Is It OK to Eat Roadkill? It's Now Legal in More States

A cooked badger skull prepared by Arthur Boyt, of Cornwall, England, a self-proclaimed "Roadkill Connoisseur." Oregon has just passed a law allowing the harvesting of roadkill. Katherine Haddon/AFP/Getty Images

It's a question many of us have asked but fewer have answered: Should you eat roadkill? Vast numbers of animals are killed by cars: The Humane Society of America has put the estimated casualties at one million per day in the United States, while a Federal Highway Administration report in 2008 gave a more conservative tally, one million to two million per year. The large animals involved in most collisions are deer; squirrels, rabbits and opossums are also frequent victims.

Harvesting roadkill is a way to obtain free food. And meat from the wild may be healthier than store-bought beef or other animal proteins. Now, scooping up roadkill is also legal in more areas.

Oregon has joined several other U.S. states where salvaging wildlife killed by automobile drivers is legal. The state just passed Senate Bill 372, which allows people to obtain permits to recover, possess, use or transport animals killed by accident in vehicle collisions. About 20 other states also have laws allowing the practice. Washington passed its law last year.

Other states that allow roadkill collection include Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Dakota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and several others. Many of these states require would-be harvesters to have permits. Others require that the incident and subsequent collection be reported to authorities within 24 hours. Many states have tight restrictions about roadkill harvesting, confining the practice to licensed fur dealers, for example. New Mexico does not allow roadkill collection by the general public. Salvaging highway kill in Texas is illegal. In South Dakota, a 2013 bill that would have made roadkill public property did not pass. In Wyoming, anyone grabbing big game killed by a car needs to have a tag from the game warden. If you're planning a summer road trip and want to be prepared, obtaining permits in advance could help.

As with any meat, the practice of eating roadkill carries some safety concerns. As David Steen, assistant research professor at Auburn University, points out, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not have guidelines for inspecting dead animals found on the road. "Everyone should take appropriate precautions when obtaining and preparing food," says Steen, whose extensive wildlife knowledge, on display at Twitter, @alongsidewild, has gained him many social media fans

For Steen, who once made a roadkill rabbit pot pie that "came out pretty well," eating roadkill is "much more ethically palatable than buying meat that came from factory farms." Roads threaten the conservation of biodiversity, says Steen, and car accidents are part of that threat. "If these animals are being killed," says Steen, who has also harvested roadkill rattlesnake and deer, "it makes sense to make use of them."

The Oregon law does not go into effect until January. Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law last week, following a unanimous yes vote in the state's Senate and House. Before the law, only licensed furtakers could keep roadkill. Legislators have been hesitant to pass bills like this, fearing they would lead to an increase in intentional highway casualties. But so far, states with wildlife salvage laws have not reported such behavior.