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Wyoming road kill bill could be a boon for taxidermists but raises highway safety concerns

(Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

CASPER, Wyo. — A proposal to allow people to collect road killed animals from the side of highways (with proper permits or permission) has its supporters but is also causing some concern about highway safety.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (Laramie County) is the primary sponsor of House Bill 95 and told the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee on Tuesday that he initially proposed similar legislation in 2013, prompted by the Cody Youth for Justice.

While road kill collection legislation has not made its way through the Wyoming Legislature on the several occasions it has been proposed, Zwonitzer said that Montana, Washington state and others out west have passed such laws since his initial effort in 2013.

He said that while the proposed legislation would create a process allowing people to collect road kill for consumption, “statistics show maybe 5-10% of road killed wildlife are edible for human consumption.”

In other 10% of cases, road killed animals may be suitable to be used as supplemental feed for dogs or livestock.

However, Zwonitzer said that consumption of road killed animals is not the driving reason people might be interested in collecting carcasses. He said that people like taxidermists and scout troops might be interested in collecting carcasses for hooves, hide, teeth or rending “sometimes for sale, sometimes for projects.”

He said that in states like Montana, Alaska and Washington, people authorized to collect road kill from the side of the roadways “will do so in a timely manner.”

“There are instances where a carcass has been on the side of the road for a couple of months in some remote places of Wyoming,” Zwonitzer said. “I’ve had places even in Laramie County where an animal lays there for a couple of weeks and no one is collecting it. It is not a danger on the roadway, but it is a danger for other carnivores feeding on that animal which could lead to further incidents as well.”

“There is good reason to get it removed off the highways for safety reasons.”

House Bill 95 would allow people to collect road kill carcasses if they have one of the following:

  • a letter of prior authorization from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (available to anyone who “commits to putting road killed wildlife carcasses to a beneficial use”)
  • a scientific or educational license for a specific species issued in line with state statutes (this type of collection permit is allowed under existing law)
  • a donation certificate issued by Game and Fish
  • an interstate game tag issued by Game and Fish

The proposed legislation would allow people to collect road kill if they contact the Wyoming Game and Fish Department at the time an animal is killed in a collision and obtain a donation certificate. Game and Fish would be able to promulgate specific rules and regulations for the process.

“Game and Fish could decide if they needed to inspect to prove it is a road killed animal,” Zwonitzer said.

Zwonitzer also described an amendment to the proposed legislation for the House committe’s consideration which would require anyone collecting a road killed animal to take the entire animal.

The amendment also adds offers language allowing the Wyoming Transportation Commission to designate roadways where road kill collection would be prohibited for safety reasons.

Zwonitzer said this aspect of the amendment was due to concern that places like interstates and some other highways may not allow people to safely pull onto the side of the road and collect road kill.

Wyoming Highway Patrol Administrator Kebin Haller told the House committee that the WHP are “very concerned with the vehicles that are stopping alongside of the road and the length of time they are stopping.”

He said that WHP is seeing an increase in distracted driving collisions likely due to people using electronic devices while driving.

“I have concerns over safety issues whenever vehicles are stopping along these primary, secondary highways, and then the interstate,” he said.

Wyoming Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Mark Gillett said that some secondary highways in the state “have little or no shoulder to pull off on while trying to load up a carcass, especially during night time or low light levels.”

Gillett added that WYDOT has recorded vehicles parked on the side of the road being hit which were there to pick up litter.

“Now, we require a shadow vehicle for those kind of operations,” he said, adding that the shadow vehicle is equipped with a device “that if hit will fold up and make the crash less severe.”

He said that another concern relates to the process in which Game and Fish would require someone to obtain permission to collect a carcass. If they were to require a person travel to a Game and Fish office to get a permit before returning to the scene to collect the carcass, Gillett said situation could arise in which WYDOT personnel had already collected the carcass and taken it to a landfill.

“Could we just say, ‘It’s gone, I’m sorry?” he asked.

Gillett said that a permission process allowing someone to collect the carcass on scene immediately would help alleviate that concern, though with spotty cellular service in parts of the state, this might not always be possible.

Zwonitzer noted that this would not be an issue in the case of someone with prior authorization to collect road kill as they could pick up carcasses when they come across them.

House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee Chair Jamie Flitner (Big Horn, Park Counties) asked whether WYDOT had safety protocols in place for picking up road killed animals and whether the department monitors for chronic wasting disease among road killed animals.

