Wyoming has a new app to claim roadkills

LANDER, Wyo – The scent of sizzling meat in melted butter wafts from a cast-iron skillet as Jaden Bales demonstrates his favorite way to cook the best steaks from a big game.

The deep red back pieces, similar to beef filet mignon, are organic and could hardly be more local. They come from a mule deer that was hit by a car just down the road from Bales’ rustic home in a poplar grove below the rugged Wind River Range.

Bales has been able to claim the deer thanks to a new Wyoming mobile app that is helping bring the meat of animals killed in fender bender operations from the streets to the tables while making the streets safer for living creatures in the process.

State wildlife and highway officials rolled out the app — possibly the first of its kind in the US — this winter, just as Wyoming joined the 30 or so states that allow people to collect road offerings for food.

The deer was crossing US 287 south of Lander early on Presidents Day morning just as Marta Casey was leaving to snowboard in her Subaru.

She hadn’t snowboarded in years. As a world traveler who had settled in Wyoming just a year ago, little did she know that a whole new experience of rural life was about to begin.

“I was trying to slow down and work around it,” Casey said. “It was very… yes.”

After a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer took a report and promised to shoot the injured deer, Casey had been snowboarding a few times when she remembered the app she heard about from Bales, whom she recently found had met.

She alerted Bales, who soon found the deer and used the app to claim it, entering the species and verifying it wasn’t illegally killed.

Jaden Bales stands near mule deer meat hanging in his garage on Thursday, March 3, 2022 south of Lander, Wyoming.
Jaden Bales stands near mule deer meat hanging in his garage on Thursday, March 3, 2022 south of Lander, Wyoming.

Next Casey knew that Bales had transported the deer home in his pickup truck and Casey helped disassemble it so they could hang the quarters in Bales’ garage.

Wyoming’s new roadkill feature in the State Department of Transportation’s app helps people quickly claim accidentally killed deer, moose, elk, wild bison, or wild turkey after documenting the animal and the rules for collecting roadkill for food have checked.

Another purpose is to help people follow the rules. For safety reasons, roadkill in Wyoming may not be collected after dark along freeways or in construction sites.

National parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton are also closed to collecting dead animals.

Unlike other states like Alaska, Wyoming doesn’t allow roadkill meat to be donated to anyone, including charities.

The whole carcass must be recovered, not just the antlers or skin. In Oregon, where people can apply for road sacrifices with an online form, people must turn over the head and antlers to wildlife authorities within five days, but in Wyoming, the whole animal is fair game.

The Wyoming app helps collect data. By geotagging roadkill with their phones and documenting the species, app users are contributing to the data that is helping wildlife biologists and Wyoming highway officials decide where to post deer crossing signs and other ways to reduce critter deaths .

Wyoming is famous for its abundant wildlife and big game migration routes, some of the longest in North America. From mowing roadsides to installing multi-million dollar wildlife warning signs and wildlife underpasses along migration routes, Wyoming officials have tried to reduce the number of animals killed, at least 6,000 on the country’s roads every year.

“That’s quite a lot. And we know most of them are mule deer,” said Sara DiRienzo, spokeswoman for the Department of Wildlife and Fishmongers.

Mule deer, so named for their mule-like ears, inhabit the western half of North America and are generally larger than the white-tailed deer found across the continent.

Wyoming is home to about 400,000 mule deer, or about two for every third resident of the state. While they are not uncommon and are still enthusiastically hunted, drought and diminishing habitat have helped reduce Wyoming’s mule population by nearly 30% over the past 30 years.

“Mule deer are already struggling due to a number of factors. Roadkill collisions don’t help there,” said DiRienzo.

However, roadkill is indiscriminate and includes a variety of scavengers – coyotes, eagles, and skunks, to name a few – feeding on creatures killed on the highway and ending up getting hit themselves.

“You can play the Circle of Life card and say, ‘Well, there’s never anything that goes to waste,'” Bales said. “But whenever you have roadkill, it’s really dangerous for all the critters that come and try to eat it.”

In the case of Casey’s deer, Bales, a spokesman for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, which last year pushed for Wyoming’s road-killing legislation, came to the meat before scavengers could risk being hit.

You don’t have to know the person who bagged roadkill to claim it in Wyoming, but it’s not a bad idea. Bales said he would never have claimed the deer not knowing it had died just hours before and was still fresh.

Pads sent into one of the animal’s lymph nodes to be tested for chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease similar to mad cow disease that has been rampant in US deer populations for decades, and it came back negative.

After cutting up the deer, Bales and Casey sliced ​​open the heart and ate it fried, following a tradition Bales, an avid hunter, grew up with. From there they cut off roasts and steaks and smaller pieces meant for shredding like hamburgers.

Casey had never hunted before and only eaten game a few times, but she liked the idea of ​​at least using the animal that brought her car to the body shop.

“It’s always been important to me to understand where our food comes from,” she said.

Bales prepared the prized back straps using a family recipe that includes seasoned salt and freshly ground fennel seeds.

The judgment? Tender, delicious…delicious. Wyoming has a new app to claim roadkills


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