By Danielle Davis
“After I relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley, it was curious to me that the animals [along the side of the road] were left to scavengers, given my prior experience in Alaska,” says Missouri Heights resident Mike Fleagle, who moved here in 2018.
Fleagle is an Alaska Native (Iñupiaq tribe), former chair of the Alaska Board of Game and has hunted and lived off wild foods his entire life.
In November 2018, Fleagle recalls spotting a just-hit buck in the center median on Highway 82, which was the first time he used the salvage permit dispensed by Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) and local law enforcement agencies for harvesting roadkill.
With his roadkill buck, Fleagle cut and packaged roasts, stew meat and steak, made burger with purchased beef suet (raw, hard fat ideal for frying) and Italian sausage with purchased pork suet and then jerked some “for a special treat.”
The second time Fleagle used the permit was to harvest a bull elk (also slain on 82) near Aspen.
“I called the Pitkin County dispatch, told them the elk wouldn’t survive its injuries and asked for a salvage permit in the same phone call,” explains Fleagle. “A deputy came to the location, put the animal down and even gave me a body bag to keep the inside of my vehicle clean.”
Conversations with local CPW officers in both Glenwood Springs and Carbondale make it clear the permit is widely supported. “If it’s within 48 hours of the incident, anyone can call our office and obtain a permit,” says Carbondale CPW Officer John Groves. “Even local wildlife rescue organizations have been known to request a permit to salvage roadkill meat for animal feed.”
Groves is careful to emphasize that the permit does not give users permission to harvest antlers — those remain property of the state (an effort to stop people from using the permit to take only the antlers due to their monetary value).
“In Alaska there’s great interest in hunting and in permit drawing for limited hunts.
Consequently, there’s also a great deal of interest in obtaining game meat by any method, including roadkill,” says Fleagle, who also served as chairman of the Federal Subsistence Board, a regulatory agency unique to Alaska with authority to regulate both game and fish on federal lands.
With such demand, the state of Alaska has had to limit the distribution of roadkilled-game to charitable organizations only, such as food banks.
The yield of meat from a large elk can be like the yield from a steer, which is generally 40% of carcass hanging weight. To put this in the context of food, a 600-pound carcass can yield up to 250 pounds of grind, roasts, steaks and other cuts. That’s a lot of meals to leave along the side of the road.
The CPW permit isn’t just for animals killed by vehicles. Another Carbondale resident, hunter and local Backcountry Hunters & Anglers ambassador, Geneviève Villamizar, requested a permit to harvest the meat of a cow elk that had impaled herself on a fence post.
“With this cow elk, I could really take time to explore her physical body. I spoke to her throughout, thanking her for her meat,” says Villamizar. “After resting her quarters for two weeks, I invited friends to try butchery and to prepare meals. It was powerful, sharing her life.”
Conversations with local wildlife advocates and wild game enthusiasts raise important questions about our measures to mitigate roadkill here in the Roaring Fork Valley, where Highway 82 severs one side of backcountry from another and is the main artery for commuters. There are propositions for increased regulation (speed control) and highway structures (like overpasses) to reduce the incidence of roadkill in the first place.
With additional prevention measures, we could see fewer mass-kill events like the one on Dec. 28, 2021, on 82 near Glenwood Springs — an elk herd traveling through a break in game fencing near mile marker 7 created a sad and dangerous situation.
Fortunately, no people were killed in the incident, but roughly ten elk were killed, and the Garfield County authorities were called to clear them from the road. The Colorado Department of Transportation discourages people from lining up along busy highways to obtain road-killed animals, but there is support for use of the CPW salvage permit.
“The two roadkill animals I’ve harvested so far provided more than a year’s worth of fresh meat for my family,” says Fleagle. “I always thought there should be a group, or at least a coordinator, who a law enforcement agency could contact about an incident, and then that group could call down a list of people who’ve expressed interest in harvesting roadkill meat.”