What’s one way to reduce the number of collisions between vehicles and deer? One study from the University of Wisconsin indicates that reintroducing wolves to an area can have a significant impact.
TheWhyAxis website wrote: “The study found that when wolves were reintroduced to parts of Wisconsin, driver collisions with deer dropped dramatically relative to the places in the state where wolves didn’t make a comeback. That’s a huge deal: deer cause roughly 18,000 car accidents in the state each year, wreaking tens of millions of dollars in economic damage.”
The study tracked each Wisconsin county’s population of deer and wolves from 1980 to 2010. Over those 30 years, the wolf population greatly increased in forested areas of the northernmost counties, along with some in the central part of the state.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The study then compared vehicle collisions with deer in the wolf counties to those in counties without wolves.
The difference was amazing. “In counties without wolves, deer-vehicle collisions increased by roughly 80 percent between 1988 and 2017,” the report said. “In wolf counties, on the other hand, deer collisions essentially stayed flat over that period.”
The study also found that the lower number of deer accidents in wolf counties were not due to a reduced deer population. In other words, it appears that the presence of wolves changed the behavior of deer — as it should — by making them less likely to roam near roads and other open places.
Hunters in Wisconsin have complained that wolves reduce deer populations, since predators have to eat. The study disputes that contention, observing that the presence of wolves may make hunting more difficult because deer then tend to stay hidden.
By the numbers, Wisconsin has a much bigger problem with deer collisions than Mississippi does. The Mississippi Department of Transportation said that in 2020, there were 3,784 deer-related accidents in the state. An MDOT press release said there had been 1,915 such accidents as of Oct. 31 this year.
Nobody is advocating a widespread introduction of wolves into rural Mississippi. We’ve got enough wildlife already. But the larger point is that while humans have tried many things unsuccessfully to reduce collisions between deer and vehicles, wolves appear to be doing the job for free in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, drivers in rural Mississippi can reduce the risk of a deer collision by taking a few prudent steps during the winter months, when deer are more likely to approach roads:
• When traveling at night in a rural area, reduce your speed to provide more reaction time if a deer appears.
• Use high-beam headlights when there’s no oncoming traffic for a better chance of seeing the light’s reflection in a deer’s eyes.
• Be extra careful at dawn and dusk, since that’s when deer are active. MDOT says 20% of deer collisions occur in the early morning, while 50% occur between 5 p.m. and midnight.
— Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal