There’s a simple solution to the high number of deer-vehicle crashes in New Jersey: more cougars.
Bringing cougars to the Garden State could spare 155 human lives and save $2.13 billion over the course of 30 years, according to a new study in the journal Conservation Letters. The study explains that big cats would reduce the overabundant deer population, thus lowering the number of car crashes across New Jersey.
Annually, the state could save $2.4 million and avoid 24 injuries caused by deer-vehicle accidents. Scientists came to that conclusion after modeling deer population growth with and without the introduction of cougars into New Jersey’s ecosystem.
“Overabundant white-tailed deer also damage forest biodiversity, agriculture, forestry, and human health, with estimated costs of $3.1 billion annually in the US,” the authors write. “Recolonization by large carnivores could provide an efficient solution to the problem of deer overabundance.”
The authors point to South Dakota — where imported cougars save millions every year — as an example of success. But New Jersey officials are not so psyched about the idea.
“To put a cougar into those residential areas….makes absolutely no sense,” Larry Hajna, a spokesperson for the state’s Department for Environmental Protection, told NJ.com. Hajna added that New Jersey is too densely populated for mountain lions to roam free, unlike Midwestern regions.
Only two percent of the state could actually support cougar populations, Jeff Tittel, president of New Jersey’s Sierra Club, told NJ.com. That two percent could be found in dense forest areas, like Wharton State Forest or the Newark Watershed Lands — not in small residential towns.
The study’s authors admit that “large carnivore recolonization” could lead to attacks on humans, pets, and livestock, although cougars would “indirectly save far more people from death” by reducing car crashes than they would directly kill.
In other words, New Jersey residents can certainly expect cougar attacks, but the lowered number of car crashes would make up for puma violence.
Hajna is still not satisfied with this explanation, asking NJ.com reporters, “Can you imagine the backlash if we were to say, by the way, we want to introduce a predator that hasn’t been in New Jersey for a couple hundred years into your backyard?”
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