Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
May 27, 2004Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 27th day of May 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, Chairman
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Ned S. Holmes, Houston, Texas
- Alvin L. Henry, Houston, Texas
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
Robert L. Cook, Executive
Director, and other personnel
of the Texas Parks and Wildlife
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT COMMISSION
PUBLIC HEARING REGISTRATION-MAY 27, 2004
- Mr. David Ondrias, City of Corpus Christi, Item #2-Action-Local Boat Ramp Grant Funding-Testify-for
- Mr. Jack King, SCOT, 807 Brazos, Suite 506, Austin, TX 78701-Item #7-Action-Gear Tag Requirement for Minnow Traps-Testify-for
- Mr. Kirby Brown, Texas Wildlife Association, 401 Isom Rd., Ste. 237, San Antonio, Texas 78216-Item #8-Action-Public Hunting-2004-2005-Establish Open Season, Designate State Parks-Testify-for
- Mr. Steve Oleson, Falconry Advisory Board, 6617 Lexington Rd., Austin, TX 78751-Item #9-Action-Raptor Proclamation-Testify-for
- Mr. Jack King, SCOT-807
Brazos, Suite 506,
Austin, TX 78701-Item
Donations of $500.00 or
Not Previously Approved by the Commission
May 2004 Commission Meeting
Donor — Description — Details
- Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas — Cash — Support of Houston Toad conservation efforts at park
- Landry's Restaurants, Inc. — Cash/In Kind Services — Case: Unspecified; In-Kind: “Ongoing conservation projects relating to fresh and saltwater marine life and reptile programs located within the Gulf Coast region of Texas”
- Jim Prappas — Cash — Support the efforts of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the continuation of its mission of protecting and conserving the natural resources of Texas for future generations to come
- National Shooting Sports Foundation — Cash — Promote youth hunting
- Dallas Woods & Watters Conservation Club, Inc. — Cash — Wetlands Timber Frame Pavilion construction cost
- Gulf of Mexico Foundation — Cash — Grant reimbursement for work performed at Armand Bayou Coastal Preserve
- National Rifle Association of America — Cash — Purchase ammunition and muzzle-loading supplies for Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Workshops
- Weslaco Area Chamber of Commerce — Cash — Team sponsorship “Great Texas Birding Classic“ tickets to Awards Brunch
- The Dow Chemical Company — Cash — Event sponsorship “Great Texas Birding Classic“ 2 inch ad in Event Program and tickets to Awards Brunch
- Port Aransas Chamber/Tourist Bureau — Cash — Event sponsorship “Great Texas Birding Classic“ 1/6 inch page ad in Event Program and tickets to Awards Brunch
- DAMAARS International — Cash — Team sponsorship “Great Texas Birding Classic“ tickets to Awards Brunch
- Reliant Energy — Cash — Team sponsorship “Great Texas Birding Classic“ tickets to Awards Brunch
- Nikon, Incorporated — Cash — Team
Texas Birding Classic“ tickets
to Awards Brunch
Houston Audubon Society — Cash — Team sponsorship “Great Texas Birding Classic“ tickets to Awards Brunch
- Saltwater Fisheries Enhancement Association — Goods — Assist law enforcement operations on area lakes — 1996 Gambler Intimidator Bass Boat and 1996 Mercury Outboard 200 h.p. engine
- Coastal Conservation Association of Texas — Goods — Night Vision 3-X lenses
- Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas — Cash — Endowment proceeds to help fund Marketing and Operations — Inland Fisheries
- Saltwater Fisheries Enhancement Association — Goods — Law Enforcement use — Nine Robotic Decoy Deer
- Coastal Conservation Association of Texas — Goods — Coastal Law Enforcement — Stabilizer Binoculars
- Friends of Garner State Park — Cash — Purchase firerings for campsites
- Sanford Schmid TTEE Charitable Trust U/A DTD — Cash — Monetary contribution to a purely local donation account meant to help finance the implementation of the strategies, objectives, and goals of the Interpretive Master Plan for Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites
- Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative, Inc. — Cash — Construction of the Nature Communications Center
- Admiral Nimitz Foundation — Cash — Dictaphone transcriber desk top will be used to conduct oral history programs focusing on World War II Veterans
- Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas — Cash — Sponsorship of teacher interns for program development and evaluation
- Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas — Cash — Writing and printing of the Hook & Bullet newsletter
- Texas Bighorn Society — Goods — Repair sheep pasture at Black Gap WMA for future releases — materials donated for project = $11,343.53; volunteer hours on project = 1,090 x $7.00/hr = $7,630.00
- Texas Bighorn Society — Goods — Provide pipe to extend wildlife water distribution system on the Sierra Diablo WMA for desert bighorn sheep and other Wildlife species — 7,100 feet of 1 inch black plastic pipe
- Chuck's Air Conditioning — In-Kind
Services — Labor,
material, and equipment
to replace electric
pedestals to 25 campsites
in the Oakmont Campground
at Garner State Park.
Work to be performed
according to NEC. The
electricity to these
sites was destroyed
In the July 2002 flood
and was not replaced
Because they are located
in the flood plain.
The sites are currently
rented as regular non-electric,
but with the electricity
restored they can be
rented as premium campsites.
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good morning. The meeting is called to order. Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Cook has a statement to make.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551, Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Law. I would like for this action to be noted in the official record of this meeting.
So that everyone will have a chance to address the Commission in an orderly fashion, the following ground rules will be followed. An individual wishing to speak before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission must first fill out and sign a speaker registration form, which is available outside here at the table, on each item on the agenda on which you wish to speak.
The chairman is in charge of this meeting, and by law, it is his duty to preserve order, direct the order of the hearing, and recognize persons to be heard. I will be assisting the chairman today as sergeant-at-arms. We have sign-up cards for everyone wishing to speak, and the chairman will call names from those cards one at a time. Each person will be allowed to speak from the podium, up front here, one at a time. When your name is called, please come to the podium, state your name and who you represent, if anyone other than yourself.
Then state your position on the agenda item under consideration, and add supporting facts that will help the Commission understand your concerns. Please limit your remarks to the specific agenda item under consideration.
Each person who wants to address the Commission will have three minutes to speak. I will keep track of the time, on this little dooma-jigger right here, and notify you when your three minutes are up. When your time is up, please resume your seat so that others may speak. Your time may be extended if a Commissioner has a question for you.
Statements, which are merely argumentative or critical of others, will not be tolerated. There is a microphone at the podium, so it is not necessary to raise your voice. Shouting will not be tolerated. I also ask that you show proper respect for the Commissioners, as well as other members of the audience. You will not be recognized out of turn by raising your hand or interrupting others. Disruptive or offensive behavior will be grounds for immediate ejection.
If you have written material that you want to submit to the Commissioners, please give them to Carole Hemby or Michelle Klaus, right here at my side. They will pass those materials on to the Commissioners. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Bob. Next is the approval of the minutes from the previous meeting. Those minutes have been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HENRY: So move.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So moved by Vice Chairman Henry. Second by Ramos. All in favor please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carries.
Next is the acceptance of gifts which have also been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So move.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Commissioner Ramos, seconded by Commissioner Brown. All in favor please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carries. Next are the Service Awards.
MR. COOK: Thank you, sir. Interestingly today, we have one service award and it is for a very special person, Vernell Schievelbein, who is the Administrative Assistant II in Austin, Texas, with 20 years of service.
Vernell began her career with TPWD in 1972 in Personnel, where she worked until 1977. After being away from the department for eleven years, Vernell returned to Personnel, where she processed new hires and presented personnel policies during new employee orientation.
In 1994, she transferred to the Information Technology Branch to be in charge of all TPWD customer lists. She now utilizes her Personnel expertise in assisting IT employees, with employee leave and time sheet matters and assists with the IT procurement.
She is one of the phone operators who picks up incoming agency calls. She enjoys being able to assist the public regarding TPWD. With 20 years of service, Vernell Schievelbein.
MS. SCHIEVELBEIN: Thank you.
MR. COOK: I told her when I was probably going to have to apologize up front for pronunciation of Vernell's name but I got it.
MS. SCHIEVELBEIN: You did good. Thank you.
MR. COOK: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much.
MR. COOK: I believe our next item on the list here this morning is — hang on here just a minute; let me make sure I've got my stuff in order — Texas Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators is comprised of 50 U.S. States and the U.S. Territories. This Association was created to achieve uniformity in boating laws from State to State and assure enjoyment of the waters for all boaters. Each year this organization recognizes an enforcement officer from each state as the State Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
The Texas Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for 2004 is our own William "Bill" Blackburn. Bill Blackburn is a 31-year veteran game warden with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and has been an outstanding water safety enforcement officer. Bill is stationed in Llano County and has enforcement responsibility on the Highland Lakes chain which includes some of the highest boating volume lakes in Texas.
Bill assisted in setting up BWI Task Force operations on the Highland Lakes involving local law enforcement and game wardens from Region 7. As a certified Intoxilyzer operator and trained in field sobriety, Bill began to research methods for instruction of law enforcement officers in these techniques.
He assisted in a hands-on training designed to empower other game wardens and other agency officers to perform at a high level of self-confidence and assure that they do it correctly.
First-year results contributed to an increase in boating while intoxicated cases in his district. Bill's belief in the work harder and smarter work ethic has impacted his fellow enforcement officers to excel in providing protection to the public on our waterways.
It is my honor and privilege to present to you the 2004 Texas Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, Texas Game Warden William "Bill" Blackburn.
MR. BLACKBURN: Thank you very much.
MR. COOK: Sometimes we forget the hours and the days and the nights and the weekends and the holidays and the Saturdays and Sundays that these guys put in and it is an honor for us to recognize one of these folks who does such a good job and we appreciate that.
On occasion, we are afforded the opportunity to serve our fellow man in a way that provides a lasting effect. Such an opportunity recently occurred at Huntsville State Park when at approximately 5:05 p.m. on Saturday, April 10 of this year, park visitor Polidecto Monterrosa was struck by lightning in the park's day use area.
The event was witnessed by park employee Jessica Rosales who immediately activated the park's emergency plan by calling for staff assistance. Within three minutes, Park Manager Oscar Carmona, Assistant Manager Dennis Smith and employees Kevin Wilkinson and Kerry Roberts were on the scene taking immediate action in a well-coordinated manner.
Upon determining that the victim had no pulse, staff members Kevin Wilkinson, Dennis Smith and Kerry Roberts began CPR. Staff continued administering two-person CPR until the EMS staff arrived and assumed control of victim care at about 5:22 p.m. that afternoon.
Mr. Monterrosa was transported to Huntsville Memorial Hospital at 5:50 where he later recovered from the incident. Members of the EMS crew and hospital staff credited our state park employees with saving the life of Mr. Monterrosa by properly administering CPR and their prompt action.
As in the case with most emergency situations, many people contribute to successful management of these incidents. The following park staff contributed to this wonderful outcome in the following way:
Oscar Carmona, our park manager at Huntsville, acted as translator and provided comfort to the family and was assisted by Brad Grier.
Park volunteer Amy Morowski acted as dispatch to EMS personnel and provided communications until their arrival.
Karrie Jones, Stephanie Argueta and Walter Clarkson provided traffic control.
It is with great pride that I share this example of the fine work by Texas State Parks staff. Staff preparedness to respond through professional training has resulted in successfully completing the most important tenet of all of our work, the care and well-being of our fellow man.
Would the following Huntsville State Park staff please come forward:
Oscar Carmona, Dennis Smith, Jessica Rosales, Karrie Jones, Sara Robison, Kevin Wilkinson and Walter Clarkson.
(Presentation: State Parks staff - certificates)
MR. COOK: Very good. We're going to have to gather up here, I imagine. Some of you taller guys step back in the back here. Good. Thank you, guys. Thank you very much.
MR. COOK: Last, again, but certainly not least.
In 1988, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began an important partnership with Gary Job Corps Center in San Marcos, Texas. The Center provides training for about 1900 students at any one time in 26 different trades.
Working with partners and employers in the community, Gary Job Corps students gain experience in vocational specialties and the opportunity to function in a structured work environment.
Each day, the Gary bus deposits seven to nine students at TPWD, where they are wrangled by Carol Otto, who you will meet later, who assigns them to various jobs throughout the Headquarter building and through the Headquarters area here.
Behind the scenes, the Gary students gain valuable experience by providing data entry and similar administrative work for TPWD in every division. We rely on these folks to get our job done.
Student interns from Gary Job Corps save the agency right at $100,000 a year in labor costs. Their contributions to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the people of Texas are invaluable and often unsung, but always deeply appreciated by those of us here.
TPWD, through the years, has been fortunate to hire several Gary Job Corps students. They are valued employees, noted for their dedicated and work ethic. I'd like to recognize these former Gary students and current TPWD employees and I'll ask them to come forward, if you would please:
Nikki Rodriguez, a Contract Technician in Infrastructure.
Jose Ornales, Systems Analyst in Information Technology.
