Tom Clyde: The removable feast
The news of late has been so dispiriting that it’s been hard to stomach. The acrimony and toxic tone of the midterm election hasn’t helped. So it’s a great pleasure to bring you some good news for a change.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2019, it will become legal in the state of Oregon to salvage and eat roadkill deer and elk. Raccoons remain off limits. Now if that doesn’t brighten your day, there’s something wrong with you. In most states, wildlife that is hunted is highly regulated, and you have to have a permit to possess a dead deer. If you have a dead deer on your hands out of hunting season, you better have a good explanation and a couple of nuns as witnesses. The regulations are intended to control poaching, but end up with fairly stupid results.
A few years ago, somebody hit a deer on the highway near my house. The deer managed to jump the fence and get down the lane before it died in my front yard. I called to report there was a dead deer in my yard, and ask what DWR was going to do about it. The answer was, “nothing.” The woman explained that if the deer had died in the state highway right of way, they had a guy who would come and get it, eventually. But if it was on my property, it was my problem. She offered me a permit to transport it somewhere. I asked what happened if a coyote came along and dragged it to the highway right of way. “Then it would be the state’s problem.” Just then, a coyote the size of a John Deere front-end loader came along and moved it clear out to the highway. It was a miracle.
But we digress. Roadkill is off limits. You can’t tag it even if you have a proper hunting license, and you can’t move it without a permit. All you can do is call your insurance company to fix the car. Now, at least in Oregon, you also have the option of eating it. Yum.
There are rules. Under the Oregon law, you cannot deliberately hit a deer with your car for the purposes of eating it. It would take some pretty skillful driving to deliberately hit a deer. It seems to me that if you can hit it, you’ve earned the right to keep it. The cost of repairing the car ought to be a deterrent enough on that. But they are concerned that a deer might be shot first, then hit, ever so gently, with the front bumper of the 1978 Subaru (this is Oregon, after all), so it counts as roadkill. That would be cheating. It only counts if you hit it fair and square. I think you at least have to break a headlight.
You have to remove the entire animal from the road right of way. The law says you cannot leave the guts behind, so no field dressing the salvaged game on the side of the road. The entire animal would have to be stuffed into your reusable hemp shopping bag to take home, where the uneaten parts are, I don’t know, composted or reincarnated.
Oregon authorities want to know how many deer or elk are being salvaged in this manner, so you have to file a report online about where and when you salvaged a carcass. You have to deliver the head and antlers to the authorities “within 5 business days.” What they do with the head and antlers is anybody’s guess, but just off the top of my head, you don’t want to work in any office where the guy in the next cubicle is in charge of receiving the severed heads of roadkill deer.
The rules get complicated when it comes to deer that are hit and severely injured, but not instantly killed. It is permissible to euthanize the animal under those circumstances. But only the driver who actually hit the deer can salvage it to eat. Even if that driver didn’t have a gun, and the person who euthanized the animal just stopped to help, only the driver who made the initial hit can take the meat. That seems extreme. It seems to me that the guy who euthanized it ought to at least have a second position claim on it.
It’s taken wildlife officials a couple of years to get the regulations on this in place so the highway feasting can begin, and you begin to see why. They are obviously concerned about opening up a free-for-all in which drivers are careening all over Oregon’s terrible two-lane roads trying to smack a deer, or fights breaking out over who gets the carcass. It’s all very complicated.
We can only dream of a time when Utah becomes so enlightened.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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Columnist Tom Clyde has been unable to nab a ski reservation so far, so instead he’s catching up on all the important animal-related news going on in the world.