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Montana News

Flathead Leads Montana In Salvaging Roadkill

The North Valley Food bank has served road kill since the 1980s.
Corin Cates-Carney
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The North Valley Food bank has served road kill since the 1980s.

When the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish opened its redesigned building in 2013, it became unique among Montana food banks. While other food banks around the state have programs for hunters to bring donations of wild game, North Valley Food Bank is alone in butchering road kill on site. Until 2013, it was illegal for the public in general to salvage road kill in Montana but local game wardens have been bringing vehicle-tenderized meat to the Whitefish food bank since the 1980s.

Long time volunteer, Jerry Quinn, walks under a hook hanging from the ceiling, over floor drains, past sliver counters and a shelf of knifes, and shows off the tools in road kill butcher shop. One tool looks like something found on a construction site.

“Our primary tool of course, is this baby here. Somebody came in and said ‘you cut your meat up with a sawzall?’ Yeah is there any other way?”

Here’s Game Warden Chris Crain:

“It works great for us. So if we see a collision or injured wildlife we can get it to them or they can get it so it doesn’t go to waste. And it cleans up the roads. And it's not a potential violation for someone else who’s tempted someone else to take it. Because previous to the road kill salvage permit you could not legally possess the animal because it wasn’t taken legally. Because by killing something with a car, it’s not a legal means of take."

Before the food bank’s new shop, volunteers would butcher in garages and backyards. And as far as a health concern about all this, Joe Russell, of the Flathead City County health department, says as long as the animal isn’t on the road too long, and it’s prepared and stored properly, it should make for good eating.

"Clearly a road kill would come with shattered bones, broken bones, so when you butcher it you’re going to have to be careful making sure you get any bone fragments out if there are any. But generally, and I hate to say this because I have hit a few deer, but if it is a nice head hit, the deer meat is in good condition."

Jerry Quinn and the other volunteers who process the meat say they wouldn’t serve anything they wouldn’t take home themselves.

Daniel Kaasa asks for road kill every time the food bank has it. He’s been a client for about 2 years.

The North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish opened a redesigned building, which included a road kill butcher shop, months after road kill became legal for the public to harvest in 2013.
Credit Corin Cates-Carney
The North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish opened a redesigned building, which included a road kill butcher shop, months after road kill became legal for the public to harvest in 2013.

"My wife and I are both recipients of the food bank and that’s one of the reasons why we come here, is to have the opportunity to get some wild game. And we’ve been very blessed and able to get elk and deer on a regular basis. And of course most of the time it comes from road kill, but also from the train. And it's amazing to not have… To have less waste when it comes to something like that."

Under the 2013 road kill salvage law, people must notify Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks within 24 hours of picking up an animal.

Since the law was put into effect, Montanans have salvaged over a thousand animals, where as before the law, they’d be left on the side of the road for the game warden and the food bank.

Flathead County has more road kill salvage permits filed than any other county in the state.

The North Valley Food bank has seen its own road kill harvest drop from about 70 animals a year to about 10 or 15. Jerry Quinn says other people are finding the road kill faster than their volunteers can.

"Right now, I’ll hardly ever call the meat crew in," Qinn says.

But Quinn doesn’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, because the other people picking up the road kill might need it too.

Daniel Kaasa says he also harvests road kill along with visiting the food bank.

"I mean if you’re hungry you’ll eat. And there’s nothing wrong with it. It's not bruised or anything. And when it’s an elk, it probably got hit by the train. But it tastes fine and it’s better than low quality food."

To date, 228 road kill salvage permits have been filed in Flathead County since 2013.

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