Attention generated by a record-book bighorn ram shot south of Lewiston last fall helped push the winning bid for an Idaho sheep hunting tag to a record at a fund-raising auction.
However, Washington’s bighorn sheep enhancement program lost tens of thousands of dollars because of publicity about huge trespass fees being charged by several landowners in Asotin County.
The Idaho bighorn tag sold for $70,000 to George Harms of Farmington, N.J., during the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep annual convention March 11 in Phoenix.
Last year’s auction tag brought $50,000 for Idaho Department of Fish and Game bighorn sheep transplants and research.
Washington’s auction tag went for $67,500 this year, down from $100,000 last year.
“The hot topic concerning the Washington permit was the high access fees to get to where the bighorns hang out in portions of Washington and Oregon,” said Rolf Johnson, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department bighorn sheep program manager.
“One person after another had read about the fees that range up to $20,000. In my opinion, Washington and Oregon lost $30,000 or $40,000 for their bighorn programs because of those fees. Last year, Washington produced the biggest ram among all the auction permits offered at the auction. It scored 185 (Boone and Crockett) points.”
Permit bids through the foundation are tax-deductible. Access fees paid to private landowners are not.
The increase in Idaho’s tag price is being attributed to publicity surrounding a trophy bighorn ram shot last October by Richard Aznaran of Dallas.
Aznaran shot the biggest ram taken in North America on Craig Mountain south of Lewiston while guided by Jon Barker of Lewiston. The ram scored 196 on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system.
However, Aznaran wasn’t the hunter who paid $50,000 to hunt last year. Instead, he took advantage of a raffle for a second tag Idaho has offered to counter complaints that the auctioned tag is a perk for the elite.
The raffled ticket raised only $13,000 for Fish and Game’s bighorn program last year. Aznaran won his permit after buying $50 worth of tickets.
This year’s drawing is July 26. Tickets sell for $10 each, six for $50 or 13 for $100.
Participating Western states offer one auction tag outside of the normal computerized lottery systems. Idaho also offered the raffled tag in addition to 159 regular permits in the lottery system last year. Residents paid $72 and non-residents $512 for a tag if they were drawn.
Washington offered 17 regular permits last year.
Hunters who get the auction or raffle tags get longer seasons and a broad choice of areas in which they can hunt.
Money from the bids for Idaho’s sheep tag will help rebuild bighorn herds in the Hells Canyon area, state officials said.
Washington has earmarked its auction funds for bighorn surveys and evaluations of possible ranges for additional bighorn reintroductions, plus purchase of crates to haul the animals and for other medical and habitat programs.
Since the first auction in 1977, the foundation, based in Cody, Wyo., has contributed more than $11 million to wild sheep conservation projects. Foundation officials have earmarked $1.3 million for bighorn projects in 12 states this year.
The record bid at the foundation auction was $310,000 for a Montana bighorn tag last year.
Following are the bids for special bighorn sheep hunter permits at the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep auction earlier this month in Phoenix. High bidders avoid high odds against getting a tag in traditional lottery drawings. The money is earmarked for bighorn sheep relocation and research projects.
State or province offering permit 1995 bid Montana $281,000 Arizona $233,000 Alberta $225,000 New Mexico $123,000 California $110,000 Oregon $73,000 Utah (bighorn) $72,000 Idaho $70,000 Washington $67,500 Colorado $67,000 Utah (desert) $41,000 Wyoming $38,000 Navajo Nations $36,000 North Dakota $31,000
* Record bid: $310,000 in 1994 for Montana tag.