Montanans cannot legally dine on flat fur stew for at least another month.
Although the law passed by the Legislature allowing the recovery of roadkill on Montana’s highways for personal consumption went into effect Oct. 1, there is no regulation yet governing the process.
Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, which meets on Thursday in Miles City, will vote on the finalized rule outlining the process for recovering deer, elk, moose or antelope. That will advance the measure to the secretary of state’s office for approval. It’s estimated the law may be in place sometime in November.
Under the rule being voted on by the commission, a roadkill dinner will be only a mouse click away. Anyone who wants to claim a vehicle-killed carcass of one of the four approved animal species need only log on to a state website to fill out the permit within 24 hours of hoisting a carcass into the trunk. That’s a change from the bill’s initial drafting, which would have required the person picking up a road-killed animal to seek out a law enforcement officer to issue a permit.
In Montana, a permit will be needed for each animal salvaged.
Other states have laws allowing recovery of vehicle-killed game animals, which vary in the specifics.
In Wyoming, roadkill must be tagged by a warden before it is retrieved. Idaho’s law, which went into effect last spring, is similar to Montana’s, simply requiring notification of recovery.
But Idaho also allows for the salvage of all species, including furbearers and predators. The only disallowed wildlife are protected nongame species like bald eagles or grizzly bears.
In Illinois, a person need only keep a record of where and when a white-tailed deer was killed, its sex and where the animal is stored. No permit is required unless the person wants to have the animal’s hide taken to a tannery or wants to take the animal to a taxidermist. Illinois also doesn’t allow the “inedible parts,” such as antlers, to be bartered or sold. And injured deer that aren’t dead can only be killed by a law enforcement officer.
Other states, such as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri, also allow roadkill to be salvaged.
Rep. Steve Lavin, a Kalispell-area Highway Patrol officer who sponsored the legislation, said that recovering dead, edible game animals is a practical use of flesh that would otherwise go to waste.
In arguing for the bill during the Legislature, he noted that he had once contacted a Whitefish food bank to recover a roadkill elk. Although not legal, he felt it was shameful to let the meat go to waste, he told fellow legislators.
FWP had spoken against the bill in the Legislature out of concern that such a law might make it easier for poachers to claim game animals. But the bill had a large margin of support right up to its third reading in the Senate, where it passed by only eight votes.
Likewise, when FWP put its tentative rule out for public comment, 55 out of 86 comments were in support of the measure. Only eight comments expressed concern that the law would allow people to unlawfully claim game, while 10 were outright opposed to the law.
Jim Kropp, chief of law enforcement for FWP, said the agency talked to officials in other states about abuse of their systems and how best to proceed in Montana. Those called helped the agency craft a law requiring the meat be used only for human consumption — not for bait or to feed other animals — and that motorists must take the whole animal, rather than have someone gutting and skinning an animal in a borrow pit as traffic whizzes by.
“The concern is public safety,” he said.
He noted that the agency reserves the right to inspect a person’s salvaged game, which hopefully is some deterrent to abuse of the law.
“It’s not perfect and it’s not without problems,” he said, but the state attempted to make the law as painless and straightforward as possible.
Certainly there’s no shortage of animals in states like Montana, which State Farm insurance rates as the No. 2 state for deer-vehicle collisions. (West Virginia ranks No. 1.) The insurance company estimated 1.2 million deer-vehicle collisions in the United States last year.