Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Jan. 26, 2006Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 26th day of January, 2006, there came on to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission 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
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Ned S. Holmes, Houston, Texas
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas (absent)
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
|1||512 Motors - Bad Boys Buggies||Goods||Wildlife Expo Sponsorship||$1,000.00|
|2||Dr. Richard Heard||Goods||2001 BOXLIGHT Projector - Model No. CD454M-000||$2,796.00|
|3||Edward Blumberg||Goods||Kubote L4610 4WD Tractor w/LA852 Loader in good condition with 540 hours.||$15,000.00|
|4||Friends of Colorado Bend State Park||Goods||Two metal carports used to cover/shelter for park equipment and vehicles.||$2,738.73|
|5||Friends of Purtis Creek State Park||Goods||Dell OptiPlex 620||$650.00|
|6||Park Hosts||Goods||Black 12ft utility trailer to haul park owned ATV's due to money not made available through park budget.||$675.00|
|7||Rusty Howell (Howell Oil and Gas)||Goods||Help with fuel for patrol during deer season for 2 Harrison County Wardens.||$1,200.00|
|8||Saltwater Fisheries Enhancement Assoc.||Goods||Three ITT Gen III night vision monoculars and five ITT 3X magnifier lens.||$10,000.00|
|9||Ken Carter||Goods||2001 Polaris Waverunners (2) and 2001 Dual Trailer||$5,000.00|
|10||Austin American-Statesman||In Kind||Wildlife Expo Sponsorship - Fin & Feather||$1,000.00|
|11||Titus County Freshwater District||In Kind||195 Tackle Boxes, 195 Bail Buckets and 36 Zebco Combos giveaway items on 1-28-06||$1,340.00|
|12||Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC||Cash||Wildlife Expo Sponsorship - Lake Fork||$12,552.00|
|13||Canon||Cash||Wildlife Expo Sponsorship||$19,965.00|
|14||Dallas Flyfishers Conservatee||Cash||Cash donation for the Fly Fish Pavilion||$500.00|
|15||David C. McIntyre||Cash||Cash donation - flow through to support recovery efforts for the endangered Attwater's Prairie Chicken||$500.00|
|16||Devil's Sinkhole Society, Inc||Cash||Cash donation for the Planning of new exhibits at Devils Sinkhole||$4,500.00|
|17||Holt Foundation||Cash||Cash donation for the Historic Sites Program||$1,000.00|
|18||Houston Gulf Coast Chapter, Safari Club International||Cash||Cash donation for funding specifically for desert bighorn sheep management||$3,000.00|
|19||International Boundary and Water Commission||Cash||Cash donation for removal of aquatic weeds in the Lower Rio Grande||$23,000.00|
|20||Newfield Exploration Co.||Cash||Cash donation to create artificial reef development||$59,125.00|
|21||O.P.E.C. Legacy/Friends for Falcon State Park||Cash||Cash donation to fulfill obligation contract with friends group||$500.00|
|22||Pioneer Natural Resources||Cash||Cash donation to create artificial reef development for petroleum platform BA-A-39||$14,175.00|
|23||Pioneer Natural Resources||Cash||Cash donation to create artificial reef development for petroleum platform BA-A-7||$11,475.00|
|24||R & S Drive Thru||Cash||Cash donation for better fishing||$530.00|
|25||R.L. Ray, LTD||Cash||Cash donation to be used for fuel or other Tyler District LE expenses||$5,000.00|
|26||Republic Energy Inc.||Cash||Cash donation to secure right of entry to lay gas line under trailway||$500.00|
|27||Safari Club International Foundation||Cash||Cash donation to operate Game Wardens in hurricane response||$9,500.00|
|28||Sportsman's Warehouse, Inc.||Cash||Wildlife Expo Sponsorship - Lake Fork||$12,552.00|
|29||Strake Foundation||Cash||Wildlife Expo Sponsorship||$1,000.00|
|30||Summerlee Foundation||Cash||Cash donation to sponsor support for historic sites training program||$10,000.00|
|31||Texas Chapter Quail Unlimited||Cash||Cash donation - Contribution to Publication Printing||$2,500.00|
|32||Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation||Cash||Cash donation - Printing and shipping of the state park site maps & Garner State Park||$40,000.00|
|33||Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation||Cash||Cash donation for purchase two lifetime fishing licenses for grand prize tournament winners||$1,200.00|
|34||The Dow Chemical Company||Cash||Wildlife Expo Sponsorship - Chairman Covey (Previously reported $8,000.00 value for 30,000 bags in-kind goods on
|35||West Texas Chapter of Safari Club International||Cash||Cash donation for publication of Scaled Quail Management bulletin||$2,500.00|
|Wildlife||Carolyn Vogel||Prog. Specialist VI||Austin, TX||31 Years|
|Inland Fisheries||David L. Campbell||Manager III||Athens, TX||40 Years|
|State Parks||Dale L. Martin||Prog. Supervisor II||La Grange, TX||30 Years|
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION
JANUARY 26, 2006
NAME/ORGANIZATION — MATTER OF INTEREST
Judge Carey McKinney, Anderson County, 703 N. Mallard, Suite 101, Palestine Item #2 — Briefing — Current Status of the Texas State Railroad, Testify (Anderson County Delegation)
Charles Hassell, City of Rusk, 408 N. Main St., Rusk - Item #2 — Briefing — Current Status of the Texas State Railroad, Testify — For
Bob Goldsberry, City of Rusk, P. O. Box 67 — 415 N. Main, Rusk, TX - Item #2 — Briefing — Current Status of the Texas State Railroad, Testify — For
Steve Presley, TX State RR, 211 Richland, TX - Item #2 — Briefing — Current Status of the Texas State Railroad, Testify — For
Suzann McCarty — Mayor — City of Rusk, 408 N. Main St., Rusk - Item #2 — Briefing — Current Status of the Texas State Railroad, - Neutral
L.B. “Bud” Cox, Box 687, Ozona, TX 76943 — Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Against
George Cox, Cox Ranch HCR 1, Box 4, Del Rio, TX 78840 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — Against
Dick Stuart, Secretary Texas Motorized Trails Coalition, 199 Fredrick St., Longview, TX 75605 — Crockett County - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — For
Leslie Ramirez, Texas Motorized Trails Coalition, 3018 Ave. A., Nederland, TX 77627 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — For
William M. Haynes, TMTC, 4205 US Hwy. 59 North — Marshall, TX 75670 — Crockett County Land Acquisition - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — For
Marty Miller, Millspaugh Ranch, 1176 Rivercrest, New Braunfels, TX 78130 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Against
Greg Thornton, Ozona Chamber of Commerce — P. O. Box 66, Ozona - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — For
Jimmy Jones, Texas Motorized Trails Coalition, 302 Pine Tr., Longview, Texas - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — For
Jack B. Suack, Texas Motorized Trails Coalition, 1775 CR 108, Overton, Texas 75684 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — For
Don Miller, Millspaugh Ranch, 1176 Rivercrest Dr., New Braunfels, TX - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Against
Carol L. Smith, TMTC, 1440 CR 270, Mico, TX - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona
Jean Millspaugh, Millspaugh Ranch - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Against
Nick Smith, 1440 CR 270, Mico, TX 78056, Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — For
Paul C. Perner, IV, The Ozona Stakman, 1000 Ave. E, Ozona, TX 76943 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify - Neutral
J. R. Rhoades, TMTC, 609 Marilyn Dr., Schertz, TX 78154, Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify - For
Rick Young, Millspaugh Ranch, 268156 Fawn Mountain, Boerne, TX 78015 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona - Against
Ed Small, Various Landowners (Cox et al), 100 Congress, Ste. 1100, Austin, TX - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — Against
Bill Eaton, Texas ATV (illegible) — 17707 S Hwy. 249 #188 — H(illegible), TX 77086 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona - Testify
Billy Thomas — 114 Prairie Creek, Red Oak, TX 75154 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify - For
Richard Jones, Texas Motorized Trails Coalition/Banged UP Off-road, 308 Studer Circle, Uvalde - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — For
Laura White — Texas Motorized Trails Coalition — 260 Mountain View Dr., Azle, TX - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify - For
Joe Will Ross, Bud & George Cox, 301 W. Beauregard, Ste., 200, San Angelo, TX 76903 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Against
Billy Young, 12307 Saber Trail, Austin, TX 78750 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify - For
Beth Yount, 12307 Saber Trail, Austin, TX 78750 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify
Mike Kowis, Texas ATV’s.Com, 2410 Chatilly Lane, Conroe, TX 77384 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — For
Eliot Towb, Longhorn Off-road, 9268 Quail Field Dr., Austin - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — For
Cameron C(illegible) — Longhorn Off-road ((illegible)tex Motorsports, 1007 Rambling Trail, Cedar Park, TX 78613, Testify — For
John Flores, 944 Porter, New Braunfels, TX 78150, Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — For
Richard Farmer, Texas ATV’s.Com, 11011 Beaver, Trail, Houston, TX 77086 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — For
Ingrid Hollinger, Texas Four Wheel Drive Org., 19739 Lundenfield Ct., Katy - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — For
Bruce Shirey, TMTC, 337 Colonial St., Marble Falls, TX 78654 - Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona — Testify — For
Steve Smith, 1904 Oak Hollow Drive, Round Rock, TX 78681 — Item #5 — Action — National Recreational Grant Funding (Motorized Trail Grant, Crockett County, Ozona) Testify — For
Delina Barrera, Brownsville, TX, P. O. Box 911, Brownsville, TX — Item #6 — Action — Off-Highway Vehicle Decal (SB 1311) Rule
Bobby Beamer, NOHVCC & TMTC, 3310 Long Shadows, Spring Item #6 — Action — Off-Highway Vehicle Decal (SB 1311) Rule — Testify — For
Monty Blackmon, City of Lampasas, 312 East Third, Lampasas, TX — Item #7 — Action — Outdoor Recreation Grant Funding
Roger E. Beardon, Log Cabin, TX — 14387 Alamo — Log Cabin - Item #7 — Action — Outdoor Recreation Grant Funding
Judy Bearden — City of Log Cabin, 14387 Alamo, Log Cabin, TX 75148 - Item #7 — Action — Outdoor Recreation Grant Funding — For
Carol Buttler — City of Hondo - Item #7 — Action — Outdoor Recreation Grant Funding
Joe Turner, City of Houston — Parks Dept., 2949 S. Wayside, Houston, TX 77023, - Item #10 — Action — Transfer of Lake Houston State Park to the City of Houston — Testify — For
Evelyn L. Merz, Houston Sierra Club, 7095 Santa Fe Dr., Houston, TX 77061, - Item #10 — Action — Transfer of Lake Houston State Park to the City of Houston — Neutral
Ellis Gilleland, “Texas Animals”, P. O. Box 9001, Austin, TX 78766 — Item #15 - Action — Advisory Committee Rules Amendments — Big Bend Ranch State Park Task Force — Executive Director Advisory Committees — Testify — Against
Ellis Gilleland, “Texas Animals”, P. O. Box 9001, Austin, TX 78766 — Item #19 — Action Land Donation — Brewster County (Acceptance of Donation of a 10-Acre Inholding in Black Gap Wildlife Management Area) — Testify — for
David Wetzel, Texas Bighorn Society, 230 Irby Lane, Irving, TX - Item #19 — Action Land Donation — Brewster County (Acceptance of Donation of a 10-Acre Inholding in Black Gap Wildlife Management Area) — Testify — For
Charles Woleoti, Texas Bighorn Society, 3832 Hanover, Dallas, TX 75229 - Item #19 — Action Land Donation — Brewster County (Acceptance of Donation of a 10-Acre Inholding in Black Gap Wildlife Management Area) — Testify - For
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Come on in. Take a seat, please. The meeting is called to order. Before proceeding with any business, Mr. Cook, you have a statement to make.
MR. COOK: 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 of the Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of this meeting.
I want to go over, for a few minutes here, for our visitors and guests who would like to speak, a few of our ground rules for the meeting. One of the main things we try to do is to make sure that everyone who wants to speak to the Commission on an agenda item has that opportunity.
So these are the ground rules that we will follow. An individual wishing to speak before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission must first fill out and sign a speaker registration form for each item on the agenda to 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 out here at the front table in the lobby area for everyone wishing to speak. The Chairman will call the 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. The Chairman will also try to call an on-deck person, who is coming up next, so that you can get out and get ready to come up.
When you get to the podium, 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 that time on this handy dandy little thing right here. And you know, it will go through about two minutes of green, about a minute of so of orange, and then it gets red. So when you see the red, or when you see me kind of going like that, well, you will know your time is up.
Your time may be extended if the Commission asks you a question during your presentation, or asks for some information. No problem there. That time will not be counted against you.
Statements that 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 from the meeting.
If you would like to submit written materials to the Commissioners, please give them to Carole Hemby or Michelle Klaus, sitting here to my right, and they will pass that information to the Commission. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Bob.
First up is approval of the minutes of the previous meeting, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Brown, second by Bivins. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion carries. The next, acceptance of donations, which has also been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Holt, second by Friedkin. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion carries. Next are the service awards and special recognition. Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As you know, at each of our meetings, we take a few minutes up front to recognize employees who have served the Agency and the State of Texas dutifully for years. And we appreciate that opportunity, and we hope that the audience enjoys this pause.
First of all, we have one retirement certificate this morning, and it is a very special person. Out of the Wildlife Division, Carolyn Vogel, Program Specialist VI, Austin, Texas with 31 years of service. Carolyn Vogel is a product of five generations farming and ranching family in Gillespie County.
If you have ever driven the road between Stonewall and Fredericksburg, you have went right by the farm and right by the peach orchards. And I can't go by those peach orchards without stopping. And I imagine that is true of most of you all, when the peaches are in season.
She began her career with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department working summers in the state parks. She graduated from Texas A&M University in 1976. She began her full-time career with TPWD at McKinney Falls State Park, then transferring to Goliad State Historic Site, Landmark Inn State Historic Site, then to LBJ State Park and Historic Site as assistant superintendent.
She later served in La Porte as the park's regional director before coming to Austin as chief of operations for the State Park Division. Carolyn's last position in state parks was in the Land Acquisition Program.
In the mid-1990s, the Commission and the Agency looked to enhance programs for private landowners and Carolyn began getting educated and providing education on various conservation methods. When it became apparent that working with the holders of a conservation easements was the next best step, Carolyn helped create and is now the coordinator of the Texas Land Trust Council, in the Wildlife Division.
The Texas Land Trust Council, which was incubated by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department received its 501(c)(3) non-profit determination in 2003, and will open its doors in early 2006 as an independent self-sustaining organization separate from the Agency. Carolyn will head up this new organization.
Carolyn sits on a number of national committees working to build stewardship and organizational capacity of land trust organizations throughout the country. Retiring with 31 years of service in state government, Carolyn Vogel.
MS. VOGEL: Thank you.
MR. COOK: In our service awards, from Inland Fisheries Division, a gentleman that most of you have met and heard from, David Campbell, Manager III at Athens, Texas, with 40 years of service. David Campbell's career with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spans four decades, and exemplifies a level of dedication, commitment and perseverance that is rare indeed.
David began his career with the Department in 1965 as a fish hatchery assistant at the Lewisville State Fish Hatchery and worked his way up to hatchery manager at the Tyler fish hatchery, and later, the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. He had raised and stocked literally millions of fish in Texas waters.
Little did he realize that in 1973, a trip to Florida to collect Florida large-mouth bass would elevate trophy fishing in Texas forever, and earn him the nickname the Godfather of Big Bass. David began producing and stocking pure Florida bass as an experiment to increase the size of trophy bass in Texas.
By the early 80s, these efforts begin to pay off as the 13.5 pound state record that had existed since 1943 was broken four times. Then one day in November of 1986, Mark Stevenson caught a 17.67-pound bass out of Lake Fork named Ethel that shattered all previous records, garnered nationwide media coverage, and changed fishing in Texas forever.
With Ethel, the ShareLunker Program was born, and catch-and-release conservation became the way of life for trophy bass fishermen. As the only coordinator of the ShareLunker Program, David personally picks up many of the fish from anglers himself.
He drives an average of 4,000 miles every year. That has got to be a mis-type. It has got to be 40,000 miles every year. I know David. And much of them at night, and into the early morning hours, bringing back fish quickly and in the best possible condition.
Since its beginning, there have been 392 entries in the ShareLunker Program. David's insight has not only given TPWD the largest collection of data on big bass in the world, but has earned David the respect and admiration of anglers and outdoor writers alike. With 40 years of service, David Campbell.
MR. COOK: Mr. Campbell, thank you, sir.
Next from the — okay. I am sorry that Dale Martin is not here. Dale is our program supervisor over at La Grange at the state park over there, and was not able to make it as yet. So we'll pass on that. Thank you.
Next, we have an award to be given, the Texas Officer of the Year, which is an award given by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Each year, the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies recognizes a game warden from each of the 17 member states as Officer of the Year. This marks the 36th year of this award, and has been presented, that this award has been presented to a deserving Texas game warden. The Texas Officer of the Year for 2005 is Jim Ballard, who graduated from the 41st Texas Game Warden Training Academy on December 22, 1988. His first duty station was and still is Pottsboro in Grayson County. During Jim's career, he has continued to be a leader among his peers. Jim always displays a positive and can-do attitude in all assignments.
Early on in his career, Jim teamed up with the ag teachers at area schools to assist in coordinating area youth programs that included not only hunting and fishing activities, but those activities required at the school. Jim has also worked with area coordinators to provide wardens for school ride-along programs that help convey the importance of protecting natural and cultural resources, along with understanding law enforcement in general.
Patroling at Border Lake requires Jim to be knowledgeable of Texas laws and Oklahoma laws. On June 4, 2005, Ballard directed a team of wardens in approaching fishermen shocking fish on the Red River. Eight individuals were arrested for taking fish by illegal means and methods. The fines and civil restitution that were assessed, were assessed at $33,000 for 52 catfish.
As an enforcement officer, Jim is consistently a leader among his peers in the enforcement of boating laws, including boating while intoxicated statutes, and rescue and recovery operations. Jim has worked hard to develop a relationship with local law enforcement to maintain a group effort for working public water in his area of responsibility. He has worked hard to improve the Lake Texoma Game Warden station as a staging area for all types of water-related enforcement activity.
On Memorial weekend, Jim received a call from the Grayson County Sheriff's Department about a boating accident on Lake Texoma with possible occupants overboard. At the time, Jim was at the game warden's station located on the lake where his patrol boat was already launched and on standby for emergency use.
After boarding his boat, he proceeded to the area in darkness, being very cautious, with his emergency lights activated to alert other boaters or traffic in the area that there was an emergency. Jim began to periodically stop, shut his craft down, and listen for cries of help.
After 15 minutes, he was able to find three persons in life jackets floating where their boat had sunk. Thanks to Jim, all three occupants of the downed vessel were rescued and taken to safety. Actions and results like these give me great pleasure in recognizing Game Warden Jim Ballard as a 2005 Texas Officer of the Year for the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Jim.
MR. COOK: Well done, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Give those folks any time that they need that were just here for the service awards to leave, and anyone else coming in. I would also like inform the audience that everyone is welcome to testify on the various action items today, but I would suggest that you would avoid comments that are merely duplicative. I would suggest three or four people to make your collective comments either for or against the proposal.
The first order of business is Item 1, approval of a revised agenda, which we have here before us, a briefing on the current status of the Texas State Railroad has been added as a new agenda Item 2. Item 17, pursuant to our meeting yesterday among Committee, the proposed deer permit rules have been withdrawn.
And Item 18, a briefing on the TxDoT Parks and Wildlife mitigation agreement has also been withdrawn. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Commissioner Holt. Second by Friedkin. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion carries. Item 2, we have a briefing. The current status of the Texas State Railroad. Walt?
MR. DABNEY: Chairman and Commissioners, Good morning. My name is Walt Dabney, State Park Director. This year, the State Park Division is experiencing some budget challenges. We had to eliminate 73 positions across the State, and that affected our operations in approximately 50 state park units.
I met on January 17 with citizens, approximately 177 of them in Palestine, to talk about one of those sites that was affected, which is the Texas State Railroad. We have been requested to have a delegation from Palestine to talk to you about the Texas State Railroad in Palestine. Judge McKinney, the county judge from that area is here with a delegation of folks to speak to you.
We also have in the audience our regional director, Ellen Buchanan, and our Texas State Railroad superintendent, Robert Crossman here, as well as myself, if you have questions about this. And with that, I would like to introduce Judge McKinney to speak to you and introduce his delegation.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Walt.
Welcome, Judge McKinney. Good to have you here. And I believe, next up after the Judge we have Dale Brown; be ready.
Welcome, Judge. Good to have you here.
MR. MCKINNEY: Thanks, Mr. Dabney. Good morning, Chairman Fitzsimons and Commissioners. I am Carey McKinney, county judge for Anderson County. And it is an honor be before you today on behalf of Anderson and Cherokee County.
We would like to thank you for the opportunity to come and appear today and talk with you about the Texas State Railroad, which was recognized by the Legislature in 2003 as the official railroad of Texas. We continue to be a partner with you in preserving what the Discovery Channel described as the only active operating railroad museum in the world.
Here with me today is Mayor Suzanne McCarty from Rusk. And also presenters will be Charles Hassell, President of the Rusk Industrial Foundation and Steve Presley, councilman for the City of Palestine. I think they are standing in the back.
At this time, I would like to ask the Anderson-Cherokee County delegation to stand for just a minute. Okay. Thank you. Commissioners, we brought a small delegation with us, but there is a great deal of support back home in our home counties.
And we appreciate your commitment to the quality of life and the preservation of history and our state parks for the State of Texas and future generations. At this time, I will turn the presentation over to Charles Hassell from Rusk.
MR. HASSELL: Thank you, Judge.
Good morning. I am Charles Hassell, president of Rusk Industrial Foundation from Cherokee County. Chairman Fitzsimons and Commissioners and all my good friends at Parks and Wildlife Department, we thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Texas State Railroad.
But most importantly, thank you for the fine job you are doing in managing our state parks. Texas State Railroad is the keystone of tourism industry for Anderson-Cherokee County and all of East Texas. The 2004 ridership was approximately 53,000. In 2005, it was approximately 57,000, an increase of around 4,000. Anderson and Cherokee County are dedicated to continue to increase ridership every year.
According to our 2004 study, Texas State Railroad and Rusk Palestine parks benefitted Anderson and Cherokee County sales by $5 ½ million, and approximately 160 jobs were created. Based on sales, we are proud of the fact that the number-one park system gift shop in Texas is located at the Texas State Railroad. And the Texas State Railroad has held this ranking for the last two years.
Palestine and Rusk support tourists with hotel, motel, bed and breakfast rooms. And Palestine has approximately 563 rooms. Rusk has approximately 125 rooms. A large portion of motel rooms, and over 50 percent of the ridership is from the Palestine depot.
We believe the decrease in ridership will be much greater than projected; therefore, financial losses for 2006, we believe, may be greater than 2005 by having the cutbacks. Texas State Railroad is an international tourist destination. A prime example of this is Robby Knievel's train jump a few years ago, numerous movies filmed on location, and the worldwide internet.
We recognize the entire park system needs attention, and we respect the difficult job you have. The recent actions to the Texas State Railroad in the way of cuts have effectively shut down the Palestine park, and we believe eventually will shut down the Rusk park.
Anderson and Cherokee Counties are dedicated to continue our 30-year relationship by working with Parks and Wildlife in seeking additional funding from the Legislature in order to meet our long-term financial needs. Texas parks are a major asset to the State of Texas economy with an impact on the economy of over $1 billion. For the short term, we beg you to help us reinstate the necessary resources, to reinstate all train runs from both depots.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before this prestigious Commission. But most importantly, thank you for all you do for the State of Texas. At this time, I would like to introduce Palestine councilman Steve Presley, who will speak. Thank you so much.
MR. PRESLEY: Good morning, and thank you again for listening to us. We know that we need an immediate short-term solution and we need a long-term final solution to our problem. We beg you as Commissioners to help us through this short-term problem, and then we will partner with you to solve the long-term funding and budget issues. In 2002, we committed to increased ridership and revenues at the State Railroad park. Since then, Anderson and Cherokee County have significantly ramped up advertising and promotional efforts with the State Railroad at the core of it.
Here is a map of the area that shows the railroad on it, that is from the county. Here is one from the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Friends of the State Railroad park. Here is the Texas State Railroad article in this magazine right here. Chamber of Commerce with the railroad on it. Cherokee County with the railroad on it. Even commercial ventures that use things from the railroad and others.
And the Anderson and Cherokee County joint effort for last year was something over $160,000, again, in advertising and promotion. Again with the railroad at the core of that.
Another thing that we have done, is that the Friends of the Texas State Railroad have helped raise money to air-condition cars. I understand that three cars have been air-conditioned so far. A fourth is scheduled to be done this summer.
We provide water, sewer, garbage services free to the park. Palestine provides the rail line that connects the park system to the commercial rail system. And special runs have been organized out of Palestine that last year provided another 4,000 — over 4,000 riders to the systems.
All together, the ridership has increased about 40 percent in the last four years. We want to tell you that we are passionate about our railroad. We will do what it takes to increase ridership and revenues if you will give us a chance.
We will help the Parks and Wildlife Department obtain legislative funding and provide all the local effort necessary to make the project successful. We worked with you in the past, and will work well with you in the future. Had we known this issue was so critical, we would have come before you a year ago.
We want to explore all of the long-term possibilities with you, and that we feel can only completely be explored if we have a fully operating railroad. We ask that runs and staff continue to be based in Palestine as they were in 2005. We also ask that you consider increasing runs, as we have riders and revenues grow.
As usual in business, if you want to stop losses or increase some income, you increase your revenues while you are holding your fixed costs the same, not try to make that have the cutbacks, and expect things to get better. We also ask to be included in long term, in discussions to begin immediately to fully explore long-term solutions.
The Texas State Railroad is internationally recognized as a symbol of Texas, and we want to help keep it that way. We thank you for your time. What questions do you have of us?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Montgomery?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: A quick question on the line of thinking; of the 50,000-plus visitors a year, have you all done origin data studies to determine how many of them come from outside the immediate area. And have you investigated hotel motel tax, since there has been a tourism benefit that you are describing here?
MR. PRESLEY: To my knowledge, there is not a record kept of where they are coming from. The data we have is anecdotal, which indicates that a huge number do come from outside of the area. A large number from Dallas and Houston areas, particularly for the special trains. But we have riders from all over the world, really, that come in.
And we see that, I hear that through the reports from bed and breakfasts and the motels in the area. But to my knowledge, there is not a separate log kept of areas of origin of the riders.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Hotel motel tax; have you looked into a hotel motel tax as a way to help with the funding?
MR. PRESLEY: No. But we are open to exploring any kind of possibilities that exist, for sure. And we would just like to sit and meet with you and decide what needs to be done.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: My sense is that a modest hotel motel tax would have no impact on the occupancy, but if there is a direct benefit, it is a way of putting effectively a user fee to help support the asset that is benefitting the immediate area.
MR. PRESLEY: Surely. And it does benefit the immediate area.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes.
MR. PRESLEY: As when they have a movie there, for example, everything fills up, for sure.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Holmes?
MR. PRESLEY: Oh, this is the City Manager, Dale Brown. And our Convention, Visitors Bureau, Susan Leonard. And our hotel motel tax fund is being used to pay for a lot of this advertising that does go to support the railroad.
Plus, it pays for their office where they field — they and the Chamber of Commerce field thousands of calls every year that we refer back into the 800 number for you. So we are —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. But not any funds towards operations, which is where the budget problem is.
MR. PRESLEY: No funds towards — yes. Exactly.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Holmes?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I appreciate the —
MS. LEONARD: There is a direct correlation between the railroad and the sales and occupancy tax. I mean, we do get calls from all over the world and other countries.
MR. PRESLEY: Yes. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I appreciate the passion that you have for the railroad, and I know that it is an economic generator, and it is really important to your community. And we see by the support that you have in the audience and in the Legislature that it is really important.
MR. PRESLEY: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: One of the things that we have looked at in Parks and Wildlife is trying to figure out where our mission is being accomplished, and where it is not. And there are certain assets that have been operated by this Department for many years, that are not a park and don't have much to do with wildlife.
One of the projects that we undertook a year or so ago was the Nimitz museum in Fredericksburg. There was significant public support in Fredericksburg for the Nimitz and around the state. And we worked with the Legislature to transfer the operating budget and operations of that museum to their local group.