Irma Valadez, Accountant in Administrative Resources.
Abdel Amraoui, Correspondence Specialist in Administrative Resources.
I'd also like to recognize the administration of Gary Job Corps Center here with us today:
Randolph Goodman, in Business and Community Liaison.
And it looks like the rest —
MS. EDWARDS: Go ahead.
MR. COOK: Do we have — I'm sorry -
MS. EDWARDS: They just walked in.
MR. COOK: They just walked in? Good.
Rachel Esquivel, Work Based Learning Coordinator, along with Edna Peterson.
Earl Moseley and Bill Hallman, Vocational Manager and, with deepest appreciation, please join me in thanking the Gary Job Corps Center students and administration for their contributions to the mission of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
(Presentation: Gary Job Corps Certificates)
MR. COOK: Good. Thank you, guys.
Our recognition of Gary Job Corps and all of the things that they do for us absolutely would not be complete if we did not thank our employee, Carol Otto, who, for 15 years has supervised, mentored, monitored, evaluated and wrangled these students and interns from Gary Job Corps.
Coordinating with all divisions, she has brought valuable assistance to many special projects. Carol, we thank you for your management of the Gary Job Corps program at TPWD. Carol Otto.
(Presentation to Carol Otto.)
MR. COOK: Thank you Carol. Thank you very much. Thank you Mr. Chairman. I believes that concludes our awards.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Bob. The first order of business is the approval of the agenda, which we have before us. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So move.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by — motion by Commissioner Holmes, seconded by Commissioner Ramos. All in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion carries. Next on the agenda is Item Number 2, Action Item, Local Boat Ramp Grant Funding, Tim Hogsett.
MR. HOGSETT: Good morning. Mr. Chairman, Members of the Commission. I'm Tim Hogsett from the Recreation Grants Program, State Parks Division.
Item Number 2 is proposed funding for a boat ramp in the City of Corpus Christi. The Boat Ramp Program is a federal pass-through program providing 75 percent matching funds to local governments for the construction of boat ramps and associated facilities.
These grants are federal pass-through from a program known as the Sport Fish Restoration Program and after the projects are completed, the sponsors are required to operate and maintain the facilities, at their expense, for their expected lifetime.
We've received one application requesting $500,000 in matching funds assistance from the City of Corpus Christi. They're requesting funds to build a two-lane boat ramp and associated infrastructure facilities on land that's owned by the Texas General Land Office.
This particular ramp will be located on Packery Channel, close to the Causeway leading to Padre Island National Seashore.
The proposed recommendation is that funding for new construction project in the amount of $500,000 is approved for boating access facilities to be developed in Corpus Christi, Texas, and I would be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Commissioner Holt. The only question I have is, is Packery — how are they doing? I mean, is it — have you been down there? Are they —
MR. HOGSETT: I have not been seen it —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — [inaudible] work?
MR. HOGSETT: — personally in a couple of years.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, I haven't either.
MR. HOGSETT: The work, I understand, is coming along very well.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So this is all part of that development —
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — complete development. Okay, good. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I believe we have several people signed up on this item to speak. David Ondrias and, after that, Jack King be ready. Mr. Ondrias?
MR. ONDRIAS: Mr. Chairman, I'm David Ondrias, with the Corpus Christi Park and Recreation Department. Thank you and the Commissioners and staff for having us here this morning. Needless to say, we're looking forward to your consideration. Hopefully, you'll approve of this grant application that we've submitted.
I have other members of our project team here; Mr. Joe Trejo.
Joe, would you please stand? Joe's with our city engineering department. And we have Mr. Mark Mazok from our consulting team. He's also here to see if you have any detail questions as the Commissioner had.
Joe is not only involved with this boat ramp project but he's our key team leader on the Packery project and he should be well prepared to answer any questions you might have beyond the boat ramp even and update you on that, if you'd like.
We were here in January on another project. We're getting underway on that in our marina and we appreciate that. We've been very successful and very pleased with our relationship with Tim and Andy Goldbloom and the folks that actually head up that section. It's been a great relationship for us for many years, not only with my work in Corpus but with a couple of other cities in the past.
So we look forward to your help on this and we'll be ready and prepared to answer any questions you may have.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Mr. Ondrias? COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I guess the only question I had, where is the Packery Channel and how's it going and —
MR. ONDRIAS: Let me ask Joe to come forward on that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, I've kind of lost track of the timing on it.
MR. ONDRIAS: Mr. Joe Trejo is our engineer.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure, go ahead. Thank you.
MR. TREJO: Good morning. My name's Joe Trejo. The Packery Channel project's progressing very well. It's right on schedule or slightly ahead of schedule. Part of it is the connection of the GIW [indiscernible] Coastal Waterway off to the Gulf through opening a jetted
waterway, known as Packery Channel.
We have dredged the portion that's known as Reach 2, it's State Highway 361, kind of bisecting the area here to the west has been dredged to a minus 7 elevation. The contractor has placed the sand in various placement areas — three placement areas to create amenities for future beaches — a place for people to have recreational efforts.
We are getting the jetty stone that will fill the jetties. We're going to have 2,100 foot of jetties; 700 on land — 700 feet on land, 1,400 out into the Gulf.
We're going to have about 67,000 tons of jetty stone from Marble Falls granite. About 16,000 tons have been delivered at our Rincon Channel site, will be barged down to the Gulf in the Coastal Waterway.
Right now the contractor's working with TxDOT. We have to go underneath the bridge at State Highway 361. We want to be sure that's protected and properly fendered so as the barges go through they do not harm the bridge.
As soon as that's done, they will begin barging of the jetty stone down and start placement. The project's very well received in the community and everybody's looking forward to completion.
It is slated for completion in August, 2005. The contractors are Lowe Brothers and they're in a joint venture with Keith Fisher Marine out of Port Lavaca.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Are you going to be able to keep them from silting up? Were there dollars voted for maintenance once you get the Packery Channel set up?
MR. TREJO: Oh, yes, sir, there were funds set up.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They were, weren't they.
MR. TREJO: We have installed, in fact, a sand bypass system and that's already installed and in place and we already set up — part of the schedule and part of the lease through the General Land Office is a scheduled betrametric survey to assure the silting is kept in place. It's obviously kept the pump profile of the channel open.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. TREJO: And, we have that set up — we have a — it's scheduled on that, so —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful.
MR. TREJO: We've got that set up. We also have installed some other additional casings for future utilities through the area. We have all our — it's pretty much scheduled out and the project's proceeding pretty much on schedule — slightly ahead of schedule, as a matter of fact.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good. Well, thank you for answering my questions. It was me just trying to catch up cause I think it's a wonderful project and, of course —
MR. TREJO: It's going to be great.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — in that area at one time, I watched it all, you know, silt up and fill up and I'm glad it's being reopened and this boat ramp will be a big part of that. It'll be great. Thank you.
MR. TREJO: Oh, yes. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Mr. Chairman, I also have a question for you. Is there going to be — I also grew up in that area and fished that whole area as a young guy growing up, so I have an interest in it, plus I have property down in that area now so anyway, I do have a real interest in it.
Is there going to be a marina built in addition to what's going on down there? Is there plans for a marina to be built?
MR. TREJO: There are some private facilities and canals off the channel. Our boat ramp will support maintenance and safety of the area, assure the boaters observe our "no wake" zones. We're planning, in our future phases, to install our Parks Department new Admin building there.
And, we would also intend to have a bathhouse — that type of facility for the people. As far as a marina, the city at this phase — it may be a future phase but not at this time for it to be a public marina there, No, sir.
There may be some private, off the channel. There are some canals off the channel. Perhaps those may occur but not from the city at this point.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: What is the clearance going to be going under — was is it — 361, is the — -
MR. TREJO: It's 361 bridge, 22 feet.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So it's going to be 22 feet going under that. Is that at mean high tide or — -
MR. TREJO: That's at mean lower low tide, I believe. Mark, is that at mean lower low tide? At mean lower low tide. MLLW.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Okay.
MR. TREJO: 22 feet.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Thank you.
MR. TREJO: Yes, sir.
MR. COOK: Mr. Chairman, I'd just like to kind of call attention to this project, City of Corpus, David Ondrias, who we've worked with and known for at least 20 years, David, and the value and importance and what a role that the cities, local communities play in providing this outdoor recreation opportunity and some of the services involved through — with the assistance of, not that they wouldn't do many of these projects, but many of these projects are provided financial assistance through a local park grant program and this kind of boat ramp funding, these kind of projects.
These are great partners. They've done a great job and our folks work with them closely and I wish we could provide them more but just to pause for a second to say thank you all and thank you for what you do and, again, we appreciate your efforts and let us know how we can help.
MR. TREJO: Thank you very much, sir.
(Commissioners all say thank you.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good segue there, Bob, to ask for — any other questions? Ask for a motion on the recommendation?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right, that was a motion by Commissioner Brown, I believe and a second by Holt. All in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you, Tim. Next, Agenda Item Number 3, an Action Item, Nonprofit Partners Resolution. Gene?
MR. MCCARTY: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Gene McCarty, I'm Chief of Staff. The item before you today is a Nonprofit Partners Resolution.
Pursuant to Senate Bill 305, our Sunset Bill, the Department is authorized to cooperate with nonprofit partners, however, the Department must obtain Commission approval for each nonprofit partner that it works with.
In May of 2002, the Commission adopted a Resolution authorizing the Department to cooperate with 65 closely related nonprofit partners. These are mostly our Friends groups and 101 other nonprofit partners. These are other partners such as Ducks Unlimited, Coastal Conservation Association, et cetera.
In an effort to update the current list, Staff would propose the following additions to the closely related nonprofit partner list and the following additions to the other nonprofit partner list. To recognize the Commission's approval for the additions, we would propose the following commission resolution to authorize the aforementioned additions and Staff would request approval of this resolution. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Gene? I don't believe we have anybody signed up on Agenda Item 3. No questions for Gene? Is there a motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER HENRY: So move.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Vice Chairman Henry.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Second by Commissioner Ramos. All in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you, Gene. I believe Agenda Item Number 4, a briefing item, has been withdrawn for the time being and that moves us to Agenda Item Number 5, another action item, Governing Body TCLEOSE resolution, Randy Odom.
MR. ODOM: Sir, I'm Randall Odom. I'm chief of training at the Texas Game Warden Academy and this governing body resolution is just a resolution of support that is requested by — or required — excuse me — by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education for the renewal of our license as a police-training academy.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That must have been a quick meeting you had yesterday, Randy.
MR. ODOM: Oh, well.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Randy on TCLEOSE? That's the way to do it. All right. Motion?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So move.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Commissioner Holmes. And second by?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Parker. All right. All in favor please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carries. Randy, thank you.
MR. ODOM: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We'll move on to Agenda Item Number 6, a briefing item, Managing for Quality Bass Fishing, Phil Durocher.
MR. DUROCHER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, I'm Phil Durocher, Director of Inland Fisheries. I'd like to spend a few minutes with you this morning talking about the Bass Management Program in Texas.
I'm going to go through a little bit of the history and tell you how we got to where we are and kind of give you some of the justifications for some of the recommendations that we come to this Commission with.
First of all, the growth of fishing — bass fishing and all freshwater fishing in Texas — is related to the growth of reservoir construction, a water development in this state. Prior to the water development period, there was very, very little freshwater fishing in the state of Texas. And you need to understand that all fishermen — bass and all freshwater fishermen — understand the need for continued good quality water, not only in our rivers and streams but also in our reservoirs.
Now, you can look at this chart and see that reservoir construction peaked in the '60s. That was as a result of the drought in the '50s. There was a large increase in the number — the amount of water being built.
And the freshwater fishery in this state is totally dependent on those reservoirs.
Of course, bass fishing expanded with the reservoir construction period. And because there was so much resources in the state of Texas, Texas was the leader in the beginning, of a lot of things that we take for granted now with fishing. For instance, the first bass boat was developed in Texas by Skeeter Boat Company in 1948.
The first soft plastic bait was developed by Cream Lure Company from Tyler, Texas, in 1954 — '51. And the first organized tournament anywhere in the United States was held in Texas in 1955 and was organized by outdoor writer Earl Golding from Waco.
The '60s, if you remember the chart, because of the large expanse of reservoirs we had being built in the '60s, we consider the '60s the decade of expansion here in Texas. What we had, we had a lot of fish. And supply absolutely exceeded demand. There was very little need for restrictive length limits; the limits were very liberal.
There was hardly any catch and release. People were fishing at that time and primarily keeping everything that they caught.
During the '70s, we considered that the decade of expansion and experimentation. And what happened there, we began to identify instances when the demand was exceeding the supply. We were having some of our fisheries that were being overfished at that time and we began to realize that we were going to have do things a little differently if we were going to maintain our fisheries at a quality of fishing we had in Texas.
