Raynor’s findings, if replicated and confirmed, could add three important dimensions to the long and fractious wolf debate. First, most wolf research takes place in national parks, such as Yellowstone and Isle Royale, which are largely free of human influence. Such studies say little about how these animals might behave in unprotected areas full of towns, farms, and roads. If wolves are to thrive in the U.S., or even be reintroduced in more states, they’ll have to coexist with people in places that look little like Yellowstone but a lot like Wisconsin.
Second, “the people who value the existence of wolves are often not in the same communities where wolves are present,” Raynor told me. Urban wildlife lovers may be happy to know that wolves exist out there, but rural people have to stare at the carcasses of livestock and pets. Wolves’ benefits to the former are abstract and nebulous; their costs to the latter are tangible and bloody. But deer-vehicle collisions “are happening in both urban and rural areas,” Raynor said. “No one is avoiding this problem,” which means that rural people are also benefiting from wolves, unbeknownst to them.
Third, the “public discourse focuses on the potential negative economic impacts of wolves on people,” says Rebecca Niemiec, a social scientist at Colorado State University who studies attitudes to conservation. But Raynor’s study, she says, provides “compelling evidence” that wolves can also be a positive economic force, saving dollars by averting crashes.