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Sheep Show® sets Records for Wild Sheep Conservation

January 30, 2024

This past week, a record $6,432,500 was raised in one night for wild sheep conservation at the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) 47th annual convention in Reno, NV. During this exceptional night for conservation funding, a record $600,000 was paid at auction for a bighorn sheep permit issued by the state of Colorado, the highest amount for a sheep permit in history. The New Mexico Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep permit sold for another $600,000 shortly thereafter.

At this premier event for raising dedicated funding for state, provincial, territorial, and tribal wildlife agencies for their wild sheep and other big game management programs, as well as other WSF mission programs, one highlight is the auctioning of special conservation permits offered by these agencies. This year, thirteen permits were sold for record amounts, with two tying previous records. From these permits alone, $3,710,000 Million was raised.

“It's amazing the number of records that keep getting surpassed each year,” said Gray N. Thornton, president and CEO of the Wild Sheep Foundation. “The fact that a handful of individuals stepped up at these levels to put and keep more wild sheep on the mountain for everyone, and one day put more sheep permits into the public draws, is the definition of paying it forward. That’s the backbone of conservation.”

“While some may find this type of conservation funding contrary to the North American Conservation Model, the Model’s renowned spokesman, Shane Mahoney, disagrees, noting that the Model encourages states, provinces, and tribal/First Nations to fund wildlife agencies in the most effective manner. Allowing a few individuals passionate about a wildlife species to fund the majority of an agency’s budget for that species with very limited auction and raffle permits is the most effective, keeping pace with the increasing management costs for that species,” added Thornton.

The new records and the total amounts raised by WSF from these permits include:

Oregon Bighorn Sheep tag $450,000
Record $370,000 in 2023 - $4,437,500 raised since 1992

British Columbia Mountain Sheep Special Hunting Permit $430,000
Record $275,000 in 2021 - $4,249,500 raised since 2000

Colorado Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep license $600,000
Record $320,000 in 2023 - $4,605,500 raised since 2013

New Mexico Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep permit $600,000
Record $310,000 in 2022 - $5,292,000 raised since 1990

Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep $430,000
Record $380,000 in 2016 - $7,107,000 raised since 1984

Wyoming Game & Fish Commissioner tag $37,500
Record $30,000 in 2020 - $117,750 raised since 2010

Colorado Rocky Mountain Goat license $47,500
Record $37,500 in 2022 - $505,650 raised since 1989

Wyoming Governor’s Shiras Moose license $90,000
Record $67,500 in 2020 - $903,250 raised since 1987

California Desert Bighorn Sheep (open-zone tag) $180,000
Record $160,000 in 2023 - $3,975,000 raised since 1988

Texas Desert Bighorn Sheep permit $145,000
Record $115,000 in 2021 - $1,446,500 raised since 1987

New Mexico Big Game Enhancement package $380,000
Record $320,000 in 2023 - $1,810,000 raised since 2012

Alaska Chugach Dall’s Sheep tag $235,000
Record $170,000 in 2022 - $3,543,000 raised since 1989

Idaho Bighorn Sheep permit (non-Hells Canyon) $230,000
Record $165,000 in 2022 - $3,291,500 raised since 1988

Money raised from sheep permits goes toward wild sheep management and enhancement programs to maintain and grow wild sheep populations. These include trap and translocations to establish new herds or augment existing ones, habitat improvements, including water developments and controlled burns, and herd health surveillance, testing, and research.

In all, a Sheep Show® auction record of $6,522,500 Million was raised from conservation permits alone from three evening auctions. Depending on the permit, eighty-five to one hundred percent of these funds are directed back to the issuing fish and wildlife agency for their wild sheep and other big game species conservation, management, and enhancement programs. The balance that WSF retains is directed to wild sheep and habitat conservation through its own mission programs. Agencies depend on these funds and the Wild Sheep Foundation to raise them. According to a Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies study, 74% of all wildlife agency funding for wild sheep conservation programs comes from either an auction or raffle conservation permit.

Other notable Sheep Show® auction permit highlights include:

Washington California Bighorn sheep tag $270,000
Record $290,000 in 2023 - $2,755,000 raised since 1984

Montana Bighorn Sheep license $380,000
Record $480,000 in 2013 - $8,720,000 raised since 1986

Nevada Nelson Desert Bighorn Sheep tag (tie) $175,000
Record $175,000 in 2020 - $3,599,000 raised since 1984

Taos Pueblo Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep permit (tie) $260,000
Record $260,000 in 2023 - $4,273,00 raised since 2006

Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Branch of Natural Resources - CA Bighorn permit $230,000 (first-time permit offered)

AZ Game & Fish Commissioner’s Special Pronghorn tag $90,000
Record $91,000 in 2020 - $630,500 raised since 2014

Mongolian Outfitters Consortium - Altai Argali permit $120,000 (first-time permit offered)

Sheep hunting is tightly controlled, and rightfully so,” Thornton explained. “Wild sheep do not exist in the numbers we have for other big game species like deer and elk where revenue generated from license sales pays for their management programs. Even if everyone who drew a sheep tag were willing to pay $10,000, it wouldn’t be enough. Without auctioning a few special permits each year, some agencies would have no wild sheep programs, and others would be severely limited as to what they could do.”

Of the estimated 85,000 bighorn sheep and 100,000 thinhorn sheep in existence today in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, all hunting permits and tags issued to sportsmen annually by wildlife agencies represent a harvest of only 1-3 percent of the total wild sheep population if hunters are 100% successful.


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