Truthfully hunting permits have long been used to fund conservation in the North America. This is to some can be a hard to swallow policy. If your a hunter or your politics predispose you to favor hunters, then you have little trouble with this. If your a animal rights activist, you likely find this practice abhorrent. Truth be told I'm fine with it as long as it is tightly regulated. There are plenty of folks who hunt for the dinner table and not the wall. Before anyone gets angry about the phrase regulated I should clarify. I simply mean that populations be managed to prevent a species from going extinct or being in danger of going extinct. No different then what we do with fisheries. Sustainable harvests.
In fact, there is a serious ecological problem that could be solved with hunting. Largely due to a half century long campaign of targeted destruction against native predator populations (most notably wolves) by the US government in the 20th and late 19th centuries, deer numbers are out of control. In much of the eastern United States and the Midwest there is little to control deer populations. As wolf populations recover and spread out (and there is no guarantee they will make it to many areas where deer are common), this issue should lessen. In the meantime however, hunters are a valuable asset for keeping such populations in check.
That said, I have trouble stomaching permits for endangered species. Functionally, as long as it is closely monitored and transparent, if done correctly this could be a lucrative and effective practice for conservation. As long as the targets are well beyond breeding age and not likely to contribute meaningfully to species survival, their death while sad can serve a greater purpose. The key to this however is that it is closely monitored. Wide corruption of this process in the number of permits granted could derail conservation programs. For that reason I am incredibly nervous about any such program. In addition with some rare populations, a stray bullet killing a breeding member of the population could have dramatic impacts on population viability and in turn species survival.
Where I think the rational middle ground for this issue is in regards to tranquilization. There are medical procedures that could be done on many of the bigger endangered species that hunters would desire to hunt and conservationists are trying to save. By working together, this could be an effective relationship.
Telos of Conservation Biology
Telos for those not up on their greek means purpose, and is used in philosophical discussions. Thus ends my intellectual snobbery for this post. Conservation biology has the purpose of protecting biodiversity. There is a big debate about whether humanitarian goals should be integrated into conservation biology. Truthfully, I think this debate is a little silly. You cannot ignore social-economic realities of an area in which you wish to preserve biodiversity. These social-economic realities may be (and likely are) major drivers in the lives of whatever species/ecosystem you are attempting to protect. In addition ecosystem services mean something to the business community and policymakers.
I consider myself in this silly debate a biocentric. My purpose for working in conservation biology is largely based on my own morality. I do my work largely to protect biodiversity to the best of my ability. To me slowing the worldwide extinction rate is my top professional priority. I'm also a realist. If I can save a rainforest by developing a community conservation project that empowers the local populace and gives them another avenue of revenue, I'm sure as hell going to do it. Humanitarian goals are not a bad thing. If you can combine them with conservation goals, that is fantastic. More than that, the needs of the general populace need consideration. To ignore that when considering massive conservation projects at this stage the game is a bad idea.