Tag Archives: Politics

Roadkill: It’s What’s for Dinner

My grandmother mentored me in breaking the law. It wasn’t legal to pick up road-killed game along the highway, but she taught me that it was the right thing to do.

My grandmother mentored me in breaking the law. It wasn’t legal to pick up road-killed game along the highway, but she taught me that it was the right thing to do.

My grandmother mentored me in breaking the law. It wasn’t legal to pick up road-killed game along the highway, but she taught me that it was the right thing to do. The key was to do it quickly, while nobody was coming. Roadkill deer were loaded into the back of her truck and brought home for gutting, skinning, and butchering. Good meat went into the freezer. Any questionable meat was a treat for the dogs. Fortunately, the 2013 Montana legislature legalized the use of roadkill game (limited to deer, antelope, elk, and moose). Although my grandmother passed away years ago, I know that she would have appreciated the new law.
The illegality of salvaging roadkill game always seemed nonsensical to me. After all, Montana has a law that forbids the wanton waste of meat if a hunter kills a deer, yet there were thousands of deer going to waste along our highways every year. Moreover, according to the Foodbank Network, thirty percent of the population in Montana is at risk of food insecurity, especially the poor, the elderly, and children. According to their website, “Food insecurity is characterized by not having the financial means to buy food or grow food, the need for emergency food assistance, and adults skipping meals. Food insecurity exists when the availability of nutritionally adequate food or the ability to access it on a consistent basis is uncertain or limited.”

Montana’s new roadkill law applies to deer, moose, elk, and antelope.

Montana’s new roadkill law applies to deer, moose, elk, and antelope.

I asked around, but no law enforcement officer could offer a compelling reason why it wasn’t legal to pick up roadkill game, and they always seemed to be drawing straws, making up answers about issues such as safety, liability, or the risk of encouraging poaching. But I finally figured out the answer myself: It wasn’t so much illegal as merely unlegal. Montana had no law against picking up roadkill game, yet no law allowing it either. According to Montana’s fish and wildlife laws, game animals can only be taken by approved methods, and anything not specified in the rulebooks isn’t allowed. Thus, picking up roadkill game was illegal by omission. For similar reasons, it isn’t legal to hunt upland game birds, such as grouse, with sticks or rocks. By the letter of the law, one is required to cheat nature and hunt with a gun or a bow.
I once dreamed of getting into state politics, and if I did, then I would have introduced legislation legalizing the use of roadkill game. But Steve Lavin (R-Kalispell) beat me to it. Lavin was previously a police officer. He and other police officers admittedly donated roadkill game to the food bank on occasion, even though it wasn’t exactly legal. Evidently, my grandmother was not the only outlaw! No doubt there were many other closet lawbreakers. It was the right thing to do.

Montana is especially rich with roadkill game. There are only about a million people in the state, somewhat less than the combined population of deer, antelope, elk, and moose.

Montana is especially rich with roadkill game. There are only about a million people in the state, somewhat less than the combined population of deer, antelope, elk, and moose.

I have enjoyed many roadkill deer over the years. Most were processed exclusively to fill the freezer with delicious steaks and roasts. Others were made partially or entirely into jerky and utilized as trail food for walkabouts and canoe trips. Processing roadkill deer is an essential component of our Green University® LLC internship program. Interns are encouraged to pick up roadkill game for processing. They learn how to properly gut, skin, and butcher the animals, as well as how to soften or braintan the hides and make fashionable buckskin clothing.
Montana is especially rich with roadkill game. There are only about a million people in the state, somewhat less than the combined population of deer, antelope, elk, and moose. Montana is also the fourth largest state, with a lot of long, empty roads that are often driven a little too fast. Thus, drivers face about a 1 in 77 chance of hitting a deer in any given year, compared with a 1 in 232 chance in neighboring Idaho.
Drivers are most at risk of hitting deer during the fall breeding season. Deer disperse during the summer while the females raise their fawns, but group together in the fall and winter. The late season routine covers more area and takes the animals into unfamiliar territory. In addition, male deer wander more in search of females. The learning curve is steep, as vehicular selection removes a great many inexperienced deer from the gene pool. The survivors are less likely to be hit during the winter months, once the herds have established a familiar routine. Mortality rises again in the spring as the herds separate once again.

To avoid a collision, it is important to reduce speed in the spring and fall during the evening, night, and early morning hours.

To avoid a collision, it is important to reduce speed in the spring and fall during the evening, night, and early morning hours.

