Using cougars to save lives

©Ben Biel

There could be a simple answer for how to reduce deer-vehicle collisions in the eastern U.S., according to a study by TWS member Laura Prugh that was featured in The New York Times earlier this week. Allowing cougars to naturally repopulate states such as New York, Maine, Wisconsin and others could save 155 human lives over the course of 30 years. In the same time span, the animals could also prevent 21,400 injuries and save $2.3 billion.

Prugh, a wildlife scientist at the University of Washington, teamed up with wildlife ecologist Sophie Gilbert and other colleagues to evaluate the “Socioeconomic benefits of large carnivore recolonization through reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions.” They estimated that cougars would need about 850 square miles of suitable habitat to support a population, and each cougar, with an average life span of six years, would kill about 259 deer. Although Adrian Treves, head of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin, thinks the study might underestimate the benefits of cougars, figuring out the downsides to having them back was admittedly more difficult.