Road kill bill clears House

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A bill that would allow law enforcement officers to issue permits for salvaging road-killed game animals may not sound so palatable, but this legislation is better than its first appearances, said Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell.

“When people first hear about it — road kill — some of them think this is a crazy bill, but it’s not,” said Lavin, who’s been a trooper with the Montana Highway Patrol for more than 20 years.

Apparently, Lavin’s been able to make his case. After a long hearing with lots of questions before the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee, the bill passed 19-2. The bill then cleared the House floor with a 95-3 vote and has been transmitted to the Senate.

The idea for the bill came from a couple of fellow troopers, and Lavin later learned that similar legislation has been passed by other states.

House Bill 247 allows law enforcement officers to issue permits to individuals to salvage game animals, defined as antelope, deer, elk or moose.

Lavin originally drafted the bill to allow generic “game animals, fur-bearing animals, migratory game birds and upland game birds” to be salvaged, but that raised concerns with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials.

Bighorn sheep, for instance, are frequently killed by vehicles in the Thompson Falls area, and their potentially valuable carcasses might become the focus of profiteering. Same goes with bears, mountain lions and other animals that would be desirable for their heads, claws or furs.

“I took out anything that might be a concern to them,” Lavin said of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The bill is solely about salvaging game animals for their meat, when it is salvageable.

“As people know, people hit a lot of animals on roadways, and I mean a ton of them,” Lavin said, noting that the highway patrol or other law enforcement agencies are most commonly asked to respond.

In many cases, the animals are wounded but they still must be put down. It is in those cases that Lavin has occasionally been asked if the animal can be salvaged.

“I have to tell them, ‘no,’’’ because of current state law, Lavin said. “There’s a lot of good meat being wasted out there.”

The responsibility of someone eventually picking up road carcasses is left to the state Department of Transportation.

Lavin said the Highway Patrol often calls food banks that do take road kill, even though that is a technical violation of the law, but food banks often can’t drive a considerable distance to pick up an animal in a timely fashion.

“Usually when we call them they are not available or they aren’t logistically able to come out and get it,” he said.

People have questioned if the salvage permit could be abused. Lavin said that is not likely, because law enforcement is acting as a control for when permits should be issued.

People aren’t going to intentionally hit an elk when it’s going to cost them $1,500 in damages to their vehicle, Lavin said. Nor are poachers going to go through the problems of staging a road kill with the possibility of being caught.

“If there’s something fishy going on, we’ll catch on pretty quickly,” Lavin said.

People already take antlers from deer and elk road kill, and permits would simply allow that to become legal if the meat is salvageable.

Lavin said he doubts salvage permitting will become a widespread practice, simply because most people aren’t interested in road kill. But some are interested in game meat that is perfectly fine.

“It’s about fresh kills on cooler days” when the meat won’t spoil, Lavin said. “And it gives law enforcement a chance to actually help people, too.”

Lavin will soon defend the bill in the Senate. “I hope they will see it the same way, and I hope the governor will see it the same. I think this thing is going to pass,” he said.

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