Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Annual Public Hearing
Aug. 23, 2006Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 23rd day of August, 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
- Ned S. Holmes, Houston, Texas
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas (absent)
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas (absent)
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas
- 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
|NAME, ORGANIZATION, ADDRESS||ITEM NUMBER||MATTER OF INTEREST|
|Mr. Kirby Brown, Texas Wildlife Association, 2800 NE Loop 410, Ste. 105, San Antonio, TX 78718, Phone: 210/826-2904||Wildlife-Speak|
|Mr. Jack Burch, Hill Country Shooting Sports Center, 1886 Cypress Creek Road, Kerrville, TX 78028, Phone: 830/995-5118||Update of Olympic Range Project|
|Mr. Ellis Gilleland, Texas Animals, P. O. Box 9001, Austin, TX 78766||Speak|
|Ms. Marilyn Holste, Boat Zone, P. O. Box 1161 – 1841 Hwy 29W, Burnet, TX 78611, Phone: 512/756-9800||Availability of registration facilities for Burnet and Llano Counties – Speak|
|Mr. Will Kirkpatrick, TX Anglers, Rt. 1, Box 138dc, Broaddus, TX 75929, Phone: 409/584-3177||Fishing - Speak|
|Mr. Tim Madrigal, 254 Beckys Way, Dripping Springs, TX 78620, Phone: 512/894-3747||Non – Resident Licenses – Testify|
|Mr. Russell Middleton, P. O. Box 3078, Austin, TX 78764, Phone: 512/826-7880||Speak|
|Mr. William Nixon, 10140 CR 4084, Scurry, TX 75158, Phone: 214/202/6191||“Concerning my land in Childress County. The proposed ATV park will surround my land.”- Speak|
|Ms. Pam Robers, Hunters for the Hungry, 2512 IH 35 South, Suite 100, Austin, TX 78704, Phone: 512/462-2555 X506||Hunting - Speak|
|Mr. Trey Scott, Texas Bass Federation Nation, 2111 Laura Ct., Round Rock, TX 78681||Finance Aquatic Education – Speak|
|Dr. James E. Wright, Texas Association of Bass Clubs, 3338 Duderstatt, Harper, TX 78631, Phone: 830/864-5049||Hatchery, Carp - Speak|
|Mr. Doug DuBois, Texas Youth Hunting Program, 2304 Vassal Dr., Austin, TX 78748||Speak – TX Brigades|
|Audra Linnartz, Texas Brigades, P. O. Box 753, Carrizo Springs, TX 78834, Phone: 830/468-3703||Scheduled to speak on behalf of Texas Brigades – Speak|
|Maria Mejia, Texas Brigades, 9116 Glacier CT, Laredo, TX 78045, Phone: 956/717-9405||Texas Brigades – Speak|
|Derek Rennspies, Texas Brigades, 1498 Wetz Rd., Marion, TX 78124, Phone: 830/914-2755||Texas Brigades – Speak|
|Gloria T. Flores, 5308 Wasson Rd., Austin, TX 78745, Phone: 512/441-4237||Texas Youth Hunting Program - Speak|
|Everett Johnson, Gulf Coast Connections – Saltwater Fishing Magazine, P. O. Box 429, Seadrift, TX 77983, Phone: 361/550-3637||Spotted Seatrout Regulations – Speak|
|David Rowsey, 3834 Alisa Ann Dr., Corpus Christi, TX 78418||Speckled Trout Fishery – Speak|
|Capt. Bruce W. Shuler, Getaway Adventures Lodge, P. O. Box 248, Port Mansfield, TX 79598, Phone: 956/944-4000,||Spotted Seatrout Regulations – Speak|
|Mike Stapleton, Texas Recreational Fishing Alliance, 203 Ralph Ablanedo Dr., Austin, TX 78748, Phone: 512/680-2661||Snapper & Trout Regulations – Speaker|
|Tom Hilton, RFA TX, Houston, TX||Artificial Reefing – Speak|
|Jim Smarr, RFA TX, 1890 Ranch Rd 1, Stonewall, TX 78671, Phone: 361/463-1558||Trout/Snapper – Artificial Reefing – Speak|
|Dian Avriett, 2027 CR 3271 West, Mt. Enterprise, TX 75681, Phone: 903/822-3344||Protection of Freshwater Turtle Species – Speak|
|Tim Cook, Texas B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, 319 Pecan Drive, NE, McQueeney, TX 78123, Phone: 830/560-1566||Lake Conroe Management Plan – Speak|
|Ed Parten, T.B.B.U., 1102 Lisa Lane, Kingwood, TX 77339, Phone: 281/723-3828||Program on Lake Conroe – Speak|
|Dana Richardson, Lake Conroe Association, P. O. Box 376, Willis, TX 77378, Phone: 936/856-4151||Hydrilla in Lake Conroe – Speak|
|Randall Loftis, Tarrant County Residents, 10609 Los Rios Dr., Fort Worth, TX 79179, Phone: 817/236-8499||Eagle Mountain 400 – Speak|
|Jay Stewart, Wyndam Properties, 111 Congress Ave., Suite 500, Austin, TX 78701, Phone: 512/479-8888||Eagle Mountain Lake Property Sale – Speak|
|Steve Lerma, Citizens of Eagle Mt. Lake, Tarrant County, 4501 Wind Hill Ct. E, Fort Worth, TX 76179,||400 acre Park on Eagle Mt. Lake - Speak|
|Janice Bezanson, Texas Committee on Natural Resources, 3532 Bee Caves Road #110, Austin, TX 78746, Phone: 512/327-4119||Wildlife, refuges, state park funding - Speak|
|Steve Bosak, Texas Recreation & Park Society, 3001 Appennini Way, Cedar Park, TX 78613, Phone: 512/259-2640||Texas Recreation & Parks Account – Speak|
|Dale Bulla, 7202 Foxtree Cove, Austin, TX 78750, Phone: 512/345-9528||Park Funding - Speak|
|Karen Cullar, Houston Parks & Recreation, 2999 S. Wayside, Houston, TX 77023, Phone: 713/845-1022||Grants Program – Speak|
|Thomas DuBourg, Mission Tejas Caddoan Mounds Friends, P. O. Box 566, Grapeland, TX 75844, 936/687-2156||East Texas Parks - Speak|
|Doug Evans, City of Grapevine Texas Recreation Park Society, 4110 Mapleridge, Grapevine, TX 76051||Support for State & Local Parks Funding – Speak|
|Jim Haire, 5801 Regents Row, Tyler, TX 75703||Park Funding – Speak|
|Ken Kramer, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club, P. O. Box 1931, Austin, TX 78767, Phone: 512/476-6962||State Parks Funding & Environmental Flows – Speak|
|Ron Lewis, Friends of Doctor’s Creek PK, 119 Horseshoe, Cooper, TX 75432||Support – Speak|
|Bert Kasprowicz, 5703 Parkwood Dr., Austin, TX 78735, Phone: 512/627-8806||State Parks – Speak|
|Beth McDonald, Texans for State Parks, 4409 Gaines Ranch Loop, #440, Austin, TX 78735||Park Funding & Needs – Speak|
|Fran Miles, Caddoan Mounds/Mission Tejas, RR 2 Box 135, Grapeland, TX 75844, Phone: 936-687-5536||Save our Parks – Speak|
|Glenn Smith, Texas Progress Council, 1101 Lavaca, Austin, TX 78701, 512-322-0700||Park Funding – Speak|
|Scott Stegall, City of Cooper, 91 N. Side Square, Cooper, TX 75432, Phone: 903/395-4433||Doc Creek State Park - Speak|
|Stan Winters, 3713 Ashford, Fort Worth, TX 76133, Phone: 817/292-2120||Appreciation of TP&W Commission and Appropriation of Funds – Speak|
|Jan DeVault, Friends of the San Jacinto Battleground, P. O. Box 940536, Houston, TX 77094, Phone: 281/496-1488||San Jacinto Visitor Center – Speak|
|Earl Broussard, TBG Partners, 901 South MoPac, Austin, TX 78746, Phone: 512/321-1011||San Jacinto - Speak|
|Jeff Dunn, Friends of San Jacinto Battleground, 4128 Purdue, Dallas, TX 75225, Phone: 214/365-9368||San Jacinto Battleground - Speak|
|Larry Spasic, San Jacinto Museum, One Monument Circle, La Porte, TX 77505, Phone: 281/479-3421||San Jacinto Monument restoration project and master plan - Speak|
|Charles A. Alcorn, Battleship Texas Foundation, 623 Rancho Bauer, Houston, TX 77079, Phone: 713/827-9620||San Jacinto Visitor Center – Speak|
|Barry J. Ward, Battleship Texas Foundation, 10575 Katy Freeway, #393, Houston, TX 77024, Phone: 832/715-2651||Battleship Texas, its potential move/repair and proposed visitor’s center. – Speak|
|Sarita Hixon, San Jacinto Museum of History, 3412 Meadowlake Lane, Houston, TX 77027, Phone: 713/622-9024||San Jacinto Monument repair project – San Jacinto master plan – Speak|
|Terry Colley, Texas Historical Commission, P. O. Box 12276, Austin, TX 78619, Phone: 512/463-4581||Historic Sites – Speak|
|Terrie Gonzalez, Texas State Railroad, P. O. Box 475, Rusk, TX 75785, Phone: 903/683-2257||TSR – Speak|
|Rep. Chuck Hopson, HD 11, 506 E. Commerce, Jacksonville, TX 75766, Phone: 903/586-2208||Rusk State Railroad – Speak|
|Joe Turner, Houston Parks & Rec. Dept., 2999 S. Wayside, Houston, TX 77023||Texas Park Funding & Support|
|Marie Hall Whitehead, Task Force – Texas State Railroad, P. O. Box 475, Rusk, TX 75785, Phone: 903/683-2257||Texas State Railroad/Parks|
|Wendee Whitehead, TSR, 281 (Illegible), McDade, TX 78650||TSR - Speak|
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: This meeting is called to order. Before proceeding with any business, Mr. Cook, you have a statement to make.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A public notice of this meeting, containing all items on the proposed agenda, has been filed with the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 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.
Before we proceed, folks, so that everyone will kind of know how we do this thing, and we welcome you all, and we're glad that you're here, and our purpose is to hear from you today. In order to do so in an orderly fashion, let me kind of go through how we're going to do this, if you will, please. So that everyone will have a chance to address the Commission in an orderly fashion, the following ground rules will be followed.
An individual wishing to speak before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission must first fill out and sign a speaker registration form, which is out here at this desk. The Chairman is in charge of this meeting and by law it is his duty to preserve order, direct the order of the hearing, and recognize persons to be heard. I will be assisting the Chairman today as Sergeant-at-Arms.
We have sign-up cards for everyone wishing to speak and the Chairman will call names from those cards one at a time. Each person will be allowed to speak from the podium up front here one at a time. When your name is called, please come to the podium, state your name, who you represent if anyone other than yourself. Also, the Chairman probably will call the next person on deck so that that person can be ready, and get out, and be ready to come on up. Then tell us which issue or issues you want to talk about, state your position on the issue, add supporting facts that will help the Commission understand your concern. Please limit your remarks to issues within the jurisdiction of this Commission.
Each person who would like to address the Commission will have three minutes to speak. I will keep track of the time and notify you when your three minutes are up. I will do so on this handy, dandy little thing right here. When that thing goes red, your time is up. Your time may be extended if a Commissioner has a question for you. If the Commissioners ask a question or discuss something among themselves, that time will not be counted against you.
Statements which are merely argumentative or critical of others will not be tolerated. There is a microphone at the podium so it is not necessary to raise your voice. Shouting will not be tolerated. I would ask that you show proper respect for the Commissioners as well as the 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 Ms. Carole Hemby or Michelle Klaus, who are seated here at my right. They will pass that information on to the Commissioner. Mr. Chairman, thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Cook. If, by some mistake, anyone's here thinking we're going to address the agenda that's published, that's tomorrow's meeting. So no action is taken by the Commission today. This is merely to get input from the public on any subject you're interested in. So if you're here for that meeting, come back tomorrow.
We'll start off, first to testify, Representative Chuck Hopson. Representative, it's an honor to have you here.
MR. HOPSON: Mr. Chairman, I'm State Representative Chuck Hopson from Jacksonville, Texas. I'm here to talk about the Texas State Railroad. I've got a letter here from the Mayor of Jacksonville, Texas, that I'd like to read. It says, "Please accept my apology for not being able to attend today's meeting regarding the Texas State Railroad, due to city business. I've asked our representative, Chuck Hopson, to present this letter on my behalf and for the citizens of Jacksonville. Texas State Railroad is a historical piece of our heritage and vital, too, for our local economy. The railroad alone provides up to $4 million in our local economy annually. If the railroad was to close, or become a static display, it wouldn't only negatively affect our employees of the railroad, but our hotels, our B&Bs, our restaurants, our retail, our industry. I truly appreciate what the Texas State Railroad means to our area and for it to become a static display would be a blow not only to our economy, to our heritage as well."
I've written one also. Before I start, though, I have brought a little copy of this one for you all to look at. On the back page, it shows in 1974, when I first became interested in this railroad, and on page 3, one of the stars of East Texas is John D. Parker. It's a good picture, too. Commissioner, thank you.
"I'm a huge fan of the Texas State Railroad and I'm a big fan of the parks. I used to go to Garner State Park every year when I was a kid. In '74, I made that first bus trip that came down from Rusk, Texas, to Austin to speak in favor of establishing the Railroad Park. Throughout my career, both in the Legislature and small business, I've worked with the members of the Texas Legislature, Parks and Wildlife, to save all our parks, including the Texas State Railroad. Texas State Railroad is a historical rail and the thought of it closing or merely allowing it to become a static display isn't acceptable to me and my constituents.
The local legislators, including myself, have asked the Legislative Budget Board to provide $650,000 supplemental appropriations to keep the train running through the beautiful woods of East Texas until other funds can be found. This railroad pumps about $4 million annually into our local economy and it would be a travesty to close it. Should the railroad be closed even temporarily, it would be difficult to restart it.
I deeply care about the Texas State Railroad and I carried legislation to name it the official railroad of Texas. What a shame if we allow the official railroad of Texas to quit running. Respectfully, Chuck Hopson, State Representative."
I would be happy to answer any questions. We did airbrush Mr. Parker just a little bit.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I appreciate your work there. As you know, we're working with Senator Staples and your office to do the best we can to keep that important asset part of the community.
MR. HOPSON: Thank you, Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
MR. HOPSON: Thank you for allowing me to be here.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, sir. Next up, Marie Hall Whitehead, and after that, Terri Gonzalez.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Chairman?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, Commissioner Parker?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Before this lady speaks here, you all just know her as an attractive kind of gray tint to her hair, wearing a nice pantsuit outfit, you just know her as Marie Whitehead from Rusk, Texas. Let me tell you who Marie is. Marie, I'm not going to tell them how long we've known each other. Is her daughter here? Terri, will you stand up? Terri Gonzalez is her daughter and Marie's late husband, Emmett Whitehead, and Terri's father, was the state representative at the time the State Railroad was put together. Emmett Whitehead, he was not only the representative at that time, he was the charging bull of the House of Representatives, downtown Austin that created the Texas State Railroad. I just wanted to let you know that. Marie's got some letters. I'm not eating into her time, am I, Bob?
MR. COOK: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
MR. COOK: In fact, Mr. Hopson still has time left.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay. Just in case, she might run over a little bit, let's hear her out.
MS. WHITEHEAD: Thank you so much, Mr. Parker. You do make what I'm about to do a whole lot easier, and a little more relaxed, and I'm calm about this now. Thank you so much. Honorable Members of the Parks and Wildlife Board of Commissioners, thank you so much for the privilege of speaking to you today about our concerns for this special agency of our state. We are grateful to all of you for your leadership and guidance and the provision of your services to all of our state parks.
Now, I appreciate very much that you've been a little bit distracted by newspapers passed out to you. So just one second here. That's my newspaper. We have owned that newspaper since 1950. That's when my husband and I went to Rusk and bought that newspaper. From that point in June, everything else evolved later. I hope that you will take that paper home with you and spend more than just a few minutes with it because it will reflect the way we are out in rural East Texas today, and yet how sophisticated we are in some ways. So don't give up on our country life.
Now, let me more specifically say that I wish to convey to you our pride and privilege to have the Texas State Railroad State Historical Park, which connects Rusk and Palestine. This steam locomotive excursion train has benefited our area and the entire state with monetary assets as well as the perpetuation of our historical past. It is both an economic blessing and a heritage preservation project which we support wholeheartedly. It was launched in 1973 when my late husband was elected to the State Legislature. He served until '81.
During those early years of restoring the train and its operation, two other persons were vitally critical to this total success. They were the Honorable Jack Stone. I wish he were here today. He was a member of your board and later Chairman of the board. The other one was State Senator Charlie Wilson. Now, you take away any one of the three men I've named here and I don't think Texas State Railroad would be today. It would have been an impossible task because these three people were called by God, I want to say, to do a special task. They had the skills, the abilities, the knowledge, and they did it. They were in perfect harmony and in pursuit of a common goal.
You know, when you can get that formula in place and working, anything can be done. You just have to get people into agreement, and agreed upon this common goal and purpose, and it will happen. The return of the iron horse was seen by these three people as a vehicle of great economic value, bringing new diversion to the growing tourism industry. This facet of Texas business continues today as our third largest industry. No small task.
It's not just a local economic bloodline providing jobs, but it has become a showpiece for the entire region and state. Texas is famous for its beauty, its diversity, its friendly people. It's well known for Longhorns and horses, the Alamo, and the Battleship. We're also known for having the only state-owned train in the United States. In fact, thanks to State Representative Chuck Hopson and our Senator Todd Staples, our Legislature passed Representative Hopson's bill establishing the Texas State Railroad as the official train of Texas. It's not just a train. It's the official train of Texas.
Now, let's connect the dots for just a moment. I hope all of you are just a little bit of a historian at heart because for a few seconds, I want to look at the history here. Back in the 1870s, a committee of citizens chose Rusk for the location of the state's second penitentiary. The first was located at Huntsville. After the prison opened, voices were raised in Austin with regard to the cost of this facility to house inmates. Now, one of our greatest natural assets, resources, over there is iron ore. This soon became the focus for work that inmates might perform, that the iron ore could be translated into work opportunities for the inmates. This resulted in the construction of iron ore industries and foundries. Here, goods were made which were shipped regionwide, like water pipelines were sent all the way to the city of St. Louis for installation there.
These same skills resulted in the manufacture of many items used to construct our existing, beautiful State Capitol. The main level entrance, can you shut your eyes and see, walking into the State Capitol, and you're on the main level, and there are those cathedral tall columns. They call that the Colonnade. Those tall, tall columns were all manufactured at the iron ore furnaces in Rusk, Texas, and shipped, started in transit, out of Rusk to Palestine on the Texas State Railroad, which had been constructed by the inmates. I think that my time has run out. Tap your key on one of those great long columns
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go right ahead, Ms. Whitehead.
MS. WHITEHEAD: Sir?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go right ahead.
