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If you hit it, you can eat it (starting soon)

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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Starting this summer, harvesting roadkill in Washington will be legal

If you realized you forgot to pick up dinner on your way home from work, another option might be available on the side of the highway, should the opportunity present itself — roadkill.

It may not be quite as simple as picking up a fast-food burger, but the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife released a statement earlier this month that it plans to introduce a law allowing motorists to salvage deer or elk killed in motor vehicle accidents for food.

Previously, eating roadkill was illegal in the state, but on April 8, the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission approved a measure that will allow people to salvage deer or elk.

The law will take effect in July, and department officials say they're still developing administrative procedures to implement the new rule.

However, officials have already released a set of guidelines for the law. After either a deer or elk is struck and killed, a salvage permit must be obtained from the Fish & Wildlife department within 24 hours of taking possession of the animal. Eventually, the department hopes to have permits available on its website.

The law does not apply to Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, where the white-tailed deer is listed as "endangered" under the federal Endangered Species Act, and cannot be harvested.

Motorists cannot kill an injured animal for the purpose of salvage.

Debbie Riley, environmental health manager for Mason County Public Health, said the department has some safety concerns for people who might choose to harvest roadkill.

"As of right now, we would encourage people to be cautious, because of things like rotten meat... or bone fragments and stuff from the impact," Riley said, adding that people harvesting deer or elk should follow the Department of Fish & Wildlife's advice for gathering wild game meat safely.

Riley said Public Health hadn't heard about the measure until this week, when the Journal requested an interview. After learning about the new measure, she said the idea of harvesting roadkill has sparked a lot of conversation with department health officials.

"It took a lot of us by surprise," she said. "It will be very interesting as we begin finding out exactly what their (the Department of Fish & Wildlife) policies and procedures will be."

Riley said she hopes state health officials will work with the state Department of Fish & Wildlife to ensure people stay safe while harvesting roadkill.

In 2015, motorists on Mason County roads killed 41 non-domestic animals, most of which were deer, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. Of those, two were elk and one was classified as "others."

That was an increase from 2007, when WSDOT began keeping track of non-domestic animal collisions, when motorists in Mason County recorded hitting 29 animals.

Between 2007 and 2015, motorists reported hitting 304 total non-domestic animals.

However, WSDOT said this number is probably far from accurate.

"There are probably a lot that aren't reported," said Kelly McAllister, fish and wildlife biologist for the department. "It obviously goes beyond state highways."

Each year, more than 1,100 wildlife/vehicle collisions are reported to Washington State Patrol, but WSDOT removes more than 3,500 deer and elk carcasses from state highways annually.

Department maintenance workers remove animal carcasses from state highways and bury them at designated disposal sites. However, this work is generally only done on weekdays.

Mason County hires one contract worker to clean up any reported non-domestic animals killed by motorists on county roads, according to the county public works office. The office does not clean up domestic animals, such as dogs or cats, or dead animals on private lands.

Washington is not the first state to legalize harvesting roadkill.

In October 2013, Montana legalized salvaging deer, moose, elk or antelope killed on roadways.

In the first two months after the law passed, 187 permits were issued statewide.

In September 2015, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department released data that showed 1,747 roadkill salvage permits had been approved since the law passed.

In Montana, permits can be obtained from a law enforcement officer or the parks department.

Until the law goes into effect in July, motorists who hit a non-domestic animal in Mason County can notify the public works department at 427-9670, ext. 450.

"As of right now, we would encourage people to be cautious, because of things like rotten meat... or bone fragments and stuff from the impact."

Debbie Riley, environmental health manager, Mason County Public Health

Copyright 2016 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: April 28, 2016

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