Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
May 21, 2008Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 21st day of May 2008, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas, Committee Chairman
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Ralph H. Duggins, Fort Worth, Texas
- Antonio Falcon, MD, Rio Grande City, Texas
- Karen J. Hixon, San Antonio, Texas
- Margaret Martin, Boerne, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Carter P. Smith, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Hello, everybody. Good morning. Good morning. This meeting is called to order. Do we have everybody here? Okay. Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.
MR. SMITH: Good morning. A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of Secretary of State, as required by Chapter 551, Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mr. Smith. We will begin right away with the Regulations Committee. We've kind of changed the order and will do Regs first with Commissioner Friedkin.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning, everyone. The first order of business is the approval of the previous committee meeting minutes which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So move.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Bivins, second by Falcon. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Opposed?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Hearing none, motion carries.
Committee Item Number 1, Land and Water Plan Update. Mr. Smith.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Chairman. A couple of items, just from the National Marine Fisheries Service that I want to bring to everybody's attention. They have recently tested and approved some new bycatch reduction devices to go on shrimp trawls, to ‑‑ particularly looking at attenuating impacts on juvenile red snapper.
And so we're going to need to look at adopting those regulations, and so our team from Coastal Fisheries is going to bring that forward in the August meeting. So just want to give everyone a heads-up about those new bycatch reduction devices. So ‑‑ we knew they were coming, and so we'll talk about those in August.
Also want to let folks know that the National Marine Fisheries Service has also acted on tightening the recreational fishery on red snapper out in the federal waters in the Gulf. We suspected that that would happen after our decision not to be consistent with the federal regulations; that has indeed transpired. The result of that is, they have essentially closed the fall season to recreational fishing for red snapper out in the federal waters of the Gulf.
So we're going to be working with NMFS on that issue to come; obviously it's something that we're concerned about and have some disagreement over.
I want to just also thank those of you that were able to attend the graduation ceremony last Friday; Chairman Holt, Commissioners Falcon and Martin were there, for our new game warden class. It's a great, bright group of cadets, 36 cadets.
Particularly pleased that 13 of the graduates had worked for the Department before, and 11 had come up through our internship program, which was particularly nice; nine of whom I think were in law enforcement through the internship program there. But we had graduates that worked in fisheries, and communications, and state parks. And so they bring a lot of experience and knowledge from other parts of the agency to the table.
They also have a very proud tradition of law enforcement in their families. We had the sons of a Texas Ranger; we had the son ‑‑ or the daughter of a superintendent; sons of a DPS trooper and a former DPS captain; and the son of a county law enforcement investigator.
So great, great tradition there and we're really proud of those cadets and the graduates; they made it through a pretty arduous academy. It will be the last class that formally graduates from our 51st Street Academy, so that's very significant in that regard.
And particularly pleased, Chairman, that we had Governor Perry there ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, yes ‑‑
MR. SMITH: — and he gave a great address ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — that was nice of him to take the time.
MR. SMITH: — yes. Took a picture with every graduate ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Every graduate. Yes.
MR. SMITH: — very, very nice. So, last thing I want to mention is the Toyota Bass Classic there at Lake Fork last month went very, very, very well; we were very pleased with that. It generated a quarter-of-a-million-dollar contribution, thank you to Toyota, to help our inland fisheries and educational programs and outreach, to youth fishermen in particularly trying to help engage folks with creating more opportunities in urban neighborhoods, to get them out to fish.
One of the really interesting outcomes of that tournament is a new method that was instituted at the tournament in which all fish were caught and then weighed and released, as opposed to caught and brought back to the bank to formally weigh; and I think this is something that's got the attention of a lot of tournament organizers around the country, to look at ways for managing tournaments, particularly when you have slot limits and other things that are a little hard to work around, in professional tournaments.
So the news folks like that, and I think our fisheries biologists were very pleased with that as well, so exciting news on that front.
So, Mr. Chairman, I think that's it for me on the land and water front.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right, thank you.
Committee Item 2, Request Permission to Review Rules. Ann Bright.
