The Markhor Initiative is successful. On June 3, 2014 the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USWSF) issued permits for nine hunters’ permit applications to import Sulaiman markhor taken in the Torghar Project of Pakistan. The project is one of the most renowned in the history of the conservation of wild game species. The finding of “enhancement” necessary for import of the ESA “endangered” listed species is validation of the recovery potential of hunting and will enable the conservation strategy to reach its full potential in Pakistan. Because of the hunting conservation strategy, the endangered-listed markhor has been saved. Because of the successful effort to import the trophies into the USA, the recovery is now assured.
The nine applicants took their markhor in the Torghar Project in the Torghar region of Pakistan between 2005 and 2013. The nine pioneering hunters are among the greatest hunters of all time. They have been champions of patience as well as champions of real hunting.
The first import permit was filed in 2000, but the hunter abandoned it shortly afterwards. In that instance, Conservation Force only filed a supporting comment when the application was published in the Federal Register. The nine recently approved applications were filed by Conservation Force over the past decade purposefully as an initiative to secure the recovery of this critically endangered species through hunting. Being a “game species” should be an advantage in the struggle for survival and these permits validate that indeed it is. The enhancement permits are authoritative certifications of the beneficial role of hunting.
Four of the nine applications were previously denied, taken through the administrative appeals process and then sued for in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. When that court did not provide relief, the case was appealed to the Federal Appellate Court of the District of Columbia. Over the course of this past blistering cold winter in the District of Columbia, the case was successfully mediated and settled. Yours truly was in and out of Washington, D.C. when it was closed for nearly all other business. The USFWS agreed in that settlement to re-process the four applications in good faith if filed as new applications and to complete the processing by June 3, 2014, which it did. That was all the Appellate Court could order had we stayed in court instead of settling. Of course, there was no promise that the permits would be granted, but it gave Conservation Force the opportunity to add to the record the ever-growing mountain of evidence and expert recognition of the success of the underlying conservation project. Conservation Force added applications of five new hunters for a total of nine. In total, those pioneering hunters had provided more than one million dollars to the Torghar Project in an act of faith in support of the program.
A second term of the mediated settlement was that USFWS would complete the proposed downlisting determination of all straight-horned markhor. That final determination is to be made by September 30, 2014. That downlisting proposal has broadened beyond the petition originally filed by the Sustainable Use Specialist Group of IUCN through Naseer Tareen in 2000, and even beyond the petition filed by Conservation Force and allied partner organizations including Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club, the Wild Sheep Foundation, Grand Slam/OVIS, Shikar, the Conklin Foundation, et al. The second petition had to be filed when, in other litigation, the court held the original petition to be too late to enforce. The downlisting proposal now includes a regulatory strategy to use permitting of US hunters as a reward and recognition to other areas and countries that restore their straight-horned markhor (Kabul and Sulaiman). That can bring the original 1985 conservation-through-hunting strategy to full fruition.
This has been a long and arduous paper chase, but someone had to do it. Coming on the heels of import permits for endangered black rhino, it more than validates the enhancement from hunting in both instances; it raises the administration of the ESA to a level that has only been envisioned for 40 years, since its inception. The ESA can now be expected to restore, not just protect foreign listed species. This is so very, very important and is well worth the sacrifices we have all made to get to this point.
The longstanding practice, if not policy, of USFWS to deny enhancement permits, and thus the recovery and security they will hereinafter provide, has been a giant hurdle to overcome. The Center for Biological Diversity (yes, the same organization that petitioned to ESA-list all polar bear as endangered), the Humane Society of the US and Humane Society International have been vigorous opponents of the hunting-based Torghar program. Believe me, the opposition comments to these permits and the pending downlisting would ruin your day to read. Be aware that there can be no pretense that the Center for Biological Diversity was expressing any concern for climate change. It appears to oppose hunting as a conservation tool in the best examples. On the other hand, the Caprinae Specialist Group of the IUCN, the foremost Caprinae experts in the world, strongly supported the issuance of the permits and, of course, the Convention of Biodiversity treats the project as the foremost example of sustainable use in the world.
I cannot recount all that was necessary to get to this point or credit all those individuals and institutions that played their parts, but permit me to honor one particular individual. Dr. Bart O’Gara, deceased, founding member of Conservation Force, first suggested the strategy to Torghar leadership in 1985. He was an ecologist with the USFWS Extension Service, accompanied by a representative of WWF. He made the recommendation to Naseer Tareen who still credits Bart with having started what became Conservation Force’s Markhor Initiative. I only wish he was still here to share in the celebration. Bart, you were right! Long live the straight-horned markhor.