We began to experiment with new approaches to managing fisheries, including more-restrictive regulations. And, of course, the 1970s was the time Florida bass were brought into the state and that was done because of all this open water and the theory was that Florida bass were more adapted to open water environments, different than what we had in Texas prior to reservoir construction.
We considered the '80s the decade of change. We started implementing restrictive regulations. We switched our management philosophy from one of maximum sustained yield to optimum sustained yield and what that really means is, prior to this time, most of our fish were managed to get as much fish flesh out of the system as we could. There was very little consideration for quality, the economic impact and everything else that was related to fishery.
That was a big change, a big change in philosophy that occurred in the '80s. And, of course, in the '80s, catch and release began to catch on and became a big part of bass fishing and all fishing all over the state of Texas.
During the '90s, we call that the decade of refinement. This is where we began to fine-tune our regulations and we began to take a closer look at the socioeconomic impact of fishing. There was more to fishing than just how many pounds of fish flesh you could take out of the system. It was having a huge economic impact in the state and we recognized that and began to collect data to evaluate it.
In this decade, we're looking at — we're trying to apply the things that we've learned in the previous decades. We learned two big things during that time. First of all, that bass fishing and all fishing is big business, not only in the state of Texas but all over the Southeast and particularly the southeastern part of the country.
And we also learned that quality matters. People are more interested now in having the opportunity to have a quality fishing experience, not just about taking home an ice chest full of fish anymore. They want the opportunity to catch a larger fish or a fish of a lifetime.
To give you an idea of how big business fishing is, and this is from a survey conducted in 1991 by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the total estimated fishing-related expenditures in Texas is about $2.1 billion dollars. This is salt and freshwater.
The total economic output from fishing in the state of Texas in 1991 was about $4.42 billion dollars. Texas ranks third nationally in fishing-related expenses. I think we're second in freshwater and second in saltwater, after Florida and California, but on the whole, we come out third.
We also learned that quality matters. And we've focused a lot of our efforts in the last several decades on producing quality fisheries with the idea that we know, if what fishermen want every time they go fishing is to catch an ice chest full of fish and take them home, we got a problem. We're not going to be able to give them that. So we've been focusing on quality.
And to give you an idea of what quality means, in 1996, we did an economic study on Lake Fork, which is considered one of the premier bass fisheries anywhere in the country, certainly, in terms of quality, it's the best we have anywhere in Texas.
And from that survey, we found there was about $27.5 million dollars in direct expenditures by anglers at Lake Fork. And remember, this is in a rural area. There's no big cities around Lake Fork. So these people are coming.
Seven million of that came from non-residents, from people out of the state of Texas, which is a significant impact. The total economic value, from that study at Lake Fork was $38.2 million dollars in economic value to that local area from that one fishery.
Now, what makes people come to Lake Fork? I don't think they come to Lake Fork for the opportunity to catch a small fish. Most people come there for the opportunity to catch a fish of a lifetime.
And last year we did a survey at Lake Fork to try to get an estimate of how many of these big fish were caught. We worked with anglers, we worked with marinas, we worked with guides, to get a report on how many fish over seven pounds or larger were being caught at Lake Fork.
Last year, from March, 2003 to the end of February of this year, there was an estimated 2,462 bass over seven pounds caught at Lake Fork and reported to us.
And from the best estimate we can, that represents about 50 percent of the total big fish that are caught. That's an amazing number of big fish. Seventeen percent of those were over 10 pounds.
That comes to about one fish per ten acres — less than ten acres of seven pounds or better, which is absolutely phenomenal.
But the important part of this data, if we look at the distribution, of where these people came from that caught these big bass, nearly 50 percent of all the people that reported catching these bass came from out of state. So the tremendous economic impact that this quality fishery is having on that local area.
Now, we come to the Commission every year with some proposed regulation changes, during the regulation cycle and I wanted to spend a few minutes going over how we come up with these recommendations and what we're trying to do.
Now we know, if we're trying to raise big fish, it's not magic. It takes three things to raise a big fish. It's just like any other animal, you've got to have the right genetics, you've got have an animal that has the potential to get big. You've got to have the proper food and habitat and, most importantly, the animal has to live long enough to have reached that potential.
Which one of these can we influence or control? Of course, the genetics — that's why we have a program here where we stock large numbers of Florida bass because they are proven to have the ability to get bigger and grow faster. So we're dealing with the genetic part of it.
The second part that we have control over, is annual harvest or the ability of those fish to reach the proper age — to reach that size.
We have four basic bass management strategies in Texas every year when we come to you. These are the things that we set — strategies and objectives for particular bodies of water, when we try to set the regulations to allow us to meet those objectives.
Our basic strategies are — one of them, is optimum, sustain, catch and harvest. The second one is optimum, sustain, catch and harvest, with enhanced quality. The third one is quality bass fishing with enhanced trophy potential — we want the ability to produce a few more trophy fish. And, finally, the last one is to maximize the trophy potential of that particular body of water.
Now, we have a quandary of regulations that we implement to try to reach both of those objectives. For instance, Strategy 1 — and what this population here — what you're looking at here, is what we expect the population of fish, under those circumstances, to be when we implement this type of regulation.
Our first strategy, optimum, sustain, catch and harvest, the regulations that we recommend are statewide regulations; 14 inches minimum or perhaps the 16 inches, a slightly higher minimum.
The second one; optimum, sustain, catch and harvest, with some enhanced quality, which means the ability to get a few fish a little bigger, we use regulations like the 18-inch minimum, the 14- to 18-inch slot and the new regulation that we're experimenting with, no minimum size but only two fish under 18 inches can be kept.
Strategy 3, quality bass fishing with enhanced trophy potential. Those are the regulations we use to reach that objective, are the 14- to 21-inch slot and, in smaller lakes, the catch and release fishing only. And you can see again, you expect to get, under these circumstances, we expect to get more fish — more bigger fish coming out of the top end.
And the final one is maximized trophy potential. And for that objective, we have two regulations that we normally look at. The 14- to 24-inch slot, which means the fish within that slot have to be released, the fish outside the slot can be kept, or the 16- to 24-inch slot, which is the regulation we have in place at Lake Fork.
And you know, we're accused by some people of managing the fishery in Texas strictly for trophies. They say that's all we're worried about is trophies. But if you look at the actual numbers of what regulations we have on different reservoirs in the state — we have about 169 major reservoirs, that we consider major — and if you look at the numbers that apply to each one of those, when you talk about trophy regulations, we only have trophy regulations on five reservoirs, which is less than 3 percent. The enhanced trophy is 8 percent or about 14 reservoirs.
So most of the waters in this state are managed under the statewide regulation to optimize catch and to provide some harvest to our anglers.
Now, in closing here, I want to just give you a report on — we just finished in April — I think it's probably the 15th year of the Sharelunker program and we had, we feel like, a very successful year. We had 15 lunkers and what this is giving you is the number of lunkers we've had over time, the number of entries we've had for each year from 1987 all the way to 2004, which is the last one on the right.
But what we're most proud of is — this lunker program is not an East Texas phenomenon. We've got lunkers all over the state of Texas and this map shows the distribution of all the lakes in the state of Texas that we've had lunkers, which is a bass over 13 pounds that have been caught and given to the agency.
We've got over 50 reservoirs now in the state of Texas that have produced the lunker program. And we're as proud of that as anything that we've done at Lake Fork. So with that, I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Parker.
MR. DUROCHER: Yes sir, Mr. Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: How are the freshwater license sales going? Like — have you got anything on the chart for that — year to year?
MR. DUROCHER: We went though a point there. I think we peaked out in the '70s and early '80s and I don't have salt and freshwater separated. We didn't have a separate license. All we looked at was total license sales and we had a downturn in the late '80s and early '90s — and through the '90s but this year we're up 4 percent.
So I think we've leveled off and we're beginning to see an increase and next year we'll have a better indication of what that is because next year we have a freshwater license and a saltwater license and a combination.
Over the years, from all the estimates and all the surveys that have been done, from the total number of license sales, about 65 to 70 percent are freshwater anglers and 30 to 35 percent are saltwater.
That's all I know. You know, there's been a downturn in the number of license sales all over the country. This is not just a phenomenon in Texas. We feel pretty good that we're holding our own compared to what a lot of states are undergoing right now.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But we've never kept freshwater and saltwater — -
MR. DUROCHER: No, our licenses — it was a strict fishing license. No, we have to depend on surveys to find out what percentage of those people would fish and what — we're seeing now, I think Dr. McKinney will support this, we're seeing a lot more people that are fishing both.
There's been a definite increase, I believe, in saltwater. So the numbers are staying the same and there's an increase in saltwater. Either the people are fishing both places or we're losing some in freshwater but I really don't know what those numbers might be.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The your fishing tournaments is part of the evolution of freshwater fishing. What's the number of — and just freshwater again — number of freshwater fishing tournaments? Do you have any idea?
MR. DUROCHER: We — the last estimate we saw that — and really we have no way of knowing how many — it's about 6,000 tournaments a year occur in the state of Texas. It's becoming an ever-increasing part of our business. Not only bass tournaments. I'm talking about crappie tournaments and just a lot of people have chosen that as a way of fishing.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do we have any real data on what the impact is of the tournament — -
MR. DUROCHER: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Bass fishing.
MR. DUROCHER: All I can say is, we have no indication that tournament fishing is having any worse impact than any other. It's just a pressure to us. You know, there's a certain amount of pressure a reservoir can take.
The one good thing you can say is, that most of these tournaments are catch and release so — you know, I really have no way of knowing whether that is a significant part of the mortality or not. I'm going to have to assume it is because there's a lot of people doing it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. Do we have any studies on the mortality of released fish like we do — I know we did some work on the spotted sea trout — on the survivability of released fish and — -
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, sir, we have a lot of data.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: What does that indicate as far as best practices for tournament?
MR. DUROCHER: Let me just put it to you this way. What we know from the studies is that, that the high survival comes from fish that are caught and released immediately. What the problem is with tournaments is when the fish are put in live wells and hauled around the lake for six or seven hours. The mortality increases significantly, particularly in the summertime. When the water temperature gets above 75 degrees, you can expect to have a high mortality of fish; anywhere from 75 to 90 percent.
They don't die immediately, you know, people release fish and they see them swim off and they think, you know, everything is hunky dory and within a couple of days those fish will — the vast majority of them will die.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And is there a seasonal trend to the tournaments — more in the summer or more in the springtime?
MR. DUROCHER: Well, I think that the tournaments kind of mimic the seasonal trends in fishing, you know, it happens in the spring and the summer is the peak of fishing and that's when most of those events take place. I have to say, we've been working with a lot of those organizations and, you know, the hard thing we had was making them understand that this is an issue — that there is a problem here.
And I think they're all trying to hold their tournaments and handle the fish and improve this so we can reduce that mortality as much as possible. So — -
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, we don't want to do anything to discourage the tournament that [inaudible].
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Phil, as part of the Sharelunker program, do we, after the fish are taken to us or delivered to us, do we take the genetics from those fish and put those genetics back in the lakes or what actually happens with these fish that we have as part of the Sharelunker program.
MR. DUROCHER: That's, you know, the Sharelunker program was started for two reasons. The first reason was to promote the catch and release of these big fish. I mean, when we realized how valuable these big animals were, we wanted to promote the catch and release of big fish. We've been very successful with that.
The second part of this program was to start a breeding — a genetic program where we would bring these fast growth genetics — a large-sized genetics into our fish hatcheries in our population.
And that's the first thing we do when we get those fish is try to get them to spawn and the fishermen have the option now of letting us keep that fish — because the fish is more likely to spawn the second and third year that we have it; it gets domesticated. That first year, sometimes it's pretty rough — those fish go through a lot of stress.
And, yes, we do have a lot of those fish in our program. We use the pure Floridas from there. We bring them into our hatchery system and we're continually shifting those around, trying to concentrate those fast growth genes. The genetic program is a big part of what we're trying to do here.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So the actual — the Sharelunker genetics eventually work their way back to the different lakes — -
MR. DUROCHER: Right.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: — - throughout the state.
MR. DUROCHER: That's the goal.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: We don't identify, for example, a particular fish that came from a lake and take those genetics necessarily back to — you move them around the state.
MR. DUROCHER: Well, you know, one of the things that we agree with the angler when he gives the fish to us, we agree that we're going to go back to that lake with some of those Sharelunker babies, and we always do that. As an incentive to get them to give us those fish.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Montgomery.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: A couple of things. You might — bet everybody would get a kick out of hearing the price those fingerlings were auctioned for, up in Dallas just to get a sense for the value that's there. But, how many -and my question is, how many of the lakes of the major reservoirs do we stock and how do we allocate the fingerlings?
MR. DUROCHER: The stocking requests come in from the field biologist. They go out and survey the reservoirs annually or semi-annually, whatever. And they come in and they write a management report that will either recommend or not recommend the stocking of bass.
Those are brought into our regions and they are prioritized and then once that happens, the regions get together and its prioritized on a statewide basis and then I generally sign off on it.
