By EMMA FIDEL | Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Getting a drive-through meal could take on new meaning in Michigan if legislation is approved making it easier to take home road kill.
Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, is sponsoring a bill to simplify the road kill claiming process and allow more people to keep dead animals for food, bait or pelts. It unanimously passed the Senate last month.
“All of us are disgusted by looking at deer lying on the side of the road for weeks until they rot right out,” Booher said in a telephone interview while driving. “The only thing that distracts me anymore is that I look along the road” and see animal carcasses, he added.
The lifelong hunter said he's hit 11 deer with his car since joining the Legislature in 2004, but hasn't kept any. It can take hours for officials to deliver a salvage tag needed under current law, he said.
But the Michigan Department of Natural Resources says the legislation would create a legal loophole for poachers and could particularly endanger wild turkeys. The department said it's working with lawmakers on the bill, and wants to require hunting licenses and species cap limits.
“We're trying to find the right balance between streamlining the process and also not opening any windows for illegal poaching of game,” said Trevor VanDyke, DNR legislative affairs director.
Booher, who grew up eating squirrel pot pies, said state licensing laws are impractical for road kill. He said his bill would help utilize already-dead animals and would save money for municipalities that would have fewer carcasses to clean up.
“It's government getting out of the way of people using something that's already hit and dead laying on the road,” Booher said.
VanDyke said the state doesn't have data on road kill claims because local officials don't have to report salvage tag issuances. About 15 states have laws related to road kill, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The legislation, now under consideration in the House, would let someone take small game that was killed by a car if they kept a written record. The driver would have first dibs, but the law wouldn't apply to someone who intentionally hit an animal.
Only licensed hunters can currently keep small game during open season. Hunting licenses allow a “bag limit” of five rabbits or two male pheasant per day, for example.
If someone claimed bigger game such as deer, they could notify officials either by phone or online, instead of waiting for a police or conservation officer to deliver a salvage tag.
But DNR says the bill would create a loophole for poachers who could falsely claim they killed a small animal with a car to avoid species limits.
“A blunt object to the head looks similar to a tire,” VanDyke said. “The concern is now they'll say, `Well no, I'm well over my bag limit, but these seven are from a car.”'
Booher said the worry is unfounded.
“I don't agree with that at all,” he said. “Those that are poaching are poaching now. This isn't going to change one thing. These are animals that are already hit on the road.”
Booher added that if the law becomes a problem, “I'll introduce the bill to fix it.”
VanDyke said turkeys especially would be threatened under the bill, because they tend to congregate in groups near roads and don't seriously damage cars. A hunter is allowed to kill one wild turkey per season, he said.
“We don't want someone to take out a whole flock and us not know about it,” he said.
Environmental groups share concerns about poaching but are largely neutral on the bill.
“Will this take care of the problem, alleviate the burden on road commissions to move these carcasses? Probably not very much,” said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “You've got to hit the deer the right way in order to be useable.”
Matt Evans, legislative affairs manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said the bill is unnecessary.
“We haven't seen problems with the current system,” he said. “We haven't had complaints from any of our members.”