‘Waste not, want not" is an adage Vermont Fish & Wildlife game wardens Abigail Serra and Jeffrey Whipple live by, even when it comes to roadkill.
“I don’t like to see anything go to waste,” Serra, who’s been a game warden since 2017, told VTDigger. “Whether that’s deer or bear or moose, I want to make the most of it and not just let it rot in the roadway.”
Serra, 32, of Ira said she and Whipple started to notice in spring 2020 how many people in Rutland City needed food — and how many specifically needed meat.
“Everyone was buying everything they could at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Whipple, 34 of Vershire. The demand for meat sent prices skyrocketing, leaving lower income families struggling to buy reliable sources of protein.
The duo met with the Vermont food shelves and other local organizations who told them they couldn’t spend much of their budget on meat, Whipple said, so “instead of making them choose between canned goods and diapers or protein,” he and Serra came up with their solution: Venison for Vermonters.
The initiative, which currently involves Serra, Whipple and a butcher in the Northeast Kingdom, seeks to collect roadkill that is cleaned, processed and then donated to local food shelves and outreach programs, like the Broc Community Action and the Pittsford Food Shelf.
This year, the pair is hoping to grow the program by spending more time on the program, expanding a website and hoping other wardens might get on board.
While game wardens have historically given salvageable roadkill to hunters and butchers, there is still a wealth of viable meat not being utilized due to the number of people that either can’t or don’t have the knowledge of how to process the animals themselves.
According to the program’s webpage, an average-sized Vermont deer can provide meat for up to 120 meals. Since its launch, the program has helped donate more than 3,400 pounds of wild meat thus far. It also salvages bear and moose meat when available.
Many factors impact whether roadkill can or should be salvaged, Serra said. For example, the game wardens won’t use any part of the animal that has been bloodied from impact, she said. The facilities they use meet cleanliness standards and are frequently inspected by the food regulation authorities, Whipple said.
In the summer the wardens are especially cognizant of how long an animal has been dead, as heat will cause the meat to spoil faster than the cold would during the winter or fall months.
Sometimes they even use injured animals they are alerted about. “Usually wardens are the first ones to get the call regarding animals that have been hit and the live ones we salvage are only the ones that have to be put down if they can’t survive on their own,” Serra said.
Whipple said they also take illegally harvested animals — ones that were hunted during the off-season or in violation of regulations such as shooting within 25 feet of a road.
Serra and Whipple’s supervisors at Fish & Wildlife have also gotten onboard with the initiative, allowing them to cut up animals collected while on duty instead of only in their free time as they did in the beginning. And thanks to co-workers like Nicole Meier, who works with the department’s hunter education program, donations can now be made online on the official website.
“It’s a wonderful feeling being able to pull up to the food (shelf) with the most organic and healthy protein that you can buy, to be given away for free,” Whipple said. “We have a great resource to spread this around the rest of the state, and that’s what we should do for sure.”
While the idea of using roadkill for food may seem macabre or unsanitary to some, it’s a concept that Serra and Whipple hope to see become more popular.
“I would love to see this grow,” Serra said. “I want other wardens in other towns to get involved and to get enough funding to get other butchers to do this, because it’s not something Jeff and I can do alone and still be able to reach as many people as we could with this program.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified an organization that does not receive donations from Venison for Vermonters.
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