By Dan Boyce
HELENA, Montana (Reuters) - The Montana Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would allow residents to harvest for food big game animals like deer, elk and moose killed by vehicles.
The Senate voted 28-21 to pass the roadkill salvage bill. It has previously cleared the House, and now goes to Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, who has not yet indicated whether he will sign it.
Under the measure, law-enforcement officers would issue permits for the salvage of deer, elk, moose and antelope struck by vehicles in the state. Currently, road kill is either destroyed or left to rot.
"It seems like a waste," said Representative Bill Lavin, the Republican sponsor of the bill, who is also a Montana Highway Patrolman. "This bill ... would allow me to legally call the food bank or allow somebody else who requests it to take it and use it," he said.
Under the legislation, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks would be responsible for regulating the salvage permitting process.
Lavin had also originally included the likes of fur-bearing animals and game birds in the draft bill, but removed them amid concerns that it might encourage poaching because of the "high value of some of their parts."
Opponents of the bill raised concerns over food safety should Montana residents be allowed to feed on animals pulled dead off the state's highways.
"Are highway patrolmen and law enforcement experts in meat inspection?" Asked Democratic Senator Kendall Van Dyk. "I have not seen anything in the bill ... that indicates to me that the safety parameters are in place to let me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a safe food source for those in need, or anyone else for that matter."
Van Dyk said the Montana Food Bank Network sent him a letter opposing the bill and clarifying the network cannot accept roadkill.
But Lavin noted that the state does not inspect animals killed through hunting. "In Montana, we have a lot of common sense," he said, adding that "it's pretty easy to tell when meat is rotten."
The Montana House of Representatives passed the bill 95-3 in February. Several other U.S. states have some kind of roadkill salvage laws on the books, among them Alaska, Idaho and Illinois.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Eric Walsh)