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Grille-ing Season 

by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ike most people who run a food bank, Alice Wallace has an almost comically small budget that needs to stretch across an entire year of paying salaries, paying bills and buying grub.

"We have to be really careful with meat because we get so little of it," says Wallace from the Bonner Community Food Center in Sandpoint. "It makes a big dent in the budget."

Until recently, she was able to give her customers meat that had made a big dent somewhere else -- like in somebody's car or truck out on the highway.

"We like to get [meat] ... when we get roadkill," Wallace says.

It may seem anachronistic -- here in the 21st century and the new millennium and all -- that roadkill is still on the menu around Spokane and North Idaho.

Even as larger food banks like Second Harvest no longer accept it, salvaged roadkill is still delivered to the Union Gospel Mission in Spokane. And in Idaho, small-town food banks and churches with soup kitchens gladly accepted roadkill until the programs shut down in recent years.

There's no shortage at the source, especially in places like Boundary County, which one Idaho highway worker calls, "the roadkill capital of the world."

"Just the other day somebody told me 63 moose had been hit on [U.S. Highway] 95 between Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry. It's such a shame to let that much go to waste," says Wayne Bomba, a butcher who runs Pack River Meat Salvage north of Sandpoint.

Bomba is trying to revive the volunteer gleaner program.

"Technically, it's against the law," says Ken Hoff, who runs a gleaner program in Spokane organized through the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. But he agrees whole-heartedly with Bomba. "As concerned sportsmen and concerned citizens of this region, it seemed a horrible waste."

Here is how people arrived at the parting of the ways.

"We did serve roadkill to inmates through our own gleaner program," says Capt. Ben Wolfinger of the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office. Until, that is, "there was one inmate who sued."

It was in the mid-1990s. An inmate argued that his platter of splatter had made him sick and wasn't USDA approved, Wolfinger recalls. So the gleaner program went the way of all flesh, as they say.

Wolfinger sighs. "That program saved us thousands of dollars in food costs. And most guys in North Idaho, when they come to jail, they are used to eating deer and elk. Seriously, it's good food."

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & aybe it's the incessant advance of modern times, but a heaping of roadkill meat is not universally hailed. And it may be that this changing dynamic is just as much a challenge as high gas prices to keeping the gleaner programs active.

"We've tried through the years here in Coeur d'Alene to keep something going, but the first time a volunteer gets called out at 2 in the morning to butcher a moose in a foot of snow ... it loses its allure," says Craig Walker, regional conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

And the programs are all volunteer. Strictly speaking, as Hoff says, it is against the law in both states to take dead animals off the side of the road -- for meat or trophy antlers or gall bladders or whatever else.

The reason it's outlawed is, "as gross as this sounds, so people don't run around and try to hit animals," says Matt Haag, an Idaho Fish and Game officer in Clark Fork.

Clark Fork and Sandpoint had one of the most active gleaner programs in Idaho until some of the key players moved away, and the higher costs of gas and butchering supplies took a toll.

Haag, like Bomba, is encouraged at renewed interest from potential volunteers. He says he would like to see the program come back.

This would make Wallace happy. "We'd get anywhere from 50 to 200 pounds of meat at a time," she says.

The food bank doesn't automatically place roadkill in the food packets, "because not everybody likes it. And the wrappers just say wild game. People will ask, 'Well, what kind?' And I tell them I don't have a clue but you can take it or not. They usually take it," Wallace says.

The idea is for people not to take all the moose, for example, and leave the raccoon for you.

"I prefer moose over anything," Haag says right away. "A lot depends on the age of the animal and the season it's harvested. Say you shoot a moose late in November after the rut -- it will be tough and gamey. But a moose in late September, before the rut, the meat can be great."

Don't expect roasts, chops or steaks. Again, trying to be fair, roadkill in both states is ground into hamburger or sometimes cut into stew meat.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & ne thing's for sure, there is no shortage. "There are quite a few animals killed -- probably daily -- on our road system," says Idaho Transportation Department maintenance engineer John Perfect. "It's mostly large animals but can be anything from bald eagles eating the roadkill on the road to anything that might cross the road."

The gleaner programs, Craig says, "I don't know if they made that much of a dent. Certain species weren't wanted by them anyhow -- nobody's going to eat a badger! And they needed animals that were in good enough shape to harvest ... and that's not often the case."

Don't fret about waste, however. "Roadkill provides a lot of meals for other beings -- bald eagles, ravens, magpies, coyotes and other scavengers," says Madonna Luers of Washington Fish and Wildlife. "It all gets eaten."
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