MR. PRESLEY: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I think that this is a candidate to be considered for that. It doesn't really, in my judgment, fit within the mission of Parks and Wildlife. And I would like to help work with Senator Staples, who is a fine representative from your area.
MR. PRESLEY: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And a friend, certainly of yours and of mine, and of this Department. And we would like to work with Senator Staples to figure out a way that this could be funded more locally. Because that is really where the benefit is derived.
I think it is important to realize that as general revenues have been reduced for this Department, it is not a reduction in a budget increase. It is an actual cut. And that gets spread around the state. And the railroad has not been singled out.
MR. PRESLEY: I understand.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: These are very broad cuts. I think Walt said that there were 50 different parks that had reductions in their staffing and budget. And so it is a very difficult time.
The fact that this really doesn't fit within the mission of Parks and Wildlife. I think, really we would like to work with you to figure out how you can help operate and fund it.
MR. PRESLEY: We were very interested in that.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Yes. I don't see how it is going to get better unless there are very dramatic increases from general revenue into this Department, to operate the parks. And so I would volunteer to help you with that. But I think it is not realistic to think that budget is going to be maintained or even increased, in light of the fact that this Department is making reductions across the board.
MR. PRESLEY: Well, we think the same thing is going to happen. We see the handwriting on the wall. We have struggled from session to session to wonder if we are going to get funding to fund the railroad.
And probably the solution does lie, and it being turned over to local control, being privatized, or whatever you want to — some form of that, and whatever method that means in the long term. But we also feel that to be able to fully explore those possibilities that we really needed — that we increase our chances of having that done successfully if it is a fully operating system that is continuing to show increases in ridership, rather than one that we have had big cutbacks.
We think that this cutback that has been started now, with the rides running out of Rusk will give us maybe a much larger percentage drop in ridership than has been projected. If so, it is going to be much more difficult for us to make that transition over into private control or local control. And so we think that if we can use this year to make that — to finish making plans for transition, we will.
We have already begun the work at our end in exploring possibilities that we can do to develop that. But it is not something that we can develop this quickly before — in time to have some meaningful information for you today.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And I appreciate that. I think you are probably right. That it might — that if you have fewer runs, you are going to have fewer riders. And I think that is a pretty logical conclusion. Having said that, I think what it highlights is the need to move very quickly.
MR. PRESLEY: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Is there a local 501(c)(3) that is a candidate for supporting the railroad?
MR. PRESLEY: Yes. Not only do we have the Friends of the Texas State Railroad, but we have a local foundation that is an umbrella organization that is set up specifically to fund — to work with a group that can come in and immediately use their 501(c)(3) designation to work on a project such as this. That — we have a foundation that is set up just for that.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: You know, the local support for the Nimitz was really pretty dramatic. I mean, they had already raised $3 million or $4 million. They were going to raise that much more again.
And I am not suggesting amounts that are appropriate for the railroad. But I think you need to believe that there is enough local support that you can raise something in those magnitude of dollars.
And otherwise, I don't see how you are going to have the support to make it actually operate in front of the deficits. But if you can poll your community and figure out where your base of support is, then I think we have a chance to make that transition and make it smoothly.
MR. PRESLEY: We have the ability to raise funds within that range. We just did the YMCA. There is a brand new YMCA that just had a huge expansion on it, that has over the last few years, we spent more than that, and just raised funds to develop that for the community.
And so, that is just on the Palestine end. So the Cherokee County end would be able to contribute as well. So I think that is within the realm of possibility for us.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Well, I don't mean to just direct this at Palestine.
MR. PRESLEY: That is fine. I am glad for you to.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I think it is really the area of influence.
MR. PRESLEY: Yes, it is.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And the area of support. And I would welcome the opportunity to help you work on that.
MR. PRESLEY: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think you can see you have got strong support in this Commission for to find a solution to this problem. I want to make clear though, that as Commissioner Holmes said, the railroad and the community of Palestine were not singled out.
The reality is, that when you have budget cuts coupled with escalating costs, and you lay that across 124 state parks, and one of them is a 19th-century railroad that has huge operating costs, then it is logical that a disproportionate amount of cuts are going to come from the highest cost operation. That is just economic reality.
So I don't want anyone to feel that this was a singling out of the railroad. Those people work very hard. I think Walt has made a presentation to explain to you how hard they have worked to keep things going. But in light of that budget reality, it is where we are.
The money is not there to run an operation in a safe manner, then you just can't do it. Now having said that, your Senator and your State Rep are working very hard to find to find a solution. Not only to this problem, but it is very important to remember, we can't do this one park at a time.
MR. PRESLEY: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We need a solution for our statewide park system.
MR. PRESLEY: And are willing to —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We got into this problem because of a certain amount of parochialism of only saving whatever park happened to be in the ditch at the moment. So these communities that have all benefitted are going to have to be serious about helping us find solutions for the statewide system.
And as Commissioner Holmes says, those that are appropriate for different management or operation will find some solutions to that. But your State Rep Byron Cook and your Senator Todd Staples are working very hard to pursue that statewide solution.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I want to thank you for coming down here and sharing this information with the entire Commission. Whether or not the Texas State Railroad is a true part of our mission is debatable.
I also would like to share with the Commission that I think that the camping facilities on the Rusk end of the state park runs what, maybe about 71,000 campers through there, at the last count that I read. And I think that tying in the Rusk State Park end of it does fit, in my opinion, the mission of our parks end of it.
So with that, I want to say that I will personally support you on everything that you try to do to enhance the railroad from both ends of the railroad. And I think that it is a given that we must work with the State Legislature.
And I have had personal phone calls from Representative Byron Cook, your State Representative. And I know that Byron is working this week here in Austin along with Senator Staples. But Representative Cook has given me his word that he is going to do everything to not only help folks with the railroad in Anderson and Cherokee County but also he is going to dedicate himself.
This is what we have to have in the final word. We have got to either decide if we are going to fund our state park system and create a magnificent state park system or are we going to be happy being 49th in the nation in our parks system.
I am not a native Texan. I am like Mirabeau B. Lamar, and Stephen F. Austin, and Davy Crockett. I got here as quick as I could. And I do not like to be near the bottom of any pack.
And I think that if we can put our shoulders to the wheel during this coming Legislature, we will find a solution. And that is where the solution lies, an entire park system. And that is the halls downtown.
MR. PRESLEY: We absolutely agree. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much, and I applaud the support you have in your community. I mean you people are addressing this the way it should be, from the ground up. And we are here to work with you. Did I skip anybody who was signed up to speak?
MR. HASSELL: Chairman, I just wanted to say that we are here to work with you. We understand the reason for the cuts. And we want to work with your staff and our legislators to come up with a solution. And we certainly understand the difficult task that you have. But thank you very much for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. I really appreciate your support.
MR. PRESLEY: We do feel that we could be a good example for you, of showing how that community state partnership can really act as an example for your parks across the entire state, to increase support and funding both.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think you have already done that. And I look forward to working with you to get a solution. Thank you very much.
MR. PRESLEY: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Walt?
MR. DABNEY: Chairman, any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Walt on this item?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moving right along —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Excuse me, Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ned. Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Walt, just for the record, why don't you tell us what the projected budget is for this year, and what the shortfall is. What the expenses are, what the revenues are, and what the shortfall is.
MR. DABNEY: Okay. The budget right now at the railroad is approximately $2 million. To do, to run it right, and the conversation we had the other day, we need another $2.6 million this year, and about 1.7 next year to bring the personnel back and to do some of the regular track maintenance and stuff that we need to be doing. So it is a big piece of money.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And the revenues.
MR. DABNEY: The revenues have — what are they now, Ron? Right at a million dollars. The difference, for years, the loss and that is a loss on an inadequately funded railroad, the loss was about a $1 1/2 million. It is down to about 1.1 as the delegation said.
We have done things like kids ride free, a lot of work from Palestine and Rusk in trying the marketing. We have increased ridership. But it is still a very — it is a wide margin between what it costs us to operate it, and what it actually brings in, in direct revenue.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: In order to handle the deferred maintenance and bring back the additional personnel, the rough number is about $4 million. Is that what I —
MR. DABNEY: We would have to — to do the capital work that we need to do, the major track maintenance and all that we need to do would be about $4 1/2 million on top of our operation right now for the next five years, tapering off to $2 1/2 million or $3 million after that, after we have gotten 15 miles or actually 18 miles of track and cross-ties replaced and all the cross-ties replaced for the whole track, we are talking about 4.5 for the next five years and then —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: 4.5 per year?
MR. DABNEY: Per year. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Per year, on top of —
MR. DABNEY: On top of the $2 million. So you are talking about $6 1/2 million operation that will be generating somewhere between a million and maybe $2 million. And that has no measure as to the impact in the local community of the economic value. That is just strictly us running the operation.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Dabney, I understand the numbers are high for the Texas State Railroad. But is the rest of the park system, is it flush with money across the State, for the rest of the park system?
MR. DABNEY: No, sir. We are significantly underfunded. That is why we have cut back these operations and fifty sites, and eliminated this first round of positions.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So this is — the Rusk State Railroad is not the only problem that we have.
MR. DABNEY: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay. Thank you.
MR. DABNEY: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Walt.
Any other questions for Walt?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Walt, thanks for your hard work on this. I know it has been a tough one.
MR. DABNEY: Yes, sir. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Next up, we have a briefing Item 3, Operation Game Thief. Buddy Turner.
MR. TURNER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. Thank you for allowing me to be here with you today, and on behalf of Operation Game Thief Committee Chairman Ray Bailey who is not able to be here today due to pressing business, and Operation Game Thief Committee, it is my pleasure to update you on the Operation Game Thief program.
Operation Game Thief was authorized in 1981 by Acts of the 67th Legislature. Its purpose is to assist game wardens in their fighting an ongoing battle against poaching in this State. The program provides a 24-hour reward hotline that is toll-free, seven days a week for the reporting of violations.
The reports that come in on this toll-free line provide critical timely information to which game wardens can immediately respond. The program allows callers to remain anonymous if they so choose, and provides a reward for up to $1,000 upon conviction for a violation.
The program is statutorily dependent upon private funding. Initially, this was a problem; that we just didn't have the money to pay rewards to do anything. At that time, the Houston and Dallas Safari Clubs and the Aransas Rod and Reel Club stepped up with money to get the program going.
Thereafter, success was immediate. Widespread illegal commercial netting that threatened certain fish populations along the coast were curtailed over time. And the information provided through the program led to numerous significant apprehensions and convictions involving blatant over-harvest of large numbers of wildlife species across the state.
Operation Game Thief has since evolved into one of the nation's premier wildlife crime stoppers program. We average 1,500 calls a year.
Over half of those callers request a reward. But significantly, of those that provide sufficient information that the Game Warden can actually make a case, well under half of those folks ask for a reward; they just want to see folks caught.
We try to get the word out as best we can about the program across the state, to the public about our toll-free line and the reward availability by posting the number on our hunting and fishing licenses that are sold, and also in various brochures. To assist further, when game wardens are having a particular problem developing the information on a case, we will print up something kind of like the old reward posters that the Sheriffs had in years ago. And that is what we in fact call them, is reward posters or reward flyers.
The one you see on the right on your screen is from a case in 2000, December of 2000, where a large number of antelope were killed in Dallam County by running them over with vehicles and shooting them. They also ran through fences and set fires.
Wardens were having difficulty getting the information on this case. We posted this reward poster in the community. And immediately, information began to come in. And from those calls, the game wardens made cases on ten individuals. The fines were $23,500 and civil restitution assessed was $12,600.
The case, the reward poster that is on your left, you will notice the amount there is $3,500. $2,500 of that is from the Bald Eagle Protection Fund, in conjunction with Operation Game Thief's $1,000 offering. This is on the killing of a mature bald eagle in Van Zandt County late last year. That case remains open.
We also use billboards at various times across the state to promote the program. And this is a representation of two of the themes that are out there right now.
You have all seen the Operation Game Thief Wall of Shame, the 25-foot enclosed exhibit trailer that we take to various places around the state. We have had it here at Expo and other places. Last year, the Committee voted to fund ten additional trailers, 16 feet, but patterned after this trailer. And those are in each law enforcement region of the state now.
Some of them are completed and some are still under work. They will be — they will house representation of the kinds of violations that occur in that particular region. So that is a big step for us.
We also have the privilege in Operation Game Thief, since 1991, of paying a death benefit. This is a 16-foot trailer that I failed to show you. To pay a death benefit, since 1991, to the surviving spouse of record of any Game Warden or Park Peace Officer employed by the Department killed in the line of duty.
We have had two such instances. In 2001, Game Warden Michael Pauling was killed in the line of duty. And in 2003, Game Warden Wesley Wagstaff was killed in the line of duty.
Within hours of the death of those individuals, we were able to place in the hands of the respective surviving spouse a $10,000 check from Operation Game Thief. This is a real significant capability that it provides for immediate financial needs that occur before regular benefits kick in. And as you know, those can be substantial.
In 2005, the Legislature passed House Bill 2034. This was sponsored in the House by Representative Harvey Hildebran, and I believe Todd Kercheval from his office is here today. We appreciate their efforts. It was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Craig Estes.
This also is a significant milestone for the program. And that previous to the passage of this bill, there were a number of statutes set our guys were making cases on with information from people in the public out there, but we couldn't offer a reward on it.
For instance, the boating while intoxicated statute was passed after the Operation Game Thief statute, so it wasn't included. Penal Code laws were also not included. But with passage of this bill, we can now offer a reward on these specific statutes, boating while intoxicated, intoxication assault, criminal trespass, arson in state parks, Antiquities Code violations, certain pollution violations, and then all Texas Parks and Wildlife Code violations.
The passage of this bill also gave Operation Game Thief Committee more latitude to support game wardens in their enforcement efforts, through the pursuit of applicable new and emerging technologies. In keeping with that, the Committee voted last year to fund a $20,000 grant to facilitate the accreditation of our Wildlife Forensics Lab in San Marcos. This was to pay for a partial equipment purchase, software and training.
When this process is completed and the accreditation is achieved later this year, ours will be the only Wildlife Forensics Lab that is accredited in the United States with the exception of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Lab in Ashland, Oregon. We can use the lab, but their threshold for cases submitted is pretty high, so there would be a lot of things we wouldn't be able to get analyzed. There is also a real significant backlog in using that one.
The Operation Game Thief Committee itself is appointed by Mr. Cook. The staggered six year terms, Chairman Ray Bailey from Houston is currently leading the Committee. He is joined by former Chairman Art Gara and Bob McBee, members Gib Lewis, Joe McBride, Bob Harper, Tony Houseman, Larry McGinness, Byron Barbet, Sheldon Hale, and Chairman Emeritus, Harry Tennison. And I want you to know these folks do a phenomenal job giving of their personal time and resources in support of this program. I can't say enough about them.
Our funding for the program comes from private donations and grants, sale of merchandise and memberships, and two major fund-raising activities. The slide before you now shows last year's Claystopper's Event we call it, down at a local gun club.
We are doing it again this year, on the last Friday in April. We would love to have you come out. We promise we won't get you too hot. We didn't lose anybody last year. We won't lose you if you will come out and join us this year. A good time was had by all, and we raised a good bit of money.
Our second event is the Bandana Ball. This is our fifth year to do the Bandana Ball in Houston. We had the pleasure, thanks to the Department and Mr. Cook and the Wildlife Division of auctioning a Texas Bighorn Sheep permit. That was a pretty interesting thing to watch.
We had two phone bidders from out of state, but they fell out about halfway through. When it got past $40,000, I think they decided they weren't going to get the bargain they were looking for. And it was bought by a local resident for $85,000. And we were proud to have that.
By the way, Ms. Loney does a fine job with her steering committee that she puts together to bring together the hunts and fishing trips for this deal. And again, we would like to invite you all to come out to that. Mr. Chairman, we sure appreciated you being there last time. I felt like you had a good time, and we would like to have you back again this year.
That concludes my presentation. I would be happy to entertain any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Buddy. I will tell you, it was a great fundraiser, and hard to argue with selling a Sheep permit for $85,000.
I do want to mention though, though, the work of the Texas Bighorn Society. They are phenomenal. Just like your Operation Game Thief Board; it is all volunteer.
MR. TURNER: Yes. Absolutely. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Buddy. Next up, Item 4, briefing on grant program update. Tim Hogsett.
MR. HOGSETT: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. I am Tim Hogsett, Director of the Recreation Grants program in the State Parks Division. When I came before you in August with grant-funding proposals, it was noted that there was far less money available for us to make grants from the Texas Recreation and Parks account.
At your direction, we would have gone back to our constituency and asked them where they thought changes need to be made as a result of those reductions. Here is the picture, in terms of funding. In fiscal years 2002, 2003, we had an excess of $20 million in the Texas Recreation and Parks account, to make grants for our various programs.
That was reduced by the Legislature in the 2004-2005 biennium to approximately $13 million, and then was further reduced by this last session of the Legislature to a little over $5.6 million. In light of going back to our constituency, we decided that probably the best course of action was for us as a staff to consider what changes first we thought might be prudent, and then go out and ask for opinions on those, and if there were any other changes that needed to be made.
We sent out over 2,000 invitations to our various people that we work with to comment on the proposals that the staff made. And these were the options that we asked them to consider; limiting the grant programs to outdoor grant program, reviewed only one per fiscal year; reduce the maximum project grant share for the outdoor program from $500,000 to $400,000; postpone regional grant program reviews until adequate funding is restored; limit the community outdoor outreach programs to only one review per year, or make no changes.
We did, frankly, get a lot of response. We got 30 constituents that actually responded back to us. And as a result of those, and of staff further consideration, we are proposing that we indeed reduce the outdoor grant program to one per year, with the next deadline, instead of being January as it typically is, January 31, slide that to July 31 of 2006, and in effect have one large grant review for the Outdoor Program for fiscal year 2006. We are also recommending that we reduce the maximum amount of award from $500,000 to $400,000 for the Outdoor Program. We are proposing to put the Regional Park Grant Program on the shelf until adequate funding is available.
And then finally, reduce the Community Outdoor Outreach Program reviews to one per year, where they have typically been two per year. And I would be glad to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Any questions for Tim?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Tim, do you need action from us today on this?
MR. HOGSETT: I don't believe so, no.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay. All right. So it is strictly advisory.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Any questions from the Commission?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay. Thank you very much. We will move on to the next agenda Item 4. motorized trail grant, Crockett County. Tim?
MR. HOGSETT: Let me get my audio-visual aids going here. Thank you. This morning, we are proposing funding for a project, a motorized trail project near Ozona, in Crockett County, from the National Recreation Trail Grant Program.
A little background about that program. It funds both motorized and non-motorized recreation trails. These are federal funds, pass-through. They are funds that are from the gasoline tax on off-road vehicle use. And there is a requirement in the law that 30 percent of the funds that we receive annually have to go to motorized trail kinds of projects.
Some might ask, why are we in this business? Well, in the 78th Session of the Legislature, Senate Bill 155 was passed, which closed most of the navigable stream beds in the state to motorized vehicle use. That had been a popular activity in many of the particularly South Texas stream beds. It also directed Parks and Wildlife to facilitate development of sites for motor vehicle recreation other than protected freshwater areas.
Then in the 79th Legislature, Senate Bill 1311 was passed, which created an off-road vehicle recreation trail area program that I am going to brief you on in a few minutes. And it directed Parks and Wildlife to establish and maintain a public system of trails and other recreational areas for use by off-road vehicles.
This particular project, with the Texas Motorized Trail Coalition being the non-profit sponsor of a grant application that we are bringing before you today. Actually, they had been looking previous for locations. Found one in 2003 in Uvalde County. It had some primarily access problems, and that project was withdrawn.
They have since found a suitable site of 3,323 acres in Crockett County south of Ozona. This particular application is for site acquisition only. There is no development planned immediately, although there is obviously hope that they will be able to be financially able to develop the property for the off-road recreation use.
Access to this site is via a two-lane county paved road, and there is a deeded easement through a neighboring landowner's property. And that neighboring landowner has reaffirmed the easement in writing to us. No water on the site. All necessary resources clearances will of course be obtained prior to any development. A full development and management plan will be reviewed and approved by the Department prior to any development occurring on this site.
This site is being purchased from a willing seller, and we feel as staff, that this particular acquisition is consistent with the Land and Water Conservation Resource Plan, in a couple of areas; Goal 1, improving access to the outdoors, and Goal 4, increasing participation in outdoor recreation opportunities. In the November meeting, when we first proposed this acquisition, the site, there was some questions about the site.
Neighboring landowners came and testified before you. And you asked us to go back and basically take a little more time and if the landowners wanted to meet with us, give them the opportunity to do so. Indeed, they did.
We met with all except one of the landowners. The landowner that did not meet with us that day, was the one whose deeded easement is the access to the property. And those folks attending, the other neighboring landowners indicated that there were not any conditions under which they would be able to support this project.
This is a graphic representation of the site, also showing the adjacent landowners, and their ranch headquarters. In terms of public participation, we have held two separate public hearings in Ozona. Both of those were well attended.
There are now in excess of 2,000 pieces of correspondence that we have received about this project, with eight of those being opposed. And there has been extensive coverage in the Ozona media.
With that, the staff recommendation for this project is funding for the Motorized Trail Coalition proposal to acquire 3,323 acres in Crockett County for the purposes of developing a public off-highway vehicle recreation area in the amount of $1,359,500 is approved. And I would be glad to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Tim, what was the date of that first public hearing? I am just trying to get an idea of how long —
MR. HOGSETT: It was, I believe, in October. And then the second one was, I believe, was November. September and October, I am sorry.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: September. And then it was on — that was during the public comment period.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: After it had been referred for publication in the Texas Register?
MR. HOGSETT: No, we have not — I am sorry.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It was first published in the Texas Register then, in the summer, I guess?
MR. HOGSETT: Well, it was placed on your agenda in the November Commission meeting. So it was published in the Texas Register prior to us bringing in the proposal to you the first time, in November.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right.
MR. HOGSETT: That is typically the way we do public input.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And what are the conditions on this acquisition? Does it open the day they buy it?
MR. HOGSETT: We propose that we put in the contract itself a provision that there would be no recreational use of the property until the staff of Parks and Wildlife has received and approved an Operations and Development Plan. In other words, no anticipated immediate use of the site.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And Tim, in that development plan, how do you intend to handle the potential for adjacent impacts or impacts on adjacent property through access, visibility, noise, or other issues that are going to get raised? How we going to oversee that process?
MR. HOGSETT: Well, to the extent we can, we are going to make sure that adequate buffers are provided. That adequate security with fence lines are provided. We are going to go through the process of requiring any cultural resource review that is necessary, any natural resource review that is necessary, and any associated permits and approvals that are required by law.
We are going to hopefully be able to work with the neighboring landowners and have their input in terms of impacts and things that they are concerned about as part of that development plan. You know, we are going to do our best to manage this process, to result in what we think will be a credible, well-done recreation venue.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: You are asking for approval to acquire, funding to acquire the land, you will come back with a development plan prior to final approval and actual opening of the park.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, we will.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: You do intend to meet with every adjacent landowner and work with the community.
MR. HOGSETT: We will make that opportunity available to them. Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: You'll work to mitigate any impacts that come from the off-site work there?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And you feel like the access limits the visibility and the noise, and the traffic, and its potential impact on neighboring owners.
MR. HOGSETT: We are hoping that the fact that from the top of the canyon to the bottom of the area is 300 feet down that, to the extent that we can keep the activity, the recreation activities down in that canyon, it will help limit the noise.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I would say privately, I have had the experience of overseeing the effort for the Turnpike Authority of handling sound attenuation walls. And I have learned from the experience that the sound attenuation occurs dramatically as you either drop down, or build barriers up.
So I do think that to the extent that you can confine the vehicular traffic to those low-lying areas with surrounding canyon walls, where it is not going to be heard as a practical matter outside the area. One of the other questions that came up was fencing, and the ability of people in vehicles to get off the site.
Are you confident that the development plan would have complete fencing, so that any activity is confined to this site? So they can't wander off on adjacent properties?
MR. HOGSETT: Well, we really haven't discussed that in detail with the sponsor, but we are going to make sure that adequate security, and limit the opportunity for trespass. I think probably when the folks from the TMTC are up in front of you, that they can give you some more detail on what their plans are on that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Holt?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, thank you. TMTC; have we worked with them before at all?
MR. HOGSETT: We have. We have a project near the City of Gilmer. It is called Barnwell Mountain. It was an acquisition and development project that we made a grant to them for. It has been a very successful operation. It has received a very open-armed community support in Gilmer.
And this, in our view, is a responsible group of folks. And they have a track record of being able to provide a quality recreation facility.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So it is the same group, then, in Gilmer?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes. The same group.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And I assume when it first started out, about buying up that property, the landowners around it were not particularly happy at first?
MR. HOGSETT: They weren't particularly happy about it, no.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. But you then worked with them, TMTC did, also?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And how long have they been operating that facility, roughly? Do you remember?
MR. HOGSETT: Since summer of 2000.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So it has been operating since 2000?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So a pretty good period of time. Thanks, Tim.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other — Ned Holmes?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Tim. Do I recall from the November meeting that this project was supported by the Commissioners Court and the Chamber of Commerce in that area?
MR. HOGSETT: The Chamber of Commerce, yes. The Commissioners Court has not come out on record either way. They have not come out and made a — we don't have any letters or any testimony in any of our public hearings from any of the Commissioners or the Judge.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: One other question, just on the particulars of the acquisition. I think you have made it clear that this is a two-step process. First, acquisition, then the development plan.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: What if — what is the time frame? What if, for some reason they run into a development problem or a planning problem or an environmental problem, or something. Is there a time frame in which this has to be done, or the property reverts, or what happens?
MR. HOGSETT: Well, we plan on putting a reversionary clause in the deed, that basically says that if they are unsuccessful in being able to develop this, that the property actually will revert to the Parks and Wildlife Department. And then we will determine how we will dispose of it.
In terms of timing, these folks are ready to go. I would anticipate that they are going to come back almost immediately with a grant application for the development of this site.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. I am now, then, clear enough. Is there a time limit in which it has to be done for the — you mentioned the reversionary provision.
MR. HOGSETT: We haven't proposed to do that, no. We can.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. Because otherwise, it is an investment. You have got to have had some period.
MR. HOGSETT: Typically, development grants that we do in our other programs, we give folks three to four years. So we can certainly do that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. All right. We have quite a bit of public comment. I am sure, Tim, you will stand by to answer any questions.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: First up, we have Dick Stuart, Secretary of Texas Motorized Trail Coalition.
Leslie Ramirez, you will be next.
Be ready. Mr. Stuart?
MR. STUART: $1.1 million per year. I would like you to remember that number for a minute. My name is Dick Stuart. That is, I am Dr. Dick Stuart. I am a research chemist with Eastman Chemical Company. I have worked for them for 27 years. I have twelve U.S. patents and hundreds of foreign patents.
I am married. I have two children; they're both grown and they both have good jobs. One is a doctor and one is a businessman. But I am not here about that today. I am the Secretary of Texas Motorized Trails, and I want to first thank you for supporting Barnwell Mountain Recreational Area. And I want to talk to you today about the economic impact that that park has had on the County of Upshur and the City of Gilmer.
This past summer, we hired two professors from Stephen F. Austin State University to do an economic impact study with the goals of establishing the socio-demographic characteristics of the people that visit Barnwell Mountain, and to also determine their spending habits when they are at the Mountain. And finally, to look at the total economic impact that Barnwell Mountain has had on the surrounding community.
Now this is a year-long study. We are only six months into it. And the preliminary — I am going to talk about the preliminary results. And typically, a visitor to Barnwell Mountain, that is 50 percent of them make between $51,000 and $100,000 a year. 19 percent of them make over $100,000 a year. And only 6 percent of the people that visit our Mountain make less than $25,000 a year.
78 percent of the people that visit our facility have high school diplomas and 29 percent of them have a college degree or some kind of advanced degree. And of course, 90-plus percent of them are from the State of Texas.
And the average distance that people traveled to come use our facility is 185 miles. So the typical party or group or family that comes and uses our facility spends, on average, $243.75 every time they visit us.
And when I say "spends," that is not to get in our park, that is to buy gasoline. That is to buy a motel. That is to buy food. That is to buy supplies, parts, whatever, whatever tourists would buy.
