Battle Brewing Over Auction Tags For Conservation Organizations

June 22, 2012

I couldn’t think of a better title for this post, so bear with me.  The issue is much more important than my choice of a headline.

I have been sort of following along with this issue as it developed, but I can’t say I’ve been deeply involved in the discussion.  Hell, I haven’t even been shallowly involved.  As usual, I’ve kept my opinions to myself because I’m still watching and learning as the facts are exposed and the arguments are made.  I think there have been valid points made all around, but I think I’ve learned enough now to lean to one side.

In a nutshell, here’s the deal.  Many states, especially in the west, provide a certain number of special or limited big game hunting tags to conservation organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and North American Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF).  The organizations can then auction these tags off to generate funds to support their various projects.  Because the tags are for premium hunting opportunities, they usually demand very high prices at auction.  For example, California has a number of “Golden Opportunity” deer tags, which basically entitle the holder to hunt any of the zones or seasons around the state… including premium trophy deer zones like Goodale and Round Valley.   I saw this tag sell for $15,000 at a banquet, and that was when the economy was bottoming out.  The average hunter could put in for the rest of his life and never draw one of these tags in the regular lottery; so, for those who can afford it, it’s an opportunity to take the hunt of a lifetime. 

So far, so good, right?  I have always felt like this is a great program because it provides a real fiscal shot in the arm, not only for the big and well-established organizations, but especially for some of the smaller groups who are doing great work on a more localized basis.  Along with their regular donations and volunteers, the groups are able to do a lot more work to benefit wildlife and hunters alike. 

But what’s happening now is that there appears to be a growing call for states to provide more tags to conservation organizations to auction off.  So far, the number of special tags has represented a tiny percentage of the total tag allotment.  The average hunter can still, usually through the lottery process, put in for and draw these premium tags.  So (theoretically) every limited entry tag that’s pulled for auction represents one less tag that’s available to the public.  When you’re talking about hunts that are limited to a dozen tags or less, this is sort of a big deal. 

The implication is that, as more tags are relegated to auction, then only hunters who can afford to pay the high auction prices will be able to take those hunts.  With those tags often selling for over five figures, those hunts essentially become the realm of the rich… something of a “european” model.  As you might imagine, this isn’t setting well with those guys who’ve been putting in their lottery entries for years in hopes of drawing one of these tags.  For that matter, the idea doesn’t sit well with me and I don’t really put in for premium tags (except CA tule elk). 

As this discussion has gone on, the RMEF recently produced a press release calling for the organizations that utilize these tags to provide disclosure and transparency in how they’re using the funds they receive from the auctions.  Part of the argument is that conservation organizations should be doing conservation work, not supporting themselves through the proceeds of auction tags.  Otherwise, the path is rife with opportunity for abuse of the system… abuse that may already be happening.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much more background on this aspect of things yet, although I’ve been reading up.  Randy Newberg, host of the On Your Own Adventures tv show (and website), has been pretty wrapped up in all of this.  You can learn a lot more over at his site, or by following him on Facebook.


2 Responses to “Battle Brewing Over Auction Tags For Conservation Organizations”

  1. J.R. Young on June 22nd, 2012 17:14

    This is an issue all public land sportsman and women should concern themselves with, especially here in CA. With total elk tags under 300 and Tule being only a fraction of that think what would happen here.

    It wouldn’t be tough to find 10, 20, or even a 100 individuals annually to pay anywhere from $10,000 to more like $20-40,000 to hunt Tules. To all of us that have put in year after year for our dream hunt it is a big eff you.

    Could wildlife and conservation benefit? Sure in the short term, but at what long term cost. What becomes of the US Conservation model? What becomes of the Robertsman-Pittman Act dollars that will slowly bleed out of the states. What becomes of the rural communities that depend on the annual influx of dollars from hunters.

    Hunting is as much of a right for the ditch-digger as it is the CFO. Too many systems in this country have already been bought by the almighty dollar, we cannot afford this to happen to hunting too.

    To me, this is as big of a threat if not bigger than anti-hunting organizations. Ultimately, if states continue to give away public tags the public will no longer hunt. In California the decline in hunting licenses sold over the last ten years is about 1% per year. A move like this in CA would only exacerbate this, and then where would we end up. What would happen to our public lands in 10, 20 30 years? What would happen to conservation?

  2. Phillip on June 23rd, 2012 07:53

    JR, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. If you’re really interested, you can follow this pretty closely over at Randy’s site (his show is also one of my favorites).

    The auction tags are certainly a good thing for conservation, as long as the money is being used for conservation and not just to keep some inflated organization’s paid honchos employed. The other risk as that as some of these organizations make selling auction tags into a business, then the sale of the tags becomes its own ends, rather than a means to improve or restore habitat. Once that happens, the spectre of competition raises its head, and then you start to see legitimate orgainzations losing out on auction tags as these other groups jockey for position to get them early… or to get more and more of them.