BEMIDJI, Minn. (AP) — A plan to dispose of deer carcasses during Minnesota's upcoming rifle hunting season is unraveling over a waste hauler's fears of spreading chronic wasting disease.
The state placed special dumpsters in parts of central and southeastern Minnesota where the fatal deer brain disease has been found. The plan was to use the containers to safely dispose of potentially infected deer carcasses.
But Waste Management will not accept deer carcasses infected with chronic wasting or that have the potential of being infected. With Minnesota's rifle season about to start, officials worry hunters will toss bones onto the land where the disease can spread to other deer.
Officials of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources told state lawmakers Tuesday that Waste Management does not want to be held liable if the infectious material that causes chronic wasting spreads into the wild, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
"As of yesterday, they informed us that they would no longer be willing to handle this waste stream for us," DNR wildlife manager Bryan Lueth told a joint meeting of the Minnesota House and Senate Environment committees. "So we're pretty much left to scramble."
Waste Management spokeswoman Julie Ketchum told The Associated Press that the waste disposal company will handle any deer carcasses already in the dumpsters. But Waste Management is concerned about the prions, a misshaped protein that causes the disease in deer and elk and remains infectious in the environment for years, Ketchum said.
"We don't want to take on the risk to our business," Ketchum said. She also said the company's contract with the DNR only covers trash and recycling, and not transporting deer carcasses.
The DNR has had difficulty convincing landfills to take potentially infected deer, MPR reported.
Chronic wasting is still rare in Minnesota, but its potential spread is a worry for state conservation officials who oversee Minnesota's $1 billion annual deer-hunting industry.
The incurable disease was first confirmed in the state in a captive elk farm in Aitkin County in east-central Minnesota in 2002 and later detected among wild deer in a hot zone in southeastern Minnesota in 2016.
While there currently is no known crossover of the disease to humans, experts worry it could eventually jump species and find its way to humans.
Six deer dumpsters are scattered around the infection zone in southeastern Minnesota. Most of the deer dumpsters in the more recent Crow Wing County CWD zone are closed, according to the DNR website.
Deer shot in Crow Wing County can still be brought directly to the county landfill. But the deer dumpster program will be hobbled if the DNR can't find another hauler.