There's two things that we look for. We look for the composition of Florida bass in the reservoirs. When we sample, we take genetics. We look at the genetic makeup of the population. We're not trying to convert populations to total Florida bass. We'd like to have about 20-25 percent pure Florida bass in our population. That way, you have that potential for growth and if a reservoir shows that it's got less than 20 percent of the population that has pure Floridas in it, then the likelihood is real good that it's going to get stocked.
We never have all the fish that we need to stock all the reservoirs and we try to distribute those fish as equitably as possible around the state but we go with where we think the greatest need is.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: What was the price?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'm sorry.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Was it a thousand fingerlings or five thousand fingerlings?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: This was the freshwater fisheries?
MR. DUROCHER: Yes. At the auction we had in Dallas we auctioned off 1,000 Sharelunker babies for $20,000. If they were all worth that, we'd be okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: An assertive number. Commissioner Parker?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Durocher?
MR. DUROCHER: Sir?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What and where are the five top trophy lakes in the state and why them and not others, and then I have another question for you after this.
MR. DUROCHER: That's a — you know, we're asked that question all the time and I hate to put that mark on anybody because when you do that, you're leaving somebody off. If you look at the Sharelunker program itself — of course, Lake Fork is obviously the best. We have lakes like Sam Rayburn, some of them that have a number of Sharelunkers.
We look at Falcon Lake. Falcon Lake was down for a lot of years but I think Falcon's going to be back with us here; we won't have to worry about that for the next 10 years or so, at least.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: O. H. Ivy?
MR. DUROCHER: O.H. Ivy. We've got a lot of good lakes around the state. For the best chance — the thing that will bring — I'm a go with Toleda Bend, Toleda Bend has always been a good lake, although we share it with Louisiana, we feel like all the good things that happened there are because we did them.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Boy, that must rip you apart.
MR. DUROCHER: No, it doesn't.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: No, I'm like you, I got here as fast as I could. I had one other question for you now. Oh, back to the first question. Why those lakes and not others?
MR. DUROCHER: Well, a lot of it's based on productivity. You know, I said it takes three things to raise a big bass. It takes the right genetics and we're doing everything we can to make sure that we have those genetics and the lowest number of lakes. And they've got to live long enough. And some of those lakes, it's not because those fish are protected any more, it's because the lakes are so big that they have the opportunity to escape and live. The odds of them living long enough are greater because the lake is larger.
But it's also — you got to have the food supply and the habitat. I mean, the fish have to be living under optimal conditions all their life to ever reach that potential. It's just like raising a deer. It's not — as I say, it's not magic.
And some of these reservoirs just have good water supply, have food supply, they have good habitat and you put all those three things together and your chances of getting a big fish increase. You know, I wish I knew the magic of Lake Fork because I guarantee you, we'd do it everywhere we could.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: One more question for you.
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: If Mike Leggett and Shannon Thompson weren't sitting out there and it was just you and me and this — tell me what your personal thoughts on the huge bass tournaments are?
MR. DUROCHER: Well, let me just say it — the way we look at tournaments are — -
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You and your staff. You are scientists.
MR. DUROCHER: We don't have any issues with tournaments. People that fish in tournaments have as much right to fish as anybody else. They've got to have a license. They have to play by the rules. We don't have any different rules for them. Why people fish, I can't control that. But I'm just glad they're fishing.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: With that I'm going to save you. That was very good. And, come to your rescue.
MR. DUROCHER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Phil? Bob?
MR. COOK: Mr. Chairman, I would like Phil just to give you folks a quick update on lake levels. We've got some real significant impacts. Phil mentioned Falcon and I want him to give you a little more information on that one. It's very important — what we're looking at for the next year or so.
MR. DUROCHER: I was speaking to Commissioner Ramos about this. You know Falcon Lake — it's been down for 10 or 12 years. Last year at this time, Falcon Lake was 46 feet low. There wasn't a boat ramp anybody could use, people were having — and we caught lots of hell, you know. We got blamed for all that and this year the water — the last report I had yesterday, the water is less than 13 feet low.
So all the boat ramps are in action. They've had a lot of habitat that grew up over the years. The brush now is all flooded. So it's going to be good no matter what we do. But we are going to take the credit for it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: If you're going to get blamed when its not your fault, you might as well take the credit.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: God took care of us.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I want to thank you, Phil because I'm trying to keep a running list of great truisms of this job and you gave me one today, which is, the highest survivability is among those fish that are released.
MR. DUROCHER: Immediately.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'm writing that one down in case a reporter calls me. Any other questions for Phil? Great job, Phil, I'll tell you, and I'm encouraging any of the Commissioners to go up see that program at the Texas Freshwater Fishery Center, the Sharelunker Program, and it's incredible. And thanks to Ed Cox, our former Chairman and Commissioner here that made that happen.
Thank you, Phil. Next, it's Agenda Item Number 7, Action Item, Gear Tag Requirement for Minnow Traps. Jerry Cooke?
MR. COOKE: From Mr. Chairman and Members, my name is Jerry Cooke. I'm with the Coastal Fisheries Division. I'll be bringing you an item related to the use of minnow traps in saltwater.
At your last meeting, you adopted, as a provision of the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation, to allow people to use minnow traps in saltwater. At the time of that adoption, there was a public comment expressing concern that the adoption would treat minnow traps in saltwater differently than other devices that fish unattended.
Staff concurred with this comment and, as a result, we published a new section to the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation that would require the use of a gear tag, visibly attached to any minnow trap used in saltwater.
The gear tag itself must be made of material as durable as the trap. It has to clearly and legibly include the name and address of the user and the date on which the tag was set out.
This will allow our game wardens to identify traps that are either abandoned or lost because if a trap has no gear tag or has a gear tag older than 30 days, it's so declared. If you — also, we had 62 public comments on this proposal. Eighty-two percent were in favor of the proposal. Of those who disagreed and commented — there were only 11 that disagreed — most did not understand that we were not going to require them to buy a gear tag from us.
Also, there were those who felt that minnow traps were never unattended; that they were always used in proximity and, therefore, the gear tag would be inappropriate. And also there were those who thought that minnow traps would decompose so quickly that they would not have an impact on the system if they were lost or abandoned. And we, of course, disagreed with each of those comments. If you have any questions, I'd be more than happy to try to answer them at this time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Jerry?
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Mr. Chairman?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Would you, very briefly, explain again please the reasons that you said that people were opposed. You said — what was it that they didn't understand?
MR. COOKE: The primary reason that they opposed it was they thought we were going to require them to purchase a gear tag from us as they would purchase a trotline tag or something like that, which is certainly not the case. We're only asking them to make their own.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Each person is allowed to make their own?
MR. COOKE: Make their own.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: But we do give some requirements with regard to how it's made?
MR. COOKE: It needs to be on material as durable as the trap. The side of a milk bottle would be fine. It needs to be legible, which means it needs to be in indelible ink. It needs to have their name and address and the date that the tag was set out.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: And how is that information conveyed?
MR. COOKE: It will be on the — - oh, it's — I'm sorry, it's part of the regulation. It's actually going to be in the Outdoor Annual. We assumed that the gear tags, since we were directed to publish it, would be acceptable to the Commission. It's included in the Outdoor Annual that will go out this year.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Do you have any idea what number of traps we may be talking about?
MR. COOKE: No, sir, I don't.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Not even a good guess?
MR. COOKE: No, sir. Not even a round guess. We anticipate that these traps will be used almost entirely adjacent to docks and piers. We don't expect them to be scattered all over the Bay like crab traps.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: That's where I was going.
MR. COOKE: No, the main things is, we expect them to be proximal to where we have docks and piers. They'll be readily accessible for game wardens to inspect. This is the anticipation and that's the purpose of having a legible tag attached visibly, in other words, near the water surface.
If we find, of course, that that is not the case, there's always degradable panels that can be considered or other kinds of restrictions that might be made at that time. But to apply a regulation in the reasonable nexus — no more regulation than we think is necessary to accomplish the task, we think the gear tag will be adequate, at this time, to allow our law enforcement people to enforce these regs.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: We do understand that there is no regulation with regard to the location of the trap, where it can be located?
MR. COOKE: There is none at this time. That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: We're just going to wait and see what our — what happens here.
MR. COOKE: Yes, sir. Also, we're talking about a 24-inch trap. This is not something you're going to sink in the middle of Matagorda Bay and then go back for it later.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Thank you.
MR. COOKE: Yes, sir. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We do have one person signed up to speak, I believe, Jack King.
MR. KING: My name is Jack King with Sportsmen's Conservationists of Texas. Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, we support this proposal and very highly commend staff for moving forward with this, particularly in a quick time frame from last month's meeting to this and the shortened deadlines they had to do. So we're very appreciative and staff should be commended for their work. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you Jack and Jerry.
Any other questions or comments from the Commissioners? Is there a motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So move.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That was Holt and Ramos, second. All in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any oppose?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carries. Next up, Agenda Item Number 8, Action Item Public Hunting. Vickie?
MS. FITE: Good morning, Chairman and Members of the Commission. My name is Vickie Fite. I'm the Public Hunting Coordinator and I'm here today to present the Agenda Item that addresses candidate state parks proposed for hunting and to open a public hunting season — to open a hunting season on public hunting lands for 2004, 2005.
Candidate state parks proposed for hunting. Last year, 42 state parks were hunted. This year, we're proposing that 44 state parks are hunted. The additions will be Seminole Canyon returning to the program and there will be a new unit, which is part of the Guadalupe River State Park. It will be called the North Unit.
This Agenda item was posted on the website for public comment and received 58 comments; 52 of which agreed with the proposal, two had no opinion and four disagreed.
Of the four, two wanted more bowhunting opportunity made available on the parks, 1 was an adjacent landowner to Lake Brownwood State Park, who remarked that there was a dry year last year and he was not in favor of hunting on the park this year. The other one was a non-park related opinion and it was addressing one of our wildlife management areas; the fact that it wasn't on the list and he was alarmed by that so — but we are going to have hunting on that WMA.
Since the April meeting, there's been a change that was made to the statewide hunting seasons that will affect one of our candidate state parks. The eastern spring turkey season was increased statewide from a 14-day season to a 30-day season.
At this time I would like to offer an amendment to Exhibit A, to the hunting season of Caddo Lake State Park WMA to increase the season — to change the season, I'm sorry — from April 11 through the 24th to April 1 through the 30th.
This will offer the additional hunting opportunity that will be available statewide and it will not require a restrictive visitation on that area during that time period for the increase.
Establish an open season on public hunting lands. In order for public hunts to be conducted on Texas Parks and Wildlife public hunting lands during the period of September 1, 2004, through August 31, 2005, a hunting season must be established. Chapter 62 and 81 of the Wildlife Code gives the Commission the authority to establish an open season for hunting on state parks, wildlife management areas and public hunting lands.
At this time, Staff would like to recommend Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes the hunting activities designated in Exhibit A, with changes, to be conducted on the listed units of the state park system and two) the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes an open hunting season on public hunting lands to run from September 1, 2004, to August 31, 2005. Mr. Chairman, that concludes my presentation. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions to Vickie on the public hunting? Commissioner Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well, I just want to reiterate what I said yesterday. Thank you for incorporating more youth hunts and also to keep in mind, maybe, for next year, maybe expanding it and having more hunts during the summer when our school kids are out and need things to do. So but, again, thank you very much.
MS. FITE: Yes, sir. You're welcome.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Chairman?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Parker?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You talked to us about leases.
MS. FITE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: How do we secure those leases or how are they recommended to us, how are they found? Do we use the biologists, do we use the Game wardens, do we use conservation organizations? How are those located and then brought into the public [indiscernible].
MS. FITE: Okay, Mr. Parker, that's a good question. We do use our field biologists. We also utilize our game wardens. They are out there in contact with the landowners every day, just like our wildlife biologists.
They come forward with a proposal. At that point, we do a contract. We negotiate a price with that landowner according to the amenities. Not only do we offer hunting just for dove on those areas, we've expanded that to other small game, which we include squirrel, water fowl, sandhill cranes and some of them, in the past, have even offered some of the feral hog opportunity. Some of those have gone open to 365 days.
But it's mainly our staff but anyone that comes forward that is interested. We also have an informational flyer that we make available to where if a landowner is in one of our offices and they see it, it has my phone number on it. They can call and talk to me and we can get them signed up also. We'll send a biologist out to look at the property.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Great. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. I was looking at this public hunting lands locator map. Unless I'm missing — I don't see — the dove leases, I guess, change every year?
MS. FITE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And so are those on the web, or how do people find those?
MS. FITE: Actually what you're looking at right there is last year's and basically it's just the county's that highlighted on there because that is so in flux at the time that we try to get this out. We do put that information up on the web. We have a deadline of June 15 for signing up those. We try to have the publication available by August 1.
