Sheep-Force Argali Program
Conservation Force has had a long-term commitment to conserving argali and perpetuating argali hunting. In 2008 we are renewing and reinitiating those efforts with additional partners and resolve. Tentatively, this new program is to be called Sheep-Force. It will be operated as a program, not just a project of Conservation Force, for it will cover at least five different countries and multiple species of sheep and mountain species.
One of the first steps was to do an up-to-date Freedom of Information Act request to the USF&WS’s International Division for a copy of their internal determinations underlying argali trophy imports over the past three years (2005, 2006 and 2007) from Mongolia, Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyz, Kyrgyzia and Kyrgyzstan). We filed the FOIA request in November, but did not receive the data until mid-February. There are two separate determinations made by separate parts of the Division of Management Authority (DMA) for each of the three countries.
An ENHANCEMENT EVALUATION is made by Senior Biologist Mike Carpenter each year for each country. It analyzes all available data, confirms whether or not the respective country’s argali quota is supportable and, most importantly, determines whether or not the imports that are biologically supportable “will provide enhancement to the species and its habitat” in that respective country.
A separate INTRA-SERVICE SECTION 7 BIOLOGICAL EVALUATION FORM is completed by the Division of Management Authority with the separate written concurrence of the Chief of the Branch of Permits of DMA and the Chief of the Branch of Consultation & Monitoring of the Division of Scientific Authority. They make a finding of the likelihood that the hunting will adversely affect the species which includes a review of the quota and its reduction to reduce the risk of possible adverse effects. That is three different biologists in two different divisions.
We originally requested the up-to-date determinations from the USF&WS to use at a meeting Conservation Force was invited to with the Mongolian authorities and WWF concerning the management of Mongolian argali. Readers may remember that Conservation Force successfully provided the legal representation of Mongolia in the suit the antis filed but lost to stop the importation of argali trophies several years ago. Because of that, we held the attention of the Mongolian officials at the meeting, but did not receive the FOIA return in time to use it there to give them a better understanding of the process and ability to deal with it. The materials have been forwarded on to WWF for Mongolia’s benefit since that meeting.
One thing that can be gleaned from the 68 pages of documents is the formula that is used by the Service to decide the number of imports it will allow. The Service does not allow the import of more than 2% of the estimated population and reduces that by a number equal to twice the legal quota established by the foreign wildlife authorities. An example is Mongolia in the 2006/2007 season. The estimated total population was more than 13,000, so the sustainable take of 2% was 260 animals. Mongolia’s quota was 60, so the Service deducted 140 to 150 animals estimated to be poached from the 260, leaving a balance of 110, thus concluding that the quota of 60 was within conservative range. The Service accepted the full number of Gobi permits Mongolia intended, 45, but not the number of Altai permits desired, 25. Because of specific issues with the Altai populations, the Service has limited that restricted area to 10 imports per year, at least until that area’s population is better known and verified.
Of some concern to us is the report that the Mongolian “Ministry indicates that they intend to conduct surveys of both Altai and Gobi populations beginning in July, 2008. That is the wrong time of the year to locate argali that can be expected to be widely dispersed. One has to wonder about the motive of surveying them when they can’t be found. We don’t know if such a survey was commenced, but do know it will not be comparable to earlier surveys in November. Regardless, Sheep-Force is intending greater participation itself to help take surveys that will be successful and be repeatable.
The promising news is that there is no apparent decrease in horn size for the better part of a decade in the three countries, all three countries are reported to now have management plans, most populations are stable or increasing, a great deal of habitat has been set aside for protection and the quotas are generally conservative.