Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee Meeting
April 4, 2007Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 4th day of April, 2007, there came 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:
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas, Committee Chair
- Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas, Vice-Chairman
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. First order of business is the approval of the previous Committee Meeting minutes. Do we have a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Brown, second by Ramos. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries, and Committee Item Number 1, Land and Water Plan Update, Mr. Cook.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In the 19th round of the Commercial Bay and Bait Shrimp Buyback, TPWD signed contracts for 142 licenses, 66 bay licenses and 76 bait licenses, from the 179 applications, at a cost of $1.1 million. An additional 30 licenses were purchased with $130,000 from the Coastal Conservation Association, so our buyback program proceeds and is going well.
FYI and hope that some of you will be able to attend the 52nd Texas Game Warden Academy, which is currently composed of 23 cadets ‑‑ we started with 25 and had a couple drop out ‑‑ will graduate on May 18, 2007, here in Austin, site time and location to be determined and we will advise you so. Just an FYI, kind of in this group of 23 of our cadets, we are also training two cadets from Mexico, who are going to take back this law enforcement, conservation, game warden training back to Mexico, back to Nuevo Leon, then, and implement a program there, very similar to our program. So we think that's a great partnership and work well together with them, and they are good cadets, good students, and we have enjoyed having them. Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Committee Item Number 2, Potential Changes to Migratory Bird Proclamation, Permission to Publish, Vernon.
MR. BEVILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, my name is Vernon Bevill, and I am the program director for small game and habitat assessment programs. What I'm bringing to you today is kind of a preview of the migratory bird regulations that we anticipate that will be moving forward over the next several months between our flyway councils and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
For mourning doves, the calendar changes are shown on this map. We don't anticipate any other major changes in mourning doves at this time, although there is a lot more background noise about mourning doves today than there has been, so, down the road, there may be some discussions of change.
As far as the special white-winged dove area, we will be entering the third year of our experiment on the expansion of the special white-wing area, and at the end of this third year, we will be compiling an evaluation of harvest parameters that we found to be the case with that expansion, and of course, one of the interest areas of the Fish and Wildlife Service was that we didn't put any additional pressure on mourning doves. That was their concern, and so we will be finishing up that experimental three-year period this fall and be providing them a report about this time next spring, and that report will determine whether or not we're able to continue that or make some other modifications.
For teal season, the surveys for waterfowl, all waterfowl, begin in May on the Canadian breeding grounds, and so we anticipate that the teal population should be above the threshold for a 16-day season, but you never know until they get up there and fly those survey transects. But if it is a 16-day season, we would recommend from the 15th of September to the 30th; however, if it's a 9-day season, it would be — we'd recommend the 22nd to the 30th, and it is a Commission policy of long standing that we either take the last three full weekends or the last two full weekends.
Other changes in webless species are shown on this slide, and we try to match up these webless species and our waterfowl seasons to the greatest extent we can, so that if people are out hunting and they have an opportunity to take some of these other species, it's value added to that experience for them.
We think we will have another liberal season. Conditions in Canada are really good in some of the traditional breeding grounds. Conditions, however, in the northern U.S. are spotty, although they have been getting some precipitation lately. I know going through most of the winter, I was getting reports from my counterparts in the Dakotas and Montana that their breeding areas were in pretty poor shape because of the drought in that part of the world. But if we get what we anticipate, we'll be looking at an 89-day regular duck season in the High Plain Mallard Management Unit, the red area, plus the two extra days for the youth weekend.
And for the north and south zone, we have been running the seasons concurrent in the north and south zones with the longer seasons, and the reason for having a zone is that if we get into a situation where we have much shorter seasons, like the 39-day season we had back in the early '90s, then the zone configuration makes a lot more sense for trying to stratify the season, to take the best advantage of when ducks are north or south.
The bag limits — we are, as you recall, one of the hardest states that has the aggregate bag, the hunter choice bag, and this will be the second year of the hunter choice experiment. At the flyway council meeting, all the 500-choice bag states all reported that they had very little negative comment on the hunter choice option, that it seemed to work well and work the way it should for everybody, and there is a lot of concern for the mottle duck.
At the Fish and Wildlife Service level, we are involved with some work with the Service on developing a much tighter breeding population survey for mottle ducks, to go into effect officially a year from now in April and, hopefully, that will give us some better population data from which we can make more informed decisions about management needs. The other species of concern is scaup. There is some concern that we may be looking at some reduction on scaup harvest this year, but that is in that negotiation state right now. We don't know how it will come out.
This is the proposal for the Eastern goose zone. We break that out into the light goose, the Canada goose, and the white-fronted goose season, because those three species are managed under separate population management models, and therefore the difference. However, in the Western goose zone, since we are ratcheted down to only white-front, we manage these — the season there is a light goose or a dark goose season, and at the end of the dark goose season, we anticipate being able to implement the light goose conservation order once again. This is the season scenario for sandhill cranes.
Mr. Chairman, with that, I'll be glad to answer any questions. We are recommending we move forward to publish these in the Texas Register, and we will come back through the — for the early season, Mr. Cook will make the decision, because it's between Commission meetings —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.
MR. BEVILL: — and in the late season, decisions will to the choice of the Commission.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Just for the record, Vernon. Would you please go over the situation of the late season and particularly the possibility of shifting days away from the front end of the south zone of mourning dove and adding it to the —
MR. BEVILL: Let me run back to that slide earlier.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And also, if you can, kind of brief the Commission again on the timing of that cycle.
MR. BEVILL: The process for migratory birds started in February with a briefing of the Service Regulations Committee in early February. Then we moved forward to our Technical Committee's meeting in early March and preparing a set of recommendations that come to the Flyway Council. Our Flyway Councils — all four Flyway Councils met about two weeks ago at the North American. We then passed on those recommendations and moved them forward to Fish and Wildlife Service, so the processes for change in migratory bird regulations are already well under way, and with regard to the special white-wing season, by having those four days, we lose four days in the rest of the south zone.
The special white-winged area has four days given to them earlier, in those first two weekends in September. So those four days are taken out of the end of the season in the south zone. Now that doesn't mean that we couldn't buy four days from the first split and put them at the end of the split, because we do continue to hear comments from some south zone hunters, because they have doves pile up in the south zone as they winter there, that they like that later hunting opportunity. Of course the rest of the south zone, except for the special white-wing area, get a later season.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Tie that in again, if you can, just so we have an understanding of how this zone boundary was established to the study, the three-year study that's being conducted, and the relevance of that.
MR. BEVILL: Okay. I don't have a pointer, but if you'll look at the area along I-35 that angles up to the south end of San Antonio where it intersects 1604, that is primarily the expansion area in this experimental expansion that we're involved in, and the reason for that is that we've just had a huge influx of white-wings, and you can start hunting white-wings north of Highway 90 on September 1st, because that's in the central zone, and then south of Highway 90 had been in the south zone, and we had a lot of interest out of our sportsmen along Highway 90 of being able to hunt white wings on both sides of the highway.
And so we were able to gain some latitude from the Service to expand the special white-wing area to encompass that part of the south zone.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Is that how these two weekend dates originated?
MR. BEVILL: The two weekend dates have always been part of the special white-wing season. We get — we're given the latter two with Fish and Wildlife Service, to hunt white-wings the first two weekends in September.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It used to be, Mark, just down along the river, and to make things simple, what we did was we moved the zone to where the white-wings were. And before that —
MR. BEVILL: And in doing so, we did have in the old white-wing season configuration the latitude to shoot up to five mourning doves. We conceded — had to concede — to a four mourning dove bag limit over the Fish and Wildlife Service's concern for the mourning dove population in general. And part of this evaluation is to determine what, if any, impact this expansion has had on increasing the harvest of mourning doves significantly in that area, so that we'll be giving them the report on that next spring.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Vernon, could you just tell them just a little bit about the late fledgling issue on mourning doves and —
MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: — why we weren't able to move that line?
MR. BEVILL: Back in the '60s, this Department did extensive nest chronology studies on doves and determined that a significant percentage of our mourning dove population actually leave the nest after September 1st, and it was a significant enough percent that we all, collectively, us and Fish and Wildlife Service, felt that opening the mourning dove season in the south zone early would be a detriment to the breeding population in the south zone. Even so, the south zone is one of the breeding populations in Texas that is somewhat declining, even with the later opening of the normal south zone season, so we don't think that is a hunting issue at all.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Vernon, did the Council, Feds ever going to consider being able to trade, you know, you're talking about trading days forward in the early part, in back, that you've got a limited number and you've got to allocate between the two, there are a lot of people in South Texas, obviously, that enjoy better shooting in the second split. Are they ever going to consider, one, increasing the number of days so that we could add to the winter, or, you know, years ago we talked about half day. They don't give us any credit if we went to half day?
MR. BEVILL: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And maybe re-visiting that issue. You know the issue about half day? There's no reason to go from full day to half day right now, because we don't get any credit for it.
MR. BEVILL: I think that choice is ours, Mr. Chairman, and that choice would be taking our first split and moving days out of the end of our first split into the end of the second split.
We get 70 days in the south zone. We lose four of those days to the special white-wing season; then we split the regular south zone twice. We open it up on the Friday nearest the 20th of September, unless September 20 falls on Saturday, then we open it on Saturday. So, then we run that first split, which we are proposing here to run it from the 21st to the 11th of November. And then the second split, running it from the 26th of December to the 8th of January, which, in the rest of the south zone, goes to the 11th. I believe it's the 11th of January, 12th.
So if you wanted to make the rest of the south zone, the late south zone season match up across the board, you would have to take days out of the first split to do that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You'd have to take them out of the first split?
MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir. You'd have to take them out of the 21st to the 11th.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You couldn't begin the south zone on December 30th and end it on January 16th?
MR. BEVILL: Well, you could certainly do that, but the reason we were doing it the way we have been doing it is to accommodate kids that are out of school during the Christmas holidays.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. The idea was to — I remember always, Chairman Armstrong, working on that. I mean, that's the idea, John, is that's when kids are out of school between Christmas and New Year's, so you don't want to —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I understand that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, so you don't want to push back December 26th.
MR. BEVILL: It's interesting in that —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You need to talk to my son about that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I already raised three; I know about that.
MR. BEVILL: The cheapest days, in terms of hunter opportunity and bags to give up in any of the zones are the last few days of the first split and in the south —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Say that again. I'm sorry.
MR. BEVILL: You lose less, in terms of hunting activity and harvest opportunity, giving up the last four days of the first split, as you would any other time, and in the south zone, because it is a wintering zone, doves tend to stack up in the south zone in December and January. Hard to hunt them, a lot of times, in the south zone, because it is not enough hunting pressure put on them that they can just pick up and, after the first volley, and fly to another field and you don't have access to that field, so it's over.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So are you saying that it's a possibility that we could take four days off of November 11th, end it on November 11th and add it to January 12th?
MR. BEVILL: You would end on a week day, but you could end November 8th, 7th rather, and add those to the end of the January period and in the special white-wing zone area at the same time the regular —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You talking about that green zone?
MR. BEVILL: — the red zone.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Oh, we're back to that other deal.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: It wouldn't add any additional days on the normal south zone, make the white-wing zone and the south zone match.
MR. BEVILL: Match, yes, the winter season match up ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Take that early opportunity away.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Is there any possibility that the red zone and the special white-white dove area, is there any possibility that that zone could be expanded to include more area of south Texas?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You mean to the east?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: To the east.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, we talked about that, didn't we? First time, and they said they didn't have the research to support that.
MR. BEVILL: The issue there is, I really believe, we would only re-confirm with about $600-800,000 worth of expenditure on new research what was determined in the 1960s, that the fledgling rate on mourning doves is so significant in the south zone that they would not allow us to expand, so I think that we would only spend money to re-confirm what we already know, when I think there are other issues coming down the pike on doves that we would be better off saving that money to do research on.
So, that's my judgment.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Excuse me. If we're inclined to go past the January the 8th date, being sensitive to the youth, it would seem to me, we'd be better off moving it before the 26th because they generally get out of college and school before Christmas, so rather than tack on on the tail end, I think it would be smarter to tack it on, on the earlier, in other words, December —
MR. BEVILL: You're — the comment we get from dove hunters in the south zone is, later is better, and in fact Texas is the only state in the country that can actually go in our late split on doves to the 25th of January, so we have to —
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Right. Can we take days from the September 21st and December 11th and tack them before Christmas, because over the Christmas break is when —
MR. BEVILL: You can.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I think you would expose more youth to that season than tacking on past January the 8th. I'm thinking about going to the 21st or 22nd of December. That's what I was thinking.