MS. WHITEHEAD: I may?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
MS. WHITEHEAD: Oh, thank you so much. I'll hurry. Now, I wanted to say that that train has a history worthy of a movie unto itself. All by itself, it would develop into a great movie. Its connection with our State Capitol is a beautiful thread to follow. And then, it has been, of course, the setting for a lot of movie producers who have been out there and used it.
My final appeal to you is based on this one thought. How would it feel to hear the last baby cry or the last lonely whistle of a steam locomotive chugging through the deep East Texas pine trees? These are sorrowful thoughts, sorrowful thoughts, for those of us who have worked so long and so hard to sustain this living, breathing piece of history. Privatization has not been a welcome word in time past, but I've reached the conclusion that if our state can no longer afford to keep this priceless piece of heritage, then I will have to accept game plan b. I will be supportive, I will be flexible, but I won't kid you about what it is I really prefer. Too bad I'm not a blonde.
You challenged us with an announcement that said, Consider an alternative means of operating this train or we will have to close you by December 31. Some of us on this task force committee have lost a little bit of sleep since that time was given to us, but we appreciate this opportunity to pour these hours of work into it. We feel that we have done a good job with a lot of background information when it all comes together. The Compton Economic Asset Impact Statement is not together yet. We don't have a total list of all the inventory and so forth that is property of Texas State Railroad.
We have to tie together a few more loose ends, which when you get them and bring them all together for your final consideration, we want you to know this much, that all of us out here in East Texas and all over the state who are so totally committed to saving the train, we are on board with you no pun intended we're on board with you and we will do whatever it takes to keep the Texas State Railroad in operation. I pray that you will be blessed in your continued service to our great state of Texas and its parks. I thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
MS. WHITEHEAD: Mr. Cook, Mr. Chairman, I have brought with me letters from people not so fortunate as I, who are on the task force with me, but could absolutely not come today. Would I be allowed to take their less than three minutes? I'm talking about little short letters.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'll tell you, you can give those letters to the ladies here, and they'll make sure that we each get our copies.
MS. WHITEHEAD: You have them, sir. She's already done it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right.
MS. WHITEHEAD: She's a very efficient person.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MS. WHITEHEAD: I watched her. She handed them to all of you. So you are going to read those? May I read into the record the names of these people who are with me?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Please do.
MS. WHITEHEAD: We really had to rush for 24 hours to get these letters together. We have Mr. Charles Hassle, who is the Executive Vice President of Citizens First Bank over at Rusk. He's also Chairman of the Rusk Economic Development Board and a greater friend of Texas State Railroad we just couldn't have. Another one is our City Mayor, Suzann McCarty, and she is very supportive. And then, there is Robert Gonzalez, who is the General Manager of the radio stations at Rusk, who happens to be my son-in-law. I don't have to twist his arm to be in agreement with me. Thank you all so very, very much.
I would like to invite you all to come and ride the train. How many of you, may I ask, have done that yet?
MS. WHITEHEAD: Uh-oh. We are going to have a party for those of you who don't raise your hands. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ms. Whitehead. Next up is Terri Gonzalez and, I'm sorry, can't read it, Wendee Whitehead after that. Another Whitehead?
All right. Well, we have two Whiteheads signed up. Ms. Gonzalez?
MS. GONZALEZ: Thank you very much. It's such an honor and a pleasure to be here with you all and it's certainly a tough act to follow. I wanted to tell you that I'm also here on behalf of the Texas State Railroad.
Once upon a time, there was a goose that laid golden eggs. The farmer could not believe his good fortune and he soon began selling these eggs for a tidy profit. Before long, he was a rich man. I would like to suggest that the goose laying the golden eggs in Texas is actually the Texas State Parks System. How else can we explain a little tiny Parks Division with a paltry $32 million budget? The State Park employees take those funds and stretch them just as far as they can. And then, that same money rolls around and around and around the state until it's grown to unbelievable proportions.
To cite the Cromptom Report, 80 state parks in Texas generate economic activity of $793 million in sales, $456 million on resident's income, and it created 12,000 jobs. All this begins with a $32 million investment. This is really, really big business. That's the point I wanted to explore with you all today. Imagine what would happen to the local economies from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande, from El Paso to the Piney Woods, if the cap on the sporting goods tax is removed? It will spew money in Texas just like an oil well.
Now, if you can visualize the prosperity of an oil well in a bubbling state economy, you can understand the symbiotic relationship between state parks and the private sector which strives to support it. Now, for just a moment, put on your dark sunglasses and imagine just the opposite. Imagine the great state of Texas with no state parks. And then, focus on two little towns in East Texas that once attracted 76,000 tourists a year. If their state park closed, there would be 75 park employees without jobs. Another 112 people in the private sector would also get pink slips because their livelihoods would just vanish without tourists to serve.
I'm here to speak for the Texas State Railroad and to ask your continued support on behalf of the cities of Rusk and Palestine. I feel very passionate about this train because I watched its birth. I was there 31 years ago and watched it become the amazing facility that it is today. My dad, the late Emmett Whitehead, helped secure that initial funding in 1973 when he was in the Texas Legislature. I feel like the Texas State Railroad embodies his spirit and his pride.
Representative Chuck Hopson has been a huge friend and has made a long journey to be with you guys today. I wanted to thank him for being here and to say how much his support means to all of us. This industry at the Texas State Railroad, tourism in the state of Texas, is giving back 24 times more than what it actually costs. The cities of Rusk and Palestine stand with you today in support of the Texas State Railroad. I feel so much pride when I look at the community leaders from these two cities 30 miles apart who are working so hard to find solutions with you guys.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the Texas State Railroad Gift Shop. It's now the top-grossing gift shop of all 114 state parks. About ten days ago, the manager told me that she had topped $352,000 in gross sales. That's more than $50,000 more than last year. What a success story!
We have a really, really good thing going with the Texas State Railroad. We have been presented with a goose that lays golden eggs in Texas. It is our State Park System. It's our Battleship Texas. It's the San Jacinto Monument. It's Goliad State Park. It is the Texas State Railroad. This is our history and our legacy and it's worth fighting for. Don't let our state-elected officials kill the goose that's laying golden eggs for us.
Then I will not read these following letters, but just to get them into the record, I have a lovely letter here from a Lieutenant in the Department of Army. He's got a Master's degree in History and he has some very keen insight on the railroad. I hope you will enjoy reading his letter. I have another sweet letter here from Dr. Michael Banks, who is with the Neches River Group Friends in East Texas. And then, I have another one from Steve Pressley, who is the chairman of the task force for the Texas State Railroad. I hope you all find just a few minutes to look those in your packets.
Thank you, again, for the opportunity to speak to you all today. Thank you, Mr. Cook.
MR. COOK: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ms. Gonzalez. That was very well said.
Wendee Whitehead? Joe Turner, be ready.
MS. WHITEHEAD: I wanted to speak to you, too, about the Texas State Railroad. We've talked about the importance of the economic development. It's huge. When you think about how much money comes into the railroad, that's just a small percentage of what comes into our entire state. With gas prices being the way they are, more and more people are going to choose to stay in state and not have to travel so far out.
When I was ten years old, I was riding across the pasture with my dad. He said, You know, I have a vision. When I get into the Legislature, I see a Texas State Railroad. I see a railroad coming to this area, because he truly thought that every child deserved to go to a great park. It's what we invest in this area that continues to give again and again.
Texas State Railroad is an incredibly memorable experience. I w>
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
Joe Turner, good to see you, Joe. Karen Cullar?
MS. CULLAR: Cullar.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Cullar, sorry.
MR. TURNER: Joe Turner, Houston Parks and Recreations Department, the Director. Commissioner, today I come before you thanking you for quite a few things, and the Commission itself also. Thank you for appointing the State Board Advisory Committee to take the issue of state park fundings under issue. I bring to you from our perspective what we'd like to say to you, from our department. We support the appropriate actions that need to take place to ensure that the sporting goods sales tax is fully dedicated to Texas Parks and Wildlife park purposes.
Second, we support the identification of major repairs and land acquisition through a bond program rather than operational fundings for the State Park System. You know, land acquisition is critical for the future growth of our wonderful state, especially if you look at DFW, Austin, San Antonio, I mean, DFW and then the San Antonio-Austin-Houston triangle. It's critical for us to acquire land into the future.
We also support the Texas Recreation Park Account which, as we refer to it in our world normally, is the grant program. It's critical to the development of park space, going from $15 million down to approximately $5 million this year, this grant process allows local communities, particularly us and other cities, to develop additional park space and it's also a real catalyst for us to look for those developments. We support that program and are hoping to see it encouraged.
The other piece I'd like to bring to you is it's been another great year for us in our park system. Our relationships have been phenomenal with Texas Parks and Wildlife, as last year Tim Hogsett has been a great partner for us in our development. Also, a couple of other people we'd like to mention would be Jerry Bartell, Jerry Hopkins, Walt Dabney, Scott Boruff, and Director Cook has been wonderful.
I would like to talk to you about three particular individuals who are on the staff. One of those is Ann Bright. We've had many, many dealings with her this past year and it's been a wonderful opportunity. I thank you for that. You know, I'm an urban park system and with an urban park system you have urban wildlife. Director Cook, in the current issue, put a nice article I'd like to direct you to if you haven't read it, particularly the last paragraph where he talks about that urban wildlife. We deal with urban wildlife quite a bit in our park system.
Two particular employees of Texas Parks and Wildlife, one Diana Foss who is an urban biologist at Sheldon State Park and then Megan Goodman, who is here in Austin who is a bat biologist, have been a huge assistance to us with our bat colony that we have at Wall Street Bridge. We have been able to take that colony it will never be as big as the one in Austin, but it's an amazing program that we're working on. Megan has been just phenomenal and we do appreciate the support that we get from Texas Parks and Wildlife as a city. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Joe, thank you. Thank you for all your help. It's been a great pleasure to work with you.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I'd like to just add my congratulations, Joe. I think you're doing a great job.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Karen Cullar and then Jan DeVault be ready.
MS. CULLAR: Karen Cullar from Houston Parks and Recreation Department. I wanted to thank you all for the opportunities that your grant program provides us. The grant program everywhere, but also in Houston, is heavily leveraged with private and other public contributions. It takes the grant funding as an anchor and an incentive to economic development.
One of the things that staff can tell you, Tim Hogsett and many of the other individuals at the grant program, is that I firmly believe in some of the words that are in the grant agreement. That includes the words, "We are jointly committed." When we hit some of those little ripples in the road in trying to get that money spent fast enough, sometimes I say, "You know, we are jointly committed." You know what happens? They help us troubleshoot. They are with us at every step and turn in the way.
We had the privilege of being awarded earlier this year a co-op grant for outdoor adventure. I can tell you that one of the things that came out of that grant is a wonderful field trip out on Galveston Bay. Some of our children were actually photographed by, really, opportunity. The press showed up. Nobody invited them. They showed up and took pictures of our children out in kayaks, eating their free summer food program lunches in the kayaks, with a backdrop of herons and gulls. It's is just it's one of those money shots. It's dynamite! If we could do that every day, I think they'd be better off and we'd all be happier, too.
Thank you for the opportunities you've provided. We hope to continue to be jointly committed and to continue to partner because we need each other. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Karen, thank you very much. I agree with you, Tim Hogsett runs a great shop and does a very good job. Jan DeVault?
MS. DeVAULT: Yes, sir. It's DeVault.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: DeVault, I'm sorry. I apologize. And then, Earl Broussard, be ready.
MS. DeVAULT: Okay. My name is Jan DeVault. I am from Houston, Texas. I am actually the President of the Friends of the San Jacinto Battleground. I am one of the founders of that group. Also, I am a public member of the San Jacinto Historical Advisory Board, which is a board that was I tell my colleagues it was actually founded in 1907 and at that point in time it was the San Jacinto Park Commission. 1907, of course, will be the anniversary of the park system for the state.
At that point in time, it is sort of interesting, they appointed a woman who happened to be a member of the San Jacinto Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. That is a tradition that has carried on until this day. I'm into my second term; I was appointed first by George W. Bush and then by Governor Perry in 2005.
I wish I could say that my interest in San Jacinto has lead to a happy marriage, but it has not. If my husband, he tells me repeatedly if I mention San Jacinto at one more dinner party, he is going to absolutely puke, but it is a passion. It is a passion. I am here today actually to tell you and to express to you some of the concerns that our Friends Group has regarding the proposed visitor center at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.
If I can give you some background, a combined visitor center/museum complex on Vista Road, which is now called Juan Seguin Boulevard, was first recommended in the Battleground master plan developed jointly by the San Jacinto Museum of History Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife between the years 1992 and 1997. This plan had the endorsement of the San Jacinto Historical Advisory Board, the Battleship Texas Foundation, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the Sons of the Republic of Texas, and the San Jacinto Descendants. The overriding objectives to the master plan was to return the battleground as closely as possible to its 1836 condition, relocate support and recreation facilities away from the main battle areas, and enhance the interpretation of the battle, construct a new visitor center/museum away from the battle area.
Since that time, and I do not remember the dates, there has been a lot of and actually, my colleagues and I were fully participated in this master-planning process. In fact, I think Earl would agree our fingerprints are all over that. I will have to say that since that time we have come to believe, and in as good faith as that plan was put together, we have come to believe that the location of the visitor center would be intrusive on historical elements that relate to the battle.
Without sounding preachy, the San Jacinto Battleground is a National Historic Landmark. Texas Parks and Wildlife regulations state that the "historical integrity of an historic site or structure must be preserved and encroachments in the form of auxiliary management and public facilities must be avoided." This is not an issue that we believe can be ignored because it is economically prudent to do so. We believe there is a unique window of opportunity to make several valuable improvements at San Jacinto, but it is important that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. What we're asking is that there be a postponement of the design and construction phase of the visitor center, which will become the second largest building in the park, so that its location, and also to study if the location and also the feasibility of moving the Battleship.
When the Battleship was actually moved to the park in 1948, there was not land available there. So it was parked right there in the middle of Sam Houston's camp. That's not the case now. What we are proposing is that we look at the possibility of moving the ship slightly north from where it is now. We don't believe this argument is too late to address these issues. TPWD submitted a TxDOT application in 2001 with a visitor center proposed on Vista Road. We understood that when the final stakeholders meeting was held pardon me, I am terribly sunburned the reason why is I was out at San Jacinto several days ago with people from the Shell Foundation. So pardon me.
MR. COOK: Ms. DeVault?
MS. DeVAULT: Pardon?
MR. COOK: Right here.
MS. DeVAULT: Pardon? Okay, thank you. Shall I? I'm sorry.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. Next up is Earl Broussard and then Jeff Dunn, be ready.
MR. BROUSSARD: Yes, thank you, Commissioners. I apologize for my dress. I was working on The Alamo today and the master plan for it. So it's interesting to be working on The Alamo and talking about the issue of San Jacinto, a battle we lost and a battle we won and a battle we keep on fighting.
I am the President of TBG Partners and was the master planner for this study, and worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife and all the groups that Jan mentioned. We worked hard over the last six years to develop a master plan and really had developed that master plan, located the visitor center on the most disturbed portion of the site, which is essentially the refuge of the hole dug for the Battleship, getting us the greatest command of viewing onto the battlefield and replicating the track of the Texans as they moved towards Lynchville Ferry and then moved back and developed their campsite before the battle. It is the best location in which to get a feeling of the topography that the Texans would have felt in 1836. This is, of course, with the completion of the master plan which allows us to take out the reflecting pond and re-create the topography which was the reason that the Texans located there.
All this was designed, discussed, and signed off. We are now in the midst of getting ready to begin a new visitor center in that location. We've had so many false starts in San Jacinto. For so long, we have fought this battle to commemorate this great battlefield and would like you to approve and move forward with the visitor center as it is now proposed. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Can I?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, question from Commissioner Holmes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Did I understand you to say that the site that you selected was on dredge material dredged from the slip that the Battleship Texas occupies?
MR. BROUSSARD: Right. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Dunn and Lynn Spasic, be ready.
MR. DUNN: Thank you, Commissioners. My name is Jeff Dunn. I'm an attorney in Dallas. I'm also the Chairman of the San Jacinto Historical Advisory Board and Founder, Director, and Vice President of the Friends of the San Jacinto Battleground. Jan DeVault and I are here today to follow up with a letter that we wrote to Bob Cook on July 17, which was copied to you, about the subject that Mr. Broussard talked about, the visitor center at San Jacinto. We are greatly concerned that the Department is making a big mistake with constructing the Center at this site.
A lot of the research that was done, largely after a lot of the work was done on the TBG plan, has revealed that this Center does sit right in the middle of Sidney Sherman's camp of the Texas Army camp in 1836. Although there is fill there, what we would like to do is see a delay in the plan just to give us time to try to see if we can move the ship to a more feasible location so the ship can be interpreted in its own context and we can help restore the full ambiance of the Texas Army camp.
I'd like to point out that Earl is correct about the master plan that he worked on, but what he didn't tell you is that there was another master plan done in the 1990s. The state spent over $50,000; the San Jacinto Museum Association spent approximately $250,000 to develop a plan by Matthai Associates. It's an excellent plan. This Commission approved that plan in 1998.
The TBG plan was intended to implement that plan. Instead, we have a different plan. We were told that it was not finalized, it was not approved, it has not come up before this Commission, and that there would be a lot more planning and consensus before that happened. Now, we're being told that that's not the case, that there will not need to be a consensus, there will not have to be a consensus, and there won't be. Our view is that this is wrong and that this is a mistake on the part of the Department. We encourage you to think about that and deal with it.
Also, I just want to mention briefly, in our view, this visitor center really is symptomatic of a larger problem that we're perceiving at the park. We really have two master plans, one for the Battleship and the battlefield. We have the substitute master plan. We have dry-berthing plans for the ship. All of these conflict with each other. They have not been reconciled. We have three non-profit partners at the park. They're not coordinating their activities. The management at the park is fragmented. Part of the park is managed by a non-profit organization. The other part is managed by the Parks and Wildlife. The agreements between the Museum Association and TPWD are obsolete and there's no current ongoing effort to try to resolve that.
In short, our perception in a nutshell is this. You really have a big problem at San Jacinto. Some of this problem is self-inflicted. We think that there is a lot of money being wasted at San Jacinto and that this visitor center, among other things, could help impede the proper historical development, interpretation of the park. We're very concerned about that. We hope that you will pay attention to these issues over the coming year. The Friends is very interested in this project. We have a group of very dedicated, committed volunteers that are committed to the battleground and the restoration of the battleground. We stand ready to help and look forward to working with the Department to do that. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Dunn.
Is that Lenny Spasic, Larry Spasic? I can't quite make that out.
MR. SPASIC: Larry.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Larry. And Charles Alcorn, be ready.
MR. SPASIC: That's close enough. I know who you're talking about. I first want to express my support that the sports tax be applied to its original purpose and its financing by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I hope that the Texas Legislature in the near future will pay attention to its original intent and redirect it to support of this wonderful department that we have here in Texas that we should all be very proud of.
I would also like to express my support for the debt financing of the Prop 8 funds that were voted in favor of by the citizens of this state. I would hope our leaders would pay attention to their wisdom in supporting and passing these Prop 8 funds and that they also be applied for their purpose in the future.