And on average, and this is for the last six months, on average we have had 85 groups, that is families. This is not individuals, but groups. And so if you do the arithmetic, that is $20,740 a weekend that is brought into Upshur County, or the surrounding communities.
And on an annualized basis, that is $1.1 million. That is of the economic impact that our park is having in that community. That does not include property tax. It doesn't include sales tax rebates. That is strictly money that is brought into the community and left there.
Thank you very much. I appreciate your attention and that is all I really want to say. And again, this is all because of your support.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Stuart. Commissioner Holt.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And how many days are you open? Are you open seven days a week?
MR. STUART: No, sir. We were open, we opened Thursday night, 4:00 in the afternoon, and we remained open Sunday until dusk or dark. So we were open three days. Currently, we have cut back to our winter hours. We open Friday morning at 8:00 and then closed at sundown Sunday.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So pretty much, a weekend operation.
MR. STUART: Yes. It is a weekend park.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And is there a manager on site?
MR. STUART: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Full-time?
MR. STUART: Yes, sir. They live there full-time. So even when we are closed, we have people there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You did mention something that piqued my interest. You mentioned property tax. You organization pays ad valorem property tax?
MR. STUART: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: They do? I was under the impression it was a 501(c)(3).
MR. STUART: We are not. We are negotiating with the IRS to get that designation. We have not obtained it yet. We are in the final review. And we were hopeful that we would have it prior to this meeting, but —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So you will or won't be paying property tax?
MR. STUART: Up to this point, we have paid.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. At Barnwell, you pay property tax. All right. Thanks.
MR. STUART: One final thing, I have got these letters, that I —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, sir. You may give those to Carole there, and she will make sure they are distributed to all the Commissioners.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Chairman, I had a question.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go right ahead, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Do you have medical facilities on site? Tell us how you deal with the injuries.
MR. STUART: We are in Upshur County. We are five miles from the City of Gilmer. Between on the road that leads to our park, EMS has a station. If there is a problem that requires medical attention, we make a phone call, and they come get it. They take care of it.
As it turns out, we also teach DASI Safety Class up there. The man that teaches that is a full-time paramedic. And in the last year, we have had two incidences where a paramedic has showed up at the park. And prior to that, we average one or two a year.
It is a very safe park. The incidents this year, one of them, a lady was riding an ATV, and she did not eat breakfast. Her blood sugar was low, and she passed out. The other incident, I don't recall what it was, but again, it was not serious.
No one — they go the emergency room. They are treated. They are released. They don't stay overnight. We haven't had a major problem.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Have you had any fatalities?
MR. STUART: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Stuart.
We have got quite a few folks to testify. Leslie Ramirez, and then William Haynes be ready.
MS. RAMIREZ: Good morning. My name is Leslie Ramirez. I am from Southeast Texas. We have been motorized enthusiasts since 1994. By 1999, they had closed pretty much everywhere you could possibly think of that you could ride. Angelina no longer allowed any motorized recreation. Sam Houston had some, but really, not enough to sustain the usage that was needed.
A group of us all got together and decided to try and organize. And they told us it wouldn't happen, that ATVers wouldn't work with motorcyclists; motorcyclists wouldn't work with OHV, which is off-highway vehicles and so on and so forth. We all didn't have the same needs, which was wrong.
We all did have the same needs. We needed places to ride. We got together with Parks and Wildlife. They informed us about the Recreational Trails Grant Program. We found Barnwell Mountain.
Any project needs three steps. You need a cause; we needed places to ride. We needed the opportunity; we found Barnwell Mountain. And the means was the Recreational Trails Program. We winged it; we did it.
Barnwell Mountain is the number-one riding place in Texas at this point. The economics speaks for itself. There are still not near enough places to ride. We need more. And we have looked at several properties. We have done everything that was asked of us.
To the extent that we have gone through it at this point, this piece of property in Crockett County in perfect. It is right up there with Barnwell Mountain. We can do wonderful things for their economy. We can provide a place to ride for all the motorized users.
And most of all, we could continue to unite all the motorized enthusiasts, all the disciplines. We have worked well together. We can promote this project with you all's help, we can make it happen and solve a whole lot of problems.
I know the park system here. They get calls, every day. I am sure if you really added them up, it was thousands of calls throughout the year. The same thing with Parks and Wildlife.
I know Angelina gets overran with calls, where can we go ride? We can help take a lot of that off of you guys if you would just allow us to open this property. And we would really appreciate any help that you can have. COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Ms. Ramirez. I appreciate it. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ms. Ramirez, thank you.
William Haynes, next up. And after that, Marty Miller be ready.
MR. HAYNES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Mike Haynes. I am from Marshall, Texas in Harrison County. In deference to Commissioner Parker, I am a seventh-generation Texan. My people got here as quickly as possible from Georgia. It just happened to be 1842 when they came, in Panola County. I am a board of directors member for Texas Motorized Trails Coalition. I have been now for 4 1/2 years. I have rode motorcycles after I got thrown off my last horse in 1972, I changed to something with an engine. My purpose here today is simply to say thank you to this Commission, and Texas Parks and Wildlife for your hard work on behalf of all Texans. My involvement in this organization is based on 35 years of motorcycling in Texas and all across the United States. I am committed to create opportunities for motorized recreation for all Texans.
And again, I thank you again for your time and efforts for all Texans. Since Mr. Stuart didn't understand the last injury, the last injury was a gentleman standing behind a Jeep, helping the driver spot, and the man let his foot off the brake, and the Jeep backed over his foot. That was our second injury last year. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. We appreciate that.
Ms. Miller, and after Marty Miller, Greg Thornton be ready.
MS. MILLER: Good morning, my name is Marty Miller and I am with the Nels Paul Ranch [phonetic]. In 1998, and again in 2002, my husband and I witnessed the horror of the torrential rains and the subsequent raging Guadalupe River which devoured house after house, wiping out many neighborhoods and businesses in New Braunfels and neighboring communities.
The ranching families of Crockett County now face a similar situation, but one of far greater proportions and long-lasting consequences. Our most prized possession is not our house, but the land, which has supported ranching families for generations.
This proposed motorized vehicle park, a recreational activity, a hobby, a pleasant outdoor weekend event now threatens the livelihood of many of the ranchers in attendance today at this meeting. The term "endangered species" is used frequently to address animal or plant life that is on the verge of extinction.
I submit to you that the business of ranching is fast becoming an endangered species. A fluctuating market, a loss of incentive payments, higher costs of feed and fuel, all have a devastating effect on ranching. And to deliberately add a recreational vehicle park to this is just absurd.
The land is ruggedly beautiful, yet ecologically sensitive. We are at the mercy of Mother Nature every day, and consequently have a great respect for the times of welcomed rains and far more frequent droughts. This land is used primarily for hunting and ranching.
The unknown threats of motorized vehicles traversing this land is overwhelming. To use it for any other reason than its primary purpose is something we must all be accountable for. The future and longevity of a priceless heritage is at stake here today.
I ask you to reexamine other alternatives, and surely there must be some. Our Commissioner Holmes spoke earlier of the mission of Texas Parks and Wildlife. Voting for the approval of the motorized vehicle park in Crockett County cannot be compatible with this mission statement of managing and conserving the natural and cultural resources of our great State.
We are all called to be good stewards of what has been given to us. This is a tremendous responsibility. We are doing our part; now you must do yours. Thank you so much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ms. Miller.
Greg Thornton and Jimmy Jones.
MR. THORNTON: Good morning. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address you. I am Greg Thornton, and I am the Vice-Chairman for the Ozona Chamber of Commerce Board. I am here today with our Executive Director, Shannon Biggerstaff and board member Renee Padeer.
We are here to ask the Commission to vote in support of the request from the Texas Motorized Trail Coalition. Five years ago, the Chamber of Commerce brought in an economic development team to Ozona to conduct a strategic-planning session. The Chamber of Commerce has adopted as our plan of action the goals outlined at that session by our citizens.
The top priority was to diversify our local economy by developing tourism as a third industry. This meeting was held in 2001. Since that time, the Chamber secured $154,000 through the TxDoT landscape and construction program to improve the entryways into our community through streetscaping.
In addition, we partnered with the Crockett County Commissioners Court to secure over $1 million in funding through the TxDoT statewide enhancement program, and built a 4,000-square-foot visitors center located at the intersection of I-10 and 163. It opened this month. As a regional tourism initiative, we have partnered with our surrounding counties, and funding has been approved through the Texas Historical Commission Heritage Trails Program to activate the Texas Pecos Trail.
When the Chamber first learned of the project proposed by the Texas Motorized Trail Coalition, we contacted the City of Gilmer and asked how it affected their community. We spoke with the City Councilmen, County officials, the tax appraisal office, the local sheriff, landowners and local businesses.
All responded in the same manner; that the TMTC were good stewards of the land and are cooperative neighbors. All expressed that, initially, there was resistance, and the town questioned the development.
However, since the opening of the park, local hotels, motels, carwashes, restaurants, retail outlets in Gilmer have seen an increase in their business. Local law officials and neighboring landowners say there have been no problems with the group, and over the years, the Barnwell park has since blended and become a part of the community.
The Ozona Chamber of Commerce has worked the past five years to develop and build our local tourism industry. We are a rural community with limited opportunities of growth, and there have been 23 businesses that have sent letters of support, and 50 private individuals.
Not only would the development of this motorized vehicle recreational site in Crockett County complement the efforts of the Chamber, as requested by our citizens, but we are aware of the positive economic impact it would have on all of our local businesses. We respectfully ask that you vote for in favor of this project. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Thornton.
Jimmy Jones, and next up after Mr. Jones, Jack Slack be ready.
MR. JONES: My name is Jimmy Jones. I live in Longview, Texas, and I have been the treasurer for TMTC since early in its inception, in the year 2000. Some of my background; I graduated from Texas A&M in 1975 with a Bachelors of Science degree in accounting. I have been married for 26 years.
I have three children in college now. I have a senior in TCU, a junior at Texas A&M, and a freshman at Texas Tech. Guns up. And I didn't know that until my daughter, when she got her acceptance letter, she comes in: Dad, guns up. Guns up, what does that mean, baby? Guns up, I'm at Texas Tech. A raider. So anyway, so I know a little bit about that stuff.
When I graduated from A&M, I worked as a bank examiner in Houston for two years, and left that job and joined my father in 1979 in the lumber and building material business as the Chief Financial Officer. When I joined, we had two operations, $200,000 in sales and 23 employees.
And last year, we had 18 operations, a little over $84 million in sales and 400-some-odd employees. And when I say 400-some-odd employees, I mean that in every sense of the word. Back to my TMTC stuff. If anybody works with employees, I think you know what I am talking about.
Currently, I am the treasurer. I am responsible for all the accounting, the monthly financial statements, yearly audits, federal, state and local tax returns, accounting compliance requirements on the federal, state and local level. And we have a very functional board of directors.
I have been proud to serve on the Board for the last six years. We run it as a very professional organization. We have worked hard. We have taken big risks. We have employed people. And generally, we contribute to the welfare and the benefit of the area.
Even though we are in the recreational business, the board of directors takes our job very seriously. And I hope you see that today. We are very serious about what we do. We have been very good stewards of the resources that the RTP has given us so far.
And we run TMTC as a legitimate business, and we are very proud of that. We have spent over $100,000 of our own money on this project so far. And I will hope you approve this project and have the confidence in us to continue opening OHV parks in Texas, and working with Texas Parks and Wildlife. Any questions? Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Questions for Mr. Jones?
MR. JONES: Thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I appreciate that.
Mr. Slack, and then Don Miller be ready.
MR. SLACK: Chairman Fitzsimons, gentlemen of the Commission, Director Cook. My name is Jack Slack. I am not used to public speaking. I am a rancher. I am also the Vice-President of TMTC. I've been on the board since 2000, I believe.
And you may ask, why is a rancher who has plenty of opportunities to ride on his own property a member of TMTC, and serve on the board. Well, we are real fortunate Barnwell Mountain came about. And it has some terrain, some beautiful terrain that is just not available other places in the state.
I live in Rusk County. It is predominantly rolling hills. And I saw that opportunity, see that they needed some help. And I decided to get on the board, and see what I could do to help.
And actually, I have been able to do some things, because of my background in ranching. I understand a little bit about erosion control. I understand a little bit about water breaks, putting in siltation ponds, because I have to do that every day.
As a matter of fact, during this big drought — you all understand we are in a serious drought in East Texas — we just got 2-1/4 inches of rain. It is the most rain we have seen since the hurricane came through, Rita — three inches. Anyway, to take advantage of this opportunity, we have been digging out our ponds, so when it does rain, we have a place to put the water.
So we understand about being stewards of the land. That is what I do. I raise cows. I raise calves. I am a grass farmer. We put up [indiscernible]. We normally put up hundreds, almost thousands of rolls of hay every year.
I understand the local ranches, and they think that we are some kind of vermin that are going to come in like locusts. Let me tell you, as long as I am on the board, that is not going to happen. We are responsible people.
We have people on the board like myself who are in the ranching business, understand the needs of our local neighbors, and we will meet those needs. We will be there. We will be good neighbors.
We will not allow fences to be destroyed. We will mark our fences properly. We will help maintain those fences. Because that is what a good neighbor does. And as a rancher I understand that good fences make good neighbors.
We have got a track record, gentlemen. We have got a six-year track record. We have opened and developed a park with your help, and we very much appreciate it. We would like to have an opportunity to do it one more time. And then in the future, after we show another track record, open another one.
I was listening to you earlier, where you have the train. It is a wonderful project, but it runs at a deficit. Our park does not take employees from your staff. We do this as volunteers, hire a little bit of paid help. But we don't take operating funds.
And yet, we do one of the things that you need to do by law, SB 155. We provide off-road opportunities under your aegis. But we do it without coming to you asking for budgetary. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I have one question for you.
MR. SLACK: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: How do you finance those land conservation practices? How do you pay for those?
MR. SLACK: Gate fees, and we have asked for some help in grant resources. As a matter of fact, one of the grants we asked for last year, was for a SWECO trail dozer. It is a small dozer that we can put in water berms to slow —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Those grants come from —
MR. SLACK: From the Recreational Trails fund. So it is federal money.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. Right. You have already paid in. Okay. Thank you.
MR. SLACK: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Don Miller, and then Carol Smith be ready.
MR. MILLER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. I have a confession to make. I was born and raised north of the Mason-Dixon line, and my wife brought me here as soon as possible. And I am glad she did.
I do have one question before I start. On the development plan, will we have input into that? Will that be the same kind of forum as this?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Tim, can you answer that question?
MR. HOGSETT: We want as much input as the neighboring landowners, as the community, anyone affected by this project can give us. We absolutely will give anyone the opportunity for input into that process.
MR. MILLER: If you approve this, I would like for the ranchers to be represented at all the meetings as we go through the development process. That might save some time here. My name is Don Miller.
I am with the Millspaugh Ranch which is about a quarter to a half mile south of the area. And last time, in November, I spoke about fires. And that was a major concern for me. And of course, it has been in the news.
Grass fires have been in the news almost every day. And I don't need to reemphasize the seriousness of that. But I do have — I have a release from the Austin Fire Department, "Preventing grass fires." And one of the items says, don't park cars, trucks or recreational vehicles on dry grass or shrubs.
Exhaust systems on vehicles can reach a temperature of more than 1,000 degrees. It only takes about 500 degrees to start a brush fire in the summer. So we talked about spark arresters earlier, but I can see a motorcycle dumping and you see, you will have that hot engine right on the grass. So spark arresters don't take care of everything.
I have a report. I did a lot of research. And I have got, I think 28 reports. And of course, I don't have time for that. The report that is all-terrain vehicles as a cause of ignition in Alberta forests. And they had a severe problem.
It says, this study was initiated upon the request of Alberta Environmental Protection, investigating the relationship between all-terrain vehicles and fire ignition within the forests. And they, since 1990, 6.5 fires per year have been caused directly by ATVs.
However, the number of fires in the last four years averaged twelve. Three times the number caused by ATVs in the mid-90s. Most, 60 percent of these ATV fires occurred during April and May.
At this time of year, grass fuels are cured almost 100 percent. And spring weather tends to be try. The dry cured grass, either standing or compacted, is easily ignited. The most critical index for fires ignited by ATVs is the fine fuel moisture content. This index represents moisture conditions of the fine fuels, the fuels most likely ignited by ATVs.
We have that in West Texas, year in and year out, and sometimes for six or seven years. So that condition would exist for a long time. Their recommendations of their study is that all ATVs should have properly operating spark arresters, which is what we have; forest closures, should restrict the use of forests during periods of extreme fire dangers, especially during spring seasons. That is there.
I think, during dry periods, if we go by this, we should close the park as long as it is dry in the area. So and that is why I really think that we can help with this development plan. Idaho is having the same problems. A report called, "Havoc on wheels." Off-road vehicles and healthy landscapes, dirt bikes, four wheel, all-terrain vehicles are the greatest threat to the integrity of Idaho's wildlands and the threat is growing. And it goes on and on.
And I am out of time. I have, I think I gave you a report. I have 28 reports on talking about the problems. And this seed dissipation is really serious. One of the reports says that the seeds disseminate ten miles away from the source. One ATV will disseminate seeds of noxious plants ten miles.
So I really think that this is a pending severe train wreck in West Texas. And I think that in the long term, first what you are going to do is you are going to destroy 3,300 acres totally. And you are going to change ranching in the area. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Miller.
Just to clear something up, Tim. These vehicles are on roads and trails. Right?
MR. HOGSETT: They require that the vehicles stay on the developed, either the existing or the developed roads and trails within the park.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. As I read these studies, these are about people getting off the trails.
MR. HOGSETT: It sounds like it, but I don't know.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. Okay. Next up, Carol Smith.
MS. SMITH: Good morning, Commission. I have spoken with you a number of times previously. I do appreciate very much you hearing the public comment here today.
One of the main things that I would like to discuss with you is our management plans. We develop these in relation to each particular piece of property that we intend to manage. Each property has its own developmental necessities and needs. But there are generalities that can be made.
One, we do not allow riding off our trail system. Each one of our trail systems are rated as to degree of difficulty. They are marked as to what type of vehicle can utilize that trail. And they are mapped, so that when you come into the park, you get a map, and it tells you where you can and cannot go.
This particular park and piece of property will have its own management issues. We have proven ourselves, and hope to prove ourselves continuously in the future, as the best management unit for off-highway vehicle recreation in this state.
I myself am an alternate state representative for the National Off-highway Vehicle Conservation Council. They have management plans specifically for semi-arid desert environments, which we intend to utilize. We also will have trail building workshops by NOVCC, the National Off-highway Vehicle Conservation Council, discussing exact management and trails building for specific environments.
All of our parks do not allow trail riding after either 10:00 or midnight. We do now allow anyone to drink while on the trails. No one under the age of 18 is allowed on the property without a parent or guardian. We have numerous management that we use.
We would like to continue to work with you in the future as the management unit, professional management unit for off-highway vehicle recreation in this state. I would hope that you would look at us as such. And we continue to hope to work and partner with you in the future to provide off-highway vehicle recreation for this state. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. One question, I believe, we have somebody here.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: As far as your existing facility, have you had a problem with fires, and if you have, how have you dealt with that situation?
MS. SMITH: As far as I know, sir, we have had no issue with fire on our property. It is East Texas. It is a little bit more wet there. And we do understand that this is West Texas, and it is a little more dry. But as far as I know, we have not had any problems with fire at all.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: But you certainly are going to take that into account in developing these plans that you are going to have for this property?
MS. SMITH: Yes, sir. We must.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think it is a lot drier. One more question for you. How do you enforce your trail system. I mean, you say that people are told where to go. How do you enforce that?
MS. SMITH: We have on-site management that is there 24 hours a day. Generally speaking, it is a couple. The woman generally does the office work and runs the office, and the man actually goes out and does the patroling of the trail system.
We also have volunteer groups, specific groups, say, the Dirt Bikes of San Antonio group that come out. And they volunteer to do trail patrol. We give them the official capacity to do that. They go around and make sure that everybody is staying on the trail and doing what they are supposed to do.
We also have a management practice in place that says, you are given a warning once. If we catch you doing an infraction twice, you are barred from the property, any TMTC property for six months. Anyone in your family is also barred. If you commit an infraction the third time, we take your membership away, and you are not allowed on TMTC properties.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That answers the question. Thank you. Any others?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Jean Millspaugh, and then, Nick Smith be ready.
MS. MILLSPAUGH: Good morning. My name is Jean Millspaugh, and I appreciate being here today. For many years, beginning in the 19th century, the land that is being considered for the motorized vehicle park has been the home and the workplace for ranchers. They have nurtured the land and loved it, and protected it. Now that protection is in danger of being taken out of their hands.
I am here today to vote in opposition to the park for many reasons. One of my many concerns is the problem of grass fires. Yesterday, and today, and for the days to come the citizens of Texas are warned about the dangers of the fire, and that it must be controlled by the rules. It seems that the construction of a motorized park would itself be just a breeding ground for fires.
The 3,000 acres that will be used as a plaything will eventually become just a panorama of worn out dusty roads and trails. And if we care about the land, and care about ecology, I think that should be given a lot of thought. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ms. Millspaugh. Thank you very much.
Nick Smith, and then after Nick Smith — sorry, I am having trouble reading this one. Paul Perner. Good.
You will be next, Paul.
MR. SMITH: Yes. My name is Nick Smith. I am a member of the TMTC, and very heavily involved in property acquisition. When we were here in November, we had a few comments that there was no one in the Ozona area basically interested in this project.
But since the meeting has started here a little while ago, you have heard that there were over 50 people in support of this. And over 20 of them are actually business owners which have signed letters of support for us. So we do have quite a few people in the neighborhood in favor of this project. And I would like to leave this with the young lady.
There has been several concerns over issues on the property, as far as fire, erosion control. The State of Texas is very far behind in this type of program, this type of activity throughout the nation. Motorized vehicles are accepted very well in very sensitive areas throughout this whole country of ours. Texas is just a little far behind because of the private property state.
We will come in and manage a piece of property as we propose to do. And in an area that will help develop the recreational needs that the state is needing. We do not believe that we are going to jeopardize any type of livestock, breeding operations that happen to be going on adjoining the fence lines, or even have a problem with fence lines. They are there. If we have anything to do with repairing them, then we will take care of that stuff. There is a big misconception that when the gates open, that it is just going to be a free-for-all; whenever you enter this property, that you just go where you please. Well, that is not the case. It will be very well managed and maintained. And we will have trail patrol.
And seeing as we have special interests as far as dry grass areas, then we will give a wide berth on our trail systems to keep away from that stuff. This is not an unmanaged program. It is not like you take and buy a bunch of sheep and cattle, and you just turn them loose to go out there and eat everything in sight. You know, this is basically what we see in the area right now.
So we will manage it. It will be a green space that is preserved for the citizens of this great state of ours. And we hope that you all will stand behind us, and let this happen again, and we that we have the opportunity to show you that we can make this happen, and work for everyone involved. And thank you all. If you have any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Smith.
Next up, Mr. Paul Perner. And after Mr. Perner, J.R. Rhoades, be ready.
MR. PERNER: Good morning. I would like to start by giving you all a little bit of background about me. I think you will find it very relevant. My family has been the original settlers of Crockett County. They settled there a long time ago. I don't remember exactly when. I want to say it was around the 1880s.
This particular property was also my home for a period of time. My family on my father's side ranched this land. And unfortunately, my grandfather decided to sell it many years ago, and it has ended up to this point, now today. So it is just a little bit about me, and where I come from.
I would like to say that not everybody is strictly and uncompromisingly opposed to this idea in Crockett County. We have many problems with it. Lots of it is things that have absolutely nothing to do with you all, or anything else. It has to do with other items not to be addressed here.
But I just wanted to let you all know that not everybody is opposed to it. The landowners and everything out there, we do have problems with it. We have issues about it. But given what — from my understanding of it, the land is no longer in agricultural production.
With the people who currently own it, it will no longer and never will be in agricultural production again. This is a great travesty. It is terrible. But out of the options I see, being faced with this land, I feel that TMTC would be able to manage it, and take care of it, and respond to concerns that everybody has, much better than if it was divided into 30 tracts.
People that — a lot of the tracts that I have seen, people are only out there for maybe just a few weeks or maybe a month or two out of the year. The rest of the time, they are not there. They have no idea what is going on. Growth is going to be going.
You know, with TMTC there, they will be able to take care of the growth that needs to be taken care of. Fence lines need mending. They have said that they will be more than happy to do whatever is necessary to mend the fences.
With options being that I see, available for the land, I feel that TMTC would be the best option, instead of subdivisions and tracts. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Perner. Any questions for Mr. Perner?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much.
J.R. Rhoades, and then Mr. Bud Cox, be ready.
MR. RHOADES: Good morning. I am J.R. Rhoades. I am a member of the American Motorcyclists Association, the Texas Motorized Trail Coalition, and the Dirt Bikers of San Antonio. I would like to address some of the landowner concerns that I heard were brought up in the November meeting and were brought up again today here. Noise: TMTC rules specify no excessive noise allowed. And they set a quiet time curfew. They have already told you about that today. I am just repeating it. My dirt bike is out of my truck today. I will start it up for anybody who wants to give it a listen and see how loud it is. It is very quiet.
Ranchers' trucks, cars, ATVs never made noise? They don't have curfews and they don't have set limits on the noise they can make. Do the ranchers lease to the hunters? I believe somebody said that they do. Don't their rifles and guns disturb the wildlife and the livestock?
Fire danger: once again, I heard that brought up today. Well, I don't think that they will get any more fire dangers from us, than they get from their own trucks, cars and ATVs that they use on the ranches. We have already heard from previous testimony that that was a problem last November. Plus hunters, don't they build fires, campfires? How do they manage that? Why are we any worse?
Environment: ranchers claim that their environment is pristine. Erosion: the ranchers have roads and trails on their property. How do they manage erosion with those. The Texas Motorized Trail Coalition and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department both use erosion berms to control it. That is a proven method. TMTC, we will be doing the same. They do it at Barnwell Mountain.
Ranchers' livestock, native and non-damaging? I doubt that. Ranchers' oil and gas wells? If you do a little searching, you will find that there is oil and gas wells on neighboring properties.
No environmental impact? I doubt that also. Don't ranchers use fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemical products in their day-to-day ranching? There has got to be environmental impact from that. We won't be doing that. What would these ranchers do if they were held to the same high standards of operation that Texas Motorized Trail Coalition is held to?
Livestock and wildlife. I ride at Zars Ranch down there in San Antonio. It is 368 acres. DBSA has leased that property for the past 20 years, and during that entire time, the landowners kept cattle on the property. If there was a problem with us riding with those cattle, the landowner would boot us off.
Those cows are so used to us, that they don't even get out of the way when we ride up to them anymore. We have to actually go around them like rocks, trees and cactus. I am not kidding. It is the funniest thing.
We also have wildlife on that same property. We have deer, javelina, turkeys, coyotes, you name it. Whatever it is that is here in Texas exists on that property.
Straying off the property. We are not a bunch of ATV-riding bubbas with no protective gear, no common sense and a beer cooler strapped on behind us. We understand the value of the property we ride on. Believe me, we really do. We expect our members and our neighbors to honor the property boundaries.
Location choices: Ranchers say move closer to the town; suburbanites say move further away. Where are we supposed to go?
Ranchers are against the RV park without any real insight into how they operate. Have any of these ranchers visited Barnwell Mountain Recreation Area? Usage is not hundreds of people per day. I will be just a very short time. They are open only on weekends and they have rules pertaining to noise, fire, safety, erosion, et cetera.
In closing, I am asking the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to keep the promises made to the RV community and SB 155, to support opening and the operation of the RV parks. BMRA is a good neighbor and revenue generator for the Gilmer area. The Crockett County park would be more of the same for the Ozona area, if we are given a chance to prove it.
And this is something that I am just going to throw in here. You talked about your park deficits. I heard that earlier today in the testimony. If you would include RVs you see in some of your parks, you might get out of your deficit. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Rhoades.
Next up, Mr. Cox. Bud Cox.
And Rick Young, be ready.
MR. COX: Good morning. I would like to thank you gentlemen for your time, given to hearing the problems of establishing a park in Crockett County. I am Bud Cox, one of the adjoining landowners of the proposed park. And I am aware of some of the problems that this park might possibly cause.
