Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Jan. 28, 2004Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 28th day of January, 2004, there came on to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Parks and Wildlife Commission of Texas, in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, San Antonio, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Ned S. Holmes, Houston, Texas
- Alvin L. Henry, Houston, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas, Chairman
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- Mark E. Watson, Jr., San Antonio, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G S
MR. MONTGOMERY: Okay, Conservation Committee. The first order of business is the approval of minutes. Motion?
MR. HOLMES: So moved,
MR. HENRY: Second.
MR. HOLMES: All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
MR. MONTGOMERY: Okay, Item Number 1, Chairman's Charges is Bob Cook.
MR. COOK: Mr. Chairman, thank you. As again, I won't spend a lot of time on this, because we've been over this a couple of times. The bulk of the Chairman's charges in the Conservation Committee are directly connected to and associated with the Land and Water Plan, and we are sincere about the implementation and effectiveness of that plan. And we are headed in that direction full speed, sir, with your help and guidance. Thank you.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Okay. Well, I'm going to discuss some of these with you so I understand them all. But I've read them.
Okay, we have the Land and Water Plan update by Scott Boruff and Gene McCarty.
MR. BORUFF: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director, Operations. We're going to talk to you today about the update on our Land and Water Conservation and Recreation Plan Implementation Project that we have underway.
Senate Bill 305 was passed in the legislative session in 2001, which directed the agency to look at putting together a ten-year comprehensive plan for how they would move forward with the primary activities of the agency. The Commission decided to charter this activity, and we came up with what was called the Land and Water Resource Conservation Plan, and we're going to talk about that here today.
This committee was authorized by you in November of 2001 following the legislative session where Senate Bill 305 was passed. The Commission identified three priorities as we went forward with trying to establish the Land and Water Resource Conservation Plan. One is to clearly identify and elucidate the role in providing recreational opportunities and conserving natural resources. The second was to look at and determine threats to natural resources. And of course third, per Senate Bill 305, to develop processes and standards to determine the needs of the agency for the next decade.
There's a pretty picture of the plan, and I hope all of you are in possession of one. If you're not, please let us know and we'll get you one immediately.
Clearly, we talked to a lot of different folks as we went forward in trying to establish this plan. Obviously, leadership, yourselves, and the legislators downtown. We had quite a number of employees, and I will tell you that this was a cross-divisional effort that involved all the divisions of the agency as we moved forward to try to put this on paper. We reached out pretty aggressively to our partners and non-governmental organizations, and other governmental organizations, and other constituents, interested users out there in the community.
And ultimately, in what probably is record turnaround time, in one year we put together this plan. So it was chartered in November of 2001 and was adopted by this Commission in November of last year, 2002.
In the plan, there were several major goals and objectives, obviously, to improve access to the outdoors, which has been a longstanding commitment of this Commission, to preserve, manage and operate a complete system of historic sites, to increase support generally around the state for conservation and recreation on private and public lands. You might notice that the word public is not in there, and we'll talk about that in just a second.
To increase hunting and fishing participation throughout the state, to improve fishing conditions, and the opportunity to fish. This is a very important one: to improve our science and data collection process, and we'll talk about how some of these have been implemented in just a minute. But this has been a major focus of our Executive Director and this Commission for several years now. We currently do have a science review underway, and I'm going to talk a little bit more about that in a minute.
Another major goal was to maintain sufficient water quality and quantity, to support the needs of game and fish and recreation.
It was interesting, because as we put this plan together, much of what fell out were things that we were already doing in the agency. And so one of the things I want to make clear is that, as you read through the Land and Water Conservation Plan, a lot of what you see has already been going on in this agency for some time in different forms and fashions.
As I mentioned a minute ago, probably one of our more higher profile activities is currently we have a Science Review Project underway, being headed up by Dr. Larry McKinney, now with the Coastal Fisheries Division. This is a resource-wide — and by that I mean all the resource divisions are participating in this Science Review Project where we will be going out and looking for third-party reviewers. In fact, I think the project is well underway. We anticipate having the first phase of this project completed this summer. But we will have outside organizations come in and look at our methodology for the collection of scientific data.
