Sheep tag changes cause controversy

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Governor Kristi Noem is proposing changes to the South Dakota hunting scene with her Second Century Initiative to help rebuild hunting habitats.

However, it's also causing controversy among bighorn sheep conservationists and some big game hunters. On Thursday, Game, Fish and Parks commissioners will take up a policy to expand where the sheep may be hunted and, more controversially, where the revenue from annual license auction will go.

Sheep advocates are concerned the money made from hunting license will get diverted from programs helping sheep to Noem's Second Century Initiative which could benefit other animals like pheasants.

Jesse Kurtenbach is a South Dakota sportsman who disagrees with proposal.

"We have put 70-80 sheep back on the mountain with that money," Kurtenbach said. "Why do we have to be the first state that starts giving that money (money made from the sheep tag auction) to pheasants or pheasant habitat. They're not even a native species to South Dakota."

Kurtenbach says he has nothing against the birds, or any other animal, but says the sheep auction was brought back to help fund sheep research, promote their habitat, and transfer the animals to South Dakota from existing populations.

"The Wild Sheep Foundation have worked for multiple years and finally got an auction tag back in 2013 to auction off a sheep hunt in South Dakota and the agreement was that the proceeds would got directly back to the sheep in South Dakota," Kurtenbach said.

Last year, a hunter harvested the world record ram in the Badlands which is expected to cause the price of the annual sheep auction to skyrocket. The average auctioned tag since 2013 went for $80,000. Experts expect this year's tag will go for anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000.

Only three sheep tags are given out each year - one of those is done through the auction.

You can view the auction agreement and the proposed changes in the attached documents as well as our reporting on Noem's Second Century Initiative in the related links.