We also wanted to compliment the supervision and the hard work of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the current renovations in the San Jacinto Monument Museum. It is now in very good shape. We do meet current fire and safety code. This is a tremendous accomplishment when you consider the educators and the students and Texans and the guests that come out to this building each year. We invite everyone out on September 7 at 10:00 a.m. to attend this reopening ceremony. We will not charge any of the Commissioners at all to ride up to the top in the elevator.
I would also like to express my support for the location of the new visitor center and museum through the TBG plan. There were many meetings on this and a consensus was reached for this particular location for many reasons. We are very proud of the accomplishments of the San Jacinto Museum of History over the last seven decades and the tens of millions of dollars that have been raised privately for Texans, their guests, and anyone else who would visit this sacred historic site. Our chairman of the Board of Trustees will speak further in support of the TBG plan. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Spasic.
Charles Alcorn and Barry Ward, be ready.
MR. ALCORN: Thank you. My name is Charles Alcorn. I'm appearing on behalf of the Battleship Texas Foundation. We support the master plan as prepared by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the visitor center as proposed. In 1947, the Texas Legislature passed an Act accepting the Battleship Texas from the United States Government as a permanent memorial "for the commemoration of the heroic participation of the state of Texas in the prosecution and victory of the Second World War and provided for berthing of the vessel at the San Jacinto State Park."
Texas State Parks and Wildlife is responsible for maintaining the ship as a permanent museum. The last session of the Legislature authorized $16.2 million TxDOT funds for building a dry-berthing solution for the Texas, which will obviate the necessity to ever tow her to a dry dock to effect repairs to the hull since they can be accomplished onsite. Visitors will be able to view the hull of the vessel from the dry dock.
As part of the TxDOT grant, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is required to furnish $4.2 million in matching funds, which the Battleship Texas Foundation has agreed to raise for the construction project. It is not economically feasible to move the Battleship Texas to another location. We have an opportunity to preserve the vessel for future generations by moving forward on the dry-berthing solution at the present time.
We support the proposed visitor center as proposed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Many meetings have been held by Texas Parks and Wildlife with all the interested parties, including the Friends of the Battleground, since 2001. The site chosen for the visitor center was selected to provide an overview of all the attractions of the park, and in particular of the battleground. From the visitor center, visitors will be able to view the area where the battle took place, the monument, and the battleship. The Battleship Texas Foundation and the San Jacinto Museum both have agreed to the request from the Texas Parks and Wildlife for $175,364 each to help fund the visitor center. A visitor center has long been needed at the park.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go right ahead, Mr. Alcorn.
MR. ALCORN: Okay. Many visitors to the park come to see the Battleship, the monument, and the museum and fail to understand that the Battle of San Jacinto had a profound effect on the development of the United States since it lead indirectly to the expansion of the United States to the Pacific Ocean. I moved to Texas in 1967 and took my children to visit the Battleship and the monument and the museum. The Battle of San Jacinto meant absolutely nothing to us until several years later. We read history books of Texas and learned. We have an opportunity to let our visitors know, through the visitor center, what the Battle of San Jacinto means to the nation. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Alcorn.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Alcorn?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Alcorn? Pardon.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, go right ahead.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Just for the record, so that everyone will know, where were you on that June day in, what was it, 1944?
MR. ALCORN: I was on the Normandy beachhead watching the Battleship Texas fire at the Germans.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Alcorn and thank you for everything you do at the Battleship Texas Foundation and the rest of your foundation board members.
Next up, Barry Ward and after Barry Ward, Sarita Hixon.
MR. WARD: I'm Barry Ward. I'm the Executive Director of the Battleship Texas Foundation. Some of you may remember, until recently, I spent seven years as the site manager and curator of the Battleship itself. So I have spent a significant portion of my professional life so far protecting that ship. I think you've had ample testimony and you have ample information at your disposal to make your own decision on where that site should be. There are other experts on that.
What I would like to implore you to do is to consider the expedition of any solution. That ship and I know it better than anybody that ship needs repair. If we were on the previous repair-type cycles, we would already be anywhere from three to five years overdue. It is essential that we repair that ship or effect its repair and permanent dry-berthing solution in a timely manner. Time is of the essence, not only for the repair factor, but also for the funding factor. We have the opportunity to gain over $16 million in funds at a four to one match. Four to one for my money is a pretty darn good deal and I don't think those types of opportunities are going to come along very often. So, again, I would implore you all to consider quite carefully whatever we do that may lose us the opportunity to acquire the funds to effect that permanent solution for that ship. Thank you all very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Barry, thank you. Thank you for all your service to Parks and Wildlife and your work on the ship. We appreciate it.
Sarita Hixon and after Sarita Hixon, Dale Bulla be ready.
MS. HIXON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm Sarita Hixon and I'm here as Chairman of the San Jacinto museum of History Association. I also serve on the Texas Historical Commission. I want to echo the statement of Captain Alcorn and Larry Spasic, our museum President, as well as Barry Ward, and state for the record that our museum is very much in favor of moving forward with construction of a new visitor center at San Jacinto as proposed under the TBG plan.
We are pleased that architectural selection is moving forward and are convinced that if the archaeology that is called for is done, and if the design of the visitor center is done properly and located properly, it will greatly enhance the park for the future generations of Texas. I know that there are differences of opinions on this and we've heard them for many, many years. They have been voiced and heard over the years at many stakeholder meetings. The time has come, though, to move forward and take advantage of a wonderful economic possibility that is in our grasp. Not to do so, I think, would be a tremendous loss for our state and for our nation.
I also, on another note, want to thank you all for all of the wonderful assistance that you have given us in the last two years in completing the repair and renovation of the San Jacinto Monument, which after two years of having the elevator closed, I have a hard time believing that we are just days away from reopening and once again begin carrying people up to the top of the monument. To commemorate the special occasion, I want to re-emphasize that you all are invited to the commemorative ceremony to be held on Thursday, September 7 at 10:00. I hope those of you who can join us will be there. We'd love to have you join us.
Just once again, I know you all have received some letters, one from our organization and one from the Friends. Again, there are differences of opinion and everybody can agree to disagree on certain things, but the important thing is that at the end of the day we must move forward for the benefit of the park. We look forward to working with Parks and Wildlife and the Battleship and all of the other constituent groups out at the park to make sure that we do something that we can be proud of for future generations. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ms. Hixon. Thank you for your service and all your great work there at San Jacinto. For those members of the Commission that don't know it, Sarita Hixon has worked long and hard on the San Jacinto Monument and the Battleship. We appreciate your service.
MS. HIXON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Dale Bulla and Bert Kasprowicz, be ready.
MR. BULLA: Mr. Chairman
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Bulla.
MR. BULLA: — Commission members, I want to thank you first of all for your service to our state. My name is Dale Bulla. I live here in Austin, Texas, and I come to you this afternoon to discuss the failure of our state to provide for the health and care of our state parks and our historical areas.
For the last ten years, our spending on parks seems to have been in decline despite the fact that the citizens of Texas have repeatedly called for increased attention to open space, environment, and recreation. As a result, the state leadership seems to be continuing its deception to the taxpayer in several ways. Despite giving lip service to park support, it continues to downgrade and reduce facilities, staff, and equipment, as year after year it cuts budgets to parks.
I have often talked to park officials about funding needs. One told me in a state hearing, he was asked by a legislator, "So you want to increase your budget. How many children do you want us to cut from the health insurance program to accomplish that?" What a question! Of course, the park official when given such a choice declined to put children at risk and withdrew his request. Is this any way to run our state government?
For example, the revenue that is raised from sporting goods equipment, fishing and hunting licenses, is thought by Texans who purchased them to go for parks, open space acquisition, and improvement of our wildlife populations in the state. However, according to newspaper accounts, that revenue is capped and the excess goes to projects other than for what it was intended.
When folks buy their wildlife license plates, they think that all that extra that they pay for it is going to support things that they support, such as hunting and fishing, and, yes, even their pets. It appears that this program is a fraud as well since we learned that only a portion of the revenue that special license plate generates are used for that purpose for which they are intended. Is this any to way to run our state government?
When challenged, the state says, "Oh, but it's legal." Maybe it is, but is it moral? Is it right? Are we experiencing this type of government deception.
At this time in Austin, we're experiencing something similar. The city of Austin, right now, is trying to take endangered species habitat from the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, make it into a water treatment plant. By doing so quickly, it hopes that the public will not notice the ramifications of taking preserve land and without public input it is thought that no one will actually notice. Despite the fact that this land was purchased with bond money for the purpose of setting this land aside forever to protect Black-Capped Vireo and Golden Cheek Warblers, the city says that this is legal. This brings back memories of a time I appeared here before, talking about the selling off of Big Bend Ranch property without public input. Is this any way to run a city government?
I have observed state and local government agencies twist the truth with fine print and technical verbiage to accomplish their goals, but are they our goals? Is it moral to collect money under false pretenses? Is it moral to take money for one purpose and spend it on something else?
Whether it's a toll road or a water treatment plant, the citizens have a right to expect that their government will not try to deceive them. To tell us that toll roads will give us roads at less cost, when in fact they'll cost more than if paid up front with tax dollars is a fact that real cost to commuters will have much greater expense than if gas taxes were raised. This is deceptive. It's not a way to run a government. We're grown-ups. We can take it. Just tell us the truth. If we need to raise taxes, tell us. Tell us what the increase will be used for and then keep your word. If our licenses and fees are collected for a reason, put those dollars into those purposes and don't hide
MR. COOK: Sir?
MR. BULLA: — even if it is legal. We expect more of our elected officials and if they don't, perhaps their term should be shortened.
MR. COOK: Sir?
MR. BULLA: The public trust of Texas is shaken. Our faith in our government has been undermined. Today, I trust the new beginning of some truth-telling. We love our parks. We love our open space. We love our rivers, and estuaries, and wildlife. You are to protect them. The people of Texas are depending on you. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
MR. KASPROWICZ: Thank you. Chairman and Commissioners, thank you for giving me the time to speak. I'm here as a private person, a longtime user of the parks, and also a supporter of the parks. I, too, have seen deterioration in the parks. Lack of proper funding has resulted in reductions in staff. I'm sure you all know that. Closing of some parks, and poor maintenance.
I briefly want to echo what the previous gentleman said. I think that the funding, user fees, and other generated revenue should be returned to the parks and not for other uses. Really, I want you to keep in mind that the parks really belong to the people, to us, and that they should never be privatized or sold off. They're really a heritage to our children.
Finally, one other thing, they really generate a lot of income. When I go to different parks, I often go to Davis Mountain State Park. You see people from all over the nation coming to the park. They go into Fort Davis. They spend their money. They do that around every park. Many of those people spend as long as two weeks, three weeks, in our area and that brings in local money. So please consider that. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Kasprowicz. As an aside, I hope all of you who are interested in state park funding will pay attention to the report we're going to receive from the committee that I appointed several months ago, State Parks Advisory Committee, to address the very issues Mr. Bulla and others addressed. We hope to have that, well, I know, we will have that report tomorrow.
Next up, Jim Haire and Terry Colley, be ready.
MR. HAIRE: I'm Jim Haire from Tyler. Our state parks have always been very important to me and my family, especially Garner Park and Tyler State Park. So I appreciate the chance to comment on our park funding problems. I question how a state with so much industry, oil and gas production, et cetera, can be so short of tax revenues that it ranks last in the nation in park spending, has 19,000 people waiting in line for state mental health services, and why it cut back school funding so deeply that the school districts were able to sue the state and win. The question today is how our state government justifies cutting back park funding and even more critical state services while granting large unexplained tax favors to certain businesses such as the alcohol industry.
Here's a few facts for you to think about. Texas alcohol health costs and damages are reported by the state at over $16 billion annually. However, state alcohol taxes only offset about 6 percent of those damages. The state's alcohol cost is $6 billion greater than Texas cigarette health costs. Yet, while our Legislature just increased cigarette taxes by $1.00 to $1.41 per pack, they kept the beer tax at 1.8 cents per can. Beer makes up about 93 percent of Texas alcohol sales, yet beer taxes have not been increased in 23 years, 23 years. We've had two increases in our sales taxes since the last beer tax increase. Tripling Texas beer taxes would only put us at the average of the top ten states. I think about that because we're probably number one in the nation in costs of alcohol abuse.
Since we've heard no other logical reason, we have to assume the large campaign donations and private jet use are what protects the alcohol industry from tax increases. This special tax treatment for alcohol leads directly to funding problems for parks and other state functions. I hope you'll ask Governor Perry and your other elected representatives how they justify the 23-year freeze on beer taxes while they're shutting down our state parks. Now that the park problem is getting a lot of press, a quick fix cash infusion is almost certainly on the way, but when a politician mentions to you how he found the money for our parks, ask him how many more Texans will have to be deprived of state mental health services or some other critical need. The special tax treatment for beer in Texas is costing all Texans a very high price. Thanks very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Haire. Just so we're clear on what the Commission can and cannot do. This Commission never asked for their park funding to be cut. I'm hearing some things that I wonder may be better directed other places, but anyway thank you very much for that. As to the short term fix, if you'll read my charges to the State Parks Advisory Committee, it's for a long-term solution.
MR. HAIRE: I have.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I hope you'll stay tuned to see that report tomorrow.
Terry Colley and then Doug Evans up.
MR. COLLEY: Thank you, Chairman Fitzsimons, members of the Commission. My name is Terry Colley. I'm the Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Historical Commission. You've heard from two of our commission members today, Earl Broussard and Sarita Hixon. It's my pleasure to highlight the fact that the staff members in both of our agencies continue to work together on issues that are important both to our agencies and to the state, specifically the historic sites of which you've heard references to two or three of those this afternoon.
We share the same concern for the historic sites that has been expressed by your Commission and your staff. We recognize that the situation is critical and we want to do whatever we can do to help you bring resolution to the issue. I'm glad to hear that the Historic Sites Advisory Committee will be meeting again in a few months. We feel like this committee's input can be extremely helpful to helping these historic sites.
I'd like to commend your staff for getting the word out regarding the condition of the sites. Walt Dabney was kind enough to join us in Galveston a few months ago to make a presentation to our commission, and let them know exactly where we stand, and what the extent of the problem is. We appreciate you sending him there. Let me assure you that we are in daily communication with your staff on these types of issues. Again, we stand ready to assist you in any way that we can. I appreciate the work that your staff does, both professionally and personally, and appreciate the opportunity to speak this afternoon, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Colley. Thanks for the work you do with our staff in taking care of those historic sites. I appreciate it.
MR. COLLEY: You're welcome, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Doug Evans and Steve Bosak, be ready.
MR. EVANS: Honorable Chair Fitzsimons and members of the Commission, my name is Doug Evans. I'm the Director of Parks and Recreation, Grapevine, Texas, here representing Grapevine and also the Texas Recreation Parks Society. First, I would like to commend Bob Cook, Walt Dabney, Tim Hogsett, and all the employees of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for the great job they do for our state.
You had mentioned the report and I'm anxious for the report to come out. I'm really hoping it gets our Texas State Parks back on the right track. It needs to go the opposite way it is going right now. I also hope there are recommendations in the report supporting restoration of funds for the Texas Recreation Parks Account, which we all know about and Joe Turner mentioned before.
I had the privilege of serving on the State Parks Advisory Committee in 2001 and 2002. I went to a lot of the state parks, as many as I could with the time that allowed, to visit the park managers and take tours of the parks. It was sad. To me, it was very sad at the condition that I saw the facilities in the parks, and of the vehicles they had, and the equipment that they had in the State Parks System. In fact, I felt so bad I went back to Grapevine and asked our city council to donate a vehicle to Mother Neff State Park in 2004 because it was much better than the main vehicle they had in the park for the State Park System.
I'm also so glad to see the condition of our state parks being front and foremost in the newspapers. Everywhere you pick up a newspaper, you see publicity about our State Park System. I'd like to thank George Bristol and the Texas Coalition for Conservation. I know they've done a lot of work in getting that out in the forefront. I've seen Walt Dabney's presentation on the condition of our state parks and I've asked him to come to Grapevine to talk to the Grapevine Rotary Club, and talk to the Grapevine American Business Club, and give that presentation because I know they need to know what's happening with our State Park System.
Ranking 49 out of 50 in state park funding per capita is not something that Texas should be proud of. I know we're going to go the other way. In closing, again, I'd like to thank the Commission. I'd like to thank the State Parks Advisory Committee and Chairman Montford for the work they're doing on the report. I'd also like to thank, again, George Bristol and the Texas Coalition for Conservation for their work. I can assure you the Texas Recreation Parks Society, all our members will be walking the halls in support of increased funding for our State Park System and for our Texas Recreation Parks Account. Thanks so much for the opportunity to speak.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Doug, thank you, and thanks for your help last session. We were not successful, but I think as more and more people become aware of the situation, that will be different. I appreciate your help because you've been helping us for a number of years that we've been working on this. To answer your question on the Local Parks Grant Program, I specifically charged Chairman Montford's committee on that issue of local parks. I think Tim Hogsett's outfit does a fantastic job of leveraging a small amount of money into a great open space and parks opportunities. And so, you will
MR. EVANS: You bet.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — I charged them with addressing that. So you will see that in the report.
MR. EVANS: I appreciate that and we're here to help you all because we know the condition of our state parks and we need a lot of help.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I appreciate your help.
MR. EVANS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Mr. Bosak, I hope I got that right.
MR. BOSAK: Yes, sir, thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ken Kramer, be ready.
MR. BOSAK: Good afternoon. I'm speaking also on behalf of the Texas Recreation and Parks Society. TRAPS is a statewide organization of professionals with over 2,200 members. Our membership includes city, county, state, and federal parks and recreation professionals, as well as architects, engineers, planners, equipment manufacturers, sporting good distributors, and the private sector. We're an advocacy group representing parks and recreation interests throughout the state. We advocate for people, parks, and programs that enhance the quality of life in Texas.
The first thing TRAPS wants to say is thanks. I echo what Doug's been saying. Thanks for your efforts to restore state park funding. We want to thank Walt Dabney and Bob Cook for their proactive work in making the state legislature and the state leadership aware of the dire situation our state parks are in. We appreciate what Walt has been doing. We also appreciate the Department's support of those activities.
In the past, state parks have not been a priority and that's whey we have problems today. We encourage the Commission to make funding for all parks a priority of this agency. TRAPS also wants to thank you for the Texas Recreation Parks Account and Local Park Grant Program. Tim Hogsett and his staff do an invaluable service to us and we appreciate that.
I work for the city of Leander. I'm the Parks and Recreation Director there and we're currently developing Benbrook Ranch Park with a TRPA assistance grant. Leander has grown from 3,400 to 25,000 in a period of ten years. We couldn't be building this new park that we need without your assistance.
You know, we all know the warm and fuzzy, good things parks do for our communities, but until now, we haven't talked about economic impacts. TRPA is funded through the sporting goods sales tax and the creation of new parks, local parks and state parks, stimulates the purchase of more sporting goods. When these funds are used for the purpose that they are intended, they translate into better public health, economic development, job creation, education, corporate relocations, juvenile crime prevention, and better quality of life.