We have begun long-term studies of water quality, aquatic life and habitat and coastal tidal streams, primarily through the Coastal Fisheries and Resource Protection Divisions. We are aggressively implementing the Sea Grass Conservation Plan, which had been — I think it's a two or three year old plan. Is that right Bob? — had already been in place, but was embraced under this plan.
I think Mr. Durocher just explained to you the Freshwater Fishing Stamp for inland fish hatchery restoration. We were directed in the last legislative session to spend some money to research causes for, and control mechanisms for, golden algae through Golden Algae Task Force. That task force is being headed up from our end of the spectrum from Dr. McKinney and Mr. Durocher in the Coastal and Inland Fisheries group. They've had, I think, two meetings to date, and that process is coming along well. Obviously, the idea there is to try to figure out where golden algae comes from and what we can do about it. And so we're doing that as directed by the legislature.
Senate Bill 155, which was the River Conservation bill, passed last session, which precludes the use of, for example, it precludes the use of four-wheel drive vehicles in stream beds. However, it does give local municipalities or counties opportunity to create a plan under which such utilization would be permitted, so there is a way for local communities to be able to work through that.
We, for the first time ever, have had water rights transferred to the Texas Water Trust, which is a big deal for us, of some 1,236 acres, which is consistent with the Land and Water Conservation Plan.
We have added to both our Parks and Wildlife management areas. We've put four of — we've certainly had more than these, but in the plan, there were several criteria for adding land to our current inventory, and those included things like being contiguous to existing parks, being consistent with the triangle created by Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, in terms of the central location of these facilities.
And as you can see, there are some examples where we've added 60 acres of riverfront property in Dinosaur Valley State Park, almost 1,200 acres to Government Canyon, 140 acres in Bastrop County, which is a critical toad habitat, and another 291 acres to Mission Tejas. There are others. We'd be glad to get you a full listing if you're interested in those.
We have initiated permitting plans to add approximately 33,000 acres to TPWD holding for I-69 mitigation. You'll be hearing some more about this in detail in Executive Session later, I think.
This is an important one: in 2001, as of the date the plan was passed, there were some 9.7 million acres under Wildlife Management Plans. That figure has grown in the two years since the implementation of the plan to 14.5 million acres — almost a 50 percent increase.
A little clarification there before, because you may have heard some different numbers. In the Wildlife Division, there are two kinds of ways we give — well, there are many kinds of ways we give support, but there are two documents we use to direct habitat activities on land, private lands, here in the state.
The Wildlife Management Plan is a plan which is signed by the landowner, which outlines specific activities that they are committed to in order to get the increased bags and extended seasons, which we discussed earlier. They also have the opportunity, if they do not wish to sign a commitment like that, to simply get some technical recommendations. And those are a separate kind of plan. In the past, we had mixed those numbers together — the Wildlife Management Plans and the Technical Guidance Plans. In order to track those and have more clarification for you, we're now going to be reporting to you those numbers independently.
So the Wildlife Management Plans have indeed been our measure for success with the private lands group, and trying to support and encourage folks to do good conservation. So this is, I think, a good number for us, to show us that we have come a long way in just two years in adding properties under Wildlife Management Plans.
So there's a lot of things going on. There's a lot of things that we've done to implement the plan. We are currently in an aggressive strategic approach, trying to update the Land and Water Conservation Plan. As we went back and looked at our strategic planning process, the decision was made by the Chairman and Mr. Cook to use this plan — the Land and Water Conservation Plan — to be our tactical kind of strategic operating plan for the future, both short-term and long-term.
To that end, we know that we're going to have to update it occasionally. We have gone back and done a pretty significant review of the plan. And there are some gaps that we've already identified. For example, there's a lot of language in the plan about supporting good conservation on private lands. I mentioned that earlier. There's not much language in there about doing the same on our own public lands. Obviously, that's probably a given, but we thought it would be good to go back and put those words in the plan, for example.
So we've done a couple things. One is, we have a Natural Leaders Project for the new commissioners. Each year we pick some of the cream of the crop out of the agency and we put together Natural Leader Projects, which are focused on teaching folks some good leadership skills, but at the same time, providing a benefit for the agency.
