Roadkill to Become Fair Game in Virginia

Probably not to be taken literally

Good news, Virginians—the category of dead animals you can pick up off the side of the road and take home for dinner is about to expand by two.

As you should all know by now, about half of U.S. states have laws that allow citizens, under certain circumstances, to harvest for personal use any supplies that may suddenly become available after a driver-involved animal-termination event. See, e.g., “California’s Roadkill Bill Becomes Law” (Oct. 30, 2019). Virginia is already one of those states, but it appears that the current statute has been deemed insufficient. On February 6, the state’s House of Delegates voted 98-0 to expand it.

Wait, I hear some of you saying. Why do I need permission to pick up and eat some dead thing I find by the side of the road? Or anywhere else, for that matter? Is this not my right? Do I not have dominion over the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and the cattle, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth? Well, yeah, in a sense, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t referring to you specifically. And you delegated some of that dominion to the government of your jurisdiction, which has almost certainly passed laws that protect many of those things most of the time, yea, even those that creepeth. Only during hunting season shall they be taken, and only unto the bag limit. But laws like this one create exceptions.

Under Virginia’s current law, for example, “any person driving a motor vehicle who collides with a deer or bear may, upon compliance with the provisions of this section, keep the deer or bear for his own use as if the animal had been killed by that person during hunting season for the animal.” Va. Code § 29.1-539. “Compliance” means that the driver must immediately report the accident, whereupon an officer “shall view the deer or bear” to ensure that it was an accident. If the officer is satisfied, he or she may award the deer or bear to said driver.

If HB 1025 passes, it would expand the list of claimable dead animals to include turkeys and elk, and would expand the list of claimants to include not just the driver but anyone who might come along and discover the corpse. Specifically, any person “who discovers a deer, bear, turkey or elk that has been killed in a collision with a motor vehicle” could make the claim in the same way as above. And under new subsection C, if the driver or discoverer “does not claim such animal,” an officer “may award such animal to any other person who wishes to claim it pursuant to this section.”

Of course, there is a potential problem here—what happens if two people both claim the same former deer, bear, turkey, or elk? If the driver has a claim, but any person who “discovers” it also has a claim—and let’s say they can’t agree to split the carcass, or don’t agree on which is “the good part”—then what happens? This may seem unlikely, but remember that no award can be made until after the officer shows up and renders an opinion on the cause of death. Any number of people might come along during that time and make the same “discovery.” The officer(s) couldn’t be sure who got there first. For that matter, the driver’s passenger, if any, might jump out and stake a claim before the driver could. (I guess the passenger could call from inside the vehicle, but having him “jump out” to do it seems funnier.)

Well, I think the officer’s authority to award the whole animal to one person or another probably includes the implicit authority to divide it up and award parts of it in whatever way seems best. So that may solve the problem described above. I also think maybe the officer should have authority to just buy everybody a sandwich, which might solve the basic problem in a much cleaner way.