MS. BRIGHT: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. We are required under the Government Code to review all of our rules once every four years. The rule review has to include an assessment of whether the reasons for adopting the rule continue to exist.
When we review these rules we also try to do a very meaningful review and make sure that they're accurate; for example, we may have position titles that have changed, that sort of thing.
To begin this process, we're required to publish a notice in the Texas Register that says we're going to start this rule review process, and then after we complete the process, we have to publish another notice that says that the rules have either been re-adopted, adopted with changes, or repealed.
Normally this occurs over three meetings. The first meeting, which is in this instance today, staff is going to request permission to begin the rule review process. In the second meeting, we will request permission to publish any changes. As we go through these rules, a lot of times we're ‑‑ most of the time, we're going to find things that need to be changed.
In the third meeting, we would request permission to adopt the changes and to adopt, basically the completion of the rule review.
This is kind of a busy slide but it shows you the schedule for the chapters. The ones that are highlighted are the ones that we're looking to begin today. So we are requesting permission to begin the rule review process for Chapters 51, Executive; Chapter 52, Wildlife and Fisheries; Chapter 55, Law Enforcement, and Chapter 61, Design and Construction.
And that concludes my presentation, I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Ann. Any questions for Ann.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Did we do it four years ago ‑‑
MS. BRIGHT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — is this, we're at our four-year ‑‑
MS. BRIGHT: Our regular four-year process.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. I'll authorize staff to begin the rule review.
Committee Item Number 3, Migratory Game Bird Proclamation. Vernon?
MR. BEVILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. For the record, I'm Vernon Bevill, and I'm Program Director for Small Game and Habitat Assessment.
I'm here today to begin to brief you on a process that will drag on until your August commission meeting with several benchmarks along the way, and that has to do with setting the annual seasons for migratory game birds.
We are asking permission to publish our proposed changes in the Texas Register to start this process, and the first major decision will be that for our new executive director to make in July, with the early season decisions; and the late season decisions will be brought back to the Commission in August.
So, there are a couple of items that I'll go into a little more detail on. One relates to a change in our dove season structure in South Zone; and the other relates to how we are proposing to handle crane change, and we're looking for public comment on both of those, to steer us to a final decision.
Pretty much unchanged for the North and Central Dove Zones from previous years, what we are proposing to do to accommodate a request that's been going on for two or three years in Jim Hogg County, to move Jim Hogg County out of the special White-wing Zone, and ‑‑ which right now, we cannot accommodate because we're in the ‑‑ we will be in the fourth year of a five-year evaluation of that white-wing extension up to Highway 90 that we made several years ago.
And so the Feds will not let us out of that survey until it is completed, and until we do that, we can't make any formal boundary changes. However, if we take the last week of the first split out of the South Zone season and move that week to the end of the season, which we have the framework to accommodate, we can accommodate that interest in that area.
And by proposing it this way, we get a chance to test the waters on the public reaction to see if that is generally okay, or whether there's a lot of negative feedback to it and then we would probably not do that. But we're just looking for a way to address an issue that has been requested repeatedly, and actually gone through the Migratory Advisory Board on more than one occasion with a lot of support from that group as well. So that's the first significant issue.
As ‑‑ for the new Commissioners, we either have a nine-day or 16-day teal season in September; our Commission policy established a number of years ago that if it is 16 days it's the last three full weekends in September. If ‑‑ [noise from PA system].
MR. BEVILL: If it's nine days, it will be the last two weekends of September. We try to establish seasons for rail, snipe and woodcock, commensurate with other, more significant game bird seasons, to accommodate that opportunity for hunters in the field.
For ducks, mergansers and coots, there's surveys going on as we speak in the breeding grounds; we will not have feedback on those until sometime in July when our Flyway Council meets. We anticipate it will be another liberal season package, and this, if it is, this is sort of what it will look like for our High Plains Mallard Management Unit in West Texas; and for the North and South Zone, we have ‑‑ with a liberal package we've run our season structure concurrently.
