ST. PAUL — Minnesotans took home roadkill, presumably to eat, on at least 1,778 occasions this year.
That already represents an increase in the number of possession permits issued for car-killed deer, bears, squirrels, rabbits and other animals from last year, when 1,633 permits were granted, even though 2020 is not quite over.
Just what is responsible for that increase, if anything, can't be said for certain. Annual permit issuances vary only a little from year to year, according to State Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Joe Albert.
"So it’s difficult to draw any conclusions about year-to-year variations," Albert said.
Animal-vehicle collisions are, as in other states rich in wild fauna, a fact of life in Minnesota. Auto insurer State Farm said in a recent report that drivers in the state have a 1 in 64 chance of hitting an animal, the 10th highest likelihood in the nation.
The DNR could not say exactly what types of roadkill animals Minnesotans took home and for what exact purposes. But generally speaking, according to Albert, requests for possession permits tend to come from people who happen upon deer they wish to eat.
"I’ve eaten roadkill — white-tailed deer — and it was delicious.” "
— University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology associate professor Joseph Bump
Given that Minnesota drivers hit around 1,200 deer each year, according to the State Office of Traffic Safety, that isn't necessarily surprising.
Bears are probably the second most common type of animals for which possession permits are issued in Minnesota, Albert said, but permits are also issued for rabbits, squirrels and a myriad other critters found dead by the roadside.
"It really spans the gamut," he said.
But, is it safe to eat roadkill?
And what it depends on, are many of the same factors that a hunter might take into consideration when assessing a kill, said University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology associate professor Joseph Bump.
"There are a number of indicators a hunter might look for if they’ve killed an animal and are field dressing it and are assessing the animal’s health," Bump said. "Is it emaciated? Are there signs of disease that you would learn about in a hunter safety or hunter training course? Is the meat spoiled?"
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In other words, eating roadkill — however gross or gruesome it sounds — can be perfectly safe when taking the proper precautions.
"I’ve eaten roadkill — white-tailed deer — and it was delicious," Bump said.
And few though they might be in number, Minnesota's roadkill eaters are still, in a sense, in good company. The state is home to animals of all kinds, from bald eagles and crows to weasels and bobcats, that consume carrion.
That means roadkill can be an effective form of bait for game hunters. Albert said possession permits are commonly requested by people who find roadkill they seek to use as coyote bait.
Rules of the roadkill
You don't necessarily need to have hit an animal with your car in order to be eligible for a permit. Any motorist or passerby who spots salvageable roadkill can request a permit to take it home from a state conservation officer.
Drivers who collide with animals and then decide to take them home, though, have in some jurisdictions been issued permits by their county sheriff's office, according to Albert.
Taking home roadkill without a permit puts one at risk for consequences comparable to those for hunting and killing an animal without the proper registration in Minnesota. Albert said that would likely constitute an act of illegal possession or illegal transportation, both misdemeanor offenses.
Special restrictions also apply to roadkill picked up in parts of Minnesota where chronic wasting disease is known to be prevalent. The deadly disease, which affects the nervous systems of deer, elk and moose, can be spread by the transportation of infected carcasses.
Only certain parts of a roadkill deer taken in a known CWD hotspot can't be removed from one, according to the DNR. Whole carcasses and other parts must be left within the zone for testing purposes.
In the event that roadkill cannot be salvaged, state and local road authorities are generally responsible for its removal.