This year, the Texas Recreation and Park Foundation will roll out a local parks and recreation economic impact study that's being prepared by the Perryman Group. This study will demonstrate what local parks do for our economies, much in the same way state parks impact the state's economy. You'll see articles published throughout the state exposing the condition of our State Parks System. You've heard that state park funds have been cut and if we increase appropriations from the sporting goods sales tax, we can save our state parks system. What you haven't heard, though, or read much about, is for the past two bienniums, the local park share of the sporting goods sales tax has been cut to the bone. TRAPS wants to be sure the Commission is aware of that fact. We respectfully ask your support to increase funding for local parks, too. We're hopeful that the State Parks Advisory board will recognize the importance of local park grant program, in their soon-to-be released report and that the Commission will join us to advocate for increased funding for this incredible program.
I assure you that TRAPS will work hard for you next session, in support of legislation, to increase funding for all parks including state parks. TRAPS encourages the Commission to make park funding a long-term commitment. If we work together, we can support a seamless system of parks that all people can enjoy regardless of the agency that manages them. Let's move forward on a mutual parks agenda that improves the quality of life for future Texans.
It's a matter of economics. It's a matter of responsibility. Investments today will provide compounded benefits tomorrow. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Steve. I guess you know that that, as I just said before, the Local Parks Grant Program has been a particular interest of mine
MR. BOSAK: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — since I came on the Commission five years ago. I support it very strongly. It is an integral part of that recommendation.
MR. BOSAK: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It's a very efficient, well-run program and the more of it, the better.
MR. BOSAK: Thank you. We appreciate that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So I appreciate your support.
MR. BOSAK: You bet.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Next up, Ken Kramer and then Fran Miles.
MR. KRAMER: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, for the record, I'm Ken Kramer representing the Sierra Club. I want to talk primarily about state parks, but first I want to express the appreciation of my organization to Chairman Fitzsimons for his work on the Environmental Flows Advisory Committee and the support of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for that very important issue.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
MR. KRAMER: You know, I was telling Beth McDonald with Friends of State Parks, before the meeting that it's sort of ironic that 24 years ago, when I first moved to Austin, to begin professionally lobbying for the Sierra Club. The first issue that I worked on, and walked the halls of the State Capitol about, was funding for state parks. At that time, the cigarette tax was the main focus of funding for state parks. Guess what? Roughly $16 million of the cigarette tax went to state parks and roughly $16 million to local parks. Now, that figure sounds real familiar to me, like that's what the
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: $32 million.
MR. KRAMER: — $32 million from the state sporting goods tax is supposed to go for. So here we are, 24 years later, that's the same allocation and not even all of that was appropriated this biennium for state and especially local parks were hit hard. I also remember in the summer of 1986, flying back from vacation in Oregon, taking a cab straight to the Capitol for a special session, to go lobby against proposed cuts in state park funding. That was part of a major effort to try to bring the state budget into alignment with revenue shortfalls that happened during the middle of the biennium. Interestingly enough, at that time a number of groups, including Sierra Club, Texas Recreation Parks Society, Audubon Society, and others all banded together and really flooded the Capitol with communications to try to stop the urgency of those cuts for state parks funding. We were able to restore some of that money and prevent a number of parks from being closed.
I'm very happy to see the outpouring of support for state parks funding. We very much support the work of your advisory committee to try to lift that cap on the sporting goods tax. And not only get that full revenue allocated to parks funding, but also appropriated to parks funding, because that is the key. I want to emphasize that my organization will do everything possible in the coming months to make sure that the recommendations of the advisory committee are followed through. We want to emphasize that we support full funding for local parks as well as for state parks because this is an integrated park system throughout the state of Texas. The strength of our local parks and the strength of our state parks are dependent upon one another.
The ability for us to bring kids into the out of doors in a local park ultimately increases the appreciation of children and adults for the outdoors, which your organization, your agency, is pledged to support and protect. We thank you for your work and we'll be there to help you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. I appreciate all your support, Ken, through the years. You've been a great advocate for us in our efforts for state park funding, and as you mentioned, our efforts on environmental flows. I want to thank you for the help you gave my committee to come up with those recommendations. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
MR. KRAMER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you again, Ken.
Fran Miles and Thomas DuBourg, be ready.
MS. MILES: Members of the Commission, my name is Fran Miles. I am here on behalf of Mission Tejas State Park and the Caddoan Mounds Historical Site. We ask that you allow adequate funding for all state parks, especially those located within Region 8 of East Texas. Those include our Caddoan Mounds Historical Site and Mission Tejas State Park. As adults, we all understand the importance of each and every child within our state to receive a solid, well-rounded education. We have over 45 school districts within five counties that border these two parks. It is up to us, as Texas citizens, to preserve our heritage by giving each child a continued opportunity to walk through these amazing historical sites and witness first-hand how our land and communities have developed over time.
Our Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site delivers a firm understanding of how the Indians settled within East Texas. They use team effort in conducting their chores and daily activities within each tribe and how they economically and physically survived.
Within this park is a museum, the best kept secret in East Texas, that displays over 200 tools and pottery items used by the Indians on that site. Without a firm grasp of our past, children of today and tomorrow might not understand how to carry on such an important piece of Texas. Our state parks provide a learning experience for our local Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Eagle Scouts, and garden clubs. The scouts are provided with numerous resources to earn their badges with some projects enhancing our parks through volunteered materials and labor.
Gentlemen, our children need to be taken into consideration for the future. Give them an opportunity to get high on life and not on drugs. This anti-drug program works. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Thomas DuBourg and then we have Beth McDonald, Texans for State Parks. Be ready.
MR. DuBOURG: Commissioners, ladies and gentlemen, fellow Texans, and Senator Staples, it's good to see you. I'm the President of the Mission Tejas Caddoan Mounds Friends Association. I would just like to say that many individuals and many Texans, and Texas itself, has benefited from our agricultural products in East Texas, our oil, our gas, and our natural resources, and our game, and the timber of East Texas as well. Over these years, it's a tremendous benefit to the state and to the people. We also have a cultural and educational resource in our state parks and there's talk of taking them away.
We have over 60 school districts in 12 surrounding counties. There's colleges, scout troops, and voting taxpayers from all over the state, and hunters who utilize our parks and recreational areas, many of whom bring much-needed dollars into our small business community of East Texas itself. It's a very economically depressed area by the way. We need every dollar we can get. Let us keep Caddoan Mounds State Park, an area that was populated and thriving 1,300 years before Columbus. Let us keep Mission Tejas, the first Christian mission in Texas. Let us keep the Texas State Railroad and let us keep and protect the El Camino Real where the likes of Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Jim Bowie, Angelina, and Cynthia Ann Parker walked and rode into history.
Someone once said I think it was Socrates or Plato, I'm not sure which "You cannot know your future if you do not know your past." Let us keep, preserve, and learn from our past. Please, do not let them close our state parks. I appreciate it. Thank you, gentlemen.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Beth McDonald and Scott Stegall, be ready.
MS. McDONALD: Howdy.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hi, Beth. How are you?
MS. McDONALD: Good afternoon, Chairman Fitzsimons, Commissioners, Mr. Cook, Mr. Dabney. First, if you'll forgive me, Mr. Cook, I'm going to wander around a little bit. It's excusable at my age. Isn't it?
MR. COOK: Yes, ma'am.
MS. McDONALD: First, if I might, I would like to congratulate Commissioner Holmes on the birth of his grandchild. I don't know if this is his first and I've even forgotten if it's a girl or a boy. I have a little memory problem.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Seven.
MS. McDONALD: Okay, seven. I have a little memory problem. I've heard that memory is the second to go and I've forgotten what's first. You see, I lived with this baby's great-grandfather; well, not exactly. My husband, Bill, and I live in the same retirement facility in the apartment adjacent to the proud great-grandfather, Jason's grandfather.
All foolishness aside, I come to you today with the same plea that I have made to you and to previous Commissioners so many times in the past. Please, do everything in your power to keep entrance fees at our state parks, historic sites, and state natural areas as affordable as possible. They need to be affordable for our people who maybe don't have any place else to go to recreate, a place of refuge and regeneration for the general populous, now and in the future.
If we don't get our kids into the parks and get them interested in the outdoors now, we won't have future park users. If we don't get our parks restored, we won't have a place for them to go. So I know that we're all on the same page and I've heard it again and again today. I am so happy about that. It is with pleasure today that I bring you greetings from the Board of Directors of Texans for State Parks, from the individual Friends Groups of the individual parks, from our other group memberships, and from our individual members, and from all of the persons with whom we have corresponded in the past few months regarding our parks, their conditions, and the necessary steps to be taken to remedy the present problems.
You've seen the newspaper articles, the TV articles, the general uprising as it has become for the entire state, demanding adequate funding for our parks. When Jim Vertuno of Associated Press called me this morning, he asked me if I was surprised at the number of newspaper articles that were being seen throughout the state regarding our parks and park funding. He said, "You remember when I quoted you in the newspaper back in the spring." I said, "We were going to have a firestorm raging by the time the Legislature meets." He said, "Do you think we can keep it going?" I said, "You bet we can." We've got it this far, we and everybody working together.
I feel that we're on the right track now. With all of us working in concert on behalf of the park system and all its holdings, we can make this thing come to pass in the next Legislature. I want to tell you that I am so proud to have been appointed a member of the Advisory Committee. We have worked very hard, very long, and conferred with each other and others and we'll make our presentation tomorrow morning. So we'll see you and perhaps a good bit of this audience there at that time. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Beth, thank you and thank you for the work you've done. I knew I had made a good choice when I appointed you to that committee, but you and I have been working on this for a while, at least since 2000, at least six years. So it is a surprise sometimes when people ask us, What do you think of the coverage? Some days, I want to say, What took you so long? The important thing is that people are focused on it. I really want to thank you and your members because your members really represent all those parks and they're the folks that have really been sticking with us for a long, long time. I want to thank you and your new board members, including my friend Bob Armstrong who
MS. McDONALD: Yes, he
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — also serves on one of our task forces.
MS. McDONALD: — expected to be here today and I was going to introduce him. I left off that part of my speech. I would like to recognize Linda Evans who is our administrator here. Linda?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Linda does a great job. Linda is another great product of Parks and Wildlife.
MS. McDONALD: Yes. We met you the first time at the Sunset Commission meeting.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's right. That's been a few years ago.
MS. McDONALD: Yes, it was.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So we're finally where we need to be. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
MS. McDONALD: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Beth.
Scott Stegall and Ron Lewis, be ready.
MR. STEGALL: Thank you, sir. Thank you, Mister Commissioners, for allowing us to be before you today. I've come to talk to you about Doctor's Creek State Park, which is on Cooper Lake in the northeast part of Texas. We're 80 miles northeast of Dallas, 20 miles south of Paris, 19 miles north of Sulfur Springs, Texas. In January, our Doctor's Creek State Park was closed. It's one of the newest facilities probably that Parks and Wildlife has. It was opened in the early to mid-'90s. It has 42 overnight campsites. It has the only handicapped boat ramp on Cooper Lake. This park was closed due to funding.
I apologize, but I'm the mayor of the City of Cooper. I understand budgeting, and I understand funding problems, and having to make cuts, but this is a very big economical impact upon our little, small community. I'm mayor of a town of 2,200 people. We have a lot of local little businesses, businesses that depend upon a lot of weekend traffic. When the park and overnight camping was closed, it took that away from these businesses. We have some antique stores, as many other places have, that stay open on weekends. A lot of times, there were people from the Metroplex area that were camping that would spending $200, $300, $400, $500 a weekend in some of these little stores. So it's a must in our little community to have Doctor's Creek Park opened back up on a full-time, fully staffed facility in our area.
We also had a nature trail out there on that park for school kids from all around that area. They were brought to study different parts of nature, which is no longer available for these kids. Now, the park is opened back up for day use only, part time basis right now, for the rest of this year; but we need you to, please, do what you can do and keep us information on what we can do to make sure that our park will remain open and be such a vital park to our area. Thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you for your time.
Mr. Ron Lewis next and on back up is Mr. Jay Stewart.
MR. LEWIS: Commissioners, thank you for allowing me to be here today. I am Ron Lewis. I am with the Friends of Doctor Creek State Park in Cooper, Texas, and in Delta County. Delta County by some magical means was designated a metropolitan county. The tallest thing we've got in our county are water towers right now and they're half dry. We have no grass. It's been awfully dry and our lake is 14 feet low. I'm hoping Mr. Phil can take care of that, if you could do that, Phil. He said he could.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: If he can take care of that, he needs to take care of South Texas also.
MR. LEWIS: He can do anything. He's told me that before. He's my friend.
Doctor's Creek Park is very important to us. Our whole county has 5,000 people. The second largest employer in our county probably is you guys because of all your people and personnel that are at the state park. The number one employer is the independent school district, of course, but what is more important than that, we like to go out there and go fishing. We like to go out there and enjoy the park, but what we really enjoy is people coming up there, unloading their money, and going home. It's very important and critical to us that they continue to be that way. We are the newest Friends organization with you in partnership. We're just two months old. We're getting started.
I want to compliment one other employee of your organization. That's Rodney Franklin. Rodney has done an excellent job. We have an agreement to do some things in the future. One is to come to Austin. We're not going to come alone. We're going to come with some people. Hopefully, at Rodney's direction and his coordination, we'll know who and when and where to meet with all the legislators to endorse the state parks of Texas getting full funding and nothing less. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you, Mr. Lewis. We really appreciate your efforts and support.
Mr. Jay Stewart, followed by Mr. Randall Loftis.
MR. STEWART: Mr. Vice-Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Cook, my name is Jay Stewart. I'm a lawyer here in Austin with the law firm of Hance, Scarborough, Wright. I'm here to talk about a specific issue as opposed to the global issues that we've been hearing about this afternoon. It regards a piece of property that the Parks and Wildlife still owns title to. It's near the Eagle Mountain Lake in Tarrant County. It's about 400 acres. The land was acquired by Parks and Wildlife. Parks and Wildlife Staff evaluated it and found that it was not appropriate to build a state park on this property. One of our clients is a developer in Tarrant County and they've been working with the staff of your agency for quite a few years to try to facilitate a solution to this unencumbered land to put it into some positive use.
In December, Governor Perry put it on the underutilized asset list, which takes assets of the state, gives it to GLO to sell for the benefit of whatever the governor decides, and the governor appropriately and thankfully decided that this asset should be sold and the proceeds of selling the surface would go towards the acquisition of another park. Bob Cook and his folks have worked diligently and done an excellent job of locating other land in the area to provide a much more appropriate and larger park for the folks of Tarrant County and the surrounding communities. There's been discussions of turning this into a county park or having the Parks and Wildlife do something with it.
The fact of the matter is it's been deemed an underutilized asset. It is in Jerry Patterson's bailiwick now to do something with it. It is our desire to continue to work with the GLO and the governor's office and your fine Department to maximize the return of this asset. I think there is an opportunity here for either a public-private joint venture or a private venture to utilize this land for minimal development, maintain the park-like structure, the park-like beauty of the land, but also provide this agency sufficient funds to purchase and operate a more appropriate park for those folks. We think we can be part of the solution. We will continue to work with you and your staff and, as I said, GLO and the governor's office to provide that. We wanted to come and make sure you knew that there are other alternatives out there and we'd like to be part of the solution to this fiscal issue. I'm available for any questions.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Questions?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Mr. Stewart, we appreciate you being here and we will continue to work with your group and other groups relating to this property.
MR. STEWART: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you very much. Mr. Loftis and Mr. Steve Lerma backup.
MR. LOFTIS: Hello, my name is Randall Loftis. I represent myself and approximately 150 residents of Tarrant County from whom I obtained signatures over the past five days while also running my business, by the way. You know, one thing I noticed today at lunch when I was out having lunch, I ate at this catfish restaurant just down the street and they had a big fish on the wall, and you know "everything's big in Texas" it reminded me of that except for the budget for the Texas Parks and Wildlife it seems.
We've had some other folks who mentioned about our past and remembering our past. When I came in this building, I found out it was built in 1976. The 400 acres on Eagle Mountain Lake was purchased by Texas Parks and Wildlife in the early 1980s. Around that time was the oil bust, as I recall. I recall it very well, since I was looking for a job in Dallas/Fort Worth area at the time and couldn't find one. For some reason, the leaders of this state decided to hold onto that property for the purpose of making it a state park. They didn't sell it at that time. They didn't give it to developers.
Now, we find that there is an opportunity for this property. If you've been in North Tarrant County, you may have seen that development is really, that area has really grown and there's plenty of opportunities for developers. I would like to just ask you to preserve this beautiful 400 acres in Tarrant County for folks in that area and the rest of the state to enjoy the beauty of that area. I'd also like to point out that right across the road from this 400 acres is plenty of land that could be available for development also if someone just wanted to purchase it. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Loftis. I missed the last speaker, unfortunately. I had to step out, but I guess you're aware of the work we've been doing the last three months on that property, in pulling together The Trust for Public Land, Tarrant County, the Regional Water District, Nature Conservancy, and other groups to effect a local park there on that 400 acres, and also acquire a large regional park, 5,000 acres plus, that's consistent with our long-term plan; so the goal being two parks.
MR. LOFTIS: Mr. Fitzsimons, I beg your forgiveness on that subject, but I run my own business and I'm very involved in that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Oh, okay. It had a little bit of coverage in the press. Anyway, just so you know, I appointed a task force, one on Eagle Mountain Lake and another on the larger park opportunity so that we could get that done. The task force that's working on Eagle Mountain Lake is headed up by Nan McCraven, The Trust for Public Land. They're making really good progress in trying to put together a program that would get that done.
MR. LOFTIS: I guess my standpoint on that is that, again, there are plenty of development opportunities in Tarrant County already.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'm sorry. The project that I tasked them to work with, the result would not be development. It would be a park.
MR. LOFTIS: Thank you very much, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You bet. All right. Thanks. Randall Loftis and then Steve Lerma; oh, I'm sorry that was Randall. Steve Lerma and then Tim Madrigal, be ready.
MR. LERMA: That was a very good pronunciation of my name.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks.
MR. LERMA: My name is Steve Lerma. Pardon me?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I am from Carrizo Springs.
MR. LERMA: Oh, all right. So you speak a little Spanish there. Well, my name is Steve Lerma. I'm coming to you as a citizen and as a Democratic candidate for County Commissioner in the area of the 400-acre park. I was also in the audience when you came to visit us about a month or two ago to speak to the citizens of Tarrant County and the residents of Eagle Mountain Lake and that particular area. I just wanted to let you know, Chairman Fitzsimons, that the residents of that area heard you.
I'm here to present to you and read a very simple, but straightforward, petition that was allocated in about five to six days. It represents about 800 names. It's a cross-section of Tarrant County. It goes above demographics. It represents wealthy individuals and middle income people, Democrats and Republicans. It simply states this, "We, the following, are residents of Tarrant County and we want the 400 acres fronting Eagle Mountain Lake maintained as park land to be used for all the public." I do realize that I'm speaking to the choir and that's something that I've heard you mention.
We do know that the land commissioner, Mr. Patterson, is the person who's in charge of that particular decision at this particular time, I really don't know why I was elected to come up here and talk to you today, other than the fact that I own my own business and I guess I've got all the time in the world. As a young man, I remember going to Eagle Mountain Lake, and learning how to dive, learning how to swim, and learning about bikinis. So I've got very fond memories of Eagle Mountain Lake.
