Why Does Ashley Judd Want Wolves To Suffer Cruel Deaths?

Shooting animals is so "brutal," especially if they are shot from the air, right? Slamming Sarah Palin for "casting aside science" and "championing the slaughter of wildlife," one would think that Ashley Judd's stance in a new ad on hunting is beyond reproach. After all, Judd certainly cares more about animals, right?

Yet, sometimes the emotional response isn't the most responsible one. In this case, hunting is done to keep animals from dying from starvation and to maintain higher quality populations. The problem is that in the wild, animal populations go through what are called “boom and crash” cycles – animal populations expand to consume the available food supplies and when those are exhausted, the animals starve and the populations crash. Starvation also makes the animals more susceptible to disease. Hunters stabilize populations, and keep those problems from recurring.

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Ironically, the hunters and Sarah Palin seem to know a lot more of what is in the wolves’ and their preys’ interests than the wolves’ supposed defenders. Shooting might not be perfect (despite the ad's exaggerations, the wolf might not die instantly), but stabilizing the wolves’ population through shooting some animals is probably a less painful way for an animal to die than through starvation. In addition, starvation would have impacted virtually all the wolves, but only a fraction of the animals risk suffering any trauma from being shot.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Wildlife Conservation explains the situation fairly clearly:
If prey numbers fall to very low levels, reductions in predation and harvest must be more dramatic. When implemented in a timely manner, predator control can result in shorter-term programs where prey numbers are stabilized and improved more quickly and efficiently. In such cases, the age and sex structure of prey populations can be maintained at optimum ratios of young to adults. When populations boom and crash, age structures can become skewed, and create difficult management situations long into the future. Harvest regulations also change regularly as the sustainable harvest numbers fluctuate year to year. Predator control programs are designed to maintain stability of elevated harvests while maintaining viable numbers of prey and predators alike.

In control programs, predators are reduced in number but never permanently eliminated from any area; viable populations of predators are a requirement of law. The long-term goal of a successful program is increased prey density, increased harvest, and stable populations of predators. Biologists determine the level of predator removal needed to allow growth of prey populations. Biologists determine predator population objectives for areas that can achieve desired levels of harvest. Intensive management efforts, including predator control, focus on achieving those objectives.

Indeed, with all this hunting, wolves are thriving and occupy virtually their entire traditional habitat throughout mainland Alaska.

In case Judd didn't know it, Alaska is a big place with lots of very remote areas where it's difficult to regulate animal populations on foot. Beyond the biologically related reasons for hunting in winter, Judd should realize that making hunting difficult is not in the general interest of the wolves. Judd is concerned that hunters “kill in winter when there is no chance for the wolves to escape,” but if the wolf population as a whole benefits from hunting and making hunting difficult makes stabilizing the population more difficult, won’t wolves be the ultimate losers?

As it is, since 1972, the federal government has heavily regulated aerial hunting of animals – only allowing it for predators by government employees or licensed hunters and even then, contrary to last year's campaign ads and Judd's latest, animals can’t be shot from the air. While the planes can be used to find and track or chase the wolves, the wolves can only be shot by hunters who are on the ground. The pictures used in the ads inaccurately depict the policies that have been in effect for the last 37 years.

Judd is outraged that “Palin even proposed a $150 bounty for the severed foreleg of each killed wolf. And now she is encouraging even more aerial killing.” But if hunting produces benefits, why not pay to have it done? The sentimentality of those who obtain all their food from the grocery store might be upset by hunters having to provide evidence of their kills, but a severed foreleg seems a simple way of providing proof.

Not just in the case of wolves, but hunting produces a lot of benefits for Americans.

This isn’t Judd’s first foray into politics. Last year she noted that “a woman voting for McCain/Palin is like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders.”

Possibly the most telling point of Judd’s ad is that the ad first mentions Sarah Palin and not the wolves. But how often are fundraising efforts directed against the losing candidates in recent national elections? Never? The ad probably says more about Democrats still viewing Palin as a credible future opponent than it does about the Defenders of the Wildlife and Judd's inaccurate claims about hunting.

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