Do’s and don’ts if you find dead wildlife

  • By Sharon Wootton Herald Columnist
  • Friday, December 21, 2012 3:38pm
  • Life

I broke the law.

A young deer died under our deck and a very unpleasant smell was our first hint. We disposed of the deer by rolling it onto a tarp (yes, there were unpleasant, but useful maggots) and taking it into the woods beyond our sight and smell.

Apparently I broke the law.

Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 232-12-287, Possession of Dead Wildlife, says that “it is unlawful to possess wildlife found dead.”

One can stay innocent of transgression if:

“An individual may remove and dispose of wildlife found dead on his or her property or an adjoining public roadway.

“Before removing the wildlife, the individual shall, by telephone, notify the (Washington Fish and Wildlife) department or the Washington State Patrol communications office, and shall provide his or her name, address, telephone number, and the description and location of the wildlife.”

“If they had a lot of people doing that (call), they’d think twice,” said Kelly McAllister, wildlife biologist for the state Department of Transportation.

WAC 232-12-287: “The individual may remove the wildlife for disposal only, and may not retain the wildlife for personal use or consumption.”

This applies to all types and sizes of wildlife unless, of course, you legally kill it first.

If the deer had a set of antlers, you must leave the antlers on the deer. If you find naturally shed antlers you can keep them.

Does being turned into a skeleton through natural processes qualify as naturally shed?

Not only do you have to call a higher power, but you’d better do it within 72 hours after death or discovery, and dispose of it in a manner that it doesn’t cause pollution of surface- or ground-water.

I found that natural decomposition is acceptable if it’s not otherwise prohibited by federal, state or local law or regulation.

What a relief. The other options were burial, landfilling, incineration, composting or rendering.

Now, if the dead wild thing has a communicable disease that is transmittable to humans, we’d have to call the local health officer who would specify an approved method of disposal.

Hmmmm. Not being a dead deer expert, perhaps I should call the local health officer on Monday after discovering the death on Friday, a couple more days to weather holding our breath from door to vehicle when we weren’t held hostage inside the house.

The origin of the statute may have evolved from issues that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has had with hunters, McAllister said.

Hunters are often checked to see that they are taking the allowed type and number of wildlife in a given season.

After hearing, “But, officer, I found this dead deer at the side of the road and didn’t want it to go to waste!” the broad-brush answer was to make possession of wildlife illegal except under state laws covering hunting.

And yes, technically, this covers dead birds.

Fortunately for McAllister, his job description focuses on living wildlife. He looks at wildlife habitat to help the state prioritize investments in more wildlife-friendly highways, including building structures to help wildlife safely cross (usually under) the road.

At least he’s not a scofflaw.

On the bookshelf: “Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe” ($35). This is a must-have book of large pages for anyone who loves the night sky.

Terence Dickson’s fourth edition includes his clear writing, color photographs and two-page charts.

The winter skies, for instance, has one full-color page showing the stars, some brighter than others; the opposite page the chart, with lines linking the constellations and other groupings.

Even better, the charts (winter skies, for instance) give the best times to observe to match the chart.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached sat 360-468-3964 or

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