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New California Law Lets Drivers Eat Their Own Roadkill

“This potentially translates into hundreds of thousands of pounds of healthy meat“

New bridge over 405 freeway will open to drivers Photo by Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

A new California law paves the way for drivers to carry home and eat the animals they may accidentally kill with their vehicles. The new Wildlife Traffic Safety Act was one of many bills signed into law at the end of a recent legislative session, following in the footsteps of similar laws in states like Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Currently in California, it’s illegal for anyone except a state authority to collect or “salvage” animals like deer and elk killed in the roadway.

SB 395 was proposed by State Senator Bob Archuleta of Orange and LA counties. It primarily sets up a pilot program in three yet-to-be-determined parts of the state to track vehicle collisions with wildlife. UC Davis studies estimate that more than 20,000 deer are killed on California roadways, but the numbers for other animals aren’t known.

“This potentially translates into hundreds of thousands of pounds of healthy meat that could be used to feed those in need,” the law argues.

SB 395 could also help determine those unclear figures. Now, California Fish and Game must create a cell phone app by 2022 through which drivers can report collisions with deer, elk, antelope, and wild pigs. When a driver (or passerby) reports the incident, they’ll get a free salvage permit, should they want one, to take the animal home and eat it — assuming the animal has died. If it’s injured but not dead, the Department of Fish and Wildlife will have to decided whether to kill the animal. If they do, a member of the public can then request the free salvage permit.

Before the app launches, free salvage permits may be granted by phone starting in 2011. But freeways are exempt entirely, because non-emergency stops on California freeways are illegal.

While drivers are welcome to cook roadkill themselves — experts recommend checking for glass and debris as well as cooking the meat at high temperatures — they won’t be able to share their “salvages” with some California food banks just yet. A representative for the SF-Marin Food Bank tells Eater SF that the food bank only accepts protein from facilities with a USDA inspector on-site and with USDA seals on their packaging, for food safety purposes. And whether or not chefs choose to incorporate “salvage” dishes on their menus remains to be seen.