Tuesday, September 4, 2018
On occasion I get a question about whether it is permissible to pick up roadkill. Often, the question is in relation to big game such as deer or bear or moose. But, other times the question may involve various types of furbearing animals such as coyotes, racoons or badgers. I don’t get too many roadkill questions involving small game. That’s probably because when small game is killed on the road, it is either not wanted or the party hitting it simply assumes that there is no question that it can be possessed.
There are many collisions involving wildlife and automobiles every year. One estimate by a major insurance company projects that one out of every 169 motorists in the U.S. will hit a deer during 2018. That’s a projected increase of three percent over 2017, with an estimated 1.3 million deer being hit.
If a wild animal is hit by a vehicle, the meat from the animal is the same as that from animal meat obtained by hunting – assuming that the animal is not diseased. So, in that instance, harvesting roadkill is a way to get free food – either for personal consumption or to donate to charity.
What are the rules and regulations governing roadkill? That’s the topic of today’s post.
Many states have rules on the books concerning roadkill. Often, the approach is for the state statutes and the regulatory body (often the state Department of Game and Fish (or something comparable)) to distinguish between "big game," "furbearing animals" and "small game." This appears to be the approach of Kansas and a few other states. Often a salvage tag (e.g., “permit”) is needed to pick up big game and turkey roadkill. This is the approach utilized in Iowa and some other states. If a salvage tag is possessed, a hunting license is not required. For furbearing animals such as opossums and coyotes that are roadkill, the typical state approach is that these animals can only be possessed during the furbearing season with a valid fur harvester license. As for small game, the typical state approach is that these roadkill animals can be possessed with a valid hunting license in-season. But variations exist from state-to-state.
An approach of several states is to allow the collection of roadkill with a valid permit. That appears to be the approach in Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Dakota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Other states require the party hitting wildlife and collecting the roadkill to report the incident and collection within 24 hours. Other states may limit roadkill harvesting to licensed fur dealers. In these states (and some others), the general public doesn’t have a right to collect roadkill. In Texas, roadkill-eating is not allowed (although a legislative attempt to remove the ban was attempted in 2014). South Dakota has legislatively attempted to make roadkill public property. Wyoming requires a tag be received from the game warden for possessing big game roadkill. Oregon allows drivers to get permits to recover, possess, use or transport roadkill.
Other states (such as Alabama) may limit roadkill harvesting to non-protected animals and game animals, and then only during open season. The Alaska approach is to only allow roadkill to be distributed via volunteer organizations. A special rule for black bear roadkill exists in Georgia. Illinois, in certain situations requires licenses and a habitat stamp. Massachusetts requires that roadkill be submitted for state inspection, and New Jersey limits salvaging roadkill to deer for persons with a proper permit.
In all states, federally-protected species cannot be possessed. If a question exists about the protected status of roadkill, the safest approach is to leave it alone. Criminal penalties can apply for mere possession of federally protected animals and birds. Similarly, if a vehicle does significant enough damage to wildlife that the animal’s carcass cannot be properly identified to determine if the season is open for that particular animal (in those states that tie roadkill possession to doing so in-season) the recommended conduct is to not possess the roadkill.
In the states that have considered roadkill legislation in recent years, proponents often claim that allowing licensed hunters to take (subject to legal limits) a fur-bearing animal from the roadside would be a cost-saving measure for the state. The logic is that fewer state employees would be required to clean-up dead animal carcasses. Opponents of roadkill bills tend to focus their arguments on safety-related concerns – that having persons stopped alongside the roadway to collect dead animals would constitute a safety hazard for other drivers. That’s an interesting argument inasmuch as those making this claim would also appear to be asserting that a dead animal on a roadway at night is not a safety hazard. Others simply appear to argue that collecting roadkill for human consumption is disgusting.
There is significant variation among state approaches with respect to possession of roadkill. That means that for persons interested in picking up roadkill, researching applicable state law and governing regulations in advance would be a good idea. For roadkill that is gleaned from a roadway that is used for human consumption, care should be taken in preparation and cooking. The present younger generation typically doesn’t have much experience dining on racoon (they tend to be greasy), opossum shanks and gravy, as well as squirrel. But, prepared properly, some view them as a delicacy.
To date, the USDA hasn’t issued guidelines on the proper preparation of roadkill or where roadkill fits in its food pyramid (that was revised in recent years). That’s sounds like a good project for some USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety to occupy their time with.