Last year we started putting that publication up on the website so our hunters can go out there and look to see what properties are offered before they purchase the $48. Also, in our APH program also, not just the dove.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Vickie?
COMMISSIONER HENRY: I have one, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Tell me, how do you distinguish between counties having annual permit hunts and the drawn permit hunt areas. What is the determining — is there a determining factor or what are the determining factors that would distinguish the difference.
MS. FITE: Okay, Mr. Henry, the way that happens is, mostly the areas that we have the drawn hunts on are going to be our state parks and our wildlife management areas. They're going to be areas that we can only accommodate a smaller number of hunters or either the hunting season is during a shorter period of time established for that particular piece of property.
The ones that we have the $48 APH permit available on, those are lands that are usually under long-term lease or some of our undeveloped properties where we allow the full season. The whole year, any species is open, we would allow access for hunting for those species out there.
So it's basically driven on the availability of the number of animals that we want harvested off of those areas, the size of the piece of property and, basically, the recommendations from the biologist or the state park employee that's brought forward.
And they're distinguished in two separate publications. We have a Drawings publication that's put out that has each one of the hunt dates that people apply for an individual area within a category. The APH is a big map booklet with a supplement that's the dove supplement, that has all of the dove lease areas listed in it that they can either view on the web.
There are also copies that are available at each one of the licensed vendors for them to stand there to look at, at the counter while they are waiting to purchase it or either they can call in on the 1-800 number and we can give them information that way also.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: The only other concern that I have is the one that I expressed yesterday. That has to do with our making information available — -
MS. FITE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: — - to the general public about public hunts. I think we're doing a good job right now, frankly, but I think we can do better. I'm particularly concerned with the urban areas.
MS. FITE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: And, if we could work out something with our vendors or, as I mentioned earlier, have a — I know we have an ongoing and hopefully continue to have a better relationship with some friends of ours who worry about these things on a regular basis.
MS. FITE: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: It would certainly be to everybody's benefit if this was made known. Not only the fact that we have them but how they operate, what's required to participate, those kinds of things. I think that would be very helpful.
MS. FITE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Thank you.
MS. FITE: This year, we're going to have some posters that we've made available that are going to go out to each one of the licensed vendors that will basically say, Need a Place to Hunt?, which will reference our public hunting program with the 1-800 number and the website, which is — we'll also have that pamphlet that you have each been provided.
We usually send out 50 of those to each one of the vendors for them to place on the counter. We're considering, perhaps, doubling that number that we send to each one of the vendors that goes out with the initial mailing to our vendors. So hopefully, we can get the word out there.
We've got our first media task force meeting scheduled already for next week so once we get our seasons established, we're going to get on that and try to get some good information out to our sportswriters.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Vickie. We do have one person signed up to speak and that's Kirby Brown? Oh. Did you want to hold this for Vickie? Do you have a question for Vickie? Mr. Parker?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Are there other state agencies that hold land within jurisdiction that might possibly be attracted or encouraged to participate in this great and wonderful program that you have? Have you thought about maybe searching out some of those agencies or entities that hold land in their jurisdiction?
MS. FITE: Yes, sir. Actually, we have those other state agencies and things, from time to time, contact us and want to become part of our great program, as you quoted there. We are looking into different ways of incorporating them into our program. We have a great working relationship with the Forest Service, with some of the Corps of Engineer areas. We have MOUs and MOAs in place with some of the river authorities. So there are already groups that are incorporated and we are trying to find ways that we can bring on other groups, within our budgetary limitations.
MR. COOK: Commissioner Parker, through the years — good question — and through the years we have, of course, the principal state land holders are General Land Office and UT systems and in both of those cases, typically, where they have blocks that they lease out for grazing or whatever it is most often times those options or those lease offerings include hunting.
But, we have worked with them and some of our holdings, for example, where we have GLO lands, you know, interspersed in our lands, we have a lease agreement with them and operate hunts on those lands.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The University of Texas provides a form hunting lease for their lessees so that they encourage them to lease them.
MR. COOK: We have talked to them about putting some of their UT land systems — about putting some of their lands in our hunting program through the years. They have not opted to do so to this point.
MS. FITE: Some of those agencies do have their own drawing-type system and offer permits for hunting on some of their own properties, which are separate from our system. So they are being hunted, in one fashion or another.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Parker, I know that's the case with the university lands. They're just in the private sector, which is — as long as they're being hunted. Any other questions for Vickie, before our one person testifying, Kirby Brown?
Kirby, you back there?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I'll be brief, Commissioners. My name is Kirby Brown, Executive Vice President of Texas Wildlife Association. We support the Staff proposal. We think it's a good proposal. We think it favors youth hunting and we, too, want to see that increase in the youth hunting component out there on the public lands and feel like this continues to be a great program for the state. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Kirby. Any other questions for Vickie? Thank you, Vickie. Is there a motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So move.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Holmes, second by Holt. All in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carries. Vickie, thank you very much for your good work there.
Next up, Agenda Item Number 9, Action Item, Raptor Proclamation, John Herron.
MR. HERRON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is John Herron. I'm the Director of the Wildlife Diversity Program here at Parks and Wildlife. Today I'm going to brief you on changes we're proposing to the state falconry regulation.
All these recommendations we discussed yesterday are based on discussions we've had with the Texas Hawking Association and the Falconry Advisory Board and many of the changes we're talking about — I guess the other thing I would point out is that falconers are permitted by our agency.
This is — falconry is possessing a protected raptor for the purposes of using it for hunting and doing so requires both a state and a federal permit and many of the changes we're talking about today will simply make our regulations more consistent with current federal regulation.
The changes we're proposing first, is to clarify the qualifications for apprentice, general and master falconers. These also exist in federal rule but ofttimes we've had questions come up as to how and when and where someone — what someone has to do in order to advance to the next level so I put in regulation we think will make that clearer to the public.
Also, we're adding a provision that will allow apprentice falconers to display raptors for educational purposes. As I said, while the primary purpose of possessing a raptor is for hunting, since these individuals do have these birds, are permitted to have them and are skilled with them, we have no problem allowing them the secondary use of taking them to schools and such for educational programs.
Apprentices are basically learning under the guide of an experienced falconer and to allow them to assist in this educational effort is worthwhile and we are requiring that they be under supervision, realizing the fact that they're not as skilled as the other falconers.
A third change we're proposing is that apprentice falconers must trap their own bird. As I mentioned yesterday, these are falconers in training and one of the skills necessary to be a successful falconer is knowing how to trap a bird that even if you have a captive bred bird, if that bird escapes, you will need to retrap it.
And, so by requiring the falconer, an apprentice, to trap their own wild bird, we're assuring that they learn those necessary trapping skills.
Other regulation also states each class of falconer can only replace so many birds in a year but we did not stipulate what that specific year was. So you're now adding language to the regulation that would specify that that calendar year is July 1 through June 30, which corresponds with the permitting year, the period that their permit is valid.
We have a provision in regulation that allows people to raise and sell captive bred raptors; Raptor Propagators. We are now clarifying that in order to be a Raptor Propagator, your experience must be at the General or Master falconer level. Basically, that apprentices, we do not feel, have the experience necessary to be a Raptor Propagator.
And, then finally, we are proposing that leg bands — we do require certain species of raptors be banded by the falconer when captured. Currently the regulation reads that the falconer contacts us, we send them a leg band, then they go and trap their bird and if they're not successful, we end up having a lot of paperwork; they have to return bands to us.
So we are now saying that a falconer may go out and trap their bird and then notify us within two days and we will issue them a band.
One thing I do want to point out to the Commission, an addition from my briefing yesterday, I'll talk about public comment in general, but we are going to suggest one minor change this provision for approval.
Just to give you an example, what type of qualification we're talking about. For an apprentice falconer, they have to be 14 years of age, they must have a sponsor who's a general or a master falconer, they must pass a written falconry test and score 80 or better.
We allow them to possess either one kestrel, red-tailed hawk or red-shouldered hawk. These being species that are very, very common. Once they move up to General or Master, they are allowed to possess more birds and to possess rarer species of raptors.
And, finally, an Apprentice can replace up to one bird a year, acknowledging the fact that birds can be lost or die due to uncontrollable factors.
Just for comparison, these are the requirements for both General and Master Falconer. A General Falconer has to be 18 years of age, must have two years of experience at the Apprentice level — and this is one change we put in the regulation was, better defining what that two years of experience needs to be, that basically they need to possess their bird for at least four months for each of two years, acknowledging the fact, as we talked about yesterday, many falconers do not keep their bird year-round and we just want to make sure though that these Apprentices have had at least two hunting seasons of experience with their bird before they move to General.
Once they move to General, they're allowed to possess two birds. Similarly, a Master Falconer, with experience, is allowed to possess up to three birds.
In terms of public comment, we received about 35 to 36 public comments, depending on the provisions. Most of the comments were — there were several comments regarding some confusion of our requirement to require someone to have two years of Apprentice experience before they moved on to General. I think there was a miscommunication. Some people misread the regulation and assumed we were saying that they had to prove they had hunted their bird for two years and that wording is not in the regulation.
We're basically just saying that have to have possessed the bird for four months for those two years. There was some comment against — about four people opposing us allowing Apprentices to display their birds for educational purposes but, again, over 30 people commenting in favor. We feel the fact that we're requiring an Apprentice to do so under supervision should handle most of the concerns that people would have with that.
There was one comment asking that, in terms of allowing people to replace one, two or three birds a year, that we not set a fixed number but, instead, we allow that to be based on the circumstances and, again, that was just a few comments. The vast majority of people who commented, over 30 agreed with what we are proposing and in our review of it, we think it's best to keep a standard number rather than leaving it to a judgment call that may be perceived as being inconsistent in treating one falconer than another and this is also consistent with federal law.
And, finally, we had a comment asking that we allow more time for someone to get a band once they've trapped a bird. We currently, in the regulation you see, it will say two days — they must notify us within two days of having trapped a bird.
And actually, in response to that and in discussion, we realized we had an omission, a very small one, and we are recommending — Staff is recommending an amendment to whatever we have proposed, that under 65.270 and marking paragraph A, to add business, the word "business" to this, that they should notify us within two business days of catching a bird. Right now, it just says two days and the concern is, Well, if I catch one on Saturday, am I in violation if I've let you know by Monday? So just by that simple change, we think we can handle the concerns that were expressed so we are recommending that.
With that, I'll be happy to answer any questions and we request that the Commission approve the regulation with that recommended change. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Holmes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: The falconers that choose to release their birds at the end of the season, do they remove the tags or do they leave those tags on?
MR. HERRON: I believe these are non-removable leg bands and so once the bird is banded, I believe those bands are left on the bird. We do have several people here from the Texas Hawking Association.
Are those left on, Steve, typically?
MR. OLESON: Well, passage birds, which are the birds that can be taken from the wild, are — -
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Come on up.
MR. OLESON: Birds that can be taken in Texas for use in falconry are — -
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Please will you start over.
MR. OLESON: I'm sorry.
MR. HERRON: Introduce yourself.
MR. OLESON: I'm sorry. I'm Steve Oleson. I'm the Vice President of the Texas Hawking Association and a member of the Falconry Advisory Board. Regarding banding and release of banded birds, the birds that we trap in Texas have to be banded — well, not all of them, just — I'm sorry, just a few of them. And, what — the kind of band that's on the bird is one that is similar to like a zip tie, like an electrical wire tie, or something, that you can just clip off and release.
Some people get in touch with bird banders and you will, like, take off the falconry band and put on a bird band so that they can track that kind of information. But, generally, bands are taken off.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Steve, you were signed up to speak so — -
MR. OLESON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — - continue.
MR. OLESON: Thank you. Thank you very much. Well, first of all, I'd like to thank you all for your service to Texas. We really appreciate the fact that you've got a lot of things to do and it's nice to have enlightened people that care about what they're doing for the state of Texas. Thank you.
As a member of the Falconry Advisory Board, I represent the falconers of Texas and it's my pleasure to tell you that we support the proposed changes to the Raptor Proclamation. I have confidence in this opinion, because the proposal was created by TPW staff and members of the Falconry Advisory Board, representing the Texas Hawking Association and the North American Falconer's Association.
By working together we were able to produce a document that will satisfy the goals of TPW, the desires of the falconer community, while ensuring the health and safety of the resource.
After the regulations were agreed upon by both parties, we were able to inform the falconers of Texas of the proposed changes and our reasons for supporting them. We also told them how to register their public comment. I understand that the vast majority of the comments have been in favor of the proposal.
I cannot imagine a more perfect method of creating regulatory policy. I commend TPW staff members, John Herron, Robert MacDonald, Jeannie Munoz and Jennifer Blecka for their diligent efforts to serve the resource, the state and the falconers of Texas and I urge them to continue to use us as a resource whenever they consider creating policy that affects the raptors of Texas.
By doing so, falconers see themselves as partners with TPW in the wise use of the raptor resource of Texas instead of unwilling regulatory subjects. This spirit of cooperation will be increasingly important as the Fish and Wildlife Service considers transference of all falconry regulation to the states.
