No, it's not legal yet to collect roadkill in California

Skye Kinkade Damon Arthur
Mount Shasta Herald
A man traveling through the Mt. Shasta area received a citation from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for illegal possession of roadkill on Friday, April 23 on Mt. Shasta Boulevard.

Despite a California law that went into effect last year which allows people to collect and eat roadkill, the practice isn’t legal quite yet.

A man driving through the Mt. Shasta area on Friday found that out the hard way when he was cited by California Fish and Wildlife officers for illegal possession of roadkill – a small blacktail doe – said Mount Shasta Police Department's acting chief Robert Gibson.

The man, whose name wasn’t released, was seen signing a citation while parked on a busy N. Mt. Shasta Boulevard Friday afternoon, with the doe strapped to the top of his small red station wagon.

“The law that makes it okay to take roadkill home isn’t in effect yet,” Gibson said, explaining that the man told officers he saw the deer dead on the side of the highway and decided to pick it up. He secured it to the top of his car while he decided what to do with it.

State officials have until Jan. 1, 2022, to set up a pilot program for issuing “wildlife salvage permits” before collecting roadkill becomes legal. And the wildlife department would need to implement the pilot program no later than six months after the commission establishes it, the law says.

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Here is what is supposed to happen under SB395, known as the Wildlife Traffic Safety Act, according to CDFW:

The California Fish and Game Commission is supposed to work with other state agencies to adopt regulations to establish a "wild game meat utilization program."

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The law also authorizes the department to create a roadkill reporting database to identify where wildlife-vehicle collisions are most common. The database could help the state set up conservation efforts in those areas, officials said.

While the state doesn't have a database for roadkill, the University of California, Davis has a public roadkill reporting system. The "California Roadkill Observation System" lets anyone report roadkill locations on the internet.

At some point, collecting roadkill will be legal, but residents and organizations will be required to get a permit from the state and report what they take.

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According to the text of the law, the program is supposed to "make available to Californians tens of thousands of pounds of a healthy, wild, big game food source that currently is wasted each year following wildlife-vehicle collisions." 

Instead of wasting the meat, it could be put to better use, including giving it to the needy, the law says.

"Each year it is estimated that over 20,000 deer alone are hit by motor vehicles on California’s roadways. This potentially translates into hundreds of thousands of pounds of healthy meat that could be used to feed those in need," the law says.

The law also specifies salvaging only deer, elk, pronghorn antelope or wild pig, and doesn't include other animals killed on the road, such as birds or opossum.

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and has lived in Mount Shasta and Weed her entire life.