MR. BEVILL: We have an old survey that we did, to get to this season structure we now have, and when —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That was in the '90s?
MR. BEVILL: Late '90s, and I could certainly pull that old research out and look and see what the opinion survey told us at that time about the interest of the hunters.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I would venture to say that most of the people that responded to that survey were over 22 years of age.
MR. BEVILL: Probably so.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It didn't affect them, didn't affect them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: If anything, go later; later is better, because the hunting is better.
Vernon, you made a comment about the south zone mourning dove population dropping, did I understand that?
MR. BEVILL: I think that I — did I respond to that?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You said you didn't think it was hunting pressure.
MR. BEVILL: It's not hunting pressure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can I ask your opinion at this point?
MR. BEVILL: Habitat, Coastal Bermuda pasture.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: How about mourning — how about white-winged pressure? Does that affect mourning doves?
MR. BEVILL: There is some empirical evidence, and it's mostly in the city environment, where colonies of white-wings are established and expand and that the prevalence of mourning doves begin to drop off, and I see that right in my own neighborhood where I live, but that's empirical observation.
We're working right now to expand our urban area surveys of mourning doves, I mean white-wings, because they're exploding all over the state of Texas.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I was going to tell you, over at Kingsville, we have a lease down there [inaudible] just in the last five years, the white-wings dramatically increasing over the mourning doves.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: We've got them 60 miles north of Abilene.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yeah, I know. I mean, they definitely — they're aggressive.
MR. BEVILL: We have a big breeding population in Amarillo.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Vernon, just so this discussion can go on the record, opening the north zone on August the 15th, as all my constituents keep asking me to do, is in violation of the International Treaty. Is that so?
MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Just wanted to make sure that question —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Go back to your constituents, right?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You can fix that though if you really worked at it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Spend for the rest of your life.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So, is there a desire at this point to look into this?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I would like to see staff look at, maybe, taking some days from that first split, like you say, and opening the season maybe the 21st of December, Friday, or right when the youth are getting out of school and stuff. I think we just give them an extra three or four days.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: You're talking about maybe the first 10 or 11 days in November?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes. Let's say you took five days from November the 11th, pushed September 21st. I'm indifferent to whatever would work there.
MR. BEVILL: You know, as we've been sitting here, I've been trying to resurrect in my brain the discussion of that time, and one of you back then said something to the effect that mama has the kids on the first four or five days that they first get out of school before Christmas, and then daddy gets them after Christmas.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: It wasn't me, because my kids head to the woods immediately. So anyway, it's just a thought.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It wasn't me, because neither of us have the kids.
MR. BEVILL: We can certainly look back and see, and maybe look at proposing it both ways and see what seems to fit.
MR. COOK: If I understood what you said, one of the — I think one of the important issues here that I believe you mentioned was that I think the preference would be from the Feds and everybody involved that we stay with what we have and finish this three-year study.
MR. BEVILL: As far as the zone line goes, we can't change the zone line without going back through a federal process.
MR. COOK: To have the continuity of the data, I suspect that, as far as looking at these opportunities, I think, you know, gentlemen, through the years, as Mr. Bevill and other folks here — we've tried a lot of things. Some of them have worked well; some of them have, you know, kind of indifferent. And we're certainly willing, within the framework that we've got to work with, to look at every opportunity, at y'all's pleasure.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So, shall we look at that, Donato —
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes. I mean, it's up to the Commission; I don't think it would hurt to look into it. I don't know if it would be that significant from a data standpoint, other than the fact that you're creating some opportunities for the youth which, you know, I think we need to continue to push that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Are you in the second year of the three years?
MR. BEVILL: We are in the beginning of the third year; we've done two years now.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, I'm glad to see that, in spite of any leadership in the regulations committee, these things still take just as long as ever.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And we're just getting started. So are we looking for an adjustment to that, prior to permission to publish, or are we —
MR. BEVILL: We have your guidance, I think, and we will go back and craft the Texas Register in a way that we can discuss that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Legal help here.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Wake up, Ann.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: If it's going to derail it, I don't want to push it. I just think it's something we ought to look at, maybe not this year; it may be too late, but I think —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I would, you know — why don't we take a look at taking a good look at that study and we're going to have other data that we can draw from, and look at it in the next cycle, but that would be my suggestion. But I would like to —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And get three of the three-year study.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And also put it off for another year, but look at expanding somehow that east of 1017 —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Take a good look at that dividing line, yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — southeasterly, down to —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — as well as some accommodation dates for increased opportunity. Okay. Any other discussion or questions? Thank you, Vernon.
MR. BEVILL: Thank y'all.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, if there are no further questions or discussion, I'll authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item Number 3, Proposed Changes to Nongame Permit Program, Permission to Publish, Matt Wagner.
MR. WAGNER: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Matt Wagner. I'm program director for Wildlife Diversity. I'd like to discuss with you today some proposed changes to our nongame permit program. Just to remind you, we have two types of nongame permits. We have a collector's permit required for those possessing more than 25 specimens and wishing to sell. We have both a resident and non-resident permit, and then dealers, for those requiring or wishing to purchase, and then re-sell, so just to clarify, the collectors can only sell to dealers. The dealers are then permitted separately and required to report annually to us.
Over the last several months, we've been looking at the data reported to us, and it's very clear to us that there's a growing demand for turtle meat to China and other foreign markets. Looking at the information over the last three years, we see an average of over 94,000 turtles per year collected or purchased by at least 50 dealers in the state, and then most of these are exported to overseas markets.
The regulation in other states is essentially a little tighter than Texas, although our reports are helping us determine that, but there is increased pressure coming from out-of-state collectors, and a huge growing demand for turtle meat. Some of the species involved in the turtle trade are box turtles — these are mostly collected for pets — diamond-back terrapin; and then fresh water turtles, including map turtle soft-shells; the common snapping turtle, and other species as well.
Now, at present, we've been reviewing the literature, and at least a dozen scientific publications indicate that the commercial harvest of wild turtle populations is essentially not sustainable. At some point, you will deplete the population. In June of '06, map turtles, of which we have four sub-species of map turtles in the state, were listed under CITES. This is a federal tracking system; they're in Appendix 3, actually, which is just an information reporting system, where the turtles originated and if they are legally harvested from those states.
Some southeastern states have actually prohibited the commercial collection of wild turtles, and most states are more restrictive than Texas. Our monitoring is being improved and expanded though, so we are tightening up on the reporting. We've had numerous meetings with the various interest groups, including seven herpetological societies. We had a nongame dealer meeting here in Austin; we've had approximately 300 participants total provide input to us. There is a very wide range of interest, but everyone agrees that sustainability is the goal.
Now, our key recommendations to you today, for consideration, would be to create a white list. All nongame on a proposed white list would be allowed to be commercially collected and reported to us. Any species not on that white list would then be prohibited from commercial collection. Annual reporting would be required for collection, purchase, and sale of species on the white list.
At the same time, we would prohibit the commercial collection and sale of all turtles except red-eared slider. And this is due to the natural history of turtles. Including the delayed maturity, many of these turtles don't reach maturity until at least six years of age. The dependence of the population on adult survivorship, which is key, high mortality of the young, restricted range from a lot of these turtles and then the loss of natural habitat, wetlands, and other important water features.
All of these factors contribute to this vulnerability to over-collecting. Now red-eared sliders are a little different, in that they really are opportunists in the turtle world. We've compared them to the American alligator, for example, if not managed, can actually become a nuisance species, but also commercially valuable. So, red-eared sliders, most of the professional groups, and there's a number represented in the room here, would agree that red-eared sliders probably are sustainable at some level.
At the same time, we want to improve our annual reporting right now. We get information on 34 different species of nongame, including about 20 turtles. There is no reporting on the activity, the commercial activity, of other nongame. The white list would actually expand the number of species that we would be getting information from, particularly snakes. But all other species would, of course, be prohibited for commercial use. So currently, you can see the list of critters that we are monitoring. The proposed list would expand nearly all species except turtles. The reporting would decrease from 13 to one, and all other turtles would be prohibited from commercial collection.
So we're requesting permission to publish rules, including the implementation of a white list, for the 85 nongame species. We want to propose a personal possession limit of six for those species not on the white list. We don't want a kid not to be able to pick up and keep a few turtles; that's important, so we would have a limited number that would be legal to possess.
We would prohibit the commercial collection of all turtles except red-eared slider. Then annual reporting would be required for species on the white list. In addition, we need to determine provisions for adding to or deleting species from that white list. That could be done through a simple petition. If a species looked like, depending on our information, was in trouble or being over-collected, we could take a species off that list. We could also add species to the list, depending on what the market determined and what we thought about the biology of the species.
We talked about how to handle people that already have these animals in possession. For those that are involved in commercial activity, we propose a 60-day period for divesting themselves of these critters, due through sale or some other means, but then grandfathering those for non-commercial purposes, for them to step forward, maybe, in a 12-month period, so we can identify who has these animals.
There's a lot of box turtles, for example, that some folks keep, really, as pets, or maybe they're rehabbers. We want a way for them to keep those animals, but not expand or not get into commercial activity.
So that is our proposal for you, and I'd be happy to answer questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions, discussion?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Matt, couple of thoughts. We clearly need to address it. Having been to China recently, I've seen a lot of turtles in markets, and I understand the demand side of this. I wonder ‑‑ over in the fishery, it seems pretty clear from a policy standpoint, that effective management regimes recognize the value of the resource, try to create value in managed quantity, rather than just allocate permits with unlimited quantities allowed under permits.
I don't know how that adapts to this circumstance, but I wonder if we could, from a policy standpoint, will you bring it back, look at alternative regimes that deal with sustainable quantities, rather than just issuing permits or banning something that then creates a black market, the creates a worse problem.
MR. WAGNER: We agree that sustainability is the goal here. At this time, we feel like there is such an unlimited demand, that there can be problems out there. We're trying to get a handle on it in certain areas of the state. But especially with red-eared slider, I think that there can be some rules developed, maybe a bag limit, maybe a season. Some states do go that route, so we would definitely look at that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mr. Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I have a couple of questions. First, before I ask my first question, I want to lay out a premise that I think that we all subconsciously adhere to at this table, that a people cannot feed a people off of the resources of a natural resource. I mean, beginning more than 100 years ago, first it was the passenger pigeon, then they started talking about waterfowl and it ‑‑ waterfowl evolved up to 1934 and so forth and so on, and the — even more presently, the Bob Kemp idea of catch and release.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Who gets —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But I'm wondering if there is ‑‑ then the other comment I want to hear you say is, how easily can you educate the hunting, trapping public to be able to identify a red-eared slider, just like that. Because I already know the answer to the question; it's difficult.
MR. WAGNER: We would need to engage in quite a bit of education, not just for the public, but, I mean, we're moving into an area here of demand for wildlife that hasn't been in demand before.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That's right.
MR. WAGNER: And we need to be able to train our game wardens, and we have got staff; we've got a lot of outside expertise willing to do that, and I think it's almost an exciting thing to think that, for the first time, turtles are ahead of white-tail deer on the agenda, you know.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hallelujah. I've accomplished something in the last six years.
MR. WAGNER: So, Mr. Chairman, it is definitely a matter of public knowledge. I think most of the public does not realize the demand for turtles —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I didn't.
MR. WAGNER: — and this has given us an opportunity to get in front of the issue and I think address it in a reasonable way that includes the sustainability angle.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And I realize we have a time tomorrow for public input, but they're limited to three minutes and I think this is a very, very serious situation that we have found ourselves in, within the last 60 to 90 days, or maybe for you, six months. I'm wondering is there anybody that you would like for us to hear from?