We have zones that, at such time that we ever go to a more restricted package, then the zones come into play with how we would set seasons with fewer days. We are in the final year of our Hunter Choice Bag Experiment, which is in an aggregate bag of one hen mallard, one pintail, or one canvasback or one dusky duck, which is any of the combination of mottled duck, black duck or Mexican duck.
And after this season is over, we will be involved in a flyway-wide evaluation of the success of that particular approach to reducing the need for the seasons within seasons for pintails and canvasbacks ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, confusing.
MR. BEVILL: — which has generally been 39 days, sandwiched somewhere in the season structure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You're doing that with the Feds?
MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir. The Feds have concurred with this approach, and we're looking at it and will be evaluating it over the next year or so.
For the Eastern Goose Zone, primarily in the Eastern Goose Zone we hunt white geese, Canada geese and white-fronted geese. White-fronted geese are among our most important goose stocks available to our Eastern Goose Zone hunters, we have a 72-day season proposed with a two-bird daily bag limit. That season closes earlier than the other two as you can see.
For the Western Goose Zone, light geese and dark geese are more abundant, together, and we are able to close those two seasons at the same time. Now, for our light goose conservation order we are proposing delaying it in the Western Goose Zone because we start generally right after the regular season closes.
But we're proposing to have a longer crane season in a portion of the Western Goose Zone, and would not open the light goose conservation season until that crane season ended on the 8th, and we would open that on the 9th as you can see in this other slide, the ‑‑ Zone B would close on the 8th, Zone A would close on the 8th, we would go to conservation ‑‑ or then again, this is one of those issues where if we get a lot of negative feedback we may re-think this recommendation before we come back to the Commission with a final proposal.
And Mr. Chairman, that ends my presentation, I'd be glad to answer any questions that you have.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I have a question.
MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Back to the pintail?
MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Not anything regarding what you have here, except ‑‑ are we continuing our study on pintail work here in Texas with regard to the rates of [indiscernible] where there would maybe have not been putting on ‑‑
MR. BEVILL: Right. There had been ‑‑ there's been some issues about the condition of pintails going back north, and I believe that study is still ongoing, although I don't specifically know. I can get back to you with some details on that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But if ‑‑ it's TPWD's study ‑‑
MR. BEVILL: TPWD is participating in the study.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: ‑‑ in the study?
MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Oh, okay. Have they come to a ‑‑ they haven't come to any decision yet as to ‑‑
MR. BEVILL: I haven't ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — a benchmark that's here, and underneath the benchmark of [noise from PA system] a little bit above it?
MR. BEVILL: I haven't seen any final findings and recommendations from that study, although there may be ‑‑ have been some that just haven't crossed my path yet. I just don't know.
I can get that information to you by tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: [indiscernible]
MR. BEVILL: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I see that we're maintaining two ‑‑ a two-bird limit there with scaup ‑‑ but is there any reason for concern about their doing those numbers ‑‑
MR. BEVILL: There's a lot of reason for concern about scaup. We are working as a flyway, us and the Mississippi Flyway, particularly have been working with Fish and Wildlife Service and our other flyway partners discussing the scaup proposal that's been circulating now for several years, and which Fish and Wildlife Service would like to approach a strategy that would reduce the harvest of scaup by going to a one-bird bag limit.
And there's a lot of misgivings about that at the flyway level, in terms of going to a one-bird bag on the third or fourth most abundant duck stock we have; and we all realize that it's not harvest; it's an environmental issue on the breeding ground. And we have encouraged Fish and Wildlife Service, pushed Fish and Wildlife Service in fact, that ‑‑ to address this problem where it exists, and don't try to put it on the backs of the hunters.
Because people tend to believe that if you approach in solving a problem by reducing bag limits or season lengths, that are truly environmental problems, you send a signal to the public that it's the hunter and not the real issue. And we're trying to be sure that we don't paint that picture wrongly, for our hunters to be accused of, sometimes. Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Vernon, in the South Texas, I guess it's in the special white-wing zone, you have the mix of mourning, white-wing and white tipped in your limits. Is ‑‑ does that pose an enforcement problem?
