Nearly 20,000 Wisconsin residents get into a deer-related car accident every year. These accidents resulted in 477 injuries and 8 deaths in total. The local government knew they had to do something about it, but how did Wisconsin reduce these numbers by almost 25%?
Allowing wolves to improve their numbers reduced deer-related traffic collisions by nearly 25%. The reduction is due to the “landscape of fear” created by the wolves rather than the decimation of the deer population.
How Did the Improvement of the Wolf Population Help with the Issue?
According to new research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the large predators frighten deer away from dangerous roadways, saving money and lives.
As per the analysis of 22 years of data, wolves reduce deer-vehicle collisions by about 24 percent in a county, Christina Larson of the Associated Press reports. Nearly 20,000 Wisconsin residents are hit by deer every year, resulting in 477 injuries and eight deaths. Wolves can be found in 29 Wisconsin counties. Wesleyan University natural resource economist Raynor said to Ed Yong at The Atlantic.
Some lives are saved, some injuries are prevented, and a huge amount of damage and time are saved by having wolves present.Jennifer Raynor, Natural Resource Economist
In the study, wolves save Wisconsin approximately $10.9 million in losses due to avoided car crashes each year, which is far greater than the compensation paid by the state to people who lose pets or livestock to wolves.
Most economic studies of wolves have been negative, focusing on livestock losses, But wolves also reshape ecosystems in many ways, although that’s hard to measure economically.Dave Mech, Wolf Expert, US Geological Survey, Minnesota
(Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
What is the Landscape of Fear?
The so-called landscape of fear that wolves create is responsible for the majority of the decrease in collisions. Wolves, like streams, tend to follow clear paths through the landscape. Wolves will follow roads, trails, and pipelines in human-developed areas. Deer adapt to the presence of wolves by staying away, lowering their chances of being hit by a car. Liana Zanette, who was not involved in the study, stated this to The Atlantic.
The icing on the cake is that wolves do this work all year long at their own expense, “It all seems like a win-win for those wolf counties.Liana Zanette, Ecologist, Western University
Wolves killing deer accounted for only about 6% of the decrease in deer-vehicle collisions, according to Jack J. Lee of Science News. Because the decrease in collisions did not occur solely because wolves kill deer, culling deer during hunting season would not necessarily reduce car collisions to the same extent that having wolves present would.
The deer that the wolves do manage to kill is likely to be the most reckless and to run in front of cars. According to University of Wyoming ecologist Matthew Kauffman to the Atlantic, a detailed understanding of wolf and deer behavior would come from research that tracks the animals with collars, which was not included in the new study.
The study differs from other studies of wolves’ environmental impact because it emphasizes a benefit that wolves provide to the humans who live nearby. Wolf reintroduction is generally supported in urban areas, while it is opposed in rural areas. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)