LANDER, Wyo. — The aroma of sizzling meat in melted butter rises from a cast iron skillet as Jaden Bales demonstrates his favorite way to cook the best cuts of big game steak.
The dark red backstrap pieces, similar to beef tenderloin, are organic and couldn’t be more local. They come from a mule deer hit by a car just down the road from Bales’ rustic home in a grove of cottonwoods below the steep Wind River Range.
Bales was able to claim the deer thanks to a new mobile app from the state of Wyoming that helps transport the meat of animals killed in fender benders from the road to the table and, in doing so, make the roads smoother. safe for critters.
State highway and wildlife officials rolled out the app — perhaps the first of its kind in the United States — this winter when Wyoming joined the 30-plus states that allow people to collect casualties of the road for food.
The doe was crossing US 287 south of Lander in the early morning of Presidents Day, just as Marta Casey was heading to her Subaru to go snowboarding.
She hadn’t snowboarded in years. A world traveler who only moved to Wyoming a year ago, little did she know she was in for a whole new experience of rural life.
“I tried to slow down and work around it,” Casey said. “It was very…yeah.”
After a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper took a report and promised to shoot the injured deer, Casey was snowboarding when she remembered the app she had heard about from Bales, whom she had just met.
She alerted Bales, who quickly found the doe and used the app to claim her by entering the species and checking that she had not been illegally killed.
The next thing Casey knew, Bales had driven the doe home in his van and Casey was helping carve it up so they could hang the quarters in Bales’ garage.
Wyoming’s new Roadkill feature within the state Department of Transportation app helps people quickly claim accidentally killed deer, elk, moose, wild bison or wild turkeys after documenting the animal and reviewed the rules for collecting road casualties to eat.
Another purpose is to help people follow the rules. For safety reasons, road casualties in Wyoming cannot be collected after dark, along interstate highways, or in construction zones.
National parks, such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton, are also off-limits for road casualty recovery.
Unlike other states like Alaska, roadkill meat in Wyoming cannot be donated to anyone, including charities.
The entire carcass must be salvaged, not just the antlers or skin. In Oregon, which allows people to claim road kills with an online form, people must turn in 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 geolocating road kills with their phones and documenting the species, app users will contribute data that will help Wyoming wildlife biologists and highway officials decide where to put crossing signs for the wildlife and other ways to reduce critter deaths.
Wyoming is famous for its abundant wildlife and some of the longest big game migration routes in North America. From mowing roadsides to installing warning signs and multimillion-dollar wildlife underpasses along migration routes, Wyoming officials have tried to reduce the number to at least 6 000 animals killed on state roads each year.
” It’s a lot. And we know the majority of them are mule deer,” said Department of Fish and Game spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo.
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 throughout the continent.
Wyoming is home to about 400,000 mule deer, or about two for every three of the state’s human residents. Although not uncommon and still enthusiastically hunted, drought and shrinking habitat have played a role in reducing Wyoming mullet numbers by almost 30% over the past 30 years. years.
“Mule deer are already in trouble due to a number of factors. Road collisions don’t help that,” DiRienzo said.
Roadkill is indiscriminate, however, and includes a wide array of scavengers – coyotes, eagles, and skunks, to name a few – who prey on roadkill creatures and end up getting hit themselves.
“You can play the circle of life card and say, ‘Well, there’s never anything that’s wasted,'” Bales said. “But every time you have a traffic accident, it’s really dangerous for all the creatures that come and try to eat it.”
In the case of Casey’s deer, Bales, a spokesperson for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation who lobbied for roadkill legislation in Wyoming last year, took on the meat before scavenger animals are not likely to be affected.
You don’t need to know the person who killed in a traffic accident to be able to claim it in Wyoming, but that’s not a bad idea. Bales said he would never have claimed the deer without knowing it had died hours earlier and was still fresh.
Bullets were mailed to a lymph node in the animal to be tested for chronic wasting disease, a neurological condition similar to mad cow disease that has been spreading in American deer populations for decades, and it came back negative.
After carving up the deer, Bales and Casey sliced the heart and ate it fried in keeping with a tradition Bales, an avid hunter, grew up with. From there, they cut into roasts, steaks, and smaller pieces meant to be shredded like a burger.
Casey had never hunted before and had only eaten wild game a few times, but liked the idea of at least using the animal that put his car in the body shop.
“It’s always been important to me to understand where our food comes from,” she says.
Bales prepared the prized backstraps using a family recipe that includes seasoned salt and freshly ground fennel seeds.
The verdict? Tender, flavorful…delicious.
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