MR. BEVILL: It has been there for a long, long, time and it has changed a little bit in ‑‑ through time. When I first came here in 1993, we had a ten-bird bag in our special white-wing zone that included no more than, I believe, if I remember right, two mourning doves and two white tips.
During the '90s we were able to increase that to five mourning doves and two white tips. When we initiated this expansion of the special white-wing zone, the issue was concern for adding harvest on mourning doves by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and we agreed to reduce the bag limit to four.
So it has generally been enforceable, and the good news is that wherever there is a strong population of white wings you very seldom see mourning doves or white tips in the bag.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay.
MR. BEVILL: But it ‑‑ but they are sort of there for the mistake purposes ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right, right.
MR. BEVILL: — and they add a little recreation in; we've also been able to increase that total daily bag to twelve, ten to twelve. So I think we've made some pretty good strides there.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And then ‑‑ excuse me, one other question on dove is, in falconry, how many people actually hunt dove with falconry.
MR. BEVILL: I don't know the answer to that question, Commissioner Bivins, but I can look into it and see if I can come up with a number for you, sir.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I just ‑‑ I found it interesting that we have a category specifically for dove hunters with falcons. That's fascinating.
MR. BEVILL: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, is that a federal requirement, maybe? Do you know?
MR. BEVILL: Well, falconers get some special privileges within their sport, and I think the daily limit, if I'm remembering right, I hadn't looked at the falcon rules specifically in a long time; but as I recall the daily limit's three birds.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Correct.
MR. BEVILL: And you know, we don't have enough falconers to hurt anything else (laughs.)
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes, that's what ‑‑ I mean, I was just impressed that we have ‑‑
MR. BEVILL: But I don't know how many falconers specifically pursue doves during the dove season. I would speculate that, if anything, a falconry on ‑‑ that affects mourning doves occurs late in the framework of the migratory bird season.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think it's growing in popularity and interest, though.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'm sure that this has been asked before, but since I'm new I'd like to know. Is consideration ever given to moving up the start of the North Zone dove season, this year for example to Saturday, because it's the start of the weekend, instead of waiting until Monday? Because they'd have to be September 1st?
MR. BEVILL: It has been asked before.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Almost every year.
MR. BEVILL: And we go through cycles of new Commissioners that ask ‑‑ and the answer's the same. The framework for allowing hunting of migratory birds is set in treaty, and it's a treaty between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and we cannot start the hunting season for our migratory birds prior to September 1st.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So it's in the Migratory ‑‑
MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir. That's ‑‑
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: This is one, just for the new ‑‑ Vernon does a great job, because there's so much coordination with the federal, Fish and Wildlife particularly, that ‑‑ on all of the migratory. So ‑‑ and Vernon's done a tremendous job coordinating that.
And getting our interests heard I think, don't you, Vernon? I think Texas does pretty well. There are just certain things that ‑‑
MR. BEVILL: We have to be smart with what we take to them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Yes, exactly.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Vernon, just as a clarification. On the special white-wing dove area, we're altering the eastern boundary a little bit. Right?
MR. BEVILL: No, sir. We're not changing any boundary. We're just altering the first segment of the South Zone season ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I see. I got you, okay.
MR. BEVILL: — to end a week earlier, and then move that week into the second segment, to end a week later. And this generally accommodates the requests we've been receiving, and we're testing the waters to see if this is a change that would be well received or poorly received by our South Zone hunters before we finalize it.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: But at the end of next year, will we be able to address that boundary issue?
MR. BEVILL: At the end of next year, we ‑‑ if we need to, we can go back and ‑‑ what we would have to do in moving the line, we find, is functionally we'd take about a million acres of the special white-wing zone out by using the road structures that exist down there, to do that.
And actually, you know, we just need to see if that's what we need to do, or whether this one change fixes the issue, or not. And I think we'll know more about that in 60 days after we get good public feedback on that. And we'll probably have a special public hearing or two down that way to kind of listen to the folks.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Vernon.
