Roadkill Is Fair Game for Eating Under New California Law

October 30, 2019 Updated: October 30, 2019

California has legalized the claiming, cooking, and eating of roadkill, including deer, elk, pronghorn antelopes, and wild pigs. California is now one of 20 states with this kind of law.

Sponsored by Sen. Bob Archuleta (D-Pico Rivera), Senate Bill 395 enables the state’s Fish and Game Commission to develop a pilot program that would issue permits to people for taking home an animal they struck killed on the road to eat once they have filled out information on an online portal within 24 hours. According to the law, that information would include “the location, type, and description of the animal salvaged, the date and time of salvage, the basic characteristics of the incident and a description of the vehicle involved … and the destination where the carcass will be transported.”

Drivers who simply came upon an animal that had been struck and killed could also apply for the permit. The law would not condone the intentional killing of animals with a vehicle for the purpose of salvage or the killing of endangered species. The law allows the Department of Fish and Wildlife to decide whether to put down an animal that is hit by a vehicle and then to consider it roadkill that can be taken home by the person who hit it.

Designed to gather data, make use of food sources that would otherwise go unused, and keep the highways cleaner, the law will start as a pilot program in 2022. It will take effect in three geographic areas of California where there are high wildlife-vehicle collision rates once there is funding from the state legislature.

“When you look at the statistics, the number of injuries and accidents and fatalities, it’s about time. If we can save one life, save one animal, I think we’ve done the right thing here,”Archuleta said. He expects that it will save “hundreds of thousands of pounds of healthy meat” from roadkill and “feed those in need.”

According to Archuleta, more than 20,000 deer alone are hit on California highways annually. He wants to ascertain that some edible meat that might have gone to waste could feed people as well as to enable the California Department of Transportation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to “identify where roadway defenses can be enhanced and where future wildlife highway over-crossings should be located.” At the end of the experimental program, officials will decide whether to make it statewide.

Provisions of the law, as listed by the state senator’s office, include the following:

  • Authorizing the commission to establish a pilot program for issuing wildlife salvage permits to persons desiring to recover, possess, use or transport, for purposes of salvaging wild game meat for human consumption of animals accidentally killed as a result of a vehicle collision on a roadway within California.
  • Establishing requirements for applying for and receiving a wildlife salvage permit. Restricting roadways where wildlife salvage may be conducted and the species subject to salvage, and to regulate any other aspect of the pilot program, as specified.
  • Requiring the implementation of the pilot program no later than 6 months after the commission establishes the pilot program.
  • Requiring a person seeking to obtain a wildlife salvage permit to report certain information relating to the salvage through the department’s web-based portal.
  • Making data available online about the number of wildlife salvage permits issued, locations of impacts, and species of wildlife.

The law has support from some unlikely sources. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) calls eating roadkill a “superior option to the neatly shrink-wrapped plastic packages of meat in the supermarket,” because the animals have not been subjected to antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants. PETA believes that the instant killing is more humane than the conditions in slaughterhouses.

The California Fish and Game Wardens Association objects to the new law, because its officials think that it may make it easier for elk and antelope hunters who have problems getting hunting permits to kill the animals and report it as roadkill. The association also expressed concern about the safety of drivers who stop on roadways, get out of their cars and collect the animals.

“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.

Under previous California law, it was illegal to eat roadkill and “unlawful possession of wildlife” could entail a $6,000 fine and six months in jail.