We've taken two of those Natural Leaders groups and put them on this project. They are currently putting together focus groups statewide, which we will go out and talk to, both our own staff and constituent partner groups, as to what they think might should be added to the plan, or subtracted, or whatever. We obviously will prepare a final project report once that is completed.
At the instruction of this group and our Executive Director, we want to keep this plan relevant. We want this to be the plan that both those of us here in Austin, and the field staff, refer to and use as a guiding document as they try to make decisions about programs and budgets and other things that impact the agency.
I might point out that the Land and Water Conservation and Recreation Plan is pretty ambitious. For example, it envisions us opening, or at least acquiring, or developing, at least three new 5,000-acre parks in the heart of Texas, where land values are extremely expensive. The agency has no funds at this time to accomplish those kinds of acquisitions. We are looking at mitigation funds as potential. But it's pretty clear to those of us in Operations, at least, that we're not going to be able to do everything all at once that the plan envisions, and therefore, we have taken serious the Chairman's charges, because in our view, the Chairman's charges kind of tell us what we should be doing now, given what resources we have today.
Obviously, we want to link these activities with the Natural Agenda, and for the new commissioners, again, the Natural Agenda is the name of our agency's strategic plan that is developed to give the Legislative Budget Board and other state agencies information that allows them to appropriate our funds. So it is seen by the state as our strategic plan, and there has been a little confusion because it is mandated by the state as our strategic plan. And therefore, we have started calling the Land and Water Plan our tactical plan, just to keep those two separate. But obviously they need to be closely related. We'd be working with Ms. Fields and her staff to make sure we're not headed off two different directions with those plans.
Probably the most important piece of this is going to be the development of division-based operating plans which link back to the Land and Water Conservation Plan. We're looking here for the division to be able to prioritize the business activities, day-to-day business activities, in a way that's consistent with the top priorities in the Land and Water Conservation Plan.
That's it. I'll be glad to answer any questions if there are any.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Any questions or discussion?
MR. HENRY: Yes, one comment. I think it's important — Scott knows I kept waiting for it — particularly with the new commissioners, to say that one of the ideas that the committee itself had with regard to particularly the purchase of these new facilities that you're talking about, had to do with that I-35-45-10 triangle, and the location of major park areas near major urban areas of the majority population areas of the state itself. And I just want to be sure that we continue to focus on that, because it's recognized that in other areas of the state, particularly west of I-35, we have any number — not that we have enough, but we have any number of sizable parks, where particularly east of I-35, there are very few, given the populations that exist there in north Texas, or east Texas or south Texas. And we identified those areas and the Laredo metropolitan area, if you will, as areas of great need.
MR. BORUFF: Well said. Yes, sir. That is correct.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Any questions or discussion?
MR. FITZSIMONS: Well, I guess all of you have heard me say this before, but I take this plan seriously. This is what we're supposed to do, and if there's something in here we're not going to do, we either need to say so or change it. And you'll notice in the first part of the Regulations Committee, and also in the Conservation, those seven items you saw, the bullet points, in the beginning, of what we're testing against every time we have something come before us. At least that's what I want us to get in the habit of doing, is testing against that. Is it improving outdoor access? Is it improving fishing? And so that we don't get off the mission here. So good job reminding us.
MR. BORUFF: I might just add one thing which was very encouraging. As you know, and for the new commissioners, I spent quite a bit of time out if the field talking to our field staff, and when we were going through the early parts of this process, looking at strategic planning in combination with the plan we do with Mary Fields' shop, the comments I got back pretty regularly from folks is, I thought we already had a strategic plan called the Land and Water Conservation and Recreation Plan. So there is good recognition and acknowledgment out in the field that this is a plan that means something and can be a document that will mean something over the next decade.
MR. FITZSIMONS: It's really handy when you're stumped for an answer. You can just open it and start reading.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Any more discussion or questions?
MR. MONTGOMERY: Thank you, gentlemen.
We have Item Number 3, Oil and Gas Nomination. Jack Bauer?