Unfortunately, this particular piece of property has been unused for 20 years. Now, that it's about to be given away or sold, people are up in arms about it. That's really unfortunate. I don't know whether it was the commissioner's fault or the Texas Parks and Wildlife's fault, but I'm here today also, not as a tree hugger or as an avid PETA member, but I am a hunter, a conservationist, and a camper. It pleases me every morning to go by this particular park and show my little girls on the way to school that there's deer running around, there's roadrunners, and just all kinds of wildlife, and fortunately I only live about a half a mile away from that particular area. We really love that particular place.
Unfortunately, about a month and a half ago, about 20 or 30 acres of it burned and the majority of it was almost lost. I was there watching as the flames were 30 or 40 feet in the air. A small house that a lady grew up in was burned. It was just a devastating thing to see. If elected as county commissioner, I will do everything in my power, if the board or the land commissioner allows us to maintain local control, to allocate Tarrant County funds to marginally develop this particular park so that the public can use it.
At this particular time, there is absolutely no public land where people can use beaches or anything of that sort. There's Twin Points and that is about to be taken back by the Texas Water Board, under their control. I have absolutely no idea what their plans are, what they're going to do, but this represents the only particular area in our lake that we can hopefully call public and utilize.
I also wanted to let you know that this is the first part of a letter-writing campaign that the citizens, who have elected me to come here and speak before the Board, is attempting to make. We're going to contact our senators. We're going to contact our representative. We're going to do everything in our power to maintain and affect the decision-making process to keep this park as park land.
Once again, my name is Steve Lerma and I appreciate your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Steve.
MR. LERMA: Oh, one other thing, I've also been told that anybody that goes against us, the land developer, they're going to have a fight on their hands. I'm just letting them know that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I appreciate that. To let you know, the county is part of that task force that I appointed and they've been very helpful. Has been the office of Senator Brimer, Senator Shapiro, and Representative Geren.
MR. LERMA: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So, like you say, you're preaching to the choir. We've got a group of people that are working hard on getting us to that goal. Commissioner Patterson is giving us some time to get that done. So I have every expectation they'll come up with a good plan.
MR. LERMA: Chairman Fitzsimons, thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You bet. Tim Madrigal
MR. MADRIGAL: Madrigal.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — and Stan Winters, be ready.
MR. MADRIGAL: I've got a little handout.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, sir. Go right at it. There you go.
MR. MADRIGAL: I think this is going to be a little change of pace from what I've heard here before. So there's no contention here.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We cover lots of territory.
MR. MADRIGAL: Lots of ground here, maybe even a little revenue source.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: [indiscernible] a revenue source.
MR. MADRIGAL: There you go, underlined.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You're bringing us money, very good.
MR. MADRIGAL: My name is Tim Madrigal. Thank you very much for the privilege of speaking today. I live outside of Dripping Springs in Hays County. I'm a lifetime hunting and fishing licensee as are the rest of my family. Today, the pertinent reason I'm here is to talk to you about my role as a wildlife manager for a 4,500-acre low-fence ranch in Llano County and another smaller ranch in Live Oak County.
My purpose is to propose to you to consider a new non-resident hunting license restricted to antlerless and spike buck deer only and further restricted to those counties that have a special late general season. As you know, the only license that allows any non-resident to hunt any deer is the Type 102, which is $300. I suggest that we institute, or consider, a new non-resident license just for those special extended seasons for about $100. That's just a ballpark suggestion I had.
As we're all aware, many counties in our state have an overabundance of deer and Mother Nature has not been kind this year. We're going to have a tough situation come the winter. Several years ago, you all took under advisement some recommendations and instituted special late season for surplus animals in quite a number of Texas counties. This proposal is just an extension of that philosophy, except it is for a reduced cost license to encourage non-resident participation.
On the lease that I manage, there are 22 hunters, of which I am also one. Each year, with guidance from the Extension Office and our local wildlife management representative, we get harvest recommendations. Try as I may, I just cannot get our members to harvest enough spikes and does. However, many of our hunters have relatives and friends, particularly young people and I know there is a thrust for more participation of young men and women in Texas, but this extends this outside of our borders. On many occasions, those hunters have said that they have family members or friends out of state that they would love to have come to our state and participate and shoot generally their first doe. The $300 is just a little bit high for them.
I propose that you establish a lower cost license to encourage this underutilized resource. You might even think about adding some harvest allowance for our expanding feral hog population. I don't think anybody would disagree with that aspect. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: There's no season or bag limit on feral hogs.
MR. MADRIGAL: I would just like to get some more people into the mix.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: There's nothing to stop them. I agree with you, but from a regulatory standpoint, it's open season, no bag limit on feral hogs.
MR. MADRIGAL: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So that's
MR. MADRIGAL: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much for your work and for your work in wildlife management. Tim, we appreciate it.
Stan Winters and Ellis Gilleland, be ready.
MR. WINTERS: Commissioners, thank you for letting me speak today. It's nice to be with you. I'm just a John Q. Public. I'm a CPA. I practice in Fort Worth. My only previous experience in efforts like this was with the Sunset Commission and the State Board of Public Accountancy. I think I can tie that together in just a moment.
I'm not one of those who is in favor of state parks because they are economic machines or anything of the like. I think they are great for families. I think they are great for children and for those warm and fuzzy feelings that we need to have when we get out of the city. I and my family have been in many of the state parks for a period of longer than I'd like to say, 70 years. Almost 50 years ago, I had my first date with my wife, who I will have a 48th anniversary tomorrow, that was out in Buffalo Gap.
I wish you could have been with me at Copper Breaks State Park a year ago. I thought, it was just an afterthought to visit the park, but we showed up right followed into the park three van loads of young children who were wards of the state in the Juvenile Supervision System. They were looking at a little herd of Longhorns, eyes wide, in awe, wonderful experience. And then, the warden walked up and said, "Would you like me to kiss one of these Longhorns on the mouth?" You should have seen their eyes light up and mine were not far behind them.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I'd like to see that.
MR. WINTERS: Yes, I think you'll do it. He charged me $5 to watch, but those are the kind of things that parks
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We have a funding —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: He saw the CPA in you.
MR. WINTERS: I think you're right, but I probably would have paid more than that. Those are the kinds of warm and fuzzy things that parks are supposed to do, recreation areas are supposed to do. I understand your responsibility and the limitations of the things that you can do. You maintain, and with the best use of the funds and assets that you have at your disposal, all of these parks and it's obvious that that's not enough. It's up to the public to properly fund these things, these activities, and to avoid closing parks and laying off staff. I understand government compromise, but I also understand fiduciary responsibility.
When I became a CPA, I was required to delineate in fund accounting and in ethics. Corporate America has had several nice lessons handed to it recently. All of my 60,000 CPA friends and associates will have the same thing happen if they don't follow generally accepted, fund-defined, money management. So my recommendation to folks in the room, all of my friends I'm going to try to see if I can do it let's fill up the mailboxes to our Congressman, our legislators, our state senators and so forth. If that doesn't work, I suggest we fill up the ballot boxes because it's not right for people to spend money that they think is going to be applied to a certain activity, and later find out that it's just laying there, and nobody will appropriate it. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. I appreciate those comments.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I've got to know something. Did he kiss it?
MR. WINTERS: He did.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
MR. WINTERS: He did.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ellis Gilleland is up and Doug DuBois will be next. Mr. Gilleland?
MR. GILLELAND: My name is Ellis Gilleland. I'm speaking for an animal rights organization on the Internet called Texas Animals. The handout I've given you is nine pages and it has to do with the sale/giveaway of Eagle Mountain Lake State Park. It does not pass the smell test and I'm objecting, and rebelling to it, and asking you to cancel the whole thing. You notice on page 1, your own definition says, "Eagle Mountain Lake State Park," state park. The second page shows, "Eagle Mountain Lake State Park next door to the Lake Country Club on the outskirts of Fort Worth is a high value property."
The Dallas Morning News article for July 16 of this year, to add to the smell test, says, "State's plan to sell lake land rankles locals." That's a lie. It's not and you've finessed the reporter, all of you it's not lake land. It's state park land. You just bs'd him and he ate it up. Michael Young is his name. "Homes in the million-dollar-plus range," I'm quoting, "are on one side of the property."
The main thing that gives the property value, and it says that you take in approximately $80,000 a month from the gas. This is a park that you wanted to give away and sell on the sneak. Disturbing is the last line in this outlined article, in yellow, "Instead of this price of $9 million assigned to it, instead the park can be opted to a group that proposes the best use." That scares the bejesus out of me because of Presidian. The next page I've given you shows you Mr. Fitzsimons' organization, called Presidian, which is standing, in my estimation, ready to gobble up the property. His mission in life is to develop resort property. Presidian, state department document in your hand, formerly HLM, you can see the articles of incorporation. You can see who his buddies are, Freed, Dutton, Schleesinger, Leddy, and Fitzsimons. You can see the various businesses that he has.
The thing that disturbs me is that this sale has never been voted on by this board. You have never voted in public to sell this land. You've discussed it in secret. The state park thing is being played down. It is state park. Governor Perry's surplus list means nothing to you people. You're on your own. You don't have to take what Perry tells you to do. Underutilized, that's BS. Who voted to sell it? Nobody voted to sell it. It is a fraudulent sale.
Fitzsimons is due to leave this board on February of next year. That's when he reverts back to his Presidian mode of developing resorts. And believe me, he's ready to gobble up this park because it can be subdivided 400 acres into 400 lots at 500K each, that's $200 million you can purchase for $9 million. That's a Fitzsimons bargain. Please kill it. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Gilleland. Let's see, who's next up? Doug DuBois and then Derek Rennspies, Texas Brigades.
MR. DuBOIS: Mr. Chairman?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go ahead.
MR. DuBOIS: I'd appreciate it if one of our Youth Hunting participants, Gloria Flores, I think she was signed up with me, if she could follow me.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Please do.
MR. DuBOIS: Okay. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Cook, my name is Doug DuBois. I'm a hunt master with the Texas Youth Hunting program, area coordinator for an eleven-county area including Travis County, also serve on the statewide TYHP Advisory Committee, and am a member of the Texas Wildlife Association. You're going to hear from Gloria Flores, one of our representative youth who has participated in our program in the last year. She is very indicative of the type of individual we're able to mentor through the Texas Youth Hunting program. It's a great program for all participants, the youth, the adults that accompany them, our volunteer hunt masters, and other volunteers, including our landowners; and it's great for the future of hunting in Texas.
Including some follow-up minority responses, there's a recent TYHP study conducted by the Texas A&M University. Some of those results revealed that about half of our participants had never hunted before. Over 90 percent of them rated it as the highest level on the survey; 90 percent of them also would like to go on another hunt. The same 90 percent consider themselves to be hunters and they continue to own a Texas hunting license. 75 percent of our participants in the survey have gone hunting since their TYHP experience and another 70 percent have gone hunting three or more times. So we are reaching our goal of perpetuating the hunting heritage in Texas.
One of the goals we have now is increasing the diversity within our participants. We've achieved much of this through our valuable support through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Wildlife Association. We are also recruiting corporate and private sponsorships for scholarships for worthy individuals to participate in our program. I just want to thank you all today for supporting the Texas Youth Hunting Program, for your service to the state, and for your time this afternoon. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Doug. Thank you for all your work on youth hunting. Commissioner Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes, I want to especially thank you. We embrace your goals. It's a very challenging arena. We've said that over and over again. Thank you and everyone that's associated with that. It's a super program. Thank you.
MR. DuBOIS: We appreciate that and we do it for the kids. They're the future of Texas.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes, thank you.
MR. DuBOIS: Thank you.
MR. RENNSPIES: Hello, my name is Derek Rennspies of Marion, Texas. This is my testimony of the North Texas Buckskin Brigades, which I recently attended. North Texas Buckskin Brigades is a career-setting opportunity. As I start my sophomore year in high school, my parents and teachers were telling me that I should really start planning what I wanted to do when I graduate from high school, what college, what major. They were assuming I wanted to go on to college. Needless to say, I was having a hard time deciding which direction my life would take after high school. All I knew is that I was happiest in the outdoors, no four walls surrounding me all day.
I enjoy working on the farm with my grandparents or spending time hunting, fishing, or just being outdoors. I was seriously considering a career as a ranch or wildlife manager. Last February, my mom and I pulled up information on the computer about Texas Brigade camps. I looked over the information and saw the opportunities in learning about different types of wildlife, whitetail deer, bass, turkey, and bobwhite quail. This fit right into my agenda. Not knowing exactly what to expect, at 15 years old, I never attended a camp of any sort before. So I was a bit nervous. We drove three hours to Abilene, Texas, to the Stassy's Cook Ranch.
Now, this was awesome country, miles and miles of brush and no houses. I had heard that this was a tough camp taught at the college level, but did not know at the time that I underestimated the tough part. We learned more about whitetail deer than I had ever imagined. There was study on deer anatomy, behavior, populations, dynamics, and botany. Also included was managing wildlife habitat and land ethics. These are some of the things I expected to learn, but I was surprised, no, blown away, with the intensity and the pace of the study and the level of professionals that served as instructors and mentors. They included veterinarians, wildlife biologists, and wildlife experts.
Everything was so organized and scheduled. Every minute of the day was planned for use and used constructively. The days were usually about 20 hours long, but there was so much to learn. The day went from classroom lectures to outdoor activities, such as simulated deer census to marching and reciting cadences. Yes, I didn't expect marching, room checks, and memorizing cadences. I also didn't realize there would be so much emphasis on teamwork, character building, and leadership development. Within three weeks of the camp, I had opportunities to be a wildlife ambassador at the National Rifle Association banquet and the Texas Trophy Hunters Extravaganza.
I had the pleasure of spending the day with our district wildlife biologist, evaluating local Whitetail habitat and conducting a night census. A month ago, I would not have considered standing here in front of an audience talking, especially in front of a group such as this. The Brigades has given me a tremendous amount of self-confidence and power of knowledge in a subject in which I am very interested. I plan to continue to serve as a wildlife management ambassador and conduct programs educating the public about the importance of wise management practices. I have programs set up with the 4-H Clubs, kindergarten classes, and other groups.
The Brigades program has influenced me, influenced my plans for my future career. I not only want to be involved in wildlife management, but I am really considering a career as a wildlife biologist. The North Texas Brigades has been a career-setting opportunity for me. I would like to recognize and thank all Texas Parks and Wildlife staff who assisted me this year in the Rolling Plains Bobwhite in North Texas Buck Brigades camp Jimmy Caughron, Lang Alford, Michelle Haggerty, Dana Wright, Jim Lionberger, Kathy McGinty, Charlie Newberry, T. Wayne Schwertner, and Chip Ruthven. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well done, Derek. Thank you and thanks for your work with the Brigades. It's a great outfit. Maria Mejia and then Audra Linnartz, be ready.
MS. MEJIA: Hello, my name is Maria Mejia and I'm from Laredo, Texas. I'm a sophomore in the United Engineering and Technology Magnate Program. I first learned about the Texas Brigades through a TYHP hunt that I attended in October. So I applied thinking it would be an easy camp. The first Brigade that I attended was the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade.
I went to it along with another 4-H member thinking I could hang out with him. Little did I know that we were to be separated into a group or a covey. A covey is a group that is formed by a covey leader, which is an adult that has little or no experience in the program, an assistant covey leader, which is a former cadet who has come back by giving presentations and assisting with them, and us, the cadets, or bumblebees, not knowing what to expect. I was in the California Covey, an all-girl group at the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade. We learned everything and anything about a quail and its habitat. We did a bit a entomology and met new people.
Before the camp, I was just a girl who had a teeny bit of knowledge about wildlife. I also had some leadership qualities. When I left, I was a conservationist who was ready to tell the world about what I had learned. I was willing to do as many presentations as possible. I also received training in this by Silver Bullet, a famous quote which we have to memorize and say in front of the whole camp. Mine was, "When you get to the end of the rope, tie a knot and hold on," by Franklin D. Roosevelt. What this means to me is that no matter what obstacles life may give you, always try your best at them. After that, we're supposed to give a war yell and it goes something like this, "Ha!"
Giving presentations throughout the year, I wasn't able to submit a notebook or record book of everything I did throughout the year that dealt with the Brigades. I earned my way coming back to the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade as an assistant covey leader for the California Covey. I had then received a scholarship for all my hard work. The Texas Brigades is an experience that I will never forget. It has taught me more than just quail, but it has taught me to think outside the box and using all your resources and your skills that otherwise I wouldn't have.
I would also like to thank all of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff who assisted with this program. This year, assisting at the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade and Feathered Forces were David Veale, Jim Gallagher, Dale Prochaska, Robert Perez, Steve Hall, Alan Cain, Bob Baker, Gary Calkins, and Mike Eason, Bobby Eichler, Andrea Webb, Micah Poteet, Rusty Wood, and Keith Butler, and Sean Willis. Thank you very much for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Well done, Maria.
Audra Linnartz and Gloria Flores, be ready.
MS. LINNARTZ: Good afternoon. My name is Audra Linnartz and I am from Carrizo Springs, Texas. I'm here today to tell you about the experiences that I have had as a part of the Texas Brigades and the impact that those experiences have had on my life. As with most good stories, the best place to start is at the beginning. I have to admit, when my County Extension Agent first told me that I might have the opportunity to go to a wildlife leadership camp, I was a little skeptical.
I was raised in the heart of the South Texas brush county. So wildlife was nothing new to me. A whitetail deer was something my parents dodged on the way home at night and bobwhite quail were those pesky little birds that always flew up in front of my horse out in the pasture and almost got me killed. So how interesting could a camp be that had to do with wildlife? What in the world did bobwhite quail and whitetail deer have to do with leadership? But I decided to give it a try and I'm glad I did because I can honestly tell you that the experiences that I have had with the Texas Brigades are some of the best and most rewarding experiences I have had in my life.
It's really hard to put into words all that I have learned through the Texas Brigades. It's impossible to sum it up in three minutes or less. So in trying to figure out how to accomplish this impossible task, I came up with something I like to call the four Ls of the Texas Brigades. These four Ls stand for four words that best sum up my Texas Brigades experience. They are learning, leadership, lifelong friends, and life role models. I would like to touch on each of these four words today in hopes that I can give you a glimpse of my Texas Brigades experience.
The first L is learning. Through the Texas Brigades, I gained in-depth knowledge about wildlife habitat and evaluation, plant and seed identification, wildlife anatomy and physiology, conservation practices, hunting ethics, and much, much more. I don't have time today to tell you all that I have learned, all of the important things that I have learned, but what I can tell you is why the things I have learned are important. The Texas Brigades taught me a lot about wildlife, but it also taught me that there is much more to learn. It also taught me that wildlife is a resource and it is my responsibility to conserve and develop that resource, not only for my generation but for many generations to come.
The second L is for leadership. Before going to the Texas Brigades, the very thought of even speaking to a group of people just turned me into a bundle of nerves, but at the Brigade camps, cadets are expected to do mock interviews and to prepare and present a PowerPoint presentation to the camp. I did learn what leadership has to do with wildlife. We, as young people, have to assume a leadership role in conserving our natural wildlife resources and the Texas Brigades gave me and my fellow cadets the tools we need to do just that.