MR. WAGNER: Well, I'll just — I'll leave that up to you, but I would like to recognize our friend, Dr. Lee Fitzgerald. Would you raise your hand, Lee? There he is, over there. And Dr. Michael Forstner, and especially Dr. Jim Dixon, who is here with us today. And there are other experts, and forgive me if I don't remember everybody. Rick Hudson with the Turtle Alliance and others that support what we're doing. Some feel like we may not be moving fast enough, and I just —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Having said that —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner, point of clarification. It is not on the agenda tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay. It is not on the agenda tomorrow?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No, it is not.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Then I would like to hear from these experts today.
MR. WAGNER: If I may, I would like to — Dr. Lee Fitzgerald. I think he addressed you last time, and we would like for him to, if that's what your wish is —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Please. So, Dr. Fitzgerald?
DR. FITZGERALD: Good afternoon. My name is Lee Fitzgerald. I'm an associate professor in Wildlife and Fishery Sciences at Texas A&M University. I'm not exactly sure if you want a summary, or if you have a specific question. Mr. Parker?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I would like for you to give us an overall view of what the scientific community in our state thinks about this situation of commercialization of one of our natural resources as a food stuff for — and also, I would like for you to address what dangerous implications that this can have for human ingesting.
DR. FITZGERALD: Well, first, before I begin, I'd like to acknowledge this Commission for taking on this issue. You know, I appreciate your work, Dr. Cook, and your staff, Matt, and everyone that we've been talking to is doing a really good job and this is, to us, and I think it must be to you, too — this is a big deal. These are some pretty sweeping changes that you're discussing today. I think, above all, the scientific community is heartened by your attitude toward this issue.
I think I can summarize the broad consensus of the scientific community about turtle exploitation at several levels. One is what you were referring to, sir, about commercialization of wildlife. It's just the way that wildlife commercialization works everywhere in the world. Unregulated commercialization of wildlife benefits very few people, but it can cause great damage to our natural heritage.
I've worked on wildlife trades for over 20 years in North and South America, and these wildlife trades, turtles included, they're like selling Hoover vacuum cleaners, you know, a million salesmen for a million sales, but there's always a few individuals that make — that gain great livelihood out of these sort of loosely constructed trades.
I think that banning commerce on turtles is very appropriate, because of the biological attributes that turtles have, that you're all very familiar with. The — I think the question you're forced with is whether you want to allow commercialization of one species of turtle, which sort of means you're going to embark on the path of wildlife management for turtles, as opposed to saying, no, we're taking the decision not to take that step and we recognize that people might need to use and appreciate nongame wildlife for their own individual reasons, but not sell it.
There's the whole issue of turtle identification is a complicated one. Yeah, I think it's possible, in my opinion, I'm not really talking about the whole scientific community here. I think if you consider the way that, you know, fisherman identify various species or duck hunters identify ducks, yes, it's possible, but, you know, the user groups of wildlife can identify turtles. That's not too much of a stretch. But also, you know, when we have those kind of policies, we know there's going to be a lot of mistakes in identification made, which means that there has to be more of this wildlife management policy regimes to kind of deal with that and gauge that and monitor and then make continual adjustments to refine.
So, what I'm pointing out is that, you know, you may be opening, you know, somewhat of a Pandora's box by embarking on wildlife management for a turtle species. I think part of the reason that the red-eared slider was kept on the white list is because there's an attitude that, oh well, those red-eared sliders, those are generalist, opportunistic turtles species, so if there's a turtle out there that can take it, it would be the red-eared slider. Well, Dr. Wagner drew an analogy to the alligator, but we could extend that analogy a little bit, and I would like for you to consider that you shouldn't take the impression that red-eared sliders cannot be over-exploited. They certainly can be, just as the American alligator was.
And another thing that I've been thinking about today as we've been waiting for this is, if we're going to allow commercial take of red-eared sliders, I don't think they'll be driven to extinction or anything like that. They are — they can be over-exploited, which means that they'll have to go through a recovery period with lots of monitoring and management and research and what not.
But it also means that there will be fewer turtles out there, and I think back, my whole life, and I think a lot of people think of this — paddling the canoe down the stream and you see the turtles stacked up on the log and, you know, we appreciate that. That is a value that turtles have, and when, you know, when streams are fished for turtles, they become, you know, less visible and there's fewer of them out there. I think that's something we ought to consider, also, how people are using turtles that are not actually catching them and selling them.
I think that those are some of the fundamental comments I have about this issue. You asked about human ingestion of turtle meat, and I'm not an expert on that, but there are colleagues in the audience here who know much more about that than I do, and I think that they would be happy to explain to you that turtles are being taken from the same waters where fishing is prohibited because of risk of human consumption of those fish.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The question I had had to do with the red-eared slider, because my worry is, 60,000, let's say, other turtles now are going to be out in parks. So now, does the red-eared slider just — now, instead of 178,000 in volume, it will be 230,000. It seems to me we ought to have some regulation at this point. So we sort this along with banning all the other turtles. I'm worried about — wildlife management is what we didn't, so that in itself doesn't bother me, but it seems to me there should be some kind of regs, study period or something. In other words, I'm afraid it's just going to shift and now these individuals that are doing this legitimately at this point —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Do we feel that the annual reporting requirement would serve that purpose for the period of a year?
MR. WAGNER: Yes. Well, we've agreed —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — still instead of 178,000, it's 230,000.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: My point is, is it controllable within a year time frame?
MR. WAGNER: We can fashion some restrictions for red-ears and during this period. I mean, some states go with the season; some states go with the possession limit, something like that. At this time, we really don't feel like that is really an emergency, but we can certainly go that route. I mean, I think with the reporting that we're getting, we know who is involved in this activity; we know what counties these turtles are coming out of, and we can look more carefully at areas of concern if we need to, so we can definitely start working towards —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm sorry. I'm interrupting you. It still takes a period of time to, let's say, you discover all of a sudden it's going up dramatically. I assume these dealers who are not going to be able to buy these other 60,000 are going to look for a way to fulfill that need, as it's being driven by the marketplace, and exploit the red-ear. That's what I'm worried about.
MR. WAGNER: Chairman Fitzsimons, real quick.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, first Matt, I want to thank you for tackling this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And, because it's clearly an area where we need to develop some effective regulations to protect this resource. I mean we all, as Commissioner Parker said, we've learned through history that market hunting is not a sustainable practice. It's just — we've quit doing that in other areas a long time ago, but there is an economic demand here, and what I'm concerned about is creating that black market Commissioner Montgomery talks about where you may feel better about passing a regulation, but it doesn't really get the job done on the ground, so I want to make sure that you look at all the unintended consequences, in addition to the obvious ones.
I'm concerned that Texas is a vacuum, that we're attracting a lot of pressure that we wouldn't otherwise have, I mean, so we've got to address that. Am I correct in assuming that?
MR. WAGNER: Well, I think it's safe to say that there are — you know, research that Robert McDonald, our regs coordinator has done, essentially there are very few states that are more wide open than Texas. I mean we are getting the monitoring; we permit this activity, so we know where the problem areas are. We're on the verge now of what do we do with the information. I think we can fashion that. I think, you know, I don't want to give the impression that we're endangering, especially, red-eared slider. They are state-wide and abundant. They're opportunistic and in other words, they will live in habitats that most turtles wouldn't. So on private land, you know, where turtles or red-eared sliders are very common, I mean, we know the situation. I think we can work towards some sustainability there without a problem.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: What I want to make sure of is we come up with a regulation that's enforceable and that doesn't just create a black market and an enforcement nightmare for Pete and his folks, and really does solve the resource issue of exploitation.
Now, I've got to ask you. We started thinking there is that demand there. Is it practical to consider aquaculture, if that's the right term, farming and then again, how would you again identify a wild from a farmed?
MR. WAGNER: Well, you're talking about, really, a whole other dimension of this, and it is valid. Louisiana has a very extensive turtle-farming operation, actually permitted through their Department of Ag, I believe, but that activity would be permitted separately; it would have to be monitored. I mean, at some point, these farms do need to reinvigorate their populations for breeding purposes. I mean, China right now, a lot of these turtles that are being collected, the adults, are being used to establish Chinese turtle farms, extensive farming operations, and so they're actively getting in this business, and I think it is a viable alternative here in Texas. We need to do some more investigation. We've got good models with shrimp farming and other situations.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: If the market's there, it'll drive it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, but then you've got all those disease issues like we have in aquaculture, then you're worried that — they have to be cognizant of, spreading disease to the wild population, and all that.
Well, you know, I think you're doing — I think you're on the right track, but again, my concerns, you know, from my experience, is enforceability, make sure it's enforceable and make sure you don't have unintended consequences.
MR. WAGNER: David Sinclair is engaged every step of the way, and he has given us his input, and we're working very closely.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But clearly, you know, the day of market hunting is — should be long past.
MR. WAGNER: Commissioner Montgomery.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I won't repeat what the chairman said, but my concerns align with his. It seems, I think, in just a couple of other thoughts, I mean, we do — the morality of this is causing an emotional reaction. We do allow trapping; we do allow, you know, commercial fishing. We do allow a number of commercial things too. I think we want to not dramatize commercialization as inherently bad. We allow it in some places. I do think what you are describing is what I was trying to get at. It's not quantity for one person under a license, but, to the extent we separate both private and public. If we are going to allow some in public, that we have a sustainability from an environmental standpoint to me is great.
I think a good policy and one we adhere to in other places — we have a very broad practice across the Department of allowing private landowners to gain value from their resources, and therefore, to encourage conservation through value creation. Whether that's farming or taking wild populations, I don't know. I'm not prepared to make that decision.
But I would like y'all to come back with a range of options and managerial regimes, but recognize fundamentally, the demand is not going away. It will probably only grow. We have to anticipate an environment in which resource is probably more valuable, if we don't create mechanisms for people to manage it intelligently and kind of crowd out the black market, we will end up with a black market and end up tragedy of the commons that's playing out in these numbers right here, that you don't, do I, same direction there, definitely —
MR. WAGNER: Mr. Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: One more last thing. If we are going to do this, I would, with respect to public health, I would think that we would also want to hear testimony and receive evidence from our public health officials, because I think, me personally, I would rather err on the part of quickness, having to do with public health, than to sit back and do nothing until somebody says, the building's on fire.
MR. WAGNER: Ann.
MS. BRIGHT: I anticipated that. I'm Ann Bright, general counsel, and you know, there are really sort of two prongs to this issue and one is the one that really is within our purview and that has to do with sustainability of the species.
I think some of the public health issues have arisen because we did receive a petition for emergency rule making. I believe you're aware of that. And, you know, based on our biologist's opinion regarding sustainability of the resource, I don't believe that there is the feeling that there is an emergency.
The other issue that was raised, however, has to do with protection of human health, and there is an argument that the agency may have some authority, on an emergency basis, if there were something that was really serious. And what I would envision is, for example, is you had an outbreak of say, anthrax. You may have several agencies get together; they all adopt a rule quickly, and then you sort out who really has authority, because any emergency rule is only effective for 120 days. And then if you want a long-term rule, you have to have statutory authority.
As a result of the human health issues that have been raised, though, we have been in contact with the Department of State Health Services. I know that Matt has talked to a couple of people; I've talked to a couple of people over there. Yesterday, I had a pretty long talk with one of their attorneys, and one of the things he indicated is, if the turtles are being shipped live, they may or may not have authority over that.
They have limited authority; however, if they are, in fact, being sold for human consumption and we understand that they may be sold for human consumption in some Asian markets in Dallas and Houston, they're willing to go in and look at those and to take whatever appropriate action is necessary, and you know, we are working with them and they are more than willing to help out in dealing with any potential human consumption issues.
MR. COOK: Commissioner, I can make some comparisons here. When we had the first of the chronic wasting disease issues come up and the mad cow, whatever it was, you know. We dealt with some of those issues in a short period of time, on an emergency basis, but, at the same time, we worked very, very closely, day to day, minute to minute with Texas A&M Health Commission. We're doing the same thing here with these folks. Our purview is in, say, is the resource, and that's what we must base this on and work on and you too, to proceed per y'all's direction. We think this is something worthwhile; we think it's important, then we'll be moving forward as per your direction.
MS. BRIGHT: If I could just make a quick comment on our previous history regarding emergency rule making. In 1998, I understand that there was an emergency rule regarding redfish. In 2002, there was an emergency rule regarding CWD, which is the one that Mr. Cook just mentioned. In both of those, the justification was the resource, was sustainability of the resource.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: It seems to me, with the level of discussion we've had in this brief time today, that are we ready to make these proposed regulations changes, or do we need to submit this for further discussion prior to making them?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Well, I personally believe that we need to accept Matt's recommendation, because that gives us a starting point from which to launch.
MS. BRIGHT: You know, one option, if you are considering, for example, the red-eared slider, if you think there is the possibility that you're going to want to prohibit that one as well, what we could do in the proposal is go ahead and not include that on the white list. We could add it when it comes back to you in late May. You know, in proposing a rule, what we try to do is make sure that we make it as restrictive as possible, knowing that we may want to liberalize it when we come back, so that is also an option.
MR. COOK: Our recommendation is to go forward with a proposal, as laid out by Matt, come back to the Commission in May —
MR. WAGNER: Yes, sir.
MR. COOK: — and you know, we can decide at that point in time; we can extend at that point in time; we can broaden, their, you know, have a lot of places to go —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, that's the time, is it not, Ann, to consider your option of being more restrictive, or would it be now?
MS. BRIGHT: Actually, we would —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Do it now.
MS. BRIGHT: — probably we'd want to make it less restrictive, generally. Usually, it's kind of a rule of thumb that we've used, in terms of ability to change a proposal without having to go through the republication process. Is that what you —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. We can — we don't have to republish it, if the change is less restrictive —
MS. BRIGHT: — is less restrictive.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It would be more restrictive now.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, so the idea — so what you're saying, we can make a recommendation now, make it more restrictive, and then after public input and comment —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Have the benefit of public input as well. Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, have the benefit of all the public comment and testimony, and then if the Commission decides in May to be less restrictive, it may, without a republication, and you don't lose time.
MS. BRIGHT: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Well, so then you're saying that we can include the red-eared slider on the white list now?
MS. BRIGHT: No.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The opposite; take it off.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: There's nothing on the white list now.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It would be added to.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The proposal would be prohibit all.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You prohibit it also.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You prohibit all, and then — that's what I'm thinking.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Then speak to some of the concerns that have been raised by the various Commissioners at the next meeting, right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You take them all off.
MS. BRIGHT: Another issue I want to just point out, because this is going to be an issue in the rule proposal. Whenever we're proposing a rule that's going to have an impact on a small business, we have to do a fairly extensive small business analysis. Whenever a rule is challenged, that's one of the first things that a challenger will look at, and so knowing kind of what the world is will help us a lot in preparing this small business impact.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And to get the health issues within the boundaries of the state of Texas involved, at that time.
MS. BRIGHT: And we can definitely do that.
MR. WAGNER: Yes, we can look at — just for your information, we did some looking. There is a ban on fish consumption in about four or five counties in the Trinity River, but when you look at our data, only a relatively small number of turtles were coming from that immediate area. So we know they're underreported, but at this time, we don't feel like there's an emergency.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: If everybody's telling the truth.
MR. WAGNER: Right. That's the question.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mr. Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I don't know if you're ready to entertain a motion on this issue, but I would —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other discussion? I think we're, what did you say? We're not?
MS. BRIGHT: Well, there's no motion.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right. There's no need for a motion. We're just —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes, just to instruct the staff that —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Correct. Any other questions, discussion?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That the red-eared slider be on it, on the ban list.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: To make it as restrictive as possible. That was what I was going to suggest.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Motion to — recommendation. Okay, so we'll go with that. Thank you, Matt. Appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You did a good job.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. No further questions or discussions, I authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item Number 4, Amendments to the Public Lands Proclamation and Permission to Publish, Matt, or excuse me, Mike.
MR. BERGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. I'm Mike Berger, Wildlife Division Director. I'm glad to be here before deer, as well. We have some housekeeping amendments today to propose for the — regarding the Public Lands Proclamation and later one under the State Parks Proclamation.
The first of these has to do with the off-highway trails fee and decal. This fee was established upon the purchase, development and maintenance of off-highway vehicle trails, as part of a program administered by the Department, and our intent with that was, with respect to the funding, was to rely on the true off-road vehicle or off-highway vehicle enthusiast to fund the recreational trails program for that purpose.
And we've determined that the use of mobility-enhancing conveyances by disabled persons, participating in our public hunting lands program isn't really consistent with that policy, and that they should not be subject to the fee, so basically, this proposal is when disabled persons or their assistants come to State Park and Wildlife managed areas for public hunting, that their vehicle would not be required to pay that fee or to have that decal affixed.
The next three items are related and are necessary, in order to comply with federal requirements that oblige the Department to keep the funds from the sale of permits for access to state parks separate from the funds for the sale of special permits for access to wildlife management areas. So these proposed amendments would acknowledge that decision by rule, and the effect of the proposal are non-substantive and they do not create any new fees, nor impose any existing fees ‑‑
So the first of these is to establish a definition of special access permit. That goes in 65.191, a Special Access Permit. The second part of this in the 65.193, a section called Access Permit Required and Fees, applies that definition, special access permit in a number of places, so that it becomes a required item, and the third part is in the State Parks Proclamation, where we have established fees for the access permit as part of the state park regulations, and this would establish the fee for the special access permits.
It's $75 for up to three days and $125 for more than three days, up to five days. These are the fees that are in place right now; there's no change. It just establishes them as the fees for the special access permit. And that's our little housekeeping proposals.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions? Discussion, questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thank you, Mike. If there are no further questions or discussion, I authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item Number 5, Amendments to Deer Management Permit Rules and Trap, Transport, and Transplant Rules, Permission to Publish, Mitch Lockwood. We finally got to deer.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I am Mitch Lockwood, and I'm the statewide white-tail deer program leader. Today, I will brief you on a proposal to modify the changes of our — of rules pertaining to our deer management permit, commonly referred to as a DMP and our trap, transport, and transplant permit, commonly referred to as triple T, with the intention of simplifying these permitting processes, and also an attempt to recover all costs in the administration and apportionment of these programs.
Now, I presented this proposal to our White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee and to Texas Wildlife Association's Deer Management Committee last week and received favorable responses. But there are a couple of items that we'll go through today that did generate quite a bit of discussion in our White-tailed Deer Advisory committee meeting, and I would like to share those comments with you, because we'll be seeking your guidance on how we should proceed on those two items, and whether or not we should modify this proposal before going to the Texas Register this Friday.
Those things that we've proposed pertains to the rule, pertain to the DMP application. Current rule states that changes to an approved or previous deer management plan shall be considered as a new application. Now this rule makes a distinction between new permit applications and applications for permit renewals, because there's a difference in the fee between the two; for the permit renewal having a fee of $600 and a new application having a fee of $1,000.
There's an assumption, I think, that the permit renewals carry less overhead with them, that we're able to turn them around more quickly. In reality, permit renewals have demanded more of our time for processing because of this rule, because we do have to determine whether or not any changes have been made to that deer management plan since last year, such as a change in the size of the facility, or an additional gate, or what have you.
And so we have designed a much more efficient process that would allow us to process all DMP applications, whether you're a first time applicant or you've had a permit for five years, we propose to process all applications consistently, which will allow us to be more efficient and will be a more user friendly program. And therefore, we propose to simply strike this language from the rule.
Next, we recommend a change to the composition of the respective review panels. You may recall that a permit applicant may request a review, an agency decision to deny or delay a permit issuance. This is true of all deer permits, but these various review panels that we have were not created simultaneously; they've been phased in through time and, as a result there are some inconsistencies between these different review panels.
It is our belief that the review panel for TTT and DMP permits should include senior management, and should be consistent with the review panel of the scientific breeder's permit, and therefore, we propose to add the Deputy Executive Director for Operations and remove the Regional Director and the White-tail Deer Program Leader from these two review panels.
Regarding the number of deer that may be detained within a DMP, the current rule states that no more than one buck or 20 does may be detained between September 1st and January 31st. Including these dates in the rule is somewhat confusing, because the fact of the matter is, the way we've been operating these programs is to allow that permitee to continue to detain these same 21 deer all the way through the end of August, through August 31st.
And so, we're — except, of course, during those latter months, May, June, July, and August, they're likely to have fawns in those pens as well. And so we're attempting to simplify and clarify this rule by simply stating that, regardless of the permit period, at no time may a DMP facility contain more than one buck and 20 does, except for the offspring or the fawns that are the products of those 21 deer.
Now this is one of the items that did generate quite a bit of discussion at our White-tail Deer Advisory Committee meeting last week. Some permitees would like to hold on to these fawns or rear them in these pens as long as possible, ostensibly to increase fawn survival.
In fact, there's at least one advisory committee member that would prefer a permit period that would extend 12 months from the date of purchase. For example, one may choose to wait until November 1st, for example, to purchase or activate a DMP, which would then allow that person to take those fawns that are born the next summer in that pen and hang onto those fawns and rear them in that pen all the way through October 31st, for that example.
And again, one may prefer to do this with the hopes of increasing fawn survival. I should say that there are some researchers on the advisory committee who suggested ‑‑ provided some arguments suggesting that, while fawn survival, or fawning rates rather, are indeed higher in pen facilities, actual overall recruitment, actual recruitment of fawns into the population could very well be lower for fawns that are reared in a pen, as opposed to fawns that are dropped and reared out in the pasture.
They provided some justification to support their claims. The argument, or the discussion, really went from there to center our focus on what the true intent of the DMP is. TPW code states that the intention of the DMP is for propagation purposes. Our rules, adopted immediately after, state that a DMP is for natural breeding purposes only. And so there are a number of members on this committee who are concerned that this DMP program has evolved to allow for practices that are permitted under a whole other permitting program altogether, the Scientific Breeding Program.
And last on this topic, I think it's important that I note when we presented this to TWA's deer management committee, a couple of their members who are real active in advising and consulting with a number of DMP permitees — they have been involved in this program from the beginning — and they specifically recalled and wanted to point out that, based on their recollection, it was always their understanding that the intent of this program was, indeed, to improve or increase the breeding success of one exceptional buck, but then to release that buck and those 20 does soon after breeding.
So, having covered that, this is where I kind of punt to you, and I'm seeking your guidance as to how we should proceed with this item, whether or not we should modify this proposal. It might be a good idea if I briefly summarize the three options as we see them.
The agenda item that you received does not propose to change the mandatory release date of August 31st. One option as we see is to completely alter the structure of the Deer Management Program to allow for a permit period that extends 12 months from the date of purchase. Another option would be to modify the regulation to allow for, or rather, to require the release of deer very soon after breeding, where those does would then fawn out in the pastures.
And then, finally, the third option that we recognize would be that we continue with the 12-month permit program that extends as it currently does from September 1st to August 31st, which of course, would continue to allow these fawns to be born and reared in the pens all the way through August 31st. So that third option really wouldn't be a change.
And again, this is — we're kind of seeking your guidance.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mitch, August is a pretty bad time to be releasing deer; that's a lot of stress.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, one of these researchers that I referred to earlier has quite a bit of experience, from breeding operations to all kinds of wildlife research over the years, and he concurs completely with what you've just said. His experience is that fawning, or rather deer survival, fawns and adults is much higher when released in the spring of the year as opposed to when released in the fall of the year. And there are some reasons, or at least speculations, as to why that may be, but yes, sir, there are committee members that agree with that comment.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay, and just one other comment, rather than question is since I was around in those discussions — I guess I was chairman of Private Lands back then when I did the DMP — the memory of those TWA members is correct. That's — now it wasn't so much that it was one buck and 20 doe, but clearly, that the intent was that the deer be released after the fawning season and that was the discussion, if my memory is correct.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And it was fairly split at the advisory committee?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, what I tell you is there was not a clear consensus.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: What is wrong — what's the, in essence, what is the objection to releasing right after the breeding season, where the does have their fawn and, just like any other doe?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, the idea is if you have fawns in a pen, you give them all the food they need, all the water they need, perhaps protecting them from predators to some extent. And they do report very high fawning rates; some of these permitees do, no question about it. But, some of these permitees also report very high fawn mortality when those gates are open. And I won't expand on the potential reasons for that, unless asked, but the idea again is there's a belief by some that the longer they rear fawns in a pen, the higher fawn survival they will end up with.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And if you raise them in a pen, aren't you creating an artificial environment to where when you release them, aren't you, to some extent, shocking the animal, as compared to letting the doe be bred and then immediately releasing it, to where the fawn is born in the environment that it was designed to be born in? Is that not an argument?
MR. LOCKWOOD: That is an argument shared by some
of those committee members, and I'd prefer to comment on some of their comments, as opposed to maybe providing my particular opinion, but one idea along the lines of what you're saying is that the room and flora of fawns that are pen-reared is different than the room and flora of fawns that are reared in the pasture. And one member, in particular, spent quite a bit of time discussing this with the Committee, and questioned whether those fawns are able to adjust or adapt to that native vegetation when released. It was no surprise to this committee member that some of these DMP permitees are seeing a high fawn mortality when the gates are opened. It didn't surprise them at all.
And it could be because of that room and flora; it could be, because as Chairman Fitzsimons mentioned earlier, the spring of the year is obviously a time when the pastures are wearing their Sunday britches, forbes, good nutrition out there, good fawning conditions, relatively speaking. And so, there are a number of people who commented similar to what you just provided.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Montgomery?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Do I understand right that the policy of this program is to allow plan owners to breed an outstanding buck and then release but not to turn in to a scientific breeder program?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: It may be consistent with that policy to just give the landowner that flexibility and let them make that choice.
MR. LOCKWOOD: In terms of when they — give them the choice of when to release?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes, through August 31st. Would that be consistent with the policy of the program?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Try one more time, please.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Would it be consistent with the policy of that program, the policy you just said was the policy of the DMP program to give the landowner the choice of when to release those fawns by August 31st?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, I see that as an option. I'm having — the reason I'm struggling here is to say whether or not it's consistent with the intent of the rules. That, obviously, generated quite a bit of discussion at our meeting. And some say if it's for natural breeding purposes only, then that would not include fawn rearing, and so that was the argument that I would rather defer to their discussions as opposed to interjecting self.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, what you're suggesting would provide some flexibility, assuming there is no —
MR. LOCKWOOD: To be fair — I want to be fair and make sure I do completely address all the sentiment that came out of that committee and one suggestion, Chairman, was indeed to allow the landowner that flexibility. What landowner would knowingly do something that he knew would result in lower fawn survival, and it may be more of an education effort, to teach them how you might behoove yourself by releasing these fawns earlier, and kind of take that approach. That was, indeed, a suggestion at that meeting.
MR. COOK: And that, Mitch, is basically what that proposed rule does. It leaves the landowner flexibility. He could turn them loose February 1st; he could turn them loose April the 1st; he could turn them loose August 31st.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir. And what you see in front of you right now would basically say that, at no time may you hold more than one buck, 20 does and their offspring, the following summer. Release them when you want, but no later than August 31st.
MR. COOK: I think that's — in other words, that's where you were coming from — is the commission comfortable with that policy.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right. I think — I understand your confusion a little bit, just determining how it's written, but, okay — so, do you want to carry on a little bit and then we'll —
MR. LOCKWOOD: Follow your lead. If that's what you'd like — treat is as a ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Let me just clarify one more point. From a biological standpoint, is there an agreement that if you release them in August as compared to the spring, that you're going to have a greater mortality?
MR. LOCKWOOD: There's not a consensus. No, sir. There is some science, but that's one of those items that there will continue to be some debate on. Those that suggest higher survival in the spring of the year will provide some new information to give people to chew on.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So I think at this point, we can just say that we will carry forward with staff recommendation on this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And if that new science comes out and gives them that, then they have the flexibility to release them earlier, just because of the no later than.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Okay. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Did we help you at all?
MR. LOCKWOOD: You helped me a great deal. I didn't know what to do. Currently, our DMP rules also state that no trapping of deer under DMP may take place between March the 2nd and August 31st. This rule is misleading, because it implies that one may trap deer for DMP on March the 1st, which is not the case. Since the intent of the rule is for natural breeding purposes only, we do not permit the trapping of deer beyond a date in which there is a high probability of trapping pregnant does.
In order to maintain the intent and the integrity of this program, we refer to data collected from our state-wide breeding chronology study, and we use those dates to establish cut-off dates. When's the last date that you can trap a deer for each eco region, and those data indicate, as I'm sure we all know, that south Texas does have the latest breeding season for white-tails in the state, with December the 14th being the last day when there is not a high probability of trapping a pregnant doe. And, therefore, we propose to clarify this rule by stating that nowhere in Texas may you trap a deer after December the 14th for DMP.
Now if this is adopted, we would include a table in the application packet that would show these various cut-off dates for each ecological region in the state. Obviously, the Post Oak Savannah has an earlier breeding season and, therefore, would have an earlier cut-off date.
Next, we propose to eliminate the ear-tagging requirement. Current rules require that all adult deer in a DMP facility be ear-tagged, and we've determined that this practice isn't necessary. It really provides little value to the Department, and so we propose to simplify the rule and provide a little more flexibility by eliminating this requirement.
This proposal would not exclude somebody, or prohibit, rather, somebody from tagging deer legally detained in a DMP, which some people like to do. There was quite a bit of discussion on this item at the White-tail Deer Advisory Committee meeting. There are some on the Committee that recommended that the Department prohibit ear-tagging for any DMP deer. Where others see the value being that it could provide some insight as far as fawn survival. It also enables people to do what's common practice, and that is to locate those fawns again next year under a new permit, when they're yearlings, of course; trap them again, bring them back to that DMP for breeding purposes.
Those that would like for us to prohibit ear-tagging are concerned again that this program has kind of evolved into one that allows for practices such as line breeding that are allowed under another permit altogether, that this scientific breeding program.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Excuse me. Does that mean, then, that you could tag fawns?
MR. LOCKWOOD: This rule, if adopted as proposed in the draft agenda item you received, would not require you to tag deer, but would allow you to tag any deer in the DMP.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — which could have some research relevance. Is that your feeling?
MR. LOCKWOOD: It could have some research relevance. Some of the discussion at the advisory committee meeting was research oriented, and a suggestion was, well, let's do that under a research permit. That was one suggestion.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Is there any issue — law enforcement issue with this?
MR. LOCKWOOD: No, sir. Law enforcement supports the elimination of this requirement 110 percent.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good question. Any other questions, discussion on that?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Law enforcement just needs to count heads. And so, just for clarification, unless you would like to wait, Chairman, this is an item where we come seeking your guidance, too, as to whether or not we should stick with what we've got or modify this proposal.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I suggest we stick with what we have, simplifies and people want to tag, they can tag.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Okay, thank you. Next, we propose more flexible standards for the liberation of DMP deer. Current rules require that one remove at least 100 continuous yards of fence, or open at least 100 continuous yards of gate, for a period of at least 60 days to facilitate the release of these deer.
Our rules allow us — I'm sorry, but our rules allow us to approve exceptions to this 100 yard or 60-day rule, which we commonly do. We have made so many exceptions over the years that we've come to believe that requiring an opening of only 20 feet would suffice. In fact, we think it would be fine to allow multiple openings to meet this 20-foot requirement, so long as no opening is less than 10 feet wide.
For example, instead of laying down 100 yards of fence, this proposal would allow you to open two 10-foot gates on the opposite ends of the pen, for example, and that would suffice. We also believe that keeping these gates open for a period of only 30 days would be sufficient to facilitate this release. This latter component would be beneficial to those who are operating in areas with earlier breeding seasons. Let's take that Post Oak Savannah, for example, that has a mid- to late-October peak rut. They need to start trapping early. Some of them may want to start trapping September 1st.
Current rules will not allow one to start trapping deer for DMP on September 1st, unless you get the deer that are currently in your pens out of there by the end of June. As we've discussed, some people like to hang onto those fawns later, hopefully to increase survival. This proposal would allow one to hang onto those fawns all the way to the end of July, and still begin trapping again September 1st. And again, a lot of people want to hang onto those deer all the way to the end of August. Current rules won't let them start trapping until November; this rule would allow you to start trapping in October.
And so again, this would help those that are needing to start trapping earlier, because of these cut-off dates we propose.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Discussion, comment?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Real briefly, there was not much discussion at all on that item. Everybody kind of — they liked that idea on the advisory committee, but they did bring to our attention a couple of oversights in the existing regulations, and that is, one of the rules says that you also have to remove your artificial feed and water when you open your gates, and the rule says for 60 days. Of course, we're proposing to make that 30 days, but the regulation does not specifically say that the water and food must be removed during that same 60-day period.
And so, there is — there really is a loophole there that could allow someone to detain these deer indefinitely. Our advisory committee — there was a consensus on this, that they recommended that we do clarify this to state that food and water has got to be gone the same time that the gates are open, during that liberation period, and we ask your permission to make that change before we publish.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Seems reasonable. Okay.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I hate to raise this issue, but let's say you have a stock tank with artificial —
MR. LOCKWOOD: A stock tank would be fine.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: What are you doing down there, Donato?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Stock tanks — we don't have any; only well water; it's all run-off, what God gives us. Everybody in Texas has got to fill those in. That would be a valuable resource that's going to waste.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I can't wait to tell them that.
MR. LOCKWOOD: We're getting fairly close here. The other item that they saw as an oversight. A couple of the Advisory — actually, several — of these members, are advisors, or consultants to those with these permits, and they informed us that there are a number of pens out there at DMP facilities that have gates that actually open into another small enclosure, like a five-acre pasture, if you will.
And again, allow them to have a modified breeder operation, and there was consensus on this item in that they recommended that we clearly state that the gates you're opening need to be exterior gates that open to the pasture in which the deer were captured. And we'd ask your permission to make that clarification, as well.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No halfway house. Okay.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Okay, last part; not last slide, but last part of this proposal, and that is the fees. Again, the last component is to try to recover all costs associated with the enforcement and administration of these permits. We're operating under the same philosophy that this Commission proposed and endorsed a little over a year ago when we increased the scientific breeder fees, and that was to recover all costs associated with administering this program, that program.
In addition, Parks and Wildlife code states that the state may not incur any expense for the trapping, transporting, transplanting of game animals and game birds, under a TTT. In FY 'O6, the Department incurred a cost nearing $121,000 for processing applications, performing site inspections, observing and enforcing compliance, and even prosecuting violations to TTT regs, again, about $121,000 of expense. During that same permit period, the revenue was approximately $13,500.
So, our first attempt to recover costs is to modify or limit the number of release sites that we can include on a TTT application. The current rule allows for one application to have multiple trap sites and multiple release sites. For $180, you can have one application with one release site or one application with six release sites. Obviously, it costs us far more money to conduct site inspections or browse surveys, habitat evaluations on six sites than one. That $180 comes nowhere near covering the cost of processing an application with only one release site, and therefore, our first attempt here was to limit the number of release sites per application to one.
Now there was a recommendation from our advisory committee pertaining to this, that I'd like to bring that back to you in just a moment. The next effort or attempt to recover costs has to do with the fee increase itself. Again, $180 allows you to trap, transport, and transplant deer in the state, and it's not allowing us to make ends meet. We propose to just make ends meet, to increase that fee to $750. That would allow us to recover — just recover the cost for one release site, an application with one.
Now, having said that, our White-tail Deer Advisory Committee and Texas Wildlife Association's Deer Management Committee expressed no concerns, voiced no concerns regarding this fee increase. But our advisory committee did recommend that we continue to allow for multiple release sites on an application, but to impose a fee of $750 for each release site that is on the application.
In other words, they were fine with the fee increase, but they advise that we continue to try to make this process as simple as possible, reduce the amount of paperwork. We concur; we continue to strive to simplify all permitting processes or regs in general. And so, with your permission, we would ask to change what is in your draft agenda item to say that we would continue to allow for multiple release sites, but to impose a fee of $750 per release site.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: How many TTTs do we issue?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, we had, in the fiscal year that we looked at, which was last fiscal year, we had 163 release sites for TTT permits.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And typically, for a TTT permit, how many release sites do you normally have on average, per TTT permit?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, this grows each year. For the purpose of establishing a proper fee to recover costs, we focused on the most recent fiscal year that we had data for, and that was 163 sites. We speculate that that number will continue, especially if there were no changes here, would continue to increase annually.
We saw a dip early on, because of the CWD testing requirements for trap sites, but we have seen it start to climb again. So, I certainly speculate that it will be higher than 163 release sites, and continue to climb annually, but that's speculation.
And finally, we are attempting to make a similar modification to our deer management permit fees. As I mentioned earlier in this presentation, currently there is a different fee between renewals and new applications, a difference of $400, but I also explained that the renewals actually have required more of our time. We do propose a more efficient process, where all DMP applications are treated in the same manner and therefore, all impose the same fee of $1,000.
This would, based on our calculations, just recover costs for enforcing and administering this program, and this is the maximum amount allowed under statute.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And the fee discussion at the advisory committee, everyone was —
MR. LOCKWOOD: Both the White-tail Deer Advisory Committee and TWA's Deer Management Committee voiced no concerns. In fact, our advisory committee provided suggestions on how we could continue to make it simpler and still receive that same fee.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good.
MR. LOCKWOOD: I don't know what's happening behind at the coffee shop afterwards, but —
Commissioners, this does conclude my presentation. I believe I received clear guidance on how to proceed. Just for clarification, we will change what is in front of you before publishing Friday, for those items where staff concurs and there was consensus from the advisory committee. And those items where there was not consensus, we'll make no changes to.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much. Any more questions or discussions for Mitch? Mitch, thank you very much. Appreciate all your efforts.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you, Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. If no further questions or discussions, I authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
We're making headway. Committee Item Number 6, 2007-2008 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation, Ken.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Good afternoon, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski, with the Inland Fisheries Division, and today, I'm going to go over our proposals that we brought before you in January and give you a summary of what we received in the way of public comment. The first proposal we're dealing with is for Lake Texoma. The current regulation there on striped bass allows a daily bag of 10 fish and the possession limit there is also 10, which is twice the statewide daily bag, which is 5, not the Texoma daily bag.
We did make a proposal to make a change there, to change the possession limit for striped bass to 20, which would be twice the Texoma daily bag. Hopefully, that will alleviate some of the angler confusion we've had on that. We don't think it will have any biological impact; the population can handle that. We still have a few differences with Oklahoma, but those are due to some definitions of final destination on products and we really can't handle that in the context of this.
We did — the comments we did receive on this were mostly for this proposal. All of these were received by the way of our website. We did have a public hearing in Sherman there, and we didn't receive any comments on the proposal at that time at that meeting.
The next one is extending the legalization of bow fishing for catfish. When we did that last year —
MR. KURZAWSKI: That was hesitation. No, that was implemented last year for one year and will expire this August 31st. We started collecting information on that, game warden, bow angler contacts and survey of bow anglers. Most of that was done, actually, prior to the change was implemented, mostly in the spring and the summer prior to the change, so we are proposing to extend that change for another year and, hopefully, collect a little bit more information.
We did receive a number of comments on that, mostly for, and a few against, and we did — all of these, except for one were received off our website, and at one of the public hearings, one person did show up to speak against that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's all 180 bow fishermen in the whole state.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Are we seeing a trend?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Are we seeing a trend, yes.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Based on that, we wouldn't recommend any changes to the proposal. I'll take any questions, if you have any.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Do we have any data on numbers for bow fishermen?
MR. KURZAWSKI: No, we really don't. The few bow-fishing groups we did try to do a survey — I contacted them. I think we had received about 80 or so surveys back. Just a lot of them are reluctant to give you — directly give you mailing lists, things like that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Let me ask you a question. Has our philosophy of catch and release changed in any way, shape, or form?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, we don't have a, you know, for catfish we do allow them to harvest, you know, under regular means and methods, to, you know, harvest some fish. We're all, you know, we still support harvest of catfish, but we do have, you know, selective harvest.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But if they're under length, they're encouraged to —
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — return them to the water.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Return those fish under the size limit.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We're split on the catfish.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, thanks. Mike.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: You think that was an accident?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, we know you'd already gone forward.
MR. BERGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Mike Berger, Wildlife Division Director. I'm here today to talk about our proposals for wildlife parts of the changes to the statewide.
The first of these has to do with the spring Rio Grande turkey season. Two years ago, we modified this season to add some extra opportunity. We changed the season's length by a week and we eliminated the north and south zones. In the process of monitoring and evaluating these changes, we determined that the 44-day season length is fine, but that hunting opportunity could be further optimized by reinstituting the zone system and allowing south Texas to open earlier, and we propose that the north Texas season run a little later.
This was the zone mapped as it is for the turkey season in progress right now, and this would be the turkey map as a result of the change. The south zone in yellow that you see there would open the Saturday closet to March 18th and the north zone in red would open the Saturday closest to April the 7th and both seasons would run for 44 days and would be gobblers only.
We did discuss this proposal in depth with the Game Bird Advisory Board, and they were very supportive of the proposal; however, during the comment period, we did receive a number of comments and this was — they were 103 to 68 in opposition to the proposal. And the most usual item discussed there was the delaying of the opening of the north zone.
Most of the comments that were opposed to the proposal, or a large number of them, indicated they would prefer the season in the north zone open as it is now, at the Saturday closest to April 1st, and since this is not a biological issue, not a resource issue, I think I would recommend that you would modify that proposal, to allow the north to continue to open Saturday closest to April 1st and run for 44 days. So, really, we would only be changing the season date in the south.
Next item is some mule deer housekeeping. You'll recall that a couple of years ago, we adopted rules to eliminate double tagging or the use of tag off the license, when we're issuing a different kind of tag like an MLD, or LAMPS, a special drawn hunt permit on WMAs, et cetera, and when we issued those rules, we inadvertently failed to include the general antlerless mule deer permits on there. So this proposal, if adopted, would eliminate the double tagging of antlerless mule deer taken under the authority of the general antlerless mule deer permit. And the comments on that were 57 in favor and 15 opposed, so it was in support.
Also, when we implemented the mule deer MLD program a few years ago, we inadvertently failed to make provision for the archery mule deer season, and so we propose to make the mule deer — the MLD permits for mule deer valid for the archery season with archery equipment only, as well. And that was widely supported, too, 88 to 13 in favor of that proposal.
With regard to the archery deer season, we had heard from the archery deer-hunting community and they were expressing the desire to have the — some additional time and this is that period that was closed between the end of the traditional archery season and the start of the general season. There was a five-day period in there when the season was closed, and so this was a proposal to add those days to the archery season prior to the opening of the general firearm season. Again, this was — we heard from a lot of archers and they're in favor of that 139 to 39, in favor of that proposal.
With regard to lesser prairie chickens, the proposed regulation changes would give our field staff working in prairie chicken areas more flexibility to enroll more landowners in the managed lands prairie chicken program. Most landowners interested in the program are already conducting a number of habitat management activities that are chicken friendly, and so therefore, the requirement of five, we feel is a little overly restrictive and it could be reduced to three.
And then, because of the lecking behavior, the behavior of the males on the booming ground and their large home ranges, they use habitat that is often provided by a number of landowners, not restricted to one landowner. For example, the nesting and feeding areas may be on one landowner, while the leck or the booming ground is on another landowner. And so, the variability in landownership sizes can make issuing permits challenging, especially when the birds are spending only a small amount of time on one habitat component.
So, increasing the harvest or allowing the harvest to increase to 10 percent would allow our biologists to make issuance of these permits more equitable to the landowners in the program and encourage more participation and improvement in lesser prairie chicken management.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How many landowners do you have signed up currently?
MR. BERGER: In the program, I would imagine now there are about a dozen; I'd have to get that number for you, but we —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Are there any in the southern area?
MR. BERGER: Yes. They're in both parts. In fact, I think more are in the southwest, Panhandle —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But the acreage is over 100,000 acres in how many of those 12?
MR. BERGER: I'd have to get that for you. I don't know that it is that large, but that might be — but that might be better; large acreages. 55 to 7 in favor of this proposal, so that was endorsed as well.
Javelina; we were — had been petitioned by a private landowner to allow additional hunting opportunity on javelinas in south Texas by increasing the bag limit. At the last Commission meeting, you authorized us to publish a proposal to allow javelina hunting under a managed land's format that is currently widely in place for deer.
Under this proposal, there would be requirements for collection of population and harvest data and habitat management. So that proposal was out there; it was a little closer, but it was 56 to 45 of commenters in favor of that javelina program.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Say that again.
MR. BERGER: 56 to 45 in favor, and I'll update these numbers for you tomorrow, to see if any more's come in.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Is the data requirement for this the same as for, say, a deer?
MR. BERGER: It would be similar. We would want t have some population estimate and we'd want harvest records, and we'd want habitat management practices. Two years.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Will the harvest record include the hunter's name?
MR. BERGER: I believe they normally keep those records, yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But do they turn them in to you-all?
MR. BERGER: What we're usually interested in are the biological data and not the hunter's name.
MR. COOK: It's not required on deer.
MR. BERGER: No, it's not.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Never has been.
MR. BERGER: On the MLD permit itself, of course, the hunter has to have his name on there, as it's a transport thing. This slide just shows where the javelina seasons are now, that it's a year-round season in the south and a shorter season —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I think Mike addressed the worry that I've heard, certainly, about javelinas, and I think you've seen some articles and stuff. I mean, there are going to be areas that there's not going to be any permits, because there's no javelinas or there's a real shortage of javelinas in certain parts of the state.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It's not uniformly distributed.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, it's not.
MR. BERGER: That's what we discovered when we evaluated this petition —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. BERGER: — that there are areas that their habitat is sufficient, javelina populations are sound and strong, and you can make a harvest recommendation on those areas.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Now will those — those are annual permits?
MR. BERGER: Those are annual permits, yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So we will have a record of somebody holding these, this permit, and we will know how many javelina that person has harvested under this permit?
MR. BERGER: Yes, sir. He will be issued a harvest recommendation, a quota of javelinas for that property, just like you would under a deer permit.
MR. COOK: Mike, I think important here, with the general regulation season, bag limits do not change.
MR. BERGER: That's correct. Yes.
MR. COOK: These proposals are applicable to people in the managed lands program only —
MR. BERGER: They're going to have to have a wildlife management plan —
MR. COOK: — harvest rates to be recommended by the biologists, data to be reported and turned back in and evaluated.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You're going to do some work.
MR. COOK: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right, based on the carrying capacity of that specific habitat —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And it's voluntary, and if there's a problem, you don't have to be part of it; you can just stay with the regular system.
MR. BERGER: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: There is going to be a managed lands permit issued to that landowner, saying that if he does thus and so, then he will be allowed to take x amount —
MR. BERGER: He's going to have to meet those requirements before he receives the permit. He's going to have to have the habitat management, be doing the habitat management work that's required, and he's going to have to agree to keep those population and harvest records, just ‑‑ it's very similar to the white-tail deer program.
Okay, the last item is taxidermy tagging requirement that — currently, taxidermists are required to maintain their records, their documentation for their work for a two-year period after the work is complete, and as we know, sometimes the person who ordered the work doesn't pick it up in a necessarily really timely fashion, and so law enforcement would request that we have the taxidermists maintain this documentation for a two-year period after the specimens have been returned to the customer or sold to recover the cost of taxidermy.
And that concludes our recommendations.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, so we have the proposed amendment to the north zone turkey, or was that the —
MR. BERGER: Yes, that's a recommendation.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Are we all comfortable with that? Okay, thank you, Mike. We appreciate it.
MR. McKINNEY: Mr. Chairman, members, as the old saying goes, we're the presenters you've been waiting for — the last ones. For the record, I'm Larry McKinney, Director of Coastal Fisheries and joining me is Robin Riechers, the Director of Science and Policy to talk about coastal fishing regulations proposals. Now we have a number before you today dealing with sheepshead, diamondback terrapin, tarpon, spotted seatrout, red snapper, and then a number of general items to review with you.
Let's start with sheepshead fisheries first, and we talked about this before in our briefing. This is a group of fish that are commonly sought after, primarily from jetties and docks and that type of thing, and in keeping with the philosophy of trying to make sure that those fish that are often targeted for sport-fishing purposes, that we allow them to reach sexual maturity and reproduce before they are taken out of the fishery.
We are seeking to raise minimum size on them from 12 to 15 inches, but we want to do this incrementally. We want to make sure that, if we were to jump from the 12 to the 15, that we didn't unknowingly preclude some folks from taking the smaller fish that they typically take from jetties and so forth, so we're doing this incrementally to try to make sure that no one gets disenfranchised and they can continue to fish, because there's no biological issue here; we're just trying to get that correct. So that's the basis of that recommendation.
You know, I talked a little bit about diamondback terrapins, and of course, this is one of the species that occurs along the coast there, as we talked about that, that we are concerned about the growing commercial market for these, through the internet and others, and would recommend that we set up no-take provisions for them to protect them that way.
Tarpon proposal — let me spend just a minute on this. As we talked about in our briefing, we have a couple of options that we presented, and we went forward with the option of a catch and release, because that was the most restrictive approach, because if that was something that we wanted to adopt, we had to have that on the record, so that you could go back and look at the other options, at any regard.
We had a number of comments on them, generally and we certainly concur with this, that from a conservation standpoint, both, either of these proposals has benefits. No one really kills these big fish much anymore, they do essentially catch and release, so that's there. And certainly we had support for catch and release fishery. Our numbers there, 34 comments for and 9 against, and I think most of that comes from people like myself.
We read about catching tarpon a lot; we don't necessarily do it and it makes sense, but one of the things that I wanted to do, and I think I would make the point here is that, you know, some — we often get the comments that our positions are made up before we come here, so why come and talk, why go through these scoping meetings. Well, this is one where that was not the case, and I think, I hope that the folks will remember this, because I know that there is a community out there of professionals that seek tarpon and really are trying to make a fishery along the Texas Coast.
I couldn't get them to really comment on it except kind of back channel-wise. So finally, I got hold of a few of them, and got my regional director out of north Texas, Lance Robinson, who used to go get these people and come in and say, come on, guys, you need to tell us what you really think here.
And what they came out eventually with was this is that they felt that at this point, we may be a little bit early to go to a catch and release type fishery. They thought it was a good idea, but really, we needed to work with the other states, Mexico and others, to really establish a basis for catch and release records, so we're all consistent with it. They were afraid that if we got too far out ahead of it, although that's — we'd be far ahead of the crowd here — that we might preclude them some opportunities that they might otherwise have to catch state records and bring people into the fishery, and certainly we want to support it from that regard.
And then we were also fortunate in that we had a couple of scientists that really worked on tarpon and we talked to them, too. And one of those, Dr. Jerry Ault, who, if he's not the top tarpon researcher in the country, in the world, he's one of them, and he's about to publish a book on tarpon, and in that book, he's re-doing the relationship between length and weight, and we talked to him about our concerns here, making sure that we set a recommendation that was appropriate for allowing for a state record, but would be conservation oriented.
He actually took our data and his data and ran us some regression tables and came up with a recommendation which we would like to consider, and basically, that saying is we would, at this point, would recommend a one-fish bag limit with the minimum length of 85 inches, which is an increase from the current length of 80, and he felt that had good scientific support and this would be something that would, I think, continue to help our fishery, still be conservation oriented, and I would tell you I'm still interested in the catch and release for these things. I think we eventually should go there, but I want to be cautious and make sure it's effective when we do, and so that would be the basis of that recommendation.
The spotted seatrout, yes, you've seen these graphs before, and I won't spend a lot of time on those. Certainly if you have any questions, we'll go back and look at them, our concern being that the population of the spotted seatrout in the Lower Laguna Madre, which has traditionally been somewhat twice that of what we've seen in other estuaries, has been decreasing over the years. In fact, this year it finally dropped below that state-wide average for the first time. Our concern with the spawning stock biomass, that continues to drop and has over those years, as well.
And when we look at the relationship, our length frequency data, we see that as the fish become legal to catch and in the last few years, they've begun to disappear more rapidly than they have in the past, which is an indication of fishing pressure, as a cause of that. That's been the basis of our taking a look at what we could do to try to restore that fishery to the world class level that it really should be. And with that, our recommendation that we briefed you on last time was five, and we'll continue to propose that a 5-fish bag limit is something that we should try there, to start that recovery.
In that regard, we also took a look at where the — the extent of that regulation and in consultation with our law enforcement folks, we would propose creating a northern boundary of Marker 21 at the Landcut, and that we would require all anglers in possession and landing of spotted seatrout south of that marker and within the confines of the Laguna Madre, out to the mouth of the — base of the jetties, that would define that area.
One modification on that that we want to make it real clear on that we're talking about all the coastal waters within the Lower Laguna Madre, San Martin Lake, all of those areas, and when we originally talked to you about this, we were talking about extending this out to the ends of the jetties. Well, we got to thinking about that; you could in a situation there where you have a fellow fishing on the end of that jetty and on the inside of the jetty, they could have five trout and on the outside of the jetty, on the ocean side, they could have 10, and that was no — and so we backed that line back to the base of the jetties, to make it clear that we're talking about there, to clear that up. So it's a little bit different than what we proposed. That's just a way of trying to make it more easy to enforce.
Then I want to make one point with you here that — and sometimes we hear this in our proposals that, someone will come up and testify that, well I didn't hear about this, didn't have time to talk about it. That's not going to be the case with the spotted seatrout. We had a series of scoping meetings up and down the coast. We had them in the spring, I mean we had them in the summer, the fall, and the winter, as noted by the green signs there, and of course, during the special public hearings in March, all up and down the coast. So we had many opportunities, and a lot of folks took advantage of them, so everyone that could be affected by this regulation has had the opportunity to say their piece, and many of them did.
We also took the step of making sure that — Robin and I did — we visited the staff of every legislator in this area, to make sure that they understood what was going on. We contacted the 15 regional county judges and their commissioners, and offered to give presentations to them. None of them took us up on it, but we gave them the presentation.
All of the regional Chambers of Commerce; the Port Isabel Chamber asked us to do so, and we made one presentation there, and of course, to all the regional CCA chapters, the sportsmen's clubs, and so forth, so we made an effort to make sure everyone heard about this, and had a chance to tell us what they thought. And, of course, they did.
We've gotten quite a bit of information in. We had a petition of — Mr. Parker, you presented that to us last time, from Port of Mansfield Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Mansfield Fishing Tournament sent us a series of form letters. I think at one time they thought there were 800 in there, but once we took out the blanks and the duplicates and the unsigned letters, it came down to 398.
Coastal Bend Guides Association recently sent us a similar form letters, with signatures again, 707. We had resolutions from the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce, in favor of the proposal. The Lower Laguna Madre Foundation also in favor of the 5-fish regulation.
We received an internet petition, a group that's been working on this for some time, with 2,097 individual names and addresses appended to their petition.
Interestingly enough, some of those folks expressed some particular opinions about the numbers that we should recommend and this is a breakdown of how those recommendations came together. Basically, at this point, we have some 2,256 comments in favor of, and 1,137 comments in opposition to that proposal.
A number of comments were put forward, and of course, Commissioners and Chairman, as to the degree that you wish to talk about those today, we can. What I had proposed to do is that I've gone through the comments with Robin, and others have gone through those comments, and kind of summarized the most frequent asked questions or frequent made comments, and we'd be prepared tomorrow to give a little summary of that at that time, rather than go through this part of it, ahead of the public comments, kind of give you a framework to work on.
So I will leave these for now unless any of you have specific questions or comments, and we can certainly address them as you might wish.
Red snapper — we had a number of proposals there, and although I need all the help I can get up here, particularly one of the reasons that I've asked Robin to join me is that he is the chairman of the Gulf Council, and this red snapper issue we're going through right now is about as complicated and as convoluted as anything I can think of, and I have no way of keeping up with it, but Robin is the recognized expert on it. Right? And he has all his notes here, if you have any questions. We had three proposals for you. One was to reduce our minimum length from 15 to 13 inches, in anticipation of what the Feds might do. Also we would require the use of circle hooks and then to mirror federal commercial regulations and state regulations.
At this time, we would recommend not reducing our minimum length to 13 inches, because the Feds, the federal agencies have not acted. We do want to be — try to mirror them in some regards, because our objective with red snapper in state waters is to try to keep our season open year round. It's the one opportunity we have for people to take advantage of state waters and our population will hold it.
But we don't want to get in a situation where the federal for NMFS was to raise the limit offshore to 15 and we're stuck at 13 and everyone comes in to catch the smaller fish or something like that. So what we would recommend that you consider doing is things like you've done for migratory birds and others and shrimp as well, at this point, to delegate to the Executive Director the rule-making authority to respond to that federal action, so that whatever action they may take, we can reflect that and try to protect our inshore population, keep that — our goal being keeping that season open as long as we can. So that's what we would recommend at this time.
Circle hooks — we think that's a good recommendation. The Feds are going to follow that eventually, but we can be out ahead of that a little bit, and would recommend that red snapper may be taken using pole and line, but it's unlawful to use any kind of hook other than a circle hook. We don't want to get into the different types; there's all types of circle hooks. We'll use a fairly broad definition, but circle hooks seem to be appropriate, will certainly reduce mortality — hooking mortality, and that's a positive for us as well.
Couple of points — just to make sure that we're clear on, that the use of circle hooks applies only to natural bait, not artificials that, as a practical matter, when we — if you were to adopt this recommendation, it basically means when you are fishing offshore in state waters, you'd better be using circle hooks. I mean, cause what a game warden is going to do; they're going to come up to your boat, they're going to open up your ice, ask you to look in the ice chest; if you've got a red snapper in there, you'd better have circle hooks on your line. It's prudent to do it anyway, so that's really — the practical implication is that it's going to go that direction. And again, that's a good contribution. Of course, it only applies to pole and lines. Spear fishing and other things are not affected.
Robin, I don't know if you have anything on the red snapper that we need to cover; any questions on the red snapper before we move on?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: One thing — said mirror federal regulations. Okay.
MR. McKINNEY: I got ahead of myself on that. I included it. The other recommendation that we would request you to adopt is to mirror the federal regulations in state law, so that our game wardens have the opportunity, should they catch someone in an illegal commercial operation, they can either pursue that federally or in state court, whichever makes the most sense, and they can do that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But now, we're going to keep our limits at four?
MR. McKINNEY: We're not changing our recreational limits only.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Even though the Feds may go to —
MR. McKINNEY: We're going to try to maintain that as best we can. Now, we're always watching it biologically; they may come back with something in biology that speaks differently. But at this point, no.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: When we mirror the federal, are we picking up any objectionable rules or provisions?
MR. RIECHERS: Well, I think what we're proposing, because we do have authority under 7902 to basically grant that authority to the Executive — for you to grant that authority to the Executive Director, and our thought being then, as we move through these federal fishing regulations, since their timing doesn't match ours, we'd then have the time to see what they actually do and try not to be a year in front of them or a year and a half behind them, depending on our cycle and their cycle and so forth.
So, that's what we were talking about doing. We would look at each one of their recommendations and really make the determination whether we wanted to mirror it. For instance, Mr. Parker or one of you mentioned the Feds will be going to a 2-fish limit. We will start the season April 21st with a 4-fish bag limit; 11 days later, the interim rule that was published last week as a final rule will, in fact, have us going to a 2-fish bag limit May 2nd.
MR. McKINNEY: In federal waters.
MR. RIECHERS: And in state waters, we, of course, are still going to try to stay at 4 and 15 inches at this current time.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Now then, back to the whatever you called it — the federal rule, applying it to our state regulations.
MR. McKINNEY: Right, the individual fishing quota and the commercial fishing regs?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Right. We're still going forward with that?
MR. McKINNEY: We'll go forward and mirror that, because that's fine. I mean, that — we want to give our law enforcement guys every tool that they can have to deal with it, because it's complicated enough, but we wanted to have them still to go forward with what they can.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: We can use the money.
MR. McKINNEY: Well, and one reason you want to do that and it's understandable, because when you have to go through the Justice Department, they're not going to take smaller cases; they're only going to deal with the bigger cases. Well we have some cases that we think are fairly significant, but not on that scale, but we want to have the means to pursue it, and this will give our law enforcement a chance to take them to court.
Another proposal — again we thought this was going to be one that was basically a technical one that we have; if you look at the italic regulation there that says, it's unlawful to use air boats or jet driven devices to pursue and harass or harry fish. Our idea was that we have these new shallow draft boats, let's just say vessel. Now that engendered a whole great amount of discussion out in the public comments of what is pursue, and why is pursuing illegal, because if I'm fishing, I'm pursuing, and harrying; it got very complicated, even though this law's been on the books since the '80s. But that brought it all up, so, you know, that's what happens when you open these regs up and that's fine.
