PIERRE, S.D. — A controversial administrative action to expand the hunting area for an auctioned bighorn sheep tag was pulled Thursday, Feb. 28, before state Game, Fish and Parks commissioners had a chance to vote on it.
At the start of the commission meeting Thursday, GF&P Secretary Kelly Hepler asked the commission to remove that item from the agenda.
Hepler said the process to market the tag with the expanded range came together quickly and department staff realized it was best to hold off on this action so the public had more time to comment. He noted the intent of this tag was always to benefit the state of South Dakota and hunting habitat.
“We are going to come back and talk about an auction tag again, but we are going to go through the normal 30-day process,” Hepler said.
That action would have allowed for the expansion of a special auction tag to include not only the Elk Mountain unit in Custer County but also a unit near the badlands in Pennington County.
In October 2018, Clayton Miller shot the world record ram in the Pennington County unit with a Pope and Young score of 209 1/8 inches. GF&P officials said they wanted to capitalize on that world record ram and sell a tag that could have brought upwards of $500,000 for wildlife habitat. The tag will still be auctioned this year but without the addition of the badlands unit.
Opponents say the change was happening too fast and without public comment. They also argued that money from the tag currently earmarked exclusively for bighorn sheep would also go toward pheasant habitat under the proposed change.
If the department had gone through the rule process with public comments for this change, it would have extended past the auction date for this year’s hunting tag. That tag is set to be sold during the Wild Sheep Foundation Midwest Chapter banquet in Minneapolis on March 16-17.
Hepler said that despite what is being said on social media, this action originated with the GF&P department and not Gov. Kristi Noem’s office. He said he hoped any backlash from this proposed action didn’t “bleed into the governor’s office.”
“I hope that the people that were complaining about this will show that same enthusiasm and be on the positive side of things to help make this work,” Hepler said.