The third L stands for lifelong friends. The friendships I have made through the Texas Brigades are truly friendships that will last for the rest of my life. In addition to being lifelong friends, these people will one day be leaders not only in the wildlife field, but in any field that they choose to go into. So the friends I made today will be the same people that I will one day be able to call on when I enter the career of my choice.
The last L is life role models. There are many, many good and qualified people who devote their time to the Texas Brigades. Each of them provide us with excellent examples of what we should aspire to become, but the best way I know how to tell you about this fourth L is to tell you a story about something that really happened to me.
One Wednesday evening, I was sitting on the couch watching TV and I heard the telephone ring. Then I heard my mother say, Audra, Al Brothers is on the phone for you. Well, I'm sure most of you have heard of Al Brothers. He is one of the most well-respected authorities and authors in the wildlife field. I simply could not imagine why someone like Al Brothers would be calling me. I picked up the phone not knowing what to expect.
The voice on the other end of the line said, "Hi, Audra, this is Al Brothers. You sent me a thank you letter thanking me for donating the books to the South Texas Buckskin Brigade. I saw that your last name was Linnartz and that you were from Carrizo Springs. Do you happen to be related to August Linnartz or Herbert Ward?" I could not believe my ears. August Linnartz was my grandfather and had worked as a wildlife biologist along with Mr. Brothers. Herbert Ward was my great-grandfather. He was commissioned as a game warden by the Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission in the early 1900s and later was awarded the American Motors Conservation Award for his work in the area of wildlife conservation.
Both of these men had passed away years before I was born, but the impression that they left on the people that knew them and the stories I have heard of them and their accomplishments made them my heroes. I couldn't believe that I was receiving a call from one of the most well-respected men in the wildlife field asking me about them. I was at a loss for words. Before I could even think of what to say to Mr. Brothers, he said, "Audra, I just wanted to tell you that August and Herbert were some of the greatest men I have ever met and Herbert Ward was one of my closest friends." He went on to tell me several stories about my grandfather and great-grandfather and how he had worked with them for many years in the wildlife field.
That telephone call is something I will remember for the rest of my life. It connected my past with my future. It reminded me that I have big shoes to fill and many people to look up to, both from the past and the present. Mr. Brothers may never know what that phone call meant to me, but I know that I would never have received it if I hadn't been a part of the Texas Brigades.
In closing, let me just say that the four Ls are just four words, but what they mean has made all the difference in my life. I want to thank you for your attention and thank you for supporting the Texas Brigades. By supporting the Texas Brigades, you are supporting the future of wildlife conservation. I would also like to thank the Texas Parks and Wildlife staff who assisted with this year's South Texas Buckskin Brigade, which include Ty Bartoskewitz, Jaime Rutledge, Amy Hanna, Ashton Hutchins, and David Synatzske. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Audra. Well done. Audra, I knew those fellows who have those big shoes to fill and you're well on your way. Congratulations.
MS. LINNARTZ: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Gloria?
MS. FLORES: Hi, I'm Gloria Flores. I'm 13 years old and honestly I didn't know today was supposed to be a formal event. Plus, I just got out of school. Anyway, I bet you want to know about the Texas Youth Hunting program. Well, I can't tell you everything because you're going to kick me off in three minutes.
One of the things I can tell you is that I made really good friends. They helped me through a lot of stuff that week. Shotgunning, I got so scared when I picked up that gun because I knew there was going to be a big kick coming in for me. They encouraged me to shoot one bullet. That's all it took. I shot like a whole case of ammunition and the next day when I woke up, I regretted it. I had a big bruise on my arm, but what took my mind off it was that food. That was good stuff. I tried to work it off by playing some volleyball, but that didn't seem to work. Everyone knew how to play, but I was a little rusty at it.
Going to that program was the best time I've had all summer. I will remember that program for about the rest of my life. I'm glad there are programs out there for kids like me. I don't get a chance to hunt, honestly, and I love hunting. The program that opened that up to me was basically the Texas Youth Hunting program. Thank you very much for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Gloria. Well done, Gloria. Thank you.
Kirby Brown is up and after that, Russell Middleton.
MR. BROWN: How do I follow that? Golly, they were great. We're delighted. For the record, my name is Kirby Brown, Executive Vice President of the Texas Wildlife Association. Our members are landowners, land managers, and hunters, and conservationists who own or control over 35 million acres of private land in Texas.
It's my pleasure to be here today to do nothing more than say thanks to you. Thanks to you guys for what you do for Texas. Thanks for your consistent direction and philosophy in working on habitat and wildlife in this state where 95 percent of it is private lands. Thanks to the staff. It's excellent staff. Thanks to Bob Cook and thanks to the leadership, all the division directors. Thanks to the guys in the field, the guys up here in the programs, and even the administrative folks that help make everything run.
I want to say thanks for your willingness to partner and participate. Because of you, our joint Texas Big Game Awards, the Texas Big Game Recognition program is not only recognizing the hunter who kills a good deer, but the landowner who is managing that habitat and creating that place for that deer to come up and become excellent. Also, we enjoy recognizing those first-timers. I know many of you have been to the awards and that is a blast to have those kids come up and receive their award. We've had a 90-year-old first-timer just last year so they're still coming. That's great to see.
Thanks also for our joint Texas Youth Hunting program. You just heard from that and what a great organization. We've now taken over 10,000 kids hunting with over 30,000 participants. We thank you for your continued interest and support in that. We're working on ideas that we want to do to significantly multiply that. We think we're close to that and we'd like to sit down and brainstorm with you guys on some of that.
We also want to thank you for the staff participation in Texas Brigades. Many of you have showed up and participated in those Brigade events. What great kids, that's the leadership model that we need to use in conservation, not only with the high school kids, but we've got to look at that model in colleges and how that will work for our next generation of wildlife biologists that we're going to be hiring.
In addition, we now have a pilot program in four Texas Education Agency districts that is putting together conservation education using the TAKS in schools in eighth grade classes. LANDS, Learning Across New Dimensions in Science, was initiated last year and it takes kids on private lands in yellow school buses to teach them about wildlife through the Quail model, similar to what you heard about Brigades. It's a great program.
Finally, we're really concerned about the turnover that you're going to see in the wildlife biologists. You've got a lot of people retiring here very soon and we're concerned about who's coming up to fill those positions. We're also concerned about the young people that are already on staff and what they understand about wildlife and management. So we want to work with you as we move forward in making sure that we continue that unique relationship we have in Texas between the biologists and the landowners and the hunters.
The last thing is we want you to know you can count on TWA and all the sporting conservation groups in Texas to make sure that our user fees that we pay to you through our licenses and stamps go to this Department for the purposes they were intended. We'll be at the legislature helping you do that. Thank you so much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Kirby. Thanks for all the support you give us at TWA. I appreciate it.
Russell Middleton and Pam Robers, be ready.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Russell? Oh, Russell Middleton?
MR. MIDDLETON: (No response.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Pam, come on up. Russell gave up his slot, it looks like. And then, Janice Bezanson, be ready.
MS. ROBERS: Good afternoon. My name is Pam Robers and I am the manager of the hunger relief programs that are run by the Texas Association of Community Action agencies. One of the programs that we administer is the Hunters for the Hungry. That's a statewide venison donation program that helps feed hungry Texans. I'm here today to share the successes of that program as well as thank the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for your involvement and support over the years.
I was reflecting as I was getting ready for today that the first time that I came and spoke about the Hunters for the Hungry at one of these meetings was August 2002. At that time, I was proud to say that the season had 92,000 pounds of meat donated that particular year. Four years later, I'm even prouder to say that the last hunting season, we exceeded 177,000 pounds of meat. It was a new all time record. That amount of meat when it's used in like soup kitchens or family casseroles helped provide 2 million meals.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife is part of the success of that program. Over the years staff here have helped spread the word, helped get information out to hunters throughout the state, and it includes your game wardens, staff coordinating the Expos have helped us, the Big Game program staff, and the people who work in the wildlife districts, and out in the fields, and the biologists have all helped us. The Hunter Education staff and volunteers, the staff that work with the public hunting lands have helped spread the word. The staff that are helping issue permits here. The list is long, and for that, we're really grateful.
But we're also facing an uphill battle here in Texas. When I talked with you four years ago compared to now, the number of children in Texas living in extreme poverty has risen. It's now one in ten children in Texas live in extreme poverty. Back then, Texas was the second state in the country in food and security. It's now number one. We have about 4,000 food providers in Texas providing emergency food services, and my agency surveyed them, and 63 percent of them said they cannot meet demands now. The one food group they need the most happens to be protein which is what Hunters for the Hungry is helping fill.
This need has occurred at a time when the funding for Texas Hunters for the Hungry has ended. We were fortunate to receive federal funds through the Community Food and Nutrition program. Seven and a half months ago, congress eliminated the program. So we are being optimistic. Our funds end the end of next month, but we're gearing up for this next year. We're looking at new and innovative ways to raise funds, grants, fund raising, alternative fund sources. So we're going and blowing for this next season. So check out our website. Give us a call. We've had many, many years of good relationships with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and we thank the Commissioners, the staff, and the volunteers for having that involvement. I'm hoping we'll have it for many, many more years. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. Thanks for your work with Hunters for the Hungry. It's a great organization, Pam. I appreciate it.
Janice and then William Nixon, be ready.
MS. BEZANSON: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Cook, I'm Janice Bezanson. I'm the Executive Director of Texas Committee on Natural Resources. TCONR, as we call it, is a statewide conservation organization that focuses primarily on protecting wildlife habitat. I am here to say two very huge thank yous to this Commission.
The first one is for the role that Texas Parks and Wildlife played in supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in approving the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge on the Upper Neches River. Mr. Parker has a halo. He was absolutely wonderful in supporting this, and helping the people of East Texas understand the issues, and to produce this really wonderful refuge. Mr. Fitzsimons, other Commissioners, the Parks and Wildlife staff, Fish and Wildlife called upon the Parks and Wildlife for some help, and Parks and Wildlife was able to give very useful, technical assistance and be a great deal of help in this issue.
The thing that's been so wonderful about the approval of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge is how popular it is in East Texas. The Houston Chronicle, the Beaumont Enterprise, the Lufkin Daily News, the Nacogdoches Sentinel, the Jacksonville Daily Progress, the newspapers are all doing editorials saying this is a great thing to do for East Texas. It's good for tourism. It's good for wildlife. It's good for the people. My members and other people I talk to are just getting a tremendous feedback on how popular this is.
The other thing I want to talk about just very briefly is to thank you for your leadership in the state park funding issue. We're excited at the amount of newspaper coverage this is getting, at the number of elected officials who have come out saying let's get on with this, let's fix these state parks, let's lift the cap. My organization will be working on this issue very, very hard. We're putting it in our newsletter; we're sending E-mails; we're organizing letter-writing campaigns, whatever it takes; and we'll be working on it in the legislature.
A conclusion that I think we can take from these two, from the success of the refuge and the progress we're making on state park funding, is that people of Texas really do care about natural areas. They really do care about wildlife land. They understand that the public lands are what one of my board members likes to call the incubator for wildlife. It protects wildlife. It allows breeding in populations. The wildlife then goes to private lands. It supports the private lands' wildlife as well. So as we go solve the state park funding issue, as we solve some of the other funding issues, we need to remember that one of the things we need to be going for are large enough blocks of land to provide really high quality wildlife habitat. I appreciate so much the leadership you all take in doing this. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Janice, for all your work. We look forward to continued work with you.
William Nixon and then Trey Scott, be ready.
MR. NIXON: Hello. I appreciate you all letting us be able to come speak to you all. My name is William Nixon. I live in Cottonwood, Texas. That's in Kaufman County. I farm and ranch for a living. I don't do it for a hobby. I do it for a living. I found out a long time ago that I couldn't make it farming and ranching alone. So about 12 years ago, I added a hunting service to my ranch program and I also added a crawfish farm to my program.
I purchased a ranch in Childress, Texas, which is in Childress County, which I had leased for three years prior to purchasing it. This piece of land is in the center of the proposed ATV park that the City of Childress has made a grant application for. This proposed park will adversely affect my property and other properties in the area. I have provided some information that I feel will support this claim. There have been Indian artifacts found in this general area. Whether I can say that it's been in Baylor Creek, I can't say that for sure, but there's a pretty good chance that there are. I ask that you would consider the different aspects that I am presenting you and decline the grant for the ATV park in Childress, Texas.
Having said that, I think hopefully you guys will have time to look at this and I'll be before you again tomorrow before you make your decision, but there are just so many things that I have listed there that are facts. I haven't made any of this up. You guys approved a spot for them last year that was a place that wasn't full of wildlife like mine is. It had been already mined for gravel. I mean, the land had already been gone over and it was approved. They went back and some of the people that are friends with the people who voted on it, which were the Commissioners and the City Council, one of the Commissioners did not vote for it that is in my precinct there. He said that it wasn't an appropriate spot and they didn't think that they should surround a landowner like that, completely landlock him, and go all the way around him.
I tried to get the Commissioners and the City Council. I asked them to come look at my land. I mean, it's very obvious whenever you get out there how it's going to affect me. That's the first land I'm fortunate to be able to farm and ranch. I'm thankful for my father-in-law and my brother-in-law, who are the ones who actually own the land. This is the first ranch I've been able to buy on my own. I'm awfully proud of that.
If the ATV park goes in, there's no way the wildlife will stay. They just won't do it. I mean, Baylor Creek runs from Childress Lake and Baylor Lake all the way to the Red River. I'm the only permanent water in all of Baylor Creek that stays there all the time. I've got a tub hooked up for the cattle and the wildlife that's on city water. There is a windmill that's over across the fence on the proposed land to be bought, but it doesn't always have water. I just really feel strongly. I think, I hope when you guys look at the information and I come before you tomorrow that you will see the same thing. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Nixon, thank you. I've got a question for you. I appreciate you getting this information to us. Your property is on both sides of 287. Is that right?
MR. NIXON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The ATV park is on one side of you?
MR. NIXON: Yes, sir. That triangle, the yellow triangle, is where the ATV park wraps around from 287 to 287 and then borders the railroad track on the other side.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Is this on the agenda for tomorrow, Bob?
MR. COOK: I'm not sure to be honest with you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. NIXON: I hope it is. It was supposed to be, I think.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. We'll get a briefing from staff on it tomorrow in the public meeting and I hope you can be here tomorrow.
MR. NIXON: Yes, I will be here.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good. Thanks, Mr. Nixon.
MR. NIXON: Okay, thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Appreciate it. Trey Scott and then Marilyn Holste.
MR. SCOTT: Good afternoon, Commissioners. My name is Trey Scott. I'm with BASS, Texas State Youth Director from Federation Nation. I represent about 1,000 anglers statewide, about 50,000 members of BASS. I think we're about your newest partner. We just formed an MOA in February of this year and have tried to integrate our programs, which are basically clubs and different kinds of competition, to some of the programs that you all have through your aquatic education programs. We've also started a competition amongst our state clubs to get involved in the programs that the aquatic education offers.
We're some of the world's best anglers. There's no two ways about it. You all are some of the best educators in the world. There's no two ways about that. It's only a perfect marriage. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the programs that you all offer us and hope and pray that you all continue to fund them. So far, like I say we just started in February, we've validated 836 volunteer hours towards touching approximately 2,800 kids and adults statewide, teaching them how to fish properly and using your programs to give them the well-rounded education that they need. I've seen so many kids out on the lake, whose parents unfortunately don't have any kind of angling experience, trying to teach them how to cast, how to catch a fish, how to identify fish. It's really a bad experience for a child who does not have a good experienced angler to come up and help them.
We decided to step up to the plate and say, How can we help. Ann Miller and Phil Durocher have stepped forward and said, Please, let's get together and integrate our programs. Whatever it takes, let's get it done. Again, I thank you for your time, your programs, and ask, please continue to fund these. Next year, I hope to come forward and say, instead of only 800 hours, we've got 80,000 hours validated to help continue to educate the youth of this state in becoming better anglers and more rounded sportsmen. Thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Trey, thank you. Thank you for all the time you volunteer for kids and outdoors. I appreciate it.
Marilyn Holste and then, Jack Burch, be ready.
MS. HOLSTE: Gentlemen, I'm a boat dealer in Burnet County and my issue is more mundane than most of the previous presenters. Of the six Highland Lakes that are used for boating, four are in Burnet and/or Llano Counties. Now, that Llano County will no longer be doing boat registrations and title work, it's time to reevaluate and possibly find a site to replace it. I don't know how many boats are registered in the two counties, but you have that information.
In this day of high gas prices, in a state as large as Texas, it would seem that the government, you, would be willing to come closer to the citizens it serves. If it is not cost-effective to have a full-time Parks and Wildlife office like in Lubbock, or Temple, or Brownwood, perhaps an already existing office used by the game warden could also be used as a part-time site for title work. Your mission of promoting outdoor recreation in the form of boating in Texas could be more successful if the paperwork process were more efficient and convenient for taxpayers. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. Jack Burch and David Rowsey, be ready, from Corpus Christi.
MR. BURCH: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Cook, I'm Jack Burch. I'm the Executive Director for Hill Country Shooting Sports Center in Kerrville, Texas. I'm here today to do a real simple thing and that's to update you with what's going on with the facility and the progress that's been made. Opened in October 2004 in cooperation with Kerr County 4-H Trap and Skeet, the facility was designated in May 2005 as the primary competition site for the National Olympic Shooting Team for the next seven years. In May of this year, the United States Olympic Committee designated the facility as an official United States Olympic Training Site, one of only nine in the United States, and the only site that's been designated for shooting sports.
This was done during the opening ceremonies of the World Cup Shotgun Match. This is an Olympic qualifying event if you will for the next Olympics. That will be in 2008. This is the first time that this has happened in the United States since 1999. We hosted 48 nations and 350 athletes for eight days. They competed in five events. I'm pleased to tell you that the United States team took three medals, one gold, a silver, and a bronze. The gold and the bronze were won by Texas athletes.
This was a $2 million impact to the Texas Hill Country in Texas over that eight days. During that time, we attracted eleven Olympic medalists, the current Olympic medalist for Men's Trap, and several of the World Record Holders, but I've got to tell you that probably the most important event that we hold is our County 4-H Trap and Skeet event. This year, we attracted 161 youth shooters for five events. One of those events is the Whiz-bang that Parks and Wildlife sponsors. The really neat thing about it is these kids walk around for two days with shotguns and nobody seems to be worried. There's a reason for that. These kids have a lot of honor and they have a lot of dedication. When they're out competing, they're not fooling around. They're competing.
If you'll look at the handout that's been given you, you'll kind of see the forecast for the events that will be coming up for the next few years, the first of which is coming up September 6. That is the Fall Selection Match that is the first step in selecting the Pan American team that will represent the United States next year. Probably the next most exciting thing is in June of next year. Texas has been selected to host the National Shotgun Championships. We'll bring in all of the best shooters in the United States. Really, the next biggest thing is in '08. Look at the number of HCSSC events that start fourteen events in '08, eleven events in '09, and several of those are national and international events, but here's the really neat thing. In '08, on this site, we will actually host the Olympic trials for the '08 Olympics in shooting sports.