But what we would recommend doing just to try to make that clear is to say, it's unlawful to use any vessel to harass fish. We know what harassing is; we have those laws and those types of things. So at this point, we would say we don't want to take a tool away from our law enforcement to use, and this would help, at least, get rid of pursue and harry and make harass be the term that we didn't look at.
And, of course, we do Sunset all our regulations on a regular basis every four years, and in a year and a half, we'll be going through that process again. Well, we can take this rule and take a look at it then and see if it should just go away or not, and that would be a decision that we can decide. So that's what we would recommend for this one.
When we passed our aquaculture regulations to allow offshore aquaculture, one of the things that we didn't deal with that we do need to now is to recognize that if you're going to have an aquaculture operation, you're going to produce very large quantities of some species of fish, and if you want to bring them to shore and land them, then we need to exempt them from our harvest, from our bag and size limit, for that reason we're applying recreational issues, so we want to make that clear; that's what this would do.
There's a group of crab fishermen that have the opportunity to make use of a product that's gone away from the catfish farms to work their crab traps and they have asked for permission to use fresh water catfish head in crab traps and that's certainly fine with us. The law enforcement folks say it's fine, and we need to pass that as a rule to allow them to do that. So we're good with that; that's mostly — I went down there and took a look at some of it; I understand what they're talking about, but as long as they have to load the catfish heads in them and I don't, that's good.
And then, finally a clean-up a little bit to create some consistency between statutory languages. In the statute we use coastal boundaries; in the proclamations, we use salt water. We need to make sure they're the same, so that's it clear and use coastal waters to define what ‑‑ define our borders.
With that, Mr. Chairman and members, that's our proposals for tomorrow, and certainly, any questions, be glad to answer those, and would request you consider moving this forward for the agenda.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much. Any other questions or discussion? Okay, if there are no further questions or discussions, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. Thank you, sir. Excuse me.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Just the seatrout; I'm sorry. I lost track of it. Are we going to discuss it tomorrow, or you know —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Oh, okay.
MR. McKINNEY: I'm going to discuss it tomorrow and talk about those, but certainly —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, no, no. I'll read it.
MR. RIECHERS: The only other thing we would like to clarify from you is if you are in favor of us going forward and granting the Executive Director that authority, we would need to publish that in the Register and go through that rule making, and we would ask for your permission to do that.
MR. McKINNEY: Come back in May and act on it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thoughts on that anyone? Okay, that's good. Yes. Thank you.
All right. Before we conclude, when we were discussing Item 4, I believe. No, sorry, Item 3, Committee Item 3, at the suggestion of Commissioner Parker, we allowed Dr. Fitzgerald to come up and speak and there's another gentleman who's been waiting and who was referenced by you, John, and you're welcome to come up and speak for a few minutes, if you'd like.
MR. POPPLZWALL: Thank you, sir. Let me introduce myself. I deeply appreciate the opportunity. I'm sorry I wouldn't be able to be here tomorrow, but I would be a little remiss to hear one side of the story without giving you another perspective to think about. My name's Bob Popplzwall. I was in Parks and Wildlife magazine this month; it's Bayou Bob. I've been in the turtle and snake and reptile business for over 40 years, and, you know, my perspective is that, during the course of a season, I deal with hundreds and hundreds of landowners and hundreds and hundreds of people who have jobs created from this nongame collection process.
I was doing it long before the reports were required, and I have a field practitioner's experience that spans 40 years; it's pretty extensive. And really, I'll say some surprising things. I came to a meeting here in November, late November, I believe, the 27th, the first and only meeting we had on this process, and it was very rewarding, but, you know, we're clearly in support of sustaining the population.
We're in business and have been for a long time. That would be foolhardy and shortsighted not to do that. The proposal that I heard today, I really don't have a problem. I mean, the box turtle market is not important. The worst enemy of the box turtle is traffic on the highways. The worst enemy to the diamondback terrapin is the purse seines and draw seines and the crab traps which y'all are taking up the unattended ones. That's where the turtles were drowning and dying.
What I'm really interested in expressing and y'all have already recognized it, and that is, long ago you recognized private property owners' rights, who have stock tanks and lakes, you've left them alone as far as regulations with fish. If a landowner pays for a bulldozer service to put a lake in the middle of their land, they've been unregulated and, largely, left alone.
Turtles are somewhat different because they do migrate, but look back at 60 years, just 60 years. Most of your large lake impoundments started coming on line in the early '40s. The biggest lake in the state came online in '69, Toledo Bend. By the way, I recognize most of that water is in Louisiana, but turtles have never known a state boundary at all. But just the top five lakes in Texas kicks you close to 1 million surface acres of water that wasn't there 60 years ago. Canyon Lake came on in, what? '64, '69? I'm saying that there's millions of acres of public lands that have public waters. The state parks, there are subdivision lakes; there are municipal and county drainage and water improvements. You see them in every city, large lakes and waterfalls and neat things.
What I'm supporting is, take every rule that's been recommended by your staff and apply it strictly and only to public waters. You don't regulate fishing in private waters; in the absence of doing that, separating out private landowners and their ponds and lakes, the habit that developed before we came along with the market, and you can talk to any of your landowner friends, and they'll substantiate this — people shoot turtles by the thousands. On a holiday weekend, they're killed across the state of Texas by the thousands.
They float, wastefully, to the bottom. There's a natural resource that's being wasted. People — I see traps and I've sold traps to ranchers who simply set that trap under water to drown all their turtles, very commonplace. It's a wasted resource. Now that people see it's an economic resource, many landowners equate this to pecans, to deer leasing, quail hunting, and other agricultural products. This is a vast renewable resource. There's enough public acreage to never make it non-sustainable, and I encourage my members who harvest turtles to leave public waters totally alone.
Dr. Wagner circulated one of our training modules here in the office, and it implores people to stay away from public waters, because we consider that our recharge zone; we acknowledge that. But I had no authority to tell our turtlers not to do that; they're independent individuals. I strongly support a moratorium on public waters; then, I don't have to tell these people, don't go to public waters. But here's the facts — in public waters, there are millions and millions of turtles, but they're almost impossible to trap, and there's many reasons for it. That's what's in our training program.
The people who are dead set on harvesting in public waters, they learn very quickly that this is a fact of life and they quit doing it immediately, and where do they go? Back to private stock tanks where, in a closed environment, a closed ecology, the turtles are predominant, they are targets of opportunity on feeding. All of them are ‑‑ snapper, soft-shells, red-ears, mud turtles, musk; they all are. The come to a baited trap in private water, because they have eliminated much of the normal food supply. That's why you see the turtles migrating from these ponds in May and October, the last two months where there's water coming, or water coming in October, they migrate. They've eaten all the food.
By having a rule that says you cannot turtle in public waters, it makes our role much better. It does not affect the private property rights of individuals to determine who's in their lake. Surely you don't regulate the fish, but they're going to regulate the turtles; they don't want them there.
There's never been a rancher that I know of in the state — history of Texas, who built a lake and ordered turtles for me to re-stock their bass pond with turtles, yet the ponds were all full of turtles, and the ranchers and landowners are literally hell-bent for leather to eradicate the turtles.
The article that came out in Parks and Wildlife had an unusual result; my phone has been ringing off the wall with landowners who are saying, finally, finally, we know how to get rid of our turtles. Can you send someone out here to do it? It's a reflection of the fact that they want them gone. Again, the sustainable population is readily available in public waters, millions of acres. There are millions of acres of habitat, not just the surface water, created in Texas over that same 60-year period that weren't here 60 years ago.
That turtle population is huge in private waters and it would have no implication, in my opinion, to harvest private waters and leave a constant recharge zone for sustainability in these massive number of acres of public water.
Everybody's job is simple, and if private landowners are left out of the package that I saw, there's not a turtler in our program who would object to that, because their income, their part-time jobs, as well as the landowners who get a resource and sell it, are not affected by those rules whatsoever, and the sustainability of the turtle population, therefore, is probably not affected at all.
I deeply appreciate it and I'll be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: What's the market price of various ‑‑ some variety of turtles down the last five years? What do you think it's going to do in the next five years?
MR. POPPLZWALL: I appreciate that question, because I heard some misnomers, and I don't think there's any intent of anybody, but I live in this market. I just got back from China, and I can tell you that the red-eared market is an unsustained market here. It's not true that red-ears are a future market for us. Every season by mid-July, my customers, the ones in China, don't want any red-ears. I heard the zoo biologist at Fort Worth on the news, and I've been making the news everywhere up in that area; they're driving me crazy.
But I'm hearing them make statements that are absolutely false. He said that everybody's after these rabid females, the big females that are adults, full of eggs. I can't give those away, gentlemen. Nobody wants them, and the reason for that is, over the past 40 years, variously, I have sold turtles to China, among other countries. When I was over there, the turtles that I sent, among other dealers across the country — they have — they are very industrious people. They raised 23 million hatchling red-ears off of the turtles that the accumulative group of us had fostered to them over the years.
Very soon, they're going to have huge snapper populations. I saw the babies; I saw the hatching process. They have — the soft-shells are giving a little trouble. They're not adapting as well as the others, but the Chinese people will very soon be like I heard one of the board members say — I think it was Dr. Wagner — Louisiana is more interested in sustaining and enriching their gene pool; that's why they want some of our turtles. The Chinese will reach that point, at some point, except possibly, for soft-shell turtles.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: My question is, what's the marketplace for turtles been for the last five years, and what's it going to be for the next five?
MR. POPPLZWALL: I have paid $.20 a pound for turtles in Texas all along. I've been quoted all over, the prices. We pay $.20 a pound now; we've paid it for years and years. They're called junk turtles, only in that there's a huge supply of them and no demand. They sell overseas for about a dollar at best, apiece, not per pound, so $.20 a pound sometimes is — they cost me to send them. They're not a profit margin, but if these customers in my contracts did not take red-ears — they do it because I also include snappers and soft-shells, which are highly desirable. Snappers and soft-shells are considered money turtles; they're expensive.
Right now, we're paying a dollar a pound, plus $.40 a pound bonus through the month of May. More of that is to get some of the old turtlers who have semi-retired, to start doing it again, because the money's better.
I'm licensed in — and have been at various times — in Florida, Louisiana, certainly Oklahoma. Part of the problem here is that we're getting raped by other states, and I told, at that meeting I said, I am all for this Commission exorbitantly raising dealer costs for the license; that's me. I'm all for them astronomically raising out-of-state fees for non-residents on these dealer licenses; that's me, too, in that I'm over there.
It costs me four to five to six times more to go to Louisiana, and it's costing them peanuts to come over here. Many of the turtles that leave Texas illegally, and I know this for a fact, leave here on little country roads that cross the Red River in Louisiana. There's a huge turtle trade over in East Texas. I'm in a semi-arid place; it's very different. But these turtles leave here in massive numbers, to the tune they're not accounted for. But many Louisiana turtle growers are in the process of backing out of red-ears altogether.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Can you answer my question?
MR. POPPLZWALL: Oh, I'm sorry.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: The prices for turtles over the last five years and going forward; what do you think will happen in the next five years? And one each — something I can understand.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We do have to break.
MR. POPPLZWALL: They will not increase dramatically, and the reason for that is the Chinese market replacement. The answer to your question is five years ago in Guangzhon, China at the animal market, the line where it said, U.S. turtles was a long line; everybody wanted U.S. turtles. The Chinese line for local turtles was slim and none. It has reversed itself. They now have healthy turtles that are cheaper, because of the transportation problem alone, and the transportation cost is one thing, but the depreciation of the quality of the livestock that gets there, is also affected by that long travel.
Chinese turtles are more desirable and cheaper, and so U.S. turtles are simply seen as a gene pool enrichment, and the price will not go up dramatically at all. It's been the same for ten years.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. We appreciate it.
MR. POPPLZWALL: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mr. Chairman, I think we're there.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's it? Good job. Anything else to come before the Commission today, Bob?
MR. COOK: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, we stand adjourned. See you in the morning.
(Whereupon, at 3:45 p.m., the meeting was adjourned.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Regulations Committee
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: April 4, 1007
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 111, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731