Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
May 24, 2007Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 24th day of May, 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:
- Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas, Vice Chairman
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
|Item||Donor||Description||Details||*Amount||1||Britteny Sage Lindt Fund||Capital Property Item||1998 Sea Ray 210 Sun Deck Boat, 21"X 8.5" beam, V-8 merc., I/O, great condition w/less than 250 hrs. VIN#SERV5304D898-210SD3411 w/motor, trailer & accessories. Boat is to be used to raise awareness of Water Safety, and water safety courses, etc. Also, to be used for the PWD "Nobody's Waterproof" campaign.||$23,165.00|
|2||Devil's Sinkhole Society||Capital Property Item||Paid for construction of new stone single storage room building at Devil's Sinkhole SNA||$9,500.00|
|3||Mike Petter||Capital Property Item||One (1) Brand New 2005 Polaris ATP 500 HO 4-Wheeler, Unit VIN #4XAJD50A352766564 — for Law Enforcement Patrol Duties||$6,397.95|
|4||Texas Bighorn Society||Capital Property Item||One water catchment facility. Water facility for desert bighorn sheep includes two rainwater catchments, 3-2600 gallon tanks, 7,000 feet 1" water line, three drinkers, and assorted plumbing supplies. To enhance desert bighorn sheep habitat on the Sierra Diablo WMA by providing materials to control water facility.||$11,264.40|
|5||Coastal Conservation Association||Controlled Item||Twelve (12) Trupulse 200 Laser Rangefinders, $629.10 each — Law Enforcement Tool||$7,549.20|
|6||Coastal Conservation Association||Controlled Item||Six (6) MV/PVS-7 Ultra Night Vision Goggles Generation 3 — $2,909.00 each||$17,454.00|
|7||Operation Game Thief||Controlled Item||Six (6) MV/PVS-7 Ultra Night Vision Goggles Generation 3 — $2,909.00 each||$17,454.00|
|8||Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association||Controlled Item||Four (4) Handheld/Portable Digital Police Kenwood TK 5210K2 Radios with displays — $1,312.50 each, 4 Kenwood KRA-26M antennas — $10.00 each, 4 Kenwood KNB-32N Hi-Cap Batteries — 62.50 each, 4 Kenwood KSC-32 Chargers — $50.00 each, and 4 Kenwood KMC-25 Lapel Mics — $69.00 each||$6,016.00|
|9||Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association||Controlled Item||Six (6) MV/PVS-7 Ultra Night Vision Goggles Generation 3 — $2,909.00 each||$17,454.00|
|10||Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association||Controlled Item||One (1) Laptop Computer — Windows XP Altec Lansing||$1,909.30|
|11||Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services||Goods||Support of TDCJ Program — 125 trees & shrubs for planting at Sheldon Lake Park||$1,100.00|
|12||Nestle' Waters North America||Goods||An 8' x 8' walk-in cooler with refrigeration unit for the Old Sabine Bottom WMA to enhance area management and public recreation activities||$4,931.00|
|13||All American Automotive||In-Kind Services||Additional repairs to state park vehicle property # 139812; 1 ton 1987 Dodge Truck||$1,353.77|
|14||Coastal Conservation Association||In-Kind Services||Purchase Commercial Bay & Bait Shrimp Boat Licenses through our buyback program. CCA made payments to fishermen to supplement the amount of money TPWD was willing to pay for certain licenses. This direct payment allowed us to complete more contracts, and retire more licenses from the fishery, than we could otherwise accomplish. CCA has designated $200,000.00 for this purpose.||$200,000.00|
|15||Texas Bighorn Society||In-Kind Services||Volunteer labor =48 people/480 hours @$7.00/hr. To enhance desert bighorn sheep habitat on the Sierra Diablo WMA by providing labor to control water facility.||$3,360.00|
|16||AmeriGroup Texas Inc.||Cash||To assist funding the Outdoor Kid Program||$500.00|
|17||Coastal Conservation Association Texas||Cash||To be used to help offset costs to TPWD to facilitate the 2007 Abandoned Crab Trap Removal Program||$6,000.00|
|18||Caldwell Rotary Club||Cash||To assist with State Parks Law Enforcement||$500.00|
|19||Confederate Reunion Grounds Volunteers||Cash||Renovation of Val Verde Cannon at the Confederate Reunion Grounds SHP||$1,000.00|
|20||Earl C. Sams Foundation, Inc.||Cash||Commercial Shrimp License Buybacks Program||$100,000.00|
|21||Grande Communications Networks Inc.||Cash||To assist funding the Outdoor Kid Program||$750.00|
|22||H-E-B||Cash||Wildlife Expo Sponsorship — Antler Associate||$1,846.00|
|23||Larry J. Martin||Cash||Game Warden Training Center, Hamilton County||$2,500.00|
|24||Shikar Safari Club International Foundation||Cash||Sponsorship for Wildlife Expo||$5,000.00|
|25||Mr. Walter Umphrey||Cash||Texas Game Warden Training Center||$200,000.00|
|*Estimated value used for goods and services|
|State Parks||Kim J. Ochs||Manager I||Somerville, TX||30 Years|
|State Parks||Floyd D. Randolph||Park Ranger V||Livingston, TX||30 Years|
|Law Enforcement||Lawson Doc Turner, III||Assistant Commander||Austin, TX||30 Years|
|Wildlife||James Brent Ortego||Program Specialist V||Victoria, TX||25 Years|
|State Parks||Ricky W. Weinheimer||Park Specialist III||Stonewall, TX||25 Years|
|Name/Organization, Address||Item Number||Matter of Interest|
Coalition of Concerned Pet Dealers
221 W. 6th Street, Suite 2000
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Nongame Regs — Testify — Against|
|Peter Paul van Dijk
2011 Crystal Drive, Suite 500
Arlington, VA 22202
|5 — Action Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||For|
|James R. Dixon
705 Inwood Dr.
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
P. O. Box 275
7 Juniper Circle
Holliday, Texas 76366
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Against|
1513 N. MacGregor
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
San Marcos, TX
|5 — Action Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
P. O. Box 9001
Austin, Texas 78766
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Against|
P. O. Box 256
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Against|
2533 Bee Caves Rd.
Austin, TX 77968
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify|
|J. Pete Laney
The Coalition of Concerned Pet Dealers
221 West 6th Street, Ste. 2000
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Against|
Fort Worth Zoo
2512 Big Spring Dr.
Fort Worth, TX 76120
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
San Marcos, TX
|5 — Action — Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For — Turtles|
Coalition of Concerned Pet Dealers/US Global Exotics
1007 Oakmead Dr.
Arlington, TX 76011
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Against|
|Thomas R. Simpson
Texas State University
609 Dale Dr.
San Marcos, TX 78666
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||For|
State Representative Hubert Vo’s Office
State Capitol, E2.304
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Neutral|
Santo, TX 76472
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Against (Non — Game Discussion)|
1255 Leanne Court
Kennedale, TX 76060
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
El Paso Pet Stores
2713 Berwick Rd.
El Paso, TX
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Against|
10510 Georgian Dr.
Austin, TX 78753
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Against Against complete ban on take of Texas Turtles|
1778 N. Plano Rd., Suite 320
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Against|
A&J Snake Hunters
512 Hasack St.
Taylor, TX 76574
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify|
300 Bello Circle
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
Austin Herpetological Society
4500 Williams Dr., Suite 212-113
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — Against|
Texas Herpetological Society
4308 Tamarace Trail
Austin, TX 78727
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
1309 The Low Road
San Marcos, TX
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
Texas Wildlife Association
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
Texas Conservation Alliance
3532 Bee Caves Rd. #110
Austin, TX 78746
|5 — Acton — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
4717 Twin Post Rd.
|5 — Action — Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify — For|
2960 19th NW
|5 — Action - Collection And Sale of Nongame Wildlife||Testify|
Texas Wildlife Association
9 — Action — Amendments to the Public Lands Proclamation
12 — Action — Deer Mgmt Permit Rules and Trap, Transport, & Transplant Rules
Testify — For |
Testify — For
Texas Deer Association
|12 — Action — Deer Mgmt. Permit Rules and Trap, Transport, & Transplant Rules|
Quitman Heritage Foundation
100 Governor Jim Hogg Parkway
Quitman, Texas 75783
|16 — Action — Transfer of Property — Wood County — Governor Hogg Shrine State Historic Site||Testify — For|
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good morning. The meeting is called to order.
Before proceeding with any business, Mr. Cook, you have a statement to make.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A public notice of this meeting, containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State, as required by Chapter 551 of the Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of this meeting.
So that everyone in attendance today understands how we're going to do business, let me tell you a little bit about the process that we'll go through.
So that everyone of you who wishes to speak will have an opportunity to do so, we will follow the following ground rules. An individual wishing to speak before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission must first fill out and sign a speaker registration form for each item on the agenda to which you wish to speak. The Chairman is in charge of this meeting, and by law, it is his duty to preserve order, direct the order of the hearing, and recognize persons to be heard.
We have sign-up cards for everyone wishing to speak and the Chairman will call the names from those cards one at a time. Each person will be allowed to speak from the podium here up front, one at a time. When your name is called, please come to the podium, state your name and whom you represent, if anyone other than yourself. The Chairman will also call up like, an on-deck person, who is going to be next, so that you get out and kind of get in line and ready to come up. Then when you're at the microphone, state your position on the agenda item under consideration and add supporting facts that will help the Commission understand your concerns. Please limit your remarks to the specific agenda item under consideration.
Each person who wants to address the Commission will have three minutes to speak. I will keep track of the time and notify you when three minutes are up on this handy-dandy little thing right here, and when that light turns red, your time is up. When your time is up, please resume your seat so that others may speak. Your time will be extended if a commissioner has a question of you. If the commissioners ask a question or discuss something among themselves, that time will not be counted against you.
Statements that are merely argumentative or critical of others will not be tolerated. There is a microphone at the podium so it is not necessary to raise your voice. I request that you show proper respect for the commissioners as well as other members of the audience. You will not be recognized out of turn by raising your hand or interrupting others. Disruptive or offensive behavior will be grounds for immediate ejection from the meeting.
If you have written materials that you want to give to the Commission, please give them to Ms. Hemby or Ms. Klaus here at this table and they will deliver it to the commissioners.
Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Bob.
Next is the approval of the minutes of the previous meeting which have been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Commissioner Holt, seconded by Vice Chairman Ramos. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes.
Next is the acceptance of donations which have also been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Holt
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Second by Brown. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes.
Next are the service awards and special recognition. Mr. Cook.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ladies and gentlemen, at each of our Commission meetings we take a few minutes to recognize our employees who have given the state and this agency and conservation a long session of service to which we much appreciate and we'd appreciate your attention to this.
In our service awards group at this meeting, from State Parks we have Kim Ochs, Manager 1, Somerville, Texas, with 30 years of service. Kim began his career with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as a summer intern, working at Goose Island and Lake Brownwood State Parks in 1976 and '77. His intern experiences reinforced his desire to establish a career with the Department. Upon graduation from Texas A&M University with a degree in Parks and Recreation, he became a full-time employee of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1978 at Lake Livingston State Park.
In 1981, he transferred to Lake Corpus Christi where he was Assistant Park Manager until 1986 when he was promoted to Manager at Daingerfield State Park. In 2004, he transferred to Lake Somerville State Park where he is a Complex Manager responsible for operations and maintenance of Birch Creek, Nails Creek and the trailway which connects the two units of state parks and the Somerville Wildlife Management Area. With 30 years of service, Kim Ochs.
MR. COOK: Also from the State Parks Division, Floyd D. Randolph, Park Ranger 5, Livingston, Texas, with 30 years of service. Floyd began his career with TPWD on May 15, 1976, at Lake Livingston State Park. He has worked himself up through the ranks, starting with a force account crew. He presently works as Park Ranger 5, Lead Ranger and Safety Officer. Floyd has seen many changes through the years from how purchases are made to how garbage is collected and disposed of. He has been instrumental in working with various groups such as the Telephone Pioneers, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Park Host Program at Lake Livingston State Park. With 30 years of service, Floyd Randolph.
MR. COOK: From the Law Enforcement Division, also with 30 years of service, Lawson Doc Turner III, Assistant Commander here in Austin, Texas. Buddy Turner began his career with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1971 when he entered the Texas Game Warden Academy. Upon graduation from the Academy in January of 1972, his first duty station was at the Game Warden Training Academy in College Station as a Game Warden Instructor Trainee and a Lieutenant Instructor until September of 1974, at which time he left the Department to further his education.
Buddy returned to TPWD in May of 1980 and was assigned to Dallas County as a Field Game Warden. In 1985, he was elected president of the Texas Game Warden Association and served two terms, followed by one two-year term as chairman of the Legislative Committee. In March of 1993, Buddy became a Sergeant Undercover Investigator, investigating environmental and wildlife crime throughout the state. In June of 1996, he was promoted to Captain and transferred to the Headquarters staff.
Buddy currently services as Assistant Chief of Wildlife Enforcement where he enjoys multiple responsibilities, the most rewarding being Operation Game Thief Program. Thanks to the hard work of the Operation Game Thief Committee and the members of that committee, the supporting public and TPWD staff, OGT has become one of the most successful wildlife crime stopper programs in the United States and Canada. With 30 years of service, Assistant Commander Lawson "Buddy" Turner.
MR. COOK: And our relatively newcomer in this session of service awards, with 25 years of service, from State Parks Division, Ricky W. Weinheimer, Park Specialist 3, Stonewall, Texas. Ricky Weinheimer began his career with TPWD on May 1 of 1982 at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site as a Ranger I. In May of 1984, he was promoted to a Ranger II position where he was responsible for the daily operation, maintenance and interpretation of the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. In April of 1987, Ricky was promoted to Park Ranger III, becoming a Lead Ranger at the Living History Farm, and in 2001 he was promoted to Exhibit Technician II and was responsible for interpreting and portraying the lifestyle of the typical Hill Country German farm family at the turn of the century. And I might just add there, if you know Ricky, he didn't have to act, he did a good job.
In January of '02, he was promoted to Exhibit Technician III, and on April 1 of 2004, promoted to his current position as Park Specialist III where he provides on-site supervision, plans, researches and implements outreach and education programs. Ricky was responsible for the design and construction of the blacksmith's shop at the Living History Farm where he researched and learned the skills necessary to portray the skill of blacksmithing in the early 1900s.
His accomplishments throughout his career include: receiving recognition as an Employee of the Year for Region VII in 2000; he was featured on the front cover of the June 2004 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Magazine; he owns a Wastewater C license; he is certified by the National Association of Interpretation; and he has successfully completed many training courses throughout his career and most recently attended Successful First Line Management and Managing Park Operations. With 25 years of service, Ricky Weinheimer.
MR. COOK: From the Wildlife Division, with 25 years of service, we have James Brent Ortego, Program Specialist V from Victoria, Texas. Dr. Brent Ortego began his career with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the Wildlife Division on May 3, 1982, as the U.S. Forest Service Liaison in Jasper. He was promoted to Technical Guidance Biologist for East Texas in 1985. Brent transferred to the Nongame Program, while still living in Jasper, to conduct work on the red-cockaded woodpecker in 1988. He moved to Austin in 1990 to work with the Nongame and Planning Programs. In 1992, Brent transferred to Victoria to manage Mad Island Wildlife Management Area, and later the Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area.
He was promoted to Wildlife Diversity Biologist in 1999 and continues today at that position in Victoria, working primarily with the Landowner Incentive Program, Joint Ventures and Endangered Species Recovery Teams and Migratory Birds. With 25 years of service, Dr. Brent Ortego.
MR. COOK: I want to recognize a couple of gentlemen who were with us last evening at our events, and I want to thank them and all of you for your attendance at those events. And I won't call them former Commissioners, I'll just call them Commissioner George Bolin and Commissioner Dick Morrison. We thank you, sirs, for being here and thank you for your service. We appreciate them very much and maintain contact with them.
The next award that I have, the next recognition that I have is the Southern States Boating Officer of the Year Award which was created to promote boating safety. The Southern States Boating Law Administrators Association is comprised of 17 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. On March 26, 2007, at their annual meeting in Lexington, Kentucky, a Texas Game Warden was recognized for his outstanding accomplishments. Game Warden James Barge graduated from the 45th Game Warden Academy in November of 1997 and is stationed in Angelina County. His patrol assignments include Sam Rayburn Lake and the Angelina and Neches Rivers.
Going beyond his normal duties, James works with youth organizations throughout the county to educate youth in boating safety. He has prepared and administered multiple training courses to assist in detecting intoxicated boat operators. He is highly respected by his fellow officers, boaters, landowners, prosecutors and sportsmen. He has been proactive in his enforcement efforts to detect those who are boating while intoxicated and has a near 100 percent success rate in prosecuting those arrested, and his efforts are instrumental in minimizing boating accident injuries and fatalities by making Texas lakes safer.
It is my honor and privilege to present to you the 2007 Southern States Boating Officer of the Year for Texas, Game Warden James Barge.
MR. COOK: Yesterday you heard a briefing on our "Nobody's Waterproof" campaign. Today I would like for you to join me in recognizing Mr. Tim Lindt with the Britteny Sage Lindt Fund. His daughter was killed in a tragic boating accident on Lake Lewisville and the fund was established in her name. Mr. Lindt donated a 21-foot Sea Ray Sundeck boat to the Department to be used in the statewide "Nobody's Waterproof" campaign. As you remember from yesterday's briefing, "Nobody's Waterproof" aims to make people safer on Texas waterways. The boat will be used at summer events by our outreach teams to visit people where they are: at the boat ramps and on the lakes and in the bays.
I would like to invite Mr. Lindt to say a few words and to accept an award to express our appreciation. The award reads: "In recognition and sincere appreciation of your generous support of the 'Nobody's Waterproof' program and dedication to boating and water safety in the state of Texas." Mr. Tim Lindt.
MR. LINDT: I want to thank everybody for the opportunity to be here. Two days after Britteny's death, it became very clear to me that there had to be something done to improve water safety and the Britteny Sage Lindt Fund was born on Monday, August 21st. I appreciate the recognition but I want to make it clear that the recognition also needs to go out to the entire community, and not just Denton County but the entire state and across the country where funds have been donated from to make this all possible.
I also want to make it clear that I appreciate all of the hard work that your people do on very limited resources, and I want you all to know that I want to partner with you to do anything possible to improve and expand those resources, including negotiations with Appropriations Committee on funding issues and those kinds of things. You know, you have reacted to some problems on some lakes, and quite honestly, through my eyes, are doing more than our legislature.
We had four bills submitted to the legislature, three of them passed through the Senate. Unfortunately, the education bill did not pass through the Senate, thus did not go on to the House. The House kind of drug their feet and the end result is only one of those bills passed through the House, so that was a frustrating day for me yesterday. But we're already working on 2009 and I definitely want to work with your people over the next two years to come up with a comprehensive boater education bill that we can once and for all get passed in '09.
Again, I thank you.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Tim.
MR. COOK: Next, the Henry S. Mosby Award. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has a long history of working with a variety of conservation organizations. These alliances have served them and us well, with the end result being sound management of our natural resources. One of our most important partners in resource management is the National Wild Turkey Federation. Through the years, we have worked successfully with the National Wild Turkey Federation to restore portions of East Texas with wild turkey, and we continue to use their expertise and services in this ongoing restoration project.
The National Wild Turkey Federation has also benefited from our partnership. The National Wild Turkey Federation has looked to TPWD to assist in the restoration of Rio Grande Turkey in the western states, and for our commitment to this program continues. As a long time supporter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has always been recognized for its dedication to the wild turkey resource.
This year, the National Wild Turkey Federation has gone a step further by awarding its highest honor, the Henry S. Mosby Award, to one of our employees. This award is presented annually to a deserving biologist in recognition of lifetime achievement and dedication to the wild turkey resource. Earlier this year, at its national convention in Memphis, Tennessee, Vernon Bevill, our director of the Small Game and Habitat Assessment Program, was honored with this prestigious award.
Even though Vernon has worn many hats through his career, wild turkeys have always been his special interest. For almost three decades, Vernon has worked tirelessly and helped set the standards needed to develop and promote wild turkey restoration throughout North America. When Vernon first came to Texas, he immediately became deeply involved in the Department's program to restore eastern wild turkeys throughout suitable habitat in East Texas. As a result of this restoration program, today we have a spring gobbler season for eastern wild turkey in 42 counties in East Texas.
Vernon's job is not yet finished and he continues to spearhead restoration and management for wild turkeys across our great state. Vernon Bevill is a deserving recipient of this Henry S. Mosby Award and his continuing efforts are much appreciated. Vernon Bevill.
Now, I don't know if this is a fact, but I hear if you squeeze this tie ‑‑ which I'm not going to do ‑‑ that the turkey gobbles.
(Applause and general laughter.)
MR. COOK: I believe that's it. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Cook.
First item, approval of the agenda. Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: By Commissioner Friedkin, second by Vice Chairman Ramos. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes.
Item Number 2, action item, Outdoor Recreation Grant Funding, Tim Hogsett.
MR. HOGSETT: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. I'm Tim Hogsett, Recreation Grants Branch in the State Parks Division. I have to tell you, I didn't expect to be here this morning. I'm here to correct an error that we unfortunately made in our January presentation to you of grants for Outdoor Recreation funding.
Specifically, we had an application from the City of Creedmoor that was included in the group of 15 applications ‑‑ well, among the ones that were not funded. We failed in the scoring evaluation of that project to award that project points that it should have been awarded on the basis of the criteria related to the fact that they were receiving land that was being used for other city purposes and using it now for park purposes. They should have been awarded an additional 15 points which would have put them within the funding range at an improved score of 93. The lowest project that was funded in that round scored 92, so today I'm here to ask you to consider righting that wrong by funding the City of Creedmoor in the amount of $400,000.
So my motion before you this morning: Funding for Creedmoor Community Park in the amount of $400,000 is approved. And I'd be glad to answer any question.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Tim. In the six years I've been here, it's the first time I've seen you make a mistake.
MR. HOGSETT: First in a while.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But the good news is you fix it as soon as you find it. So any questions for Tim? If not, I'll entertain a motion.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Motion by Bivins.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Second by Brown. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes. Thank you, Tim.
MR. HOGSETT: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The next Item Number 3, action item, Nonprofit Partners Resolution, Ann Bright.
MS. BRIGHT: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel.
Once a year we come to you to add nonprofit partners and that's what we're here to do today. The Parks and Wildlife Code authorizes the Parks and Wildlife Department to cooperate with nonprofit partners. It requires Commission approval, however, for the addition of any nonprofit partners.
We have three types of nonprofit partners: one is a general nonprofit partner, and the others are closely related nonprofit partners, and closely related are those that are associated with a specific site or program; we also have the official nonprofit partner and we're not going to do anything about that today or recommend anything about that.
We're asking that the following general nonprofit partners be added to the list: The David B. Terk Foundation, The East Texas Woods and Water Foundation, Environmental Defense, Keep Texas Beautiful, Shikar Safari Club International Foundation, The National Rifle Association Foundation, U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation, Weatherby Foundation International, Junior Anglers and Hunters of America, and the Texas Bass Federation Nation. We also have one closely related nonprofit partner, Friends of Parrie Haynes Ranch which is out in Bell County, and there's a recently organized friends group associated with that facility.
Before you is the resolution that we would request that you adopt and the recommended motion to adopt that resolution adding these nonprofit partners. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Ann?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do I have a motion?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Vice Chairman Ramos.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Second by Commissioner Parker. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes. Thank you, Ann.
Next up Item 4, Science Review Update, Larry McKinney.
DR. McKINNEY: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members. For the record, I'm Dr. Larry McKinney, director of Coastal Fisheries.
What I want to talk to you about today is give you an update on the status of our science review which we began back in early 2002 and it's been an ongoing process, and it's a good opportunity, I think, to show you where we are and what we're doing and what we still need to do in the process.
First, I'll start with a little rationale of why we need a science review process. It should be self-evident, but of course, it's always worth repeating that when we're dealing with resource issues, management issues that we do today, they seem to be more and more complex. I don't think they're actually more complex but certainly the issues we deal with, as we gain understanding of these issues, we know they're more interlinked with other things, and so as you make decisions and understand that information, it's obviously more important that you do so.
