HELENA, Mont. - Elk, deer, antelope and moose: If Montana residents can scrape it up, they can eat it.
State lawmakers are poised to say just that after the Senate gave its initial backing Wednesday to a bill that would allow people to salvage roadkill for food. The measure is now a final vote from heading to Gov. Steve Bullock.
It makes no sense to let the carcasses of big-game go to waste on Montana's roadways, supporters said.
"It really is a sin to waste a good meat," said state Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman.
The measure calls for law-enforcement officers to issue permits to individuals who would be allowed to remove the carcasses of elk, deer, antelope and moose off the state's roadways. An earlier version would have allowed fur-bearing animals, upland game birds and migratory game birds to be scraped up, too, but it got canned.
Opponents question whether the meat would be safe and whether it would create liability issues for food banks that accept it. Sen. Kendall Van Dyk, D-Billings, said law-enforcement officers are not qualified to decide whether roadkill is safe to eat.
"Despite it's good intention, it doesn't pass the smell test for me," Van Dyke said.
Cattle ranchers like Sen. Jim Peterson, R-of Buffalo, questioned how roadkill could be harvested for food when the cattle industry must follow strict federal regulations.
Montana is not alone in considering the usefulness of roadkill. Illinois allows people with a furbearing permit to remove roadkill for pelts and also allows for the salvaging of meat.
Alaska Fish and Wildlife Protection Troopers run a program that divvies approximately 820 moose carcasses to charitable organizations, like churches and nonprofit organizations, who cook up moose meat for needy people.
The Montana measure would defer to the state's Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency to regulate how the roadkill is actually salvaged.
But as to whether the measure would create a new weapon for hunters - the car - Jent said he doesn't see that as plausible.
"We don't have very many suicidal drivers," Jent said.
The Senate voted 33-15 in favor of the measure. A final vote could be scheduled as early as Thursday.
Bullock didn't have an immediate comment on the bill.