Unfortunate collisions between deer and motor vehicles are a real problem that is both dangerous and costly. To find a natural solution to this costly infrastructure problem, the United States National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Proceedings team turned to the study of wolves. In their research, PNAS discovered a unique trend that shows a decline in deer-vehicle collisions (DVCs) directly related to the wolf population. This study focused on the state of Wisconsin, however, the date could have far-reaching implications around the world.
The PNAS study is very clear: “The entry of wolves reduced CVDs by 24%, producing an economic benefit 63 times greater than the costs of verified predation of wolves on livestock. This huge benefit to the economy can also save the lives of drivers. The study explains that “about 1 million CVDs occur each year in the United States, causing 29,000 human injuries, 200 human deaths and nearly $ 10 billion in total economic losses.” This massive impact on both the economy and the unfortunate loss of life means that reducing CVDs could have huge implications.
So how are wolves factored into all of this? According to PNAS data, the reduction in CVD is not caused by a reduced population due to predation by wolves. 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 route of travel. Deer understand this preference which prompts 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 likelihood of accidentally hitting a deer, causing both costly damage and loss of life. Obviously, not all parts of the United States and Europe are ready to support a wolf pack. However, in more rural environments, it is clear that the return of top predators to the food web has many positive impacts.