Salem, Ore. • Three months in, Oregonians have embraced a new law that lets them claim for food deer and elk killed along the state’s highways.
More than 200 permits were issued by March 31, and primarily where expected: rural areas with an abundant supply of both wildlife and motorists. Urban areas and far-flung, sparsely populated counties, not so much.
The law allows people to take deer and elk killed by vehicles, whether their own or someone else's. Other animal species are not included.
Highways near small and medium-size towns are roadkill hotspots. Residents near La Grande in eastern Oregon and Klamath Falls in southern Oregon applied for the most roadkill permits, state data show.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which administers the roadkill permit system — officially known as road salvage permits — provided the data in response to a public records request from the Statesman Journal.
Agency officials expected people to apply for the new permits, but they didn't know what type of volume to anticipate, Michelle Dennehy, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, said in an email.
"We expect roadkill permit usage will pick up in spring and fall during annual big game migration, as wildlife-vehicle collisions peak at these times," Dennehy said.
Roadkill users find benefits to the law
Oregonians who have harvested roadkill say the online process for obtaining a permit works smoothly.
Benjamin Fowler, a 28-year-old roof cleaning technician from Keizer, got a permit after a deer ran in front of his pickup truck in March on a rural road south of Salem. By then, he said he had heard people talking about the new law and checked with wildlife officials to make sure it was legal.
"It did help save on the grocery bill quite a bit, not having to pay for meat."
A bow hunter, Fowler was able to dress and prepare the deer himself. It provided a steaks and hamburger for him and his family, which includes his parents and son, he said.
"It did help save on the grocery bill quite a bit, not having to pay for meat," he said.
Cody Berrell of Silverton salvaged a deer after he saw a vehicle hit it several miles outside of town. After calling state officials, he found out about the salvage permit, which he called a "pretty straightforward process."
The whole animal, with the exception of one thigh, was salvaged and provided about 65 to 70 pounds of meat.
An avid hunter, Berrell, 24, said salvaging an animal is a good option if it's fresh.
"It just depends on how long it's been sitting out," he said. "If it's been sitting out for a couple days, it's not something you want to take."
Rules of the roadkill
Oregon's roadkill rules are relatively simple. For starters, skunks, raccoons and possums are off limits. Only deer and elk can be salvaged.
After a motorist strikes a deer or elk, or finds one hit by another vehicle, they can salvage the animal. But within 24 hours, they have to submit an online application for a permit from Fish and Wildlife.
When salvaging the animal, they need to remove the entire carcass from the road.
It continues to be illegal to intentionally hit a deer or elk.
The head and antlers of salvaged animals must be turned into a state Fish and Wildlife location within five business days. The agency tests tissue from the head for chronic wasting disease as part of its surveillance efforts.
It's illegal to sell roadkill, but transferring it to another person is allowed if a written record is kept.
Dennehy said the program overall is working well, though there have been a couple issues.
Sometimes, people have tried to turn in a head with the antlers cut off — often because they found the animal that way, she said. In those cases, a person cannot keep the animal because it's not legal to salvage it.
People also have tried to salvage white-tailed deer, Dennehy said. White-tailed deer can only be salvaged from Douglas County and east of the crest of the Cascade Mountains because the species is protected in much of western Oregon.
In some cases, attempts have been made to salvage pronghorn antelope and other species not included under the law.
Roadkill laws in other states
Oregon's law is modeled after Washington state's salvage permit system, which began in 2016 for elk and deer.
It's caught on quickly in Washington state and has grown.
The state has issued 5,470 permits for deer and elk roadkill from mid-2016 through 2018, Washington state data show. In 2018 alone, 2,329 permits were issued, a 16 percent increase over 2017.
Idaho's roadkill and salvage law, put in place in 2012, is more permissive. Motorists can get permits for most animals, with the exception of protected non-game, threatened and endangered species and migratory birds.
That leaves plenty of options for Idahoan motorists. Skunks, beavers and coyotes are on the list of allowed animals.
Idahoans salvaged 1,737 animals in 2018, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game data. Most were for deer and elk, but permits were issued for 29 species in all, the most diverse of any state in the Northwest. Idaho's roadkill haul included 12 bobcats, three red fox and a porcupine.
In Utah, roadkill from wildlife, including deer and elk, can be handed over to the person who hits the animal or finds it. They need to get a donation slip from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said Faith Jolley, a public information officer with the agency. Antlers and horns of animals cannot be kept.
Much of the time, Jolley said, "roadkill turns out to not be consumable due to the damage to the carcass that renders the meat unusable."
The Nevada Department of Wildlife doesn't allow people to pick up or salvage big game roadkill, said Ashley Sanchez, a spokeswoman for agency.
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California considers roadkill law
Oregonians have Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, to thank for the state's roadkill law, which passed in 2017. The senator got the idea while driving toward Pendleton along a rural highway about three years go.
It's a stretch of road where game and roadkill is frequent, as it was during his drive.
The thought occurred to me: 'Is there any positive usage?'" the senator said.
His staff researched and discovered roadkill laws are common throughout the U.S., regardless of geography or politics.
"It stretched the political gamut," he said. "You had liberal Vermont to conservative Wyoming."
He introduced Senate Bill 372 in 2017, which passed unanimously with bipartisan support.
Oregon's smooth roll out of its roadkill law hasn't gone unnoticed. The senator heard from California legislators, who are also weighing a roadkill bill.
He testified in front of a California Senate committee last week about how Oregon's roadkill law has worked.
“I was honored to be asked to come down,” he said. “We might be able to be a model to other states that don’t currently have it.”