Commission delays deciding how much to take from South Dakota bighorn license auction

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Big Horn Sheep

UPDATED 12:22 p.m.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission reopened late Friday morning its discussion of revenue from annual auction of a bighorn-sheep license. The commission decided to put $85,000 toward the bighorn program and split any balance.

Half of the balance would go for use at GFP game-production areas and the other half would be given to Governor Kristi Noem’s new Second Century habitat initiative. The commission vote was 5-3, with opponents saying it was too restrictive.

Earlier Friday the commission had delayed a decision until the July meeting because the matter wasn’t on the agenda. Chairman Gary Jensen later decided to reopen the discussion on the advice of GFP attorney Jon Kotilnek.

10:55 a.m. 

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission declined to decide Friday how money would be distributed from future auctions of hunting licenses for bighorn sheep. 

Commissioner Travis Bies of Fairburn brought a long discussion to a close when he said the matter wasn’t on the agenda. He said it should be added for the July 8-9 meeting in Fort Pierre. 

Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler and Deputy Secretary Kevin Robling wanted the commission to commit to taking $85,000 per year for the bighorn sheep program, with any balance going for the Second Century wildlife habitat expansion that new Governor Kristi Noem is promoting. 

The $85,000 reflected the average amount the Midwest chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation has generated for the state Game, Fish and Parks Department during seven years of auctioning one bighorn license annually. 

But Gary Jensen of Rapid City, the commission’s chairman, along with commissioners Scott Phillips of New Underwood and Mary Anne Boyd of Yankton said they wanted to wait. 

Hepler thought otherwise. “We need to make these decisions,” he said. 

Jensen suggested that percentages be considered. Hepler said he wanted a dollar amount set for the sheep program. 

Jensen countered that the commission doesn’t know how much the next auction would bring. 

Phillips asked Hepler what the commission should do when the next auction price isn’t known yet and the department doesn’t want a percentage to be set. 

Hepler said he would be “happy” to have the Game, Fish and Parks Department’s habitat specialist work with the commission. 

“Just give us some general sideboards. We’ll commit to work with the (commission’s budget) subcommittee,” Hepler said. 

Hepler said his hope is the license would bring in much more — “Probably in the four-hundred to five-hundred thousand range” — when the auction tag’s coverage area is expanded. 

The commission separately decided Friday the tag should apply to both the Elk Mountain unit of Custer County and the Badlands unit where a record ram was taken last year. 

Phillips was straight up: “My concern is it’s all going to go east of the (Missouri) river to pheasants.” His preference is some of the balance be dedicated to habitat work in the Black Hills. 

“It just needs to be on the record that’s what we’re going to do with this money,” Phillips said. 

Robling said the department “strongly” recommended the $85,000 level for the sheep program.

“We’re obviously having a difficult conversation here,” Jensen said. “It’s really an unprecedented, challenging issue,” he added.

Commissioner Doug Sharp of Watertown said he didn’t understand spending so much time on a few hundred thousands of dollars after the commission approved a $94 million budget Thursday.

“I’m kind of lost here. We had sheep before we had a sheep auction,” Sharp said.

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