I would like to tell you a little bit of brief history, past and present of this area, that the park is proposed in. It goes back as far as affecting of total county and state, because all of this is historical land. Immediately to the north of it, is what they call the Escondido Water Hole. And it was a watering station for all of the wagon trains and herds that came up the Chihuahua Trail. Some other people call it the San Antonio Trail.
But this was a wagon road that left San Antonio, and came through the line of forts back at Beale, Del Rio, Devil's River Crossing, on up to Howard Wells, and then to Escondido Water Hole, Fort Lancaster and on west to El Paso. And it is a big part of the historic development of this part of Texas. The trail went through this area, and in this particular area, it may have split, but it did go through this part of the country.
Right there, immediately to the south and west is the Pecos River, and this is where the first family in Crockett County settled, the Hoover family. And they have been there all these years, and are still there.
And out of all of that growth and development in this area, my family, as well as the Millspaughs, the Lees, the Perners, the Childresses, the Hoovers, Holmesleys, and so forth, we all began settling this country for ranching purposes. We have been there many a year, and we plan to be there many a year in the future.
My daddy went to that area when he was 17 years old, and it was unfenced. He lived with Momma Lee and Mr. Pat Lee for two years while they were fencing our ranch. And then the Millspaugh Ranch is right adjoining her. And this was the Lee Ranch, and the Perner Ranch was to our west.
And this tract that they are proposing to make the park out of is a quarter of that Perner Ranch. We didn't move into that country lightly. We came to stay. My folks did, and the Millspaughs, and we are all still there. We weathered the droughts in the 50s. We weathered the droughts in the 70s, and all these droughts that come along, including the one here and now.
We didn't sell out and quit. We reduced livestock numbers and stayed. A lot of the people further west have faced more severe drought conditions, and they have perhaps sold out completely, and gotten out of the business. And this has caused them to create some lands that might be more easily adapted to the park.
I see I have the red light. So I think in terms of nowadays, the big problem with the park in this area would be that one of the wedges that has been driven into this partnership that these four and five ranch people have had through all the years. It will create a wedge in which it could possibly spread.
And they have taken land that is in production and has livestock on it, and are going to make a park out of it. And this is going to create numerous problems with wildlife, with environmental problems, fire possibly. It is dry country. The dust will be there. The noise will be there. The people will be there.
And worst of all, it is going to reduce the value of my ranch and the ranches that are around close to it. Because nobody wants to particularly buy a ranch that is close to the park with all of the problems that might develop there.
I wish you would give serious consideration to this. I feel like there are other areas, particularly further west, in which the land is not as productive, and is not actively in the ranching business at this property is there. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Cox. Just to clear something up. This is not a condemnation. The owner of this land has decided to sell it.
MR. COX: I understand that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is not the decision of the Department.
MR. COX: I understand that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I just wanted to clear that up.
MR. COX: And I can appreciate your concern. And but it is, as I understand it, it requires your approval for this grant to go through.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It doesn't require our approval for the seller to sell. The seller has made the decision to sell.
MR. COX: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. I just want to make that clear.
MR. COX: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, sir.
Let's see. We have Rick Young, and Ed Small, be ready.
MR. YOUNG: Chairman Fitzsimons and Commissioners. My name is Rick Young. I am part of the Millspaugh family that you have heard about before. We operate that ranch, and I am a part of that operation, as well as the ranch on the Pecos River, about 15 miles on the other side of this subject tract.
I probably should yield my time to Mr. Cox because he has got a lot more history than I do with this ranch. But I have got a few things that I would like to say. First of all, thank you for allowing me to speak against the grant of this particular tract of land.
The sheer numbers of our opposition to this project can't reach that of the TMTC. But then we are not a non-profit organization — I am sorry, they are not a non-profit organization either. But we are not a non-profit organization made up of a vast mailing list of people seeking entertainment.
By and large, you see in us hard-working ranching families trying to make a living and uphold generations of traditions on the land we love. I know this is a contentious issue for this panel, and you may even wish you weren't saddled with administering the directives that you receive from Senate Bill 155 and 1311. I personally believe that preventing motorized recreational vehicles from using public lands holds great validity.
Separately, I concede that the owners of these vehicles probably should have access to an area for their activities. The point of my opposition is this; the remoteness of this site is exactly why it is totally inappropriate for the project.
The proposed site intended for entertainment is totally incompatible with the surrounding ranch environment of Crockett County. I won't address all the issues that have been raised, except to say that the peace, quiet, safety and separation enjoyed in this area for generations, yes, generations — you have heard that, our family is in the fifth generation — is proposed to be replaced by traffic, noise, contentious relations and great anxiety with regard to personal safety.
There is a solution to your obligation, though. First, don't approve the grant for this tract. Second, direct that this facility be located in an area where it would not be so blatantly conspicuous to its surroundings. Choose one near a freeway, where noise, bustling activity, group gatherings, dust and erosion are already the accepted norm.
If an area, Crockett County for example, feels that the economic benefits outweigh the potential pitfalls — and I understand that; that is not a problem for me — then search for a piece of property on the outskirts of town, where even more retail commerce will be retained by those local businesses. Maybe in an abandoned quarry or an industrial site.
But not 25 miles out in the remote ranch country we love so dearly, that would be conspicuous by its presence. I know my solution slows down this project, but it is the right thing to do. If Texas Motorized Trails Coalition needs our help, I know that several of us could suggest reputable real estate brokers that would move quickly to locate the right tract of land.
Finally, I respectfully ask this Board to consider seriously whether you personally would welcome this project next to either your own ranch, or one that you have grown to love through your childhood, or through friends and experiences with them. Please do the right thing, and stand up for the heritage important to so many Texans. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Young.
Mr. Small, and then Bill Eaton, be ready.
MR. SMALL: Mr. Chairman, members. My name is Ed Small. I represent the Cox family and other families who are opposed to your granting of this grant.
I have been cautioned about talking about the developmental issues, and the operational issues and all those things. And I am going to refrain from that, because it appears we have a lot of information yet to be discovered with regard to that.
I want to just focus on whether or not this Commission, under the laws of the United States and the laws of Texas and what I think is your fiduciary duty, frankly, with regard to $1.3 million. Now it is a unique fund, from which this $1.3 million comes.
But it is, seems to me, falls within the framework of the federal law. I want to comment on that. But also your general charge from the Texas Legislature and specifically with regard to the legislation that passed.
In looking at whether or not $1.3 million, from whatever the sources are, ought to be granted to what I thought was supposed to be a 501(c)(3) or (4). Apparently, maybe it only has to be a non-profit. I think you ought to check that out. Because your application indicates a 501(c)(3) or (4). But at any rate, that is a highly technical issue, can be cured. Maybe it can be. I am not sure it can be.
But at any rate, whether or not that $1.3 million for that project, as opposed to where you might spend that $1.3 million somewhere else. I sent to your staff, and your staff has been great in all this, by the way, in providing information and doing everything they can to give us the time we need.
I sent to your staff some questions and requests for information. They treated that kind of like an Open Records request, and I thought that was appropriate that they did.
Two of the questions were, what is the usage going to be, what time of day, week or month is the usage going to be. They referred that to the Texas Motorized Trail people. Their answer to that was — now this is a question to the applicant, how many people and vehicles use the property on any given day or weekend?
Their answer was, their words, we cannot foretell the future. We are hopeful that this park is visited by approximately 15 people per open day. Well, when is an open day? Well, you have heard that. Maybe Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Friday, Saturday. $1.3 million for that. Mr. Chairman, may I have a little bit more time?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Please. Go ahead.
MR. SMALL: Thank you. And I will try to hold to that. So that is Issue 1. Issue 2, I go to the federal rules, such as they are, with regard that I think apply to your decision with regard to this grant.
That is 23 U.S.C. 206. And in that, it says, as a condition of making available apportionments for work on recreational trails that would affect privately owned land, a state shall obtain written assurances from the owner of the land that the owner of the land will cooperate with the state and participate as necessary in the activities to be conducted.
Now I think you have seen on your thing this morning there was a reaffirming that that easement, for instance, is going to go over other private land to get there. However, our information is, to be confirmed, is that the minerals are separate from the surface on the tract of land which you are going to grant the money for the project.
If the minerals are separate, and we think they are. We have had one landowner who owned it at one time and confirmed this, but that is to be confirmed. If they are separate, then that is a landowner — they own the minerals — that you need assurances from, they need assurances from, that they can deliver on this development.
The mineral owner is dominant estate. The mineral owner has certain rights, priorities, privileges, and that is what the federal regulation asks you to do as you look at this grant to make sure that you don't make a grant on a piece of property, and all of a sudden, you have some issue like that come up.
The third issue has to do with appraised value. In looking at the application, they are talking about $493 per acre as what the purchase price should be. It is on the back page of the application which was supplied to me by the staff. $493 an acre.
Now they also are asking in a number here, for environmental assessment charges, archaeological assessment, board of directors expenses — don't think they ought to get that — but $493 an acre. I think you may have a speaker later that has been doing a good bit of litigation with regard to land prices in Crockett County. $493 an acre is off the top.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I am sorry. Time.
MR. SMALL: It is way too high. Way too high. $400 is what we would think you would get an appraisal at under any circumstance. You need to have an appraisal on file that justifies whatever your number is. I would say that needs to be given to the GLO and let them double-check it, if it comes from an outside source.
$493 — I think they are covering their 20 percent carry, is what they are doing with the $493 number. I bet you will get them coming back, saying oh, he is going to give us the difference.
The last issue is one that I think is extremely important. You heard Mr. Cox talk about the Chihuahua trail and the other historical and archaeological issues. We asked for any archaeological studies that they had.
Your staff did what was, I think, very appropriate, and referred that issue to the Attorney General, as to whether or not I, who was obviously antagonistic to them, should get an archaeological study. Because it might — it is specific to the land. And maybe that is exempt under Open Records.
She sent that to the Attorney General. The Attorney General has done what he is supposed to do. He is supposed to contact the people whose document would be under Open Records, and asked them to reply to whether or not they think that this document, this archaeological study ought to be released.
And they replied, and I would like to read you their reply, because I think it is extremely important, given a lot of things you have heard here today, and whether or not you should grant $1.3 million to the purchase of a property, knowing what it generally is going to used for, this activity we have heard here today. General Abbott's office wrote to them and said, if you have anything to say to this request, to reply. And they wrote back, Dear General Abbott — and I have got copies of this, if you want it.
It talks about the questions that we asked. And they say, we are claiming an exemption from Open Records under this section. The release of this information into the public domain will without question damage TMTC and the current landowners. We feel that the release of this sensitive study should not be allowed under the Open Records Act, as it will severely hinder both TMTC and the current landowners in the future.
I suggest to you that the only way you can read that, that there is something in that archaeological study, that if Ed Small got his hands on it, he would be screaming and waving it up here today. I think it is part of the charge that this Department has in protecting the cultural resources of the state, to make sure that that issue is not there.
We hope that you will not grant because of the reasons that I have given. You haven't been given the written assurances. The application is not complete. And until it came to you in a complete fashion, I urge you not to grant it. If you do grant it, you have this contract future, surely we have got to deal with the appraisal issue. Somebody needs to look at the archaeological study before you grant $1.3 million and you have a big hiccup like that.
Thank you very much. And again, I would like to compliment your staff on the handling of what I am sure is a tough one for them. I have all these folks pulling on me.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you Ed, very much.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Yes, sir. I had a question for you. We talked about the appraised value or appraisal and purchase price. I get $409 an acre. Where do you come up with $493 an acre?
MR. SMALL: In their application.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: But what we are talking about doing here is $409. So I mean, what is the discrepancy?
MR. SMALL: That is 80 percent.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Tim? Could you address that?
And then, Ann Bright, stand by for the federal questions.
MR. HOGSETT: The $13 million that you are being asked to approve is a matching fund amount. So if you are dividing the acreage by that $13 million, that is not —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: $1.3 million.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
MR. SMALL: On the last page of the application, they have got 3,329 acres at $493 an acre, is $1.641 point 197. That is the full purchase price. Then they take away the 20 percent. And that is what you would grant them, the $1.3 million. So they are purchasing at a $493 price.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
Tim, did that clear that up? It is 80 percent. It is the match.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is where you got the $409. Right?
Ann, could you address the issue of notification of landowners under the federal statute? Sorry for the pop quiz.
MS. BRIGHT: Well, we met with the landowners a couple of times, in an effort to try to get their issues out on the table, and this was not an issue that was previously addressed or raised, even. So we will just have to check on the minerals.
I don't know if Tim has any more information about the mineral interest holders. The only thing I can say about that is, that is something we will take care of and address.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. I guess you are familiar with Title XXIII of the U.S. Code that Mr. Small cited?
MS. BRIGHT: Like I said, this is the first time we have heard of any of the issues that are there.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think his point is, that if that land is under an oil and gas lease the lessee has a possessory interest in that land, and presumably would be covered under the term landowner to be notified.
MS. BRIGHT: And I can just comment generally on federal funds that are given for private land, is that — that is true. When you are talking about things on private land, you need to make sure that whoever owns the private land is going to conduct business that is consistent with the intent of the federal funds.
And I think that is something that we would just have to, you know, in terms of the agreements and that sort of thing, we just have to make sure that it is handled.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Is that a question for the next stage for development, or does that have to be addressed at the first stage.
MS. BRIGHT: I suspect, and again, you know, I don't have that citation with me at this point. But if they are talking mainly about — it sounds to me from what was read, that they are mainly talking about development. And so I would guess that is something that probably would be addressed later on, in terms of development.
Because really, when you are talking about oil and gas production, you are going to have to accommodate the surface. But at the same time, we probably want to make sure that we have a pretty good understanding of what the mineral exploration might be.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Tim, do you have anything to add to that?
MR. HOGSETT: I don't, sir. I do not know personally about the mineral rights on that property.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But it has got to be resolved, obviously, before you can develop the property.
MR. HOGSETT: Correct. I also —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go right ahead, Commissioner Montgomery.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Can you tell us about the archaeological study and the status of that?
MR. HOGSETT: Before any development occurs, we are required by state law, and federal law to obtain a full archaeological clearance for this. It would be up to the Texas Historical Commission to what level degree they want that site to be studied.
But it will be cleared through the Historical Commission. And the development plan will be part of that clearance process. We do that on every grant project we do, no matter what it is for.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. So again, that is part of the next stage. The development?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. HOGSETT: We typically do not ask for there to be an archaeological survey or assessment or clearance on a piece of privately owned property. We take that into consideration after the project is approved by you. And if it fails, then we wouldn't move forward.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. So that would be — back to my earlier question — so that would be a condition of the acquisition.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And that is different than the condition of obtaining your funding, which traditionally is four to five years. If you fail for some archaeological or other environmental reason, is that a separate condition that would have triggered the reverter?
MR. HOGSETT: I am not sure I understand.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Believe me, I don't know.
MR. HOGSETT: The bottom line is, before we go to the federal government to obtain these funds for this acquisition, they are going to have to be satisfied that we are going to go through the process necessary to clear the archaeology.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. So that is one more condition. That is one more condition, then. Is that correct?
MR. GOLDBLUM: If I could add, we actually — Andy Goldblum with the Recreational Trails Program. There has been an archaeological assessment conducted on about a third of the property.
The archaeologist picked the third that he thought would have the most likelihood of having cultural resource deposits. And there were some scattered deposits, a few significant ones. And in the report, wrote how those would be mitigated.
We have run that by our cultural resources head, Mr. Michael Strutt. He looked at the report and thought there was nothing in there that would make it so difficult to develop the property.
And we have been in consultation with the Historical Commission. They are willing to accept and sign off on the property acquisition with the current archaeology assessment with the knowledge that once the property is acquired, we'll do a survey on the remaining two-thirds of the property.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So that answers my question. It is still a condition after acquisition, satisfying the archaeological issue that Mr. Small raised and Commissioner Montgomery asked about. It is still a condition.
MR. GOLDBLUM: It will still be a condition. And it will affect more of the development. Where the development can occur, and not occur.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Tim. We have got lots of folks to testify.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Let me ask.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go right ahead.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: In respect of the potential archaeological issues and the mineral estate, this is not like a subdivision where 65-foot lots are platted. This is trails and roads that kind of ribbon around through the property.
Do we have a sense of actually what percentage of the property would be actually impacted by the trails and roads? I mean, just looking at these, it appears to me to be an extremely small portion.
MR. HOGSETT: Very small. Again, particularly the requirement that they hold that you stay on the trail.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Which is why our — what was his name, Strut? Our archaeology man suggested that it was not going to be an issue.
MR. HOGSETT: It is a larger piece —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So you could design the trails to where it accommodates that?
MR. HOGSETT: It is a large enough piece of property, and there is enough opportunities for location of the trails in areas alternate, away from where potential resources might be. You know, I think it is a viable situation.
We see this with all kinds of parks that we do grants for. That you simply determine where the archaeological and historical resources are, and you either mitigate for them, or you move the proposed development away from them.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: In looking at the aerial photograph that we have been provided, it looks like there is relatively significant oil and gas activity south of the property and maybe a bit on this property.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I am assuming it is the same condition there, that you can design the trail system to where it accommodates the mineral estate?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right.
MR. HOGSETT: Could I comment on the appraisal, in case you have a question?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Please do.
MR. HOGSETT: We will require — these are federal funds. And as we do for any acquisition, either using Texas Recreation Parks account, or any other federal funds, we require the applicant, after your approval to have a full appraisal done that meets the requirements of the Federal Acquisition Relocation Act. We then have an in-house review of that.
And then we also contract with the state, the Texas Highway Department and their right-of-way division to perform a review of that appraisal. If this land ends up being appraised at less or more, then particularly if it is appraised at a lower value, then simply that will be the price and the amount of money which should be granted. COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. So the appraisal will dictate the match? The dollars.
MR. HOGSETT: Ultimately, yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And that is an independent appraisal?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. We do mind.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I just want to compliment Tim and his staff on it looks like to me that he has — he and the rest of his fine staff.
MR. HOGSETT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I would reiterate my earlier comments about no need for repetitive or duplicative testimony. Bill Eaton, and then after that, Billy Thomas.
MR. EATON: I have been listing to what is going on here this morning, and what I have heard, and what I have seen and every thing is comes back to be, do you want this in your backyard? Well, what it is, it is not in my backyard, which has been referred to as NIMBY.
I have some land in Magnolia. And if someone were going to dump a garbage dump right beside it, I might get a little upset. But the fact of the matter is, we are not putting a garbage dump there. We are putting something there so people can get back in there, and see what nature has set up for us, on trails that are managed, and be very enjoyable for most people.
Noise levels? Not a problem. Go out and sound your horn. It is at 130 decibels on your truck, okay. Most ATVs that are set with a standard at what it is, 45 degrees at 15 foot, at 90 decibels. And that is at an angle. You are not going to worry about noise.
Fire? Not hardly. I haven't seen too many of them that have been related to a fire, unless the ATV burns up itself. Of course, we have got cars that do that all the time.
Gentlemen, what I have seen here, and I am looking at — is that we have got a very good thing going here. I am just one of them that is representing one little forum of 3,300 ATVers. For every letter that you have got, that sits there and goes for it, and the ones you have got that don't, remember the ones that are here representing us.
You see some of us here in red shirts. I am representing at least 5,000 people. And so are they, for every one of us that are here. I hope you do approve this.
I can see more than 15 people a day being there. Even though I live in East Texas, it would be worth my while to go there and ride on 3,300 acres, to have fun. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Thank you.
We have got Billy Thomas, followed by Richard Jones, followed by Laura White. If you all could be ready, please.
MR. THOMAS: Good morning, gentlemen. My name is Billy Thomas. I am a TMTC member since 2001. Also Vice-President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Texas Four Wheel Drive Off-road Club. I got up early this morning to come down here, and I have heard everything like you all have.
I have a couple of points I want to add. You all asked about how they manage soil erosion and control, and how they keep fences up. The volunteers like me in my club take care of that. They help them out. They follow their procedures, and they take care of it.
The one reason I have spoke in Ozona at the October hearing down there. I didn't come here in November. But I am back here today to say that the reason I wish that you all would support this project is because of my son. Because your son or his son and grandson or granddaughter that will enjoy doing this.
This is not a bunch of guys who is going out having fun drinking beer, driving their jeep, driving their motorcycle or four wheeler. This is families going out and having a recreational weekend and being stewards of the land.
I know that the ranchers are talking about the stewardship of the land. I have seen hunters that do a lot more damage than what I have seen TMTC even think about doing at Barnwell Mountain.
The other thing I will talk about is TMTC. I would not take my wife, my son, and go out for the weekend at a place that was not managed as responsibly as what TMTC does on managing Barnwell Mountain. And that is another reason to support the approval of this project. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Thank you.
We have got Richard Jones, followed by Laura White and Bobby Beamer, you are after that.
MR. JONES: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Richard Jones. I am a charter member of Texas Motorized Trails Coalition. I am currently OHV representative for the Texas Motorized Trails Coalition, former president of Banged Up [phonetic] Off-road.
It was mentioned that us in red shirts represent over 5,000 that are in approval of this, that would like your support for it. I guarantee you that I am representative of several hundred that I can guarantee that I can find support for. Many of the letters that you have already received came from members of my off-highway vehicle clubs.
We talked a little bit. I have been listening to the opposition on this acquisition. And one of the biggest things that they threw up first was fires. One of the things with an organized club, in our bylaws, we mandate that all vehicles will have fire extinguishers and safety equipment.
Over 80 percent of our vehicles are daily drivers. Which means, these gentlemen drive their vehicles to work every day. It is not careless, what we do. It is safety oriented. It is family oriented.
We are looking forward to having another place to ride. I am from Uvalde County. We were one of the big people involved with Senate Bill 155. Many of you gentlemen recognize me, I am sure, recognize my name, how many letters I have sent you and my clubs have sent you.
We follow rules. That is what we do. We have organized our clubs. Texas Motorized Trails Coalition has been a fantastic steward of Gilmer, of Barnwell Mountain. They have assisted in helping the economy for Upshur County.
And it was mentioned earlier, and I didn't know the numbers on this. I am more of an Indian than a chief in this matter. But 15 people. So earlier, it was mentioned that approximately 240, say 250, just round it up a little bit. So 15 people over a weekend. Did some simple math over there. That is $3,751 over a weekend for 15 people. And I think that is really going lightly on that. Over a 52-week period, we are looking at $209,052.
I would like to see if any of the ranchers or farmers in their tract of property is bringing that type of commerce into Crockett County. So I think this would be a great benefit for Crockett County and surrounding areas.
You have already heard about NIMBYs. Sure, we can have it. Just not in our backyards. Unfortunately, we are running out of places. If you have looked into Uvalde County, we had a prime spot up there, off the highway. Excellent support for off-highway vehicle use. Unfortunately, it wasn't followed up, and we ended up losing that.
So we went further out. It is a 31/2 hour drive for me and my clubs, we do it. We have been out there already. We have looked at the property and we will support this property. We support Gilmer, Barnwell Mountain. That is a nine-hour drive for me. Myself and my club and my family have been out to Gilmer, Barnwell Mountain several times.
This does not include the things that we will support as far as having organizations come out there, organized a matter, bringing entire clubs out there. So I would like to express my sincere appreciation for what you have done, and please support the Crockett County funding for this event. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
Next up, Laura White.
And then Bobby Beamer, be ready.
MS. WHITE: I am Laura White, Texas Motorized Trails Coalition outreach director. Do your faxes still work? I have about 240 more letters for you in support of the park. I've heard a lot of misconceptions about, from the landowners here today.
I had other things I was going to say, but I think I will just read a letter. This is from Tim McGill, the owner of the Wheeling Ranch. It is not a TMTC property. It is a private property.
He says, "I opened the ranch to off-road vehicles in 2001. My ranch is around 780 acres, in Nocona, Texas. While the ranch is being used for off-road use, we also have other ways that the ranch is used to provide income for our family.
"On the ranch, we raise and breed cattle and horses. We also harvest watermelons along with wheat and hay. I haven't had any trouble with the off-roaders coming to my place. For the most part, they are more concerned with leaving the place better than they found it. The deer hunters that come in once a year leave more trash than the wheelers."
Speaking from my own personal experience, the off-road vehicles and everyday ranching and farming can coincide. The community as a whole has benefitted due to new revenue coming into the town that wasn't there before. This whole town of Nocona, they also have a motorcycle track there, they support off-road. They know that we bring in a lot of money, and that we are good and responsible.
This isn't the only private park that is a ranch also. We have the Trees Ranch in Kerrville. It is 5,000 acres. It is an exotic game ranch. He opens it up for us to wheel on. We have the Klein Ranch, a little ranch on Lake Medina, does the same thing.
We have — we really don't hurt the land. We ride on the trails. We take care of them. We, the users are the ones who build the parks. We, the users are the ones who enforce the rules. We are responsible.
We are going to build with your help a statewide off-road park system that will last for generations, so my grandkids can take their grandkids, ride on the trails that we built. That's it. I never can use up my three minutes when I am up here. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. I appreciate that. Bobby Beamer, and then George Cox.
MR. BEAMER: My name is Bobby Beamer. I live in Spring, Texas, in The Woodlands, actually. And I guess we kind of brought in a bit of a tornado here this morning. I work with the National Off-highway Vehicle Conservation Council. I am the state representative. Carol is one of my co-workers.
I am also one of the founding board members of the Texas Motorized Trails Coalition. I contacted Catherine Nicholls back in '99, when we were trying to organize something, so that we didn't have all these renegade ATV people in the waterways, and running wild. And she told me to contact these new people that were starting this organization that might just be able to hold it together. TMTC was formed from that, and we developed the Barnwell Mountain property.
I just want you all to understand that according to Texas Sporting Journal this past year, for every ten motor boats sold in Texas, there is seven ATVs sold. We have a situation on our hands where we have got basically a million motor boats in this state with plenty of lakes for them to go on, and 700,000 ATVs and dirt bikes and Jeeps in this state with no lakes or places for them to go. And that is where your issue is, here.
As far as the landowner issues and the arguments going back and forth, I am not even going to try to address that because that is something we have to deal with litigation-wise making everybody understand that we have to coexist.
The fact that my Woodlands area, when I moved there 18 years ago, was out in the country, and now it is completely surrounded and has toll roads going through it, changes my lifestyle significantly. But the fact is that, we still have the same Houston National Forest. The Trail Riders of Houston have been managing it for 20 years, and we have done a fantastic job.
We don't have issues with fire. We shut down the trails when the rains come. We understand what needs to be done, and the forest service works with us. I write a lot of these grants that you people have been approving for us, and I thank you for approving them. The trail dozer is going to do great work.
I wrote a grant, a couple of years ago for Marshall Creek. The Army Corps of Engineers, which is another area where we are looking to get properties. Temple-Inland Corporation this year tried to work with me to supplement the hunting income that they are getting off some of these properties that are pretty well hunted out.
The property we are dealing with here, is in another situation where the cattle ranching business out here is insignificant in what it was able to bring into the landowners. And a lot of them have gone to oil and gas. You are going to notice that a lot of this property out here is oil and gas. I am not going to get into that issue either.
What I want to point out to you is that, the economic impact that we can make, and the ability to open off-road venues for people to use, to alleviate the pressure is going to be the big issue for us. When we put through the SB — last year, when I was here, I talked to you about legislation that was probably going to be coming down the pike. And SB 1311 was that legislation. We are hoping that is going to help generate some additional money for us.
But I just want everybody here to understand that we can work together on the issues that we have got, that we can manage the land and the cattle. We can open it up to hunters. And that the whole process can develop over a long term. We would like to honestly see a statewide network of off-road parks in Texas, managed by organizations like our own. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. Thank you.
George Cox. Then Joe Will Ross, be ready.
MR. COX: I'm George Cox. I operate the family ranch, the Cox Ranch next to this property. I am one of those mean SOBs, the ranchers that nobody likes.
I am against this because, emotionally, I am involved. And when these people put in 60 miles of proposed trails next to me, there is going to be a lot of problems coming out of it. Emotionally, I love the ranch and the land, and I hate to see the land next to me become like this. This is my prerogative to like and dislike what happens.
Financially though, it does affect me a bunch. Irregardless of all the pros and cons of wildlife and livestock problems, if you all go by this appraised value of $493, and the family ranch is worth that much, and we have to sell this ranch, or even if we don't sell it, the value of this land will depreciate because the only people that are interested in land these days that were to buy land, are deer hunters.