MR. BEVILL: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Vernon.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, no further questions or discussion I'll authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item Number 4, Offshore Aquaculture Rules, Permission to Publish. Mike Ray.
MR. RAY: Good morning, Commissioners and for the record my name is Mike Ray, I'm with Coastal Fisheries, and I'm here to talk to you about some offshore Aquaculture rules.
The Commission adopted the offshore Aquaculture rules in November 2006, and since that time we've been in conversations with some prospective applicants, and as a result we've come up with some proposed changes to the rules that were presented to this Committee in March.
And at that time, we were granted permission to go to the Texas Register to try to get public comments on this. And the proposals are procedural in nature and also operational, and there is really no changes that were made that were to the science-based regulations.
On the ‑‑ just for an overview of some of the things that we proposed, the permit we're proposing can be issued to an individual, corporation or Texas-approved business. And right now, the rules say it's just to an individual, and the reason for this change is, this takes a lot of money to do these kinds of operations, and a corporation is more than likely going to be the folks that are going to be submitting this; and it also helps them to obtain funding if it's situated that way.
We're also proposing to give the permit prior to construction as long as all of the other permits are in place and all the conditions of our permit have been met; and again this is also for ‑‑ to be able to obtain financial backing. It's pretty hard for them to get something if some of the permits are not in place.
We also are proposing to extend the time for infrastructure removal to 60 days, as again in conversation with the folks, ten days was an unrealistically short time frame.
We also are ‑‑ have proposed an appeals process, and this will allow the applicant to request a review of a decision that has been made. And also, there's a GLO language update that's more of a housecleaning thing, and I'll be talking a little bit more about that in just a minute.
We're also proposing to change the disease condition definition; the 5 percent mortality in seven days has been removed, and the reasoning for this is, this kind of loss is not necessarily due to disease; it can happen, for example, from handling fish, just from moving them from one place to another.
So in its place we have added some language that the permittee must send samples to a Department-approved aquatic veterinarian with 48 hours, should something like this happen.
And we also have proposed to again expand our options here on what to do should a disease condition occur, and certainly we can take other appropriate action. An example of that might be, many of the diseases can be treated within an approved drug, and that might be a move that we would permit.
We did get some public comments; we had eight for, and one against. The one against didn't give a reason. We did get some comments on those that were on the "for" side by some that requested that we modify the proposed GLO lease language to clarify our intent. It was just a little bit clumsy, and we agree, we can re-word that to make that work.
And we request that this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comment and action and with that, I'd be happy to entertain any question that you might have.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Any questions? Commissioner Brown?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: What happens after the 60-day time frame as far as removal, if they don't remove the structure? What rights do we have? Are we required to put up a bond? Because the indications are that a company like that is probably going to be out of business.
MR. RAY: That was certainly a thing that we explored. We, at this point, do not have a bond requirement; I do think that there is some in place from what I saw, with the GLO lease. They have a bond; and I think that's what the recourse would be.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What's the purpose of the ‑‑ of this vision, on page 26 ‑‑ this is the one that begins, "A permit, and a subchapter other than ‑‑ "
MR. RAY: Okay. What we ended up doing here is, we did have some rules in place; there are some other provisions that are more applicable to ‑‑ and I think that's what it might be ‑‑ to, like stocking fish for a one-time purpose.
Okay, I think this is the, you know, provision.
Okay, well, again, the ‑‑ well, the individual only, again that is what we're trying to fix, is, we don't want it to be just that anymore. But originally we had it in place because the law enforcement is a little bit easier to deal with a person. And ‑‑ but we can get to it through the corporation, by having them list, you know, their various people that would be in charge. I don't know if that's ‑‑ maybe a ‑‑
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That is, if there's no residency requirement associated with that?
MR. RAY: They're ‑‑ one thing we did add is, you did have to have special ‑‑ or you do have to have some certification that you are a Texas business; you don't have to be here but you have to have the business requirement to operate in Texas.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mike, how may permits do we have out, outstanding, or how many permits have we issued, you know ‑‑
MR. RAY: Well, right now there's none. There's one that may be going to happen, but there's none right now.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Mike, why don't you just address quickly for the Commission that no exotics, in other words, no non-native can be brought in ‑‑
MR. RAY: Well, that's exactly right ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — why don't you ‑‑
MR. RAY: — they must be native to the Gulf of Mexico, and that's one thing that we will definitely enforce very strongly.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Do we have any regulations on where the brood stock could come from?
MR. RAY: Yes. Yes, we do, and again they must come from the Gulf of Mexico, and right now there's only a handful of folks that probably can produce fish that are in the Gulf.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So they come from the Gulf of Mexico to a hatchery, and then back into the Aquaculture facility?
MR. RAY: Well, there's several ways it could happen. I think right off the bat they would ‑‑ I would guess they, while they're trying to set up their brood stock and get them on cycle to produce, they'd probably try to purchase some from a private vendor somewhere in the Gulf. And there are a few that have been able to raise some species, but not all.
And they would probably purchase fingerlings from them, and then raise them to a little bit bigger size and then stock them in their cages.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Where do those stocker cages ‑‑
MR. RAY: Well, there's one, like, in Miami; there's one in Mississippi; there's actually one here in Texas as well, for some of the species. So there are a handful of research labs primarily that are associated with universities around the Gulf for the most part is where they may come from, at first.
And then I think what many would do would, try to produce their own brood stock, and then try to raise their own. But I think right off the bat, I believe at least the first applicant that's really not there yet but one that's in the process, I believe they would try to buy them from the private sector first.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mike, are other states doing this?
MR. RAY: Right now, we would be the first in the Gulf to do it; there are a couple of other states, and they're kind of going ‑‑ I don't really remember which ones they are, but there's one on the East Coast for sure; I believe there's been some in Maine; in the Northwest they've done some, it's been more like salmon and things like that. But this is ‑‑ we have our own rules; they are mirroring what the federal government is trying to do as well, for the Gulf.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: What do we see as a timeline for developing this program? I mean, it's ‑‑ obviously we've got to get to a point where we're issuing permits and it starts to become a season program. When is that ‑‑ when do you see that happening?
MR. RAY: You know, I'm not really sure. It's one that I would guess it would take at least a couple of years, with somebody in operation to start getting more skilled at this, and proficient. There are certainly markets there.
From what my discussions are with others, there's probably not going to be very many people are going to want to do this; so I don't think very many people will do it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I'm really skittish about this; it's one thing to have an onshore fish-farming operation where it's totally contained, and if something goes haywire we can, you know, the product is totally contained.
MR. RAY: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But having it out there, where other fish are interacting with these fish, you know, Mike ‑‑ I'm not saying anything about your presentation, here or program, or your thought-process on this, not at all. I think you've got all of the bases covered.
But there may be, instead of first, second and third, there might be a first, second, third, fourth fifth, phase, that, you know, we don't know about, and ‑‑
MR. RAY: Well ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — it makes me rather skittish about this; because of disease, because of walkoffs, how long would the TLL take to get the equipment ‑‑
MR. RAY: Yes, I ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — to remove this facility. You know, what are they going to do with the fish that expire in the facility; how quick can they do it, so forth and so on.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think you raise good questions, and it would be interesting to know a little bit more about developed programs, successful programs. I don't know, Larry, if you ‑‑ do we have any kind of, you know, benchmarks or analogs to look at with other programs that have developed this Aquaculture?
DR. McKINNEY: For the record, I'm Dr. Larry McKinney, Director of Coastal Fisheries. As Mike mentioned, there is some facilities in Maine that are doing this, but the most ‑‑ the greatest experience is in Washington, Oregon and in the salmon industry which has been kind of a negative learning experience.
We've certainly learned some things not to do, and to be very careful of, and you mentioned, you hit it right on the head, Commissioner, disease and genetic issues are of great concern. And that's really why we try to go ahead and get ahead of the game and we operate ‑‑ we bring these regulations forward in that kind of adaptive management process. We want to put something on the table, because this is a new area that we don't know much about; and we've already got our first kind of feedback from the industry side saying, "Well, this doesn't work for us or that doesn't work for us," and we can make an adaption there.
