Several years ago my dad was training his young black Labrador to retrieve. While driving one day, he stopped on the highway and picked up a duck laying by the side of the road. As a teenager I was mortified by this, despite the benefit it would have in training Abby, the lab. I joked recently about whether he has found any dead ducks to train his newest lab, Sadie. Little did I know, he was not the only one finding a use for roadkill.
About half of the states have legislation allowing people to pick up and salvage roadkill. Some states like Idaho encourage it but ask that anyone who does submit a short report on what and where they found the roadkill. The Fish and Game agency use the data to track locations with the highest crash rates in order to mitigate future conflicts. I wrote about the bridges and tunnels being built for wildlife to safely cross back in 2017, which is one result of data like this.
To many, this may seem odd, like my initial reaction to my dad stopping for a dead duck. But when I considered the benefits further, salvaging roadkill is a good idea. Not only can the information help reduce accidents, but it provides a high protein meal and reduces the number of animals Fish and Game agencies have to pick up. With less roadkill the roads are cleaner and the number of animals scavenging the roadkill is cut down, reducing additional accidents. One woman who salvages roadkill in Idaho put it best in a Seattle Times interview. Most people see roadkill by the time it has been picked over by birds and would no long be salvagable. But if picked up relatively soon after it was killed, the meat is virtually the same as if it were killed by a hunter.
With so many families going hungry across the Nation, what if groups started harvesting the meat to use at soup kitchens and other shelters operating on a limited budget? In January, a herd of elk was hit by a train in Southeast Idaho. Fish and Game officers were able to salvage 10 of the 31 animals killed and distribute the meat to locals. Some food banks in states with salvage laws actually accept donations of salvaged meat. Charities in Alaska are notified by state troopers of new roadkill. With estimates of 600 to 800 moose killed each year, salvaging roadkill could be a significant supply of meat.
It will be interesting to see how this trend changes over time to see if more states pass salvage laws and whether it becomes more normalized. It may be less necessary in the age of autonomous vehicles, but as with any new technology, it is difficult to predict how it will be used. For now though, the stigma of roadkill is being overcome, giving these animals killed by our cars a meaningful end.