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If you are an unfussy carnivore in Wyoming, you have reason to celebrate.
On April 12, Governor Mark Gordon signed into law a bill adding Wyoming to a surprisingly large and growing list of states that allow residents to eat roadkill.
Starting July 1, Wyoming residents will be able to collect roadside carcasses for consumption if they are the result of unintentional collisions with motor vehicles.
Some animals – grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats – are excluded. But deer, elk, and antelope – which tend to receive high marks from wild-game eaters – are fair game. Don't think, however, that you'll be able to slice or saw off the choice parts and leave the rest behind. You will have to take the entire carcass.
The law also requires you to contact the state's fish and game department to get a certificate first. Final rules are yet to be decided, but the bill states that they may include a requirement that claimed carcasses be inspected by a state game warden.
Wyoming appears to be the 31st state to approve roadkill consumption, which might seem odd at first glance. One might guess that with its reputation for fostering a certain frontier ethic, Wyoming would be higher on the list.
Apparently, many Wyomingites have wanted to eat roadkill legally for a long time, but as the Jackson Hole Daily explains, prior attempts at getting a roadkill bill passed failed “out of concern that people would intentionally strike trophy animals or that it would provide cover for poachers." The state is providing assurances that cheaters and poachers will be punished.
Apparently, almost everyone favors the idea of humans eating roadkill. Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) gives the idea a thumbs up. “Eating roadkill is healthier for the consumer than meat laden with antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants, as most meat is today," PETA says.
So it's probably not surprising that state legislatures have been passing roadkill-harvesting laws left and right in recent years.
The laws vary. Typically, though, they specify which animals are legal to claim and which times of year are open season. Many require permits and, like Wyoming, require harvesters to take the entire carcass. Alaska is a bit different in considering all roadkill to be state property and distributes the meat to people in need, if possible.
The insurance industry reports that there were 1.9 million claims involving collisions with animals between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, the majority of them involving deer. So, when we're talking about desirable roadkill, we're mostly talking venison.
In Oregon, the state requires that once harvesters have received an online permit and removed the carcass, they must also turn in the head and antlers to a state Fish and Wildlife office for an inspection. State officials use the heads and antlers to determine whether the animal had “chronic wasting disease," which is found in deer, elk, and moose in at least 24 states.
In states where the government doesn't provide that safety check, scavengers should exercise caution. If you're the driver of a vehicle that has struck and killed a deer or other animal, of course you are assured of freshness. But if you come upon a carcass, it's best to check for freshness and be wary of any roadkill when the weather is hot. (Clear, unclouded eyes, are a plus.)
Those who are expert in the art of roadkill cuisine say that proper cooking is very important. Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety expert at the University of North Carolina, where he is known as “Dr. Roadkill" for his interest in salvaged meat, told the online publication OneZero that any foodborne diseases in wild game can be killed by cooking it to more than 165 degrees F.
There's still a tendency for many people to make jokes about roadkill cooking as something only rednecks do. But it's now gaining acceptance in places you wouldn't expect, like California. The Golden State has passed a law enabling a pilot program to allow roadkill harvesting in three jurisdictions with high rates of animal-vehicle collisions no later than Jan. 1, 2022.
An estimated 20,000 California deer die in vehicle collisions every year. Soon, fewer of them will be going to waste and more Californians will be feasting on free venison.
To them we say: Bon Appétit!