Roadkill Can Be Legally Salvaged as Meat Under New Montana Law

| by Phyllis M Daugherty
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Game animals -- officially defined as antelope, deer, elk or moose -- which are killed on the road by vehicles can be legally salvaged and used for meat in Montana under a new law which goes into effect on October 1, 2013. Alaska, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, Florida, and West Virginia have already enacted similar laws.

House Bill 247, introduced by Rep. Steve Lavin, was passed by the Montana Legislature in February and signed into law by Governor Steve Bullock in April. It allows law-enforcement officers to issue permits to individuals to salvage game animals. Anyone issued a permit must remove the carcass of the entire animal.

The Montana Department of Transportation reports more than 1,900 wild animal were killed in vehicle crashes in 2011, and nearly 7,000 carcasses were collected from the side of roads, according to the Huffington Post.

Rep. Lavin introduced the law because he thought people were missing out on a potential food source. That “seems like a waste,” he said.

The original draft of the bill allowed generic “game animals, fur-bearing animals, migratory game birds and upland game birds” to be salvaged, but that raised concerns with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials, who warned that although some animals, such as Bighorn sheep, are frequently killed by vehicles in the Thompson Falls area, and allowing them to be legally salvaged could cause their potentially valuable carcasses to become the focus of profiteering.

Montana Department of Fish,Wildlife and Parks expressed the same concerns about bears, mountain lions and other animals that would be desirable for their heads, claws or furs. Lavin said, “I took out anything that might be a concern to them.”

Lavin, who has been a trooper with the Montana Highway Patrol for more than 20 years, added that usually the highway patrol or other law enforcement agencies are called to respond. In many cases, the animals are seriously wounded and must be put down because of the injuries. It is in those cases that Lavin said he has sometimes been asked if the animal can be salvaged.

Rep. Lavin also said that Highway Patrol now often calls food banks that do take road kill, even though that is a violation of the law, but these organizations often can’t drive the distance to pick up an animal soon enough to salvage it.

Addressing questions as to whether the salvage permit could be abused, Lavin said that is not likely, because law enforcement is acting as a control for when permits should be issued.

“People aren’t going to intentionally hit an elk when it’s going to cost them $1,500 in damages to their vehicle,” Lavin told the Daily Inter Lake, “nor are poachers going to go through the problems of staging a road kill with the possibility of being caught.”

People already take antlers from deer and elk road kill, and permits would simply allow that to become legal if the meat is salvageable, he said.

Some observers have raised concerns about health issues associated with consuming spoiled or disease-contaminated meat. Whether the meat is acquired via hunting or car crash, the forces that create bad flavor and spoilage are virtually identical, experts say.

Authorities say they will not evaluate the fitness of roadkill for consumption. That will be left up to individuals.

It isn’t expected that requesting salvage permitting will become a widespread practice, simply because most people aren’t interested in roadkill, Lavin explained,. But if someone needs the food and is interested in interested in game meat it could be used without breaking the law.

The measure can also actually be cost saving for the State because the responsibility for eventually picking up road carcasses falls on the Department of Transportation.

Lavin told reporters, “The bill is solely about salvaging game animals for their meat, when it is salvageable. It’s about fresh kills on cooler days” when the meat won’t spoil.”

Salvaging roadkill makes sense for several reasons. Wild game is some of the healthiest meat there is, and it's a shame to let it rot by the roadside. Eating roadkill could save families a lot of money they would otherwise have spent on meat, which might have something to do with why the beef industry lobbied against the bill, citing food-safety concerns,” the Montana Pioneer.writes.

Experts say if an animal was recently killed but otherwise healthy, the meat is actually much fresher than what you might find in a grocery store, according to

Sources: MT Pioneer, Smart Brief, Huffington Post