If Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources starts telling you to go adopt a dumpster, it’s not a strange insult. It’s just the latest push to save Minnesota’s deer from an incurable and highly contagious brain illness.
In a novel effort to prevent Chronic Wasting Disease, a bill at the Legislature would use state money and community partnerships to buy and operate dumpsters for hunters. While CWD is rare in the state, it has become a serious problem just across the Wisconsin border. That has left Minnesota’s DNR and state lawmakers scrambling for ways to keep the disease at bay, including, apparently, a foray into the dumpster business.
The idea for the dumpster bill, originally sponsored in the House by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, is to provide a convenient way for hunters to butcher their deer and toss the leftover carcass in a central place where remains can be safely and properly thrown away to lower the risk of spreading prions, the abnormal and self-replicating proteins believed to cause CWD.
Becker-Finn said the “local town dump” may not use best practices to prevent the spread of prions from deer parts. She also noted some hunters simply “drag the carcass to the back of your property for mother nature to take care of it.”
“We know that prions will continue to exist in deer tissues, well after the animal has died,” Becker-Finn said. The House and Senate environmental budget plans both pledged to meet DNR’s $50,000 request for the dumpster program.
Becker-Finn said her measure was inspired partly by other states like Wisconsin, where officials have been encouraging hunters to sponsor dumpsters. But she said the Bluffland Whitetails Association in Minnesota also reached out to her with the idea. That group has already donated a quartering shed to pair with a DNR dumpster in the Preston area, the first such arrangement in the state.
Most of the wild deer that have tested positive for CWD have been near Preston, in Fillmore County. The DNR has extra testing regulations in place that restrict which deer parts hunters can move out of the area before they’re deemed CWD free. That led to the dumpster and shed. Lou Cornicelli, a wildlife research manager for DNR, said the Preston dumpster has been operating since 2016 and is a “pretty popular program.”
Becker-Finn said ideally the DNR would facilitate the program on a wider scale with help from local volunteers. Community input could direct dumpster sites and other specifics, she said.
Cornicelli said dumpster costs, which are expected to be about $1,000 per month, might come from DNR or sponsors. He said the DNR supports the idea, particularly after wild deer were found to have CWD in Crow Wing County and Winona County this year.
CWD is considered particularly difficult to fight because prions are resilient and spread easily. They can be harbored in soil and are resistant to heat, cold and disinfectants. While CWD has not spread to humans, scientists at the University of Minnesota maintain it’s a possibility. Mad cow disease, which eventually did infect humans, is a similar — and more famous — version of a disease caused by prions. CWD also can affect elk, moose and other similar animals.
The Legislature has taken up an assortment of bills this year aimed at slowing CWD in wild and captive deer, some of which have been more controversial than others. They range from money for new CWD tests and heavier deer management by the DNR to stricter regulations on farmed deer.
More than 45 wild deer have tested positive in the last two years for CDW in southeastern Minnesota, the epicenter of the disease in wild deer. By contrast, more than 5,200 wild deer and 20 farms in Wisconsin have tested positive for CWD since 2002.
As far as state regulators know, wild deer outside of southeastern Minnesota had never been infected with CWD. The disease also remains a threat in Minnesota to the lucrative hunting industry — which is taxed by the state.
The DNR reported in March that deer hunting license sales have dropped 10 percent in southeastern Minnesota since 2016, which they said was abnormal compared to past years and current trends. “If CWD were to become established or if the disease is determined to impact human or domestic animal health, the MNDNR would realize substantial reductions in license sales and Federal Aid reimbursements and experience significant changes in budget allocations and staffing levels,” says an agency report.
Becker-Finn described her adopt-a-dumpster bill as “just one piece of the puzzle” of fighting CWD, but an “example of a way deer hunters can be part of the solution.”