Roadkill is what’s for dinner

Road-killed deer and elk will be available on Oregon menus Jan. 1 under a set of rules meant to allow people to salvage animals accidentally killed on roads, but the carcasses will be first-come, first-served.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously adopted rules Friday drafted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for this meals-under-wheels program created by the 2017 Oregon Legislature specifically for deer and elk killed on roadways.

And like the bill that created the program, the ODFW language does not specify that the driver of the vehicle who struck the animal gets first dibs on it.

“It ends up being first-come, first-served for claiming the animal,” ODFW biologist Brian Wolfer told the commissioners during its Friday meeting in Klamath Falls.

It also carries the caveat that ODFW biologists will not be telling would-be diners whether their salvaged carcasses, or parts of them, are edible.

“This is something people will have to make their own decision on,” Wolfer said.

States like Washington issue more than 1,000 roadkill permits per year, so ODFW is expecting a fair amount of use of this program once it begins New Year’s Day.

The new rules say whoever picks up roadkill must take the entire animal home and not leave a roadside gut pile that could attract scavengers that could also get hit.

Within 24 hours, salvagers must get a free permit from the ODFW website and provide their name, contact information, the species and sex of the animal, where it was hit and whether the salvager was the driver.

The permit also absolves ODFW or Oregon State Police from any loss or damage from the salvage.

Within five business days after a carcass is claimed, the head must be brought to an ODFW office to verify the species and sex of the animal as well as test for Chronic Wasting Disease, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said. The salvager cannot keep any antlers.

While deer and elk struck and killed by vehicles are fair game for whoever wants to take them home, the rules specify that only the driver may kill an injured roadkill animal for salvage. In those cases, the driver must immediately notify law enforcement as required under a separate law enacted to reduce poaching, Dennehy said.

The salvage rules don’t supersede other laws, such as the discharge of firearms on roads, roadside ditches or within city limits, nor will they allow people to trespass onto private lands to gather a roadkill deer or elk, Wolfer said.

The surrendering of the head will help state biologists survey for Chronic Wasting Disease, a highly infectious neurological disease caused by a protein prion that damages the brain of an infected animal, causing progressive loss of body condition. The prions that cause CWD can last a long time in the environment, infecting new animals for decades.

Other states with CWD in their deer or elk herds note that animals with CWD are more likely to be hit by vehicles on roadways. Since ODFW now relies heavily on CWD testing of hunter-killed deer and elk, testing roadkill animals likely will uncover CWD more quickly here should the disease arrive in deer or elk herds, Wolfer said.

The agency had no option whether to ignore the legislation, and it is required to come up with rules that implement the bill. Also, only deer and elk are part of the grille-to-grill program, with bears, squirrels and other animals hit by vehicles off-limits.

OSP Capt. Jeff Samuels said he hopes the new rules don’t become an avenue for a poacher to claim it was a road-struck animal. In Washington, for example, people cannot keep a road-struck animal that was later shot.

He already has seen cases of people intentionally hitting animals for salvage, Samuels said.

“I know you’re going to have an interesting time monitoring this,” commissioner Chairman Michael Finley told Samuels.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwriterFreeman.

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