Study: Wolves deliver economic benefit by reducing crashes between deer and cars

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In this 2020 photo provided by Michigan Technological University, a gray female wolf, right, courts a black male wolf, left, with a “play bow” invitation to engage during the 62nd year of the Michigan Technological University Winter Study on Isle Royale National Park. (Rolf Peterson/Michigan Technological University via AP)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WLNS) – A new study found that wild wolves can save lives and have a positive economic impact by reducing the number of crashes between cars and deer in areas where they roam.

Gray wolves in the Lower 48 states have been at the center of a political debate since January when the Trump administration removed them from the Endangered Species List. This lifted federal protections for the predators and gave control over their management to individual states.

The decision is one of several environmental policies the Biden administration is considering reversing. Pro-hunting grounds and ranchers argue there are already too many wolves in the Great Lakes region, competing with hunters for deer and attacking livestock.

However, a new study from Wisconsin found that when wolves colonize a new area, collisions between cars and deer dropped by about 24%.

Dominic Parker, a natural resources economist at the University of Wisconsin and co-author of the study, says there are two reasons for this drop. First, wolves eat deer, thinning the herd and leaving fewer deer to hit.

The second and less obvious reason is that the presence of wolves changes the behavior of deer. Wolves use long linear geographical features to move around, like roads, pipelines, and streams. Deer learn this quickly, and they start to get nervous around those features. This makes them more fearful of roads, which helps them avoid collisions with cars.

Crashes between cars and deer cost more than $8 billion in the U.S. annually.

Ecologist Rolf Peterson from Michigan Tech says, if anything, the cost of those crashes is underestimated because they can also lead to medical bills and even loss of human life.

A 2016 study found cougars have a similar impact in the eastern United States, reducing crashes with deer by about 22%.

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