“We do provide gloves and PPE for this type of activity,” Gillett said. “We don’t have any idea if they have the disease of not.”

Rep. Christopher Knapp (Campbell County) asked if the proposed legislation contemplates rules requiring proper disposal in case the animal had chronic wasting disease.

Zwonitzer said Game and Fish could establish such rules but that the amendment requiring people to collect the whole carcass would help support proper disposal rules.

Wyoming Game and Fish Chief Game Warden Rick King said that due to chronic wasting disease “providing any avenue for the brain or spinal column of a deer, elk or moose carcass to end up in any kind of feed chain is definitely a concern for us.”

He said that the amendment requiring the whole carcass be collected would help Game and Fish ensure carcasses were being properly disposed.

Flitner asked about identifying whether road kill had chronic wasting disease.

“Testing for chronic wasting disease really relies on us being able to take part of the brain or a lymph node and run diagnostic work in a lab,” King said, adding that it is virtually impossible to tell by looking at the carcass unless it is in later stages of the disease.

Even if an animal shows signs associated with CWD such as being emaciated, that could be a sign of some other health problem and the diagnostic testing is the only definitive method of knowing.

King said that another concern for Game and Fish is the added workload the proposed legislation could create. However, he said that other states have been able to implement electronic system for the permitting process and that this is likely the kind of system Game and Fish would rely on.

On the other hand, it could create work for Game and Fish personnel working in the field who already have their plates full.

But King said that “our concern for the spread of chronic wasting disease is paramount.”

“It is crucial that we maintain regulations [that ensure] nonedible portions, especially the brain and spinal column, end up in a landfill,” he said.

Wyoming Wildlife Federation Government Affairs Director Jessi Johnson said that she was excited about the proposed legislation.

“We have a lot of interest from hunters and anglers on this,” she said, noting that the primary concern people express is reducing waste.

She said that the legislation might address waste in another way besides finding use for road kill carcasses. Johnson suggested that the legislation could direct fees for road kill collection permits toward efforts to mitigate wildlife collisions.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department says that the state averages about 6,000 collisions between vehicles and big game each year, that 15% of all crashes in the state are crashes involving wildlife and estimate that these collisions result in $20-30 million in wildlife costs and $24-29 million in personal injury costs.

The department is working on strategies to reduce vehicle-wildlife collisions through the Big Game Animal Migration initiative (including constructing overpasses and underpasses, improving fencing, mowing along the side of the road and adding signage).

Johnson said she has seen some reporting that possibly only one-third of wildlife collisions are actually reported. She said the legislation could help incentivize reporting.

She said that in Montana, 6,252 permits for road kill collection had been issued from 2013-2019.

“More than half of that is white-tailed deer,” Johnsion said.

Julie McCallister, a citizen of Rock River, said that she has spoken with people in the area about the issue and they are often “shocked Wyoming doesn’t have a law for [road kill collection].”

She said she agreed that “interstates are not the place” for people to be collecting road kill, but that in other areas it makes sense to allow the practice because “animals are going to waste.”

McCallister added that if the program can be implemented properly, she thinks it would be an “alleviation on state resources, not a drain.”

The House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee approved both the amendment and the bill, which will send it back to the House to await consideration in Committee of the Whole.

House Bill 95 would not allow for the collection of “bighorn sheep, gray wolves within any area of the state where gray wolves are classified as trophy game animals, grizzly bears, mountain goats, wildlife species covered under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, federal threatened or endangered species or those species whose possession is prohibited by federal or state statute or regulation.”

If the proposal becomes law, it would take effect July 1, 2021. House Bill 95 is sponsored by Representative(s) Zwonitzer, Burt, Gray, Hunt, Newsome, Paxton, Sweeney and Wharff and Senator(s) Driskill and Hutchings.

Game and Fish provides the following safety recommendations for drivers to avoid collisions with wildlife:

Be as aware as possible while driving and reduce speeds.

Use high beams to see more of the road at night.

Scan across the road and rights of way frequently.

Watch for eyeshine in the headlights.

Ask passengers to help watch for wildlife.

Know wildlife is attracted to the road if salt is used as a deicer and during spring green up.

Avoid herding wildlife off the road with your car. If there is a herd, creep up slowly until they disperse. You can honk to encourage them. If they don’t budge, contact Game and Fish.

Check out a map of potential areas drivers are more likely to encounter wildlife on roads.