A Summit County landfill is changing how it hides trash from wildlife after more than 50 deer were found dead nearby, some with plastic bags and latex gloves in their stomaches.
Because the deer were found in such an “advanced state of decomposition," a state Division of Wildlife Resources investigator wasn’t able to tell what role the eaten trash played in the animals’ deaths, division spokesman Mark Hadley said.
The Associated Press reported that DWR officials think the deer died from disease and starvation. Summit County Solid Waste Division superintendent Tim Loveday told the AP that deer come to the area seeking food but become sick after eating trash blowing from the landfill.
The Three Mile Landfill operators have said they are going to start covering new trash with 6 inches of clay, which won’t be susceptible to blowing away in wet and windy weather, and will hopefully keep deer from eating garbage, Hadley said.
They will also erect a fence to block trash from blowing out of the landfill.
“We’re looking for some other solutions that hopefully will be something that they financially can do, and that will hopefully be a big step forward in trying to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” Hadley said.
DWR first learned of the dead deer May 20 when a hiker posted to Facebook that she’d found about 30 of them near the landfill, west of Rockport Reservoir, and that some appeared to have eaten plastic bags, Hadley said.
The division sent an investigator to scour an area east of the landfill May 21 and 25, and found 27 additional deceased deer. Of those, 13 had consumed plastic. The investigator also spoke with landfill workers and learned they’d seen deer eating trash.
Finding large amounts of dead deer isn’t uncommon, especially after a hard winter, Hadley said.
He theorized that the deer may have fallen victim to a compounding set of circumstances. First, he said, the cold, harsh winter in Summit County likely limited the deer’s food sources, making them more hungry and desperate, and more willing to eat trash.
Second, landfill workers normally cover newly dumped trash with 6 inches of dust, but in wet and windy conditions — like existed much of the winter — the dust can blow away, leaving the garbage exposed.
Also, the investigator found landfill operators didn’t have enough dust to keep the landfill covered over the winter.
Hadley said the division haven’t received any additional reports of dead wildlife near the landfill.
He added that the landfill operators have cooperated with DWR officials.
“The operators of the landfill have been really great to work with,” he said. “They have accepted responsibility for what’s happened. They feel bad about it, and they want to find a solution.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.