Driving through northern Idaho this summer? Bring a fork.
A judge in Bonners Ferry recently stood up for the
right of people to eat the kind of roadkill that even other
roadkill fanciers might find inedible. It sounds like one of those
jokes bluegrass musicians tell: "How many banjo players does it
take to eat a possum?" The answer: "Two: One to eat and one to
watch for cars."
Cliff Kramer was charged with illegal
possession of a big game animal after game wardens found shredded
moose in his freezers. In his 16-page ruling, District Court Judge
Justin Julian scoffed at the charge: "So, does the salvage of meat
no one else wanted render Kramer worthy of further prosecution?
This court thinks not."
Fire up the banjos! When John
McPhee wrote Travels in Georgia, roadkill seemed to be on the menu
every other page. It came across as natural and free and as
American as dulcimers. Has the world changed so much that even in
thinly populated Boundary County, Idaho, you have to fight the
government to eat your dead moose?
Kramer, who runs a
resort on the Moyie River, did it the other way around. He ate the
moose first; then he fought undercover Fish and Game agents
investigating rumors of roadkill specials. Unlike the characters in
McPhee’s essay, Kramer wasn’t just choking down the odd
squirrel or turtle. This was a moose. And he has a lunch counter.
Kramer has insisted for the last year that he only wanted
to bury a big carcass on a hot weekend, but because he’s
North Idahoan to his core, he decided he couldn’t waste meat
that looked fine to him. He insists he only lit a bonfire, then
hollered for friends and neighbors to join him for an impromptu
But then, as Kramer’s attorney,
Fred Gabourie, says, "Somehow the rumor mill cranked up," spurring
undercover agents to go looking for mystery meat.
Julian seemed to have a queasy moment at this point, adding a
footnote to his decision: "The court expresses no opinion on the
wisdom of eating meat that may have been gleaned from a carcass
that was run over mul-tiple times by large trucks and left lying on
asphalt for approximately 16 hours in temperatures exceeding 80
degrees.’’ Idaho State Police Trooper Brian Zimmerman
says he got to the moose a few hours before Kramer did. "It was
already getting tight," Zimmerman said. "Bloaty tight. It was
The carcass was largely hairless, and at
first, the trooper thought the moose had died from some terrible
disease. But as he tried to tug and roll the 800- to 900-pound
carcass, he saw skid marks and abrasions, indicating that the moose
was dragged under a truck, losing a fair amount of hide along the
In Idaho’s northern counties, where jobs and
money are scarce, people get by on pluck and stubbornness.
Volunteers for gleaner programs jump out of bed at any hour and
drive 40 miles in any weather to reach a roadkilled game animal.
They butcher it quickly and give the meat to food banks and
But the moose looked so bad, Zimmerman left it
for the highway crews. "I salvage whatever I can, but I
wouldn’t even dream of eating anything like this," he said.
Kramer did, and the judge backed him up, saying the
county’s prosecution smelled worse than the moose probably
did. "Kramer is ‘guilty’ of being a Good Samaritan by
using his heavy equipment to scrape up a pulverized moose to bury
it before it decomposed on the side of Highway 95," the judge said.
"Kramer then became ‘guilty’ of salvaging a relatively
small portion of meat that very few others would have considered
After Julian tossed the charges, Kramer asked
game wardens to give him back the 300 pounds of frozen, shredded,
confiscated moose. He’s planned a second anniversary Moose
Festival with a live band.
But no one could find the
meat. The owner of the meat locker in Bonners Ferry thinks his
workers figured the moose was spoiled, didn’t see the
evidence tag, and tossed it into the landfill.
Kramer is suing the state. He filed a tort claim against the Idaho
Department of Fish and Game this June, signaling his intent to seek
more than $10,000.
"How do you put a value on moose
meat?" Kramer’s attorney Gabourie asked with a straight face.
"You can’t buy it." Trooper Zimmerman groaned: "He got it for
Thanks to a judge with an iron constitution, this
is still the land of the free … lunch. So, come drive in
northern Idaho. You never know when you’ll run into a little
slice of freedom. And don’t forget the fork.