By Ben Botkin

The Associated Press

SALEM — Three months in, Oregonians have embraced a law that lets them claim for food deer and elk killed along the state’s highways.

More than 200 permits were issued by March 31, and primarily where expected: rural areas with an abundant supply of wildlife and motorists. Urban areas and far-flung, sparsely populated counties, not so much.

The law allows people to take deer and elk killed by vehicles, whether their own or someone else’s. Other species are not included.

Highways near small and medium-size towns are roadkill hot spots. Residents near La Grande in Eastern Oregon and Klamath Falls in Southern Oregon applied for the most roadkill permits.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which administers the roadkill permit system — officially known as road salvage permits — provided the data in response to a public records request from the Statesman Journal.

Agency officials expected people to apply for the permits, but they didn’t know what type of volume to anticipate, Michelle Dennehy, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

“We expect roadkill permit usage will pick up in spring and fall during annual big game migration, as wildlife-vehicle collisions peak at these times,” Dennehy said.

Benefits to the law

Oregonians who have harvested roadkill say the online process for obtaining a permit works smoothly.

Benjamin Fowler, a 28-year-old roof cleaning technician from Keizer, got a permit after a deer ran in front of his pickup in March on a rural road south of Salem. By then, he said he had heard people talking about the law and checked with wildlife officials to make sure it was legal.

“It did help save on the grocery bill quite a bit, not having to pay for meat.”

A bow hunter, Fowler was able to dress and prepare the deer. It provided a steaks and hamburger for him and his family, which includes his parents and son, he said.

Cody Berrell, of Silverton, salvaged a deer after he saw a vehicle hit it several miles outside of town. After calling state officials, he found out about the salvage permit, which he called a “pretty straightforward process.”

The whole animal, with the exception of one thigh, was salvaged and provided about 65 to 70 pounds of meat.

An avid hunter, Berrell, 24, said salvaging an animal is a good option if it’s fresh.

“It just depends on how long it’s been sitting out,” he said. “If it’s been sitting out for a couple days, it’s not something you want to take.”

Rules of the roadkill

Oregon’s roadkill rules are relatively simple. For starters, skunks, raccoons and possums are off limits. Only deer and elk can be salvaged.

After a motorist strikes a deer or elk, or finds one hit by another vehicle, they can salvage the animal. But within 24 hours, they have to submit an online application for a permit from Fish and Wildlife.

When salvaging the animal, they need to remove the entire carcass from the road.

It continues to be illegal to intentionally hit a deer or elk.

The head and antlers of salvaged animals must be turned into a state Fish and Wildlife location within five business days. The agency tests tissue from the head for chronic wasting disease as part of its surveillance efforts.

It’s illegal to sell roadkill, but transferring it to another person is allowed if a written record is kept.

Dennehy said the program is working well, though there have been a couple issues.

Sometimes, people have tried to turn in a head with the antlers cut off — often because they found the animal that way, she said. In those cases, a person cannot keep the animal because it’s not legal to salvage it.

People have tried to salvage white-tailed deer, Dennehy said. White-tailed deer can only be salvaged from Douglas County and east of the crest of the Cascade Mountains because the species is protected in much of Western Oregon.

In some cases, attempts have been made to salvage pronghorn antelope and other species not included under the law.

Oregon’s law is modeled after Washington state’s salvage permit system, which began in 2016 for elk and deer.