JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Tennessee has relatively lax laws when it comes to collecting large animals that are found dead on the side of the road – except for bears.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) states on its website that “all big game found dead should be left where found and need not be reported.”
Big game refers to deer, turkey, elk and black bears in Tennessee, TWRA spokesperson Matthew Cameron told News Channel 11. That list used to include boar, but the species is now no longer considered big game due to its destructive nature.
While large roadkill is usually left alone, Cameron said Tennesseans are actually encouraged to take dead big game home in most instances.
“In Tennessee, if you find roadkill big game animals, you’re allowed to take them home and use them for personal consumption, and we encourage that because if not, they’re just going to go to waste or feed the vultures and coyotes,” Cameron said. “But there are some things you have to keep in mind if you want to take a roadkill big game animal home.”
Cameron said for deer and turkey found dead, anyone who wants to take the animals home must contact TWRA or a local law enforcement agency within 48 hours of taking them. That information will be documented after a phone call, and then those animals can be consumed or used without issue.
There is one exception to that rule, however. Cameron told News Channel 11 that bears killed by a vehicle cannot be possessed without extra steps taken.
“Bears on the other hand require that a TWRA agent come out and issue you a receipt for a black bear,” Cameron said. “So a little bit different situation.”
That physical receipt must be issued to anyone hoping to claim a roadkill bear before it is collected.
“The reason for that is that the bear population isn’t as high as our deer and our turkey populations, per se,” Cameron said. “We have less black bears. We want to keep track of the population, and it helps us know where our black bears are because sometimes they get hit in unusual places and it helps us track their population expansion.”
According to Cameron, the receipt process allows the agency to actually see the animal and also harvest a tooth from the bear.
“We can take a tooth, which our biologists will use for aging purposes,” Cameron said. “They take the tooth, they send it to a laboratory, the lab cuts it and opens it up and is able to count the annual rings inside it. It’s kind of like how a tree puts on annual rings and you can count the tree’s age; it’s very similar to a bear.”
Lastly, Cameron said the documentation process for collecting roadkill bears helps limit the sale of bear parts on the black market.
“There is a black market for black bear parts, and it’s highly illegal to sell any kind of bear parts in the state of Tennessee,” Cameron said. “But it does happen.”
By making sure hunters document any bears they kill in the state and keeping track of any that are collected after being struck by vehicles, Cameron said the TWRA is able to create a track record of bear parts and combat the black market.
If anyone planned to take a dead bear to a meat processor or taxidermist in Tennessee, they would be required to present their receipt from the TWRA to prove it had not been illegally harvested.
Outside of Tennessee’s four big game animals, there are other rules for roadkill. In most cases, small game can be collected without filing any reports or contacting any authorities. Cameron said animals like rabbit, raccoons, squirrels, skunks and the like can be taken home without any notification necessary.
However, there are some protected species like owls, hawks and other birds of prey that cannot be possessed by anyone.
“You cannot possess those. We cannot give you a receipt even to take those types of animals home,” Cameron said. “Any protected, non-game animal, we can’t give you any kind of receipt to keep those, and you could be cited for possession of an illegal animal if you do decide to take one of those home.”
Cameron said protected animals that are found dead should be left where they are. The TWRA can be notified in those instances, and a biologist from the agency may choose to collect the specimen for learning purposes.