I look forward to the next meeting of the Falconry Advisory Board, with TPW staff, here at headquarters next week. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Steve — -
MR. OLESON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much.
MR. OLESON: My pleasure.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think we all agree that the falconers are a serious group of outdoorsmen and conservationists and we're lucky to have you helping us. So — -
MR. OLESON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — - thank you. Any other questions for Steve?
MR. OLESON: I'd like to invite you all to come to our field meet, which is in Abilene in January the — like, mid-January. If you'd like to come and see some falconry, it's pretty amazing. We have people that fly falcons and hunt ducks out there. We have people who have hawks, like red-tails and Harris hawks, who hunt rabbits and it's a lot of fun, so I'll be sending you an invitation and you're welcome to come.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Steve. Any other questions or comments regarding the Raptor Proclamation? Is there a motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So move.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Commissioner Parker, second by Commissioner Brown. All in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carries. Next Agenda Item Number 10, Action Item on Fur-Bearing Animals, Fur-Bearing Animal Proclamation, Mike Berger.
MR. BERGER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Mike Berger. I'm Director of the Wildlife Division. I'm here this morning with the recommendation to simplify the regulations for the fur-bearing animals.
Our proposal is important in several parts. One part would remove the unnecessary definitions that are contained in statute and in the regulations and we propose to get rid of those from the regulations. We also recommend that there be no bag or possession limits for the recreational harvest of fur-bearers.
There is already a no-bag limit for the commercial harvest by trappers nor is there a limit on take by — for depredating fur-bearers so we would request the recommendation to remove the bag and possession limits for recreational harvest as well.
There's also a request in here to remove the prohibition against taking of river otters with a rifle. It's the only fur-bearer so restricted and we would recommend removing that restriction as well.
Also, allow the sale by trappers of their furs to out-of-state buyers. At present, they are limited to selling to wholesale fur dealers only and many trappers would like to sell their furs out of state. And this would allow them to do that with the condition that they report to us their fur sales because that, through the wholesale fur dealers, is how we track the sales and the population — and use that as an index of the populations of fur-bearers.
So we would require that those people — those trappers who sell their furs out of state would sell to — would report their out-of-state sales to us.
One other part in this, but let me get to the public comment first. We did have some public comment on the proposals. The great majority of it was in favor of the proposals. On the bag and possession limits, there were a few disagreements but, again, it was 83 in favor and 16 opposed to those. With regard to river otters, there were 74 comments in favor of removing that restriction and 14 opposed.
And, with regard to selling the furs outside the state, there were 88 in favor and seven opposed.
With regard to the last proposal in the recommendation, which was to condense the means and methods section, there are two sections in means and methods; one is restrictive, it says what you can't use and one is permissive, which says what means and methods can be used.
The proposal says we would like to remove those that are permissive and leave only those that are restricted. In reviewing the public comment yesterday afternoon, we determined that the proposed elimination of that Section C, the permissive means and methods, could have some unintended consequences, in terms of creating too much latitude in means and methods of take and could adversely impact law enforcement activities and so, with that in mind, we would recommend a change to retain that provision. We've consulted with law enforcement and they concur in this recommendation.
That concludes my remarks. I'll be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Any questions for Mike? Commissioner Al Henry?
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Mike, on the public comment, you mentioned that there were seven that were opposed. What precipitated this change in selling outside the state and what kind of thoughts were given regarding the opposition to the change?
MR. BERGER: I don't have any specifics about what those seven said that they were actually opposed to but we work closely with the trappers and fur-takers in Texas in developing these regulatory changes and their recommendation is that, because of the fluctuation in the market prices, in order to get their best price, it might not always be best for them sell to an in-state fur dealer and they may be able to sell directly to another fur dealer outside the state. And so this change enables them to do that — to sell directly to a fur dealer outside of Texas.
But in order for us to track the furs that are taken in Texas and use those numbers as an index to fur-bearer populations, we're just asking them to report those sales to us directly since our other means is to track sales through the reports from the wholesale fur dealers.
But this just allows the trappers greater latitude in where they sell their sales, the timing and the location of those sales.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Would it be fair to say that those who were opposed were, generally speaking, not trappers?
MR. BERGER: I would think that's a fair assumption.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Did you have any comments from the trappers' associations, from their trade group?
MR. BERGER: They have been generally in favor of these and, as I said, we worked in the development of these regulations closely with them and only recently did they come to see the means and methods as — that could have some unintended consequences and they support that change.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So the trappers' association does support that change.
MR. BERGER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Thank you. Any other questions? Commissioner Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I think you've really done a good job on this, Mike. I think you've responded to the people's wishes that participate in these activities. I have received phone calls from them. I think it's the supply and demand and a suppression by a few of the price and by opening it up now we can really get a supply and demand and probably that industry will revive itself.
MR. BERGER: Well, thank you. We do try to work with our constituents in developing these regulations to make them as least burdensome as we can on the people, while protecting the resource as well.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you Mike. Good job. We do have one person signed up to speak. Jack King.
MR. KING: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Cook. My name is Jack King, with Sportsmen's Conservationists of Texas and, Mr. Chairman, in response to your question about the trapper's association, Mr. Hepker sends his apologies for not being able to be here this morning. His four-year-old was having her very first graduation exercise this morning and she didn't understand fur-bearers taking priority. So —
But they are an affiliate club of SCOT and he serves on my Board of Directors. We do, both SCOT and TTFHA do appreciate the opportunity to participate in reworking these regulations and are very appreciative, particularly with this amendment that's been brought forth this morning and we do support the regulations as presented, with the amendment.
There are still a few issues on the table that, due to this shortened time frame between this meeting and the last one, that still need further discussion and we look very much forward to working with Mike and his staff on those regulations. They're very receptive to input and the changes have really brought the industry up to what the industry is today.
We do support the regulations, as amended. As I said, we look forward to working with Staff in the process of simplification of all regulations. As we pursue, to ensure that simplification and clarification brings about meaningful, effective change to our regulations.
The recommendation to amend the proposal and not delete the 38 words in Section 65.3758 by Staff clearly shows that this process works and I commend Staff at all levels and you, Mr. Chairman, to your responsiveness to people that make comment. We thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Jack, it just takes me a little time to catch up sometimes, that's all.
MR. KING: I appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. And keep working on whatever other issues there are there.
MR. KING: Your Staff has been very, very good and very receptive and we look forward to continuing that relationship.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good. Thank you, Jack. Any questions for Jack regarding the Fur-bearing Proclamation or for Mike Berger?
MR. BERGER: And you have our recommendation there on the screen for adoption.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And with the amendment or are you making that on the record.
MR. BERGER: With the amendment.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Very good. Is there a motion on this Item?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So move.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Parker, second by Ramos. All in favor please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carriers.
MR. BERGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mike. Next up, we'll have a briefing on the Texas Quail Plan. Vernon?
MR. BEVILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Vernon Bevill. I am the Small Game and Habitat Assessment Program Director. I'm here today to introduce a couple of guests who are a very integral part of our evolution of a Texas Quail Plan.
Very briefly, about five or six years ago, the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, of which Texas is one of those member states, charged the Southeast Quail Study Group with the task of developing a Bobwhite Quail Recovery Plan.
That Bobwhite Quail Recovery Plan was unveiled at the Fifth National Quail Symposium held in Corpus Christi in January of 2002. The goals and objectives of that plan, functionally call for restoration of bobwhite quail across this range to 1980 levels.
States like South Carolina had lost 90 percent of its quail population, so it's significant declines. We took that quail plan and started trying to figure out how to get our arms around its goals and objections.
We felt like we needed some good guidance. A Quail Council was established to help guide us, another one of the chairman's council groups. Also, we established a technical committee made up of some of our biologists, folks from the academic world and private conservation organizations to help tweak the Quail Plan to bring it down to the Texas landscape.
Here today is one of the co-chairs — Ernest Angelo, as you know, is one of the co-chairs of the Texas Quail Council and was unable to be here today. His other co-chair, Charles Elliott, is here and I'd like to call Mr. Elliott forward at this time and then he will also introduce Lenny Brennan, who chairs the Technical Committee.
MR. ELLIOTT: Chairman Fitzsimons, Members of the Commission, my name is Charles Elliott. I'm from Athens, Texas. Ernest sends his apologies for not being able to be here today. He had a previous commitment that was unbreakable.
We have purposely waited to come before you and I think as we proceed along with this program, if you will indulge us for possibly longer than our three minutes, you will see why we purposely waited to come before you.
What I want to do is introduce Dr. Lenny Brennan, who many people consider to be the quail person in the world. I've never met any man that I think knows more about them and can tell you more about them in language you can understand.
Lenny, if you would come up?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Charles, I think it's the Chairman's prerogative to extend that time, especially in the case of quail. I think — we have a special quail rule on this Commission. Invoke the Quail Rule? Okay.
MR. BRENNAN: Mr. Chairman, Commission. My name's Leonard Brennan and I'm appearing here today in the capacity as the Chairman of the Technical Support Committee for the Texas Quail Council.
And the other aspect of my life and my day job is that I'm a professor and hold an endowed chair for quail research at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A & M, Kingsville.
Quail in Texas are in trouble and they're in big trouble. And I'm going to take a brief moment here to describe the scope and enormity of the problem that quail are facing in Texas.
Wild quail in Texas and that's primarily bobwhites, but this also applies for scale quail or blue quail, have declined more than 70 percent in the last 30 years. That means we've lost more than two-thirds of the wild quail in our state.
This is based on a series of different data sets; long-term data from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Roadside Counts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Breeding Bird Survey data as well as Audubon Society Christmas bird counts.
If you look at the three graphs of Texas across the bottom of this panel, you can see the graph on the left shows quail abundance in 1978, quail abundance, in the middle, in 1987 and quail abundance in 1997.
The darker shading indicates higher quail abundance and the lighter shading indicates lower quail abundance and you can see that across broad areas of Texas, including South Texas, which is normally considered a stronghold for quail, that they're basically blinking away off the landscape.
The causes for this decline or these declines primarily relate to habitat use and fragmentation and a series of land uses that are hostile or fatal to producing wild quail in the Texas landscape.
This is a function of our forestry management practices that have eliminated prescribed fire, range management practices that combine excessive or overgrazing with introduced tame pasture grasses, as well as landscape fragmentation and an overall inexorable increase in suburban and urban encroachment.
We need to look beyond the philosophy of, when it rains we'll have quail, and when it don't we won't, and look beyond this passive, historical approach to quail management in Texas.
Typically, good years of precipitation relate to good years in quail numbers. But that's not always the case and it's not the case in East Texas, the Cross Timbers or Gulf Prairies, where we have plenty of rain, but no quail.
One of the landowner and leaseholder responses to these declining numbers is that they are self-imposing limits that further restrict their daily bag and annual bag, as well as the season length on either their landholdings or their leaseholdings.
Now, to provide some definitions for the scope of the solution. This is an enormous problem. Any enormous problem requires a visionary solution to solve it. It's going to take time, money and resources over at least the next two to three decades.
The folks that are going to see the solution to this are going to be the next generation of professionals, Commissioners, biologists, stakeholders, that are interested in quail in Texas. There's no overnight quick fix.
Again, I draw your attention to these two graphs on the right side of the panel. The top graph shows the trend in Bobwhite numbers across the United States from 1966 to 2002, based on Fish & Wildlife Service Breeding Bird Survey data.
Red, on this graph, is bad. The red areas indicate portions of the United States that have experienced declines in Bobwhites or in the bottom graph, Scale quail, at a rate greater than 1.5 percent over the period of 1966 to 2002.
If you had an investment portfolio that was losing 1.5 percent or greater over this period, I think it would be incumbent that you would change your investment strategy.
And this is what we need to do with quail. We need to change our management strategy. And some of those changes in strategies were outlined by Mr. Bevill earlier, with respect to the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative.
Some of the positive accomplishments to date in Texas are as follows: The establishment of the Texas Quail Council in 2003. Texas is the first state to develop such a program structure on a statewide basis that is designed to restore quail numbers at the landscape scale.
As part of this, we have developed a technical plan for quail conservation in Texas, as part of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. There are 33 other states besides Texas that are involved in this initiative and all of these 33 states are looking to Texas as a model.
We've made progress on a popular version of the plan that will be due out later this year that will be modeled on the future of hunting in Texas that was published last year. And the poster that you see on the right side of this panel has been developed by the National Resource Conservation Service to raise awareness, on a national level, for quail and quail stewardship. It's being posted in all of their offices throughout the United States.
Now, this is an enormous problem. It's going to require hundreds of thousands or even millions of acres of land to be impacted, to make them provide usable space for quail. And what we've done, in the Technical Committee, is break this down into what we call a three-step strategy for quail conservation in Texas.