Rich people, all these doctors have the money, and they want to deer hunt. And they would like recreational use too, but they are not going to want to buy next to a piece of property that has 60 miles and 300 people per weekend running on it.
If it was devalued, if the property of Cox Ranch was devalued by 20 percent, it would be a million-dollar deficit for us. We would lose a million dollars. So yes, it does affect us. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Cox.
Joe Will Ross, and then Billy Young, be ready.
MR. ROSS: Joe Will Ross, and I work with Ed Small, we represent the Cox family. You just heard George talk about how this project could, if voted and approved for today, cost his family over a million dollars in project devaluation.
Ed kind of alluded to you a little bit earlier that I would speak to you about — I am a lawyer — but I am also a seventh-generation rancher. My great-great-great granddaddy was in the Runaway Scrape. I ranched just north of where this project was, but I wasn't tough enough like Bud Cox to stay there and ranch it, so I am a lawyer now.
I am still out there trying to fight for them and fight for their rights. I am in active litigation in Crockett County, being with the real estate. You will understand why I can't disclose values.
But I can tell you that $493 per acre without any appraisal far exceeds any appraisal that I have seen this year and last year. Listings have been shown at just 440 acres, for a hundred-acre tract up in northwest Crockett County. This is a 3,300-acre tract. Big tracts of land don't sell for the max price.
The State, without justification, you all approving today, are going to come in and pay the top dollar by a large amount of money, without even any assurances that you are going to probably may get it back. Because we haven't fully developed the archaeological. I don't know if Tim — and Tim has been a big help. He really has, and he has given us a lot of information. We thank Ms. Bright as well.
But I don't know, because it is not given to us, what the Chihuahua Trail, if any, was ever talked about in their archaeological study. Does the State or the Parks and Wildlife Department want to buy a piece of property or give it to them, and then have to get it back. You have to pay top dollar for it. You can't sell it.
You have already told us today, the first item was is, how much budget shortfall, so you are going to have to take care of a piece of property. So I am asking, where is the justification for buying a piece of property without doing the due diligence before you buy it.
Because you all have, as you know, have a fiduciary responsibility to take care of this. Where is the justification for $1.3 million. We haven't seen it today. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I want to clear something up here. I think what you, what Mr. Hogsett is telling us, we are not going to pay — the match comes from the federal government. And they will only fund on the appraisal.
MR. ROSS: Well, good.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. So I think you might have missed that testimony there. It is only the match from the federal government we are talking about. That 80 percent. And they will only fund on the appraisal. Correct?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So, that is where we are. So I don't think that that is an issue.
MR. ROSS: Well, that would be great, but still the issue is that all these other issues, the possibility that it could come back in the development, the appraisal —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. I agree with you. There is a lot of work to be done at the development stage, after the first stage. I would agree with that.
But am I correct, Tim? Would you reiterate the point of funding on the appraisal?
MR. HOGSETT: Any time we use state or federal dollars to buy public property, after we come to you and seek your approval for the idea of the grant, we will require an appraisal from the sponsor, an independent appraisal. That appraisal is based on comparative sales, usually. Finding the highest and best use for which that property on the general market can be used, compare it with other properties in the area. The appraiser goes through that process, and comes up with a per-acre price for the property.
And that then is the basis under which we make reimbursement. We will reimburse, basically, 80 percent of the costs, based on that appraised value, whatever that happens to be, unless it exceeds the $1.3 million.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Very good. Thanks for clearing that up. Okay. Thank you, Mr. Ross.
All right. Billy Young, and Beth Young, be ready. Oh, I am not going to wait for anybody today.
Mike Kowis, and Elliot Taub, be ready. Still have got to get the lesser preaching.
MR. KOWIS: My name is Mike Kowis. We have heard a lot of testimony today from cattle ranchers in the area of Ozona where the proposed park is being proposed to be located. We have heard testimony from TMTC officials. I am neither. I am just an everyday ATV enthusiast.
My family and I enjoy riding and being out in the great outdoors, seeing wildlife, et cetera. My reason for being here today is to support the proposed park in Ozona. The reason it is such a big deal to me and my family is because, well, basically Senate Bill 155 that was passed two years ago.
One thing that — I was shocked when I discovered this, I believe the General Land Office estimates the river bottom area within Texas that is affected by Senate Bill 155 and bans off-road use in there now, the off-road area we are talking about, the river bottoms area is a million acres. That is a lot of land, a lot of riding area.
And as a result, what you find is, instead of my family being able to drive ten minutes down the road to, in this case, I am from Conroe, Texas, which is close to Houston. The San Jacinto river, there is like, a lot of river bottom area, sand bars and whatnot that we used to frequent and have a great time out there. Now that is off limits, so we don't go.
But the nearest place is, you know, we have to travel three or four hours to get to East Texas where there is a lot of private land, private parks and so forth. So this obviously cuts down on the recreation use that we get to enjoy.
You know, the 3,300-acre park that is being proposed today, to my knowledge, this would be the first park that would be publicly funded since Senate Bill 155 banned ATV and other motorized use from a million acres. So we are talking about 3,300 acres versus a million acres that was taken away. You know this is a step in the right direction. It is by no means a resolution. But I think it is a step in the right direction.
I would like to see not only this park get funded, but more parks in the future, perhaps in the greater Houston area. Because we do have a lot of, obviously a lot of ATV and off-road users in the Houston area.
One last thing I would like to point out. When Senate Bill 155 was passed and took effect two years ago, it caught a lot of us off-roaders, you know, not by surprise, but it really disheartened us. Because we lost a million acres. That is — you know, there is no way to get around that. That is really sad.
We started with myself, with the help of Carol Smith who you heard from earlier, and Bill Eaton, we started a petition, just to see what the — if we were the only ones. And we discovered, sure enough the petition is alive and well, even a year and a half after we started it. And we haven't even pushed the petition in over a year. We have 5,000 signatures, half of which are online. And you can read the comments. It is amazing.
You know, the things that I am saying today is the things you see in the petition. And that is families want more areas to ride and use — safe, legal, riding areas. And that is the bottom line. Thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
Elliot Taub, and after Elliot, we have Cameron, can't read the last name, sorry.
MR. TAUB: I believe it is Chen.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right.
MR. TAUB: Gentlemen, my name is Elliot Taub, and I am here as a representative of Longhorn Off-road, which is the University of Texas off-roading club. I am, like many people who have spoken here today, an off-road enthusiast. Although I think enthusiast is not exactly the best word.
I have heard words spoken previously by the people just as hobby, entertainment, and playground. If you were to ask people in the State of Texas who hunt and fish if hunting and fishing is merely a hobby, entertainment or a playground to them, you might offend them. And I feel kind of the same way.
This is more to me than just a hobby. This is a significant part of my life. I got into off-road vehicles and off-roading and fabrication of vehicles in about 2000. Shortly after I got my first jeep. In the past couple of years, approximately three years, I have spent more than $10,000 on parts and tools. That is a little bit more than a hobby.
I have dedicated hundreds of hours to my own vehicle projects. I have dedicated hundreds of hours to helping out my off-roading club, helping out people with their vehicle problems, designs, advice, loaning tools. People in the Longhorn Off-road club have given time, money and resources to other club members to help them out in situations.
I have had friends who have driven hundreds of miles, who have loaned the use of tools, trailers and even vehicles to help each other to get home. This is a big part of our life. This is a big part of who we are. This is more than just a hobby for us.
I have heard some speakers, it seems like they are trying to paint a picture that on opening day of this park, there is going to be hordes of people rushing in with metal spikes welded onto their vehicles, burning everything they see, and voting independent. It is not going to happen.
We use the trails responsibly. Look at Barnwell Mountain. I urge you, if you have not been to Barnwell Mountain, go to Barnwell Mountain. See the condition of the park. There are trees there. There are nature — I have been to Barnwell Mountain and I have spent half a day there, with a group of six vehicles and not seen any other riders. You can turn off your cars, and you can hear the sounds of nature.
I mean, it is a park. We maintain it well. Carol and the other members of TMTC who are responsible for management of the park are doing a great job there. And I believe the key to maintaining Barnwell Mountain, and the key to creating and maintaining a great park in Ozona is stewardship.
It is the same thing we have been doing for hunting and fishing in Texas. We know it is important to steward the land. That is why we have seasons. That is why we have permits. That is what you guys do. I thank you for your time, for letting me speak. And I urge you to vote in support of this item. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. You put to rest our concern about any independent voting. I feel much better.
MR. CHEN: Hello. My name is Cameron Chen. I am 26. I am the founder of Longhorn Off-road at UT. And me and all of my friends are obviously in support of this deal. I am opening a company, CrawlTex Motor Sports [phonetic]. And we are going to build hotrods and outfit off-road trucks.
And I can pledge right now, that I will support that TMTC or any of these parks coming about, if I can help in grand openings, getting customers together so that more people learn about it and use the land. We are pretty highly connected through Texas with how many people are in this four-wheel-drive community. And I wouldn't open a business if I didn't think it was going to be successful.
But the fact is, we have lost access to Fort Hood, Uvalde, Llano. The list goes on. And really, the other place supported by Texas, the Texas state, is Barnwell Mountain. And if you consider the people that live say, in Brownsville, Texas that have to drive ten hours to get to the one park in Texas, it is a pretty sad situation.
So I am not going to go on and on about what is right or wrong. But you know, the Legislature decided to award 1.3 and I would really like to see it being used somewhere, whether it is Ozona or somewhere else, just as long as we have a place to continue to enjoy what we enjoy. And thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Cameron.
Next up, John Flores.
Then Richard Farmer, be ready.
MR. FLORES: My name is John Flores. I am from New Braunfels, Texas. I belong to the Texas four-wheel-drive cyber club. We have members throughout Texas. I don't have any say in what they support, but I know a lot of my friends and what I do, this is not just a sport or hobby.
This is our lifestyle. This is what we do. This is all we talk about. Excuse me. This is all we think about is off-roading. When 155 came through and took everything away from us, there has really been nowhere else to go except Barnwell and a few of these ranches.
We do pay quite a bit of money to go to these places. We spend money while we are there eating and so forth. I myself have a rig dedicated just for off-roading. So that is the amount of money that a lot of my friends do — they have rigs dedicated just to off-roading.
We are willing to spend money in this area, and definitely travel to this area. I definitely support this, and thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Flores.
Richard Farmer. And then Ingrid Hollinger, be ready. Do we not have Mr. Farmer? All right.
On to Ingrid, I am sorry. Hollinger, is it?
MS. HOLLINGER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Ingrid Hollinger. And then Bruce Shirey, be ready.
MS. HOLLINGER: Good morning. I wasn't going to talk, but I am here. I am Ingrid Hollinger. I am the president of Texas Four-Wheel Drive. We can boast about 1,500 members, which includes not only the member, but their families and friends, and everyone that likes to come in.
I would like to address the ranchers. They had some issues, and I agree with them. In the past, the four-wheel-drive community has not had a good reputation. But I can tell you, that since I became president in 2000, I have taken our club from your bubba guy, to what it is today. They are educated.
We regulate ourselves. We do not allow people to say, trespass on other properties. We are an organized group. We self-regulate.
With regards to fire, it is required that most of us carry — well, all vehicles that are four-wheel-drive vehicles carry a fire extinguisher. We are in communication with each other through radios. So anytime there is an incident or help, we are always there to help. I really don't have that much to say, except that I do hope that you support this. We do drive, and we do go to a lot of different places. So, we had an event in Arkansas. If any of you guys ever visit a park, you would find out.
We conserve. I take my grandchildren with me. It is a wonderful place to go with the family. We camp. We see nature. We took a two-hour trail ride up there. We didn't hear anyone else but us. This is a park a little bit smaller than the 3,300 acres.
We need places to go. I want to take my grandkids, and I hope that they take their kids someday. These parks can last many years. If the trail is too bad, they shut it down. They build a new one. It is conserving the land, and that is what we are here for. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ms. Hollinger.
And let's see. That was Bruce — is it Shirey? Bruce?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Last call for Bruce. Steve Smith. Our final person signed up to testify on Agenda Item 5. Mr. Smith.
MR. SMITH: Being the final person testifying, I am sure you are probably happy to see me. My head says that I should keep this as short as possible, but my gut says I am darned if I am giving up my time to somebody who gets paid to be here to represent people. Because I am here because of my own passion.
Okay. I am an off-road motorcycle rider. My family has all been on off-road motorcycles for years. We recently had four of our generations together. We recently had four of our generations together riding motorcycles at one time. It was a wonderful event.
One of the things, I had the opportunity to go to one of the meetings in Ozona. Some of you may recall that I was here at the last meeting. And I am here representing the untold masses. I mean, there are literally thousands of people whose hobby, passion, whatever you want to call it, is off-road vehicle use.
And I want you to know, that as an end user, we as all end users, we are very well aware of the difference between off-road vehicles and off-road travel. Okay. Right now in the State of Texas, there are very few places where we are welcome. Everybody is aware of that.
To that extent, myself and a lot of my friends have converted our pure dirt bikes to dual sport bikes. We have licenses, we have insurance. We are fully legal on the road.
And by doing that, it has given us the opportunity to take advantage of one of the other wonderful places in the state, which is Big Bend State Park. And we are regular visitors there. And we are welcome there. The rangers out there love us. We have a great time when we go out. To have the opportunity to stop halfway in Ozona is going to be great.
And on behalf of all the people who could not be here today, on behalf of the ones with the passion that I have and could be here today, we urge you to approve this. It will be a good thing.
And one of the reasons that we are here is so that we can try and illustrate to the landowners who have concerns and objections that we are responsible people, and that we will be good stewards of the land. And we will not trespass. We have no interest in trespassing. We want to ride our trails. It is as simple as that. So thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Smith. I appreciate that.
Tim, do you have anything to add?
MR. HOGSETT: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any more questions for Tim or other members of the staff? Commissioner Montgomery, are we going to have to buy lunch?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We are okay. I just bought lunch. Are you sure we are okay buying this before we complete the archaeology? We have enough archaeology to assure ourselves that we don't have a problem there?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I see Andy shaking his head yes.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And as to the issue of notification, Ann, are we — have we satisfied that requirement?
MS. BRIGHT: We will double-check and make absolutely sure that that requirement is satisfied. I understand, I think somebody came up and kind of whispered in my ear that it is probably — that there is already some production on that land. And so I think we can probably — I think we can address that. I don't know if Tim knows anything about this.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. Does your recommendation require any amendments to make clear the condition of reverter and what was the other issue, and the time to develop?
MR. HOGSETT: We will just act on your direction and do so.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, I believe that it is clear that this is conditioned upon not only obtaining the grant, but it not be opened until that development is — the requirement and plan is satisfied.
MR. HOGSETT: Should you approve it, we will put that in the contract accordingly.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And one other point I think we heard, was that, clearly, the landowners be involved in that development plan.
MR. HOGSETT: That opportunity will be made.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Is there a motion.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I could just add on that point, I think we all care about mitigating these externalities. I believe that on a tract that size, it could be done. But I am prepared to vote no on the development grant if it can't be done to our satisfaction. I believe it will be.
But I just want the landowners to know that is a genuine concern. I think our staff is very good at that sort of thing. And it is quite a sincere commitment on their part.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I make a motion to proceed.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You make a motion on the recommendation? Second?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Second from Holmes. I am sorry. Motion by Parker. Second by Holmes. All in favor.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion carries. Thank you, Tim.
Okay. I hope everybody is going to stay for the Lesser Prairie Chicken. I will be very disappointed if you don't, because this is some pretty important conservation work.
Right, Commissioner Bivins? Tim. Are you still up?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Folks please, as quietly as possible. We have still got a lot of business to conduct here. Thank you. Go right ahead, Tim, for Item 6.
MR. HOGSETT: I am Tim Hogsett, Director of Recreation Grants. This item is a proposal for you to adopt off-road vehicle highway vehicle rules.
Senate Bill 1311 in the last session of the Legislature created the Off-road Vehicle Trail and Recreation Area Program. The rule that we are asking you to adopt today is under your authority under what is now Chapter 29 of the Parks and Wildlife Code, which actually establishes that Off-road Vehicle Trail and Recreation Program.
The proposal was placed in the Texas Register, December 23. We got a total of ten comments. Six in favor, two opposed, and two with no opinion.
The Off-road Vehicle Program consists of a decal that will be required to operate an unlicensed off-road vehicle on Texas public lands. The law provides for an $8 cost for the decal, or alternate amounts that would be established by the Commission.
It would be an annual decal that would begin each September 1. Proceeds from the $8 cost would be used to increase off-road vehicle recreation opportunities in Texas.
Basically, the rule we are asking you to adopt today defines an off-road vehicle. It is defined as an all-terrain vehicle, as defined by Section 63.001 of the Transportation Code and an off-road highway motorcycle, and any other four-wheel-drive vehicle that is not registered to be driven on the highway. It also defines what public lands are.
In other words, where you would have to have one of these stickers to operate legally on these public lands. They are lands controlled or owned by the Department where OHV use is allowed, other Texas public lands where OHV use is allowed.
Lands supported by Texas Parks and Wildlife grant programs where OHV use is allowed. And the possession of one of these decals does not authorize any person to enter public land or to use an off-road highway vehicle on public land if entry or use is prohibited on that land. And does not authorize any person to operate an off-highway vehicle on a public roadway.
Therefore, we are suggesting the following recommendation. The staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the off-road highway vehicle rules as found in Exhibit A, as published in the December 23, 2005, issue of the Texas Register. I would be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Tim?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Tim. It was a good briefing. A motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Brown, second by Holt. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion passes. Thank you, Tim. Up to number 7. Tim, we just don't need any other staff people today.
MR. HOGSETT: Apparently. I will try to be brief. This is our twice a year recommendations to you for funding of outdoor recreation grants from the Texas Recreation Parks account. We have received 22 applications for the July 31, 2005, deadline requesting a total of $8.7 million in matching funds.
We scored as a staff all those applications, rank-ordered them. The rank order can be found in Exhibit A. And we conducted site visits at all 22 sites. We are recommending today the approval of the top six applications.
You saw this slide earlier. It shows the reductions in the Texas Recreation Parks account, which has brought us to an annual available amount now of about $5.6 million.
Our recommendation to you on this item is funding for projects listed in Exhibit A in the amount of $2,032,323 is approved. And this would approve six applications. I would be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Tim on Item 7? Motion?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Motion.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Motion by Holmes, second by Friedkin. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion passes. And Item 8. Tim Hogsett.
MR. HOGSETT: This is our annual funding of indoor recreation grants. We received five applications for our annual deadline of July 31, 2005, requesting over $2 million.
The applications were scored and rank-ordered. And that rank order can be found in Exhibit A. The Legislature reduced the appropriation authority for indoor recreation grants to a little over $800,000 for the biennium. That equates to about $417,563 per year.
So we are recommending the funding of one application. And the recommendation is funding for a project listed in Exhibit A in the amount of $417,583 is approved. I would be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Tim, I am so sorry. I missed a testimony.
MR. HOGSETT: Testimony on outdoor.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. I am so sorry. I sure hope they were here in favor.
Delina Barrera? Brownsville, Texas. Still here?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Monty Blackmon? City of Lampasas.
MR. BLACKMON: I was here, but I need some questions answered after the hearing.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Well, thank you for making the trip. And good luck with your project.
MR. BLACKMON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Roger Bearden?
MR. BEARDEN: I pass.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Everybody in favor of the motion that already passed? Okay. Good. All right.
That was it for number 8, indoor recreation grant. And I don't have anyone signed up to testify for number 8. Anything else? Any questions for Tim on 8?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Motion?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So moved.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: By Holmes. And second by Bivins. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion passes. And on to Boating Access Fund, number 9.
MR. HOGSETT: This is a group of applications we received for the 75 percent boating access program. Basically, boat ramps, but in one case it is a dredging project to open a public waterway to recreational boating. These are federal aid funds.
We received nine applications, requesting $2.8 million and 75 percent matching funds assistance. We have approximately $1.8 million available at this time. We are recommending six of the nine applications that you have before you.
The ones that are not recommending funding for, in a couple of cases, they are primarily canoe launches, as opposed to motorized boating facilities. And the source of this fund requires that these boat ramps be for motorized use.
And then the other one that we are not recommending is where we have more than one application from a single applicant. And so we are asking them to choose the one that is their highest priority, which they have done.
The motion we bring before you today, funding for six boating access projects. Construction and renovation projects listed in Exhibit A in the amount of $1,541,957 is approved. I would be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Where is that dredging?
MR. HOGSETT: Port —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is that the one at Port Aransas?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes. Port Mansfield. Willacy County navigation district. It is the Port Mansfield channel.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good. Any other questions? Motion?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So moved.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Parker. Second by Montgomery. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion passes.
MR. HOGSETT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Tim.
Item 10, the transfer of lake use and state park to the City of Houston. Walt Dabney.
MR. DABNEY: Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Walt Dabney, and I am here to talk to you today about the potential transfer of Lake Houston State Park to the City of Houston. Lake Houston Park is just under 5,000-acre park on the north end of the City of Houston and Harris and Montgomery counties.
We purchased the park from Champion Paper in 1981. It has been open since that point in time. We have not been able to put much into it from a development standpoint, and so forth. It is a beautiful site; lakes, wetlands. A lot of it is in a floodplain. There are lots of traditional park activities that are occurring there now.
Lake Houston revenues were about $41,000, and its actual operating costs were about 180,000-plus for us. Currently four full-time employees there. House Bill 2108 has allowed the Department to negotiate with local subdivisions of the State, mostly counties and cities to potentially transfer sites that can be operated as well or better by that entity, and where park land is not lost to the people of Texas.
If this were approved, I think this would be the ninth one that we actually had done that with, around the State. The City of Houston has in fact formally requested that we transfer the ownership and operation of this property to them. We are negotiating with them as you allowed us to do at the last Commission meeting.
What this proposal would include, is a guarantee that this land continue to be utilized as park land. It can't be converted to any other use. The deed will guarantee that historical, cultural and natural resources of the site be protected in accordance with all State laws, and otherwise.
It won't be a state park any more, but it will be a City of Houston park. It will still be operated basically the same. And we have articulated very specifically in the languages what can and cannot happen on that site.
We did, after you approved us proceeding with looking into this, conduct a public meeting in Houston area on December 5. 107 people were there registered, 23 registered in favor. Eight registered in opposition.
We have since received written comments, 15 of those, and six were opposed. And what we would propose is that you allow us to proceed forward with this recommendation to complete the negotiations with the City of Houston and actually transfer this site to their ownership and operation.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Walt. We have a few people signed up on this item.
Joe Turner, City of Houston. And then Evelyn Merz, I believe.
MR. TURNER: Good morning, Commission. I am the Parks Director for the City of Houston. Thank you for this opportunity to present to you this morning. We started this procedure approximately about one year ago, in discussions. As we moved forward, it has become more evident that it seems the right thing to do with this particular facility that we have just north of our Houston area.
To give you a little proximity, if you are on Highway 59, this park is actually 30 minutes from the downtown Houston area. We, back in late October before the hearing you had in May, Mayor White announced our discussions of going into discussions of this. To give you a little background on how we came with those, we have also contacted — this park has partly the City of Houston.
I had a booklet put together, a presentation that we use. It is partly City of Houston, Harris County, Montgomery County. We went through, and we went, the Mayor, we met with Commissioner Jerry Ebersole, who has the Harris County portion of it.
Commissioner Ebersole supports the project. Financially at this point, there will be no funding from him. He is working on the Spring Creek project. Between him and Commissioner Ed Chance in Montgomery County, he is committed to that. But he does support the program.
We went and met with Commissioner Ed Rhinehart of Montgomery County, Precinct 4. Commissioner Rhinehart supported the program, moved forward with us. And what we have worked out with Commissioner Rhinehart, is once the transfer does happen, then he has agreed to go into an inter-local agreement with us from an operating standpoint.
At this point, from an operational standpoint, dollar-wise, we have a commitment to meet and exceed the current budget there. And then we will be going out for other additional private dollars to increase that dollar amount of the operating budget for the first few years.
We put together a plan for this park. We have presented it. This presentation is also on our website, the park's website. We presented it to quite a few different groups; Sierra Club of Houston, park people who were instrumental in the original acquisition of this piece of property in the Houston area. Houston Audubon Society, and then the East Montgomery County Improvement District.
So we are at a point where now, we are looking for your favorable response so we can move forward. We do understand the value of this park. This park is over, as Walt said, about 5,000 acres. Over 3,500 acres is floodplain, which is, it is just an absolute beautiful facility to work with.
And then what we will do, is move forward, raising the capital to do a development. The biggest piece though, is that it will take us at least, I am projecting one year to put a development plan or master plan for this park, to bring all our stakeholders into it. Because we want to preserve the integrity of this park. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Turner, I appreciate your work here. I do have — what is your time frame for development and execution?
MR. TURNER: Well, Chairman, it will take us at least a year to get a master plan together. I mean, we have a technical grant right now, from the National Parks Service to help us put the community meetings and stakeholders meetings, to bring all those entities in, so that we can put that group together.
There are some things in the works right now, for major funding on this park. If we move forward, we will be able to make some of those announcements.
We did secure yesterday some additional operating dollars from a private individual to attach to the operating budget we have now. So we are going to go after probably about two or three more private individuals for short-term funding, two to three years.
So at a point where we can at least, from an operating standpoint, probably double that operating budget right off the bat, so we can get some additional employees in there, priority one. Priority one is to get a naturalist in there working, to where we can do tours in that park right off the bat.
And then the operating budget, I would project the master plan won't be ready for at least a year. And hopefully at that time, it will be ready. If you look at our project, it will take approximately $3 million to $5 million on the front end.
And what will that be? That will be roads. We have to move the entrance of that park off of where you come into it now. Off Baptist Encampment. You have to have access off 1485. We know we can do that.
The top northern portion of it, we have approximately 1,000 acres that is out of the floodplain. And we know that is where the development, what development there will be would occur. And so, first development, $3 million to $5 million. It is all utilities. It is roads.
And we are looking to bridge across the creek the other way. Right now, there is only a walking bridge from what is worked on now. We will put a road bridge over it. And then we will come in and improve the camping facilities.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is impressive. You have done your work in moving our mission for increased access to the outdoors for Texans, So I applaud you. I applaud you in your work.
MR. TURNER: If I could add one thing. I would like to add that the next spokesperson has probably the best line of all the presentations we did and went through. And I will say I have stole it and used it quite often. And one of her quotes is, it is not who manages this facility; it is how it is managed. And we take that very seriously.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is good advice. Thank you.
And with that, is it Ms. Merz? Did I pronounce that right?
MS. MERZ: No.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: No. I didn't.
MS. MERZ: It is not Merz as in Ethel Mertz. It is Evelyn Merz.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Oh, Merz.
MS. MERZ: No T.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Merz, okay. Thank you.
MS. MERZ: Thank you. I have put up with that all of my life.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So I am not the first one. I feel better.
MS. MERZ: Not at all. You did steal my line, Joe.
Okay. I am the group chair of the Houston Regional Group of the Sierra Club. And we are very interested in this item. We are not opposed to the transfer in principal. And it is not who manages it, it is how it is managed.
And we do believe the true underlying issue, which is why we are here today, is because of the chronic under-funding of the Texas State Parks system. And that is a very serious issue, and we are concerned about it. But this is not the place to consider that right now.
We do have a couple of — a few recommendations that we would like to point out. We believe the park transfer documents should include provisions to prohibit the use of ATVs and ORVs in the park, and that ATVs and similar vehicles should be prohibited on the park roads as well. We don't think the terrain of this park is at all suitable, and the uses would be incompatible with ATV use. We think that the park transfer documents should include a provision that the City of Houston should oppose the routing of the Grand Parkway to divide the park. And we believe the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department should do the same thing. I do understand it is most unlikely that would happen, but it is one of the options of cutting the park.
We think that there should be the development of the master plan. We fully support that. And it is crucial to maintaining the natural ecosystems. And we would really recommend that there be an advisory group created and maintained after the master plan, to have the continued public input.
We do think that the development of the additional roads and bridges should avoid erodible soils. And that parts of the master plan should identify park areas that would remain undeveloped for habitat, or have only primitive development. We think that it should be managed in a way that is compatible with a riparian recovering forest ecosystem.
We do believe there should be appropriate staff with degrees in the natural sciences to help maintain this park. And certainly, volunteer labor is very important, but there is no substitute for professional degreed staff. We think there should be adequate security staff at this park, to handle the typical park visitation issues, and to patrol for unauthorized vehicular use on the trails.
