Read the original article by Brooke Staggs at mercurynews.com here.
It will soon be legal to cook up deer and other big game killed by cars on California roadways.
The so-called “roadkill bill” was among dozens of proposals Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law over the past week in light of the annual deadline to pass or veto all state legislation, with a total of 870 bills approved this session.
State Sen. Bob Archuleta – who’s in his first year representing SD-32, which includes portions of Orange and Los Angeles counties – said he’s taken a good amount of ribbing since he introduced Senate Bill 395 in February. But while the portion of his bill that legalizes roadkill collection has gotten all of the attention, Archuleta said it was the public safety and animal welfare angles that led him to author the Wildlife Traffic Safety Act.
“When you look at the statistics, the number of injuries and accidents and fatalities, it’s about time,” Archuleta, D-Pico Rivera, said. “If we can save one life, save one animal, I think we’ve done the right thing here.”
Over the past six years, some 8,000 accidents involving large game have resulted in more than 1,500 injuries and at least 24 fatalities to humans, according to data from the California Highway Patrol. And UC Davis estimates more than 20,000 deer alone are killed on California roadways each year. However, no agency officially tracks wildlife collisions.
“We desperately need systematic data reporting on vehicle collisions with wildlife in California, and CalTrans isn’t going to do it unless directed to by statute,” said Brian Nowicki with the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that fights to protect endangered species and habitats. That’s why Nowicki’s organization supported SB 395, he said, “despite some reservations about the roadkill salvage component.”
Archuleta’s bill mandates a pilot program to track wildlife collisions in three parts of the state, which have yet to be determined. By Jan. 1, 2022, the California Fish and Game Commission must make a cell phone app that will let drivers report accidents involving deer, elk, antelope and wild pigs. The commission and other state agencies such as CalTrans will collect that data and analyze it to see where they need to improve road barriers, add lighting or consider creating bridges for wildlife crossings.
When a driver or passer-by reports such a collision, if the animal is killed, Archuleta said the app will ask them whether they want to collect the animal. If they say yes, they’ll immediately get a free salvage permit.
If the animal is injured but not killed, the bill states travelers must let the Department of Fish and Wildlife decide whether to put the animal down. If state authorities kill the animal, then the public can still ask to take the carcass home.
It’s long been illegal for anyone but state authorities to collect large game animals, which Archuleta said creates a secondary safety hazard since animals could still be in roadways or distracting to passing drivers. And it has also meant that no one could use the carcasses, wasting thousands of pounds of meat each year.
That’s why the practice of salvaging game has gained popularity even among some people who are otherwise vegetarians or against factory farming, with roadkill cookbooks on the market and cook-off competitionshappening each year. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA says this: “If people must eat animal carcasses, roadkill is a superior option to the neatly shrink-wrapped plastic packages of meat in the supermarket.”
Roughly half of U.S. states have some form of roadkill salvage programs in place, including Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
Archuleta said he talked to people in those states who said meat salvaged from roadways is often donated to organizations that feed the needy. However, food banks sometimes turn away roadkill meat due to health concerns.
There are a number of risks associated with eating roadkill, according to Erin DiCaprio, a professor who specializes in food safety at UC Davis. There can be parasites or bacteria present. Deer can also be infected with chronic wasting disease, which hunters are advised to watch out for by observing the animal’s behavior before it’s shot. There’s also a risk that the meat will have bits of glass or other debris.
“It is a bit of a gamble,” said Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University whose family jokingly called him “Dr. Roadkill” for his expertise on the subject.
There are no hard rules about how long an animal can sit on the side of the road and still be safe to eat, Chapman said, since it depends on the weather, the size of the animal and other factors. But in general, the longer it’s been dead, the greater the risk of it causing illness. So he said salvagers should check for flies, putrid smells and other commonsense signs that the meat has started to spoil. And he said to follow accepted guidelines for safely handling game, including using gloves and thoroughly cooking meat at high temperatures before eating it.
CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader also cautions that salvaging roadkill isn’t legal on freeways, where non-emergency stops are prohibited. And she said to be wary about how weather, darkness and other factors can make it risky for anyone to be on the side of the road.
The only group that opposed the law was the California Department of Finance, since it said the bill will strain the already taxed Department of Fish and Wildlife budget by adding an estimated $1 million a year in unfunded mandates. But, along with the loss of life, the bill points to estimates from UC Davis that wildlife collisions cause more than $200 million in annual damage.
While the app won’t be rolled out for nearly two years, taking home deer, elk, antelope and wild pigs killed by vehicles will become legal when SB 395 takes effect on Jan. 1. In the meantime, Archuleta said people will need to call the Department of Fish and Wildlife to request a free permit to salvage animals.
The pilot program will continue through 2029. But if it’s successful, Archuleta said he hopes to see the Wildlife Traffic Safety Act permanently rolled out statewide.