Jan 27, 2015

Wyoming House moves to legalize picking up road kill

Road-killed wildlife has long been deemed gross and illegal to pick up in Wyoming, but state lawmakers have taken a first step toward removing one of those stigmas.

The Wyoming House voted 39-21 last week to pass a new law that would allow people to pick up road kill with Game and Fish permission. There are some ways for people to collect road kill under current state law, but the bill would make it easier and more broadly available.

A proposed bill could allow citizens to collect road-killed deer — like this one shown off of Lane 11H south of Powell. Photo by CJ Baker
“I thought, you know what, if somebody wants to pick one of them things up — I wouldn’t touch them — but if somebody wants to pick one up, I guess it’s their prerogative to pick one up,” said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, of his aye vote on the bill.

Bill sponsor Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said only about 6 percent of road kill is fit for human
consumption, but could be used for food for pets. The bill also allows individuals to collect road kill for scientific purposes. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department would be in charge of writing the specific rules for collecting road kill.

A total of 18 states, including Montana, have similar programs, Zwonitzer said. He said some states’ laws have led to entrepreneurs who make a business of selling things like horns, hides and even rabbits’ feet from road-killed animals.

“There some weird companies out there,” Zwonitzer said at Jan. 16 committee hearing on the bill.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Scott Talbott told the House’s Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee that he’s been told by his counterpart in Montana that their road-kill program is going pretty well overall. Montana’s biggest problem has been altercations over who gets to claim a desirable road-killed animal, Talbott was told.

“They have had some altercations of people who have hit (an animal) — specifically moose —
alongside the road and somebody else stops and says, ‘I want that moose,’” he said with a bit of a chuckle.

If a large, trophy-quality animal is hit in Wyoming, Talbott said Game and Fish usually gets immediate calls about the carcass and “most generally they’re gone before our people can get there — whether they be trophy bull elk or large mule deer.”

Certain animals could not be collected under any circumstances under the proposed bill, including bighorn sheep, mountain goats and federally protected species (such as grizzly bears, gray wolves and eagles). Talbott noted the bighorn sheep along the forks of the Shoshone River often stand in the road during their rut.

“In November, it would be quite simple to run over a bighorn ram on the North Fork or the South Fork and throw it in the back of your truck,” he said, saying the animals are worth tens of thousands of dollars on the black market.

Talbott said there have been situations where people have intentionally run down wildlife in the state and been prosecuted, but “fortunately that isn’t a common violation.” Zwonitzer wonders whether many would be willing ruin a vehicle to run over an animal, but said the bill would allow the Game and Fish Department to inspect the animal before giving permission to take it.

How much time department staff would have to check on road-killed animals, particularly during hunting season, could be an issue.

Wyoming Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott testifies before the House's Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee on Jan. 16. Photo by CJ Baker
“Our people certainly don’t have the personnel available to respond to a road kill call the first week of October,” Talbott said.

That concern over department resources has been echoed by the Wyoming Game Wardens Association.

“Us as game wardens, we want to get out in the field, we want to protect Wyoming’s wildlife. We don’t want to be having to come back to town, or in some game wardens’ districts, it’s all they would be doing is making sure ... there’s nothing hokey about it (the animals) or they were all accidentally taken by a motor vehicle,” Casper Game Warden Daniel Beach recently told TV station KCWY of Casper.

The Game and Fish Department’s Green River office recently reminded residents that it’s illegal and unsafe to collect road kill, citing the danger of stopping along the road and the unsafe nature of road-killed meat.

Outside of Northrup, the rest of the Big Horn Basin’s delegation in the House voted against the bill. That included Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, who sits on the wildlife Committee.

“I think they got plenty to do,” Laursen said of Game and Fish employees. “I don’t think they have time for that (road kill).”

He would also rather have the dead animals collected by the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s clearly marked vehicles than by citizens simply pulled off to the side of the road.

“I think it’s just dangerous,” Laursen told the Tribune.

Sam Krone, R-Cody, Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis and Mike Greear, R-Worland also voted no.

“I thought, you know what, if somebody wants to pick one of them things up — I wouldn’t touch them — but if somebody wants to pick one up, I guess it’s their prerogative to pick one up,” said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell.

Backers of the bill included the rest of Laursen’s colleagues on the wildlife committee and Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

“There’s something about wanton waste wildlife that just kind of rubs us a little wrong,” Bob Wharff, the executive director of the sportsmen’s association, told the wildlife committee, adding, “I would much rather see those animals that have unfortunately met their demise on a street or highway put to use as opposed to just left to waste.”

Several representatives supported the bill because they hoped it would allow carcasses to be removed more quickly.

Whether the bill will make it through the Senate remains to be seen; Northrup suspects it will fail in the Legislature’s upper body.

With no pun apparently intended, department director Talbott said that if the bill does become a law, it would probably be next January before the new road-kill rules and regulations “hit the street.”

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