We do have an opportunity, we noted, to restore prairie park habitat in the park, especially along the right-of-way. We did notice native species that could be really enhanced by replanting and proper management.
And we do believe that we would like to talk some more, hopefully with the City, about trying to avoid building another bridge across Peach Creek. We think that the road would go through the forest that is finally started to recover.
And if there could be some innovative ways to do a shuttle, much like in Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, which is truly innovative, I think this would be very appropriate for this park. But we would like to talk some more about that. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ms. Merz.
Walt, do you want to address any of that?
MR. DABNEY: I think most of everything that Ms. Merz talked about, the City of Houston basically conceptually agrees with, and we do as well. And those are going to be addressed in the transfer documents. The City of Houston has no interest in converting this to a different type of park.
This is — the agreement actually precludes such things as soccer fields and that. This is a city-owned state park type of a park. And that is the way they want to keep it. We will work closely with them, in putting together this plan that Joe talked about. We look forward to doing that. But the character of this park is not going to change.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So it is not unlike the mission that we have for our state natural areas, as opposed to state parks.
MR. DABNEY: Well, actually, it will continue to be used as a state park where you can camp and do all those kinds of things.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. DABNEY: It isn't intended to be a city urban intensive recreation park for organized sports and that kind of thing.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. DABNEY: It is a natural area, and that is the intent of it; staying that way.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Walt.
Any other questions? Sure. Go right ahead, Pete.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And this may be a bit off the subject, but Ms. Merz brought up the ATV use. Of the 124 parks or so that the state has, is there much ATV or off-road usage in any of those parks?
MR. DABNEY: No, sir. There is not. And the transfer documents that we have prepared would preclude that from occurring for the City of Houston.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Would preclude it also.
MR. DABNEY: This isn't the place for that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do we have a motion on this recommendation?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I would like to move it. I would like to commend Joe Turner for the fine work he has done, and Walt in working on this. I think it is a great project. It is always sad to see a park go out of Parks and Wildlife, but it being maintained for public use in the way that we had intended it, with funding which we don't have to allocate to it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think it will accelerate the use of the property.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Absolutely. There is funding, as opposed to there isn't.
MR. DABNEY: I am not an advocate.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I move that we approve it.
MR. DABNEY: I am not an advocate of getting rid of parks. This isn't getting rid of a park.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: No. This is making a park actually happen. Motion by Holmes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Second by Friedkin. All in favor.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion carries. Thank you. I need to — I had called someone on Item 7. And they were not here, but now they are.
Ms. Barrera, I believe. Delina Barrera? And I apologize. I think you were outside when I called your name. I am sorry.
MS. BARRERA: Yes. The problem was that I was here before they found the error in the handouts. So I am actually here to speak about the outdoor rec program.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. On seven, if I am right. The Brownsville —
MS. BARRERA: The City of Brownsville.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: City of Brownsville. Okay. I apologize.
MS. BARRERA: Again, the City of Brownsville is just asking for a flat $100,000 construction with no property acquisition. The recommendation by staff, by TPW staff in essence told us, was that, do not support due to limited funds.
In discussion with staff to try to find out what we could do, we were told basically, in order for us to become competitive, we had to have an acquisition. And that only the specific application commitments which limits the sponsor match to that max amount is what is considered. Not the full project, and what is being dedicated to the full project.
For us in the City of Brownsville, it is a large concern for us to be able to be competitive under that philosophy. The City of Brownsville made a local commitment through its 4(b) corporation to invest in parks. For this project, the Corporation committed to a $12 million bond over 20 years.
And the reason they did this, in addition to the quality of life issue, as our Council of Governments stated, is that it would be a huge economic engine for Brownsville, which would also then help then produce more funds to be able to do park expansion. However, we didn't wait to purchase the property.
And one of the reasons that we could not wait to purchase the property is because we have had tremendous growth in the area. And by waiting, what would have happened is, we have property that is disappearing at an exceedingly fast rate. And thus, the property basically, there wouldn't be property for us to be able to acquire in the urban area.
And two, the property prices have been escalating. Property prices just in the last three to four years have doubled, and in some cases, tripled.
So we had to do, we went on ahead and purchased 150 acres at $1.8 million toward this project. Again, understanding the funding cutbacks that the State has had, we need for Texas Parks and Wildlife to be supportive of local communities who are taking a proactive type of stance to do park acquisition and development, and not be in a situation where our applications can't even be considered to be funded.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, don't leave. Because this is, as you may know, the Local Parks Grant Program is a particular interest of mine. It is the most merit-based grant program that I have ever seen.
And as you can tell, it is highly competitive. Even more so now, because as you point out, we have had the amount of money cut by the Legislature.
I think the matrix of scoring is intended to level that playing field, and frankly, take the politics out of it, and really concentrate on projects of merit. If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is, you were put at a disadvantage under our scoring system, because you struck while the iron was hot.
MS. BARRERA: Exactly. The land acquisition, apparently, is a very big issue. And we were in essence told, well, reapply, but make sure you put land acquisition. Well, it is not possibly anymore.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You already did it.
Tim, can you help with this? Because I think she makes a good point. She did the smart thing, and that put her at a disadvantage in our scoring system.
MR. HOGSETT: There is merit to what she says. The scoring system that you currently have adopted gives higher priority to acquisition and development combination projects. It is bringing new estate with the money that we are providing through the grant program into the Parks and Recreation estate. I don't deny that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But we don't have, I guess you say, sort of a footnote to that policy that takes into account when someone has taken the initiative to get it done. I guess there is not —
MR. HOGSETT: We have a mechanism in place, where if someone needs to go ahead and make an acquisition, they can maintain that property's eligibility to be grant-funded prior to — it makes no commitment to you. You make no commitment by doing that, that it is going to get funded. But we call it a waiver of retroactivity.
Basically, the community knows that they need to buy a piece of property immediately, or they will lose the opportunity. They come to us, and we administratively have a tool where we can offer them that property will maintain its eligibility. It has to be prior to the application being submitted to us.
You know, I am sorry this particular situation has worked out this way. But frankly, we didn't know about the opportunity at the time that it existed; that they needed to buy this property.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: What is the solution? Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I just guess Tim, I was going to — I mean, our community is aware that there is that possibility.
MR. HOGSETT: I certainly think they are.
MS. BARRERA: The way that the process is set up, and the way that this whole cycle runs, there is also a limited — a time period limit on it. So it makes it very difficult, when you are in kind of the — like if I do the time line.
When you are in the situation time line that we were in, in doing this project, it makes it difficult to do that. Because then we are locked in. We have to wait. And we lose the opportunity.
MR. HOGSETT: That administrative tool is good for five years.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: What is the solution?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: How do we give Brownsville —
MR. HOGSETT: I don't know that there is a solution. We have got a wholesale changing of the scoring system to lower the priority of an acquisition and development project relative to a development-only project.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, we really don't want to do that, do we? I mean acquisition is still the key piece for most people.
MR. HOGSETT: By and large.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Tim, can't we give acquisitions a longer tail, retrospectively, so it can still count as acquisition being bought within a two or three-year period rather than —
MR. HOGSETT: We gave them five years. It was three years, up until you changed the rules last January, I guess it was, when we went through that process. And we are doing five years now on retroactivity.
The other option that local governments have is finding a non-profit entity to hold that property for them, until they go through the grant process. And then that non-profit donates the property, basically, to the community.
MS. BARRERA: And see, the reason that option wouldn't be available in this case, our 4(b) corporation bought the property. But because it is on a 20-year bond, they cannot legally then give it to the City until 20 years, because of our bond documents.
And like I said, the other concern is just looking at the total picture. Because here, the City is going to be making a $12 million investment into a park. And not just looking specifically at the — if you look at the way the match is set up, it tells you that the local sponsor match, max of $500,000.
So when you look at those documents, then it doesn't reflect when a city or when an entity is actually making a larger contribution. So you are most definitely getting more bang for your buck, so to speak. In that case.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You make a good point. Ned?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: You know, it seems to me, Tim, that kind of equity is on the side of the City in this circumstance. And I would encourage you to figure out a way to accommodate that.
MR. HOGSETT: I can tell you though, that the acquisition issue was not the only thing on this project. This project scored 56 and the cutoff point was 100. So there were other issues with the project. And I encourage the City to come back and work with us, to see if we can't improve what they have got remaining.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. HOGSETT: To see if they can be competitive.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Let me wrap it up this way, because I always encourage the applicants to stay with it. I mean, I have never seen anybody or a staff like Tim and his group, who continue to work with the applicants. And if you don't get it the first time, stay after it. Address the issues that caused you to score lower.
But you do have a special situation here, that I don't believe was intended by the policies of the Commission. And as I put it in layman's terms, you were penalized for taking decisive action. And if we need to address that, Tim, will you bring it to the Commission?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: In policy change.
MS. BARRERA: And again, unfortunately, we are again in a situation where because of talking to staff, they said we could go through a re-application. But again, we are in a situation because of the way our time line is working, we are at construction document phase.
We are going to do groundbreaking in the summer. So all of the money that is available, will already be allocated. And we are done. So that is unfortunate for us.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Bill.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Ms. Barrera, I want to mention one other thing, too, as far as the $12 million.
And Tim, correct me if I am wrong. We were careful in setting up those criterion to be sure that bigger cities couldn't just overwhelm the small cities. And that is why there is a cap on how much counts, if I remember correctly. Her point about counting the $12 million. She made the point that she didn't get credit for the full $12 million in the scoring process.
And as I remember, we set those criterion, we did cap how much is counted in order not to give the larger cities a disproportionate benefit, and let them overwhelm the small cities in their financial contributions. Because the small cities would get wiped out of the granting process, if we did that.
MR. HOGSETT: And for us to equitably compare apples and apples one application to another, we have got to have a specific scope that they are asking for. And in this case, we say, well, now, it would be $400,000. But we said that your match cannot exceed $500,000 or a million-dollar project. Show us a million-dollar project, and then we will score it.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I had one last question.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Tim, you can tell the Commission cares about this.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It seems like there were enough other issues in the application that it wouldn't have reached 100 in the cutoff level, even if the timing on the land purchase had been consistent with the rules. Is that correct or not?
MR. HOGSETT: I would agree with you. Not having everything in front of me, I can't say that definitively. But I feel that is the case. Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do you feel you can address those other scoring issues, Ms. Barrera?
MS. BARRERA: At this point in time, I don't know what they are, so I can't respond to that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. Well, sit down with the staff and review that.
MS. BARRERA: And they said they wouldn't, until after this, they wouldn't sit down with us.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Well, thank you. I really appreciate you.
MS. BARRERA: Thank you. I appreciate your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, I appreciate your being well-prepared and well-reasoned. Thank you.
Next up, Item 11. Public opinion research. Lydia Saldana.
MS. SALDANA: Good afternoon. I am Lydia Saldana, Communications Director. Last year, Texas Parks and Wildlife hosted the Spring Directors Meeting of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Association here in Austin. One of the presentations at that meeting was given by Mark Duda of Responsive Management, which is a survey research firm.
Mark presented results of a comprehensive survey that examined public opinion on fish and wildlife management issues and agency reputation and credibility. Texas was one of 16 states that were included in that survey. Bob was intrigued by the presentation as were the rest of us that were in the audience. And so Mark is here to present some of the top line results.
For those of you who don't know Mark, he is a nationally recognized researcher, who has conducted more than 600 surveys and 500 focus groups. He is the author of four books, including Wildlife in the American Mind, and his research has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and CNN. He holds a master's degree in natural resource policy and planning from Yale. It is my pleasure to introduce Mark Duda.
MR. DUDA: I have to change my introduction to good morning to good afternoon. You guys are tough; I am impressed. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. Ms. Director, I appreciate the invite. I always like coming down to Austin, so I appreciate that.
This is sort of — I guess — a little respite, because there is no action to be taken. It is just sort of an information type of a thing.
You are going to be looking behind me. And I was a little concerned, because I think the older I get, the worse my vision gets. And I don't know if I can see all that. So I may sort of turn sideways here.
So I apologize. I don't mean to be turning my back on you. But what I want to do is present the, sort of the top line results of a major survey that we conducted, in cooperation with the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
And what I would like to do is sort of start out at the very beginning here. You already mapped that. You know who that is. That is Aldo Leopold. And I really like that photograph of him, because that is where he was young. He is vibrant. He is outside.
And a lot of those later pictures that you see of him are having him sort of older. He is kind of hunched over at a desk. And he is inside. So I really like that.
But he said something I think that rings true, maybe even more so today. He said this in 1943. He said the problem of wildlife management is not how we should handle the deer. The real problem is one of human management. Wildlife management is comparatively easy. Human management is difficult. And I know you saw that, and you see that every single day.
Sort of in following with that, sort of just to bring you to sort of the focus of fish and wildlife management, sort of the paradigm of what we do, and that is that fish and wildlife managers really deal with three different aspects of fish and wildlife and natural resource management. We deal with fish and wildlife populations. We deal with habitats. And we deal with people.
And one of the things that has always struck me, my background actually is as a wildlife biologist, a long time ago. I am turned social scientist. But that when we approach fish and wildlife populations, when we approach issues related to fish and wildlife habitats, we deal with those in a very scientific, deliberate and orderly process. That is what we do.
A lot of times, though, when it comes to those people issues, we are not as scientific about that. I think that is getting less and less true. It certainly is less true with Texas Parks and Wildlife, who has been doing a lot of this research for years, including a major study that we did for you in 2000, in conjunction with Texas Tech University on Texas Parks and Wildlife for the 21st Century, which is this that you might be familiar with.
So anyway, let's talk now, just sort of putting this survey in perspective of taking that idea, that it is important, that people are important enough to approach in that same scientific, deliberate and orderly process that we do for fish and wildlife management and fish and wildlife habitats. The other thing that I would like to note on that, is that I think that is why we have been so successful with fish and wildlife population and with habitats as we take that scientific approach.
And this took a scientific approach to understanding people. In this case, Texans. But this is a part of a much larger project. This was a scientific survey. It was conducted last February. We reported the results here to 95 percent confidence interval.
And the people that we talked to very closely match the citizens of Texas. So we feel very comfortable with who we talked to. They were very representative of who is out there, in terms of a sample.
These were some of the topics that I am going to present today, over the next few minutes. There are several others that aren't in here. But if you are interested in that report, we can get you that. It is posted on our website. And we can get you any information.
But we looked at the Agency perceived to be responsible for managing fish and wildlife. Do Texans know who you are? Satisfaction with Texas Parks and Wildlife. The ratings of importance of performance of various Texas Parks and Wildlife Department programs. Who thinks what program is important, and how good of a job are you doing in each of those areas?
Funding for the Texas Parks and Wildlife, that is do people know how you are funded. How do hunters think, how do anglers think? Are they aware of some of the important programs that fund your important work?
What are the most important issues facing Texas when it comes to natural resources, environmental and fish and wildlife issues? Opinions on water and water quality. Sources of information in terms of where they get their information and credibility.
And I think you will like this finding a lot. And then finally, approval or disapproval of hunting and fishing and trapping. It seems so many times these days you hear, oh, nobody supports this. Or do people support this? And what we are able to do is bring you back some scientific polling in terms of what Texans really think about these issues.
So let's start. Let's take a look in terms of do Texans know who you are. For those of you who know about the 2000 study, I think you will like this. This is good news, especially in relation to a lot of the other state fish and wildlife agencies that in a completely open-ended manner, we didn't prod them where we said, we asked the question, what one government agency would you say is most responsible for managing and conserving fish and wildlife?
Thirty percent of the state, three out of ten residents could name exactly the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Another 20 percent were able to name type of reasonable derivative from that. Texas Wildlife and Parks, Texas Parks, the Department of, and so on.
And so we categorized those. So about half of Texans know who you are by name. That is the good news. The other half of that is that a chunk, four out of ten said they just flat out don't know.
And we can call them back and inform them, if you want me to. We can give you their numbers. I am only kidding. Now let me put that in perspective quickly for you.
VOICE: I think we could —
MR. DUDA: We can be bought. No. Is that I think you will like this. Because this was a fairly important finding in our survey. Because this was a survey of Texas residents. But it is in conjunction with a survey of Virginia residents, of Mississippi residents.
And so we are able to compare how Texans thought versus these residents in all of these other states. And you can see that in Texas, and this is a little bit of an anomaly here. Because what we saw was that as a state was more urbanized, the less the citizens knew about the Department. Texas is not true. And so in that perspective, these are better findings.
And that is that you are much higher in terms of the awareness level. Again, just flat out awareness level. So then we asked these people, including the people who said that they couldn't name you. They knew somebody was out there, but they couldn't exactly identify exactly who it was, in words.
But we informed them that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is responsible for managing and conserving fish and wildlife in Texas. Before the survey, would you say you knew a great deal, a moderate amount, a little, or nothing about the Department. These numbers are actually pretty nice.
You can see that 7 percent said a great deal, 22 percent said a moderate amount. Those actually were higher numbers than most of the other state fish and wildlife agencies across the Southeast. But more importantly, some of these questions were trend questions that we indeed asked in 2000.
And overall, we saw an increase in this from Texans in the year 2000 to Texans in the year 2005. So I think that is an important finding. And I think it is a commendable finding. I think that is some good news as well. Are people happy with you? Half of them can't name you.
But the good news, they know somebody is out there. Look at these numbers; these numbers are great. For any of those of you who have run a corporation or been involved with boards and corporations, these are great numbers. This is an A to an A+ finding when we asked, well, we would like to ask your opinions regarding the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Overall, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as a governmental agency in Texas. 32 percent saying very satisfied, 39 percent saying somewhat satisfied. These numbers too, as good as they are, have actually increased since the year 2000.
So while you have a great report card now, and you had a nice report card in 2000, the overall satisfaction levels have increased over the past five years. And that finding is indeed statistically significant.
Now I know what Director Cook is thinking, because he goes okay, 1 percent is very dissatisfied. Out of the millions of people in Texas, that is hundreds of thousands of people. And every one of those people has called me at one point in time. As I know, it sounds like a lot of people, and it probably does.
And I think this is the important perspective, is that although you might hear from some of those people, they are in the minority, 1 percent saying very dissatisfied. Those are really nice numbers.
Let's take a look at the ratings of importance and performance of various programs. What we did is we asked and just for sort of time-wise, we are not going to show you all of these individually, but I am going to show you them as a group. That we asked respondents not only how important each program was, but how good of a job that you are doing in each of these areas.
And we asked about the importance, and then a separate question, on the performance, of conserving fish and wildlife habitat. How good a job is the Parks and Wildlife doing when it comes to enforcing fish and game laws, managing fish populations overall.
Managing wildlife populations, protecting residents against diseases from wild animals, protecting residents from harm from wildlife. Providing educational programs, boating safety education, hunting safety. General public on viewing wildlife. Opportunities for legal hunting, recreational fishing, and restoring native fish and wildlife species to each state.
And so what we were able to do, is we were able to develop what we called a scatter plot, where we were able to develop — don't worry, there is nothing on that, because I am going to show you — but you could basically could have four quadrants. As you go up and down there, you can rate and you can plot in where people said, well, this program is very important.
And then as you go from left to right, that is your performance, in terms of how good you are doing. And so, basically, you could say, well, in the four quadrants that if you looked over on the left-hand side, that it is low importance and low performances. Those are the programs that would kind of X out and get away from.
On the lower right, low importance, high performance. And then on the upper left-hand corner, high importance, low performance, and then finally high importance and high performance.
So on a big picture level, Texans rated in that upper quadrant all the programs as important and all of your programs as being in the upper quartile in terms of performance. But let's take a closer look now. So what you are looking here next is that upper right-hand quartile.
So I think it is really important to note that this is simply a matter of degree. Texans think you are doing a great job overall, and all of these programs are important. And so the couple of programs that I am going to point out are only a very small matter of degree here.
Some of them are statistically significant. But again, it is just sort of a matter of degree. Now this one is that upper right quadrant, and I am going make that even a little bit larger here, so you can see that. Can you see that? Okay. You have got your binoculars with you.
And I will point out three that sort of stand out. I think the first one was conserving fish and wildlife habitat. And you can see again that as you go up, wherever those are up, you could sort of take those in a single line and go up, that is from — the top ones are just simply high importance to Texans. The bottom ones are lower importance. But again, we are talking perspective.
Then as you go from left to right, we are talking performance. The ones that stand out in the upper right-hand is that Texans overall think that enforcing fish and game laws are very important, and they think you are doing a great job at that.
In terms of the upper conserving fish and wildlife habitat, they think it is important. Overall, it is in the upper quartile, but they don't rate that as high as some of those other activities.
The other one to note, you can see down at the bottom, is providing opportunities for legal hunting. Where Texans overall, obviously not hunters, although hunters were a part of this, did not rate that as high. It is again, still fairly high, and the performance was lower.
And we looked into this. I looked into this in relation to the study that we did for you in 2000. And a lot of the issues that are coming up with hunting are issues that you deal with every single day. The issue of Texas being so many acres of private land. I think, if I remember, it was about 5.7 percent of Texas is public land. Is that about right? Around there.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: That is pretty close.
MR. DUDA: About right there. And that is not like a lot of the states, like Virginia and Florida where they have much higher numbers of public lands. The other issues were cost, and some of the other issues. And so again, I just want to point those out, that they were sort of what I would call outliers.
Let's take a look in terms of how these people think you are funded. Well, they can't name us. Do they really know even how we are funded. Let's take a look at some of those.
This was an open-ended question, where we asked Texans, how do you think the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is funded? And I think this is fairly enlightening here, because you can see all of this taxes, taxes.
And you are probably thinking, well, where are hunting and fishing licenses? Where are the federal aid dollars, and all of these other things. And you can see those are much lower. And the overall conclusion here is that people just put way too much emphasis on taxes, and such, and much less on how much hunters and anglers pay themselves.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Where would be the Pitman Robertson Dale Johnson language [phonetic].
MR. DUDA: Great question. That is down on excise taxes, down on 2 percent and 1 percent. And I am going to show you these broken out. The next slides are going to be what anglers think and what anglers said. And then what hunters said. But again, you can see that that was less. Now just a little bit different, that this was completely open-ended. That —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The general population, 404 was the —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, sir. Yes. So let's take a look now at that broken out by anglers, versus non-anglers. There is a little bit better news. But again, I think it is interesting that hunting licenses, fishing licenses are not the top issue. In fact, less than half of every hunter and angler, or at least angler in this case even mentioned hunting or fishing licenses.
And I am going to — this is actually part one, and there is going to be a part two here, with the lower ones. But again, you are seeing that in this case, your anglers are saying taxes, taxes. Then come licenses. And then even farther down the line, this is the sort of the next part of this, is excise on hunting equipment and excise taxes on fishing equipment. Where you can see 4 percent.
And again, this is in an open-ended manner. About only 4 percent of these folks were about to say anything close. I mean, if they said taxes on the rod I just bought, or anything like that, we did include that.
Let's take a look at how hunters answered the same question, broken out between hunters and non-hunters. Again, taxes, taxes. Hunting licenses, one out of every two hunters indeed said hunting licenses, fishing licenses. And then again down on the line here, excise tax, as you can, at about 5 percent on fishing equipment. Excise taxes on hunting equipment at 5 percent.
Again, that is in a completely open-ended manner. Now another way to test that, that I know that you have, and we did this for you in 2000 — and Kelly did this for you, I think, earlier in the year — was just to read what the program was, and then ask people if they were aware of it. And asked in this manner, you were getting in, I think, the 30-40 percentile range.
And the good news there is when she compared what she was getting this past year, I think it was last summer, with our study, that we have seen an increase in awareness. So I guess the good news bad news, the bad news is that it is still — they are not as aware as we would like them to be. The good news is that the trend data shows an upward trend. So I make a mixed bag there.
Let's take a look at the important issues for Texans. You might have heard Director Cook say this before he said, what are the top three issues to Texans when it comes to natural resources? And he said water, water, water. And he is exactly right.
This was, again, another open-ended question, where we asked, in your opinion, what are the most important natural resource or environmental issues facing Texas? Water quality, water quantity, water pollution, very top of the list.
We do a lot of this work for a lot of the state fish and wildlife agencies, the Department of Natural Resources. Water has been at the top there for about a decade or so. Very important issue, very important here in Texas. And you can see that — again, this is open-ended — that nothing even came close to this. Nothing even came close to water pollution, water quantity, water quality.
You can see air at about 13 percent. That stayed about the same that what we saw the air quality from the 2000 study. A little bit differently phrased, but I think there is some important results here.
We asked, what would you say are the most important fish and wildlife issues facing Texas today? So we have gone from natural resources and environmental to fish and wildlife. The top answer, don't know — 41 percent. Polluted water, again, that rises up to 26 percent. Habitat loss at 9 percent.
Now we actually asked this question as well, when it came to the most important issues facing endangered species. And that is where we saw habitat rise to the top. So while people see it as an issue for endangered species, they don't really see it as a wildlife issue.
There is a lot of things here that we wrote about in 2000, if you are interested in that. But it is sort of a complicated subject, but we feel pretty comfortable in terms of having our hand on the pulse on that one.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I am sorry. Habitat fragmentation is only four?
MR. DUDA: Yes. Habitat loss, fragmentation. You know, you maybe could add population growth to that. But it was pretty low.
Just if that interests you, you know, what we saw in the 2000 study, when we not only were doing surveys, but focus groups and personal interviews with Texans, is people can relate directly to development. A place that they used to go hunting is now developed. A place that they used to go fishing with their dad is now developed.
They understand it on a local level, and they are very concerned about it. But on a big picture level, they just — it just didn't resonate. Yes. Real interesting. So we are sort of halfway there. That they are concerned about it, but it is always on a local issue, on a local basis.
Director Cook was actually very instrumental in putting a lot of questions on this study on water, because that was obviously so important. I am only going to present one of those, just for time's sake. And that is, in terms of what do Texans think about the health of their water.
What was interesting is that this mirrors a lot of other studies that we have done. We just finished a fairly major national study for the American Museum of Natural History. That is developing exhibits at their museum on educating the public on water resources. We see this across the nation.
I am still sort of delving into that, in terms of my research. But you can see there is a split there. That about — a pretty major split. I don't see a lot of graphs that look like that, although you can see a lot of people think the water is very healthy. A lot of people think it is unhealthy.
We also cross-tabulated a lot of this, and we are going to be giving you the cross-tabs on this as well, so we can dive a little bit deeper into that. Let's take a look now that I think is probably the most important part of this study, because I think everything follows from that. And that is credibility.
Everything that you do stems from credibility. How much people listen to you. How much people care about the message that you are putting out there. And so part of this study was, well how credible is the Agency versus a local sportsmen's organization, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and these other organizations.
I was able to bring some great news back here. This is part one of a part two. And they are individual questions, where we asked each respondent, and these were randomized, I am just showing you in the top-ranked order, but we would say, well, would you say the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is very credible, somewhat credible or not at all credible? Would you say a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Warden is very credible, somewhat credible or not, and on down the line.
And what I have done here is I have ranked those in terms of very credible, and the percentage of Texans that said very credible, down to the least. And you haven't seen the least yet. But if you really wanted to have one be at the very bottom, which one would it be? Probably PETA. Okay, good. And we will hope for that.
But again, a very scientific study. We approached this in a very neutral aspect. But you can see that 70 percent of Texans said that you were very credible. Not just somewhat, but very credible. That goes up into the 90s when you add very and somewhat. And then, Game Warden, very close behind. Fish and Wildlife Service, biologist, professor of biology at Texas A&M, National Wildlife Federation.
And then down sort of from the bottom there, you can see that PETA, 18 percent of residents said that PETA was very credible. And then before that, going up, a local environmental organization and a local sportsmen's organization. Again, I think these are very powerful results.
I know that sometimes you get calls from people, you read things in the newspaper. And what we have now is a solid foundation of feeling very good in terms of credibility. That is also broken down in our report to you, in terms of who thinks what. So I think that information can be used as well.
Let's sort of finish this, in terms of what Texans think about hunting. Do they support it, or do they oppose it. What do they think about when it comes to fishing.
A few years ago, do you remember, PETA say they were going to stop fishing. That campaign, save our schools. We got a lot of calls about that. I said, I think of all the worries we have, that is probably the least of our worries.
