long, the department said it was encouraging the move to "quarter and go," butcher the meat in the area or consult a local processing facility or taxidermy shop. Venison meat, quartered animals with no spinal column or head attached, hides, teeth and antlers will be allowed to leave the area before test results come back.
And unused carcasses or remains can be placed in designated Dumpsters around those areas.
County officials and waste haulers raised concerns with the DNR about the landfills' capacities to take in infected deer and the impact misfolded proteins that cause the disease called prions could have on the area or on wastewater. The disease has not been detected in humans.
Scientists from the University of Minnesota and DNR said incinerating the remains or placing them in landfills might not kill the prions that cause the disease, but it would significantly reduce the risk of other animals contracting it from carcasses or remains left in the field.
Lawmakers on Tuesday also raised questions about whether the state was doing enough to prevent the spread of the disease. And some worried that setting a cost for hunters outside the designated zones to test their venison meat for the disease would hinder some from hunting or from eating venison.
"As a mom and as a hunter, I want to feel good about feeding my kids a good lean protein," state Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, said. "I don’t want people to be afraid to eat venison."