Three different things that we can do to get our collective heads around the problem. Step One in the strategy is to reemphasize and rededicate Parks & Wildlife to making quail production and quail management a priority on public wildlife management areas.
Texas Parks & Wildlife needs to establish examples of outstanding quail management so that they can demonstrate to the public what needs to be done for quail and quail habitat stewardship. We've identified two public WMAs, the Chaparral and Matador, and we are targeted $100 thousand dollars of federal aid supplemental grants for heavy equipment needed for brush control on these areas.
We've also identified around ten other wildlife management areas in the state that need to be targeted for quail management priority, as resources allow in the future.
The second step in the three-step strategy is to provide landowner incentives for quail-friendly management practices. Now, one source of money to do this is the 2002 Farm Bill EQIP, or Environmental Quality Incentive Program Funds. These are some of the first Farm Bill funds that have been directly and specifically allocated to enhance wildlife habitat on the ground.
People have been hoping for positive impacts for Farm Bill monies and wildlife over the years but it's been a perennial disappointment until 2003, when more than $360,000 were able to be implemented on the ground in the Panhandle and Rolling Plains in Texas.
This past year, there's more than $1,000,000 being allocated and we expect and hope that this will grow over time. Landowners want incentives and the incentives that they seem to want are financial help, to defray the cost of quail management, such as reduced stocking rates, implementing prescribed fire and so on.
There seems to be little or no interest among the quail-hunting community with respect to no-cost incentives, such as extending the season or expanding bag limits. We feel that that's going to send a wrong and confusing message, in light of the widespread declines that we've seen in quail across the state.
The third-step strategy is a long-term strategy, that's basically taking a joint venture model, that's been so successful at implementing the North American Waterfowl Plan and applying that on a landscape scale in Texas across the Bird Conservation Regions that you see on the map on the right.
These joint ventures are phenomenally successful at matching, leveraging and cooperating among agencies to create habitat at the landscape scale. One of the things that's been so successful with the North American Waterfowl Plan is that it enhanced, maintained, expanded native bunch grasses around prairie pothole habitats.
The bunch grass structure that ducks need for nesting is very similar to the bunch grasses that quail need for nesting. You make the assumption that quail are just like ducks, they just don't need so much water.
I want to conclude here with a couple of comments on the role of the state Texas Quail Council and the Tech Support Committee. First and foremost, their job, our job, is to focus, focus, focus on the plan. Everybody has a personal opinion on the causes of the quail decline and these opinions range far and wide and what we need to do is focus on the real causes and the real solutions.
We need to set top priorities for management, which I've shown you earlier and as well as research, which are detailed in the aspects of the technical plan. These are all designed to answer big picture landscape questions and avoid pet projects that detract from the overall goal.
This is a simple flow chart to show how we envision this working. The Quail Council box is on the top, the Tech Support Committee, which I chair, is in the middle. It seems to be one of the continuing themes of my life to be involved in middle management and this is another example of that.
And, across the bottom are the different joint ventures in the state of Texas; Playa Lakes, Gulf Coast, Lower Mississippi, Central Texas and Rio Grande Joint Ventures, that will provide wall to wall conservation for quail and grassland birds, over time.
But I want to emphasize that it took 20-plus years to implement the North American Waterfowl Plan and it's going to take a similar time frame for that to happen in Texas.
I want to summarize and conclude, that Parks & Wildlife is not being asked to shoulder the quail conservation burden alone in Texas. We have many, many other participants, cooperators, as you can see from the roster of the members of the state Quail Council and Technical Support Committee but I want to emphasize that Parks & Wildlife is a regulatory agency here and Parks & Wildlife needs to maintain its leadership and visionary roles in supporting this initiative.
Mr. Brett Carmichael, who's the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative Program leader constantly emphasizes that they're looking to Texas to provide the leadership to make this a success.
Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Cook, that concludes my comments. If you so desire, I would be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Quail are of particular interest, I think, to everyone here. Charles?
MR. ELLIOTT: Some 15 months ago, when we first met on the Quail Council, we were informed that the federal government; namely, the Agriculture Department of the federal government, was doing very little to help ground-nesting bird habitat.
When Ernest and I went home, I called Madam Secretary Ann Venneman, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the next day. She immediately scheduled an appointment for us in Washington with the NRSCS chief, Bruce Knight.
Ernest and I went to Washington on our own, we paid for it ourselves. We met with Chief Knight. We did not get everything we asked for but we did get some funding last year, as Lenny showed you. We're going to get more funding this year.
The President of the United States is aware of the quail situation as is the First Lady of the United States. And I might mention her interest is such that his lake at Crawford, Texas, had all the coastal Bermuda removed off of the dam because of her. She can name all 26 species of ground-nesting birds so all of this is very important to her.
We have enlisted the aid of Governor Perry and John Cowen and we have a John Cowen print that is signed by the Governor and signed by John Cowen that we're fixing to sell. We're going to use the funds for these prints to help the Matador and the Chaparral become showplaces for quail habitat.
We've enlisted the aid of numerous government agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation. We have used the Railroad Commission, who oversees the mining interest in the state of Texas, to start planting native grasses instead of mainly, I might add, Coastal Bermuda grass, which is not good for quail. Great for cattle and I — nothing against the cattleman, they have to make a living, too.
But gentlemen, we waited until last, to come here before you, you are the most important group of all. Without your help, we're not going to make it and what we're asking of you is real big. We're asking you to make quail the number one priority within Texas Parks & Wildlife in the state of Texas.
We want you to do for quail what you did for white-tail deer. We want you to do for quail what you did for the turkey population, what you did for the duck population. We want you to make it so that every person that works for Texas Parks & Wildlife understands your directives and your priorities.
We're not here begging for money. Yes, we need money, sure, we know the constraints you operate under. We're here to help you but we need your help. You are the most important group of all and purposely we waited until we had done our homework and we had talked and contacted all the other people with interest in this program to come to the important group last.
I conclude my part of the program. If you have any questions for Lenny or I, we'll be glad to try to answer them for you and that's all we have today.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Charles. Lenny, I do have a couple of questions for you on your presentation. I was intrigued by the comment that — we're all familiar when people say, If it rains, we'll have quail; if it doesn't rain, you don't. And in certain areas where they've recovered from the drought have not recovered with a corresponding increase in quail.
But in areas, like the Chap or the Matador or ranches I'm familiar with in South Texas, to where the habitat really has not changed over the last 30 years. It's still native habitat. The management's probably better as far as rotational grazing and other issues. Do you see a decline in those areas also or only where there's been a habitat change?
MR. BRENNAN: Certain properties, if habitat's maintained in an adequate scale, are going to be able to respond to the favorable precipitation. What we see though is that, across South Texas as a whole or across the state as a whole, that even those peak years, over time, they're slowly eroding. It's like a sawtooth that — a saw blade that's pointing downhill. That even though you're getting those pulses that the ones that you see in subsequent years are not quite as high as the ones earlier.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So the peaks aren't as high and the lows are lower.
MR. BRENNAN: And the lows are lower, so it's eroding.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Even on prime habitat. Because that's really my question here. Is there anything beyond habitat that we need to be looking at?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, one of the research objectives that I did not touch on that emerged to be a real important priority is to develop a monitoring system to look at individual properties to track long-term management success or monitor the effects of keeping quality habitat on the ground. And we really don't have those data in very many places.
We have general impressions. We have some information that we're starting to accumulate with a network of ranchers and hunters at Caesar Kleberg Institute where they're sending us data each year on quail production and hunting success and so on. But we're only about three years into that and in certain cases; in cases where people have backed up on the cows and kept good grass cover through a dry period, they had numbers that were significantly higher than the folks that didn't.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Historically, they were as high as the highs of 30 years ago? That's the point of my question.
MR. BRENNAN: I can't speak to that, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Anecdotally, it seems to me, I mean, just anecdotally, just my experience is that some of the properties I'm familiar with are as good as they were in the '70s but clearly there's the decline you point out in other parts of the state.
MR. BRENNAN: Absolutely and those are, kind of, if you will, hot pockets, or islands, if you will, of excellent quail habitat and the trouble is that they're becoming more and more isolated as the landscape gets more and more fragmented.
MR. BEVILL: Let me mention to you, Mr. Chairman, also, on the issue of monitoring, the National Resource Conservation Service just recently approved a million and a half dollars to farm out to folks like Caesar Kleberg Institute, like Parks & Wildlife, to help monitor the impact of approved Farm Bill practices on their association to quail habitats, so we're going to be looking at that as we develop demonstration areas around the state of establishing some monitoring criteria, using the federal money to help look at the effectiveness of various Farm Bill practices.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'm glad you brought that up because, you know that I've been interested in this question with regard to Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat. I would like to see your Quail Council make some very specific recommendations regarding the federal farm program, CRP, the role of the NRS, the NRCS, the role of the Farm Services Administration, FSA, and how these programs can be designed to maximize the impact for quail and other ground-nesting birds.
Because it seems to me from what I've learned in talking to people in the field is that we're giving with one hand and taking away with another and the only way this — I hate to — I only disagree with one thing you said, Charles, this isn't going to get solved by these nine up here. It's going to get solved by people making management decisions on the ground that are good for birds.
But the millions of acres of CRP, it seems to me, that's one place you start.
MR. BRENNAN: Mr. Chairman, to follow along with that, one of the things the Council has done already is that they sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, encouraging and recommending that the EQIP program be specifically targeted for quail and ground-nesting birds and that's precisely what has happened for the priority areas and it has been linked with Lesser Prairie Chickens as well as Ottwaters and so the Council has already made a huge inroad to our getting the EQIP money targeted for wildlife-friendly habitat practices.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: CRP is the largest single group of — it's the largest block of acreage. Right, Vernon?
MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. So you're applying that same concept to CRP?
MR. BRENNAN: No, sir. So far, CRP's been a phenomenally difficult nut to crack.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's the one you need to crack, it seems like.
MR. BEVILL: And one other little aspect of that, the CRP contract that we — by 2007 or 2008, over 50 percent of the main CRP contract in Texas will go away.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: How do we help them, as he said, crack the tough nut.
MR. BEVILL: We're working on some angles, as we speak.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'm hogging the quail — -
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: No, but you're far more articulate about it than I am. My experience with Prairie Chicken and talking to the landowners is, that is the place and our biologists and even our law enforcement groups insist there's a little owner's manual for landowner of how to deal with it. Every time I go out and ask ranchers about it, they just say, We don't know how to begin to deal with it.
MR. ELLIOTT: That manual is forthcoming.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Is it? Good. I would think it would help — -
MR. ELLIOTT: And it's layman's terms.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes, that's wonderful. Well, the Chairman knows more about it than I do, but I know it's a huge issue so that's where we ought to help.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Ramos.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Is hunting pressure an issue or not?
MR. BEVILL: Personally, I don't think so, no, in terms of what we monitor and harvest and all that, no. I mean, quail hunters are among our best sportsmen conservationists so I would not see anything there that would concern me.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Vernon —
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I have two more questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: How about disease in general. Do we have any data that might indicate that — I'm from South Texas. We definitely have had a decline in quail. I've heard different people say that there's been a disease that may have impacted the herds and so forth. Do you have any data to either — -
MR. BEVILL: I'll let Lenny speak to — -
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: — - show that or — -
MR. BEVILL: — - these issues but I don't know of any.
MR. BRENNAN: There are none that have been documented. You tend to get a higher incidence of certain diseases — avian pox, other things, when densities are high. One of the concerns lately has not been so much a disease but it's been a pathogen, with aflatoxin and mold and corn that's being spread.
One of my colleagues, Dr. Scott Hankie at the Institute, has done some very extensive, very nice work on that and the results of aflatoxin on quail; they can be potentially problematic but it doesn't seem to be a huge problem where the main problem with aflatoxin seems to lie is with the songbirds and it's much more lethal to cardinals and perhaps sparrows and other birds, but based on his laboratory results from cardinals, even minor, minor amounts of aflatoxin are problematic.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: My last question is, Is there any data to indicate that supplemental feeding of quail is good or not because, in line with what you're saying, I know some ranchers in South Texas are supplemental feeding for quail and if, in fact, there's something in the corn or the grain that could be impacting our supply.
MR. BRENNAN: So far, all the data on that topic illustrate or suggest that supplemental feeding is a neutral management practice. It doesn't seem to increase numbers of quail. It doesn't seem to be a problem, necessarily, with disease or pathogens, although that still needs more investigation.
What it does do is it tends to concentrate birds and will often give you the impression that you have more birds than you think you do because they're concentrated around feeders.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And in response to your question, I think the Commission — I'm speaking for myself but I'm sure everybody agrees — quail is a priority just like white-tail deer; number 1 priority, like every other natural resource and we appreciate your efforts and to the extent that you can feed us with information that we need to incorporate in our decisions, please, by all means, do so. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Holt?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: A couple of questions. One is, what are other states doing that are in this same situation and are there other groups like you've established and maybe then, thirdly, is TPW working with other state agencies because, obviously, we have a national issue here too and if we could kind of bring coordinated, as somebody said in here, focus, focus, focus pressure across various states it seems would be helpful too.