MR. BAUER: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Jack Bauer, Director of Land Conservation. We have for your consideration oil and gas lease at Sheldon State Park. I wanted for the new commissioners to relay the process for minerals. We hold a fairly special relationship with the Land Office and the Land Commissioner. The Land Office has the authority to lease minerals on all state lands, and in most instances the agencies that own those lands are not asked. The GLO just does their job in leasing minerals. But on Parks and Wildlife lands, the Land Commissioner has always requested input from this agency, and we always bring these items to you to make a recommendation to the board for lease.
Sheldon Lake State Park is in Harris County. It originally was developed as a wildlife management area, but the city grew up around it, and it has since been converted for use as a state park. And the department has invested funds to improve the capital facilities there to really stress outreach and education, and Commissioner Henry has been very, very out in front of that effort.
And we have for today consideration of six tracts for lease approaching about 2,000 acres, and so as to be consistent with that recreational use of a pretty special place, we would suggest that we recommend to the Land Office that we nominate for lease, but only with offsite drilling.
And I would say that, typical of the terms that we use for leases, we're recommending a bonus bid of $150 per acre, 25 percent royalty, and $10 per acre delay
rental for a three-year term. Non-typical, and we're presuming from what we have done at other — in the past at Sheldon, is we
have — Mr. Henry has suggested that revenues from this lease be turned back around to help develop the site under their new capital program, and we would offer that that's what we have done in past leases at Sheldon, and if the Commission so chooses, that's what we'll do here.
So in that regard, if that were the case, the way you wanted to go, the motion that you would see tomorrow would reflect that the last line near the income from the bonus bid and delay rental will be dedicated to Sheldon Lake State Park, and this action will not be considered a precedent. Yes, sir?
MR. HENRY: May I speak to that particular group of commissioners? When the Commission decided — and you're going to hear some more about this later in the Outreach Report — to develop the Environmental Learning Center at Sheldon, we were authorized to, in conjunction with the foundation, to draft a fundraising plan and enter into a fundraising activity to build these facilities. And a request was made at that time to use any bonus bid and delay rental fees for Sheldon where part of that fundraising effort — to enhance that fundraising effort that was there, along with a special legislative appropriation of some $2.5 million that had been made previously. And that was the reason for the exception, or to that rule, that the Commission granted.
MR. HENRY: And I'll report a little later on this at the Outreach Committee.
MR. FITZSIMONS: Good.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Any further discussion on this one?
MR. MONTGOMERY: Okay. We'll place this on the agenda tomorrow. Jack, Item 4, Hardin County.
MR. BAUER: The other lease we have is at Village Creek State Park. We have 200 acres that are internal to the park that is recommended for lease. Of course, Village Creek is north of Beaumont. Very popular park. You see a design of the tract that's being nominated for lease, and again, because of the high habitat values here, we would recommend that there be no surface entry for the drilling. Same rates as at the other lease — $150 per acre, 25 percent royalty, and $10 per acre delay rental.
Would be happy to answer any questions.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Any discussion or questions?
MR. MONTGOMERY: I know if Ernest Angelo were here, he would tell us that we were running up the cost of that well to the state — the net cost — and ask whether there's any place to put those rigs on the site so they can drill straight. Have you carefully considered that? Do you feel like we've got to go offsite to make it this time?
MR. BAUER: I think at Village Creek, we do. Actually, at Sheldon there is probably some of our staff that feel like they could provide an adequate location there, and it probably would improve the revenue stream. So there again, we can do that at Sheldon, if you folks would like. It would be —
MR. MONTGOMERY: More money for capital improvements.
MR. HENRY: Darn right.
MR. FITZSIMONS: It all depends on what the geology is to that lessee. I mean, if he has a pool unit where he wants to be horizontal, fine for us, right?
MR. BAUER: Yes, sir.
MR. FITZSIMONS: What happens when the recommendation comes back that the lessee says, That's not an appropriate site for pool unit for horizontal well. I've got to be vertical onsite. Do we then negotiate substandards?
Mr. BAUER: Well, what we have — if you recall, we did Eagle Mountain Lake the last time, and what we did there is you all approved a statement kind of like, Location of any potential drill pad will be left at the discretion of staff, where we could either approve it or not approve it.
