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Retrieving roadkill: new law allows animals to be salvaged

January 08, 2012 at 12:32 AM

The Associated Press

CASEYVILLE, Ill. (AP) - In six years of trapping, one thing has become apparent to Cody Champ: His pursuit of animal pelts isn’t cheap, costing him $100 a week just for gas. So it’s little wonder the southern Illinois man welcomed a recent state law that allows him to get a few freebies, even if he needs a shovel and good gloves. 

Among the hundreds of Illinois laws that took effect last year, the so-called “roadkill bill” got little attention despite being perhaps the quirkiest of all - allowing anyone with an Illinois furbearer license to salvage pelts or even food from the unfortunate fauna that prove no match for steel-belted radials. 

Republican Rep. Norine Hammond pushed the measure straight-faced at the behest of a retired state conservation officer who thought it was a waste to allow animals’ pelts to rot along the roadsides. Hammond said it was an opportunity for some people to make a little money, and could benefit the state by letting citizens carry out the task once relegated to state highway crews. 

Despite snickering from some lawmakers, the bill sailed through the General Assembly - twice, because lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Pat Quinn, who worried that motorists might suffer the same fate as the critters. One poke came from Rep. Lou Lang, a Chicago-area Democrat who asked what to do if a critter isn’t quite dead. 

“Am I required to perform mouth-to-mouth on that dead skunk?” Lang demanded. 

Joking aside, at least 14 states have similar bills, including those that let motorists’ keep animals they hit, though some pertain only to deer or bears, according to an informal survey for The Associated Press by the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Idaho soon may join the list, after a three-year push by one legislator to allow roadside salvage of game animals. The state’s fish and game agency, which once objected to the idea, is awaiting legislative review of a rule that would allow it under “under some circumstances.” 

“You shouldn’t let that stuff go to waste,” said Idaho Rep. Richard Harwood, a Republican who said he took up the cause after a game warden threatened a neighbor with a $350 fine if he messed with a run-over bobcat near his home for a hide that could net $200. “To be able not to grab it was kind of stupid. Why let it go to waste?” 

Since Illinois’ law took effect in October, Champ already has skinned a mink and three raccoons he found dead while driving for his job with an electrical supply company. The 26-year-old resident of Dix, near Mount Vernon, has yet to cash in on them in a state where furs - mostly raccoon and muskrat - brought in $1.2 million in 2010, up 95 percent from the previous year. 

Pelts from certain wild animals are fetching the highest prices in years, due to a strong demand in Russia, China and other countries where they are valued more for their warmth than as a fashion statement. A raccoon skin routinely gets about $9, red fox $14 and muskrat $6.50, with top dollar often twice that amount. 

Even so, nobody stands to get rich off roadkill, Champ said, because animals favored by trappers - including coyotes, foxes, squirrels to opossums, raccoons, muskrats, beavers and mink - sometimes are rendered useless for pelts when they meet their end on a roadway. 

What’s more, Champ said, the law simply legalizes a practice people quietly have been doing for years. 

“Is a game warden really gonna get onto you for getting a few dollars” without a license, Champ said. 

Illinois’ law does stipulate that carcasses only may be salvaged if the animal is in season, to prevent anyone from poaching them the rest of the year and claiming they were roadkill. And people without the proper license are out of luck. 

There’s no way to know how many have taken advantage of the bill. The state last season - from late 2010 through January 2011 - issued 4,202 furbearer licenses, 389 more than the year before. This year’s numbers have not yet been released. 

But for those who do, the state dutifully offered up safety pointers for the ghoulish chore of clearing the carcasses, urging salvagers to wear gloves at all times and don protective glasses to avoid fluids splashing into eyes. Immediately washing hands and any fluid-stained clothing wouldn’t be such a bad idea, either. 

The measure broadened the options under a state law that already let people collect deer killed by vehicles. But Champ says he’s not aware of anyone with the stomach for cooking roadkill, though he concedes “if a guy’s hungry enough to pick up a coon to eat, he’s not gonna care if it’s legal or not.” 

Just in case, agriculturalists suggest checking the animals for visible signs of bacteria and bugs, and to cook game meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees to kill any bacteria. 

The unwritten caveat for those unschooled in what roadkill is safe: Partake at your own peril. 

“There are some species that are eaten, particularly raccoon,” said Bob Bluett, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist. “But it depends on what shape it’s in and how long it’s been there. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

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