MR. BEVILL: Steve De Maso, who is our resident Game Bird Program leader is the current chairman of the Southeast Quail Study Group and, in fact, he's just taken office as part of that Southeast Quail Study Group and we are plugged in to the Southeastern Association of States through that study group. They are working very diligently and trying to assess what each other is doing and what we need to do and what's working and what's not working.
As Lenny mentioned to you, Brett Carmichael, who is on temporary appointment — works for South Carolina — on a temporary appointment as the coordinator for this Northern Bobwhite Conservation at issue, he's been to our Quail Council meetings a number of times. He continues to work with other states and he always uses our model as the approach to take to get the heavy lifters together — working together as a Council and get the technical groups together within the states and try to bring that synergy to the problem.
And, of course, every state is dealing with the Department of Agriculture, via the Farm Bill to try to make some things happen and we have some successes and some not so success. And part of it — and always the case — it doesn't necessarily matter what Washington says do, it's getting that information down to the ground level and our — and within our department we have a lot of our biologists attend those local meetings where Farm Bill programs are discussed and priorities are made and so forth
And we're beginning to make some inroads into that but it's having our Commissioner of Agriculture as a member of the Quail Council, it's having our state conservationist as a member of the Quail Council and the Texas Wildlife Association and so forth trying to bring an emphasis that will finally get to the ground level where programs are implemented with landowners.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So you have that issue going that way and then, it seems to me like, we're going to CRP, for example. I mean, there's got to be pressure from not just the state of Texas but — landowners in the state of Texas but across, certainly, the Southeast or wherever we want to do this. So just like Charles and Ernest going up, you know, and visiting the other individual you were talking about, so it seems to me we need to do some coordinating too.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I agree with Commissioner Holt and I think you need to boil it down to some specific recommendations of changes —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — that need to be made in the policy so that this Commission, the Texas Department of Agriculture and our significant congressional delegation in this state, is very influential in agricultural matters, can give people the incentives that they need to make the habitat changes that are necessary.
Those recommendation must be specific. Not just, Do good things for quail.
MR. BRENNAN: I can give you one example — it's a potential bright spot on the CRP landscape, that's been happening in Georgia, with respect to planting pines and Georgia DNR has been able to exert some influence to get the rules changed from planting high density loblolly pine to planting low density long leaf pine and then following it up with prescribed fire every couple of years after it's planted. That seems to be a program that is having a beneficial impact on quail.
The State of Missouri has developed or is starting to develop a State Quail Council. They're still in the embryonic stages and trying to figure out the rules of the road and how they're going to operate.
And several years ago, the State of Virginia tried to develop a statewide quail plan and it didn't really go very far because it was, more or less, kept within the confines of the state wildlife agency with some outreach to NRCS and so on but they didn't adopt a quail council model.
They spent $4 million dollars on a quail plan that basically didn't go anywhere. So we see this Council Tech Committee Joint Venture setup, if you will, as the way to proceed and the way to operate.
MR. ELLIOTT: One other point, Mr. Chairman. concerning your question about CRP. This is from personal experience. The government does have a program whereby if you bid your CRP into what's called Wildlife. I did this on my own ranch. I plowed up all the Klein grass that was on my CRP and you have the option and they will pay for half of the planting cost to plant it back in native habitat grasses.
So there is some help there depending on how you bid your CRP in.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. I think there's some other questions there. Commissioner Montgomery?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Quick question and Mike and maybe Vernon too. At some point, it sounds like we end up with a kit for landowner, Here's what you can do. Is it part of your plan that we will have a very broad communication plan to all the people who have wildlife management plans. I mean, there's — I don't know how many acres we have now, but it's a big number. That right there is a very broad way to communicate. Is that part of the program here at some point?
MR. BEVILL: Absolutely. We have a very significant outreach component of this overall plan and that's coming together. In fact, Tamara Trail has been very instrumental and she works with Kirby at the Texas Wildlife Association, and others.
And there's a very significant outreach component because if you can't get it to the landowner, it's kind of like the Virginia plan, you're going to fail from the get-go.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Brown?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I'm assuming there have been studies because there are areas in Texas where the habitat has remained pretty constant; areas of the Kennedy Ranch and King Ranch and some of those areas down there. Are the quail populations, where you really have not seen a significant change in habitat, remaining constant?
I guess it's back to the Chairman's question and, if not so, then why would they be declining if habitats remain the same and then the other question I have is, do fire ants have any impact on quail population, you know, and if so, what do we do about that, but — -
MR. BEVILL: Part of the answer is, where we've got consistent quail populations, the fluctuation is more probably driven by weather — wet, dry cycles.
Fire ants play a role but they probably don't play a very big role; a minor role. I've worked in four states and fire ants have been given credit for the demise of quail in South Carolina and Mississippi and, to some degree, in Texas. But, we always say it's about habitat. If you've got the habitat, you can overcome a lot of things.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other question? Commissioner Parker?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I applaud what you folks are doing, especially the group on the right, the landowners and, in fact, Charles Elliott and I share a fence. I lease a place right next to his and I didn't recognize him all cleaned up like that. I walked right past him.
But I applaud what you folks are doing and Friday night, a week from tomorrow, in Lufkin, Texas, we're having a Friends of Quail fund-raiser and I know for a fact — I'm not on the Board — but I've heard that a few dollars will be coming your way out of little old Lufkin, Texas, and because all the money raised there will stay in Texas.
MR. ELLIOTT: Wonderful.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I share your concern and focus on quail. Do you have any studies that indicate whether the release of pen-raised quail is harmful or benign on the wild quail population?
MR. BRENNAN: I can answer that. Dr. Fidel Hernandez has just finished a two-year study on that topic, looking at the impact of repeated releases of pen-raised quail on wild quail, over a couple of thousand-acre study site and he found that in areas where pen-raised quail were repeatedly released, that the survival of the wild quail declined by about 50 percent and that the area of their home ranges increased by about a factor of half.
So the wild birds were apparently displaced or disrupted and because they had to forage or roam over a broader area, that apparently subjected them to increased or decreased survival.
Now that's one study. There's another study in Georgia that was done several years ago that showed similar results where pen-raised quail — where wild quail in the midst of pen-raised quail tended to have bigger home ranges and lower survival.
On the other hand, releasing pen-raised quail on a couple of hundred acres of a shooting preserve or something like that, on a small scale, probably doesn't have a significant impact but repeated releases on a large scale, thousand acre or more, seems to have some negative impacts on wild birds.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ernie?
MR. COOK: One of the follow-up questions to that that I'd like you to speak to and recognizing as you do that quail's probably one of the most researched species in the entire North American continent but establishing or maintaining a quail population with released birds is not in the books. Correct?
MR. BEVILL: That's correct. That's correct. And I was going to — I'm glad you — -
MR. COOK: Which is one of the questions that we frequently get — Commissioners. I want to help my quail population by spending a whole bunch of money and there are lots of people out there who will be glad to take your money but you are not going to establish a quail population in that manner. In fact, as Dr. Brennan spoke, you might actually be hurting the birds that you have in some situations.
MR. BEVILL: One of the important elements of the Quail Plan, and the success that we will achieve in Texas, revolves around what we have been using already in our management strategies for smaller ownerships, the cooperatives.
It takes about 5,000 acres of habitat to sustain a quail population over the long haul. So somebody who has 200 acres and want to do something for quail, unless you've got something going on positive around them in a big enough scale, that's a waste of time.
So one of the strong components of the Quail Plan is the implementation and expansion and cultivation of cooperatives, particularly in places like East Texas where you've got small ownerships and a lot of fragmentation already.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do you see much interest by the co-ops? Our co-ops were driven originally by deer management. Do you see interest in the quail?
MR. BEVILL: I think that we are just beginning to get the Quail plan rolling in a way where we should start seeing some results of that nature over the next year or so. You know, Robert Perez and Steve De Maso have been working around the state, working with our staff, tooling our technical guidance biologists up, give them a few more tools in their tool chest to work with landowners on.
So a lot of this stuff, the popular version of the Quail Plan is nearing completion, things like that, so we can really begin to get the word out that we've got something going that people need to plug into. I think we're just on the cusp of making a lot of really strong progress.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is your 5,000-acre number true from east to west or is that a — -
MR. BEVILL: Is Steve De Maso in this room?
I would defer that answer to Steve or maybe Lenny.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: East to west is the difference in the rain. That's why I don't get [inaudible]. All right. Well, and we can talk about quail forever. But I can tell you, Mr. Elliott, that commitment of this Commission is certainly — is strong in quail, as any other natural resource and I believe it's going to be driven the same way that conservation was in the other areas, by the demand for hunting and those people that want it.
And so I hope we don't — hope we're doing everything we can to encourage the quail hunting as we improve the habitat.
MR. ELLIOTT: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for the Quail Council? Do you have somebody on your Quail Council from the Private Lands Advisory Board because they're working on this prescribed fire issue of the certification, which I know is an important tool for quail management?
MR. ELLIOTT: I'd have to look at that, to see if there is an overlap in the membership.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You need an overlap and I'll fix that if there isn't one.
MR. ELLIOTT: We've got an overlap, like Charles started out on our Game Bird Advisory Board — -
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. ELLIOTT: — - so he and Ann Holt act as liaison to the Quail Council from the Game Bird Advisory Board. So you are correct.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You need one for Private Lands Advisory Board because I gave them the charge of fixing this prescribed fire problem on the certification because that's one more tool that these people will have to have if they're going to manage for quail.
MR. BEVILL: Very good. Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks.
MR. ELLIOTT: Mr. Chairman, if I might add that the Game Bird Advisory Board and the Quail Council and the Technical Committee are all in support of doing something about Upland game bird stamps with the next legislature.
We'll be glad to lobby with you, we'll be glad to help you in any way we can; it's all in our financial best interest to see if we can get this passed through the legislature and we're behind you 100 percent in any endeavor you make. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Elliott. Next up, Land Acquisition, Item 12, Harris County. Ted, there you are. Right on time.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm a Senior Project Manager for the Land Conservation Program. I'm here today to recommend the acquisition of a two-acre inholding at San Jacinto.
This two-acre inholding is part of the land planned for the park. The property fronts on Battleground Road, which runs through the park. We do own the property surrounding that tract. It is available — it's owned by Harris County, it's been offered to us at their cost.
And the recommendation is that the Executive Director be authorized to proceed with acquisition of that tract as per the recommendation on the Board.
Be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Ted on the Harris County acquisition? I know you've put a lot of time and effort into this one, Ted. Thank you. Any questions? Any motion?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So move.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: A motion by Holmes, second from Brown. All in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you, Ted.
Jack, you're up on Number 13, Land Transfer of sale Williamson in Bastrop.
MR. BAUER: Thank you, sir. I'm Jack Bauer, Director of Land Conservation. This item represents the combined summary of two Conservation Committee land items heard in executive session yesterday. Land transfer of approximately 106 acres of endangered species mitigation land in Williamson County to a professional cave management organization is recommended.
Additionally, sale of a life estate on 9.3-acre homestead at Bastrop State Park is proposed.
Staff recommends the Parks & Wildlife Commission adopt the motion before you authorizing Staff to affect these land transactions.
I'll be happy to answer any question.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any question for Jack regarding Agenda Item Number 13? Is there a motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So move.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Brown, second by Holt. All in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you, Jack, and you're still up for — along with Ann. Nope, Jack's going to carry Ann today, all right? Item 14, the pending land litigation, Anderson County.
MR. BAUER: Thank you. Again, it's Jack Bauer. As you are aware, the Attorney General has filed a partition lawsuit at Big Lake Bottom Wildlife Management Area. In the interest of Texas Parks & Wildlife, the status of the lawsuit proceedings were discussed yesterday in Conservation Committee Executive Session. Both land sale and land exchange transactions are recommended with undivided interest landowners, hopefully resulting in the separation of Parks & Wildlife ownership from the other undivided interest landowners.
Staff recommends the Commission adopt the motion before you, authorizing Staff to effect these land transactions. I'll be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Jack regarding Item 14? Jack, thanks for your help. I know this has been taking a lot of your time. Any questions or comments? Is there a motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So move.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Motion by Ramos, second by Vice Chair Al Henry. All in favor please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you, Jack.
MR. BAUER: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Cook? Any other business to come before this Commission today?
MR. COOK: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We are adjourned. Thank you.
(Whereupon, the public hearing was adjourned.)
Approved this the 27th day of May, 2004.
Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, Member
J. Robert Brown, Member
Alvin L. Henry, Member
Ned S. Holmes, Member
Peter M. Holt, Member
Philip Montgomery, Member
John D. Parker, Member
Donato D. Ramos, Member
Mark E. Watson, Jr., Member
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: May 27, 2004
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 123, 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