New study shows wolves save Wisconsin residents $10.9 million annually because of reduction in deer-vehicle crashes

The economic benefit of wolves is 63 times greater than the costs of verified wolf predation on livestock, researchers say


The presence of wolves in Wisconsin saves residents of the state an estimated $10.9 million every year because there are fewer deer-vehicle-collisions in counties that have wolves. That’s according to a new study published today by agricultural and economic researchers.

Simply put, wolves use roadways as travel corridors and also prey on deer in those areas. This leads to deer avoiding roadways, and fewer deer near roadways leads to fewer collisions.

The study was conducted by Jennifer Raynor of the Department of Economics at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, as well as Corbett Grainger and Dominic Parker, both of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Most economic studies about wolves have focused on the negative impact of wolves, such as the cost of livestock depredation. Very few have shown a positive economic impact.

“The only other studies we know of showing positive economic values of wolves are a study of the value of the International Wolf Center to the city of Ely, Minnesota, and the Duffield Report,” said International Wolf Center founder and wildlife biologist Dr. L. David Mech. “The Duffield Report covers a national park and a unique situation where wolves are readily viewable by the public because the government radio-collars them and locates them via radio daily.

“In contrast, the Wisconsin study applies to wolves in a much larger non-park area, and its results would apply to similar areas, such as certain parts of Minnesota and Michigan and possibly of some of the western states, as well as densely roaded areas of wolf range elsewhere, such as Eurasia and the Middle East.”

According to the research, the presence of wolves reduces deer-vehicle collisions (DVCs) by 24 percent, or an average of 38 fewer per year, per county. Based on the national average loss of $9,960 per DVC, the presence of wolves leads to more than a $375,000 reduction in DVC losses per county per year. This reduction yields “an economic benefit that is 63 times greater than the costs of verified wolf predation on livestock,” according to researchers.

The authors note that the 63:1 ratio comes from comparing the estimated annual savings in Wisconsin of $10.9 million compared to the average annual payments from the state for wolf depredation of $174,000.

They write: “Our study suggests that systematic elimination of wolves from North America has caused unintended damages. Wolves appear to induce an economically significant reduction in the economic losses associated with DVCs.”

“Findings like these make it clear that apex predators are useful in ecosystems,” said Grant Spickelmier, the executive director of the International Wolf Center. “Predators, such as wolves, can have a cascading effect that starts with one set of actions and results in a chain of events that impact other species, sometimes including humans.”

Wolves’ presence on the landscape in Wisconsin reduces the deer population, and that could lead to a decrease in DVCs. But researchers considered this and found that wolf presence alone would not account for the significant changes in DVCs.

Tolerance for the presence of wolves may be bolstered by the fact that the savings from fewer DVCs are more likely to occur in rural and agricultural areas, which are now often those with less tolerance of wolves.

“The beneficial reduction in DVCs concentrates in rural areas where livestock predation also occurs,” the researchers write. “This finding may help dampen political polarization around wolf reintroduction that generally pits rural and urban voters against one another … . Our study’s focus may be of more practical use to policy makers trying to balance competing constituent interests when setting policy.”

Balancing competing wolf management interests remains a challenging task for state wildlife agencies. These findings, researchers hope, can help.

“The finding that wolves reduce DVCs primarily by changing deer behavior rather than by reducing deer abundance is likely good news for policy makers. It implies they do not need to choose between a $20.6 billion nationwide recreational deer hunting industry and DVC benefits from wolves. At least in Wisconsin, it seems that wolves and deer hunters can coexist with safer roadways.”

To read the full paper, click here.