To avoid a collision, it is important to reduce speed in the spring and fall during the evening, night, and early morning hours. Be especially careful where irrigated alfalfa fields line the highways. Whitetail deer breed like rabbits on the rich food. Driving these corridors can be a bit like running the proverbial gauntlet. The odds of colliding with a deer is substantially higher in these few key locations than elsewhere in the state. Drivers who blow by at seventy miles an hour without full light are courting disaster. In addition to the unfortunate death of the animal, the damage to a vehicle can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, and passengers are often injured and sometimes killed. Nationwide, about two hundred people die in collisions with deer every year. By that measure, these docile creatures are the most dangerous wild animals in North America!
Montana’s new roadkill law makes the best of a bad situation. It is good news for Montanans. Any family of limited means can now put healthy, organic free range food on the table and thereby save money and improve their financial situation. Moreover, they don’t need to buy a gun or a tag or wait until hunting season to feed the family. Anyone who is thrifty like me will no doubt butcher their own, but other people will haul roadkill game to the butcher shop, providing additional four-season employment.
Montana’s roadkill law applies only to roadkill deer, antelope, elk, or moose. Salvaging other roadkill game, such as pheasants, grouse, geese, mountain lions or bears, still isn’t legal. (However, no permit is required for nongame roadkill, such as rabbits or coyotes.) The law was supposed to take effect October 1st, but wrangling over the rules and procedures delayed implementation of the law until November 26th, 2013. The final rules are very user friendly to anyone interested in salvaging game.

In addition to the unfortunate death of the animal, the damage to a vehicle can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, and passengers are often injured and sometimes killed.

In addition to the unfortunate death of the animal, the damage to a vehicle can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, and passengers are often injured and sometimes killed.

A “Vehicle-Killed Wildlife Salvage Permit” is required for each animal taken, but the permit is presently free. A law enforcement officer can issue the free permit if they happen to be at the scene of the collision. Otherwise, individuals are required to apply for a permit online within twenty-four hours after picking up an animal. The permits serve as a tracking system for wildlife officials to watch for signs of misuse of the program. Law enforcement officers may occasionally require inspection of the animal, parts, and meat and/or they may ask to see where the animal was picked up along the road. It is a sensible check-and-balance system to help reduce abuse of the program by poachers who might shoot game and try to claim it as roadkill.
Salvaged game must be entirely removed from the roadway by the permittee. It is okay to field dress the animal on site, but the entrails and all other parts of the carcass must be removed to avoid attracting scavengers and predators to the roadside. The meat must be used for human consumption and may not be used as bait for hunting predators. And despite anecdotes to the contrary, the Montana Food Bank Network officially does not accept donations of road-killed game.
      One aspect of the rules I question is that citizens are not supposed to kill animals wounded in collisions. The individual is expected to call a law enforcement officer to the scene to finish the job. However, the more humane thing to do is to put the animal out of its misery right away. A blunt instrument to the head, such as a crowbar or tire iron, is highly effective. Death is instantaneous and humane, and it is the moral thing to do. Aside from that issue, I wholly support the new roadkill law, and I am glad to have competition for the resource from other Montanans. I would rather come home empty-handed, knowing that the meat went to someone else’s freezer, than see perfectly good meat go to waste on the side of the road. I believe my grandmother would have felt the same way.

Thomas J. Elpel is the founder and director of Green University®, LLC and Outdoor Wilderness Living School (OWLS). He is the author and producer of numerous books and videos. Harvesting and processing roadkill game is detailed in his book Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills and expanded upon in his forth-coming book, Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservation, Politics, Recycling, Sustainability, Wildlife

Governor Wannabe

“It is an interesting contradiction to have the absolute confidence that I could change the world, while on the other hand, being too shy and socially awkward to walk through the halls at high school.”

As a teenager and young adult, I was never interested in hot rod cars, loud speakers, getting wasted, or hanging out at the mall with a pack of friends and doing nothing. Instead, I had a passion for botany, wilderness survival, sustainable living, and getting into politics and changing the world.

Physically, I spent most of my youth identifying flowers, hiking and camping, and practicing my survival skills. Mentally, I was seriously distracted by a nonstop inner dialogue about pertinent social, economic, and environmental issues. I developed an early appreciation for holistic thinking and the idea that there was a win-win-win solution to every problem – we didn’t have to give up jobs to save the environment, we didn’t have to sacrifice quality of life to live sustainably. Although the media always seemed to frame issues as this-against-that, I found that there were typically third alternatives – options that would enable us to build a clean and green society, one that made people both richer and freer.

I hiked miles and miles through the mountains, exploring my backyard, while processing ideas such as low-cost, high efficiency house construction, sustainable farming practices, launching green businesses, holistic management, foreign policy, reducing the national deficit, designing more fuel-efficient cars, biogas plants and swamp filters for treating city sewage, revamping the educational system, and on and on…

I wanted to change the world, but I was just a kid with a lot of big ideas and no credentials. If anyone were to ever listen to me, first I needed to walk the talk and demonstrate that living green was indeed the path to prosperity. But to do that, I needed a partner.

It is an interesting contradiction to have the absolute confidence that I could change the world, while on the other hand, being too shy and socially awkward to walk through the halls at high school.  If the weather permitted, I walked from class to class around the outside of the building. At lunch, I sat at a table for other social misfits who had nowhere else to sit, and there met my first love. Being a holistic thinker, I believed that any relationship could be made to work; I just needed a partner who believed in me.

Together, we built an epic story. We walked across Montana, then returned home, got married, bought land, moved into a tent, and built the house of our dreams on a shoestring budget.  We avoided the mortgage trap and the job trap, not by earning a lot of money, but by avoiding the need for it in the first place. Although we were poor by any reasonable standards, we had few expenses, so we went on exciting wilderness adventures, and we installed a photovoltaic system to produce all of our electricity from sunshine. It wasn’t that difficult to do.

Along the way, we started a family, I wrote books and produced videos, taught survival skills, built my own publishing company, bought a business and started a bookstore, and founded the nonprofit Jefferson River Canoe Trail.  I built houses, testing out energy-efficient design concepts and alternative methods and materials.  I bought a diesel truck and attempted producing my own biodiesel from waste French fry grease from restaurants. I launched our fledgling Green University® LLC and began to explore an alternative approach to higher education, mentoring young people in sustainable living and green business development.

The inner dialogue never shut off in my head, and I never wavered in my belief that I could change the world. I built up a resume that, while sparse in some areas, was at least minimally adequate to launch a political career and run for governor of Montana. The one thing I still needed was the support of my partner.

From the beginning, my marriage was predicated on the belief that there was a win-win solution to any issue.  No two people will agree on everything, yet there is always a workable solution if both parties are willing to consider all the alternatives. That belief held my marriage together for nearly twenty-one years despite our differences.

I wanted to change the world. I felt compelled to help create a sustainable civilization for the next generation. My wife wanted to raise our family and live our lives. I wanted a public life. She didn’t want anyone to know we existed. I wanted to pounce on her and play and wrestle. She wanted me to sit still and talk. I had to sit on the opposite end of the couch. On the one hand, we got along great as friends, we seldom fought, and we were together 24/7 for most of our marriage. And yet, we never resolved our differences, and we never bridged the emotional divide between us.

My marriage was sustainable as long as I believed we could ultimately resolve our differences. It just took me twenty-one years to admit defeat.  I experienced the last three of those years as a string of chronic panic attacks at the prospect of ending my marriage, breaking up our family, and losing everything I had ever believed in, worked for, and in a sense, campaigned for.

As I start over with a new life and a new relationship, I find myself optimistic at times, but also greatly shaken.  Emotionally, losing everything shook me to rubble.  I lack the inner confidence I always had – that I could change the world, that I could learn or do whatever was necessary to accomplish that mission, even stretching far beyond my otherwise quiet and introverted self.

Challenges that once seemed easy, now often seem insurmountable. Rebuilding my personal life, my enterprises, and my resume often seems like too much work and too much trouble, and I don’t presently have the emotional spine necessary to endure a political life. More than anything, my outlook is darker, as for the first time in my life, I have acknowledged that some problems have no winnable solutions.

By any reasonable measure, I could be immensely successful if I would just focus on any one topic and make a career out of it as most normal people do. I am sufficiently well-versed in at least a dozen different subject areas, any one of which could become a full-time career. And yet, there is nothing that I am willing to give up, and so I find myself stumbling along, scattered in so many different directions that sometimes I feel ineffective at accomplishing anything.

More than anything, there is still that inexorable pull to keep flowing in the same direction that I always have. Working to make a difference in the world is the only vision I have known since childhood. It is this big dream of changing the world that inspires me, and nothing less seems worth working for. Trying to look at the bright side, losing my marriage has at least made me a little more human, and I can better relate to other people and their circumstances.

I don’t know if I will ever run for governor, but at least I may run for a local house or senate seat and see what happens. In the meantime, I have started this blog to begin articulating my resume and vision – if not for the reader, than at least for myself as part of the process of getting back on my feet and starting over. Or, maybe I am just getting eccentric at an early age, and I can spend the rest of my life pretending to be governor.

If you like what you see on my websites, and want to be part of it, then please ask away. Being introverted and solitary by nature, I have often tried to do it all myself – everything from writing or filming, editing and formatting, publishing, marketing, and often packing and shipping my own books and videos, to handwriting all of my own HTML, to designing and building my own solar water heaters and developing new construction techniques.  I have tried to be an institution unto myself, seriously understaffed and underfunded for the scale of the projects I undertake. Thus, I am seeking partners who want to make a difference in the world, anyone who thinks we might have even one thing in common and wants to work together to make it happen. Drop me a note. Let’s see where it goes. [Read More…]

1 Comment

Filed under Autobiographical