Senate committee approves big-game auction tags, barely

Mitch Coffman Headlines

It is not often this session that bills live or die in committee on the narrowest of margins. Senate Bill 1256, which would allow some big-game tags in the state to go up for auction instead of doing a lottery, however, is one such bill. It eked out of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee Monday on a 5-4 vote.

The bill would create big-game auction tags with proceeds directed to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Funds would be used for sportsmen access programs, wildlife habitat projects and wildlife management.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, introduced the legislation, and said that he supported it because he likes bills that indentify a problem, then present a solution to that particular problem. Bair said the problem is that out-of-state deer tag sales have fallen nearly 40 percent in recent years, which is a loss in revenue for the state of about $1.2 million. It’s a similar story with elk tags, said Bair. They are down 35 percent, or roughly $1.4 million.

Bair said the bill “helps generate revenue for the Department of Fish and Game, to the tune of about an anticipated $200,000.”

In 2009 in Idaho, a bighorn sheep permit sold for $120,000; in 2005, the tag sold for $180,000. A bighorn sheep tag, available in 2011 through a lottery system, sold for $10 each.

Revenue generation or not, the bill attracted a number of detractors, generally testifying that by having auctions for the bigger tags, the state would be allowing an unfair advantage to those with more money. So, in theory and probably in reality, the wealthier a person is, the more likely of a chance that he will secure the tag.

Jim Nunley, representing himself and, he said, other sportsmen around the state who he knows, was firmly against the bill, saying random selection should be the way all hunting permits are chosen. “Because someone is wealthy enough to outbid everyone else should not be criteria for receiving special hunting privileges. That’s a feeling that’s pretty widespread. Letting the highest bidder have a special opportunity to hunt eliminates a lot of people.”

Nunley emphasized that it is the average Idaho hunter most responsible for the welfare of the sport and supporting the administrating agency in the state, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “It’s not just going to be these people that pay $200,000 or $300,000 for a special tag. There’s going to be very few of those. So, if you think going against—I guess you would call it the average hunter—it’s not the way to go. It almost seems like you’re letting fish and game operate as a game farm, where the highest bidder gets the biggest animal, and that’s just not right.”

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion to hold the bill in committee to attempt to iron out some issues he heard during testimony. The motion failed, 4-5, followed by the motion to send the bill to the floor with a do-pass recommendation, passing 5-4.