By the narrowest of margins, 17-16, a bill permitting big-game auction tags passed the Idaho Senate Friday. Senate Bill 1256 survived when Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, changed his vote from no to yes. The bill also managed to pass the Senate Resources and Environment Committee by a slim margin earlier in the week, 5-4.
The legislation carves out 12 nonresident tags to be auctioned off, including one moose tag, up to three deer, elk or antelope tags, one bighorn sheep and one mountain goat tag per year.
The legislation, which was crafted by Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, drew much distress during committee hearings.
Some opponents have argued that by auctioning tags, especially for what could be thousands of dollars, the state is essentially “selling” state-owned wildlife.
But Bair said, in a way, that already happens.
The senator, who carried the bill on the floor, said that Idahoans already pay for the privilege of hunting by paying for deer and elks tags, so if someone is willing to pay more for certain tags, he thinks that’s just fine. “If somebody is willing to pay $8,000 or $12,000, if they’re willing to open their wallets and pay, I think that’s just fine,” said Bair.
During testimony in committee earlier in the week, opponents also argued that by allowing auctions for certain tags, average hunters would be cut out of the loop due to someone’s ability to basically be able to write a blank check.
One opponent to the bill, Jim Nunley, said, “Because someone is wealthy enough to outbid everyone else should not be criteria for receiving special hunting privileges. … Letting the highest bidder have a special opportunity to hunt eliminates a lot of people.”
Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, debated against the bill: “I think it’s an elitist kind of a dinner,” she said. “But I recognize that it may go to some good things.”
In his closing remarks, Bair shared that the average number of tags sold in Idaho is around 250,000. This bill would take just 12 of those tags to be auctioned, which he says does not amount of much in the total scheme of things. “Twelve tags out of 250,000. This is such an insignificant amount of tags … there is not an Idahoan who is going to lose out on the opportunity because these tags come out of the state allotments.”
Bair also commented about the estimated amount of money auctioning tags would bring in, which he estimates to be around $200,000. “Two-hundred thousand dollars, maybe a quarter of a million dollars we may raise with this program. Is that a lot of money? No. Does it solve the department’s problems? No. But I visited with Virgil Moore (director of Idaho Fish and Game) about this last week and he said, ‘I don’t know how you feel about money, but $200,000 is a lot of money to my department and we can do a lot of good things with $200,000.’”
While no one knows how much the tags could bring in to the state, this year in Montana a hunter from New York paid $300,000 for a bighorn sheep tag. And that’s not even a record. In 1994, a tag sold for $310,000.