Animal pit

Dan Randall buries an elk carcass killed by a vehicle in fall 2018 at the Trash Transfer Station’s dead animal pit. Wild game carcasses are no longer accepted at the Bonneville County, Idaho, landfill where most of Jackson Hole’s trash goes, following the discovery of chronic wasting disease in Teton County. Instead, they will be headed to Rock Springs.

A looming deadline to cap the animal pit at the old Horsethief Canyon landfill means that Teton County’s roadkill, hunter scraps and other wild animal remains will soon be trucked to Sweetwater County.

Most of the community’s refuse is taken to a Bonneville County, Idaho, landfill. But wild game carcasses aren’t allowed to cross state lines because chronic wasting disease is circulating through deer populations in Jackson Hole and elsewhere in western Wyoming.

With no landfill of its own, Teton County had been in a bind and has examined possible solutions with federal agencies and neighboring counties.

The decision to go the trucking route beat out buying an incinerator to dispose of the carcasses. It mostly came down to economics, said Teton County Superintendent of Solid Waste and Recycling Brenda Ashworth.

“With prevalence of CWD being so low in our county, the tonnages of carcasses just don’t make it economically feasible to install an incinerator and run it,” Ashworth told the Jackson Hole Daily.

Gross 7-year cost estimates were coming in around $1 million to $1.3 million to purchase and operate an animal incinerator capable of destroying chronic wasting disease prions, the vector of the lethal, incurable illness that infects cervids such as deer and elk.

Trucking carcasses to Rock Springs, by contrast, is expected to cost closer to $300,000 over the next seven years. That price tag includes the purchase of a $150,000 freezer truck and running animal remains down to the Sweetwater County landfill five or six times per year.

Hunters, wild game processors and others disposing of animals are supposed to bag animal parts, separated from other trash, and bring those remains to the Teton County landfill.

But that doesn’t always happen. Late last month, Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling sent out a reminder to residents so that the agency is not hauling carcasses to Idaho in violation of its contract.

The current animal pit at Horsethief Canyon receives roadkill from the Wyoming Department of Transportation and dead animals being disposed of by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Those state agencies are able to use the pit for free.

Teton County made the decision to use the Rock Springs dump partly because there was already an agreement in place to bring refuse there during times when the Bonneville County, Idaho, landfill is not an option. That contract will be amended next summer to include wild game disposal, Ashworth said.

Prior to making the decision, a working group was assembled to examine the community’s next steps for carcass disposal. Representatives from Grand Teton National Park, the National Elk Refuge, the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Game and Fish and WYDOT were all part of the deliberations.

“We looked into this in depth,” Ashworth said.

There were even rough analyses that looked at greenhouse gas emissions from going the trucking route versus buying and running an incinerator, she said. Another consideration that steered the group away from the incinerator was that burning operations would have required a permit, which wouldn’t have been a sure thing in Teton County, home to a class-one airshed.

Teton County is staring down a Dec. 31, 2021, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality deadline to cap the animal pit. Finishing the job by that deadline means that starting next July, the freezer truck system will supplant the status quo.

County commissioners this week unanimously signed off on a $53,530 contract with Golder Associates to complete the capping work. The work will take at least a couple of months, Ashworth said, and will include grading and revegetating the hillside above the Teton County Trash Transfer Station and South Highway 89.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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