As we move forward into the science side of it, we're going to ‑‑ we'll probably get more input there. A lot of things, we just don't know. So I think the other option is either we just don't do it, or we put a framework out there that we can work with and feel some confidence in that we can move forward on, and see if this can work.
Because it can make a contribution, but there is real ‑‑ there are real issues there that we have to be very careful with, there's no doubt.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And you also see it as a pretty slowly developing program ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: I ‑‑ you know, I would be surprised within ten years if we had more than one, if we had that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Really.
DR. McKINNEY: I really think so. I think it's a lot of risk capital out there, to do this; takes a lot of risk. It's not like the salmon, which are very well-established industries; it's a whole new deal. We're going to be very strict on obviously the genetics, and getting the stock to start something will take a lot of investment, capital investment, to make sure they can get the stock that we will approve.
Because we're going to hold them to the same standards we hold our hatcheries to, and it's a very high standard as far as affecting genetic integrity of our native population. So I think it will take some folks with some deep capital looking at a very long term to really get into this in a way that they think they might could make some profit out of it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So our stance is to establish sort of a broad framework based on the experience that we've heard about ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: And work our way through ‑‑ that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — that might develop, but not spend too much Department time on something where we only have potentially one permit issuance.
DR. McKINNEY: That's right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
DR. McKINNEY: We want to provide them a framework to move forward on ‑‑ to try something, but hold them to some pretty high standards.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I just get a little concerned about a program when we think that we might have one in ten years or five years, it's ‑‑ I don't know whether we're spending resources and time on ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Right. It's a balancing act and that type of thing. We've always taken the approach be it with commercial fisheries or this, to try to get ahead of that curve; try to set a standard out there that we can work with, rather than react to it, which we would have to do ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And as John pointed out, there's some potential dangers with it as well, so ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: That's right. There absolutely are.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — yes.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: If we do have one in ten years, what species would that be?
MR. RAY: I'll tell you what right now. They're looking at a number of different stuff, and it wouldn't just be one, although some have proposed even like the red drum, something that's fairly easy to do, first. But ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: And that's very likely the ‑‑
MR. RAY: — cobia and stuff like that are most likely to happen. And I will say that there ‑‑ these offshore Aquaculture facilities have been in other parts of the world for a long time, and some of them have certainly done well, and have been safe.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What other countries?
MR. RAY: Some of the Scandinavian countries do an awful lot of salmon, I know they're doing some in South America as well; I believe the ‑‑ Peru and a few other places like that are doing it as well.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks for your presentation, Mike. Appreciate it. I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Committee Item Number 5, Public Hunting Program Update. Dr. Berger and Linda Campbell.
DR. BERGER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record I'm Mike Berger, Director of the Wildlife Division. And I'm joined here this morning by Linda Campbell, the director of our Private Lands and Public Hunting Program. And I just want to say a few words and I'm going to let Linda take over and present our information.
But I just want to thank you for your continuing support of the public hunting program; it's an important activity for us, and we think for the hunters of Texas as well, and we just wanted to give you an update this morning and let you see the variety of hunting opportunities that our public hunting program offers, and how we develop those opportunities on a year-to-year basis. So with that, I'll turn it over to Linda.
MS. CAMPBELL: All right. Good morning, Commissioners. I'd like to just give you, as Mike said, kind of an overview of our public hunting program, pointing out some of the ways that we look at developing it and addressing opportunities.
Last year TPWD offered public hunting on 43 wildlife management areas, 37 state parks, and six other units of public hunting land under our long-term lease agreements. We also hunted 154 properties under short-term leases with private landowners for dove and other small game.
In addition, during the 2007-08 season, we provided big game hunts, mostly deer and pronghorn, through contracts with private landowners on seven properties. Public hunter access is provided by three types of permits, the regular or daily permit, our annual public hunting permit, or our walk-in hunting; and our special permit issued for drawn hunts.
