Unfortunate collisions between deer and motor vehicles are a real problem that’s both dangerous and costly. To find a natural solution to this expensive infrastructure problem, the team at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America (PNAS) has turned to study wolves. In their research, PNAS has discovered a unique trend that shows a drop in deer-vehicle collisions (DVC) directly related to the population of wolves. This study focused on the state of Wisconsin, however, the date could have far-reaching implications around the world.
The study from PNAS is very clear, “Wolf entry reduced DVCs by 24%, yielding an economic benefit that is 63 times greater than the costs of verified wolf predation on livestock.” This massive benefit to the economy can also save the lives of drivers. The study explains that “About 1 million DVCs occur every year in the United States, causing 29,000 human injuries, 200 human fatalities, and nearly $10 billion in total economic losses.” This massive impact on both the economy and the unfortunate loss of life means that reducing DVCs could have huge implications.
So how do the wolves factor into all of this? Well based on PNAS data the reduction in DVCs is not caused by a reduced population due to wolf predation. Instead, it’s related to the way wolves hunt deer. Wolves tend to follow man-made infrastructure when hunting deer and favor the use of roads and pipelines as an efficient travel path. Deer understand this preference which causes them to stay away from roads to avoid running into a pack of wolves.
The result is a more diverse natural ecosystem with a reduced chance of accidentally hitting a dear causing both costly damage and the loss of human life. Obviously not every part of the United States and Europe is ready to support a pack of wolves. However, in more rural environments, it’s clear that introducing apex predators back to the food web has a host of positive impacts.