On the next page, I'd like to kind of go through with you the economic impact of this facility. The '06 numbers that you see there are not forecast. Those are actual numbers. You can go to the next page and you will see actually what happened during the World Cup event. Again, the total impact was a little over $2 million in one event. The forecast is to be just slightly over $105 million in the seven years of the contract and those are conservative numbers.
I'd like to talk a little bit about the positive public support that has swelled because of these events. We have gotten a lot of calls and E-mails saying we really support this. It's a great thing for Texas and it's a great thing for the Hill Country, so much so that Monday night our Kerrville Economic Improvement Corporation granted our request to send forward to public hearing a request for a $0.5 million from 4(b) sales tax in our community. This is a huge project. We wanted to come before you and thank you for your support through the Range Grant program. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. Good job.
MR. ROWSEY: Rowsey.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — Rowsey?
MR. ROWSEY: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Captain Bruce Shuler, be ready.
MR. ROWSEY: I'd like to say thank you to the Commissioners for the opportunity to speak today. My name is David Rowsey and I'm from Corpus Christi, Texas. I'm a recreational angler, that in some capacity spends approximately 150 days a year on the waters of Baffin Bay and the Laguna Madre. My point in making the drive to Austin is to share with the Commissioners what myself and others perceive as a problem with the Speckled Trout fishery. Simply put, at an approaching million saltwater stamps sold annually, today's limits of ten trout is far too liberal to ensure a healthy fishery for the future. The ten trout three limit was put into effect when there were approximately a quarter-million stamps sold annually. Since that time, stamp sales have almost quadrupled. However, daily bag limits have not changed in proportion to that number.
People like to eat fish and so do I. However, Mother Nature can only sustain so much. As fishermen, we are all caretakers of the bay system. Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Commissioners are its lawmakers. I'd like to propose that the Commission give serious consideration to lowering the daily bag limit for Speckled Trout to five fish versus ten fish per day. As a recreational angler who gets to see the fishery firsthand three or four times a week, it's become painfully evident that we are in a sea of spiked bucks. These fertile waters used to be laden with 170, 200 class fish. This scenario is not far-fetched as a large majority of the bay fishing population has the mind set to ice any fish over 15 inches, leaving an ocean of small, inferior fish that will hopefully be 15 inches the following year, only to find its home in an ice chest when it reaches that mark.
Other interests will state that this is about lure fisherman versus bait fisherman. I emphasize that it is not the case. At least from my view, it never has been. Speaking for myself and others of like mind, we could care less by which tactic is utilized to catch trout, as long as it's done responsibly. The point is that too many fish are being pulled out of the bay with no emphasis on conservation and the future of Speckled Trout fishing as we used to know it. A strong healthy fishery has a far more reaching impact economically than one that is standing on wobbling legs. Millions of dollars are spent annually on fishing and a vast portion of that is spend on the Texas coast and inland bays. I urge the Commissioners and the Texas Parks and Wildlife to be proactive now versus reactive later and give every consideration to lowering the daily bag limit of Speckled Trout to five fish per day. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, David. We had a briefing on that issue this morning and it's coming up at the next meeting. So I appreciate it.
Captain Bruce Shuler and then, Everett Johnson, be ready.
MR. SHULER: Hello, my name is Bruce Shuler. I've been a guide on the Lower Laguna Madre out of Port Mansfield, Texas for the last ten years, the last seven years of which my wife and I have owned and operated Getaway Adventures Lodge. So I'm basically here this morning as wide as I am, I'm carrying three hats, one as a fishing guide, two as a concerned businessman, and three as a concerned sportsman. What we're seeing happening on our end of the coast, as backed up by the data that staff has presented, is a downturn in our fishery.
What I would like to see is, I am in 100 percent support of moderating our limits in the sense of if it goes to five, or three, or seven, it doesn't matter, but to validate that sense in the last five years with my operation. We fish a tremendous amount and number of people. I know that I have the privilege, not the right, to make a living from a public resource. So that means I'm going to do everything I can, from a business standpoint and a sportsman standpoint, to ensure that I've got the best possible fishery now and for the future. To validate that, what we did five years ago, we started asking our clients at my facility, if you're catching a bigger trout, why kill it. If it's not hurt, turn it loose.
Then when we saw a downturn in our fishery two years ago, that showed a significant downturn, we started asking our clients at that time, only keep five trout. By sitting down and talking to our clients and we average about an 80 percent re-book with our facility we have had no negative feedback from our clients as far as taking only five trout. That's enough. Also on the same token, when we saw our larger trout being hammered and losing the larger trout, we started asking our clients at that point, if you catch a trout over 22 inches, would you release it. There's no need to kill that fish. What ended up happening, we were ridiculed in magazines and newspaper print for our stance on conservation and, frankly, I don't care. I want to have a fishery not only for myself but for my grandchildren that's going to go forward. If staff, and the biology, and the science say we need to look at a reduction in bag limit, I'm 100 percent in favor of it. We're actually doing that through my facility right now and will continue to do so.
If anyone here would like hard data on numbers, I'll be happy to share it with the Commission, but not in a public forum. I am in 100 percent support of anything you all can do to help us restore the Lower Laguna Madre to the fishery it once was and assure that we've got that fishery for our grandkids. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Captain, thanks for your help. I know that Larry McKinney and Randy and the rest of the staff would be glad to look at your data. Voluntary efforts like yours are what is the bedrock of what we do. I appreciate you taking the attitude that you have.
MR. SHULER: Well, we're blessed with a very healthy business.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
MR. SHULER: I know that my operation could have an impact and that's part of the reason why we went to the five-fish limit. It's not affected us one bit. We average over 80 percent re-book every year. Our booking this year, for 2007, exceeded this year.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Did you see the presentation today?
MR. SHULER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. So as you know, there are other factors other than bag limit that we've got to address.
MR. SHULER: Yes. The other thing we could help, why don't you guys help us lobby the government to get more money to dredge the east cut at Port Mansfield? If we had more waterflow coming in the bay there, that would help our ecosystem.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: There are a lot of issues.
MR. SHULER: We got $1.8 million from the Corps. They need $5 million. We're actually looking right now, as a town and our little navigation district is too small to be able to fund it we're looking at buying our own dredge to do our own dredging, just to open up the pass. That would help our water quality by getting waterflow in there. We'd appreciate any help you can give there. I'm sorry. I get a little passionate about my resource.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: No, we're all passionate about it or we wouldn't be here.
MR. SHULER: I'd like my grandbaby to catch a ten-pound trout and it's not going to happen if we don't be proactive now.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I agree with you. Thank you.
MR. SHULER: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Everett Johnson? Mike Stapleton, be ready.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I didn't forget anybody did I? No, Shuler, Johnson?
MR. JOHNSON: I want to thank the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for the opportunity to speak here today. My topic also is Spotted Seatrout. My name is Everett Johnson. I reside at Seadrift, Texas. By occupation, I am a saltwater fishing guide. I am also the owner, editor, and publisher of the Gulf Coast Connections Texas Saltwater Fishing magazine.
I began my Texas saltwater-fishing career at Port O'Connor in 1986. I began working as a fishing guide in 1999. I have been averaging 150 days on the water per year from 2000 until the present. During the past five years, I perceive a decline in the Spotted Seatrout Fishery in the Port O'Connor region. The numbers we are catching are still strong, but the weights of the fish we catch are down, a sign of overharvest. Our current regulation of ten trout at minimum 15 inches per day was formulated following the big freezes of 1983 and 1989. Back then, we had fewer than a half million saltwater anglers. Today, we are nearly one million.
Our boats, motors, electronic devices, rods, reels, lines, and lures are the best the industry can produce, the best that man has ever seen. Our guides are more numerous and more skilled. The use of live finfish as bait is more widespread than ever before. All these factors contribute to the greatest pressure ever placed on this resource. It is my personal concern that unless more conservative regulations are enacted soon, our fishery could be depleted to a level that would not lend to a quick rebound following the next killer freeze.
During Spotted Seatrout workgroup sessions, Hal Osburn said, "The coastwide management sweet spot appears to be seven trout per day at 16 inches minimum length." That was four years ago. It might take an even deeper cut to get ahead of the curve today. As a guide, I ask my customers to just keep five. In fact, through my magazine and publishing effort, I have popularized, "They just keep five" campaign statewide. Some might think this conservative stance would be bad for business. To the contrary, business is good and the widespread notoriety and popularity of the "Just keep five" campaign seems actually to deserve some of the credit for that.
Texas has always been a leader in the management of its coastal fisheries. The current status of our Red Drum Fishery is proof that conservative regulations and restocking programs work. I would like to encourage the Commission to apply these same strategies toward enhancement of the Spotted Seatrout Fishery. If it means reducing bag limits, I say, "bring it." If it means regionalized regulations, bring these, too. We'll get used to them, just the way we have on our turkey and deer hunting. If, by chance, the data that would lead us to these conclusions could somehow be flawed, and we were to make a mistake, we will have at least erred on the side of conservation, and that is a good thing. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Everett. Thanks for your work. I enjoy your publication.
MR. JOHNSON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I appreciate the point of view and attitude you brought to this. It's going to make our work a lot easier. Thank you.
MR. STAPLETON: Yes, sir. Mr. Chairman and Commissioners
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Tom Hilton, be ready.
MR. STAPLETON: — my name is Mike Stapleton. I'm here as a member of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, Texas Chapter, and a proud fifth generation South Austinite. I had the privilege of growing up on the Copano Bay Causeway during the summers. My grandparents ran and operated that place. That's where my love of saltwater fishing was instilled in me.
I'd like to first commend you guys on the work Texas Parks and Wildlife has done to apprehend those illegally harvesting Red Snapper in the Texas Gulf. I'd also like to address the enormity of the problem that still exists by reading from a Houston Chronicle article that was published on the 17th by Shannon Thompkins. This cites a few of the violations that we've had in the recent past on the Texas Gulf.
"The morning of November 1, 2005, officers attempted to stop and inspect the Caitlin May on the Gulf of Galveston. The commercial vessel attempted to elude officers. During the resulting chase, officers said the Caitlin May rammed the patrol boat and the vessel's crew threw about 1,000 pounds of fish overboard. When the agents finally stopped the boarded vessel, they reported finding more than two tons of reef fish, including 3,659 pounds of snapper aboard the boat. Much of the catch, one law enforcement officer said, was stowed in a hidden compartment on the vessel."
The second one was earlier this year. "The captain of a Galveston Bay commercial vessel was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a crew member 21 months in prison, in a case involving more than 2.5 tons of illegally taken snapper. In that case, agents seized 5,641 pounds of Red Snapper found in what was described as a hidden compartment in the vessel. More than 2,700 of those snapper were under the legal minimum length."
The third incident, in June, "Wardens acting on a Operation Game Thief tip stopped and boarded a commercial fishing vessel they documented fishing inside state waters in the Gulf off of Corpus Christi. Wardens found more than 800 snapper weighing a total of more than 2,000 pounds aboard the vessel. They issued citations for 26 fishing regulations violations to the vessel's captain and crew. A Parks and Wildlife news release on the incident noted that the captain and crew of the vessel had 62 prior violations for game and fish law violations. One of those charges had 45 pending cases involving illegal take of Red Snapper."
You know, since it seems that the folks at NOAA and the NMFS are bogged down in the usual bureaucratic mud that's kept them from moving forward for years, I'd like to appeal to you and the great state of Texas to support the Texas Reefing project and support game fish status for Red Snapper in Texas state waters to end commercial
overfishing. I would also like to state for the record that I'm opposed to a two fish snapper limit as it would have a massive negative economic impact on our coast. For what it's worth, I figured today that I spend about $750 to take my boat and my kids to the coast for weekend of snapper fishing and I'm one of just tens of thousands of recreational snapper fisherman in Texas.
Again, I'd like to thank you as a Texas sportsman and as a parent that wishes to instill in my children the same values that my grandparents instilled in me. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mike. Tomorrow, we are having an update on the Red Snapper if you're going to be here.
MR. STAPLETON: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think, was Tom Hilton next?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Tom, you're remembering better than I am. Okay, Glenn Smith, be ready.
MR. HILTON: Thank you. Commissioners, I appreciate you being here. My name is Tom Hilton. I own Hilton's Fishing Charts and Hilton's Real Time Navigator.com. I'm here representing the Texas Recreational Fishing Alliance and, of course, all Texas recreational fishermen.
I'm not here with the state parks or with any of the historical societies. I'm not looking for any money. I'm actually, through my endeavors with the mapping companies that I've got, I've had a chance to study what's happening around the Gulf and on the East Coast. I see what the other states are doing with their offshore fisheries. They're enhancing the habitat through artificial reefing projects.
Orange Beach, Alabama is the center of my chart universe. I sold probably eight times as many charts there as I do here off of Texas. You'll see on the graphic here that the areas that are off of Alabama account for 40 percent of all the recreational snapper caught in the Gulf of Mexico. That's an incredible statistic, especially when you realize that Alabama only has a 40-mile-wide coastline. I really would like to thank Texas Parks and Wildlife for heading down the path of artificial reefing. I believe that we need to expand our horizons on our perspectives in that endeavor.
The things that I see that Texas Parks and Wildlife has on the table are limited in scope. I think that they would be over-capitalized in short order. We have a very successful model, over off of Alabama, in place that we just need to emulate here off of Texas. What that's going to do is it's going to translate into millions of dollars of revenue to the state. There's professors out of Florida State University that have quantified the value of the reefs to the coastal communities. It's in the hundreds of millions of dollars just in the Florida Panhandle alone.
As you probably know, the NMFS is pushing for a TAC reduction in federal waters, the Total Allowable Catch, which will cut our existing snapper limits down to about two fish per person. I can guarantee you that people are not going to spend $3.50 a gallon, or pay charter boat prices, to go out and catch two fish. It's going to wreck our coastal economies. What we're trying to present to you all is if we're able to develop a plan to counteract this TAC reduction in federal waters by providing plentiful fishing spots in state waters, we foresee an energizing effect on the coastal communities instead of a decimating blow.
Also enclosed on the graphic is the layout of the proposed Texas Great Barrier Reef. We consider this to be like the second wall of The Alamo. When the first wall falls, which would be the federal limit to two fish, we Texans will rally behind the second wall of Texas state waters to make our stand. I'm just hoping that we have a different outcome than The Alamo did.
Our vision is to deploy about 4,000 reefs per year. The idea is to shock and awe both the fish and the fishermen so that they will not be overcapitalized. We've met with the GLO. We've met with Coastal Fisheries here three times. We've met with Senator Ogden. We're just looking for support from the Commissioners to push for approval for getting these areas inside the state waters approved for us to provide additional habitat for the snapper. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Tom. The Coastal Resource Advisory Committee is working on artificial reef issues. So the staff can get you in contact with that group. They're going to be working up some recommendations on artificial reefs.
MR. HILTON: All right. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Tom. I'm sorry. I got a little out of order here with the fishing and coastal. I missed one, Jim Smarr. I'm sorry, Jim. You got put in the wrong stack. I apologize.
MR. SMARR: Mr. Chairman, I'm already in so much trouble, My mother and my wife are coming back in from a gambling junket in Louisiana, and I was supposed to be there at 6:00 to pick them up, and I'm not going to be there. So I may be at one of the local funeral homes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We'll write you a note, Jim. We'll be glad to.
MR. SMARR: On a note, I'd like to say that there's been a lot of talk about money today. During the, oh, nine months ago, we decided that there was a problem. So we decided to fix it. We're a 501(c)(4), by the way, so we can lobby. So we went to see Senator Ogden and we asked the good senator, who chairs the Finance Committee, to go over and see the governor and see if they could cut the cap off of you all's funding. It was very well received. He met with us, unbelievably, for about an hour and twenty minutes. And so, I think we're not taking all the credit for that, but we'd like to tell you that sometimes we come in here throwing rocks, but we appreciate what you all do. We did try to push to get that cap released and he promised that he would get that done. It looks like something's happening with the current press.
Now, on fisheries, I'm here on the record as State Chairman of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. I would like to discuss the Seatrout issue. I am uninformed about that issue today. I did not get here to hear staff. It's the opinion of the RFA that the trout should be managed as one zone. We wouldn't like to see a limit reduction without hard science. I think time will tell on that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do you oppose regional management?
MR. SMARR: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. SMARR: But I have not seen the staff recommendation.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: They'll be back next time. You can get to be here next time.
MR. SMARR: I understand.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: At the next meeting, I think they'll do another presentation again.
MR. SMARR: I think if we do too serious of a cut, we'll be in the same thing on Seatrout that we're looking at in devastating coastal fishing communities as we are in the Red Snapper issue. We need to try to take a balance between the two. The fishing guys need to make a living. The recreational anglers need to go fishing. We need to have people in the restaurants down there. I think implementing any bait restrictions would be a feel-good move that wouldn't help. There are too many live baits that are equally as effective.
On the Red Snapper issue, Tom covered quite a bit of that. I had some handouts. Apparently, I failed to get those to you all, but in the Red Snapper industry, Alabama is getting 42 percent of the recreational take. We're not anywhere near that. I think we're about 12 or 14 percent. Don't hold me to that number. What's interesting is the commercial fishermen take about 52 percent of their catch off Texas and there's a huge problem with illegal fishing. We're seeing illegal fisheries in the newspapers quite freely. A Mr. Krebs, which is in the handout that I had for you all, said, "It's been like if you want to get away with something, go to Texas." So they're throwing their nose up at Texas Parks and Wildlife.
That was the reason we were going to Senator Ogden for funding. You guys are doing a great job. We're working very well with the folks here. We need the reefing project to head off the shutdown at federal level. We would hope that Parks and Wildlife would work with us to get Game Fish status in state waters on Red Snapper. If the commercial guys won't go on the record against lowering the TAC, that tells me that they're not going to work within the law as it is anyway. So why even let them fish in Texas waters.
I thank you. I have a prepared statement. If you all could, I brought additional information so that you all can go over it at your leisure. It's been a long day, I know. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
MR. SMARR: I need that note, too, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. I'll be glad to write you a note. Thank you, Jim.
MR. SMARR: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Glenn Smith and James Wright. Dr. James Wright, be ready.
MR. SMITH: I came here today with a couple of suggestions or recommendations for upping the funding for state parks and wildlife areas, but I figured out while sitting here, if legislators were required to go through the Texas Brigade program, you might do a lot better with them once they got there in office. I was very impressed with those young people.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We'd get some younger legislators anyway, yes.
MR. SMITH: Or something. I just want to second what many other people have said today about my group's support. I'm Glenn Smith of the Texas Progress Council. We fully support eliminating the cap on the sporting goods tax, using the bond money you've already been authorized to use, and getting the legislature to appropriate the debt retirement on that.
I have two requests. I don't know if this is going to being in the recommendations of John Montford's committee. I do applaud you for appointing Senator Montford, Chancellor Montford, to head that up. I would urge ultimate caution about privatizing any part or all of a state park. It scares me to death to have our parks turned over to private companies for any purpose whatsoever. I don't think Teddy Roosevelt would have, on the one hand, created national parks and on the other hand turned them over to the monopolies he was busy breaking up at the time. So I would urge you to give that serious thought before we go down that path.