Clearly, our goal is that when we or our staff are standing in front of you or the legislature or the executive director and you have to make decisions based on the information that's presented in front of you, one of the issues for our agency, a science-based agency, is how good is the science, and you need to have confidence in that science so that when you make those decisions you can do so on the basis that's important. Of course, when controversial issues come up, the first thing that opponents will do in any situation, if they can, is to attack the science and say the science is not credible or whatever, and so one thing we always strive to do is to try to minimize that as much as possible so you have that confidence in the science base on which we're moving forward on. So that was the reason that we felt we needed to do that science review.
And so in setting about designing it, I want to acknowledge Commissioner Montgomery's support and help in this. This was a charge that Mr. Cook initiated, it was important to him when he first actually became Executive Director here for us to make sure that our science was sound and it was a cause that Commissioner Montgomery took up, and he was kind enough to introduce me and allow me to go out to the Stowers Institute in Kansas City. The Stowers Institute at the time ‑‑ I don't know what it is now ‑‑ but at that time it had over a billion-dollar endowment, so this was a science-based organization that really had no resource limits on making sure it did good science, and so that's clearly why we picked their brains as to what we should do. And it's really not rocket science to make that design but it was good to confirm with folks like that of where we were going and what we needed to do.
And the core of our science review is basically the best defense of scientific credibility is a good offense and that is an independent peer review, so that was the core function of our science review, what we really got out to get an independent review from folks, credible scientists, of what we do and what we're doing. And so the process really was set up in this way.
Of course, the first phase was to make sure our house in order. We have an excellent process that all of our resource divisions go through as far as QA and QC in making sure our own procedures meet our standards and getting our data together, but that process, knowing we're going to have outside folks coming in and taking a look at our programs, at that time made us go back and make sure that it was in order. So obviously getting our own data and information together was an important part of that.
The second phase was, in fact, the programmatic peer review, and we'll spend some time talking about it so I won't say much here, but that is obviously making sure that we are fundamentally sound in our scientific approach and having independent scientists and experts affirm that or give us information and guidance as to how to make sure that it was.
And of course, a science review is no good unless you actually implement it, and that phase three implementation is really what we're in now and have been and will continue to do for some time to take a look at all those recommendations that came forward.
And then the fourth phase is how do we establish an ongoing process. We don't want to do this just once. On a regular basis we need to take a look at make sure our science is up to date, and what periodicity do we need to use and what we need to look at is important. And then also a process for looking at those future challenges because we don't want to come up against some issue that we have to make a decision on that we don't have the information on, if we can help it, so taking a look at what's down the road in front of us is important so we can make decisions on what science we need to gather to be ready at that time, and that, of course, is a challenge to look down the road like that.
Our peer review really broke into three parts at the time. We were fortunate in having the National Academy of Science, bring them in to look at our water data and information at that time. At that time, of course, the Resource Protection Division was there and the Inland Fisheries was participating in that as well. So that was one group that we brought in to look at our environmental science in particular. The Wildlife Management Institute, we engaged them to take a look at our Wildlife and Parks Divisions and the American Fisheries Society taking a look at Inland and Coastal Fisheries Divisions.
I will tell you that as far as I can tell, and in looking and talking to others around the country, no one has ever done anything like this, and still to this day when I talk to my peers at professional meetings and others, they always express interest in it, then they always say I don't really know whether I want to do this. Because obviously it's never easy to stand up and just basically expose yourself to say, come take a look at what we're doing and tell us if we're good or bad, because clearly that information ‑‑ it's a tough one. But I know others are doing it, and it's a good process to have gone through once it's done, it's just perhaps not easy going through the process to some degree.
So let's take a look at some of what we did. And basically what I'm doing here is I took ‑‑ back when we had finished the review, I gave a briefing to the Commission back in 2005, I believe it was ‑‑ and so I've taken parts of that to reproduce here to kind of say, okay, here's what was found and here's what we did about it. This is what I'll go through.
Coastal Fisheries and Inland Fisheries, the American Fisheries Society and National Academy of Sciences was the group that looked there, and I picked out a few examples of things to talk about. Of course, we appreciated the kind words from the peer review that they thought we were basically sound in our procedures and monitoring and so forth was ‑‑ in fact, we were leaders in the country in a lot of things, but like any good auditor, they're going to find something to help you improve on and that's what we expected, so that's what I'll follow up on three examples there.
That is, one, they talked about our monitoring programs. In the Inland side of it, they basically made some recommendations that Inland should probably take a look at increasing their level of routine-type monitoring, if you will, or focused monitoring and put resources to that program. On the Coastal side, where we've had a very extensive monitoring program, they actually told us perhaps we ought to back off a little bit because we were spending so much time on the monitoring program itself, we weren't really analyzing all this information as well as we could, all the information we were gathering. We have so much information there that we ought to make sure that we're looking at the forest for the trees, so take a look at what you can do to make use of that data because it was very extensive.
And so we tried to respond to that, and I want to talk to that for a moment about how important these monitoring programs are. You all got a little bit of that yesterday in talking about what we know and don't know about turtles and management and how valuable that information can be, and how difficult and disconcerting it can be when you don't have that information. So the value of these programs are inestimable, but they're very difficult to perpetuate. Many programs, for example, Coastal Resource programs, look like this in their data, they don't really have as much as they need to make decisions and what you really would look for; when you have this kind of information, you can make sound decisions.
I had the opportunity ‑‑ I suppose you'd call it an opportunity ‑‑ to go to Alabama just a few weeks ago because they're dealing with a situation now in their legislature ‑‑ in fact, it's on the floor today in Alabama ‑‑ whether or not to ban gill nets in the state. That's the one state left that still uses gill nets, and it's a very contentious topic, as you might expect, and I got more involved in it probably than I wanted to. I don't know if I can go back to Alabama anymore after this.
But at any rate, the problem was and the concern is they actually have good data there but don't have a long-term monitoring program; they have some good data, but there was no any confidence in that data amongst the group, they had never gone through any kind of peer review or anything like that, for example, so the debate came down to: is your data good or not. So it really detracted from the overall policy decision of whether we should have gill nets or where our emphasis should be. That's where it should be, on the data. But that example brought it home to me how important and how valuable our own peer review and our own programs have been to keep us out of those arguments or to raise us above them at least.
Probably the most significant outcome of the science review was, in fact, the taking of our Resource Protection Division at the time and blending it in to Coastal and Inland Fisheries, because one of the recommendations that came out of the science review was that we needed to be more holistic in how we looked at management, to look at this ecosystem-based management approach, to make sure that we're not just looking at fish populations but we're looking at issues that affect them, be it water quality or water quantity, inflows and instream flows, and we were doing that as an agency but we were doing it in compartments, in separate divisions, so the idea was that we needed to integrate these issues better.
So that was one of the results of the science review was to take a look at how we could take the Resource Protection Division at the time and move it into those two divisions and build that capacity. And I will tell you that I think it has worked and is working as we expected it would.
A third area on the fisheries side was taking a look at our hatchery programs. There has been, for example, on the marine side particularly, debates back and forth about how valuable are hatcheries, what's the role of a hatchery, can you achieve as much through management or this type of thing, what do they actually contribute. And that question really hasn't been answered and so we decided to answer it, and the science review folks suggested that we did.
So we went to A&M and Dr. Gold at A&M, who is a world-renowned geneticist and has designed a program to take a look at just how our hatchery stockings are affecting natural populations. And it's amazing what you can do these days with these genetic things. For example, from just a simple fin clip from one of our fish taken at random in any of our bays, we can tell you whether it was a wild stock or from hatchery stock, and not only can we tell you if it was a hatchery stock, we can tell you from what pair of fish that fish came from in the brood ponds. It's just incredible.
And so some preliminary results, for example, and it varies ‑‑ and we're looking at this, it's very interesting ‑‑ in Galveston Bay, for example, from seven to 9 percent of the red fish in Galveston Bay they're from hatcheries. Now, in Aransas Bay it's less than 1 percent. So we're taking a look at that and using that as part of our analysis of what we want to do in the management perspective. So it was a good project and came out of the science review.
On the Inland side, again similar, that we needed to make sure that we were using good science to make a decision on how and where we stocked fish, and as you can see from the notes here, quite detailed, that Inland took that to heart and really revamped their whole process of how they track stocking and what they did, and they feel much more comfortable now that they can defend what they do and how they stock the fish and where they do so. So that has been an excellent program and a result of the science review program.
One of the most interesting ‑‑ and of course, again, that's another issue that's before the House right now in HB-3 somewhere ‑‑ the whole environmental flows bill, and so that's there now. One of the things that we did as part of the science review was to take a look at our programs and we were able to get the National Academy of Sciences to come in and look at our base programs, and they did an excellent job. They did compliment our groups on what we did. Of course, the unique part about this review is it involved not just our agency but two other agencies as well, TCEQ and the Water Development Board, so it was a partnership in that respect. And of course they recognized some of the things we've done but gave us some comments as to what we should do to improve those, and we're moving forward on that.
I will tell you now everything that has been recommended by National Academy of Sciences is being incorporated into our programs and they're moving forward. We're just now waiting for the direction from the legislature to apply those in a way that's meaningful, and we hope that we get the opportunity to do that.
On the Wildlife and Parks side, the Wildlife Management Institute was the group that came forward on that, and again, it's always nice to hear kind words from the reviewers that basically they thought we were sound and we have improvements we could make, and they looked at some areas there where we should perhaps make some changes in survey methods, as it says here, and others. And I will tell you that the Wildlife Division really took that to heart and has been working on that ever since, and a couple of comments specifically of where they should look at our methods for sampling different species and so forth.
What I've done following this here is that when I asked Mike Berger to give me some examples, I got reams of things, and it's very pleasing that, in fact, they have done that. I had not actually even realized to the extent to which they had been reviewing the programs to make sure that they follow some of this guidance. So when you take a look at what they've done in their deer surveys, I'm just going to kind of scan through these to save time, but clearly if you have any questions, Mike better be back there in the audience behind me, or Victor or someone, I know that they are, but we can do that later if you want more details, but just to give you a cutting of some of the things that they've done, it's been quite extensive, and not only how they've done the surveys.
Of course, these are all examples with deer here, but that's not the only area they looked at, the mourning doves, so going through a list of programs, they've modified, dropped or changed, it's very impressive and I think has and is increasing our confidence and should increase your confidence in the science base of the decisions that obviously they bring forward for you to make.
So finally, to wrap this up, for most future issues, of course getting a crystal ball out to take a look at where you're going to go down the road is sometimes difficult, but one area that we know we're going to be more involved in is in water issues and those types of things, so the focus of where we will be looking for emphasis on future science reviews will be on those programs that have impacts on what we're doing with water in anticipation of some important decisions to be made down the road.
To give you one example, on our freshwater inflows, for example, we were fortunate to have sought out and just recently been awarded money from the EPA's Gulf of Mexico Program to bring all the top folks, people, scientists and researchers in the country and from around the world, actually, to talk about freshwater inflows, to take a look at how best we can move forward on determining what inflows we need to sustain the health of our estuaries. And we'll be doing that next year so I'm excited about that as kind of a first step in taking a look at our own means and methods to make sure that they are truly up to date which I know that they are. So that's the focus for where we'll be going on our review in the future.
With that, Mr. Chairman and members, certainly if there's any questions or comments, I'll try to address those, but I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about it, again, recognizing and appreciating Mr. Cook's leadership in setting this up when he did, and I think it has paid benefits that we will all enjoy for many years to come. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Larry?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: John.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: At the beginning, the frame, I don't know the exact number of it, under your summary of significant findings common to Inland and Coastal Fisheries review, if you could flip back to that. I found quite fascinating the lower one under Coastal Fisheries, that CF should increase its efforts to understand the relationship between resource status and habitat, and CF should increase its emphasis on habitat and non-recreational species. I thought it was quite coincidental, and more than a coincidence that that statement that you made there is such a forward-thinking statement and that it should coincide with the recent publication of Bruce Franklin's book that I shared with you, The Most Important Fish in the Sea.
You're dead on target with those two statements there on the bottom, and what I hope we can do is make further investigation using Mr. Franklin's arguments in this fine book that he has written. And I want to tell everybody that it took me two weeks to read this book, he read it in one night.
DR. McKINNEY: By the way, those statements actually come from our reviewers telling us to do that, but we certainly support them. The book that Commissioner Parker is referring to is The Most Important Fish in the Sea which is about the menhaden fishery and that type of thing, and again, I got to reading the book and I couldn't put it down because it was very telling, I learned a lot from that. And I will tell you from that perspective, we're going to be taking a look at that fishery and that industry here in Texas.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Right. In fact, we allow so many of that "Most Important Fish in the Sea" to be taken out of our Texas waters.
DR. McKINNEY: 800 million pounds out of the Gulf waters, or something along those lines.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Devastating.
DR. McKINNEY: That will be on our list, yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Very good.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Larry. I commend you for getting that work done. You're going to get an opportunity to use a lot of it if Senate Bill 3 passes because we'll be doing the freshwater inflow studies in every basin.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: A question, Larry. For one, I compliment you and Bob for the leadership on this because I think, from everything I've heard, it's put Texas in the forefront of the country in these practices and that's something that we certainly should support at the Commission level. I'll tell the other commissioners, the Stowers Institute that Larry mentioned early in the process, he went up and reviewed with a Texan who runs the Stowers Institute, this program and this is a man who's built up research faculties of Nobel Prize winners, National Academy of Science members, and others, and got a glowing review of the whole methodology, so that was good enough for me to gain confidence in what we're doing.
My question is really two questions: one, have we fully implemented the recommendations from the initial round of reviews, and if not, when do we plan to do that; and two, how do we know going forward when projects come to the Commission or go out in public to what standard they have been reviewed, and do we have some sort of branding or Good Housekeeping Seal methodology we intend to use as we come forward with projects so it's well known by the public that they've met certain standards.
The speckled seatrout, for example, we got to that point in the public debate, we had the whole confidence question going there, and I think the rigor of the process did allow us to make a tough policy decision and make a sound, long-term conservation practice implementation.
How do you see us doing that going forward, in both a visible way and a way which the Commission will recognize and which sets the standard for the professional staff to adhere to when they bring something forward?
DR. McKINNEY: As far as your first question, where we are on implementation, we're still in that because making changes of the nature we're talking about will take some time, some programs quicker than others and so forth. So I think we're substantially through with that first set of recommendations that were there and are in the process of implementing that and three-quarters of the way through or something like that. So I'm very happy with that. We're to a point where we can look at other programs or come back and look at these programs again and say, Okay, is there something particular here we need to look at, like the water programs and water data and freshwater inflows. So that's there.
As far as how to certify them, I guess, some way, how we could certify to make sure that those programs have been covered, as you asked that, I'm not coming up with anything. But I think some comments when we're making those presentations to you all on the Commission on the informational basis that these programs have been through that review, I think that would be good for our constituents to know that too, that the information that's being used as a basis for recommendations has been vetted through that scientific review process. Simply making that statement or assurance would be one way to do it.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We see a lot of data and I know a lot of times we can't have done that, I just think it would be important as things come up, Bob, that we say we have or haven't so we acknowledge the difference.
DR. McKINNEY: It has been through some scientific review process that, in fact, it's met those challenges. I think that would probably be the easiest way to do it is just to make those kind of statements when we do that.
MR. COOK: I think your suggestions are certainly worth considering. In many cases this science boils down to an art and some judgment calls have to be made just because of the situation that we're in, but from the standpoint of this science review, and everybody in these divisions that we're talking about here agrees, it's sort of like going through the State Park audit, and Doc kind of ventured there, you know, you improve, I believe, by having on a regular basis that outside review.
Wildlife Management Institute, for instance, has already hit us up again, they want to do it again, it's the only time they've ever done it. And they enjoyed it, they learned a lot from it, and they see it as an opportunity for a group like that across the nation to be involved with the state agencies and federal agencies.
So I think it's one of those things that we've just got to continue to do on a regular basis, identifying statistical analysis of the data that we present, that we're getting more and more in line with that to be able to show you the confidence intervals, the mathematical confidence intervals, but at the same time you have to incorporate that art, that judgment into that data.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Should it be our practice to have a three- to five-year review in each area? Five years, is it now?
MR. COOK: That's kind of where we are.
DR. McKINNEY: That's part of what we're discussing. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Larry.
Next up Item 5, action item, Commercial Collection and Sale of Nongame Wildlife, Matt Wagner.
MR. WAGNER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commission. My name is Matt Wagner. I'm Program Director for Wildlife Diversity. We're coming to you today with proposed changes to our Nongame Permit Program for your consideration and action.
To give you some background, we know that there is growing demand for nongame for the pet trade and for food items, combined with an unrestricted commercial harvest in Texas. We know that tighter rules in other states has led to increased pressure in Texas from out of state dealers and collectors, furthering the growing demand, primarily for turtle meat. In particular, there's several studies that have been done that looked at unrestricted harvest on turtle populations and they're listed for you here: box turtles, red-eared slider, softshell, common snapping turtle, and painted turtles. Many of these species, or all but one, that's listed occur in Texas.
Looking further at the literature in general, there is a growing concern, both nationally and internationally, about the decline of turtle populations due to unrestricted commercial harvest. Some of the authors are with us in this room today. They may choose to speak later.
Now, the current proposal would implement a White List of 84 nongame species legal for commercial collection. For species not on the list, a possession limit of six is proposed, but commercial use of species not on the list would be prohibited. Currently, no turtles are on the proposed White List, but it is our intent to allow continued legal control of turtles in private waters.
Now, the public comment, as of this morning, was 91 percent in favor of the proposal as published. I think the "for" comments are up to 1,451, opposed 146. The main objections to the current proposal include the matter of allowing commercial collection of turtles on private property, the fact that it would not allow importation of indigenous nongame from other states and the rule doesn't allow for grandfathering hobbyists or captive breeders. Other opposing views included 26 comments that turtles were a nuisance, 11 comments that we had no scientific justification for this rule, and seven comments questioning the White List approach.
Now, the recommended changes to the current proposal would be to allow for importation of nongame into Texas for sale or subsequent exportation, with documentation of origin, to allow for grandfathering of existing private collections and to develop a procedure over the next 12 months to handle captive breeding operations. This would probably involve a separate captive breeding permit.
Because nongame involves a wide variety of wildlife, we wanted to exempt certain species from this rule, including coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions, rabbits which are hunted as essentially nongame, and of course, American bison we discovered was a nongame species and there's commercial activity with bison we don't want to affect.
A regulatory alternative to accommodate the concern on private property would be to allow the commercial use from private property for three species of turtles: red-eared slider, the softshells which include five different taxa, the common snapping turtle. Annual reporting would continue as currently required by nongame dealers.
So the recommendation is that the Commission adopt the amendments concerning commercial nongame, with changes as necessary to the proposed text. Questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Matt. We have a great number of people signed up to testify. I think what we should do, because we're going to learn a lot from the people who are going to testify, let's have the testimony, and Matt will stand by for questions as well as Ann Bright and David Sinclair.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Can I ask a quick question?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Are you suggesting the proposal include this regulatory alternative?
MR. WAGNER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The alternative on private waters.
First up to testify, Elizabeth Tschudi, and J. Pete Laney be ready.
MS. TSCHUDI: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Elizabeth Tschudi. I'm here on behalf of State Representative Hubert Vo. Representative Vo's office became aware of this issue here very, very recently, and I'm here to express his concerns.
Representative Vo's understanding is that turtle dealers licensed by Texas Parks and Wildlife are capturing wild turtles from Texas streams that are currently posted with fish consumption advisories and fish consumption bans for dangerous levels of human carcinogens. We understand these turtles are being sold to restaurants, including Asian seafood markets in Representative Vo's district and throughout Harris County.
Representative Vo respectfully asks that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department work with whatever health departments to immediately conduct an investigation regarding the risk to public health through the consumption of contaminated turtles. And that's it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Any questions of Ms. Tschudi?
What representative was that?
MS. TSCHUDI: Hubert Vo.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Of Houston?
MS. TSCHUDI: Of Houston.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ann, could you very quickly address the issue of jurisdiction on the health issue? Thank you.
MS. BRIGHT: For the record, I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel.
As I mentioned yesterday, state agencies have only those authorities which are specifically granted to it by the Texas Legislature and authorities that are implied from that express authority. Regulations regarding nongame species, under the Parks and Wildlife Code, can be adopted basically based on the protection of the species, not based on human health, and there's actually an Attorney General's opinion out on nongame species from a number of years ago dealing with the Department's authority to regulate human safety.
The Texas ‑‑ I think it's now called ‑‑ State Health Services Department deals with food consumption, human safety, health and safety issues. We've been in communication with them over this issue, a couple of their representatives were actually here yesterday. We also work with them very closely on other areas of the state, I understand from Phil Durocher, whenever there is a consumption advisory in terms of collection and that sort of thing, and we'll continue to talk to them about this issue.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Would you communicate that to Ms. Tschudi so that they're in the loop in Representative Vo's office?
MS. BRIGHT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Thank you, Ms. Tschudi.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And on deck is Bryce Benjet.
MR. LANEY: Good morning, Commissioners. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is J. Pete Laney. I am an attorney in private practice here in Austin, primarily specializing in commercial litigation and administrative law. I'm here on behalf of a group of pet dealers that got together and call ourselves the Coalition of Concerned Pet Dealers. They got together when this rule came about. You'll hear from others that are part of the group, and you'll hear from Mr. Benjet who is an attorney in my office who is an appellate lawyer and worked at the Third Court of Appeals as a staff attorney which is the court here in Austin that hears all these agency rulemaking decisions, and Jasen Shaw who is a dealer, and Roy Moreo from El Paso who has come with 532 signatures from El Paso from people that oppose this rule, and some others that may have stepped in.
I want to start off by saying that Chairman Fitzsimons and I believe Commissioner Friedkin hit it yesterday when they said this is uncharted waters and we need to get it right. There's a way to get it right and I just don't think this rule is the way to get it right, and for several reasons that myself and Mr. Benjet and others will discuss today.
I want to run through what I want to talk about briefly. One, Mr. McKinney touched on the point about the science in different areas that we don't know about, and I think that's a big concern amongst all the comments to these rules is that we just don't have the data, and as Chairman Fitzsimons said, this is uncharted waters and there's so many people involved and it's hard to get your hands around everything. And so I would probably propose that this would be a prime candidate for perhaps some type of negotiated rulemaking, and I'm sure you all understand what that is and I can talk a little bit about that, but where you bring everyone in, interested stakeholders, and come up to develop a comprehensive rule.
So like Executive Director Cook said about the mule deer stuff yesterday is that 15 years from now we can look back on this and say Texas is at the forefront of this and Texas is doing good and we're the leaders in this area.
The pet trade is a large industry, as you will hear from others, and it's greatly affected by this proposal. The other problem is from a legal perspective on this rule, and then we're going to discuss the proposed rule that we had sent in to the staff that we thought fixed the legal issues and the data issues, and you should have a packet in front of you that has all of that stuff and discusses our comments with the rules.
The legal issues is there's no reasoned justification, it's a data issue, the statute clearly sets out, legislature mandates that the Department do certain things in order to pass a rule to regulate wildlife, and we just don't think that has been done. The White List issue, we don't believe the statute allows for a White List to be promulgated. We believe that this turns the legislative mandate, the statute on its head, and if you'll look at the statute ‑‑ and I can answer any questions about that issue ‑‑ the legislature has clearly set out what you have to do before you promulgate this rule and how you do it, and it's not default of an all-out ban.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Any questions for Mr. Laney?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Laney.
Ann, would you address the White List issue for us?
MS. BRIGHT: I'll actually quote from the statute. It allows the Commission to, with regard to nongame species, adopt regulations that establish any limits on the taking, possession, propagation, transportation, importation, exportation, sale or offering for sale of nongame fish and wildlife that the Department considers necessary to manage the species. That, to me, sounds pretty broad.
I also wanted to comment on the reasoned justification is actually a requirement in the adoption as opposed to the proposal, and we will be working on a reasoned justification to justify whatever the Commission's decision is.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ann.
Next, Mr. Benjet, and then Jasen Shaw be ready.
MR. BENJET: Hi. My name is Bryce Benjet. I practice with J. Pete Laney primarily in appellate and administrative law. As J. Pete has said, much of what I've done in the past is hear challenges to rules where courts are considering whether a rule was validly adopted and whether the agency had the statutory authority to adopt that rule.
Going on with what you just heard about statutory authority, I know J. Pete had distributed a packet that sort of looked like this. It has the statute in it. You were read Subsection (a) of 67.004 as authority, and it's a broad grant, but Subsection (b) of that statute which you weren't read says that the regulations shall state the name of the species or subspecies by common and scientific name that the Department determines to be in need of management under this chapter.
What the rule that's currently proposed does with regard to as it was listed or any of the alternatives is it proposes a White List saying you can deal in these species and anything off that species is prohibited. That's regulation. And I think that we counted 118 species that are being managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife under this rule without being identified, and I think that's a huge problem, and I think that if this rule is adopted that it's not going to be a valid rule. And so that is one of the things that I really want to talk about is the statutory authority issue, and that the rule as proposed, even as the alternatives, is not a valid rule and that the Texas Parks and Wildlife does not have the authority to do that.
She has read to you a broad grant, but the very same provision that gives you that broad grant then takes the authority away in terms of you have to be specific in the species that you name and you have to make a specific determination as to each one of those species that you are regulating that there is a need for that regulation, and these proposed rules go against that entire idea in the statute. The whole idea is that we need to identify species to regulate and know why we're regulating them, and this rule sort of says the default is regulation, and to the extent that we're going to allow any activity, those are the only ones we're going to talk about. So that, I think, a big problem.
And it also comes into the reasoned justification issue. I think that that we're going to hear a lot of biology in this, but what's been cited by the staff is a bunch of literature that does not deal with actual census. We don't know how many turtles are out there, we don't have a good idea of that, from what I know, and we don't have a good idea in terms of what a sustainable level of activity is. And so what we've got in here in Tab 3 is a proposal ‑‑ actually Tab 4 is a proposal that would be a rule that would give you that information which would allow you to make that decision.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Benjet. I think there are a couple of folks that have questions for you so you'll be allowed a little more time. Are you suggesting ‑‑ I'll just think of an example. We have regulations on game birds season bag limit, possession; we don't have seasons on nongame songbirds, for instance. You're saying that we should have listed the species, every single one that you can't shoot?
MR. BENJET: Well, I'm looking at the statute here and the statute says that you have a broad authority to regulate but then any regulation that you have shall state the name of the species or subspecies by common and scientific name.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But it doesn't say by exclusion, it says you have to state the species and the species is stated on the White List.
So Ann, could you address this? To follow this logic, all of our game laws are out the window because we don't list every songbird you can't shoot.
MS. BRIGHT: One thing I will say is that in terms of game species and various species, the Parks and Wildlife Code is filled with different laws for different types of species, so what may be appropriate or not appropriate for deer, for example, is not necessarily going to be the same law that's going to apply to nongame. And I think it's really just going to come down to a question of what is meant by the phrase "to be in need of management." I think we've determined that there should be a prohibition on certain species and the species that are listed ‑‑ and they are listed by their scientific name and their common name in the proposed rule ‑‑ are in need of management, and that's what we're hoping this will do is gather data and manage those species.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So you're comfortable with our procedure?
MS. BRIGHT: I'm comfortable with it, but as you know, if we get sued, we'll find out.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: If we get sued, we'll see you in the courthouse.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Mr. Benjet, I have a question. What evidence does your group have to indicate that the turtle population in Texas is not vulnerable at the present time?
MR. BENJET: Well, I don't think that there is evidence that it's not vulnerable. I think that the rational conclusion from some suggestion that there is a vulnerability is to actually monitor this. What we have learned in terms of the reporting is there is a reporting scheme in effect. We've proposed rules that would expand that reporting because right now the people who are actually taking the wildlife ‑‑ that are actually doing the collecting are not reporting to the department but the department can get that information and they have it.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes, but that's not my question. What I'm saying is what evidence do you have to dispute that, in fact, the population is vulnerable? Do you have a study or anything to dispute it?
MR. BENJET: Oh, I think that there is no question that there is evidence that turtles have a certain vulnerability. I think that there's noted data on what a sustainable activity is and that the only rational conclusion you can make from simply evidence of some vulnerability is close monitoring and a rule that is based on that monitoring.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: But you don't have a study or data to furnish to us to support that?
MR. BENJET: No.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: One other question. We do have the authority, do we not, to regulate turtles in the event that they're at risk in this state?
MR. BENJET: Well, I think you could place them on an endangered list, for example, and I think that if there is data that says that there is a specific risk and that you properly identify what that risk is and that it's based on sound peer-reviewed science on Texas turtles, then you would have that authority. I just don't think we have it here.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think we're going to hear some of it here in a little bit. Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Next up, Jasen Shaw, then Peter Paul ‑‑ I hope I pronounce this right ‑‑ van Dijk be ready. Mr. Shaw.
MR. SHAW: Good morning, everybody. My name is Jasen Shaw. I represent the Coalition of Concerned Pet Dealers, and my company U.S. Global Exotics. I'm based in Arlington, Texas; I employ 14 full-time people; I'm involved in the buying and selling of exotic animals, including animals that we're talking about today; I'm involved in comprehensive export to Europe and Asia, as well as distributing within the United States and within the state of Texas.
Our position is the problem is that we see no justification or data to backup the inclusion or exclusion of species that are on this White List. We basically don't understand how the Department has included certain species and excluded others. And just to give a quick example, the Merriam's kangaroo rat which is included that we can trade, and yet another species, the Ord's kangaroo rat is excluded. Our experience as dealers and talking to the people on the field is that, out of those two species, the Ord's is more plentiful in the wild. So this is just an example of where we don't see the logic in how the list has come about. And the same thing can be said for species in the lizard section and the amphibian section and the mammal section, we just can't see how the Department has come to define that list.
One of the things is many of the species that are left off the list are actually not even collected, from my personal knowledge, they're not even collected in this state. We buy, for example, the long-nosed leopard lizard ‑‑ which is not on this proposed list ‑‑ from Nevada primarily. I very rarely buy this species in this state. So this list is going to really restrict what I can buy and sell, and I don't see how that's going to affect the natural resource of Texas. Basically, by excluding an animal like that and excluding animals that I need as part of my business, it puts me at an unfair disadvantage. I'm competing with California pet dealers, Florida, Illinois. I mean, I'm just one dealer in a huge country, and if these guys have the ability to sell the stuff that we can't, it basically can force my customers that are in Europe, Asia to go to those guys and buy those animals from them.
So basically, people tend to buy animals from somewhere they can get everything. Taking off all these turtles, for example, which for me is a big part of my business during the next three months are baby turtles that are bought from Louisiana, from Arkansas, from Florida. Again, we don't really buy a whole lot of turtles from the state, and the rule, how it's written, is going to really restrict what we can do as a company. And I'm out of time already, so if you have any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Matt, can you address the rationale for coming up with the White List and the concerns?
MR. WAGNER: Yes, sir. The White List was developed by circulating among the various herpetological groups. It's made up of 84 species that we know to be commercially used, either appearing in pet stores or hobbyists are using them for buying and selling, breeding. We also took a look at the range, where these animals occur, are they fairly widely distributed, are they relatively common, and to put them on the list to get better information about the demand for these animals in the pet market.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I have a question.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Wagner, as we're developing these rules for these commercial dealers, is there going to be a bag limit or is there going to be how many pounds or how many head he can sell in a day or a month or a season, is there going to be a season? Or does he just have open season, grab all he can get and go?
MR. WAGNER: There would be no restrictions on the numbers that would be collected of species on the list. The rule, should you choose to amend it, would also allow unrestricted take on private waters of the three turtles that we mentioned. Our job over the next year is to look at that information and come back to you with further restrictions, if needed, and just update you about how the rule is working.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Matt. Just a little history here, for those of you who might not have been here when we started the nongame ‑‑ when was it, back in '99?
MR. WAGNER: That's when the permit was established.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The whole idea was to have a legitimate way to gather the data. At that time, before '99, there was unrestricted gathering and collecting all over the state. So as we go through all this today, I want everybody to remember we're moving towards restriction, we are not creating an opportunity here, we are restricting what is presently unrestricted.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: How does this rule affect the issue the gentleman raised regarding trade in species that are not from Texas. He's suggesting that it shuts it down if they weren't collected here. I know point of origin is mentioned here, but how is that being dealt with?
MR. WAGNER: We would create a procedure for the importation of nongame into Texas for sale or subsequent exportation. That would be a modification of something like the trip ticket where there's a buyer, there's a seller, the Parks and Wildlife Department would get a copy of that transaction, and the person in possession of those animals.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: So if another state allows collection of any number of a species we're restricting, an importer could still bring it in and essentially handle it. I know at DFW at the airport that's probably fairly common for these folks.
MR. WAGNER: Correct.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: He's wrong in saying he'll be put out of business for that issue.
MR. WAGNER: We have met with Mr. Shaw and Mr. Laney and discussed this. We have recognized the need and made the accommodation.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We've got quite a few folks to testify. Matt, thanks for standing by.
Peter Paul van Dijk, and Mike Forstner be ready.
MR. VAN DIJK: Thank you, Commissioners. My name is Peter Paul van Dijk. I represent Conservation International as well as the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtles Specialist Group, a global network of about 300 turtle conservationists, academics and regulatory authorities. Thank you for this opportunity to speak in favor of the proposed regulations. I have been working on Asian turtle conservation for the past 15 years, of which the last 10 years have been focusing specifically on trade issues.
In 1989, many of us got together in Nam Phong at a workshop to take stock of what was happening. We were concerned about trade levels in Asia but we didn't quite have the picture, so we got together and we put together this proceedings for you, and I will make this one available to you later. Very shortly, what we found is that the East Asian or Chinese import trade started in 1989, so only 10 years at that time, and it was a consumption trade. The consumption trade is several orders of magnitude larger in Asia than the pet trade and it exceeds probably the volume of the worldwide pet trade in turtles even if it doesn't do in numbers. In those 10 years, the countries of Vietnam and Bangladesh have been completely emptied of their turtle populations. Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos and Myanmar were ongoing as being emptied.
The demand is completely non-selective, any turtle will do, any species, any size. There is a premium placed on softshells, subsequently a premium price developed for snapping turtles, but any turtle is welcome for the trade. The total trade amounts to 10- to 20 million animals per year in China. That is a combination of domestic farm production as well as live imports from other places. What we have seen are three- to five-year boom and bust cycles per country, per area. Trade starts, moves on, populations collapse, and the trade moves on to a different area. So the overall trade volumes across Asia stay stable, giving an impression of sustainability, but it is a mirage, it is not sustainable on a population-by-population basis.
The exploitation trade for consumption targets large adult animals and it places often a premium on females because they contain eggs. This is about the quickest way of driving a turtle population down, as some of my colleagues will certainly tell you. Essentially this trade exploits the standing crop in which very low recruitments and slow growth rates of turtles inherent in their biology, recovery takes generally decades in the absence of other trades. In the presence of other trades, a turtle population may never recover.
We have also noticed that there are very substantial identification challenges in Asia, thus we applaud the proposed regulations and we urge you that any collection that you may consider would be molded very closely in a real time given that you have a three- to five-year boom and bust cycle. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. If I understand your comment, it's that nowhere in the world has this turtle trade been sustainable, it just moves from extirpation to extirpation.
MR. VAN DIJK: Correct. The consumption trade for large adult animals has never been sustainable.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, and thank you for the work you're doing with us in Mexico with Conservation International. I've been involved in that and you've done a great job. Thanks.
DR. FORSTNER: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Dr. Michael Forstner; I'm a professor at Texas State. I've spoken to you before.
The most important thing you need to hear from me this morning is I congratulate you on both your attention to this matter and on sponsoring Matt Wagner and his people for the canvas of the communities, academic, professional, as well as hobbyists and commercial, to figure out how to do this.
I echo your concerns from yesterday on three pieces of this. One is our Law Enforcement people are can-do folks: you ask them to do something, they're going to say they can do it. One thing I heard yesterday while you were discussing this was our lead for Law Enforcement to say enforcing a ban is easier than enforcing a partial ban, and we're talking about just the amendment on turtles, and I'd like you to consider that as you go forward.
The other thing is you brought up funding this, putting the onus of funding the data management onto the commercial dealers. That has to happen, but don't forget that now we are moving toward assessment of these stocks as if though they were one of our game species or a resource to be managed. The cost of that assessment, just like we do our inland fisheries and thinking about it as aquaculture is a good way to approach freshwater turtles also has to be encountered in those costs.
And the last thing is to give a piece of information, you've heard comments about there's no data. I have data, we have publications we've sent in from one of the few nongame grants that was funded by the Department. The kicker in this for me is Peter Paul just said it, this harvest doesn't work the way that all of us think about harvest when we talk about a natural resource, this is go in, strip the population to the lowest levels you can because that's what's profitable, and move on.
We have one population that we have monitored since 1994 when it was harvested; it took 12 years for the first adult to return to that population, and we still don't know if it was an animal that returned by recruitment, it was a baby and we missed it, or if it migrated in. This year, two weeks ago, we performed our survey for this year. What amazes me is that the repopulation ‑‑ think about a forest management scheme ‑‑ we take the standing crop, the repopulation is no longer the same community of turtles that was present in 1994 and earlier, it's a different group of turtles, one of which is very common, one of which is uncommon, and it was the uncommon turtle today that was the most abundant prior to harvest. That population has never recovered and it is protected, quote-unquote, both civically and by the personnel that manage that spring. Thank you, gentlemen.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Dr. Forstner?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I have a question.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, Commissioner Parker has got a question for you.
DR. FORSTNER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: If we launch onto this program today, what tweaking could be done to further protect these various species ‑‑ and I'm just going to group them all together ‑‑ turtles?
DR. FORSTNER: Well, you know how this goes: you hear things from other sides and you're able to draw on that inference to make decisions or to help your own position as you go forward. You just said it, sir, this isn't about making a dramatic step forward, this is about moving forward. I can tell you that I am torn between the idea of either support of a complete ban on turtles because of their implicit biology or not, and I am unable to give you ironclad data that says all of the species are impacted heavily. I can do so for softshell turtles, it's in peer review right now ‑‑ and that's a good standard for review ‑‑ and we can do it for the population of hardshell river turtles that we've evaluated.
I believe that there is an advantage in obtaining real time information. I'm really worried about the same thing that Commissioner Ramos said, about getting the information in a way that we can use it, but I think we can do that but it's going to require an enormous investment and effort and the personnel to actually do so. And I don't know ‑‑ I tried napkin math last night to figure out how many dealer permits are there, how many commercial permits are there in general, can you make them big enough that they're still making their money and you're able to fund what it takes.
We are doing a turtle assessment in Texas right now, we are in our third year. We have done so for the National Parks Service, beginning in 1998 and continuously for the last three years. The cost of that is $138,000 to date, and that's one taxon, we're doing everything in the river while we're at it. What we've shown in that information is that there's an impact on the abalone fishery, and Dr. McKinney would know the signature, it's exactly the signature you would see in any fishery: the largest individuals are gone first and the population stays stable for a while as the adults collapse out, but the issue with females is those are our reproductive individuals.
So to address directly what you asked me, I believe we collect the information, I would hope that what we come to is the same thing we've done with everything else: we have a post-reproductive season in which harvest is done ‑‑ that protects the females that are doing the recruitment laying of eggs ‑‑ and that we have upper size limits and bag limits, and that we do that after we know what the demand is and when we've assessed the stocks. But this is a top heavy situation, you have to have the funds to assess those things and the total economy of this doesn't appear to be sufficient to support the necessity that underlies doing the management and the strategy.
We have the tools and we've assessed some of those stocks right now and we've shown there's an impact. The question now is how do you go back in and say what is sustainable or not, and I think we do it the same way we've done redfish as a fishery, speckled sea trout. I think it's remarkably coincidental that today we talked about the gill net ban in Alabama. Do you remember the brouhaha when we talked about gill nets in Texas? We're not in that situation this morning, and yet no one has addressed things like by-catch in turtle traps. I do this, I just did it for two weeks straight, you put a turtle trap in the water, you catch everything that's in the water and you catch it regardless of taxon or species, and there are good or bad ways to do that but it's going to be an incredible force against Law Enforcement to try to figure out what is and is not.
And I will bring up one other thing ‑‑ I've mentioned this to Matt Wagner ‑‑ when you propose a rule, you have to also look at the laws of unintended consequences. If we have commercial harvest of turtles in Texas, there will be a seizure of a shipment of turtles that were legally collected. What do we do with it? It's one other snarl in all of this that we have to deal with. I think it's possible to get to sustainable harvest of some of the taxa in Texas. Matt, when he addressed how that White List was put together, he canvassed everyone that was there. We just spent an enormous amount of time on a state wildlife plan and he canvassed the same authorities and they said, These are abundant, they're widely distributed, they can probably take some harvest. And then we manage the resource. I hope that that answered ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Do you say manage the resource by size?
DR. FORSTNER: If we look at Malaclemys ‑‑ which is something that Texas just dealt with a month ago ‑‑ if we look at Malaclemys in general, it's a historical data set in the U.S. There was a tremendous fishery for Malaclemys terrapin which is the Diamondback terrapin, there was a tremendous fishery in the U.S. in the 1900s, early 1900s. That fishery collapsed ‑‑ and I'm treating these turtles as a fishery ‑‑ that fishery completely collapsed. I've done work on Malaclemys in Florida for 10 years, several publications that are now out, and again in Texas.
The Malaclemys fishery took 50 years to recover to where any take could be possible, and that's in the last few years, and now that we're watching that, those fisheries have started to decline again, and states have come in, that's one of the first taxa in the northeast coastal states that have mandated and regulated. What they've done is they've set things like upper size limits so you leave the females in the population and harvest and bag limits as well as seasonal limits. Almost every turtle in our state will have reproduced. It's tough, folks, Brownsville to the Panhandle, but every turtle in our state will have reproduced by or about June 15, at least their first clutch.
So there's ways we can do this, and I'm not against the idea of collecting the information and being able to do what we need to do.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay. Now let me ask you one more question. In your opinion, do you think what we are proposing to do is throwing too big a sheet over the entire thing, or do you think that we should tweak it ‑‑ as I mentioned in my first question to you, do you think that it needs to have more tweaking than what we're doing now, and what we're doing now is we're throwing the broad sheet over it and saying yes, you can do these, in private waters you can take whatever you want and however many you want.
DR. FORSTNER: My professional opinion is nongame wildlife as a resource in our state is on fire, we need to put it out. That's what I think. You're making a step forward. Are you going far enough? I cannot, in a legally defensible format, tell you if you're going far enough or not, or too far. I can tell you that every bit of evidence that I have, 20 years in the field in Texas, nongame and population genetics ever since I started. My mentor is in the audience, he's one of the lead herpetologists in the state, my boss ‑‑ just retired, stepped down from chair ‑‑ boss is in the audience, another lead herpetologist in the state. All of us have seen the same thing happen. There is nowhere I have gone where I have not seen a decline in total abundance, pick a taxon.
So should you go to a complete ban? I think that there is some way to come to sustainable harvest for some of these taxa. Is a private-public water split going to be enough? I think it's a Law Enforcement nightmare and a data-keeping monster, but if it can be implemented and done, then we can gather information that's important. Should you go to what amounts to seasonal and harvest limits on these things? My God, we've done this for a hundred years, of course you should. I mean, there's no question. It's just I am unaware of the legal process that we are in now well enough to tell you that the thing to do is to set these changes to that. I believe that you can move forward from where you are with the expectation ‑‑ mine, implicitly ‑‑ that the expectation is you will come back and revise this in a way that makes it even better than what we've got now. That's what I think.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But by the time we come back to revise it, are we going to put ourselves in a 20-year hole? It's like Will Rogers said, When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
DR. FORSTNER: Again, I will give you one population that Jim Dixon and I have studied since 1988. It was harvested one time commercially in 1994. That population has not recovered two weeks ago.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And that was public water or private water?
DR. FORSTNER: It was in public waters, and what makes that important is it's a public water but it's a protected public water, so even inside it taking them wasn't okay and it was done anyway. When you open up private waters, in effect, you are creating a situation just like what Peter Paul said, instead of Asia, I know that that's a ‑‑ let's substitute our counties. This is not we are going in and harvesting dove in a migration and we are going on with the stock, we are harvesting everything that's there because that's what's profitable and then moving forward.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: One more time, let's make something clear, we are not opening anything up here today, we are constricting, we are not creating a program, we are restricting what is presently unrestricted.
DR. FORSTNER: You're absolutely right. By restricting the case that you have, the situation will become one ‑‑ I'll give you the best analogy I can ‑‑ what the private-public water split does is it says I'm going to purchase a license that allows me to hunt turtles. When I do so, just like I do with deer, it allows me to take every deer on my property and sell them for their meat, hide and horns and my expectation is that they will be restocked from public waters. And I'm scared about a state resource being sold even if it's on private lands and that was expressed ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right now and what we're trying to do here is get a handle on it. I really appreciate your time. We've got 20 other people signed up to testify. Thank you, Dr. Forstner.
Matt, real quickly, can you address the issue of how long it would take Wildlife Division to come up with some take criteria, bag and season criteria for those on the White List?
MR. WAGNER: I think we could come back to you within a year and give you an update of where we are, what we think we need to do from there.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: This has been going on for 20 years, unrestricted.
MR. WAGNER: The way we look at this right now the glass is empty, we're getting it half full. Are we doing enough? I think it's a move toward sustainability.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'd also like to see a study methodology and how we're going to study it, obviously that's very important, and also the law enforcement implications and how we might address some of those through different forms or whatever we can do to track specifically where these turtles are coming from.
MR. WAGNER: Beginning September 1st, we do have a research project to work with Texas A&M and Mike Forstner on it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So you'll get back to us, I would hope, certainly by our next meeting with kind of some parameters?
MR. WAGNER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, thanks.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, Dr. Forstner's comment about the June date, it just makes so much sense, after reproduction. Thanks, Matt.
Francis Rose, and Joe Flanagan be ready.
DR. ROSE: Thank you. My name is Francis Rose. I'm a professor of biology; I was at Texas Tech University for 25 years and I moved to San Marcos in 1991, and I basically study turtles. I've studied turtles in Texas since 1969, following populations. I'm basically associated with the ecology, basic biology of turtles, aquatic turtles and the Texas tortoise, which I've studied since 1969. I've seen a dramatic decrease in the Texas tortoise over that period of time, although it is a protected ‑‑ my point is that it is already protected and so forth and so on.
I think, looking at the proposal that's before you, it seems sound to me, it seems like a good compromise on these issues. I think that it is a step forward as we narrow this down. I did want to point that I've not heard anybody mention the problems yet of predation on these turtles relative to fire ants. In one study we're doing right now, it appears that either the racoons or the fire ants get approximately 99 percent of the turtles that are in our study area, so they actually get the eggs in the ground.
We're also working with the upper respiratory diseases in tortoises and then salmonella infections. With the new genetic techniques on salmonella, we're finding that the aquatic turtles really have a lot of salmonella we didn't think that they had before, and that some of these are human pathogenic. And so this is my area.
I wanted to point out that unregulated means just that, it's unregulated. We have one turtle, for example, that's over 90 years old now that we know it has been passed from person to person in will, so we know how old this turtle is. If you think that these two turtles only have to make two other turtles for the population level to stay clean, to stay at the same level, so if you start moving them out in large numbers, then it has no other mathematical deduction other than it will reduce the population to significant levels.
I think they deserve protection, I think we should protect them. Commissioner Parker pointed out about relative to whether or not this is a large sheet. I wouldn't put a large sheet over it, I'd put a blanket over it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. You support the proposal and you think it's a good compromise. Do you think it's reasonable for us to think we can gather some data in a short enough period of time to make some good regulatory decisions?
DR. ROSE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Doctor.
Next up, Joe Flanagan, and Chris Jones be ready.
DR. FLANAGAN: Good morning. Thank you for my opportunity to speak. I'm the director of veterinary services at the Houston Zoo. I've been working as a veterinarian in Houston for about 25 years, and on any given day, I may treat hummingbirds or elephants, and so I'm very accustomed to applying a base set of knowledge that I have to another situation. And so what I'm going to do here, and outside the zoo fences, most of my time is, in fact, dedicated to toads, turtles and prairie chickens, and the zoo is very actively involved in conservation of those three groups.
I am personally involved with the recovery efforts for Galapagos tortoises and Kemp's ridley sea turtles. Galapagos tortoises were an unlimited resource that would survive quite well and the quality of meat would survive shipping and would last for months under the hold of your ship. The same reason that we want to harvest turtles in Texas is because the meat is good and it will survive 90 hours of shipment to China.
The population of tortoises on Espanola Island, Hood Island was reduced to 13 individuals. Those 13 individuals were brought into captivity in about 1970 for a captive rearing program. They've produced thousands of eggs, hundreds of babies and they've been repopulating the island of Espanola since 1975. That program has cost millions of dollars and decades of time and the population is not yet recovered and the program is ongoing, there are still people working on a daily basis to recover that.
The Kemp's ridley sea turtle was found nesting in the late '40s with 40,000 animals on the beach in one day, and in the early '80s the total number of nests was below a thousand because of over-harvest, unregulated harvest. Millions of dollars, decades of work and last year on the Texas Coast there were 102 nests, and that's after releasing, in a captive rearing program that raises babies to a year of age when they're less likely to be predated by other animals, racoons, fire ants, et cetera, 20,000 animals have been released, all of them are now mature, 102 nests. One out of 200 animals released came back to nest.
When you manage white-tailed deer, you harvest the prize, which is the buck, a nice, big buck. If you want to reduce your population, you allow harvest of does. If you're only harvesting males, your population is going to continue to grow unless there's a habitat issue. If you have the prize for a turtle harvest is a female and she's gravid and you're going to take your reproductive potential completely out of the population.
And when it comes down to identification of individuals, I work at the zoo, we just emptied an exhibit, we had sliders, cooters, we had a number of different species from a number of different environmental areas, the curator for herpetology, with over 25 years of experience, his associate and myself stood and looked at a pile of turtles, couldn't tell a red-eared slider from a cooter because of algae, they wouldn't let their heads out, you could not identify the turtle easily without closely examining them, you can't just open a box and say, Yes, they're all red-eared sliders.
So that's all I have to say. Thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Doctor, thank you very much. That was very useful. Anybody have question for the doctor before ‑‑ no?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Chris Jones.
MR. JONES: Honorable Commissioners and Executive Director, I appreciate the opportunity to comment. My name is Chris Jones. I represent the Texas Conservation Alliance, the state affiliate for Texas of the National Wildlife Federation. This agency does have jurisdiction to enact wildlife laws that protect public health, a paramount duty of all state Texas agencies, it always, always favors eliminating risk to public health, and also an obligation to act scientifically. I ask you today prohibit commercial harvest of turtles from public and private waters in Texas for the following reasons.
Both private and public waters produce contaminated turtles that are unfit for human consumption. Fish and Wildlife Service published that private waters in Texas are contaminated with methyl mercury, a cancer-causing industrial emission that falls from the atmosphere onto private lands and contaminates private waters, in addition to agricultural runoff. Contaminants from public waters move into private waters during flood events. Turtle harvest for human consumption poses a health risk to consumers and should be prohibited.
Internal medicine, digestive and liver diseases, gastroenterology, Dr. Willis Maddrey, M.D., U.T. Southwestern Medical School, two days ago stated: "Thank you for the opportunity to comment. My area of interest is in drug-induced liver injury. From the background document, it is my opinion that the harvesting of these turtles should cease."
Commissioners, the nongame program has created a risk of harvesting contaminated wild turtles for food from Texas rivers that are posted with fish consumption advisories and bans by the Department of Health. Studies show that turtles, because they live so long, more than 80 years, bioaccumulate and retain aquatic contaminants at significantly higher concentrations than other aquatic animals. A professor from Ohio University found enough PCBs in one snapping turtle to kill a large mammal. You must have seen the video of more than 400 pounds of meat turtles being taken from the Trinity River in downtown Dallas and sold to an Asian seafood market in DFW. Trinity River presently has a fish ban.
There is no private property right to wild turtles that live on private land, regardless if the water is private or public. The public trust doctrine grants this agency the authority to conserve and manage all wildlife on private lands and private waters for the benefit of the public. Many landowners claim title erroneously to public waters and will allow commercial harvest. Your LE in DFW and East Texas do not want this trade and they understand the impact from their own field observations. In May of last year, this agency and biologists from UT observed wild adult turtles sold as food in Asian seafood markets that derive from nongame licensees of our program.
Now is the time to act scientifically, objectively and analyze Mr. Wagner's recommendation and respect the risks associated with opening private waters to commercial harvest. Our brothers and sisters in Texas and China depend on us ensuring a safe and contaminated-free food. No one has the right to privatize the public trust in a way that creates a known risk to public health. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Once again, we're not opening a program, we are restricting a program that is presently open. Thank you.
MR. JONES: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Next up, Heather Lowe. I'm sorry, I skipped Chuck Evans. Chuck Evans be ready.
MS. LOWE: Good morning, Commissioners, I'm Heather Lowe. I'm the assistant curator of conservation science at the Fort Worth Zoo. I'm here to ask that you approve the legislation as proposed last month to ban the commercial harvest of turtles in Texas. I've been at the Fort Worth Zoo for 12 years and during that time I've conducted a significant amount of research on conservation issues specific to this state. I'm sure that you know a lot about Texas law and I've lived and breathed Texas law for a long time. Beyond that, I am a native Texan, I'm proud of that and I hold a really deep-seated pride in this state and its wildlife heritage.
Some of the world's leading experts have already filled you in on the Asian turtle crisis, but the world is shrinking and globalization has enabled this crisis to reach our waters here. Gentlemen, there is little that we can do to stem that conservation crisis on the other side of the planet, but you hold the power to keep it from robbing Texas of its native fauna.
There are those who claim this is a private landowner issue. I know a lot about private landowner issues and given the fact that 97 percent of Texas is in private hands, I understand that there's some sensitivities, but I think that in this case argument is being twisted. Stewardship that encourages the presence of deer, other game species, things like that on private lands, obviously benefit a bevy of species and they can benefit that landowner economically because they can sell hunting leases, it's a complete win-win. But that's not what we're talking about here. There's no good land manager out there that would go out once a year and wipe their property of deer, take them to market and then come back expect the population to be there again. It's just not reasonable.
Beyond that, we have no research that shows that any level of turtle harvest is sustainable. I think that Mr. van Dijk told us that. There's nothing that tells us that these populations are going to come back. The situation that we are facing really is a textbook example of market hunting. We have one trapper alone who's already claimed he has a co-op of 450 people working for him and he has contract quotas for 300,000 turtles a year. That's insane, that's a lot of animals leaving the state.
We have an obligation to learn from history and we have a laundry list of examples of species that have been wiped out by market hunting or have come close to it. You've got passenger pigeons, you've got migratory birds in the late 19th century, there's all kinds of examples, and we have an obligation to learn from this. For an example specific to turtles, we just have to look to Asia, it's in our recent history, it's been in the past generation, 20 years wiped out.
Legislation designed to restrict commercial harvest to just private waters doesn't seem like a very reasonable solution to me at this time: a) because turtles don't know any boundaries; and b) because there's no way for a wildlife inspector to look at a turtle and know its origin; it's just not ‑‑ it's a lot to ask of somebody. And you can't expect when people are driven by money that they're not going to trap wherever they can get something they can sell.
We're also battling a lot of myths that are floating around about how turtles are adversely affecting the ecology of ponds in Texas ‑‑ they're wiping out ducks; they're wiping out all this other stuff. A lot of these rumors that are going around are not scientifically based, but we do have scientific studies that tell us about the important role that chelonians play in the ecology in which they exist. They're scavengers; they're very important, and when you take them out, you can see what happens to the ponds, it's been published.
I do think that this panel is facing a challenge that none of your predecessors have ever had to face, no group before you has ever had to face globalization and its effects on wildlife. And I just urge you to rise to that challenge because I'm afraid if we allow it to continue, our turtle populations are wiped out, we're not going to have the luxury of looking back and saying that we didn't know what happened.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. I think you make a very good point there, Heather. We have a question from Robert Brown.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Initially I thought you said you support this proposed legislation, but it sound to me like what you actually support is just a total ban.
MS. LOWE: I support a ban, yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Total ban.
MS. LOWE: For turtles, specifically.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And again, you understand nobody is creating a new program for harvest, it's a step clearly for a ban in public waters, and then the question is how do we monitor on private. You make a very good point and I think it's a challenge to this Commission and this Department over the next year to remember that this has never been sustainable anywhere in the world with any species of turtle, and we're going to ask ourselves if we can find a way to do that on private land or not, but clearly, this Commission is not going to risk the resource if it can't be done. And you put us on notice, you're absolutely right, it hasn't worked anywhere else on the globe. Thank you.
MS. LOWE: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Chuck Evans.
MR. EVANS: My name is Chuck Evans and I'm a dealer, nongame dealer, and I'm also a collector. I get out in the field, I know what's out there and what's not. In the public waters there's a large population of turtles, you know, she claimed there was 300,000 whatever taken out. Well, that's not even a drop in the bucket, there's millions of turtles in Texas. It's just that the banning of certain species there will create a black market on premium prices and everything that it will make it to where nobody is reporting anything that they're catching also. It creates a big problem for the game wardens as far as the total ban on that.
I just think that it's not ‑‑ I mean, you know, the total ban, there's a lot of species that I catch that I catch in a lot of numbers that are, like I say, not going to be on the list and everything. It's just like, you allowed deer hunting for a reason so that they don't overpopulate and become a problem. Well, if you do the total ban on turtles, I think it's going to create the same problem. We've been able to catch for 20 years and we've still got a huge population of turtles out there. If you put the ban on there, then the turtles will, in my opinion, overpopulate and they will create problems in your fisheries. They do predate on fish, on their eggs, on everything that has to do with that.
So I propose that instead of a total ban that you put a lot of the other species of turtles that weren't on your list there on the list and keep an eye on the populations instead of just doing an emergency ban on them. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Mr. Dixon, and Thomas Simpson be ready.
DR. DIXON: Commissioners, I am James R. Dixon, Professor Emeritus from Texas A&M University, and an old turtle biologist and a professor and writer of books for the state of Texas on amphibians and reptiles. I want to particularly congratulate this Commission and its staff who sit before me ‑‑ that's you guys ‑‑ for insight and vision that you have that go beyond the status quo. We've been in this situation a long time. The proposed effort to gather data on the sustainability of turtle populations and to further protect this resource is highly commendable. We've needed this for a long time. I strongly urge each of you to stay the course and produce a viable product that benefits the resource and its users. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Professor Dixon. That's good advice.
Next Thomas Simpson, and Randal Briggs be ready.
MR. SIMPSON: My name is Thomas Simpson. I am a member of the faculty at Texas State University, I teach several wildlife related courses there in the Biology Department. I want to commend you for considering these proposals, and I want to commend also Matt Wagner and his staff and the Diversity group for putting together the data that they had at hand and bringing this situation up today. I would prefer an outright ban to commercial turtle harvest, but I think the proposals are a good compromise. I think that gathering the data so that you can make further tweaking, further judgments on this within a reasonable time is an appropriate way to go.
It's often been said that if we don't know history, we're doomed to repeat it, and I've heard people say here several times that there has been no documented, sustained, unlimited harvest of turtles in the world. I would go further and say there is no documented, sustained, unlimited harvest of any wildlife species in this nation or worldwide. It just cannot happen; it's not sustainable. So if you will keep that in mind, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to make this statement.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Go ahead, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Do I understand that you concur with other people that have come before us that a people cannot feed another people with a natural resource?
MR. SIMPSON: I agree with that, yes. We're stretching our resources already and, and as Dr. Rose brought out, turtles face tremendous natural mortality, and when you add on that a commercial harvest, it becomes unsustainable very quickly.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Do turtles move about? If we say that we're not going to trap them in public waters, then do turtles stay in one spot or do they travel back and forth? Would they go over to Dan Friedkin's pond and then do they come back to public waters?
MR. SIMPSON: It depends upon the species. Some species do travel over land. Those that are restricted to waterways will stay within those waterways. Like softshells do not get out and travel great distances over land, but I think we've all seen red-eared sliders and snapping turtles have a limited ability to move across land. So what's in private waters doesn't always stay there, what's in public waters doesn't always stay there.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Any further questions from anyone?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you, Mr. Simpson.
The next one up is Mr. Randal Briggs, with Sam Henderson next after him.
MR. BRIGGS: Good afternoon. My name is Randal Briggs. I believe that the turtles if they're completely controlled where they can't be used that they will overpopulate because you can put snappers in a small pond ‑‑ well, we've actually put ducks on a pond in the last month and we have about six ducks left out of the 21 ducks we put on the pond, and the snappers are what are killing them. They eat a lot of our fish. Where a snapper will catch a fish, he'll just take a bite out of it and the fish gets away and then he has to kill another one to survive. And if you don't regulate them, they're going to get to the point where there's just too many of them, and I believe that they will take over populations of other animals.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you. Any comments from any commissioners?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you very much, Mr. Briggs.
Mr. Sam Henderson is next, with Mr. Ellis Gilleland next.
MR. HENDERSON: Gentlemen, my name is Sam Henderson. I'm from Gordon, a small town up in North Central Texas. I am a turtle trapper. I came in with a paper prepared but a lot of things I prepared, I saw Matt's presentation on the regulation where he's going to leave the private water alone. My feeling on that is the public water, it should be managed and enforced rather than banned, an example of certain waters, certain species and sizes of certain species, but the private water, as proposed on the new regulation, should be exempt from the new rule change.
I drove 170 miles yesterday to get here. Driving here, I drove through Stephenville, Hico, Hamilton, Lampasas, I saw a large number of bodies of private water. There is a healthy population of turtles in the state of Texas. It's up to the individual turtle trapper to manage their resource. Parks and Wildlife should manage it also. Your Law Enforcement is very efficient at enforcing game laws.
I've been trapping now this is my third year. I do not go back and trap the same bodies of water a second time. I do plan to go back years from now. I've got landowners that are already asking me when are you coming back. There's a high game fence near where I'm at, a wild turkey ranch, and I ran into the lady the other day and she asked me when I'm going to come back, they had been seeing more turtles. I've never put traps in tanks and when I leave not see any turtles. Not all turtles are going to get in a trap. They do eat fish. I heard a comment that they don't eat fish but if you put vegetation in a trap, you're not going to get any turtles. You catch turtles with fish.
There's public health issues, but people are catching fish and eating fish out of these same streams and rivers. If they're eating the fish, they should be able to eat the turtles. That would be something where Parks and Wildlife would have to come up and say that there is no trapping allowed in these creeks or streams or rivers. I've seen where there's advisories to keep you from fishing in certain areas because of chemicals that are in the water and those same advisories could be in effect for the turtles.
Gentlemen, that's all I have. What I brought in, I decided to not even go with that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, sir. Thank you for your time.
Ellis Gilleland, and Bob Popplewell be ready.
MR. GILLELAND: My name is Ellis Gilleland. I'm speaking for an animal rights organization on the internet called Texas Animals. I've given you two handouts: the first handout is an excerpt from your proposed regulation changes; the second handout is an article in The Houston Chronicle from the 11th of March 2006 titled "Snakes Charm Roundup Crowds." The article pertains to the Sweetwater, Texas, Annual Rattlesnake Roundup, and I want you to notice that the amount involved is not 10 or 20 or 100 or 1,000 snakes, we're talking about nine tons of rattlesnakes. So it's pretty much over the top, and I'd like to ask Dr. McKinney how his science review pertains to nine tons of rattlesnakes being collected. It sort of makes his science review a farce, as far as I'm concerned, because science could not support that.
My request is that you take the six rattlesnakes off your proposed White List, and in effect, that would kill the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup. To me this is like analogous ‑‑ you talk about over the top, this is analogous to your Chairman Lee Bass killing a 1,000 to 2,000 white-tailed deer from his three helicopters. It's just over the top, unreal and absurd. My open records request tomorrow will ask you for your support for the many years of this Rattlesnake Roundup of how you support that biologically and scientifically. I would like to see that in writing, please.
The second thing I gave you is the excerpt from the regulation. You notice the first line it says would remove provisions requiring possession limits. That's a fraud, that's a lie, that's a farce because you do not remove possession limits. If you look further down in your statement it says there's a limit of six on personal, and then you say, oh, you can also have 25. So my recommendation is that you send 10 game wardens to Sweetwater for the next Roundup and give citations and fine all the people that have over 25 rattlesnakes. You'll make several million dollars because they'll be out there getting them because they think they've got the political clout. Well, let's see you go up against people with nine tons of rattlesnakes. Please, thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Gilleland.
Bob Popplewell, please, and Kerri Mitchell be ready.
MR. POPPLEWELL: Good afternoon, gentlemen. I appreciate the opportunity to address you this afternoon. I've spoken quite a bit in position papers and various documents I've shared with you and certainly senior staff over the last few months, and I'm really here to talk practicality. I've heard a lot of stuff here today but I've focused in on a few key things and that is that no one is willing to stand up and tell you they have solid data to make a decision either way. There's nothing that justifies excluding or including realistically anything on either one of the lists, the Black or the White.
I hear that data is lacking. None of our esteemed professors, who we honor with their scientific knowledge, is willing to stand up and tell you they've got irrefutable data to tell you how to make your decisions. We do have to get this right, and to get it right, I think we have to all back off and take a study and lay in your hands irrefutable data for the first time. We could talk on and on on both sides of this forever. I would like to sit at a table and I would be pleased to do so, I think every dealer and every collector in Texas would, along with other vested interests, and be ready for the 2009 season, a little over one year away, to have a solid program that you could adopt. Not one species that was referenced today ‑‑ and your own staff told you they're not willing to say that any of these are threatened, they are not.
During this study, effective design would consider things like: look at the amount of public water versus private water; look at habitat issues, including increased habitat with new ponds being built on private waters; analyze the markets, what's happening with the emerging markets, what markets are ebbing ‑‑ and some of them are, gentlemen; look at the extensive poll of landowner input ‑‑ people who control 90 percent of the land in Texas didn't even know we're talking about this; trust me, they did not know. I had a rancher just yesterday say, I've never read the Texas Register; I'm too busy feeding my cows and mowing hay. And so that's an honest, legal effort to communicate but it's not realistic for landowners.
We need to obtain broad and detailed input from all vested interests, including Parks and Wildlife, landowners and any stakeholders, including commercial operators. We have to have a lot of field study, and I've volunteered with senior staff to do some studies with them. Let me show them my trapping technique and my training process for the people that work with us in this program, I think they'll see some things that are important. I would recommend you guys raise the license fees for dealers, that's me, but raise it substantially for out of state dealers. We heard that out of state places are coming here because we're more loose than they are. Make them pay for that, sir, and I think you'll find that that's not only raising fees, it cuts down that problem a little bit.
All during this time we're all participating in a well-designed study to generate what? A solid program with everyone's input that is balanced between the commercial aspects and all other stakeholders, so that by the 2009 season you have, in advance, adopted a comprehensive and complex and balanced approach to handling all nongame. We seem to have focused just on turtles here at the last minute. It makes no more reason, although I love compromise and I'm telling you that private waters versus public is better than nothing, it makes no more reason to stop rattlesnake hunting on public land or gathering lizards or Texas green toads, all of which are still on the list. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sir, do you keep a record of how many turtles that you export out of Texas like from DFW Airport? Do you keep a record of those?
MR. POPPLEWELL: Yes, sir, I do. I have to for my report.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Can you share with us how many turtles you have exported that came out of Texas in the past 24 months?
MR. POPPLEWELL: I can't tell you 24-month-wise. I could look at my data and tell you, but I can tell you I've been gathering turtles and snakes and other animals since 1959.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I don't care about 1959, just the last, break it down, last 12 months and then the 12 months before that.
MR. POPPLEWELL: I'd say we've exported probably 12,000 in the last 12 months, probably 2-1/2 times that over the past 24 months, and the reason there's been a suppressing element just from this discussion and publicity out there, people haven't hunted like they were. It's not near the number ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: 12,000 in the last 12 months?
MR. POPPLEWELL: Approximately.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And in the 12 months prior to that?
MR. POPPLEWELL: Approximately 2-1/2 times that because none of this controversy suppressed the turtle harvest at all. It's not near the numbers ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Two and a half times that amount, so that would be 30,000?
MR. POPPLEWELL: Possibly, but sir, many of those are hatchlings that we raised ourselves, they didn't come from the wild population whatsoever. I would urge tabling, gentlemen.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Next up, Kerri Mitchell, and Roy Murillo be ready.
MS. MITCHELL: Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thank you for your time. My name is Kerri Mitchell. I'm from the University of Texas at Arlington, and I'm here to support the adoption of Commission Agenda Item Number 5, most importantly to prevent the unsustainable harvesting of one of our state resources. Also, as a Texas chelonologist, not only because I have a great love and admiration for this lineage, but as a young Texas chelonologist, I'd like to have some job security when these guys over here retire.
I did some research for two years and I also noticed a decline in abundance and a decline in diversity compared to what historically was in that area as far as turtles go, particularly snapping turtles. And my specialty is bioaccumulation, and I want to take this opportunity to mention that there are four other states in the United States that have advisories against the consumption of freshwater aquatic turtle meat, and given the fish advisories in our state, I think the consumption of Texas freshwater aquatic turtle meat is ill-advised at this time. That's all I have to add. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
Roy Murillo, and John Crickmer be ready.
MR. MURILLO: My name is Roy Murillo and I come all the way from El Paso, Texas, drove all the way down here. Gas is a lot cheaper here, by the way.
My condition to being here is that there's a lot of animals out there and a lot of animals that have been taken from the wild, but I'm a nongame dealer and not only do I go out and catch turtles, I catch snakes, I catch rodents, I catch a lot of other species. I gave a list a little while ago ‑‑ I came with over 500 signatures to keep the turtles on the pet trade. There's a lot of people that still have turtles in their backyards as pets and they multiply, little old ladies that have them, and they don't want to give them up.
A lot of the talk that I hear here is just water turtles, water turtles. Now, I'm where there's a lot of box turtles and there is a lot of box turtles out there. Now, I can't collect as many box turtles as a bird could eat in a day, and I can't collect as many as get run over every day, but all I'm trying to do is just save what I can collect and make use of it as somebody's pet. A lot of the gathering of data I don't believe is all getting turned in, and there's a lot of other species of animals out there that the gathering of data needs to be enforced, at least a couple of years of data or another year of data that all species should be turned in, not just the water turtles but land turtles, snakes, rodents. You've taken on some of the list that you have there, you've taken Ord's kangaroo rats, they're not on the list. I catch Ord's kangaroo rats. Merriam's are on the list, they're a little smaller. But everything, banner tails aren't on the list, porcupines, they're not on the list. I have porcupines as pets.
My time has run out but I just wanted to say there's a lot of other stuff that I could bring up and say here, you know, all the land developers, they destroy a lot of land out there where we catch a lot of animals, and there's traffic that kills, bug sprayers that go out and kill for mosquitos and other animals. Yes, sir, my time has run out.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Murillo. Thanks for making the trip.
And we've got John Crickmer up, and then Lane Jordan. Hope I pronounced your name right.
MR. CRICKMER: Thank you for allowing me to address this issue before you, and thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront. It's been on my mind all my life. Caught my first turtle when I was six years old in Lancaster, Texas, it was a Mississippi mud turtle. My qualifications as an advocate for turtles all my life are that this is a very important issue, there are many factors driving the extirpation of turtles throughout the world, and it seems somewhat discriminatory to pick on those that collect them for the pet trade and that's not what I know in my experience of over 48 years handling turtles on the first-personal basis.
A real factor in their extinction/extermination, you've got global warming, you've got habitat fracture, you've got people, Billie Bob that likes to use them for target practice, and Joe Dale that likes to squash them on the pavement for a kick. I've never done any of that stuff.
My point is that it's like sticking your head in the sand, this approach. We have the academicians that say they have studied Texas tortoises since '69, they are protected, they are still declining, and they don't know why. Well, it's certainly not the collectors because they haven't been allowed to since the early '70s. And we have another academician that says that he's not really sure what we should do but this is a start, and I agree.
I've traveled all over the world and observed reptiles firsthand due to my personal interest in nature. I was in junior high school when I first hatched snake eggs. I have a commercial dealer's permit right now. I collect juvenile turtles only. That's no stress on the population; taking adult females stresses the population. A rule to not take or sell adult turtles would be in order at this point. Studying the numbers, collecting the data, allowing the universities the opportunity to do peer review studies, legitimate studies, rather than all these articles, this hysteria in the newspapers. I think that's the approach to take, and I thank you for your time. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Crickmer.
Lane Jordan, and then Darryl Ackerman be ready.
MS. JORDAN: Hi. I'm Lane Jordan. I speak for a group of turtle farmers from North Texas. We actually have a turtle farm in McKinney, so I drove down from there.
The first point I'd like to make after sitting here this morning is I do have great respect for the Texas Parks and Wildlife to even say we've got a problem, and I also respect all the conservationists back there because I feel that we are and that's why we have a turtle farm. But I need to backtrack on what I originally wanted to say which is we are concerned. For us it seemed like this was all of a sudden a sudden urgency and a seemingly swift process. There wasn't enough adequate foreknowledge of these proposals. From the data that I got from Mr. Macdonald's office, it looked like the proposal was written on the 20th, we got it around the 12th of May and then this hearing on the 24th, so we felt like there wasn't enough time.
Obviously we're concerned about many of our jobs and livelihoods are in jeopardy. We're also concerned because the turtle business is an example of the American free enterprise system. It is conducted, from our viewpoint, as a fair trade business, as well as it adds to the global market which is a plus for Texas. As farmers, we must be protective of the natural resources and the environment or our farm production is not going to continue, so for us personally in our turtle farm in McKinney, we put back into the environment as well as protecting and growing these resources.
I'd like for you to also reflect on some of the other natural resource businesses that have been in trouble in the past and they were able to find some solutions, such as the salmon fish industry. It was going to go into extinction and so they developed farms so that they can produce the salmon along with trout. I know that crawfish, shrimp, lobster and crabs are harvested pretty much without stop. I don't know the data for that but I just know that it's going on so I don't understand why that's not a major problem and turtles are.
We also foresee that if this proposal passes as is, the turtle population will increase and that will hurt and damage the fish population which will, of course, affect those jobs related to those fish farmers. Please also foresee the many businesses that would be affected if this proposal, as is, passes. There are so many businesses that sell the feed, materials, supplies, the different jobs, the tax base, along with the decreased value of the land in these proposals.
I also know, as the gentleman before me mentioned, that there are many ranchers who cannot stand turtles on their land and they just go out and shoot them. The turtle farmers that we are help to protect the turtles by carefully trapping and relocating them to the turtle farm. We also feel, even though some very educated people were before me, we don't feel that enough data has been collected for this proposal. I know these are teaching professors, some of them I greatly respect the experiences that they've had, but from our end we still feel like there hasn't been enough data. Further, we also feel like, as I mentioned earlier, there hasn't been enough time from the farmers' side for this proposal.
My request for this proposal is to please do not make a sudden and rash decision on something that could be a wonderful contribution to our communities, our people and the great state of Texas. Please allow the turtle business to continue, please don't pass this proposal as is, and again, if you could look at perhaps some of us that have the turtle farms. I know my time is up but I wanted to say to go out and harvest everything, of course, doesn't make sense, but we've been in business for three or four years and I would not have taken the time or trouble to come down here if I didn't feel that what we were doing is really a good way. We also do export but we are going into Asia to re-introduce the species and we have a farm there, so we're mainly getting the species, cultivating the eggs, and shipping mainly the eggs over there.
So you have a hard job ahead of you, I don't know what the answer is but I know there are some of us turtle farmers who are trying to keep the business going and protect the species.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I think you'll find a lot of sentiment that wants to encourage turtle farming and commercialization of it, harvested aquaculture.
Matt, do you know which species they handle and how they would be treated under this regulatory alternative?
Which species do you raise, ma'am?
MS. JORDAN: It's the softshell and the common snapping turtles.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Would you mind telling her how she would be treated under this regulatory alternative?
MR. WAGNER: Yes. We will grandfather those with existing collections. We've heard from a number of box turtle collectors. We will try to address all of the aquatic turtle farms in Texas and we just weren't able to dig them up. Ms. Jordan has approached us a couple of weeks ago, I believe, and we have talked about her, but those operations will be grandfathered and we will work with them to develop a process for turtle farming.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Do most of the turtle farms raise species on the regulatory alternative list?
MR. WAGNER: Most of the turtle farms that we're aware of. I know the ones in Louisiana raise a lot of red-eared sliders, mostly for the pet trade. That market is depressed, they're moving into other turtles, we understand, and we need to understand how they run those programs.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: But as far as you know, the regulatory alternative will not put any of the turtle farmers out of business?
MR. WAGNER: No.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Darryl Ackerman, and Deborah Sydney be ready.
MR. ACKERMAN: Gentleman of the Board. As a commercial dealer and holding a commercial dealer's permit, in November we were asked to come to a meeting about the nongame collector's permit, and talked over with Mr. Wagner in very great detail and were very open and honest with him about how we do our things in the field, what things we have problems with in the field, how to make the permit better. Since 1999, there's been few collectors that I know personally that we have gathered data, along with many snake shows which mainly is my area of interest, not the turtle, although the turtle species, to my knowledge, will be greatly affected if you do stop harvesting of them.
It's just like taking a rattlesnake. You stop harvesting a rattlesnake, when they were digging a school here in Pflugerville, Texas, the backhoe operator dug up 86 of them at one time. Are you going to leave those where there's a middle school? You're not. They're going to become a nuisance. Various calls that I do around the state of Texas and into the Austin area, there's still rattlesnakes in the Austin area. I believe that if you do stop the harvest of turtles that they will become a nuisance just like the rattlesnake.
Mr. Gilleland, I don't know where he has got his facts, but in 2006 there was 13,000 pounds of rattlesnakes harvested out of Sweetwater, Texas; in 2007 Sweetwater put a price cap on the rattlesnakes that they were buying. Myself, I do not collect snakes or buy snakes that were gassed, I do not like to endanger the species. We are specific about the way we do things, and I believe the turtle harvesters are the same way. In 2007, the Sweetwater show only collected 5,300 pounds.
As the past president of the Taylor Jaycees and the National Rattlesnake Sacking Championship for two years, I chaired the show for six years, I've been buying snakes at that show for 10 years. Folks, I'm 26 years old. I bought snakes when I was 16 years old, and I've been handling snakes since I was 14 years old, we have only bought in excess of 500 pounds in Taylor, Texas. The snakes are not depreciating at all, the snake population is still growing.
Unfortunately, I do not have the literature with me at this time, there's been a publication just published by a gentleman from Texas A&M that says we only cover about 3 percent of the area in the state of Texas when we hunt rattlesnakes. I believe the same thing could happen to the turtle. These gentlemen aren't covering the full basis of where they can be hunted; there's no way no man can cover the whole area.
I went to San Marcos, Texas, about three weeks ago. A lady called me out there and begged me to come to her property, that she had had her son bit and two weeks later she had had her nephew bit, one at the front porch walking out the front door, one underneath the car, both bit by a rattlesnake, laying in Brackenridge Hospital. I can't go down the side of a cliff place. I'm not Evel Knievel and I'm not going to hunt snakes on the side of a cliff in wet weather. She was very unhappy with me, but it's a known fact we can't cover all the area, you can't cover all the streams.
And I'm out of time, I appreciate you hearing what I have to say, and I wish you would table this matter and look at it further.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much.
Deborah Sydney, and Travis LaDuc be ready.
MS. SYDNEY: Good morning. My name is Deborah Sydney and I'm here to basically say that I'm in favor of a 100 percent ban on all commercial collection of turtles in the state of Texas.
Several reasons that I'm in favor of this. First is if you allow it on private property and not on public, it is very difficult to tell when you do encounter a person with turtles where did those turtles come from. They can say it's from a private pond; you can't prove it.
The other reason for that is that turtles do, in fact, migrate. Just look at the number of turtles you find smashed on a road; they're moving. Why are they moving? In the spring it's because they're going to lay eggs. They leave the water source that they're normally in, they go seek out land. There is not a single turtle that lays its eggs in the water, they all go to land, usually a distance away from the water, especially in the case of box turtles. Now, primarily we've been talking about aquatics here. Box turtles do travel. They'll seek out a cornfield that's been freshly plowed. That's where they like to lay, one of the places.
We haven't exactly said do we get to collect box turtles on private property. We've talked about private lakes, private water, what about private property? Any time a turtle crosses the road to go from a public stream or lake to a private pond, that turtle is fair game to be collected.
Now, one of the main reasons that I think we should have this proposed ban, at least initially, is that it's very difficult to do a comprehensive study and gather adequate population figures. When you go into an area and you do a count, only you'd have a collector follow behind you and collect those animals you just counted. It's a moving target. We may say, oh, we have lots of turtles, only to find out that somebody came and gathered them all. We need to have this moratorium, we need to have the ban, at least while we do the comprehensive study.
When we reach a point where we do understand our population levels, it makes perfect sense to go ahead and allow the commercial collection of those species that are number one, a nuisance, and are in excess, primarily a red-eared slider would be a great candidate even today. But we have another problem in that most of the authorities cannot identify one turtle from another. What's a red-eared slider, how is that different from a cooter? Most people cannot tell on first sight, as has been mentioned earlier today. We need to have education of the people who will be enforcing the rules.
Like I said, 100 percent ban, clear cut. A guy has got a bag of turtles, it's illegal no matter where he got them from. Do a study, once we know what our situation is, re-evaluate it. But you can't do an adequate study if people are collecting them right from underneath your counts. And that's what I have to say. Thank you, question?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much.
Travis LaDuc, and Tim Cole be ready.
MR. LA DUC: Good morning. My name is Travis LaDuc. I'm the assistant curator of herpetology at the Texas Natural History Collections here at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as I'm the president of the Texas Herpetological Society, and I'm speaking primarily on behalf of the Texas Herpetological Society. We're an organization of professionals, academics, as well as simply hobbyists very interested in herpetology in the state.
I recently had the chance to talk to a number of our members at a field meet earlier this month, and every member I talked to was very encouraged by the level of interactions between the commissioners, between Matt Wagner's staff, and herpetologists around the state. We're extremely heartened that this sort of interaction is going on and we really look forward to continued discussions with everyone involved.
We are in support of these regulations, at least from one standpoint, and we can't go back if we find out later on that not imposing this ban wasn't a good thing. If we let this continue for another few years and we realize this boom-bust or this three- to five-year flow cycle of the boom and then bust of turtle markets, if we realize two years down the road when we didn't implement this that, oops, we were in the middle of that, how do we go back? We don't go back, the resource is gone or the resource is going to take 50-plus years in order to get back to any sort of sustainable levels.
I was also heartened earlier to hear Commissioner Parker talk, in the discussions on the inland fisheries, about the increasing emphasis on looking at habitat and non-recreational species, and I think that's exactly ‑‑ taken from fisheries to herpetology in this case, I think that's exactly what we're looking for.
Nongame is a large portion of the wildlife out there and there's a lot from which we don't really know, and at least the Texas Herpetological Society and myself really welcome this opportunity to gather more data. I'm particularly a snake guy and so I really am looking forward to seeing the number of snakes that are commercially traded and be able to look at numbers of species and look at the providence of these animals, so we actually gather more data to make more concerted and smart decisions later on.
I don't see this ban right now as being a permanent ban. I think that with increased knowledge we're going to learn a lot more and we're going to be able to tweak some of these rules. Much like Ms. Sydney said, perhaps we're going to see later on red-eared sliders are a great candidate to allow for commercial collection. But I think until the point at which we have data, I think it's important to take a step back and hold onto the Texas heritage, to our wildlife, for the members of this state. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
Tim Cole, and Jim Ott be ready.
MR. COLE: I come to you as a past license rehabilitator, president of Wildlife Rescue in the past, president of the Austin Herpetological Society, also the owner of an educational business concerning reptiles. I want to put out a big thanks to Matt Wagner and Duane Schlitter for soliciting information from the state herpetological associations and societies. I appreciate the chance to give some input prior to this meeting.
I'd like to talk about the captive breeding grandfathering. I'm big in favor of that. I think the turtle farms that are raising for whatever purpose, whether it's meat or pets, is great. That stops animals from coming out of the wild. I'm in big support of that. I think the grandfathering clause is an interesting issue because there are a lot of organizations that have taken in rescue animals, box turtles are number one. A lot of these animals have gone into the pet trade, haven't been taken care of properly or have, for whatever reason, been abandoned; they can't be turned back into the wild, so these animals have been placed in good homes.
In regards to public and private water turtle collecting, as it's already been stated, they travel a lot, and having been a rehabber, I've gotten a lot of injured turtles over the years. I get a lot of e-mails and phone calls to identify turtles. For instance, I got one yesterday from a horse rancher in Niederwald that said, We've got an alligator snapper on our property, we understand they're protected, we've been trying to call somebody to find out what we need to do with this animal. And my knowledge of alligator snappers is they don't survive in Central Texas. So I asked her to send me some photographs which she did on e-mail, and it was a common snapper. I find it ironic that she has lived there for 20 years and has never seen a common snapper on her property before. They're moving, and they're moving for several reasons: drought, egg laying, flooding. All three of these things cause these animals to move. So collecting from public and private is going to be the same thing.
I'd like to say one more thing before I finish, and this is in regards to rattlesnake roundups. I'm really disappointed in the support that Parks and Wildlife seems to issue to the circus and the cruelty involved with roundups. As far as safety issues go, I do educational programs, I help out landowners who have issues with snakes. We point out why they're there, what's attracting them, what you can do to discourage them, how you can get along with the wildlife. There's lots of different ways to do this without killing it, without being cruel. And that's it. I appreciate being able to talk today.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
Jim Ott, and then Ed Neil.
MR. OTT: Thank you very kindly. My name is James Ott. I'm a faculty at Texas State University and my interest is in mathematical population ecology. I'm particularly interested in what regulates the size, distribution and abundance of species, and that's a deep problem, one which TPWD has to effectively grapple with here.
I previously submitted comments in which I made five major points and they were entered into the record in the public comment section. I want to just focus on a couple of those comments here, given time constraints, however, I wish I had an identical twin who could spend three more minutes talking about the philosophical and ethical issues that are at place here, but I won't.
First point, any proposed plan to harvest a nongame wildlife resource in the state of Texas must include three things: the basic element of a harvest strategy; background data on ecological status of the species; and informed, if not reliable, projections of future population status as a consequence of the entire range of harvest scenarios. That information is lacking for all nongame species.
An informed plan would include, at a minimum, knowledge of the species distribution, estimates of population size, and as important, how variable those population sizes are, a life table analysis which is an explicit treatment of how age and fecundity and mortality are interrelated. It matters. A population of a thousand made up of two-year-olds will have a different population configuration sometime into the future compared to a population made up of the equivalent number of geriatrics.
In addition, one needs to have effects of harvest level scenarios on a population's viability. This is exactly what's done with white-tailed deer and others. In addition, there needs to be information on the effect of planned harvest with respect to size, sex, et cetera. Next, one must recognize that natural forces, as many speakers have said today, interact with any planned commercialization. So assessing the role of environmental stochasticity is a difficult job. Next, there has to be an effective plan of reporting and there has to be a plan to adjust harvest strategies based on feedback mechanisms. Wildlife managers recognize this critically. Think about how much time and attention is given to making a small antler size restriction in Texas, et cetera.
My second point, ultimately sustainability must be guaranteed, not suggested by any plan that is to be approved for implementation.
Third point, it's the Commissioners' responsibility by law to the citizens of the state of Texas to protect the state's nongame wildlife resources, and with respect to the action that's being considered now, I have a simple argument to make, and the argument is this: the Commissioners must stop unregulated harvest in the state's waters as no information currently warrants unregulated harvest. So I'm going to take the same lack of information and use it completely differently than the commercialization advocates have. Because the state of Texas lacks the information to construct an informed harvest policy for any, if not all, currently unregulated species, it is not possible for the Commission to approve a plan that would allow commercial harvest that would follow accepted best management practices. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Ott. That's a very good point.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I would like for Matt to step up.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Sure. Ask him your question, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Can you speak to the last argument?
MR. WAGNER: Essentially, he's right, we don't have hard data to restrict or allow. What we do know is that there is an unlimited demand, there's an unlimited restriction, no restriction, and we're taking steps to move toward sustainability. We know that we're going to need to monitor this practice and come back to you.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Are you saying that we have a responsibility to an unlimited demand?
MR. WAGNER: No. That's the way it is right now. Right now we have an unlimited demand.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: We have no responsibility to that unlimited demand. Is that correct?
MR. WAGNER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think we're back to this point again ‑‑ and I think Mr. Ott put it very well ‑‑ we're not proposing a program, right now it's unrestricted, we're taking steps in restriction, and it's really a chicken-and-egg situation. If I understand Mr. Ott correctly, and he's obviously very knowledgeable in the area, because there's no data, you should go to a complete ban. Today we have no restrictions whatsoever, so nobody is proposing something, a new program, we're taking the first step in restriction and regulation to protect the resource.
The point has been made, and Heather Lowe and others have made it, Mr. van Dijk, which is hard to avoid and that is that nowhere in the world that's been subjected to the Asian food demand has the turtle population survived, and what we're asking is is there a way we can find, either through farming or other ways, a sustainable way to do that, in a shorter period of time to collect the data. Now, is it easier to collect data with these dealers out there reporting to us in an above-board, legal way, or is it easier to collect data when you ban everything and hope and kind of guess what's going on in the black market? I don't know. The goal is to get the data to manage the resource.
So Matt, can you address that, how is it easier to get the data?
MR. WAGNER: We need to know the level of demand, the level of take. We have that information. We know how many dealers there are, we know what's been reported to us on the numbers of turtles and other nongame that are being driven by commercial use, and I think if we can act today on the proposal before you, we can ensure that our public waters would be protected from commercialization. That will set up a situation where there will be a reservoir for turtles in Texas. We're not concerned about the imminent threat to the three turtles we talked about, they're commercially important, we want the information.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You know, I started this, and I've got a few more people that want to testify, just three more, let's go through those last three folks testifying, and then we're going to have a long discussion about this, I'm sure, with Matt and other staff members. And I may call Mr. Ott up again because the population dynamics is what this is about.
Matt, have a seat, and I will call up Ed Neil, and then Kirby Brown be ready, and then Janice Bezanson, you'll be our closer.
MR. NEIL: Hi, thank you for the opportunity to speak. I think I may be one of the only hobbyists who really doesn't have any commercial interest in any of the goings-on, but I'm just here, like some of the people here, I've been a fan of turtles for a number of years so this was something that was important to me. My name is Ed Neil, I'm from Dallas, so I just wanted to say I am in support of the proposed amendments to the rules, and specifically the exclusion of the turtles from the White List. I am against any modification to the amendments that would allow for even limited commercial collection.
I know in the material I read on the website, they talked about some comments or some proposals that were mentioned here, bag limits, season limits, and I don't think that those are in practice probably as useful as they might be for hunting mammals because for some of the reasons that were mentioned, these turtles, specifically snappers, in the wild can live to be 100 years old and they can't repopulate themselves very quickly. So if you take it out in September, even if there's only a four-week hunting period, the fact that it was in season for only a month isn't going to help it, it's not going to rejuvenate itself quickly enough.
What I wasn't aware of by reading the information on the website was that we would continue to allow the commercial harvesting of turtles on private land, and I understand there's a need for a compromise here, and my presumption is that the rules, as proposed, is going to make it a lot more difficult for this commercial industry to continue, although there's still going to be pressure on it, seems to satisfy some of the requirements of what you're after which is to put the brakes on the practice but still allow some people who are active in the business to keep on going. Eventually I'd like to see it get eliminated.
There's no question in my mind that what's driving the bus here is the demand for turtle meat in Asia and it's completely separate from the demand for turtles for the pet trade. I can't imagine some of the numbers, that you would see 100,000 turtles shipped out of Dallas/Fort Worth going to private collectors in Ohio or any other state, there's just not that kind of a demand. And frankly, I would imagine the demand for box turtles in the Asian markets isn't as high as well.
But I think it's fair also to say that even if it weren't for the demand for food in Asia, that a lot of these animals are already under pressure from environmental constraints. I'm in the real estate business so I know there's a lot of real estate development going on out there, so they're losing habitat. There's a lot more pollution, there's a lot of roads where we all see turtles dead on the side of the road. So even without this demand, they need protection.
So I see I'm out of time but I hope that at least my perspective as somebody who's just a concerned citizen who took the time to come up here and make a statement on their behalf will be taken into consideration. Thanks.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It will. Thank you for your comments and for your time, Mr. Neil.
Kirby Brown, and then Janice be ready.
MR. BROWN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members. My name is Kirby Brown, Executive Vice President of Texas Wildlife Association, and the Texas Wildlife Association members are hunters, landowners and conservationists who own or control over 35 million acres in Texas. We support the staff proposal as presented today. We think this is a good start at this.
We agree that good data is critical, we're willing to help. We're concerned about confidentiality, maybe a few other issues. We want to work with staff on a few of these things as we go forward, but we think we are going to be very able to work with Matt and the staff, the scientists ‑‑ many are my friends ‑‑ we'll be able to work with the collectors and the propagators and come back to you in a year or so with probably some good things that I think will continue to go down this path. I firmly believe, and I think it's been consistently shown, that the private landowners with good information are going to protect the natural resources, and that's the kind of information we want to get over the next year and get out to people, and I think those are important.
Again, it's a good start, it's a good compromise proposal, it's a good way to move right now. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Brown.
MS. BEZANSON: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. I'm Janice Bezanson, I'm the Executive Director of the Texas Conservation Alliance, recently renamed that. We've long been known as the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, or TCNR. We're a 40-year-old conservation organization that is the state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.
I am extremely impressed with the attention that the Commission is giving to this. The level of knowledge evidenced in your questions is very, very high. Even without the Chairman's repeated reminders, I am acutely aware that what you are doing is moving from no regulation to restrictions, and we appreciate that deeply.
We are supporting and asking you to go with a complete ban, and I think it comes down to four very brief points. One is the contamination issue. We're talking about mercury, PCBs, chlordane, DDT, toxaphene, dieldrines, some pretty heavy stuff, and the tendency of turtles to bioaccumulate these over the years and the long life of the turtles makes this a very serious issue.
The second issue is law enforcement. As Dr. Flanagan was saying, even the experts can't look at a bunch of turtles in there and real quickly tell them apart, and in the time that a Law Enforcement person is going to have at DFW Airport before the plane leaves, we're going to wind up shipping out some turtles that are on the banned list. And even the ones that are legal, you can't tell where they came from, was it public or private waters.
Third point, the box traps and hoop nets that are routinely used in collecting these turtles kill everything. They don't just catch turtles that aren't on the list, they catch a lot of other aquatic animals and animals that live near the water. So this is a very serious ecosystem, ecological impact that needs to be seriously considered.
The fourth one, and this is the biggie, is what you've heard over and over today from experts is that turtle populations don't recover. The data we have now is self-reported data. It's useful but it's not like having a scientist do it. But what you're hearing the scientists say, most specifically Dr. van Dijk made this as clear as it can be made, is that turtle populations don't recover.
It is our responsibility, the responsibility of the Commission and the responsibility of us as citizens to protect wild populations. So we very much urge that you will go for the rule as published and completely ban the harvest of turtle populations. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Janice. We couldn't have planned anything better. I think you've recapped very succinctly the issues there that we're now going to discuss, and thanks for doing that. I did not plan that.
MS. BEZANSON: Well, I did.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Obviously you're better prepared. And thank you for all your help this year on all the other issues we've been working on together, I really appreciate it.
MS. BEZANSON: Well, we appreciate very much what the Commission has done. You have just been wonderful in the legislature and you're doing a terrific job.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, thank you. We'll tackle this one now. Shall we begin? Questions, Commissioner Parker, for staff?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes, for Matt.
(Simultaneous discussion and laughter.)
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Wagner, if we implement the new recommendation that you have laid out for us to placate our great partners, the private landowners who have lakes that they want to see the turtle population controlled in, do you feel like that this will give you an added tool to gather your data, or would it be easier for you to gather your data with a total ban?
MR. WAGNER: I think either way we have a challenge in front of us. To try and monitor every species that has commercial value is going to be very difficult. A ban obviously, from a biological standpoint, would take that pressure away. The question that we have is is the current level of use and the projected future demand sustainable.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So what you're saying is that if we go with this new amended proposal to your original proposal at the last Commission meeting, that we are going to ramp up a huge avenue with many, many streets in it for Law Enforcement while we are trying to decide if these new amendments have any effect on our turtle population?
MR. WAGNER: We have been engaged with Law Enforcement every step of the way, we have been talking to them about how to handle this situation if the Commission should decide to go with the public-private split, we believe we can do it. This approach has not been taken in other states.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What has been done in other states?
MR. WAGNER: There are two states that are similar to Texas in terms of unrestricted use: New Jersey and South Carolina.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What about the other states?
MR. WAGNER: Most other states are fairly more restrictive. Only about half a dozen have a total ban.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What states are those?
MR. WAGNER: Kansas, Montana, Tennessee ‑‑ some of these states allow maybe a turtle like common snapper, but most of their turtle trade has been banned ‑‑ Maryland, Virginia, Ohio. Most other states, if there's not a total ban, they do approach it from a more specific standpoint in terms of a season or a possession limit.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Those states that have banned them, do they allow for the taking on private lands?
MR. WAGNER: Yes. They don't make a distinction between public and private.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: They just ban it, period.
MR. WAGNER: The limited number of states do have a total ban, most all other states that have some other form of restriction. But when you ask them the question how have these rules improved turtle populations, they have the same dilemma: they do not have the resources to manage the populations; they strictly look at it from a take standpoint. And that's the information that we have and want to continue to get and get better information as we begin to narrow down which species are going to be used and which ones will not.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Commissioner Brown, do you have any questions for staff?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: During the course of the various presentations, I know it was talked about the cost, really I guess to us, to monitor this whole program, and I guess in relation to the total economic benefit that there is out there for people that have permits and are actually selling turtles or whatever. Do we have any idea of what kind of cost we're going to be looking at to get into this whole program of trying to regulate and research in relation to really the impact on the number of people that are affected by this?
MR. WAGNER: One of the unique sources of funding that we do have access to is our State Wildlife Grants, and these are federal dollars that are appropriated to the states to deal with issues like this, to be targeted towards nongame species issues of concern, and we even have a Texas Wildlife Action Plan that will help us plan those expenditures. That's a 50-50 match, but we intend to use those dollars to match with non-federal sources, like the universities, to do work, and we will begin that September 1st.
And just to add to that, we had a discussion about fees, and I believe when we come back to you, we need to consider the fees for dealers. Currently, the resident dealer permit is $60, a non-resident is $240, so we can adjust those as needed.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And also, Commissioner Brown, we need to assess scope and come up with a definition of methodology. It was outlined perfectly: we need to assess the law enforcement issues, certainly have to work with appropriate agencies to study the health issues, be cooperative in that effort as we would be, study trapping methodologies, look at population dynamics, but we're not going to have a sense of what that entails until you come back to us with a specific plan and methodology. So I would appreciate all your efforts and certainly encourage you to do that as quickly as possible.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I agree with you, Commissioner Friedkin, and you chair Regulations and you have been studying this more than any of us. I think it's clear anything we do today is a step in the right direction to protect the resource.
On this law enforcement issue, I thought it was made pretty clear to us yesterday that it will require documentation. Somebody today said how do you tell if it was caught wild or private. The documentation is, my guess is, under oath and you swear it came from somebody's pond and the game warden calls them and they didn't come from there, then you're in trouble. And there's no way to do that on public waters, so it's clear we've got to ban it on public waters because there's no way to document where you took it. There's a phone number on the end of that document where those turtles came from, so that doesn't bother me as much.
What bothers me is that ‑‑ and I think we've got to take the opportunity to gather the data. It's going to be incumbent upon these dealers and this industry to show us that for the first time in history it's possible to sustainably harvest in a commercial manner these turtles to satisfy the Asian market, but if they don't, if it really is the harvest unsustainable of our wild resource, we're going to ban it all. But I think as much data and people involved and opportunity for farming that's out there to develop ‑‑ the lady that testified about the farm ‑‑ I think we've got to take that opportunity to gather that data. But I think the standard that this Commission is going to follow is clearly that we're not going to weigh the commercial opportunity against the depletion of a natural resource. If they can't prove it's sustainable, it goes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And the current proposal takes a positive step in that direction.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think so.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Chairman, that was an excellent point that you just made. Are we absolutely positive that we can do this study ‑‑ and I have very confidence in Mr. Wagner and every confidence in our Law Enforcement ‑‑ but the one question that I have not heard answered is that are we just going to offer this resource carte blanche to any dealer and he can take as many as he can take at any one given time?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: They can do that today. Let's be real clear. That's happening today, they can do that today. What we're asking staff to do is start with the regulation of banning all public waters, and then take the step and asking the staff to come back with some parameters, methodology as Chairman Friedkin pointed out, on regulating the take on private. Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I'll get through all mine at one time. I intend to vote for the proposal with the regulatory alternative attached, I'll be happy to make a motion when you're ready, and I want to address my questions under the assumption that it passes and for what we do next.
On the information question, I would appreciate when you come back if we could get some good statistical information that models the populations even if they're not perfect, but with the goal of our sound science out there that may take several years to get to. What I think would not be the right approach is to gather minimal data only based on what's collected and a year from now be sitting here saying we only have so much data. I think we can get pretty balanced statistical models of limited sampling and good biostatistical work that will help us put this in some kind of framework much better. And I think there's probably a low cost way to do that that doesn't break the bank, that we can do it with adequate resources and get done in time, and it doesn't rely on the dealers to collect the real base data we're looking at because to me it's a population sustainability question, as the Chairman is saying.
So I would encourage us to do that and I think we can probably adhere to a very high level of work statistically and recognize the variation we're probably living with, and that's legitimate, that's perfectly fine for right now for what we're doing. We're making a basic decision here with almost no information but we ought to gather better information or model better information very quickly. So that's one.
That gets you then to the sustainability question. Intuitively, I don't buy the argument that there's no sustainability here. I think what we may very well find is there's no economic sustainability which is a different question. But clearly, people are farming them and they're making it economic and we can all go take one turtle out of one pond and know that we have taken a sustainable quantity. It's a matter of degree which gets back to good statistical modeling.
I also think the other thing I would appreciate if you would keep as an underpinning to this analysis is the assumption ‑‑ unless we can prove otherwise ‑‑ that demand is not going to go away. Any policy, as emotionally appealing as it might be to say let's ban it here and we'll protect our resource, it's not going to happen if the demand is there. It does have economic value, we have to recognize it.
You and I have had a short conversation, Chairman Friedkin, of the regulatory question on ITQs. They work well in fisheries, I know there's probably a lot of complexity to adapting that model to a low value economic resource, a multi-species resource, a lot of complexity, that it may not work, I don't know. But I would like us to come back and understand the options in creating value in the resource matched against a scientifically justifiable sustainable matter that recognizes demand and assumes that demand probably increases. So we've got to create a structure that works in an environment where regulation is of limited efficacy, law enforcement is going to be tough, there is value, and we've really got to enfranchise people to both have an incentive to conserve and an incentive to help us regulate and monitor with some kind of statistical data, and we need that fairly soon, in fairness to the participants, but also as a way of protecting the resource.
So those would be my requests on the way we come back.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And while you're remembering all the stuff he told you to do, I'll just add one more and then we'll take a motion. I want you to continue what you've been doing, working with the scientific community, Mr. Ott, Professor Dixon, Forstner and others, because that's the standard that we've got to meet. And as I understand this, we're dealing with a population here that because of their longevity and reproductive characteristics, you've got to err on the side of caution because when you make the dent in that population, the recovery time, if I'm correct, is so long that you've got to lead it ‑‑ to use a hunting term ‑‑ and if you don't, you're behind.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Can I amend my comment very quickly? I recognize the complexity of the population dynamics in the context of my discussion, I'm not taking a simplistic economic view. I do think economically we have the classic tragedy of the commons where nobody, the landowners or the public, is seeing value here, so the quickest way is to go scoop it all real fast.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I agree with you. I think at the end, if I had to guess, the only way it's economically sustainable is if they do it in a way that's ecologically unsustainable, but that's just my guess about what's going to happen.
Vice Chairman Ramos.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: A couple of points consistent with what Commissioner Montgomery was saying. I would like to see us have a monthly reporting as compared to an annual reporting so that we can get more current data and perhaps this will help us gauge where we stand. And then two, taking again the holistic approach to game management and managed land programs, I think we should incorporate the data gathering, once we have a game biologist there doing a survey for deer, we might as well incorporate turtle population, so this would be an immediate source of data that we could incorporate, and it goes back to the holistic approach.
And I agree with everyone, I think there's clearly two things: one, there's a great demand for the resource, and two, I don't think there's any evidence that we have an overabundance of turtles in this state. So if we're going to err, we have to err to protect the resource, and that's very simple.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, if everybody thinks all we do is just talk about deer ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: If I could say one thing, Mr. Chairman. And Matt, I appreciate your patience. On the regulatory alternative, you talk about the three, the red-eared slider, the softshell turtles, and the common snapping turtle, if we go to a monthly reporting or quarterly, whatever you decide, is that if we see a dramatic increase of take that you let us know and come back to us, this Commission has a right to do whatever it needs to do. And if the demand truly is at the levels we're talking about, then I would assume you'll see a dramatic shift and maybe the take goes up, and if it goes up to a point where we get nervous about it, then we may have to make other decisions. So if you'd just keep us informed.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I may not have told all the Commissioners this, I've talked to our Ag Commissioner, Todd Staples, about this, and he's offered some of his staff to talk about some ideas of how we can come up with some regulations for turtle farming so we could permit that and hopefully have a transition here.
I'll entertain a motion.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'd like to make a motion to adopt the current proposal with the recommended changes and to allow for commercial use from private property for red-eared sliders, softshell turtles, common snapping turtles.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I second that motion.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes.
Well done, Matt. You've really worked hard and I appreciate it.
Next up, Item 6, a briefing, Seagrass Update. Ed.
MR. HEGEN: For the record, my name is Ed Hegen, the Regional Director of Coastal Fisheries Division, Rockport. I appreciate the opportunity to be before you today. I will provide you with a brief update of the seagrass protection regulations you approved last year. I plan to present you with some information on seagrasses, a brief history of the seagrass management activities over the past 15 years, a reminder of a specific regulation that you adopted last year, and finally, give you some examples of the extensive efforts to make the regulation effective.
There are five species of seagrasses in Texas that are also commonly referred to as submerged aquatic vegetation. Seagrasses are important for food, protection, bottom stabilization, nutrient recycling, and general ecosystem health where they occur. This table identifies some of the disturbance of the seagrasses. Listed on the left side are the natural disturbances. Research has documented that the most significant factors contributing to seagrass loss are the dredging, excessive nutrients and boating activities. This was Montagna in 1996.
TPWD actively participates in conservation of the efforts in all three of those areas. Specifically we review permits that are habitat alteration permits in conjunction with the Corps and other regulatory agencies, and most noticeably, we have participated extensively and lately with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality when we got seagrasses included as a water quality standard.
I will now focus on the activities regarding some of the boating impacts on seagrasses. The past decades have seen an increase in overall boating activity on the coast and significant changes in boat styles and outboard motor horsepower. Quick access to shallow waters is very common now. As a matter of fact, we most recently included all vessels, all the new shallow-draft, high-powered boats, into the proclamation prohibiting the use of air boats to harass fish ‑‑ that was just done recently by the Commission. As early as 1994, TPWD began educating boaters about boating in seagrasses, and research and management and education were the focus of a symposium conducted by the General Land Office ‑‑ then the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, and now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ‑‑ and TPWD to establish a statewide seagrass conservation plan. We had a symposium and now we have a seagrass conservation plan.
Our initial efforts to manage seagrasses occurred in the year 2000 when Redfish Bay in the central coast ‑‑ which we focus on ‑‑ was designated a State Scientific Area, and that was in place for five years. Last year the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area was renewed for an additional five years in which uprooting was prohibited in that area. And particularly after the first five years, we focus on habitat protection, that's the focus of the State Scientific Area.
This is a map of Redfish Bay. There's Redfish Bay in the north part of that; in the lower part, the yellow boundary indicates the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area that was created under Parks and Wildlife Code 81.501. It is approximately 32,000 acres, about 50,000 square miles, and there are about 14,000 acres of submerged vegetation. All five species of seagrasses occur in this very highly productive area. Rockport is to the north, Port Aransas' jetty there on the lower right, and Port Ingleside gets a combination of gulf waters and fresh water from both bay systems.
Following extensive public input and formal public hearings, you adopted the current regulation that you see before you. It is a conservation measure for habitat protection. It purposefully does not exclude access to any portion of the bay; there are no no-prop zones. Before we had voluntary no-prop zones and we had a mandatory no-prop down in the Upper Laguna Madre, but this does not exclude access to any type of boaters. It specifically places the responsibility of habitat protection on the boaters, where it belongs.
Coastal Fisheries accepts the responsibility that the regulation needs to be understood in order to be effective. Hence, we have developed an extensive effort during the next five years, the longevity of this particular regulation. And this kind of lists our objectives, there are four of those, and I will go over those very briefly with you.
We have a very aggressive campaign and I'll talk about education outreach. Within education outreach, on the left you can see the various electronic and print media where we have outlets, and the bottom figure, of course, is the most impressive. Through all of those magazines, newspapers, radio and TV and the venues listed on the right, the magazines and all the efforts in which we can get electronic and print media, we have made about nine million impressions.
And at this point I guess I need to thank the outdoor writers, the publishers, the freelance writers and our own staff who helped get the word out. That's pretty impressive and that's in the last year since the reg went into effect.
An effective and guaranteed method of getting the word to boaters is via direct contact. Again, on the left is where the staff has spent efforts in presentations, pre-launch brochure disbursal, boater education courses, that type of thing, again listing all the venues we've done and number of events. The numbers, again, are approaching now 4,000 one-on-one contacts, we've actually talked to boaters, and distributed over 30,000 brochures. We have two types of brochures. I think you were distributed the waterproof brochure that's in front of you that we have, and we give those to boaters because it is waterproof, it outlines the area, and we have a non-waterproof one for general distribution at public events.
Another way of educating boaters is through signage. In the center of this particular photo are the boundary marker signs around the perimeter, there are 32 of them for recognition that boaters are within the area. In the upper left-hand corner are informational signs, there are 17 of those within the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area to help boaters recognize they are within a seagrass area that's protected by law. In the lower left are land marina signs at every ramp entering Redfish Bay and on that it has the same map that's in your brochure there, an informational map about boating in seagrasses.
Finally, there are navigational signs. In the upper right-hand photo, that is a square with green, it conforms to the U.S. Coast Guard day markers, the red triangle and green square. We got permission from the Coast Guard to install two preferred access lanes. During all the discussions the last several years, there was a call for run lanes, how to navigate through the seagrass meadows, and with discussions and those types of things, we actually installed what we renamed to get away from high speed running, we named that preferred access lanes. We would prefer boaters to go through these marked channels using the green and red as aids to navigation.
And one of the lanes in the northern part of Redfish Bay provides a drift-to access point in which the boaters can get their boat up on top, and within that access point and access lane, they may or may not hit bottom with their propeller but they'll be safe from enforcement of the law. And another one in the lower part is a navigation lane through a very specific portion of dense seagrass meadows. The Coastal Bend Guides Association provided input on the location of those two preferred access lanes.
Law Enforcement has been a vital force of education outreach on the water. Our divisions have worked very closely during the past year. If you'll recall the discussion regarding how difficult it was going to be to enforce this particular type of regulation. Game wardens have helped with media day, giving presentation and direct contact with boaters out in the field. And most recently we were invited to a Law Enforcement regional meeting and gave game wardens a kind of an update on Seagrass 101 and some techniques upon how to collect some evidence when they observe violations, and we appreciate Law Enforcement's commitment.
The second item on the objective table was the human devention survey, and a pre-regulation survey was mailed to over 1,500 boaters who used Redfish Bay State Scientific Area the three years prior to the regulation. We wanted to measure their knowledge and behavior prior to the regulation and the extensive campaign that we're doing in order to measure any changes in subsequent years. As you can see from that table, their perceptions of seagrasses for food and water quality in this area is very high, however, I think we need a little work on their understanding of the acreage, their knowledge of the acreage of the seagrasses and whether seagrasses recover and through our education campaign, we hope to measure their change in knowledge and understanding of that.
This figure measures boater behavior before the regulation. As you can see, they are very active in drifting, wading and poling, and we have a very significant partner in the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program in Corpus Christi that has had a campaign for several years on TV through pubic service announcements to educate boaters while boating in seagrasses, and their mantra is "Lift, Drift, Pole and Troll" and we've kind of repeated that, we've taken that on as part of our education campaign also. And you can see there when the survey is repeated in three to five years through our mail-out, we expect to see some significant changes in the latter part where they sometimes motor and they sometimes troll, we would like to actually see some behavior changes.
Prop Scar Study. We have two major projects, one actually in the water and one in the air, to evaluate prop scars. We designed and implemented a unique study in which we swim 35 100-meter randomly selected transects in the seagrass areas. We identify, count, profile, accurately locate the scars. Annual repeat swims will enable us to determine a rate of change in the number of scars, scar condition and other factors around those scars. This labor-intensive technique will provide us with some extremely refined data actually on the scars themselves.
The use of high-powered GPS has actually has been very useful already in the other phase of that in the air in which we were able to acquire, through State Wildlife Grants, some very high-resolution visible spectrum aerial photography. This is the northwest portion of Redfish Bay State Scientific Area, this is about 8,000 acres of densely vegetated seagrasses. With this high-resolution photography ‑‑ and I'll show you this in just a second ‑‑ we'll be able to delineate scars and to detect differences of scars from year to year when we re-fly that photography.
If you look right in the middle of that photograph, there's a little red square ‑‑ I think you can see that right in the middle ‑‑ and over almost due to the left of that in the Intracoastal which is that diagonal going from lower left kind of to the center top, you might see a little wake of a boat. Zoomed in a little bit, that's the red square now at a quarter mile area for high resolution and now you see the boat over in the Intracoastal Waterway. Zooming in a little bit more, and now you see the extensive amount of scars that we are able to detect with this high-resolution. We are going to delineate all these scars and we certainly have our work cut out for us.
In summary, seagrass scarring is a habitat issue for which boaters have the onus of responsibility. This diagram demonstrates the average depth of water a boater should be in for takeoff and running. The depth of the takeoff to achieve plane ‑‑ in other words, getting your boat back on plane ‑‑ is a combined depth of the draft of the boat, the depth of the boat and the depth of the propeller. Twice that depth is when that boat goes down and it gets back on plane. Application of this rule of thumb will protect the seagrasses. You can't define it for every boat because they all have different drafts and different depths and that type of thing. Now, seagrass protection regulation truly hinges on boater understanding, knowledge and behavior and this is what we're actually addressing.
The interest in this important seagrass issue is exemplified by our numerous partners, and as you can see, it ranges from the Coastal Conservation Texas Nature Conservancy, Coastal Bend Guides Association, NOAA, Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, University of Texas, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Coast Guard, and General Land Office. We have had great partners.
I'll identify the photo on the right are high school student members of the Spanish and Science Club Network. This is an educational component of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation. These students have been recruited and are assisting us in doing pre-launch surveys and brochure distribution. They come down to the ramps on the weekends at six o'clock and help us give brochures to boaters before they launch into Redfish Bay.
We appreciate also all the divisions within the agency who have helped us in a number of different ways, and we appreciate the Commission's support. Thank you very much. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ed. You've done a great job following up on all those issues that we heard about when we had that rather controversial meeting a year ago, May. Actually it was a year ago this meeting, wasn't it, when we were discussing seagrass protection.
MR. HEGEN: Yes, sir. We have an extensive program to make sure that this regulation is understood and we can measure its effectiveness. I guess that's the most important thing is to see if it's effective. We have four more years in which to do that and we appreciate your support.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It's a good example of the staff going out and actually doing what we all talked about at the meeting. You did that, and it's interesting, I really haven't heard any of the negative comments since that time. You've done a great job in the community.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Hegen, wonderful presentation, and I'm sure that you're beginning to make headway.
I had one question for you. Back on your slide, Disturbances: Natural and Anthropogenic, of those which are the most detrimental ‑‑ and scratch off dredging, we can't do anything about that ‑‑ but which is the most detrimental to our seagrass stands? Is it storms, bioturbation, is it sedimentation, is it algae blooms, excess nutrients?
MR. HEGEN: I don't think I could pick one that's the most detrimental. I think they all ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Two or three.
MR. HEGEN: Obviously, I think the increased population on the coast with changes in habitat, with building and construction and bulkheading and hardening of the surface, increased runoff. So one is water quality. It says nutrients but that includes runoff. Changes in dredging due to permits. Obviously, if a hurricane comes through and there's sedimentation, that is one that we can't control, but in time ‑‑ seagrasses come and go, so even we're finding that what you saw one year in a particular species of seagrass may have gotten sediment on it and another species of seagrass takes its place, so there are natural things that occur.
Obviously, we have a tremendous amount of aerial photography on the prop scars, and so at this point that's one thing that we can focus on. I'm not sure you can pinpoint any that are the driving force in seagrasses.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Ed. Anybody else have any questions for Ed? Great work, thanks.
MR. HEGEN: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think we're going to take a lunch recess. Let's stand in recess and reconvene after lunch and pick up with Item 7.
(Whereupon, at 12:45 p.m., the meeting was recessed, to reconvene this same day, Thursday, May 24, 2007, following a lunch break.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We'll reconvene the Commission meeting, and what we're going to do, since a couple of Commissioners have to leave early today, is we'll put all the action items up front and that will be, for those of you that are waiting for an item, will be Items 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. So we'll begin with Item 9. I'm sure the staff is all ready. Mike Berger.
MR. BERGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members. I'm Mike Berger, director of the Wildlife Division, here today to discuss proposed changes to regulations governing public hunting lands for the upcoming 2007-2008 season, including public comments, also, the candidate state parks proposed for public hunting access, and the establishment of an open season for hunting on state lands.
Several of these are housekeeping items. The first of these is an amendment regarding the off-highway vehicle fee which was established to purchase, develop and maintain ORV trails to be operated by the Department, and our intent with that was to provide funding for true off-road vehicle enthusiasts to fund these trails. The Department has determined that the use of mobility-enhancing conveyances by disabled persons participating in activities on public hunting lands is not consistent with that intent and should not be subject to the use fee.
The second housekeeping item has to do with ‑‑ the next three, actually, to do with something necessary to comply with a federal requirement. The special access permit, this would create a special access permit on specific state parks or parts of state parks on specific dates for persons who have been selected for public hunting privileges. As I said, this amendment is necessary to comply with federal requirements to keep funds from access to state parks separate from funds for access to wildlife management areas, and this proposed amendment would acknowledge that by rule.
Related to that is another amendment to the Public Lands Proclamation that would conform the language of that section as necessary to reflect the application of the provisions to the special access permit that we just discussed in the previous slide. This is where the fees and regulations are authorized concerning the application process for permits on public hunting lands.
And the third part of that moves to the State Parks Proclamation but it creates the access permit fee for access to state parks for persons who have been selected to participate in public hunting. It establishes those fees at $75 for up to three days and $125 for more than three days, usually no more than five days.
On those items, we have had public comment, I believe there were 21 people who have commented publicly, 16 of those were in favor and the others were opposed generally because they were opposed to public hunting on the wildlife management areas.
There are also 39 candidate state parks proposed for hunting in the upcoming 2007-08 season. The list of parks are provided in Exhibit C in your booklets. All 39 of these state parks were hunted last year, and only your permission again is necessary to open these to public hunting this year. Also, in order to conduct hunts on public hunting lands, the Commission is required to establish an open season for hunting on public lands each year, and this season would run from September 1, 2007, to August 31, 2008.
So our first recommendation would provide for the definition of the special access permit and establish the regulations for the fees and establish the fees in the Parks Proclamation. It also provides for the exception of handicapped hunters from the requirement of the off-highway vehicle decal. Two other recommendations that the commission would authorize: an open hunting season on public hunting lands to run from September 1, 2007, to August 31, 2008, and that the Commission would authorize the hunting activities designated in Exhibit C to be conducted on the listed units of the State Parks System. I'll be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Mike, concerning the 39 listed on Exhibit C, do we continue to look at more possibilities to hunt on state lands, public lands?
MR. BERGER: Yes, sir. And there were 42 state parks that were open to public hunting last year, so it's reduced by a few, and it's for various reasons. One, because we hunted one as two units last year, it's one unit this year. Another one, they need to leave the area available for burning for prescribed burns, so that's Devil's Sinkhole would be closed. There's road construction in progress at the Guadalupe North unit, and staff did not propose hunts at Pedernales Falls, on the annex unit this year.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So just various reasons for various places.
MR. BERGER: Various reasons for not doing that, but we're always working to try to get more units available for public hunting.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's what I was going to say I would encourage to try to do that.
MR. BERGER: We do this year have more youth opportunities; those are up 61 places in youth opportunities over last year.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, good. I'd certainly like to encourage that. Thanks.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Berger, what about Palo Duro, is it among the groups that we use for public hunting?
MR. BERGER: I did not have that list in front of me there, I cannot recall whether Palo Duro was one of the open ‑‑ no, no hunting at Palo Duro.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Caprock either?
MR. BERGER: Caprock, I know that Caprock does have an audad hunt, and I believe they have a mule deer hunt at Caprock Canyons as well.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It shows mule deer and feral hogs, exotics and feral hogs, and a youth only quail at Caprock.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What's Palo Duro?
MR. BERGER: Couldn't tell you unless it's just the public is there a lot.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So it's not practical to close Palo Duro because it's a high visitation property?
MR. BERGER: That would be my thought on that. I can find a more specific answer for you.
MR. BORUFF: I don't think we have that information, Mr. Chairman, but we can get that to the Commission.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think Commissioner Holt brings up a good point of where we draw that line. If it's a huge park near a good-sized city, we'd have a lot of public hunting opportunities. [inaudible]
MR. BERGER: Okay, we can do that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do I have a motion on this?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Parker, seconded by Holt. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, the motion passes. Thank you, Mike.
MR. BERGER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. Next is Item 12 ‑‑ remember we're jumping around to the action items ‑‑ Deer Management Permit Rules and Triple T. Mitch.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood, and I'm the Statewide White-Tailed Deer Program Leader. Today we propose to modify our rules pertaining to the Deer Management Permit, commonly referred to as DMP, and our Trap, Transport and Transplant Permit, commonly referred to as Triple T. These proposed rule changes are an attempt to simplify the permitting processes and to recover costs associated with administration and enforcement of these programs.
First, we propose to implement a more efficient, more user-friendly application process, allowing us to process all DMP applications in a consistent manner. As I discussed in more detail yesterday, the current rule before you adds complexity to the application process and the fee structure, and therefore, we propose to strike this language from the regulation.
Next, we recommend a change in the composition of the respective review panels. It is our belief that the review panel for DMP and Triple T permits should include senior management and should be consistent with a review panel of a scientific breeder's permit. Therefore, we propose to add the Deputy Executive Director for Operations and remove the Regional Director and the White-Tailed Deer Program Leader from these two review panels.
The current rule states that one may not detain more than one buck and 20 does between September 1st and January 31st of any year. Including these dates in this regulation is confusing because we've been operating this program to allow a permitee to hang on to those deer all the way through the end of August. Now, of course, during those latter months of May, June, July and August, they're likely to have fawns in that facility as well, and so we propose to clarify this rule by stating at no time may a DMP facility contain more than one buck and 20 does except for the fawns that are the offspring or the products of those 21 deer.
Our current rule states also that no trapping of deer under a DMP may take place between March 2nd and August 31st of any year. Now, this rule is misleading because it implies that one may trap deer on March 1st which is not the case. Since the intent of the DMP is for natural breeding purposes only, we do not permit trapping deer beyond a date when there's a high probability of trapping pregnant does.
Therefore, we propose to clarify this rule by stating that no deer may be trapped anywhere in Texas after December 14th. Now, as I discussed in more detail yesterday, this is based on our statewide breeding chronology data. There are ecoregions in the state that have earlier breeding seasons, and therefore, have earlier cutoff dates for trapping, and those cutoff dates for each ecoregion will be provided in the application packet if this is adopted.
Our current rules also require that all adult deer within a DMP facility be ear-tagged. We have determined that this practice is not necessary, it doesn't provide any benefit to the agency, and therefore, we propose to eliminate this ear-tagging requirement in an attempt to simplify this regulation and provide some more flexibility to the permitees. However, if adopted, this would not prohibit one from marking deer that are legally detained under a DMP.
Next, we propose more flexible standards for the liberation of DMP deer. Current rules require that 100 contiguous yards of fence be removed or that length of gates be opened for a period of at least 60 days to facilitate the release of these deer. Well, we've made so many exceptions or approved so many exceptions to this rule, since we have the ability to do so, that we have determined through time that actually requiring a distance of only 20 feet of gates being opened or fence being removed should suffice to facilitate the release of those deer. Furthermore, we've determined that that liberation period of no less than 30 days should suffice as well.
Next, we propose to clarify the rules by stating that the artificial feed and water that must be removed must be removed during the liberation period. The rules should be clarified to make this point. We also would like to clarify the rules to state that deer must be released back into the pasture from which they were trapped.
The final portion of this proposal is an attempt to recover the costs in the enforcement and administration of these two programs. 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's fees, and that was to recover all costs associated with the enforcement and administration of that program. Additionally, Parks and Wildlife Code states that the state may not incur any expense for the trapping, transporting and transplanting of game birds or game animals under a Triple T.
As I discussed yesterday, in FY '06, the Department incurred costs nearing $121,000 in enforcing and administering this program; our revenue during that same time period was about $13,500. So in an attempt to recover these costs, we propose to modify the fee for a Triple T permit. The current fee is $180 and for that $180 you can submit an application that has multiple release sites, and that's where a significant amount of the expense is. An application with a single release site we have determined cost the Department about $750 to process and approve, and therefore, we propose to increase the fee of a Triple T permit to be $750 per release site which we have determined should cover the costs of administering and enforcing this program.
Now, as I mentioned yesterday, this very well may be a conservative estimate since it is based on FY '06 figures, and of course, the expenses such as fuel costs and whatnot do continue to increase annually, more frequent than that.
And finally, we propose to modify the fee for the Deer Management Permit as well. Expenses incurred in FY '06 for DMP were approximately $92,000, while our revenue from permit fees was approximately $62,000. Now, as I mentioned earlier, and again in more detail yesterday, we have proposed a much more efficient process, a more user-friendly process to allow us to process these DMP applications in a more consistent manner, and likewise, we propose a consistent fee for all DMP applications of $1,000 which is the maximum amount allowed under statute, and based on our figures, would just cover the costs, based on FY '06 expenses, of administering this program.
To date, we have received little public comment. We have received one more comment since I presented yesterday. We have 12 people who support and 24 who oppose the DMP rule changes, and we have 13 who support and 19 who oppose the Triple T rule changes. Some of those in opposition are opposed to these practices altogether, and stated or implied that we're too liberal in what we allow the private individuals to do with a public resource, so really their opposition didn't necessarily pertain to this proposal.
Most of the other, if not all of the other opposing statements were identical to each other and were even identical to some portions of a position statement we received from Texas Deer Association two days ago which I believe you all have received as well. In essence, Texas Deer Association supports the changes that provide more flexibility but they do oppose the increase in fees of these two permits, and I suspect they may elaborate on that here in a little bit.
As I mentioned to you before, we did present this proposal to our White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee and they do support this proposal as presented today. We also presented this proposal to Texas Wildlife Association's Deer Management Committee last month and they also did not voice any opposition to these fee increases.
So with that, staff recommends that the Commission adopt the following motion before you on the screen. This concludes my presentation and I'll be glad to answer any questions that you might have.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Mitch. I know a lot of work goes into it, a lot more than what it looks like. I appreciate that. We've got one or two people signed up and we'll get their testimony, and then if there are any questions, we'll call you back. Thanks, Mitch.
Kirby Brown, and then Karl Kinsel. Kirby, I'm sorry you missed Item 9. We kind of changed the rules on you while you were out of the room, we've been jumping around a little bit, but the motion passed in spite of your support.
MR. BROWN: Well, I guess you knew where I was going to come from, so short-circuit that and let's go.
(Simultaneous discussion and laughter.)
MR. BROWN: For the record, my name is Kirby Brown, Executive Vice President of the Texas Wildlife Association. I just want to say we're not opposed to the rule change, we appreciate the simplification part of the process.
We're not really supporting the big fee increase. We think it is a large fee increase, but we also understand that the legislature has directed the Commission and the staff to recoup your costs, and that as long as those expenses ‑‑ there were two questions that came up during our Deer Management Committee were: What was the intent of the legislature in assigning those expenses, and what are the components of some of those administrative expenses? And Clayton shared those with us, as he has with you, and we're satisfied that those are legitimate expenses are where they are and we appreciate that. We understand that you should try and recoup those costs, and
I guess that's where we're at, we're neutral.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do you wish the number were larger?
MR. BROWN: I wish the number were a lower number, that's what I wish, but thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It is what it is. Thanks, Kirby.
MR. KINSEL: Good afternoon. I don't think my testimony is going to be a whole lot different than that, but I'll elaborate on it if need be, but what we have truly attempted to do ‑‑ and I credit Lisa Barton on our staff now with being able to put it in print for you before we get up here and have to discuss or cuss it one way or the other, so I hope you all have had a chance to look at that because that is what we will be trying to do as well in the future on issues to simplify things, particularly for you to have a precursor look to it before we debate it.
The response is very similar. I'll state it again, as in the first paragraph of that letter, that we would ask that there's a postponement of adoption of the proposed fee increase. Be glad to go through about four quick items on that, Joe, if you wish me to.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, do you have any reason to question the methodology that they came up with the number, assuming the objective which is to recoup our costs?
MR. KINSEL: Yes. The reason to question the methodology opens about three things. One, the justification of the fee increase to cover all costs of administration and all related enforcement. We understand the legislative directive and we appreciate the goal, what we're questioning is where is it available in other programs so that we'd have a model in order to follow, or is it just statutory towards Triple T. We seem to have only utilized it with regard to scientific breeder issues and now we want to go from $180 to $750 which in cases of a multiple release is $7,500 for a person that at one time paid $180. That's hard for them to swallow without a good bit of further justification.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. Well, I think you heard the Commission though, we pretty clearly on, we were just talking about turtles, the policy is for that community that's benefiting from the permit to pay their way.
MR. KINSEL: Therefore, we agree with that, so we'd request a copy of the consistent cost accounting practices in other deer programs.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. Either Clayton or Mitch, do you want to address the methodology issue there, how you came up with the number? That's a legitimate question I think Karl has.
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman, for the record, my name is Clayton Wolf. I'm the Big Game Program Director.
Actually, the methodology that we utilized for these permits was actually established about a year ago when we were discussing an increase in our breeder fees, and I'll have to call my recollection, but at that time we actually used a fiscal note from the 79th Session when I believe there was a proposal to move breeders to Department of Ag. So we utilized those figures at that time a year ago.
Law Enforcement Division did have to estimate what proportion of the Law Enforcement costs was attributed to breeders because all of their deer permit enforcement was under one code, and that was actually the last year they used that code, and we apportioned $200,000 of that $360,000 for breeders, so when we came back using that same methodology here, we took the remainder of that and split that between DMP and Triple T. We obviously didn't want to dip deeper into the same pot of money and also didn't feel like it was appropriate to leave any on the table.
We do have a bit more specific and recent figures for Wildlife Division simply because our coding is a lot more detailed, and so some of the figures that we use, we actually do runs. When anybody does anything with a Triple T inspection, they code their time if we process permits, so Wildlife Division figures are a bit more accurate. But we try to compare apples and apples by using the same fiscal year when we did this.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And to his point about do we do this anywhere else or only Triple T?
MR. WOLF: Well, when we did the breeder rules and we were requested to apply the same methodology on others, and so obviously within a year, looking at DMP and Triple T, we have done the same. We anticipate that within a year we'll also be looking at possibly antlerless deer control permits, and then, of course, this Commission and you have directed the Private Lands Advisory Board to look at MLDPs on their own, so we kind of just sat back to wait and see what would come of that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right, thank you. That answers his question.
Anybody else to testify?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Karl, thank you very much. Thank you for the work you're doing on all those committees.
MR. KINSEL: Appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'll entertain a motion.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Friedkin, second by Parker. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes.
All right, we're moving on to Item 13, action item, Delegation of Rulemaking Authority. Robin.
MR. RIECHERS: For the record, my name is Robin Riechers of the Coastal Fisheries Division, and again, this item deals with the delegation of rulemaking authority to the Executive Director.
Under Parks and Wildlife Code 79.002, the Commission has the ability to delegate authority to the Executive Director to modify state coastal fisheries regulations to be consistent with federal regulations in the EEZ. This, of course, just places this item in proclamation to be used as needed in the future.
Public comments, we've had seven people in agreement with the public comment, as I mentioned yesterday we had two in disagreement, and as of yesterday morning I received a third from the Texas Shrimp Association in disagreement to this proposed rule.
With that, Commissioners, I would recommend that we adopt the proposed rule without changes, as published in the Texas Register.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I got the Texas Shrimp Association letter, and nobody signed up to testify here, but could you address the 45-day/75-day period?
MR. RIECHERS: I wish I could. I'm not totally certain what their claim about the 60 and 75 days is.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good, I'm not the only one that doesn't understand it.
MR. RIECHERS: Within the federal statute, they can have the season up to 75 days, but in that particular instance of closure, they're matching our request to have them close federal waters, not the other way around. That certainly isn't the way we believe we would apply this rule. This rule would be an application to some in-season closures that may occur on other species, at least that's how we would recognize this rule right now. We wouldn't think that it would apply to shrimp at all in this case.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Will you respond to their letter?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, I will talk to Ms. Anderson and try to clear that up with her.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mr. Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Let me get this real clear in my brain. Does this have anything to do with any suggestive coercion from any federal agency that we adopt, for instance, their two-bag limit on red snapper? Would this have any effect on that?
MR. RIECHERS: No, sir. This would allow, in times when we felt like there was a need to meet the federal rule which did take place ‑‑ which often is an in-season type of closure, for instance, shallow-water grouper where they close and then we have our deep-water grouper where they only have a million pounds, it may close midyear, it might close the day after this meeting and it may take quite a bit of time for us to actually get that before the Commission ‑‑ this would, in those kinds of instances, allow the Executive Director to contact the Chairman and make that suggestion, and then, of course, that would be up to the Chairman's discretion at that point whether we use that avenue to make the closure or whether we did a full Commission item to make that closure.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But it wouldn't have anything to do with them being unhappy because we are leaving our red snapper at four and theirs at two?
MR. RIECHERS: Well, as you know, Commissioner Parker, they're certainly unhappy, but no, we don't anticipate changing that associated with this rule.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Fine.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Robin, for your work there.
Do I have a motion?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Bivins, seconded by Brown. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes. Thank you very much.
And now we're on to 14, action item, Ted Hollingsworth, Lease Exchange with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program.
This is the third, and hopefully final time, that you've seen this item. It's a proposal to transfer management responsibility for nine of our sites in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for management and to assume management authority for two sites adjacent to World Birding Centers. These would be in exchange of 50-year agreements, and this is the motion to do so. Be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions of Ted on this one? I'll entertain a motion.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Brown, second by Parker. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes. Thanks, Ted. Are you up again?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I think so.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do it again, Ted.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program.
This is the third time you've seen this item as well, it is a proposal to sell the 4.2-acre Game Warden facility on 50th Street in Austin, the funds to be dedicated entirely for development of new facilities at the new Game Warden facility in Hamilton County. And if you agree with that, the motion to do so is in front of you. Be happy to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: This is an important step in getting our new Game Warden Academy. Motion?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Bivins moves, second by Holt. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes. Thank you, Ted. All right, 16.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You're still Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I'm still Ted Hollingsworth until further notice. I am still with the Land Conservation Program.
This is the second reading of this item. We retained two buildings at the Governor Hogg Shrine when we transferred the land to the City of Quitman. The local Heritage Association would like to assume responsibility for preserving and managing those buildings, opening them to the public. The City of Quitman is in favor of that motion, staff is in favor of that motion, and you see the motion before you. Be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ted. We had somebody signed up, Kathy McKinley.
MS. McKINLEY: I don't want to say anything except thank you for your consideration, we'd love to have the buildings.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, thank you for doing all the work and taking on the responsibility and sitting around all day and listening to everything else.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We have some other jobs around here, if you're interested.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do I have a motion on this?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Holt, second by Friedkin. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes. Thank you, Ted. It's like Groundhog Day over here with Ted Hollingsworth.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right, Corky, you're Number 17.
MR. KUHLMANN: For the record, I'm not Ted Hollingsworth. Corky Kuhlmann with the Land Conservation Program.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The other land guy.
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir.
This is Purtis Creek State Park, Henderson County, it is a road easement donation. We currently use a road on the northwestern part of the park through handshake agreement. The property owner has agreed to give us a right of way easement that would be recorded for use in perpetuity. We recommend that you adopt the motion before you to accept this right of way donation. Glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Anybody for a donation? Any motion?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So moved.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Motion from Parker, second by Brown. All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion passes. Thank you, Corky. Show Matt Wagner how to do it there; it's not as hard as Matt makes it. Get this stuff done a lot quicker.
That's the last action item, but don't everybody jump up and leave at once.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I'm leaving you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So noted.
We're back to Number 7, briefing, Toyota Texas Bass Classic.
MR. TERRE: This is some good stuff, fun stuff. Commissioners, thank you for giving me the opportunity to come speak to you about this great event that we had up at Lake Fork here on April 13th through the 16th. It's one of the most neatest things I've ever been involved with. I was very pleased with the outcome and I'm sure you will be too, and that's why I'm here is to kind of wrap that up.
First, my name is Dave Terre. I'm an Inland Fisheries Regional Director up in Tyler. And before I begin, I would like to thank you guys for your vision, your leadership, and your involvement and support of this great event. It was really awesome. I'd also like to thank all the Texas Parks and Wildlife divisions that participated in this. Without them, this would not have been a success, many divisions were involved. But really, this event to me was really a total team effort between our department, private industry and our constituents to promote fishing in Texas and to demonstrate the importance and value of conservation, and I think we got that message through real loud and clear.
Let me begin by saying the Toyota Texas Bass Classic was really much more than just a bass tournament, and I think we all found that out. This tournament was built on a conservation-minded premise that supported the work of the department and demonstrated a brand new fish-friendly and team format for bass tournaments. It was also an outreach event that reached out to our new constituents and existing constituents in fisheries, and was promoted as a family-oriented event.
This event was totally supported by its sponsors. Sponsors showcased their products in a sponsors' expo and through many on-site exhibits. This had no entry fee for the spectators or even the tournament participants, it was a totally free event, so that's something that was just totally different. Our department also took that opportunity to showcase its products and the programs at an information booth, on stage, and also in the Family Fun Zone which was a big part of this event.
Of course, this tournament was a first class operation with infrastructure similar to what you would see in a Super Bowl or a World Series or a PGA Golf Tournament. It was very, very impressive. Many anglers there remarked that the First Annual Toyota Texas Bass Classic was bigger than the famed Bass Masters Classic. I was very pleased with that.
The event provided quality musical entertainment that was blended with the tournament activities and conservation messages delivered by our staff which was great. Not only did the Parks and Wildlife deliver those conservation messages but also the professional anglers themselves, and the Sabine River Authority too acted in the same. So we were all speaking the same message which I think was huge.
This tournament also allowed a huge amount of public interaction with the tournament anglers, and also a very strong media presence. The fact that this tournament was aired on national TV, CBS Sports, was huge, it reached millions of people. Because of the way the tournament was formatted, the anglers actually got out there and worked with the public, talked to them, engaged with them, something they don't routinely do in a bass tournament, and I think a lot of our angling constituents look at those folks and listen to what they say. I think it was important that they worked with us and worked with the public.
Let's take a little tour. This event took place, of course, on April 13th through April 16th. As the visiting public walked through the gates, they were greeted by tournament sponsors, a multitude of them, and also our department staff because our information booth was right up there front and center which was cool.
A large stage was constructed there on the shoreline of Lake Fork on the property of the Sabine River Authority office there. This stage basically provided a focal point for many activities in this tournament, including weigh-in events, department presentations, and of course, the live concerts which were great. When you walked in there and took one look at that stage, you knew that this tournament was really something special, and it was.
Total attendance over the four days was estimated to be 27,500 people, very impressive, huge, and that's even with weather that was a little bit cold and chilly on Friday and Saturday. Of course, the public turned out in droves on Sunday when the sun came out. I can only imagine what the turnout would have been had the weather been great all three days, but very, very impressive. Of course, we don't want to forget the fact that the national coverage by CBS Sports and Versus Television reached millions of people, something for us to be very, very proud of.
As expected, Lake Fork produced. That's no surprise to us, it's a great fishing, it's a lake that we worked on very hard. A number of months ago, I guess maybe even a year ago, I came and spoke to you about the Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey that we're doing there. Lake Fork produced some awesome fishing. In fact, the total tournament yielded about 1,060 bass, some 4,358 pounds of fish, averaging about 4 pounds, 2 ounces, which clearly demonstrates the quality of this fishery. What's interesting, though, is that the vast majority of that poundage of fish were actually caught, weighed and recorded while in the boat, which is something unheard of in tournament fishing. In fact, only about 100 pounds, or about 13 fish, were brought to the stage for weighing in a Big Bass Contest. I'll talk a little bit more on this later. The big bass of the tourney, of course, was an 11-pound, 2-ounce fish, and a total of 13 fish exceeded the 24-inch top end of the slot and were brought in.
I've got some thank you's to say. First, this tournament would not have been possible without the volunteerism and support of our anglers. The Texas Bass Federation Nation, and the Lake Fork Sportsman's Association were huge in this effort. They provided considerable amounts of energy and resources and people to help Texas Parks and Wildlife make this a success. My hat is also off to the Sabine River Authority. When I initially approached them to have this on their grounds, they welcomed us with open arms, and so did their board. They have been very supportive of our work up on Lake Fork and it was great to partner with them on this effort.
After that, really, the SRA got together with Octagon which is a sports marketing company that was hired by Gulf States Toyota to come in and work with SRA. These guys got along great. And I was up there just to make sure that these guys were talking and everybody was happy, and if you asked the SRA guys, they were very, very pleased with how everything went, and I was too.
Of course, I think this photo right here says a lot. The PAA, which is the Pro Anglers Association, the staff at Gulf States Toyota, and the staff at Texas Parks and Wildlife, and you, our Commission. We have a picture here of Phil and Commissioner Friedkin taking the Angler Legacy Pledge which I think really symbolizes what this tournament was about ‑‑ it was about promoting fishing in Texas and creating new anglers in the state, and that's what the pledge is about. So I think that's really great and I thank you for everything.
The Texas Bass Classic, though, I think could be a new paradigm for tournament bass fishing, and let me explain that. First, it's the first ever major tournament ever held on a slot limit lake. This is no small thing. Texas Parks and Wildlife has managed Lake Fork with a slot limit for quite some time, but fish in the slot, of course, are protected by these size limits and cannot be brought to scales to be weighed in on a stage.
So we had to work with the PAA to design a method that we could use to weigh these fish and count them in a boat, and we worked with PAA to do that. The rules of the tournament, then, were to respect the size and bag limits on the reservoir and since there's never been a tournament on a slot limit lake, this was a totally new concept. So we got together with PAA, worked with PAA to develop this new catch and immediate release format.
What that involved was getting some volunteers together that would serve as judges in the boat, so the PAA worked with us to train 50 volunteers to come out and to ride with the pros and weigh and measure their fish. We put them with measuring boards, a Boga-grip scale, a scorecard, a radio and a tackle box to carry all that stuff. And then when the angler would catch the fish, the judge would actually help the angler weigh the fish and then the judge would finally make the call what that fish would weigh, and then it was recorded on the data sheet and immediately called in to a scoring table.
Throughout this tournament, a strong emphasis was placed on proper fish care and handling which is something that has not been thoroughly strongly emphasized in some tournaments in the past. In this tournament it was a priority. Here we have a photo of busy action. I think that picture says a lot of things. It talks about there being a judge in the boat that was responsible for weighing the fish, who was also trained in fish care; also some fish care specialists from Parks and Wildlife Inland Fisheries staff on the dock there assisting the angler, making sure that that fish was taken care of, that fish was properly bagged.
The Department also provided some special tanks that we built and put in these Tundra trucks that were used to transport fish from the angler's boat to the stage. We even put a fish care specialist in the back of the truck, in Parks and Wildlife uniform, to ride along with those pros to care for that fish all the way till it got to the stage and then after it got off the stage.
This new tournament format concept provided an opportunity to do some live scoring and some strategy sessions. Because these weights were called in throughout the course of the day in the tournament, the scoring booth always knew what the scores were so they updated them on the Jumbotrons on the screen and in various monitors located throughout the venue. Very cool, something almost like a PGA Golf Tournament. You could sit there and watch these monitors and see the lead swap and change and you wondered what's going on out there, and it was very, very exciting.
Because it was a team tournament, it allowed an opportunity for the pros to get together and strategize with one another about how to catch more fish, and of course, this was a very, very popular activity for spectators to come and watch. The media and the spectators got around and were trying to learn from these anglers' strategies, so it was a learning opportunity for fishermen on how to fish.
