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Rehabilitation volunteer admits wrongly disposing of dead critters

Minnesota Conservation Officer Jake Willis is investigating the unusual deaths of more than 40 mammals and birds dumped along Minnesota Highway 23 just outside Duluth earlier this month. Photo courtesy Minnesota DNR

DULUTH -- The unusual case of who killed 41 birds and mammals and dumped them along Minnesota Highway 23 just south of the Duluth city limits has been solved, and it turned out to be not as horrible as it might have seemed at first glance.

After a story Saturday, Jan. 19, that Minnesota Conservation Officer Jake Willis responded to a call of 41 small mammals, rodents and multiple birds dumped in a ditch along Highway 23, officials at Wildwoods wild animal rehabilitation center in Duluth thought the specific number and variety of animals involved sounded familiar.

It was the same number of deceased animals given to a volunteer to dispose of just before they were discovered Jan. 15 by a snowplow driver. Wildwoods officials saw the article Saturday and called Willis to explain that they talked to the volunteer and he admitted to dumping the animals in a ditch. The animals should have been placed deeper in the woods on private property to be properly disposed of.

The animals were brought individually to Wildwoods by the public in recent weeks after being found injured — from natural issues or accidents with humans — but could not be saved. Wildwoods is the only sanctioned wildlife rehabilitation center north of the Twin Cities.

Willis said he issued a citation to the volunteer for illegal littering with animals or animal parts, a specific state statute, and the volunteer has vowed not to leave dead animals in public rights of way again.

"They were trying to do the the right thing and not landfill the dead animals. It's the right thing to do to put them out in the woods so predators could take care of them. But it can't be along a public roadway,'' Willis said, noting it's the same citation he gives deer hunters caught chucking leftover deer carcasses in improper areas.

Willis said the good news is that the animals weren't poisoned or intentionally killed and that he can place the animals deep into the woods where they can be eaten safely by other critters and be recycled back into nature.

"Case closed,'' Willis said.