Crow Wing County recently announced its landfill will accept deer carcasses free of charge starting Sept. 1 in an attempt to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease or CWD.

“What we do with deer carcasses that may or may not be infected is an important first step in containing the spread,” stated County Board Chair Rosemary Franzen in a news release.

The neurological disease affects the cervid family: deer, elk, moose, reindeer and caribou. It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration in the brain of an infected animal, which culminates in death.

“This is a crucial strategy to contain the spread and, depending on the rate with which people bring in their carcasses, we may be able to prevent CWD from spreading any further in the local deer population,” Franzen stated.

There has been one confirmed case of CWD in the wild deer population in the county, according to officials.

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“The more carcasses that are brought into the landfill and disposed of in a responsible manner, the less likely that CWD is further spread across the landscape,” environmental services supervisor Ryan Simonson stated in the release.

The county has met with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, conservation officers and local businesses to better understand the disease and be more proactive to contain the spread.

“Deer carcasses may be incinerated or placed in strategic locations within the landfill to minimize disposal risk, so it is very important that carcasses are brought in separately from other garbage,” Simonson said.

The county is also urging residents not to feed the local deer population in the coming winter. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has banned feeding deer in the county.

“Congregating deer also increases the likelihood of the transfer of bodily fluids thereby potentially spreading the disease,” County Administrator Tim Houle stated in the release. “We know that people feed deer in the winter out of great compassion for those animals; unfortunately, it may also be spreading a fatal disease.”

Hunters are encouraged to use latex gloves when field dressing and handling deer carcasses and deer meat. They should also test the meat for CWD prior to consuming. The disease is in the same family as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, otherwise known as “mad cow disease.”