This tournament was often kind of coined a conservation tournament, I heard a lot of the pros say it's a conservation tournament, and it really was, and what it did was it promoted a more conservation-minded image for bass tournaments ‑‑ which I think bass tournaments need. Because of this format, the anglers went out and fished half a day and then they spent the second half of the day intermingling with the public, so they were signing autographs for kids, helping Parks and Wildlife deliver messages on the Jumbotron, just an exciting, exciting thing.
Of course, we had a Family Fun Zone, and this was an opportunity for us to introduce people to hunting and fishing and the great outdoors. We did that as a first class operation there. Also, we had many hands-on activities for the kids there to engage them in the sport of fishing. We also showcased some outdoor destinations, our state parks.
Staff had opportunities to do interviews on the Jumbotron. That was something totally new. Here we have one of our biologists, Craig Bonds, talking about how does a slot limit work, and he has a couple of the PAA pros to help support what our biologist is saying and airing that to the public. We believe that makes our story more believable to the public, it helps them understand what we're doing and why we're doing it.
Of course, the sponsors were out there in droves. There's no doubt that this tournament had a huge economic impact on the Lake Fork area locally, and I believe that as this now has been aired on national TV, it's going to bring new dollars into the Texas economy, no doubt. I mean, people are going to come to Lake Fork and come fish. So I think we've done a real good deal here.
Of course, this tournament was unique because it was the largest purse of any no-entry-fee tournament in the history of bass fishing, a million bucks, very, very impressive. The team of Terry Scroggins, they caught a total of, I think 54 bass that weighed 244 pounds, 12 ounces. Pretty good for three days' fishing. The big bass of the tournament came from John Sappington. John had an 11-pound, 2-ounce fish and he got an awesome, specially equipped Tundra truck. The winning team, by the way, took home $250,000 bucks.
But the Texas Parks and Wildlife was the big winner here too. We also took home a check of $250,000 which, if Phil Durocher and I have a say in it, we would like to spend it on creating new anglers in the state and trying to bolster our Urban Fishing Program. We believe that that would be an efficient way for us to engage more people into fishing.
So in summary, I would like to say that the mission was very accomplished with the Toyota Texas Bass Classic. One, Texas Parks and Wildlife showcased its products to millions of people nationwide. We had great press and great public relations for Texas Parks and Wildlife. Also, we created new partnerships. We've never worked with the PAA before. We've worked with pros here and there but not an organization of pros. I think that gives us a great opportunity, a great vehicle to get some messages out through this tournament and maybe other ways.
Staff with Gulf States Toyota were wonderful to work with, and Octagon and everybody. It was just an awesome sight. Also, there were economic benefits, both locally and statewide, and a totally new format for this tournament was developed. And I think we successfully delivered many conservation messages that are important to Texas today and will be so in the future.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this and I'm sorry if I ran over a little bit. You can tell I'm pretty excited about this thing. But I would like to say that Lydia Saldana and her staff have put together a video that I'd like to have you see, and then if Lydia would like to get up and speak after that, that would be awesome.
(Whereupon, a video was shown.)
MS. SALDANA: That was a lot of fun. For the record, I'm Lydia Saldana, Communications Director, and I have a very brief presentation to make here.
Now, we all know that this tournament was the brainchild of Commissioner Friedkin and Commissioner Ramos and we know that they worked very hard to make this event a success. All of us who were involved really know what it takes to put something like this on, it takes hard work, it takes long hours, and it takes considerable sacrifice. Now, sometimes that sacrifice even involves our families, whether it's time away from home, work those long hours, or even a more direct sacrifice.
And with that thought in mind, we'd like to present this memento to Commissioner Friedkin, whose wife, Deborah, made a very personal sacrifice as she literally got hooked on the first Texas Toyota Bass Classic. Commissioner Friedkin, we hope you'll take this to Deborah and we hope to see you both at Lake Fork.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's a true story, and guess who got her hooked? It was me.
I think Dave said it best when he said it was a team effort, and it involved all the divisions at TPW, but we just thank you. It's been a great partnership and thank you all. You're the ones that need to be thanked. Appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, Dan, you all did an amazing job. It wouldn't have happened the way it happened if not for you and your folks at Gulf States. Thanks for making it happen, you did a great job. And now you've set the bar pretty high for yourself, do it again next year. Okay, great.
Next up, I believe, is Item 8, Briefing on Natural Leaders Reunion Conference, Al. Didn't mean to skip you there, Al.
MR. BINGHAM: Good afternoon, commissioners. For the record, my name is Al Bingham, Human Resources Division Director. And I've got to tell you, I don't know if it's possible, but I'm just as excited, as Dave and Phil and other guys were about the Bass Classic, about this upcoming event that we're having, our Natural Leaders Reunion Conference and Banquet which will be held July 17th through 19th.
Whether you're the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or major league sports franchise or even a state agency, one of the key responsibilities of the leadership is to develop and identify the future leadership. About seven years ago, former Executive Director Andy Sansom recognized that even though the agency had an abundance of talent across the agency, we needed a more deliberate, more organized approach to cultivating our leaders, and so with that premise, our Natural Leader Program was developed. During his tenure, Mr. Cook has also continued to carry the torch and the program has flourished.
The purpose of this program is to give our highly motivated and ambitious first-line supervisors, our game wardens, our park managers, our fisheries and wildlife biologists, the opportunity to hone their leadership development skills. Since its inception in 2000, we've completed six Natural Leader classes and over 140 participants. And I'd like to give ourselves a pat on the back. Back in 2001 we won a state award, Human Resources Innovative Practices Award, for this program.
The Natural Leader Program is a year-long program, it includes formal leadership training which is conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership which is one of the top nationally known leadership institutions in the country, it includes mentoring by executive staff. Participants are assigned a stretch project of significance to the agency. Another significant part of it is the site visits. We attempt to have our leaders to have a broad awareness of issues across divisional lines, and so they gain this knowledge of diverse operations as they go on these site visits. At the end of the year's class, the teams present their projects to Mr. Cook and the other deputies, and then there's a formal recognition ceremony.
This is a picture of our Class VI on a site visit down to the coast talking about some of the marine issues.
This conference, again, is going to be held July 17th through 19th at the Camp Allen Conference Center, and of course, you all have an open invitation to attend. It serves several purposes. Number one, we want our leaders to continue to grow and hone their leadership skills, we want them to refine their concepts of what it means to be a leader and what it takes to be effective in a leadership position, and we want them to continue to recognize the important role that they play in having a meaningful difference to the organization and the lives of the folks that they lead. We'll have some speakers and of course it will wrap up with a banquet dinner, and we'll kick off Class VII.
You're all aware of the complexities that the agency faces and we must ensure that we maintain a cadre of prepared leaders who have the necessary flexibility and vision to help us meet those challenges. And with that, I'll take any questions that you have.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Al. It's obvious when you look around at the quality of leadership we have in this organization, you're doing something right. Thanks, Al.
MR. BINGHAM: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Next, Item 10, briefing on the Richland-Chambers Wetlands Water Reuse Project.
MR. GUNNELS: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Jeff Gunnels. I'm a Wildlife Biologist at the Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area. I would like to brief you about the Richland-Chambers Wetlands Water Re-use Project on the Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area and highlight this cooperative conservation agreement between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Tarrant Regional Water District.
This wetlands project is a water conservation model and the first project like it in the United States. As you can see, the mission statements of the two partner agencies are substantially different. This is what lends this to be a very unique cooperative conservation project. Currently, the Tarrant Regional Water District supplies water to approximately 2 million people throughout North Texas, primarily in the Tarrant County area, through constructed reservoirs including the Richland-Chambers Reservoir.
In the early '90s the district's long range planners began to search for new water supply alternatives to meet future needs. One alternative to constructing new reservoirs was to divert flows from the Trinity River into Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers Reservoirs. Throughout most of the year, the Trinity River consists of highly treated municipal wastewater from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, however, these flows must be further treated prior to introduction into existing reservoirs to remove nutrients and contaminants. The nutrients of concern are nitrogen and phosphorous and the major effect of these nutrients on reservoirs are algae blooms which lead to taste and odor problems in treated water. Sediment and other contaminants also need to be removed from that Trinity River water.
In 1992, the district constructed a three-acre pilot scale wetland system to determine the potential for wetlands to improve water quality for future water supply needs. The biophysical and biochemical processes remove many of these water pollutants in the wetlands. This is a key characteristic of wetlands and a reason that they're often referred to as the earth's kidneys. The pilot scale system operates by pumping raw water from the Trinity River through a series of wetland cells, and each natural wetland plant community is comprised of emergent plant species that are driven by the sun's energy, and the performance of this pilot scale wetland system indicated improvements in water quality by removing about 82 percent of the nitrogen, 65 percent of the phosphorous, and 95 percent of the total suspended solids.
Due to this success using these wetlands and the cost effectiveness, the Tarrant Regional Water District contacted the Department with a proposal to place these water treatment wetlands on the North Unit of the Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area. And there are several reasons the Department chose to partner with the district on this project.
It provides additional acres of management wetlands on the WMA, and even when that system is not operating for water quality improvement, water must still be delivered to those wetland impoundments because those wetlands are the water treatment facility. It provided for substantial increases in public use opportunities on the WMA, primarily waterfowl hunting and birdwatching. And then our agency becomes a partner in the development of a new water supply technology that's an alternative to new reservoir construction which we hope can slow the loss of bottomland hardwood ecosystems.
The following slide will show you a before-and-after view of what type of habitat changes are being made. We're converting historically cleared bottomland hardwoods that are now in fallow fields with lots of regrowth. You can see ragweed, honey locust, hawthorne regrowth in the high quality wetland habitats ‑‑ barnyard grass, spikerush, smartweeds, duck potatoes ‑‑ so very, very high quality wetland habitats, and you can see the tree line in the background ‑‑ that shot was taken in about the same location.
In December of 1996, our agency and the Tarrant Regional Water District entered into a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in this project and allow the construction of up to 2,000 acres of wetlands on the North Unit of the WMA for an estimated expenditure of about $30 million by the district ‑‑ that's construction and operations costs. The department will continue all public recreation activities on these lands and provide input into the management of these wetland plant communities and manage wildlife damage issues, and the district agreed to direct surplus water to instream flow beneficial to fish and wildlife downstream, including bays and estuaries.
This slide here is fairly busy but hope this will help showcase this concept, but it graphically demonstrates the big picture of the wetlands reuse concept. You can see the Trinity River flows directly through downtown Fort Worth and over through downtown Dallas and then turns southward. The water flows downstream for about 80 miles from the Metroplex and is diverted there at the Richland Creek WMA, filtered through a constructed wetland system to remove contaminants and nutrients, pumped into the Richland-Chambers Reservoir, and then sent back to the Metroplex using existing pipelines and pump stations and infrastructure, all without the construction of an additional reservoir. So this is simply a very large scale water recycling project that's using wetlands as a natural filter.
You can see on this colored infrared area photo each phase of planned wetland construction. The total project size is 2,000 acres with the capacity to filter 100 million gallons of water a day and that will equate out to about 63,000 acre feet of water a year. The water begins its journey through our wetland system at our pump station that was constructed on the Trinity River. And this is the 250-acre-field scale phase that was completed and put into operation in early 2003, and the system operates by pumping water from the Trinity River to the sedimentation basin for an eight-hour detention time, and then the water gravity flows at that point through the wetland cells for the next 6-1/2 days, and you can see the sedimentation basin and water movement in cells one through four.
And this aerial photo will show you the path of the water through the system as it works its way through a series of wetland cells, as it's being cleansed as it moves through those and you can see in the top of that photo that's Richland-Chambers Reservoir in the background.
An elaborate series of water control structures are utilized to move and control these water flows, and then the water that's pumped from the Trinity River creates the very high quality wetland habitat that turns around and then actually cleanses the water. So without the water, you don't have the wetlands, but with the wetlands we're able to clean the water. Sort of like getting the egg before the chicken, or which way does it go there.
This photo demonstrates the effectiveness of the wetlands as filters and there's a pretty remarkable difference in the clarity of this water that you can see from what you saw there in the Trinity River photo. These two samples of lab also show the water quality difference. The district completes a series of water quality tests each week, the field scale wetlands are performing as predicted with contaminant removal similar to the pilot scale project and no bioaccumulation of heavy metals has been detected in water, soils or plants. That is a concern of our agency and we do closely monitor bioaccumulation, especially in the sediment.
Now that you've seen a little quick brief history and some of the project effectiveness, looking at the current construction. An additional 250 acres are currently under construction as we speak. You can see it marked in green there, the sedimentation basin up in the top right corner, and wet cell five and wet cell six. This will bring our project total up to about 500 acres of wetlands. Just a quick shot to show you an example of the levees that are currently under construction. The second re-lift pump station that will collect the treated water and pump it over the dam into Richland-Chambers Reservoir is currently under construction right now. That pump station is scheduled for completion in early 2008 and the entire 2,000-acre project should be completed by 2010, 2011, depending upon their time lines, construction bidding processes.
This wetlands project is providing us an opportunity on the WMA for our staff to educate students, teachers, conservation groups about wetlands, water conservation, wildlife habitat, and that concept of cooperative conservation that's so important to provide these water supplies in the future. The wetlands project has been featured in numerous TV broadcasts, documentaries, video news releases and various magazine and newspaper articles around Texas, around the country. The project is receiving national and international attention. Water planners from 14 states and three foreign countries have visited our site to evaluate this potential for other parts of the U.S. and abroad. The project has also received awards from Texas and National American Water Works Association in the area of environmental engineering and design.
And kind of to summarize the entire project, we plan to pump water out of the Trinity River, naturally filter it through a series of wetlands, send it back to Tarrant County where it's going to be used by a consumer, it's going to flow back to a wastewater treatment plant, right back into the Trinity River Basin. So it's just a giant water recycling concept, a pump-it-as-you-need-it thought.
And in closing, as we move forward in the future, we're going to have to challenge each other to embrace this type of cooperative conservation so we can ensure water supplies for the future for mankind as well as wildlife and the environment. And this project is a classic example of harnessing an ecological function instead of fighting against it, but harnessing that function to benefit mankind in a sustainable manner. So at this time I'll end and be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Jeff, thank you. That's a really impressive project and the sort of things you're working on all the time that we don't get to see enough of. That's really impressive.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: The flow that's going back into the reservoir is how many gallons per whatever unit of time?
MR. GUNNELS: Completed project will be 100 million gallons a day.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And how does that calibrate relative to the reservoir needs the City of Dallas is out trying to fill?
MR. GUNNELS: Tarrant Regional Water District figures that they supply to us, said that the Wetland Re-use Project, the one on Richland Creek and the future planned project at Cedar Creek Reservoir, should supply about 30 percent of their anticipated needs.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: So if you did 3.3 times that, you would have the equivalent of one reservoir.
MR. GUNNELS: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Is that possible?
MR. GUNNELS: Good question. Some hydrologists and water planners would have to answer that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: My next question is how much does that take out of water that flows into the Gulf if you do that, or does it?
MR. GUNNELS: I guess the question you're asking is a common one: how does it impact the flows of the river. There was a water assessment model completed that looked at 25 years of low flows in the Trinity and that 25-year model showed that the historic low flows are steadily increasing each summer, and that's due to population growth in that Metroplex area. Basically the higher the population, the more water used, the more water discharged into that basin. Summertime flows, 95 percent is effluent water in the Trinity River during summer low flows.
MR. COOK: I do not remember any specific reservoir yield, but one of the main things when we first looked at this was the fact that if you could do this across the state in a number of replications ‑‑ which we could ‑‑ instead of building reservoirs, this was an option that resulted in more water back into that system, good quality water back into the system without the construction of a reservoir to answer every water need.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Have we talked to Dallas Water Utilities about funding more of these projects?
MR. COOK: We have not.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, I think that's something to look at, but, you know, the spot that we might want to address this is in our meetings we have with TCEQ and Water Development Board because it's really the Water Development Board that needs to understand this process because they're the ones that at the planning and review stage are going through these reservoirs and they need to understand this option well enough to know when it can happen. So is that something that we might put on our agenda for our next meeting with the Water Development Board?
MR. COOK: Absolutely
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And maybe get Jeff there to give his presentation. That would be worthwhile.
MR. COOK: His presentation of a great project.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I took the bait and I'm happy to help set that meeting up if it's helpful.
MR. GUNNELS: There is a second project like this and already modeled after it under construction, the North Texas Municipal Water District is building a 2,500-acre project on the East Fork of the Trinity right there off US 175 north of Kaufman, right there close to Crandall. So it's the second one already under construction in the state.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: What's your sense for how it affects instream flows into the Gulf, though. If you multiplied this program many times to provide a meaningful substitute for reservoirs, what's the equivalent effect?
MR. GUNNELS: I think the concept there ‑‑ and you'll have to look at what that human population is and how much water they're discharging as to how much can be pulled back out, and the water modeling and some early data that they looked at, because you're obviously going to lose some to absorption, evapotranspiration, is looking at about 55 percent of the water being claimed for re-use. But that gets pretty detailed in water planning that's a little bit above my level.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: It does sound like it's going to require some sophisticated modeling. It would be curious to see.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks for your work, appreciate it.
Our final agenda item is a briefing item on the Panhandle Wildfires. Jeff, we lost Bivins.
MR. BONNER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, appreciate you having me. My name is Jeff Bonner. I'm a Wildlife Biologist in the Panhandle District stationed out of Pampa. We're going to look at the fires and then we're going to take a peek at some of the survey data from some of the surveys that we do, and then we're going to take a look at some photo points and see how that vegetation has responded over the last year.
Before I go any further, I want to say that you're going to hear me say some positive things about wildlife habitat as a result of these burns and how it's going to be a positive thing for populations down the road, and I don't want that to be misconstrued that myself or the Department in any way thinks that these wildfires were a good thing. Loss of life, property, ranches, fences, homes, by far this was not a good thing and we do not want another.
March 12, 2006, we saw the biggest wildfires in recorded Texas history. That red area there is the areas that burned. That one there to the north is what's become known as the Borger fire; it was approximately 60 miles long and around 10 to 12 miles wide. That big fire to the south has become known as the I-40 fire; it was around 50 miles long and around 15 miles wide. Both of those fires were burning on the same day at the same time. They consumed around 750,000 acres of grassland of our prairie and bottoms, and 80 to 90 percent of those fires of that country was consumed in a matter of hours, not in days, in hours.
So some of our wildlife, certainly you removed 750,000 acres of prairie, you're going to have a pretty negative impact on ground-nesting birds, a lot of the prairie species. For lesser prairie chickens before the fire I knew of 11 leks that had males present. For those of you that may not be familiar with prairie chickens, a lek is an area where the males gather up every spring and they dance and display and boom and try to get a girlfriend, and so they go to these same places every year. Before the fires, 11 leks in the area that burned had males present, in 2006 that was down to six leks, in 2007, this past spring, seven of those leks had males present. Given the drought conditions we're in, I can't really blame all that on wildfire, but certainly it had an effect.
Beloved white-tailed deer that we've heard about all day today, we have a 15-mile spotlight route that runs through Gregg County through the I-40 fire that's 15 miles. All if it was burned. The year before the fires we saw 26 deer, and the year after the fire we saw 26 deer. And none of this is real scientific data, these are just some observation numbers from some of our surveys, but not an obvious giant impact on the white tails.
For pronghorn antelope, herd unit 15 which is located to the northwest of Pampa in Hutchinson County on the Borger fire, we actually saw a slight increase in antelope numbers, and herd unit 25 which is to the northeast of Pampa, we saw nearly a threefold increase in pronghorn numbers. And probably what we're seeing there is a combination effect of the drought that we were in as well as the effects of the fire, and the only place to get something green to eat around there for several months was in the burn area where that vegetation was trying to recover after the fires. Antelope that have huge home ranges didn't have any problem concentrating in there on that burn area which so happened to be where our survey block lands.
I set up eight photo points in different types of habitat, I only brought you three examples today. A lot of folks' concept of the Panhandle is a flat, barren land, and that's far from the truth. We do have a diversity of habitats. Hard hit was our riparian areas and wooded areas. This particular series of photos that you'll see is along McClellan Creek in Gray County, and basically I tried to get to every photo point and take a picture about once a month or so, so we could see how that stuff responded. This is in March, just a few weeks after the fire; this would be in the first part of May and there's a few little green sprigs coming up; this is in June, looking a little better.
And remember that we were in really bad drought conditions, not only we hadn't had any meaningful rain since the fall of '05. We had a really dry fall and a dry winter, dry spring of '06, and zero soil moisture, and then it continued to be dry throughout August. This is the same spot, this is in July. I'm going to back up one back to June, and see that grass there in the lower left, nice and green, in July it's drying up. We got rain in August and vegetation took off like crazy, and we got more rain into August and into September, and by the first week of October, you can't hardly tell where you're at anymore. So if you'll indulge me, it's a lot of fun if you look at this fast.
I'm going to continue to monitor these probably just seasonally, the every month thing was kind of wearing me out. This is at the end of this winter, this is into February, and this was last week, a year later, and the nice thing about this is you don't see anywhere as much bare ground, a great increase in plant diversity, a lot of the woody plants are re-sprouting and trying to come back as well.
This next part is in some sand hill country, it's dominated by little blue stems, some big bunch grasses and some sand shinnery. I threw this shot in so you get some concept of what the country looked like. This is in the pasture where this photo point is. I didn't have ESP or the foresight to have pre-established photo points but this will give you an idea of what it looked like before it burned; this is what it looked like after it burned.
This is in March and you can get the idea these fires were really vicious. A prescribed fire leaves a nice little patchy environment and this was nothing patchy about it. Here we are in May, this is almost two full months after the fire and you can see the effects of the drought. July. That sand shinnery that you see growing ‑‑ sand shinnery loves a good fire, makes them sprout like crazy. The problem is the grasses are sitting around waiting on some rain before they do anything. In the meantime, the brush has deep roots and has moisture and gets growing on top of the grass which is kind of the opposite of what you actually want to do in range management.
In July, very dry, shinnery actually turned dry, shucking its leaves. August finally got some rain and at least greened up some, we got a few weeds growing, and at the end of the growing season in October. This is at the end of winter, and you can see if I bounce back and forth, you can see the amount of bare ground that came up at the end of winter. And this was last week in May, green, very diverse, also rich in annual weeds, very good for quail, very good for prairie chickens, very good for white-tailed deer. I have seen a very big loss of the big bunch grasses which is going to be really bad news for those ranchers trying to make a living grazing cattle.
My last point, and this is in Hutchinson County, just north of Skellytown, those hills you see in the background are some sand hills and you can get a feel for the wind erosion. If you look at those sandy stripes back there on the horizon on those hills, you're looking to the south so you're looking at the north face of those sand hills, and with no vegetation, anywhere for a couple of months, the sand and the strong south winds piled the sand up, and so to see how long it took for those to re-vegetate, you can watch those sand strips start disappearing throughout the year until you get to October, and there's just a few patches left.
To look at it right now, if you drove down the highway and looked at it horizontally, it looks pretty good, if you get out in it and look down on it, lots of bare ground, lots of bare patches, it still has a good ways to go. It's pretty strong looking right now for wildlife, but again, if you're trying to make a living grazing cattle, you're taking some on the chin.
So depending on precipitation amounts and timing which right now we're in outstanding shape, the Panhandle has had a lot of moisture, we've been sloppy wet since November, we even had three-quarters of an inch last night, things are growing great, you can see how green and pretty it was last week, and it's hopefully going to continue throughout the growing season. I would expect populations to be better within two to five years; if the rainfall continues like that, I don't think it will take near that long. Except for our riparian areas, it just takes a while to replace the gargantuan cottonwood tree. And that's all I have.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do the cottonwoods re-sprout from a fire?
MR. BONNER: Some will, yes, sir. I have seen lots of the cottonwoods re-sprout, and I've also seen some of them that are just deader than a doornail.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good work.
MR. BONNER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Anything else, Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: I believe that's all we have, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Cook. We're adjourned.
(Whereupon, at 2:50 p.m., the meeting was concluded.)
In official recognition hereof, we hereby affix our signatures as approved this
___ day of ____________ 2007.
Joseph B. C. Fitzsimons, Chairman
Donato D. Ramos, Vice-Chairman
Mark E. Bivins, Member
J. Robert Brown, Member
T. Dan Friedkin, Member
Peter M. Holt, Member
Philip Montgomery III, Member
John D. Parker, Member
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Commission Meeting
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: May 24, 2007
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 219, 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