But let's take a look at it, from a scientific standpoint. We asked the question in general, do you approve or disapprove of legal hunting? Now we used the term "legal" there, not to bias the results, but in our polling, in a lot of peoples polling, 20-25 years ago, we would say hunting, and people would say they disapprove of it.
And then you would follow up with that. And they would say, well, I just don't approve of poaching in Africa, or you know, all these things that aren't — that you and I wouldn't approve of, either. And so we asked the term, legal hunting. And you can see that a nice amount, more than three-quarters of Texans approve of legal hunting in general.
Now there is other issues there as well. But that is top line there. Very good. 12 percent strongly disapproving and about 7 percent moderately disapproving. Again, that is about what we see overall.
I have been doing surveys now for about 20 years. I have seen public opinion on hunting increase over the years. But now the past five, seven, eight years, it has stabilized at about three-quarters of the population.
Now in relation to the rest of the Southeast, Texas actually had a little bit higher amount of anti-hunting, down in that 12 percent and 7 percent. We have traced that directly to the high amount of urbanization in Texas.
And so pad out fishing [phonetic] is PETA's save our schools effort going to work down here in Texas? Well, with 1 percent of the population strongly disapproving and 1 percent moderately disapproving, I think they have a long way to go. What do you think?
Trapping is a little bit different, as you might expect. We still have some approval. About half of Texans approving. But about 28 percent strongly disapproving.
And we have done several studies on trapping. And if that is an issue to you too, we have looked at attitudes, American's attitudes toward that. And one of the things that we have seen is that Americans can support trapping if they know that it is sanctioned. We say that it is sanctioned. That it is scientific. That it is based on science.
And that it is a solution; that it is not a means to an end. And so there are some things that we can do in terms of messaging and educating the public about the importance of trapping.
So anyway, just to sort of to wrap up, I would say that in terms of you know, people always ask me, well, what are the top line results here? What do you see is happening? I feel really good about what Texans said. I don't feel great about what they know.
A lot of surveys show that same thing. People just don't know a lot about some of these issues. But you have got very high levels of credibility. I think that should make your day.
They support what the Department is doing. And the trend data, which I think is most important, the trend data from the big study that we did for you in 2000 shows that you are on the upswing on awareness, as well as satisfaction with the Department.
So thank you for your time. I really appreciate being invited here.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I have a question for you.
MR. DUDA: Sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Do you have a similar presentation on the parks?
MR. DUDA: We do. Yes, sir. We do a lot of work. We did — part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife for the 21st Century included an entire section on parks. That information is dated in 2000. So it is not updated.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And do you have a comparison with all the other states that are in the Association?
MR. DUDA: I have comparative data, but it's scattered throughout the U.S. — Kansas. We have never done a study exactly like this where we have measured every park throughout the southeast, or the United States. But we do have, we are currently doing a survey right now with Washington state parks, Kansas state parks, we did work for the Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife. So we have data. I don't have it in one place, but we have that data available.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Do you know offhand how many states or parks are hooked with LILA.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Combined agencies do you mean?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes.
MR. COOK: It is about 50 percent.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: 50 percent? Okay.
MR. COOK: I mean, oftentimes, depending on where you are in the nation, it is really parks goes a lot of different directions. Sometimes it is with the forestry organization, you know, almost. Sometimes, a completely totally separate organization from everybody else.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do we still have copies of the 2000 Schmidly report?
MR. COOK: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Could you get those to the Commissioners? Because that has some really good information along the lines that Commission Parker is asking for. I know it is a little dated, but if you don't have the Schmidly report that you worked on, Parks and Wildlife 21st Century, it is has got great information on parks.
There was one thing in there that interests me. When you ask people about credibility for information, do you ever ask them about credibility for actual conservation. I guess what I am trying to say is, who do they trust to actually get the conservation done, on the ground?
MR. DUDA: Yes. We do. They trust you as a state governmental agency. They do not trust the federal government.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But do they trust the landowners and the hunters and fishermen? Because that is really where it happens.
MR. DUDA: There is usually mixed opinions about private land ownership. The one concern that state residents have, Americans have about conservation on private lands, is that it goes to the right purpose.
They very much support conservation on private lands, if they are convinced that it is on a local effort. That local citizens have control over it. That it is based on scientific methodologies. And that the state has some kind of reasonable standards in place.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. The reason I ask this is, because in Texas, clearly, there is a disconnect, if the people are under the impression that Parks and Wildlife is actually out there managing all this habitat.
And as you pointed out, 95 percent of it is in private hands. So if anything is going to happen, it is going to happen on private habitat.
MR. DUDA: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And they don't seem to really trust the people who actually have the habitat. So is our wildlife management plan program, Managed Lands program, you may be familiar with it. It is consistent with sort of filling those gaps, that people are satisfied that it is really happening, and there is oversight?
MR. DUDA: Yes. I feel comfortable. I don't know all of the details. But in all of the other programs like that, that we have evaluated in Wyoming and Kansas and some of the very good ones, you know, the same things apply. If those plans, again, I don't know the specifics of that particular one.
But if those things are in place, if people can be assured of those things happening, they feel comfortable with it. And a lot of that comes down to communications. It really doesn't fall down on exactly what we are doing, but that can we communicate indeed, what it is. And we see that a lot.
The agencies are doing the right thing. We just never are as good at communicating. We are not as good at communicating what we do, as what we actually do.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Actually do on the ground. I think that is exactly right in Texas. And Lydia, I think this is an important link to make, from his work and his observations there, and our Land and Water Resource Conservation Plan; to make that connection for people.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Correct me if I am wrong, but to me, this is useful information to understand very broad public opinion in the context in which we operate. It is also useful to understand the perception of how we do our job. But not very useful to really judge how we are doing our job.
If we wanted to do that, and I think it is probably worth doing in out years, we really need to go down to a very specific user groups, and to the high-intensity, most knowledgeable users, and really get down to people who really understand the service, use it, can judge it, and can compare alternatives. And to the extent we really want to look hard at our performance among those most affected by it, we need to do that kind of survey work.
But this is not a performance gauge. It is a perception gauge. It is important to understand. But there is a very profound distinction between the two.
MR. DUDA: Yes. What a great point. And we actually did that in 2000, where we cross-tabulated out hunters on hunting programs, anglers on fishing programs, your park users. And we broke that down between day park and people who spent — overnight users.
And one of the things that we did see, is indeed, that the closer people were to the Agency, the higher those ratings became. And so, that was very good news, and I liken it to the more they know you, the more they like you. And so we definitely saw that trend.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: To the extent we do that again, I would be interested to see the high-intensity users separated from the low-intensity users, so that we really — they are the ones who really think hard about how we do, and really pay attention to it, and have a lot of experience with us. And that is where you are going to get meaningful performance. The most meaningful performance impact, to me.
MR. DUDA: Yes. I agree. And it is a great comment. And the good news is that it may not be contained, the general. The broad outlines may be in here.
But we actually, I think we had about eight or nine very in-depth reports for you. And that data is available. Again, it is a little bit dated now. But it is available. But also, with this study that I am presenting here, we have done those cross-tabulations. And those are available as well.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Are you working towards a more recent survey along the same lines of the 2000 survey, so that there could be a comparison made, or are we going uphill, or downhill?
MR. DUDA: We would love to.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You have got to pay the guy. It is one of them deals.
MR. DUDA: I did not plant that. Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: It is really an extensive amount of work that is required.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Like a money thing.
MR. COOK: Let me try to address that, because I think this study that Mark, who is an old friend of mine, and obviously, as you see, very articulate and very professional in the work that he does; very credible. But you know, it requires a really, as you have addressed, sometimes a very specific questioning to a very specific group.
So these surveys have different purposes. The purposes of this survey, of these 16 states was to get some of this overall, some of this broad perspective, and to let people like me that worry about those kind of things you know, where our programs need to be, maybe tweaked this way or tweaked that way, overall type programs.
Just like the emphasis that the Chairman brought up. My response to that, knowing what I know, is that we put a great deal of emphasis out about private landowners and what they do. That is not common in most states. That is not what happens in most other states.
In most other states, it is a federal agency, forest service, timber companies that are doing most of that. And we are very unique, even in that Southeastern organization. This specific survey, and I don't know. Mark would be a proponent for us to do the survey like this every year. And I certainly know that there is some value to that.
But I think having that type of survey every five to ten years and making a commitment to that, and searching out some of the detail that you identify as time goes by, as we need to know more about that. We need to know a lot more about that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Is 2000 the first year that we have?
MR. COOK: There was some surveys back around the 80s. And we hadn't done it in awhile. I think it is important, you know, from a standpoint of us, the leadership here at the Agency for the Commission, as I said, in directing resources, directing staff. Commitment of funding. And so we appreciate the work done.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mark, thank you.
And Lydia, can we get copies of that report, and then again, the 21st Century Schmidly, what I call the Schmidly report, Texas Tech. That would be great.
Mark, thank you very much.
MR. DUDA: Thank you. I appreciate the invite. It is always great to be in Texas. And I wanted to make sure that Lydia knew that Virginia is below the Mason-Dixon line. Because every now and then she will be like —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Oh, yes. Thank you.
MR. DUDA: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: One quick footnote, I would be interested in seeing us alternate and find the real deep drill, fine tune, work with the broad general work, maybe two or three years.
MR. COOK: Well, and also know, Commissioner, that within the Divisions, there are some of this type of continuing survey, specifically oriented towards fishermen, bass fishermen, or waterfowl hunters, or migratory birds. You know, we have some additional specific surveys targeted towards specific groups, and do them very statistically very sound and lots of repetitive information. So you know, but what you are talking about, I think would be a good thing.
Mark, thanks again.
MR. DUDA: Thanks.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mark. Thank you.
That is it for Item 11. We are going to recess for lunch, and be back shortly.
(Whereupon, at 1:25 p.m., a recess was taken for lunch.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Come to order. We had a lunch recess, and reconvened. Item 12. Hunter education plans. Steve Hall. Thanks for being ready, Steve.
MR. HALL: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. My name is Steve Hall. I am the Education Director, responsible for the mandatory hunter education program. Today, or this afternoon, we have a new hunter education student fee proposal.
The current student fee is $10, which was established in 1995. As allowed in statute, volunteers can retain up to $5 of that fee to defray their out-of-pocket expenses. The fee staff is proposing is $15 of which the volunteer would retain up to $10.
This new fee will provide monetary incentives for volunteers to teach more courses. It will allow volunteers to recovery increased out-of-pocket expenses. And it gives staff the opportunity to develop even more delivery methods to hopefully improve convenience and delivery.
This proposal was published in the Texas Register and no public comments were received. Hunter education instructors strongly support the proposal. Staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approve the new hunter education student fee of $15 effective June 1, 2006. I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Steve?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I have got a motion from Brown, second from Holmes. All in favor.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion passes.
Steve, great work. I know you have worked on that one awhile.
MR. HALL: Thanks. I appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Next up, it must be Walt Dabney.
MR. DABNEY: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners. I am Walt Dabney, State Park Director. I am here for a short presentation on amending the Administrative Code as it relates to operating our leased park concessions.
Two elements. One is to provide for a longer period of time for temporary contracts. And the second, to remove specific reference to a given liability level.
What we want to be able to do is to enter into a temporary contract to test services that we might want to do. For example, right now, we are testing wireless internet service. We want to expand our ability from six months to 18 months, to evaluate whether we want to go into a longer contract with somebody or not.
The other is that different types of activities and parks that are concession-oriented have different levels of risk, not all the same risk. Some need higher, some need lower amounts of liability coverage. We would work with our legal department and look at industry norms to establish that level, and then on a case-by-case, contract-by-contract basis put the appropriate amount that should be in there for that service.
We would — we had public comment period. Ten received, three agree, no disagreements and seven that needed clarification about what the issue was. And we would recommend that we would be able to make these amendments as in your packet.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Walt.
Any questions for Walt? Do I have a motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Holt, second by Friedkin. All in favor.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion carries. Thanks, Walt.
MR. DABNEY: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go get 'em. Phil Durocher.
MR. DUROCHER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. I am Phil Durocher, the Director of Inland Fisheries. Let's see if we can get this thing running here. I am going to very briefly today give you a little update on the golden alga in the State of Texas.
What I am going to talk about is, what is the golden alga. Give you a historical perspective. Talk about what we are currently doing. Talk a little bit about the research, basically, what we have learned so far about the golden alga. And talk about the present conditions in Texas.
Now what is the golden alga. The golden alga is a microscopic yellow-green alga. It is usually found in brackish water. Unfortunately, it produces toxins. Icthyotoxins and cytotoxins. It kills fish, clams, mussels, crayfish, and any gilled amphibians. Now fortunately, many aquatic insects and higher vertebrates, and humans particularly, are not affected by the alga.
The alga was first described in 1937 in Scandinavia. And since then, it has been found in 14 other countries. It was first described in Texas, or in the United States, in the Pecos River in 1985. This was the first golden alga outbreak in the United States. And it was the first one primarily in freshwater.
Since that time, the golden alga have been reported in 14 states, primarily in the Southeast and the West, our neighbors to the west. In 2001 is when the golden alga really began to become a problem in the State of Texas. We had some significant fish kills. Primarily on the Brazos River, and Possum Kingdom and Whitney, and Lake Granbury.
Since 2001, we found that golden alga has impacted fish populations in five of our river systems; the Canadian River, the Red River, the Brazos River, the Pecos River and the Colorado River. We have had kills in 20 reservoirs, and thus far, we have estimated about 20 million fish have been killed.
Two of our hatcheries, one that is on the Red River drainage, and the other one on the Brazos River have been impacted by golden alga. And I think it was 2002, we had no production at either one of those fish hatcheries, the Dundee Fish Hatchery, or the Possum Kingdom Fish Hatchery for striped bass and hybrids, because we lost all of our production.
Because of the problems, particularly in the Brazos River drainage, in the Brazos River area, in the 2003 legislative session, the Legislature mandated at the same time that we got the fee increases, as part of them agreeing to allow us to raise our fees, they mandated that the Agency spend $1.2 million in that biennium to conduct research and management of the golden alga.
What have we done? We have taken a lot of action since that time. Just talking strategically, we have changed the way we looked at things.
What we have done basically, is put priority on fish management and our stocking in these areas to help recoup these populations that were terribly impacted. So for instance, when we were deciding where we are going to stock fish, our priority will be to go to those areas that were impacted by the golden alga if we think those fish have some possibility of surviving.
We have developed a communication strategy. There was a lot of stuff, a lot of misinformation going on about the golden alga and what the impacts were. And we have got a group of people that have done a wonderful job. If you ever go to our web page, and look under golden alga, there is probably more information there, that there is anywhere in the world about that. And if you want to find out what the current situation is.
And because it was such a large problem, it is not something that Parks and Wildlife can deal with by itself. We have been doing a lot of coordination with other state agencies and river authorities to make sure that everybody knows what everybody else is doing.
Now to assure that some of the other actions we have taken, to assure that this $1.2 million was spent wisely, we spent it on things that we needed to be doing, we formed within the Agency a Golden Alga Task Force. And I would like to introduce Dr. David Sager. He is the head of our ecosystem branch in Inland Fisheries. And he has been heading that task force.
What the task force did was begin to gather all the information. You have got to remember, this was a new creature. We weren't aware of what we didn't know about it. They went and did science, literature reviews, and got all the information we could to start with, before we began to make plans on how we were going to spend this money.
And also at that time, because there was a lot we didn't know, we held an international scientific workshop, where we invited people from all over the world, who were doing work on golden alga to come to Texas, so we could identify where the missing parts were, that maybe we could do research on. From all these actions, from the Golden Alga Task Force and this international workshop, we identified three areas we need to work on.
We needed to work on reservoirs. Research, because this is where most of the impacts were. Where it was having the greatest impact on our users. Of course, we had to figure out how to manage this on our fish hatcheries, so we could continue to produce fish. And we looked at universities, because a lot of the type of work that we knew needed to be done, we didn't have the expertise in the Agency.
So we went and we looked at providing grants for universities to do some of this work. On our reservoir research, the type of things that we are looking at; we have expanded our monitoring and boom sampling to try to get some idea of when these things are going to occur, and hope someday of being able to predict.
We are doing a statewide distribution study. You know that everybody assumed that this was a new creature in Texas and I will give you some results later. That we wanted to know where it was in Texas, and where the potential was for having problems.
And our fish hatcheries, we looked at chemical treatments, we looked at physical treatments, ultraviolet. And we even looked at some biological treatments with bacteria, to see if there was a way we could manage the golden alga in our hatchery ponds.
Some of the university-led research that we have funded for two years and some of them were continuing to fund, we have got a lot of — of course, when you have a pot of money, the universities are real anxious to get on your rolls. And we have got a lot of really good work being done.
The first one is again, we have a group of universities. There is UT Austin, UT Arlington, Texas A&M, and Baylor. They are working together trying to create a predictive model which will tell us when we can expect to have a fish kill, and how intensive it might be.
We are doing some golden alga genetic work, economic impacts, to find out what the impacts, economically are for the areas affected. That is being done by A&M.
We are looking at some physical treatments with barley straw. There was some indication in literature this may help alleviate golden alga. We are doing some of that work. And we are looking at some clay applications. Same type of stuff that they have tried, to try to control the red tide.
Now what we have learned out of all of this. There are some things that we have learned. And I just want to give you a little brief update on some of the things that we know now that we didn't know when we started this process.
That the golden alga is more widespread in Texas than expected. As part of our statewide survey, basically, we have found golden alga at some level in every river system in the State of Texas. So it is a statewide thing. And there is a good chance it might have been there for a long time.
Fortunately, it needs an advantage to bloom. There must be some type of temperature change, salinity change. We are not quite sure of all the factors yet. But basically, it can't outcompete the normal green alga. And when the green alga is under stress because of cold weather, or a change in salinity, and the golden alga gets an advantage, then that is when we have the problems with it.
We found out that just because you have golden alga and you have a bloom, it doesn't mean it is going to be toxic. There are some water quality interactions with the alga that can cause it to either be toxic or not.
We have also learned that systems with low pH, pH below seven are rarely toxic. That is why we have golden alga in East Texas. Because the waters in East Texas are primarily acidic and we don't have any problems there. Most of the problems occur west of Interstate 35 in the real basic waters, the alkaline waters of West Texas.
We have learned that ozone, ammonia sulfate, copper sulfate treatments are successful in hatcheries. On small scale treatments, we have been able to control the alga and the toxicity of the alga in our fish hatcheries. And we are again producing fish at these hatcheries.
It is a real time consuming, labor-intensive process to manage this stuff, but we are getting it done. We feel comfortable that we can get better at it. We have also learned that the barley straw, the clay, ultrasonic vibrations and all these things were not successful. There is no magic bullet that we have found yet to take care of golden alga.
Now the present situation in the State of Texas, we are right now at the time of year when the golden alga, we generally have our big problems with the golden alga. The Pecos River, we have had some small fish kills reported. On the Colorado River, we have had fish kills reported in Lake Colorado City, and E.V. Spence.
And since we put this presentation together, we have had a small kill on Moss Creek Reservoir. On the Brazos River, of course, the area that we think is most impacted, because of the impact it has on recreational angling, we have had fish kills at Lake Granbury. It is present in Possum Kingdom, and Lake Whitney.
And we have had kills occurring on the Brazos River between Granbury and Whitney, which is not good news. That means it is on the way to Whitney. On the Red River we have had fish kills in Lake Camp and Lake Baylor. And unfortunately, we had a small kill in an area up on the upper end of the Lake Texoma, which is a major concern to us. And we found that it is present in Lake Diversion, and that is important, because that is our water supply for the Dundee Fish Hatchery.
All in all, we don't seem to be having as bad a year as we had in 2001. But the golden alga is there, and it is something that we are just going to have to learn how to live with and manage around. I would be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Phil? Phil?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: What is your sense for the best — are you seeing any techniques to manage this stuff come out of this that you feel offers some hope?
MR. DUROCHER: For, we are looking at water quality parameters. Small scale, we have some techniques for managing it. We can control it. But you know, on large scales and reservoirs and stuff, we don't have anything yet that we can pinpoint. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Phil on his briefing on golden alga?
Thank you, Phil.
Next up, Item 15. Advisory Committee rule amendments. Ann Bright. We do have public testimony on this item.
MS. BRIGHT: Good afternoon. I am Ann Bright, General Counsel. We are here to recommend the establishment of a new Commissioner Advisory Committee. As you know, these have to be done by rule.
The Big Bend Ranch State Park Task Force is the committee that we are recommending be established. The membership would include members of the public, governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations, all that have an interest in Big Bend Ranch State Park.
The Big Bend Ranch State Park Task Force would be subject to the normal advisory committee rules. And again, also the Government Code which governs advisory committees, including annual evaluation, selection of the presiding officer by members of the task force, a membership limit of 24, and a four-year life, unless extended by rule.
As discussed yesterday, we are also recommending the establishment or the authorization for some really informal ad hoc committees to advise the Executive Director solely on rulemaking and actually advise the Department. But these would be appointed by the Executive Director. They would continue for no longer than a year unless reappointed.
And as discussed yesterday, one of the things that we would make sure of, is that any of these just sort of informal ad hoc groups coordinate with any formal advisory committees. And hopefully, they would even have interlocking members, so that we would make sure that we have got good communication and coordination.
We have received no public comments on either one of those proposals. And the proposed motion is before you. I would be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Ann? We reviewed this yesterday in Committee hearing. We have one person signed up.
If you will stand by, Ann, if any questions come up.
Mr. Ellis Gilleland.
MR. GILLELAND: My name is Ellis Gilleland, and I am speaking for myself and Texas animals and animal rights organization on the internet. I have given you a handout. It is from the December 23 issue of the Texas Register. And it pertains to the task force you have just been briefed upon.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
MR. GILLELAND: I have one comment that I would like to make on the function of the task force. You have in your rules, it says function, “unless otherwise provided by law, an advisory committee will address only those matters about which advice is sought.”
I would like you to strike that, because I think that is bad management. I think you should utilize the full minds of these people. There are 24 people that are going to have a lot expertise, knowledge, background. And why only utilize half of their minds? Why not use the creative side as well?
You have control, or Mr. Cook has control of the policy. They are not going to impose any policy upon you. They are going to make suggestions, recommendations. Let them be creative. That is what that park needs is somebody with a creative mind.
Because there are tremendous problems there, and these people hopefully can come up with solutions. So please do not bar them from that, please.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Gilleland. I think the point there is so that the park advisory committees are not giving us advice on oysters and vice-versa.
I have served on those committees before I came on the Commission, and it is free-ranging. People are free to come up with all sorts of ideas, and the charge is very broad. So I think that is the purpose.
MR. GILLELAND: Well, I can only address what is in the Texas Register.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. And that is the way I read it. The way I read it is, that it is for them to stay on the general subject of their commission. Thank you.
MR. GILLELAND: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. Ann, did I read that right?
MS. BRIGHT: That is exactly right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. All right. Anybody have any questions on that? Entertain a motion.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: From Brown, second from Montgomery. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion passes. Next up, Lesser Prairie Chickens. That is what I have been waiting for all day.
MS. WHITLAW: Good afternoon.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hi, Heather.
MS. WHITLAW: Hi. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Heather Whitlaw. I'm the wildlife diversity biologist in Wildlife District 2, which is the Panhandle District. I am here to present a briefing today on Lesser Prairie Chicken conservation.
Just so that we all know what we are talking about, these are Lesser Prairie Chickens. Lesser Prairie Chickens are a very unique species, and this is a photo of prairie chicken males displaying on their booming grounds, which are also called leks, during their spring courtship behavior.
Lesser Prairie Chickens were once located throughout short and midgrass prairies. You can see here in the graphic that the grey represents the historic range of Lesser Prairie Chickens. The green indicates our best estimate of their current distribution.
In Texas, Lesser Prairie Chickens are currently found in two isolated areas. The northeast corner of the Panhandle, and the southwest corner of the Panhandle. The distribution in Texas has been documented since about 1940.
In 1940, the first federal aid PR report tells us that this was the estimated distribution in the state. In 1945, there is a unique book called Principal Game Birds and Mammals of Texas. And it gives us this distribution in yellow, which is a little bit different than the 1940 estimated distribution. And in 1989, Parks and Wildlife once again estimated distributions of prairie chickens.
And I think you can see that it has been reduced significantly. Not only has the distribution been reduced, but population numbers are also declining. And both of those things in combination cause us concern. We are in the process right now of updating this map. And hope to be able to present to you soon a distribution map of chicken distribution in the state.
Prairie chickens are important, not just because I live and breathe them, but they really are. Lesser Prairie Chicken conservation is good grassland conservation. Other grassland-dependent species and habitat types benefit from Lesser Prairie Chicken conservation. Pronghorns, grassland birds, and playas as a unique habitat type.
And speaking of playas, Lesser Prairie Chicken conservation is also good for Ogallala Aquifer recharge efforts. And we are all very concerned about water, recharge to the aquifer. And I believe that this is an important opportunity for us.
Native prairies of the Texas Panhandle, including the playa lakes serve as vital recharge sources for the Ogallala. And good grassland conservation is good water management and is good chicken conservation.
Here is a photo that one of my colleagues took from the air, of a playa. You will see in the upper left hand corner, it is a playa with a nice grass buffer around it. It is in an agricultural landscape matrix. And the playa down on the right has been pitted. So we see the diversity of ways the playas are represented on the landscape.
In a nutshell, properly functioning playas return water to the aquifer or recharge it through the cracks in the playas, and through the root zones, and around the edge of the lens of the Randal Clay basin of the playa. If we return good clean water to the playas, because we have got good grassland management, I think it is a win for everybody, and we also provide upland habitat for chickens.
The Lesser Prairie Chickens nationwide or in their five-state distribution have declined in numbers and range by about 80 percent since 1963. Causes include habitat loss and fragmentation, population, isolation, drought and land use and land cover changes over time. And of course, we can't forget that prairie chickens are currently listed as a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act.
This is just a quick snapshot for you of Yoakum County, which is one of the core areas for Lesser Prairie Chickens in Texas. I think that you can probably see the patterns on the landscape of fragmentation, different land uses, land covers. This is one of our challenges.
We have a lot of people in the Panhandle who want to do a lot of things with available ground. And somehow we need to find a way that we are able to meet the needs of all of the people who have an interest in the land. One of the ways of dealing with this, is through Farm Bill issues.
This is a graphic of CRP enrollment in 2004. Each of these green dots represents 500 acres of CRP enrolled. And I think if you look at the portion of Texas and the High Plains, you can see it corresponds very well with that historic distribution of chickens. Farmland, grasslands, prairie chicken distribution, they all line up pretty well.
Prairie chickens have been known to respond to CRP practices, conservation cover practices, and this is why we are concerned with the 2007 Farm Bill and CRP and conservation cover. Texas has approximately 4 million acres of CRP under contract at the moment. 2 million acres are set to expire in 2007, and another 1 million acres in 2008.
The majority of those acres are in the Panhandle. You can see the yellow counties indicated here, I hope. And those are the counties that have reached the cap of 25 percent of the available production land enrolled in CRP or CRP practices. Not only then are we facing the challenge of having conservation cover on the ground, but we are also facing a challenge of not having enough.
And recognizing that CRP provides an important conservation opportunity, but that it does have a number of limitations. It is temporary. It is short term. It is limited by other regulations that are made at the national level. But it is one of our best opportunities for conservation in our part of the world.
What can be done? Everything that we do is directed toward creating or maintaining large blocks of suitable and available habitat. And it doesn't matter to me whether you are talking about Ogallala Aquifer recharge, grassland management, Farm Bill programs, or prairie chicken conservation and recovery, these things on the screen are good for chickens, but they are good for the landscape.
Low vegetation for display grounds for prairie chickens, we need some tall grasses for nesting. We need areas with overhead cover, so those little chicks can get around and catch some bugs. And we need year-round food supply and protection for the chickens. And all of this has got to be within about three to five miles of those leks or breeding grounds we talked about.
A sustainable population of prairie chickens, say about 100 birds requires an area of about 2,500 acres. So we are talking about large patterns on the landscape. It doesn't all have to be native rangeland, but it has to be a contiguous pattern that makes those habitats available to the birds.
So here is my pitch, as they say. Requires active management to conserve and restore icons like Lesser Prairie Chickens and the Ogallala. This requires, I believe, long-term planning and commitments, partnerships.