Lastly, with regard to the Black Gap Wildlife Area, I think what I'd like to request on that is some sort I understand that the land that I'm concerned about which is between the LaLinda and Maravillas Canyon has already been transferred to the General Land Office for some purpose. There's a lot of misinformation on that. If my organization has participated in handing out any misinformation, I apologize, but it's happened because so much of that transaction has happened in secret. Before that is sold to a third party, or taken away fully from Parks and Wildlife, I'd like to have some sort of public hearing on what's going on there.
For those of you on the Commission that don't know, the area I'm talking about is on the federally designated wild and scenic River. It is where the campsites are currently in the Black Gap Wildlife Area. Texans from all over go there to hike, to camp, to hunt during the designated hunting times, and to raft those lower canyons of the Rio Grande River. If it's taken away, it is possible that you won't be able to raft, or you will add 70 miles of the river before you can take out handily from the Rio Grande. That will all but eliminate a lot of rafters from that part of the park.
So I think I'll leave it today by asking you to have some sort of public hearing where we can collect the views of many people, look at what kind of deals have been talked about for the disposition of that property, and make a public and not a private decision with regard to the future of Black Gap. Thank you. If there's any questions, I'm happy to answer them.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Are you referring to the Black Gap exchange that resulted in a 10,000-acre increase in the Wildlife Management Area?
MR. SMITH: Yes, sir, I am, but to refer to it
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. SMITH: — solely as an increase, it's like I said before, it's like giving away the Grand Canyon and getting some Arizona rocks in return.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. SMITH: That is Wild and Scenic River and it's really important.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, I understand what you're saying. The wildlife biologists who manage the Wildlife Management Area designated the properties.
MR. SMITH: Designated them?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The property that they needed to best meet the mission of a wildlife management area.
MR. SMITH: Well, can I ask one other question and maybe staff can tell me later? What's going to become of the public campsites there? If I go there tomorrow, do I register with the Parks and Wildlife to camp there?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: In the WMA, the WMAs are managed by Parks and Wildlife inside the WMA. Scott, can you answer that?
MR. BORUFF: That's correct, Commissioner. For the record, my name is Scott Boruff. There are multiple campsites along the river there. There were some campsites in the sections of land referenced here. There are additional campsites that remain in the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay, thanks. Thank you.
MR. SMITH: Well, I'm not going to take the whole group's time, but I would like another public hearing of some sort to discuss it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Smith. Mr. Wright and then Mr. Avriett. I'm sorry, it's Ms. Avriett, Dian Avriett.
DR. WRIGHT: My name is James Wright. I'm president of the Texas Association of Bass Clubs. We've been around for quite a few years. We appreciate the opportunity to present at least four requests today from Texas Parks and Wildlife. I need to tell you that when I told my constituents I was coming, my server went down from all the questions I had to answer.
First and foremost, the credibility of Texas Parks and Wildlife has taken a severe downside as we understand that the cost of the Jasper Fish Hatchery will significantly exceed $15 million. That's the cost that our Bass Stamp was supposed to pay for. We're asking the Commission, and Budget Committee particularly, to cap this expense at the $15 million figure until we figure out what's going on and what the cost is. We're asking, as stockholders in Texas Parks and Wildlife a due diligence and fiduciary responsibility in determining how much money a Jasper Fish Hatchery is going to cost us.
In our Bill 1989, I believe that's right, is this going to impact the rest of those provisions that our Bass Stamp was supposed to address? This is something we're concerned about. We may wind up with a $30 million fish hatchery and no improvements to our fishing hatcheries in the other areas. Indeed, at the July budget meeting, if you guys knew that the cost was going to be greater than $15 million, you should have told us this up front.
Secondly, we have a lot of misinformation. We need information from Texas Parks and Wildlife. We would like to request that a master plan of how Texas Parks and Wildlife intends to improve or maintain our bass populations in each public lake of Texas over the next ten years. This plan should include the management, improvement thereof, and expected fish populations. We'd like to see this plan available for public consumption within one year.
Thirdly, the Grass Carp issue is not going to go away. It's an ugly boil and it's not going away. Just for the record, the Texas Association of Bass Clubs supports significantly the activity ongoing at Lake Conroe by Inland Fisheries with an integrated pest management program and the Grass Carp program. We have a lot of controversy over that, but we support what they're doing and we hope they stay the course.
TABC would request, basically, again for information for our members and we have a lot of misinformation out there we'd like to see a scientifically valid model for the utilization of Grass Carp and hydrilla in hydrilla-infested waters would be developed and presented again for one year. We can do this for all sorts of scientific crops for the human genome, et cetera. We can do this for the Grass Carp and its interaction with hydrilla-infected waters. If we had this carp, we could tell people, in very plain English, the effects of the carp, the effects of hydrilla and what goes on. I think this information may be available, but we need it in a concise model. Phil, do you understand what we're talking about, a model? We can talk later about this, but we have that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: (No response.)
DR. WRIGHT: Fourth, we've heard a lot about the condition of our state parks these days. You know, we in the Texas anglers and the bass aspects, we would like to see that funds be specifically directed for the restoration. One of the ideals we came up with is that the payment of utilization of our public waters by profit organizations should be implemented and these payments directed to the state parks. This is not a quick fix. It's a long-term fix. It's a long-term commitment of funds going back in the waters being used by profit organizations. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, sir. Dian Avriett and then Will Kirkpatrick.
MS. AVRIETT: I'm Dian Avriett. I grew up in Angelina County. I've known Mr. Parker for years. I've spent most of my life on the lakes and rivers in East Texas and have been a close observer of the wildlife in those areas. Up until about ten years ago, you could paddle down any river, along any shoreline in East Texas and you could barely hear other wildlife for the plop of turtles going into the water ahead of you. About five years ago, I started noticing a serious decline in the turtle population. I'm talking freshwater turtle now, in the rivers in the area.
This past summer, I saw an alarming drop in the number of turtles. I paddled a ten-mile stretch of the Upper Neches River in June, saw zero turtles. About a month ago, I paddled an area that's in the new wildlife refuge. I saw four turtles the entire day. Lake Murvaul, a week ago, I saw two turtles on approximately an eight or nine-mile paddle around the shoreline. Something's happening to our turtles. I started doing some research. I started talking to other concerned people in the area. What you have in front of you and what I'm fixing to read is what we have come up with is happening to them. The current state, non-game wildlife commercial collection law in Texas is inadequate to protect or sustain a healthy population of box turtles or native freshwater turtle species.
In fact, allowing the unlimited take of these species in Texas has encouraged trappers from other states to come here. The majority of other states now have some law in place to protect our turtles. Almost all Asian and European turtles are protected from harvest. They're in extinction in southern Asia, due to human consumption and now that part of the world is targeting our turtles. With a non-game wildlife permit, residents and non-residents can legally take and sell every turtle that he catches in any Texas stream. The rarer turtles are trapped and sold to the pet trade, while the larger species are shipped alive to Asia and sold for food. Not on this, but an estimate of 50 percent of those do not survive the trip.
Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas are main states being exploited by trappers. It's time to get laws in place to protect what we have left before the wild populations are depleted beyond recovery. Wildlife biologists from Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, Texas A&M, and numerous conservation organizations all agree that box turtles and freshwater turtles cannot sustain unlimited harvest and collection from the wild. Biologists also agree that numerous species have experienced rapid declines in recent years. Various other factors have caused some of the decline, habitat loss, roadkill, feral hogs, Fire ants, and raccoons, but the majority of the decline is due to commercial trappers.
This Department has not sponsored any major field study to determine the current number in the wild. In fact, it would be very difficult due to the scarcity and lucid behavior of several species. The only method currently being used to determine number of turtles commercially harvested is a mandatory reporting requirement.
The non-game collection law requires licensed collectors to annually report the number of turtles taken from the wild and note each species with the date and location of where they are taken. This reporting requirement is probably not very reliable. Turtle trappers may not record actual numbers due to fear of having limits put on them. Also, there are numerous people who do not get a license, but sell small quantities of turtles to local buyers. One individual that I talked with in Rusk County admitted to selling to a buyer in Nacogdoches County and was not asked for her non-game license or where she caught the turtles. This buyer pays $1 per pound for any species, holds them in tanks, and sells them to a buyer in Louisiana. The same unlicensed individual also admitted to seeing Alligator Snapper Turtles in this dealer's tanks.
A rapid decline in the Texas turtle populations have been observed by numerous biologists and concerned citizens. Yet, nothing is being done by the department to start the downward trend. An emergency moratorium needs to be put in place immediately to stop the commercial take of all turtle species until biologists can do scientific field studies and determine how large the adult breeding population is. These studies may take several years and if commercial harvest is not stopped immediately several species could be so depleted that it could take generations for it to come back. Many of the larger freshwater species live to 60 or 70 years and several decades old before they're old enough to reproduce.
I see estimates in mortality rates in young turtle hatchlings in the wild. Most agree that only one in 25 live to one year of age. Continuing to all unlimited take of these older adult breeders could easily cause an irreparable decline of several species. Texas Parks and Wildlife has a duty to protect any species from decline. I'm asking today for you to pass an emergency moratorium on the commercial take of all Texas turtles until scientific field studies can be done and the data assessed.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Ms. Avriett.
Will Kirkpatrick? Will, good to see you. Ed Parton, be ready, and Tim Cook, and Dana Richardson, and we'll be done. Will, good to see you.
MR. KIRKPATRICK: My name is Will Kirkpatrick. I live on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. If you all are worried about money, I just bought my 33rd guide license a while ago. So there's another $165 in it.
I've been pretty lucky. You're talking about the use we've had up here. I caught my first bass 52 years ago. It was a six-pound bass, 52 years ago. A lot of people never caught one yet. I've worked for four different divisions of Bell Systems. I've hunted sheep in the Brooks Range up in Alaska when I worked up there. I've caught Mahi Mahi when I worked over in Hawaii on a cable ship long lines. I've caught ten-pound bass in Florida. I've been down here I was working in New York City, at New York Tel Company headquarters in 1969, 1970, when they completed the North Tower of the World Trade Center. And we're right across; we're headquartered right across the street from that.
I flew home, picked up a boat and motor, and drove to Sam Rayburn in 1970 to fish a BASS tournament. It looked so good, I decided I would transfer down here. So I got hold of my rabbi, who was the head of labor relations for the whole Bell Systems, and said, I've got to go to Texas and work. He said, You got it, son. I've been here now 35 years.
The last five years have been very interesting. I've probably learned things I really wished I didn't know. I'm very disappointed in what the gentleman earlier was talking about. He has no idea how much money has been spent that shouldn't have been spent. You've got an option that people I talked to you once before about this the information is there. It shouldn't have been put where it's at. Mr. Cook, you made the statement about sour grapes. You don't know me because that's not the case. I can assure you that they're never going to put a statue of Will Kirkpatrick up in the town square in St. Augustine County.
All we want is what is best for the anglers. That's what we agreed to when we pushed for the stamp. In fact, Phil, if you remember, you and I were on the phone talking. And you said, Will, have you got your television on. I said, No. He said, You need to turn it on. They just hit a plane into the World Trade Center. Do you remember that? What I was talking to him about was getting the fish hatchery put on Toledo Bend because originally that's where we were wanting it. So the sour grapes thing is not true. We pushed to put it on Toledo Bend because we were told that was the best place. And then, we got into your more bangs for your bucks. We're not getting the most bang for the bucks.
You know, I did this for a living. I went through these specs that you all have. I made a statement to you that if you had a young law student in there, you'd have fired him for putting some of that stuff out. If we used that to hook up the telephones, you'd still we talking with strings and tin cans. That's how bad it is. It's about that thick. We put in jobs that the stack of the spec was this thick and we got them working, but that one is totally run out. I've talked to the people. I happen to be, I was based in Springfield for quite some time, about six miles down the road from Fish Pro, but you've got some problems. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Kirkpatrick. Tim Cook and Dana Richardson, be ready. I'm sorry, Ed.
MR. PARTON: It's okay, boss.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'm getting to the end of the day here. Tim Cook and Dana, be ready after Ed.
MR. PARTON: Distinguished Commission, Mr. Chairman, thank you. I've had the pleasure of working with Texas Parks and Wildlife since this building existed and before. It's been an honor. I have some questions that have popped up in my mind. Knowing Mr. Robert Cook, Bob, like I do, my three minutes are going to be counted against me even though I've got some questions. I would like to know if all
MR. COOK: [indiscernible] time today.
MR. PARTON: I'd like to know if the multimillions of people that utilize and use our resources realize how important it is if they bought a fishing license to support this department. We have all these people this morning talking about parks, or today. We've had people talking about other issues that are pertinent to them. We'll have people talking in a little while that use and utilize our water systems, that so many of them do not own a fishing license.
I think that we have dropped the ball by not educating people, letting them know how many dollars much more greater not good English, but the point is how many more dollars it generates for a fishing license cost, if we buy just one fishing license, or if we buy one hunting license, or if we buy a combo. I think that somebody needs to wake up and say, "Hey, users of our resource, support us if you want us to listen to you and your complaints or your gripes or you're wanting something better from us." That's not what I came to talk about, but I was just wondering how many of these people today, if you asked them to show you a fishing license or a combo license, could they do that. I'm convinced in my mind that most of them couldn't. That's sad.
What I came to talk about is a near perfect fisheries. Start my clock. Thank you.
MR. COOK: Yes.
MR. PARTON: The only way in all the years that I've had the pleasure of working with Inland Fisheries for that to happen is simply habitat as a form to protect and enhance our fisheries, a way of life for water quality, [indiscernible], prevent erosion, I could go on and on about what habitat and aquatic vegetation does. I am here supporting a program that's been put together by Dr. Earl Chilton, Mr. Phil Durocher, and others with this Department. I'm convinced that it worked on Lake Austin. I'm convinced that it's going to work on Lake Conroe. If your people are given the opportunity to implement that plan, there are people out there that are putting an extreme amount of pressure on you and politicians not to allow that to happen. Please don't listen to these people simply because I'm convinced that the program has worked and will work if it's given a chance. Thank you so much for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ed. I appreciate your attendance at all these meetings. I tell you.
Okay. Tim Cook and then Dana Richardson.
MR. TIM COOK: Chairman Fitzsimons, thank you. Director Cook, Commissioners, thank you very much for a long day. I want to come to you and also reiterate my support for the Lake Conroe plan. My name is Tim Cook. I'm the State Conservation Director for the Texas BASS Federation Nation. We're the grass-roots arm of the Bass Angler Sportsmen Society. We've got about 1,000 members in Texas and about 40,000 BASS members in Texas. I've had the privilege of being able to work on this plan for the last year. I'm on the San Jacinto River Authority's Advisory Board. I've spent a lot of time working with Phil and Inland Fisheries trying to come up with a plan that's going to meet everybody's objectives. I truly believe that the plan that we've come up with is going to be successful.
The goals of the plan are to maintain not only good habitat for fisheries, but also good access for homeowners and prevent any public safety issues or anything. You know, there are no simple, quick fixes to complex problems. This plan is a two-year plan. We're starting to see some wavering in support from the homeowners in the community because of the amount of vegetation that's in there now. Six months is just not enough time to get this plan to work. I tell you my organization and my counterparts we have 46 Conservation Directors throughout the country we're involved in aquatic vegetation issues all over the country.
I can tell you this plan, from what I've been told, has got to be one of the most progressive
forward-thinking plans that any of my colleagues have seen. If it is successful, it is going to establish a model that can be reproduced across the country. The way things are going in Texas, we're going to see this type of thing over and over again in our public water bodies. Coming up with a plan that fits all the objectives is absolutely critical to maintaining our resources. My organization advocates no net loss of habitat for fish, just the way we like to see it for waterfowl and everything else. Anyway, I would just ask you that you consider strongly giving all of your support to Inland Fisheries on this plan and let it take its course. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Tim. Thank you very much. Dana? You got the booby prize, last one today.
MR. RICHARDSON: I'm the last?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, sir. We're here though.
MR. RICHARDSON: Thank you. My name is Dana Richardson. I'm a representative of the Lake Conroe Association, a property owners' association that I helped found in 1977 when Lake Conroe got its first amount of hydrilla. You all know the story of that. We ended up with the lake being 40 percent covered with hydrilla, 100 percent of the shorelines. White amur were put in. They cleaned it up, probably overcleaned it because we put too many fish in.
Did we put too many fish in or did the problem allow to get out of hand? That is what I'm here today for. We don't want a return of 1977, '81, where we had that situation. Parks and Wildlife has come up with a plan. Potentially, it's a good plan, but those pictures will show you, we're not getting any control of this hydrilla out there. They have a permit for 30,000 fish. They've only put 13,000 fish in. The hydrilla is expanding way, way faster than I think they ever expected it would. The hot water, the summer heat, has obviously made it expand more and more and more.
You've got two sets of photos there, one I took in July from the ground showing it. And then, the property owner over there took some this past weekend from aerial. It just shows you the expanse that this things going. All we're trying to do is let's put enough fish in now to try to catch up with the explosion, rather than go too slow and it gets out of hand like it did in '77 and '81. They've got a permit for 30,000 fish. They've only put 13,000 in. What we're asking is that they go ahead and put the remainder in, get caught up. When the winter months come, the fish will not eat as much, but they will still be eating, but the hydrilla will be going down a little until spring comes and it sprouts back up.
Our president, Mike Beyer, who was not able to be here due to a medical problem that came up at the last minute with his daughter, sent a letter to Earl Chilton and Mark Webb specifically requesting that you all approve the additional 17,000 fish. You've got all those photos there. I think the photos tell 1,000 words. All we're asking is let's speed this little process up so we don't go back to the '77, '81 over hydrilla result overstocking. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I do have a question for Mr. Richardson. You might have already said it. What was the number of triploid Grass Carp that were put in the late '70s. Do you know?
MR. RICHARDSON: Politicians say, That's a good question. So let me try that out.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, maybe
MR. RICHARDSON: We put 270,000 A&M put 270,000 fish in. Let me tell you how that number came. In 1978, this Commission approved putting the white amur into Lake Conroe. A lawsuit was filed on it because they said it was improper notice of a rule change. The legislature had just made a rule change requirement. It wasn't improper. There was proper notice. We had gone out and bought those fish in a hatchery up in Arkansas. Four to six inches is what those fish would be when they went in the lake. It was expected they would be 60 percent of them lost because of the size. We had to feed those fish during this lawsuit thing. When those fish came out of the chute, they were about like this. There wasn't any [indiscernible] on those fish. That's why the thing happened.
Now, whose fault is it? I don't think
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I was just trying to get an idea of the relative number, which I did.
MR. RICHARDSON: Yes. So we're talking about 30,000 now, 270,000 then.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Thank you very much, sir.
MR. RICHARDSON: Anything else?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I appreciate it. Thank you.
Any other testimony to come before the public meeting, Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: I don't believe so, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right, sir. We are adjourned. Thank you. We'll see you in the morning.
(Whereupon, at 5:40 p.m., the Annual Public Hearing was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Annual Public Hearing
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: August 23, 2006
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 163, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
Debbie Greene 8/31/06
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731
ON THE RECORD REPORTING