ST. PAUL — One of the programs meant to contain the spread of a fatal disease affecting Minnesota's wild deer population will continue this hunting season but without the sponsors that helped support it in 2019.
State Department of Natural Resources officials attribute the change to a difficulty in propping the "Adopt-A-Dumpster" program back up after its tumultuous inaugural year. As a result, the department will cover the cost of the program by itself this fall with plans to bring third-party sponsors back onboard for the fall 2021 hunting season.
A hunter who kills a deer in some parts of Minnesota where chronic wasting disease, or CWD, has been found must submit some of the deer's remains for testing and then dispose of the rest in a specially marked dumpster. To take an infected carcass to another area where the disease hasn't been found, or to simply leave it out in the open, would risk spreading the disease even further. CWD is not particularly prevalent in the state.
"We know that if a deer gets left on the landscape, that's the worst thing that can happen," Minnesota Pollution Control Agency resource management assistance director David Benke told lawmakers at a hearing on CWD last week.
Several sporting groups and one county in Minnesota sponsored, or "adopted," dumpsters for the DNR program last year. Plans to place the adopted dumpsters in Minnesota's few CWD "zones" were thrown into brief disarray, however, when the company contracted to rent out and service them reneged on the deal just weeks before the fall 2019 hunting season began.
Waste Management cited safety concerns when it backed out of the contract last year, saying the disease could contaminate its equipment or infect workers. The disease, which affects the nervous system and results in death, is not known to be transmissible to humans, though experts believe it someday could be and advise against eating meat from an infected deer.
The DNR was able to run the program in 2019 by scrambling to contract instead with several smaller, local-level garbage companies. But it took another hit earlier this year when the official who spearheaded it retired, according to DNR operations and development supervisor Jamie Gangaware, taking institutional knowledge with him.
The program, which Gangaware is now in charge of, essentially had to be rebuilt from scratch. With only a little time to do so, she said, re-establishing dump sites took precedent over lining up sponsors.
"I don't think we would have much of a problem running an 'Adopt-A-Dumpster' program or getting interest in it, I just didn't feel comfortable trying to get something off the ground and running in such a short amount of time," she said in an interview, " because I want it to be successful."
Many of the smaller waste companies that worked with the DNR in 2019 have expressed interest in returning for the program, Gangaware said, bids for which were due Thursday, Sept. 3. The department plans for there to be 33 dumpster sites in all, up from 26 last year.
Similarly, she told lawmakers earlier this week, many hunting clubs and outdoor groups have reached out to the DNR about sponsoring dumpsters as well. If any are able to next year, though, Gangaware said they may be asked to cover the full cost of a dump site instead of being allowed to donate whatever amount of money for one that they choose.
She said the DNR hopes to have a better idea of what that would cost sporting groups after this year's round of the program concludes.
All told, Gangaware said the program is expected to cost the DNR around as much as it did last year: about $185,000. She said costs may be kept down somewhat, even with the addition of new sites, by renting smaller dumpsters where possible and by having their contents hauled away on an as-needs basis instead of on a weekly or monthly schedule.
Benke, of the MPCA, said the agency is working to locate landfills and other disposal sites, including incinerators, in newer CWD management zones willing to accept deer remains.