We certainly can't do this alone as a state agency or the five state agencies. Outreach and education, and willingness to take advantage of opportunities for conservation. Speaking of outreach and education, this graphic shows up in rotation on our Parks and Wildlife web page when you go on, and I am really pleased when I — in fact sometimes, I do refresh, refresh until it comes up.
What are we doing? Parks and Wildlife staff have been involved in prairie chicken efforts for a long time. I put 20 years here on the slide, but you know, there have been dedicated people in the Panhandle for a long time, doing chicken work. Within the past year or so, efforts have increased even more.
We have candidate conservation agreement with assurances, written, finalized, and submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service. And I was so much hoping to be here today and be able to tell you that we had received their comments, and that we were moving forward. I am told that the CCAA is just within days of being returned to us, that the comments are minimal. The Fish and Wildlife Service liked it. I don't expect any problems, but we are still awaiting their comments.
Within Farm Bill programs, a wildlife emphasis area was created for Lesser Prairie Chickens at the state technical committee level. $135,000 set aside for landowners who would enroll in the program and be paid. Incentive payments for deferment of grazing two out of the five years of the contract. 50 percent cost share on brushwork if needed, and then a payment bonus at the end of the contract.
And of course, we have increased our chicken research and program funding. We have a land cover land use mapping project going on within the Department, as Wildlife Division partners with the GIS lab. That is going to help us focus delivery of conservation, identify where we really can make a difference. Maybe participate in Farm Bill discussions.
We have an aerial survey evaluation research project going on at the moment. I sure would like to invite any and all of you all to come up and survey chickens with me and spend some time out there. But in the meantime, we are trying to get up in the air, and see if there is a way that we can survey prairie chickens and find them without running the wheels off the vehicles, driving through sand.
It is very time-intensive. And you have only got from about 5:30 in the morning until about 9:00. And about a six-week window. So we are really hoping that there will be another way to effectively and efficiently survey prairie chickens.
And we have some other research going on. This is a product that is coming out of the GIS lab. This is just an example of some of the ways we are describing what is on the ground, and going to be able to use that for planning.
This is an image from Yoakum County. And you can see that we have been classified. The pink strips going east to west are shinnery that has been left. The green, large green blocks have been treated with spike. And so we have a grassland shinnery treatment on the landscape. On the right, you will see that it was shinnery oak brush. And these are just some of the unique patterns on the scale that we are seeing on the landscape. Here is another pattern we see on the landscape. I don't think this is a stranger to anybody. And although it is all range land, I think you might agree that there is probably a fragmentation issue here. And so the idea of working with the other land users to try and identify where we can focus our prairie chicken conservation is very important. And that is what this mapping project is about.
We also have an MOU that was initiated by the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group and Texas Parks and Wildlife. That was for interstate chicken conservation. And it was supported by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies the week before last.
And it is being circulated for signatures of the directors of the five state agencies. It will also have signature lines, it also does have signature lines for NRCS, FSA, Fish and Wildlife Service, Playa Lakes joint venture, that we would go ahead and have a strong partnership for large scale conservation.
We are supporting of course, landowner initiatives. Our Texas Panhandle Prescribed Burn Association is up and rolling, at least in paperwork. If it doesn't rain, we will have to wait to put some fire on the ground. But that is another example of working — it is so important to work with landowners to put the conservation needs on the ground.
Texas Parks and Wildlife has taken a leadership role in all of these efforts. All of the interstate efforts, we had a meeting last year in December. And Mr. Cook leaned over and said to me, Heather would you like to work on chickens a little bit more than you already do? And I said oh yes. I would love to do that. And the next thing you know, we have a leadership role.
We are taking the lead, Parks and Wildlife is, and it was a group of people, I think, ready for a leader. And we have got a really good partnership with the interstate working group. We are bringing on other partners. And that is to the next bullet.
Partnership development is really important to increase our capacity to be able to deliver conservation. And I would just like to brag on some of my colleagues for a minute. We have had tremendous support of course, from you all, and from the executive office. Our Division Director, Region 1 staff, District 2 staff. Just because I am here today, and I got to get all cleaned up and come down from the Panhandle — we are all working very hard on it.
We are also having coordination among the programs. Our Upland Game Bird Program, Private Lands Program, federal assistance, Steve Bender is helping me with some SWIG funds, and then totally stepping out of Wildlife Division and working with the GIS lab on this, too. And as a result of this being strong, we have this.
These are our partners so far, interstate and within the state. I am pleased with where this is going. And I hope that if I get invited to come back and give another presentation, there is so many logos on there, they are so small, you can hardly see them. So anyway, that is what we are doing. And I appreciate the invitation to come. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Heather, don't leave.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Can you elaborate on the process? Once we get the CCAA comments back. Go through the process from that point forward, until we develop a final wildlife management plan.
MS. WHITLAW: Develop a state wildlife management plan for the prairie chickens? Well, when we have the CCAA in place, it will allow us to present to landowners an option for them to manage their private property for Lesser Prairie Chickens, with assurances that if the bird does become listed, no additional obligations will be requested of them, in addition to what they have already signed up for, while the bird is still a candidate.
What that allows us to do, is develop a state Lesser Prairie Chicken management plan that gives us some guiding direction on what our goals are, and allows us to work perhaps with a group of stakeholders who would contribute to that plan, that would include private landowners. We will go ahead and have this product of a CCAA available, so that I hope that it would remove the hesitation from some folks. Does that answer your question?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is a critical part. And as most of you know, this is a — Lesser Prairie Chickens are a pet project of mine, since I came on the Commission. And at last, we finally have somebody on the ground, so to speak, with Mark Bivins. And I have asked him to spearhead this effort.
I tell you, the CCAA is really important, because what that means is, landowners are not afraid of the impending listing of the bird, as a reason not to get involved with management. So with that, is the CCA in the Albuquerque office, or Washington?
MS. WHITLAW: It is. It went through their ecological services review, and they gave it to the Region 2 solicitor to dot the i's and cross the t's.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. And that it is Albuquerque.
MS. WHITLAW: Right. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Well, I will check on that one.
MR. BERGER: Let me just add in here that we had some meetings last fall throughout different parts of the Panhandle. I think there were six meetings in different parts. Some in the northeast and some in the southwest. And there were lots of landowners there who came out.
And they have an interest in prairie chickens. They remembered the prairie chickens as a child, being on these places. And then they haven't seen them in years. Some others said, I have got them. But I never said anything about them. So we are finding new places where there are chickens.
And I think there is still some of this concern that, well, if they get listed, do I want anybody to know that I have chickens? And the CCAA will eliminate all of that. So I think it would really —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So it is critical that we get that done.
MR. BERGER: I think it is critical.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And then communicate to the landowners that that CCAA is what protects them from any sort of regulation.
MR. BERGER: And then that will put them in touch with us to develop the habitat management or enhancement practices on their land, and they will be — they will have that assurance, that should it be listed, they won't have any additional obligations or restrictions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Heather, I want to ask you some CRP questions, because this is one that is always been a —
MS. WHITLAW: Sure.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: To me, the real challenge here, when I was up there in that prairie chicken country with Steve Tomaso [phonetic] and Mike, it was obvious to me that the fragmentation, that point was driven home to me. Fragmentation and isolated populations. And then I saw thousands and thousands of acres of CRP that were not suitable habitat.
In other words, they were part of the isolation problem. And I thought, CRP land should be habitat. Now, can you kind of explain to the Commission why that is not necessarily the case?
MS. WHITLAW: Well, it is — we know that prairie chickens will respond to CRP as a conservation cover. They have done it in Kansas, where they planted the native grasses.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MS. WHITLAW: And they also interceded with forbs like alfalfa. The CRP we planted here of course, is old world blue stem and weeping love grass. And traditionally, we haven't managed it. Only recently have we moved forward to have mid-contract management opportunities.
Because CRP of course, I am not telling you anything new, but CRP was in place for conservation cover on highly erodible lands, to keep stuff from blowing away. Stuff that might should have never been farmed in the first place. And they wanted something in 1985 that was going to grow fast, be aggressive and stay put and hold the dirt down. And it sure has done that. Those are very aggressive grasses.
And I believe the FSA has been reluctant to manage them, because once you get the cover established, that is what it is there for. It wasn't supposed to be for a wildlife benefit. Now that we are working with FSA to try and increase the wildlife benefits of that conservation cover, we can do things like mid-contract management.
Maybe burn it, graze it, intercede it with native seed, and hopefully provide something that is a little bit more friendly for chickens. Maybe not the primo range that they are looking for, but certainly something that is not a barrier for them.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And I will ask this really in a rather pointed way, but why was Kansas successful in making their CRP a better habitat than we were successful?
MS. WHITLAW: A couple of reasons. They of course, planted natives originally. But there were some other things that, I think the stars lined up and worked well for them. The CRP blocks are smaller in Kansas on average.
The position of that CRP was in juxtaposition to existing native range. And also some small grain crops. And so the pattern on the landscape is different for a variety of reasons. What was planted, and then the pattern that was created.
And they still had enough prairie chickens to reoccupy that country. And we haven't seen the response in chickens since, what, 15 years after it happened. So it is a good model to follow. But we are not in the same place that they were in 1985.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: How do we get more native seeds and forbs as part of our CRP landscape?
MS. WHITLAW: Well, the native seeds and forbs are available. They are very expensive. And the practice to see them is very expensive. We are probably looking at somewhere around $120 an acre.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: What change in federal farm policy or state policy do we need to make that happen. To make it easier to go native, so to speak?
MS. WHITLAW: We need a CREP.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Explain what that is.
MS. WHITLAW: A conservation reserve enhancement program in the state for prairie chickens. It is a CRP program where the cost share for practices is increased from 50 percent. So instead of a landowner looking at say, $60 or $70 an acre for their cost share part, we could maybe bump that to 75 percent.
CREPs also have sign-up incentive payments and payment incentive payments, where at the at the end of the day, the cost of the practice is covered about 90 percent by Farm Bill programs. It allows us more flexibility in what we can do. CREP can or cannot be limited by those acreage caps we talked about.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What was that you just said?
MS. WHITLAW: I am sorry. The CREP, if we have a CREP in the state, it is negotiable on how those acreage caps, those 25 percent-acreage caps in each county, we have a little more flexibility on working within the county acreage cap.
A lot of the CRP practices, once that county has hit 25 percent of available crop land in CRP or CRP practice, no more delivery of anything CRP until some acres come out. And with a CREP, there is a little bit more flexibility on dealing with that 25 percent cap.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Is there a vehicle to convert CRP to CREP?
MS. WHITLAW: CREP is a subclassification of CRP. CREP is one of the CRP practices. Just like maybe you all are familiar with the CP-33, the quail buffers. It is just like that. Instead of it being a practice with a number, they call it a program. I think maybe just to make it more confusing.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Does it have to be specific to Lesser Prairie Chickens?
MS. WHITLAW: Actually, no. Most of it — in fact, there has never been a CREP to my knowledge that was specific to a species. They are almost always delivered on a watershed basis.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So what do we have to do to get this?
MS. WHITLAW: Well, I happen to have something with me.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We did not rehearse this, by the way.
MS. WHITLAW: We had a series of meetings last week that our playa lakes joint venture capacity grant hosted. And it became very clear that CRP, CREP possibility or a conservation practice like CP-33 but we might call it CP-34, conservation for candidate species, or something like that.
You have got a CCAA in place, so it is not a big deal. Landowners don't feel bad about signing up. What we need to do is brainstorm on these ideas, and then work with our high-level Texas FSA and get their support. And then take that to the national level as the 2007 Farm Bill is drafted.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The 2007 Farm Bill.
MS. WHITLAW: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And the time line there, Mike, Heather, is?
MR. BERGER: The time line, I think, they are going to be starting on developing the 2007 pretty soon. I just wanted — I am going to see if I can go back to one of these slides here that had CRP on it. Because it is, the CRP —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The state map? Yes. Keep going.
MR. BERGER: It is really a sad situation right now. You heard Heather say that there was 4 million acres, and 2 million coming up for renewal next year, and another million after that. FSA right now, she mentioned some meetings we had last week, trying to put together us, Fish and Wildlife Service, FSA and NRCS, which are agencies that don't always talk and communicate enough.
But what we find out is in FSA in preparing for renewal of the CRP is going to make five tiers of CRP. And only the top tier, the most erodible land is going to be eligible for a ten-year re-enrollment. The lower levels are going to be available only for a lesser term of enrollment. Maybe the lowest levels only one year, with a view toward taking them out altogether.
Also FSA is talking about reducing the level of the rental payments. And they are also, well — reduce the level of the rental payments, and reduce that 25-acre cap or 25 percent-acreage cap we have been talking about to enforce that.
Which means, and we have in the southwest part of the Panhandle, and we added it up, those counties that are over the cap, we have well over 100,000 acres that is potential prairie chicken habitat that it is in CRP, that could come out. Well, under the current thinking, it will come out.
We have — I shouldn't say we, but Steve and Chuck and Heather have developed a list of recommendations here that I will be happy to copy and make available to you guys. Do we have other copies?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. I would like a copy of that. That is something that needs to go to the Game Bird Advisory Board also.
MR. BERGER: But the time on this is critical, because some of these re-enrollment offers, the tiered level and the decisions on the 25 percent cap are coming out soon. But I understand that some of these decisions are still in the administration, and they can be influenced before the 2007 Farm Bill.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. BERGER: So that is — we need to work on it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So it is fairly tight. That is the next six to nine months.
MR. BERGER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: These decisions are going to be made in Washington on how this will be treated in the 2007 Farm Bill.
MR. BERGER: Maybe in the next three months.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The next three months. Which in turn will have a direct impact on management decisions on the ground. And I will get right to you, John.
And my question is, understanding the restrictions on lobbying and direct lobby and federal legislation and that sort of thing, how do we make our recommendations, observations clear to our elected representatives in Washington and the USDA of what needs to happen to make their policy consistent with good conservation on the ground for these birds?
MS. BRIGHT: For the record, I am Ann Bright, General Counsel. I think that is the first time I have remembered to do that in the last two days. What we do is, well, we are prohibited from using state funds to lobby. Obviously, if somebody wants to do it on their own without using state funds, that is okay.
There is a difference though, between lobbying and providing information. We are obligated, actually, to provide information to legislators upon request. And we have, we routinely provide information to people at the federal level. And honestly, there is a fine line there.
But a lot of times, what we have done in the past is say, this is the impact that this will have on the state. And you just don't say please support it or please don't support it. But I think, and I think it is important to provide information, especially to the people from Texas about the impact of pieces of legislation on Texas. Does that answer your question?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is there a formal process, some sort of liaison where our Department works direct?
MS. BRIGHT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think Heather, would you address that?
MS. BRIGHT: For the state as a whole, there is a requirement, whenever you are traveling to Washington, D.C., and you are going to meet with any kind of legislator, you have to coordinate with the Office of State and Federal Relations, which is sort of a state agency that coordinates communications there. And they deal regularly in that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But Heather, there is something specific on these issues, where we — some vehicle where we can do this?
MS. WHITLAW: I believe there are a few of them. They are not clear, or clear as mud. But they are clear enough. We have a Farm Bill coordinator in Parks and Wildlife, and it is a shame he couldn't be here today. But he is at one of the avenues of communicating, which is he is at an IAFWA meeting. International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
And our MOU with the Western Association provides the strength for common goals, common ground. And our Farm Bill coordinator, Tucker Velasque [phonetic] knows the ins and outs on communicating information to the Farm Bill people, where it is presented. We also have some other partnerships in place, Rob Hosford, who is the chief of staff.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Chief of staff up at — yes.
MS. WHITLAW: I visited with him last week at the Playa Lakes joint venture meetings. We shared a lot of information. That was a good opportunity for me to learn a little bit more about CREPs. And I also have some professional relationships with the FSA biologist in Washington.
So I can't tell you exactly how the procedure is right now. But I know that we can, with the partnerships we have already built, we can find that very quickly.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: My experience is that we need to boil it down to a clear, direct, consistent message that we are all giving to the people who will be making the decision.
MS. WHITLAW: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So that is the goal. You will be pulling all of this together. I know the Quail Council and the Game Bird Advisory Council can be making those same recommendations. But it is all going to — somebody — and I guess that Chuck is the one that is going to make sure it is all pointed in the right direction and not diffused?
MS. WHITLAW: Chuck is our liaison for getting information to the right places, absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. That is the answer.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: On that CRP.
MS. WHITLAW: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: If I understand it, is the problem that that area of Texas was planted with mat type grass, that just covers everything?
MS. WHITLAW: Yes, sir. And it hasn't been — nobody has ever done anything with it. It hasn't been hayed or mowed or grazed or burned or exactly. Now we can.
One of the things that our Parks and Wildlife Farm Bill Coordinator worked on very hard was lead contract management practices where those landowners in current contracts can go in to their NRCS, and FSA Service Center and say, I want to burn this, amend my contract. Or I want to graze it, or hay it. And that is a really good thing.
MR. BERGER: One of the other confusing things they did though, when they allowed that mid-contract management, they have made a provision that in the three years, I believe it is, of the contract expiring, you can't do any mid-contract management, because they would be paying for that, and then that might artificially raise the EBI, the Environmental Benefits Index, making you more likely to be enrolled. So I agree, they do some silly counterproductive things.
And we do have some of these, Mr. Chairman. We do have these recommendations boiled down and put together about what I think we need to accomplish.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good. If you would hand those out, that would be great. That would be great. I figured Steve would have 30 or 40 of them in his briefcase.
MR. BERGER: But this is the result of the meetings that we had two weeks ago out in the Panhandle with the Farm Service Administration, the NRCS and us, to talk about how these programs affect chickens, where we learned these things.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. BERGER: And we boiled what we need to do down to some very specific actions that FSA and the Department of Ag could take to benefit chickens.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks. Mark?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I just wanted to thank everyone involved in this project. They have been very helpful to me, and it has been a real learning curve for me. But I hope to help lead the charge.
MS. WHITLAW: Okay. We'll take it. Thank you.
MR. COOK: Mr. Chairman, I would like to express appreciation here too. This young lady is obviously very intelligent and talented and very dedicated to this cause.
Let me do make sure though that you all understand. This is — we have been on this issue, not specifically as it relates to Lesser Prairie Chickens, but on this issue. As Heather said, what they planted was grass to hold the world together. Not grass for wildlife. Strictly to hold the world together and to keep it from blowing down here.
Dealing with FSA and USDA folks on this has been a tough one. Only I would say in the recent last three, four, five years have we even really got them to listen to the benefits that could very easily be derived to wildlife and habitat of a variety of species, particularly ground nesting birds. And it has just been a nightmare.
All of the associations, Heather mentioned the Western Association of States. The Southeastern Association of States that you heard Mark Duda refer to this morning in his report, 17 states have been on this same thing. I mean, states like Missouri, Iowa, you know, all in that midwestern section that the Farm Bill programs are key programs that we could accomplish tremendous steps in migratory waterfowl, if we could just get those funds used kind of right.
And it has been a tough one. But I wanted you to know, that like when the Wildlife Society meets, when the North American meets. When the International Association meets, this is one of their big — one of their most important committees. Members from all states. This is one of the big items. Farm Bill issues.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Heather, thank you so much.
MS. WHITLAW: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And I look forward to the next update.
MS. WHITLAW: I appreciate the invitation. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We'll see you up there in LPC country.
Okay. Next is Jack. It must be time for Jack Bauer. It is number 17 and number 18 items have been removed from the agenda — 19, Jack Bauer.
MR. BAUER: Good afternoon. I am Jack Bauer, Director of Land Conservation. We have a small donation consideration of land, but a very important one, at Black Gap. Black Gap is in Brewster County, and there are several other very significant land conservation areas in the vicinity, to include Big Bend Ranch and to the south in Mexico, El Carmen, a privately held conservation area.
The important thing here is that these are islands of habitat, and the wildlife moved between them. And the protections of these quarters are important. What we have proposed for you today is a small ten-acre inholding at Black Gap that is proposed for donation from the Texas Bighorn Society. It is significant to us, and Texas Bighorn Society, because this is a travel corridor between that El Carmen area in Mexico and the Black Gap.
As you are aware, Texas Bighorn Society has helped us in a lot of efforts; at Sierra Diablo, Apache Mountain and Black Gap. To include a $200,000 donation for the Parks and Wildlife and GLO land exchange, work volunteers and funding of many of our operational things that go on there. And this is just one more in those activities.
So what we have before you is a recommendation to accept this ten acres. And if you have any questions about this proposal, I would be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Let's hurry up and get that ten acres. Do I have a motion?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Oh, I am sorry. Clay? Where is he?
And the Bighorn Society? Charlie? Come on and take a bow on this one. You all have done a great job. I'll tell you what, I am so impressed with your organization, ever since I first got here. You guys have done a great job.
MR. WETZEL: Good afternoon, and thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak with you. I am David Wetzel, and I am here representing the Bighorn Society, and asking that you accept this donation, the ten-acre inholding to become a part of Black Gap.
We purchased this property in an open tax sale in early December as part of our efforts to protect the travel corridors that Jack was mentioning earlier, and in particular for the Desert Bighorn Sheep. Obviously, that is our biggest concern, but these are travel corridors that are used by all the wildlife in the area.
We have worked with landowners in the past, and have a great deal of appreciation for the role that landowners have played in the Bighorn program. But habitat fragmentation and the potential for these small inholdings to be used in ways that are detrimental to the program worry us an awful lot.
Particularly the introduction of domestic sheep or a commercial operation in the middle of this could quickly unravel 50 years' worth of restoration efforts here. It is our hope that you will accept this donation as part of an overall strategy that is looking at the big picture here.
There is a huge chunk of land here representing well over 2 million acres in the public and private world around this, that is probably not able to be duplicated many places else in the United States. And we are very interested in working with you and other landowners to try and make as much of this work as we possibly can. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Thanks for your work. We couldn't do this without you. I mean, you are one of our greatest partners.
And David, I think you are — David Wetzel. Oh, I am sorry. You are David.
MR. WOLCOTT: Thank you. Good afternoon, Commissioner. I would like to thank you for permitting me to address this meeting. My name is Charles Wolcott. I am from Dallas, Texas, and a member of the Texas Bighorn Society.
In the 1880s, my great-grandfather Ben Wolcott established the first ranch at Pine Springs at the base of Guadalupe Peak, and the history of that ranch is written up in the Frijole Ranch Museum at Guadalupe Peak National Park.
Among the stories that he passed down through our family were of the Bighorns in the Guadalupe Mountains, and that stimulated my interest in the Texas Bighorn Society, and commitment to its mission, which is to restore Desert Bighorn Sheep to their native ranges in Texas, and to protect the habitat necessary for their survival.
One of the principal concerns of wildlife conservation organizations across the West, including Texas, is the matter of habitat fragmentation. At this very moment, as you are probably aware, you can go online on the internet and bid on ten, 20, 40-acre parcels all across the Trans-Pecos. It is not clear how this trend eventually will affect wildlife species. But it is hard to imagine that it will be good.
Of particular concern to our group are inlet parcels within critical Bighorn habitat, in areas such as the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. And for this reason, we believe it is proper as a purpose for the Bighorn Society to participate in protecting this Bighorn Habitat where possible, and would like to request that Texas Parks and Wildlife accept our Texas Bighorn Society donation of a ten-acre parcel at Black Gap.
Finally, I would like to extend an invitation to each one of you to participate in two important functions that we have scheduled this spring. On March 24 and 25, we will be holding our annual work project in the Sierra Diablo Mountains, to build new water guzzlers, and to repair old guzzlers. That will be based out of Van Horn.
Then on April 21 and 22, we will be holding our annual Texas Bighorn Society Roundup Convention at the Omni Park West Hotel in Dallas. At this exciting event, we will again be auctioning another Texas Desert Bighorn Permit, as provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Now as you remember, when we last were able to offer a permit in 2004, it brought over $100,000 at auction, the proceeds of which are targeted exclusively to the restoration of Desert Bighorns in Texas.
We will be sending each of you an invitation and hope to see you at our work project on March 24 and 25 in Van Horn and at our Annual Roundup April 21 and 22 in Dallas. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Mr. Wolcott.
Brewer, can you give us the actual numbers? To me it is remarkable, the numbers on the increase of Desert Bighorns over the past 25, 30 years.
MR. BREWER: Yes. We exceeded the early population level of the early 1900s about five years ago. So we have got 800-plus sheep in Texas today. So we are doing pretty well.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Come a long way since my days at the pens at Black Gap, when you were just feeding a few lines.
MR. BREWER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is unbelievable. And so you have exceeded the Bailey numbers?
MR. BREWER: Those reported by Vernon Bailey in 1905, yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is amazing. That is great.
MR. COOK: Mr. Chairman, I would just like to comment on the work week that was mentioned. They do work, and they work hard, but they have a lot of fun, too. So I would, if you all get a chance, I would encourage you to participate in that. It is a good event. Very appreciated.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: My hat is off to the TBS and thanks a lot for all you are doing. And I think with that, we will accept your donation, if I can get a motion.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: From Holt. Second by
Friedkin. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: No opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The motion passes.
MR. COOK: Mr. Chairman, you have one more comment.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Oh, I do? Who could be against this. Ellis?
Mr. Gilleland, come on up. I apologize for skipping you there. All the excitement.
MR. GILLELAND: My name is Ellis Gilleland. With your permission, Mr. President, I am going to digress for a few seconds. The handout I have given you pertains to your closed executive session yesterday, dealing with Eagle Mountain Lake State Park.
I wanted you to have this handout. I wasn't allowed to attend obviously. But I wanted you to have this handout, and I would like to digress and just read one paragraph, a few sentences out of it for you into the record.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hold on. Mr. Gilleland. The subject is Black Gap.
MR. GILLELAND: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. GILLELAND: And so I am digressing because I can't —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We will be glad to listen to your comments on Item 19. But I do not believe that Eagle Mountain State Park is on the agenda.
MR. GILLELAND: I wanted to get the point in that the park is sitting over a gas deposit, and that should be taken into consideration in your sale or giveaway, whatever you are going to do.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Gilleland, I think when that is on the agenda, we will be glad to talk about it. But we are talking about Black Gap, Brewster County. Ten acres.
MR. GILLELAND: My comment, if you will not allow me to digress, then I will make my comment pertain to the agenda item. My agenda item is to commend you. And this is the first time in 15 years I have ever commended you for anything. So mark it on your calendar.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. We will reexamine our position here.
MR. GILLELAND: Now, the reason I am commending you, collectively of all, is that you are obviously moving with these three land donations, and I am only speaking on one. I didn't sign up for all three. I would be repetitious.
You, obviously, in these three donations, you are reversing the policy of your predecessor, Chairman Lee Marshall Bass who would not accept — he loathed to accept land if it was not accompanied by a large long-term endowment. Obviously, you gentlemen are moving away from that mind-set, that material, mercenary mind-set. And thank god for it. Bless you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Now with that, do I have a motion to accept the donation of the ten acres at Black Gap? Moved by Holt, second by Friedkin. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: None opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The motion passes. Okay.
Number 20, another land donation. Mr. Scott Boruff.
MR. BORUFF: Good afternoon Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director of Operations. I will make this nice and quick. I am here today to look for your support to continue our negotiations with the Police Activity League in Hamilton County for a 200-acre donation that we would intend to use as our law enforcement academy and training facility.
A map shows you where that is. I think you are aware of where Hamilton County is. The property does have riverfront on the Lampasas River. This map shows you the 245-acre total. The intent would be for the Police Activities League to retain approximately 25 acres of this land adjacent to the 220 that they have proposed to donate to the agency for the Academy.
We are here today not only to seek your support in continuing the negotiations, but for your authorization for the Executive Director to accept this property, assuming we develop the legal tools that are necessary for us to protect our interest. Open for questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Scott on this donation? Motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So moved.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Parker, second by Brown. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion passes.
Thank you, Scott. And number 20, I show —
Oh, I am sorry — 21. Corky.
MR. KUHLMANN: Commissioners, my name is Corky Kuhlmann. I am with the Land Conservation Program. This item represents a donation as the East Texas Fish Hatchery site. This site is in Jasper County, behind the dam of the Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
If accepted, this donation will come from Jasper County. It will be 198 1/2 acres for the new East Texas Fish Hatchery. And staff recommends that you adopt the motion before you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Motion on this item?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Holt. Second by Montgomery. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion carries.
MR. KUHLMANN: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other business to come before the Commission? Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. We stand adjourned.
(Whereupon, at 3:35 p.m., the meeting was concluded.)