MR. FITZSIMONS: What's your back-up position if the operator comes back and says, I can't do a horizontal unit?
MR. BAUER: At Sheldon, we'll give him a spot. At this property, it would probably be pretty devastating to habitat.
MR. FITZSIMONS: So they have to come back again?
MR. MONTGOMERY: How would everyone feel about leaving that latitude with the Executive Director making that decision, because if we can get more revenue without harming our parks.
MR. COOK: I think it's a good idea, because like at Sheldon, there are some of those segments that we would not want. I mean, there's standing water maybe over the entire site, but there are some options at Sheldon where there's basically there's farming operation going on now, where we can get in without — you know, access is one of the issues, too — that we don't have to have rigs coming in and out right by our main facilities. But I bet you we can find some good possibilities at Sheldon, but not Village Creek.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I think we ought to leave that to your discretion.
MR. BAUER: I don't know — I guess from a legal standpoint, we're past that commission item, and how what we can do here to go back and change that. But if you would like for Sheldon to —
MR. MONTGOMERY: Could the Chairman reopen discussion Item Number 3?
MR. MONTGOMERY: I think I'll reopen discussion on Item Number 3, then.
MS. BRIGHT: You can do whatever you want.
MR. FITZSIMONS: Don't tell him that, Ann.
MS. BRIGHT: On this particular item — on this very specific, particular item — the fact that we're past the agenda item, that's not going to be a problem. I mean, you're not taking action on this item until tomorrow.
MR. BAUER: So if I understand correctly, on the Sheldon item, we will have language in it that will reflect that any potential drilling site will be approved at the discretion of staff, or something like that. I'll go back to the Eagle Mountain Lake language and try to draw from that.
MR. MONTGOMERY: We'll default to the Angelo rule.
MR. HOLMES: How many mineral acres are we talking about at Sheldon?
MR. BAUER: About 2,000.
MR. FITZSIMONS: That's significant.
MR. BAUER: We lease this — it was nominated for lease a year ago. Four tracts, a lesser amount, and the developer had the ability to only lease one of those, so he went offsite and felt he could recover his minerals from one of those four tracts. You know, it's been a successful operation there. The nominee for this tract this time is basically wanting to do seismic, and we have had, as a policy going back to the 70s, on minerals that we own, we don't provide the opportunity to explore unless they lease the minerals. That gives us the opportunity to have that bid every time.
So we're still proceeding with that policy. So it's anticipated that, with this lease, and if this developer gets the bid, then he will do seismic and do his research, and then he'll have to win the bid, and then he'll explore.
MR. MONTGOMERY: One more thought. Commissioner Henry, on Sheldon, we should be so lucky to have this problem to the extent we get really lucky, have a lot of revenue, and fully fund the capital plan. May we say in that provision, When the capital plan is fully funded, the revenue comes back to the department, in the event we got really lucky here.
MR. HENRY: I have no problem with that.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Back to precedence, whether we say it's precedence or not. It does start to set a precedent of sorts.
MR. FITZSIMONS: Well, you've already got them. This one's got a cap on it, anyway.
MR. MONTGOMERY: There's a cap on it. Okay.
MR. FITZSIMONS: It's delay, rental and bonus.
MR. MONTGOMERY: So perhaps not necessary to raise the point. Okay. Any more discussion on those two items, since we've reopened those things?
MR. MONTGOMERY: We will put them on the agenda with that modification. Is there any more business before this committee before we adjourn for Executive Session?
MR. MONTGOMERY: None. All right, motion for adjournment.
MR. FITZSIMONS: Moved.
MR. HOLMES: Second.
MR. COOK: Actually, Phil, you're recessing.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Excuse me, excuse me. You're right. We will now recess for Executive Session. Therefore, I would like to announce that, pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Law, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the consideration of Section 551072, the Texas Open Meetings Act, regarding real estate matters, including general counsel's advice. So we'll adjourn for that purpose.
(Whereupon, at 12:30 p.m., the meeting was adjourned.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: January 28, 2004
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 24, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731
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