The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is devising an online permitting system so people can legally salvage big-game animals (moose, elk, deer or antelope) killed on the highway by vehicles. The new permitting system should be in place by the end of this month, said FWP Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement Mike Korn. “The reason we’re going through an electronic system is so we can track it, be able to accurately see the degree to which it’s being utilized, and to watch for abuses,” Korn said, adding, “We have it written into the rules that, if we have a question, we can come and inspect the animal and inspect the place where the animal was hit.” Like all other states, wildlife in Big Sky Country is considered public property held in trust for the people of the state. “Up until this law was passed, it was illegal to take roadkill – whether it was antlers or any part of the meat – simply because the agency is in charge of what happens to them. When you get a hunting license, then you can reduce it to your possession and you are allowed to take it and it becomes private property,” Korn explained. The new roadkill salvage law was passed by the state legislature earlier this year and officially took effect Oct. 1. Its adoption makes Montana one of at least 23 states to allow the practice. Statistics show that thousands of big-game animals are hit by vehicles on Montana highways each year, amounting to thousands of pounds of potentially edible meat. FWP rules are strict about how permittees may proceed once the system is up and running. Grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, wolves, furbearing mammals and birds of prey are excluded from the new law. In addition, permittees must retrieve the entire animal, and no roadside processing is allowed. Korn noted that agency rules adopted in response to the new law are very specific about the use of road-killed animals, and it’s assumed that any salvage will not only be for parts, including hooves, antlers, and hides, but also food fit for human consumption. “It’s against the law to sell (the meat) if they salvage it,” he said. “They cannot use it for dog food; they cannot use it for bait.” Montana food banks currently will not accept road-killed animals, but if FWP seizes animals that are illegally killed and are otherwise in good shape, they are turned over to food banks, Korn said. “We just turned over five or six elk here in town. We don’t process it. They have to handle that,” he said. When buying a Montana hunting license, applicants can donate $1 or more to “Hunters Against Hunger,” which then sends the money to social service agencies to help with processing meat. Korn said that processing a deer can cost $150, so it’s no small expense for struggling groups such as food banks. Whether it’s safe to consume road-killed meat depends on how it’s handled, he said. “It’s going to be up to them (the permittees) to make that determination,” Korn said. “If something’s been sitting there for three days, it’s probably not edible. If it’s just been hit, there’s a possibility that there’s stuff that’s edible.” Since road-killed animals are a frequent occurrence in states with large numbers of wildlife such as Montana and Alaska, there are increasing efforts under way to help animals avoid traffic as they cross highways, which they often do to drink from a river or creek and to access traditional habitat. Korn said the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes in northwest Montana are working on building wildlife underpasses on certain stretches of Highway 93, a notorious site of many vehicle/wildlife collisions. “It’s part of the solution, and everybody’s looking for a silver bullet,” he said. “In eastern Montana, where you have herds of antelope, they still slip under fences and get whacked. Wherever you have major wildlife populations, you’re going to have this problem.”