The regular permit is valid for a single-day hunt on a single area, issued to an individual at the hunt area on the day of the hunt, on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost of that permit is $15.
Our annual public hunting permit is valid for multiple events on multiple areas during a license year, issued to an individual through our license vendors, and the cost of that is $48.
The third is the special permit, valid for a single hunt period on a single area, awarded to an individual through a drawing conducted at headquarters; the cost, if you're drawn, is $75 or $125 depending on the length of the hunt.
Hunt proposals for all of the public hunting lands including WMA, state parks and long-term lease or license areas are requested from State Parks and Wildlife staff each October. These proposals are collected by headquarters staff in December, and over the next few months are collated and viewed and evaluated.
After the hunting season dates are set, information from these proposals issues to formulate the applications for drawing booklet or the drawn hunts book and the public hunting lands map booklet, that provides our walk-in hunting opportunities.
Each March through May, Wildlife Division staff seeks and secures hunting lease agreements from private landowners for dove and other small game species; these agreements comprise the hunting areas found in our public dove-hunting areas booklet, which is a supplement to our map booklet.
What I want to do now is to show you how we implement our public hunting program on areas that serve as our primary research and demonstration areas, compared with areas where public hunting is of the highest priority.
So first, I'd like to show you the research and demonstration areas. These areas were established to represent the ecological regions of Texas, and serve as research venues for that ecological region.
Another top priority for these areas is to promote sound resource management through education and demonstration. Staff are assigned to these areas, and work with researchers and others to carry out the research and demonstration priorities. These WMAs also provide public hunting, hiking, camping, birdwatching and a host of other recreational opportunities compatible with the habitat management, and research and demonstration priorities.
Examples of research and demonstration WMAs include the Chaparral, the Kerr, Gus Engeling, Elephant Mountain, and the Matador. What I'd like to do is to run through an example of how activities, including public hunting, are scheduled on our research and demonstration WMAs.
We have used the Matador in this example, which is typical of the research and demonstration areas. On the Matador, deer and quail surveys are conducted during September and the first three weeks of October. Research activities such as vegetation surveys, radio telemetry and mark recapture studies, bird-banding, quail whistle counts, and browse surveys are concentrated during the period May through August.
Habitat management and enhancement work is scheduled at key times during the year. For example, herbicide work is scheduled during the windows of time most appropriate for the control of the target species. Time periods are also planned for working and shipping cattle.
Prescribed burning is an important habitat tool, so windows of time are scheduled for this priority activity. Preparations for prescribed burning such as fire break maintenance, burning blacklines, and other types of preparation are often done during December and January, working around the planned hunt schedules.
Outreach and education is an important priority for the research and demonstration areas. Fall and spring are the busy times for field days, workshops, youth shooting sport events, hunter education workshops, civic groups and school field trips.
Working around all of the research management and outreach activities, staff schedules a full agenda of hunting opportunities consistent with habitat management and research goals. As you can see here, the Matador schedule is full during the hunting season, with various diversity of hunting opportunities.
Another type of WMA we want to show you are those where habitat conservation and public hunting are of highest priority. These areas are more numerous and do not have staff on site. Many are under long-term lease from landowners such as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Sabine River Authority.
Like the research and demonstration areas, these lands were established to represent habitats and wildlife populations typical of the ecological region, but with the primary goal of providing public hunting opportunity. Public hunts on all TPWD lands, both WMAs and state parks, are authorized for recreational purposes, for population control to keep animals within the care and capacity of the habitat, and for research purposes.
All public use must be biologically sound, promote conservation of the resource, adequately address public safety, and be compatible with other priority uses.
Granger Wildlife Management Area is one of the areas where public hunting is of highest priority. As you can see, the area is open most of the year for various types of walk-in hunting, and this is typical of our areas in this category.
Now, I'd like to provide some data on the history of the public hunting program, including acreages in the program, permit sales, and cost for leasing private lands.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: What is APH for?
MS. CAMPBELL: Annual Public Hunting.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: The annual public hunting permit program began in 1987, to provide hunters with affordable walk-in hunting opportunity. Sales have fluctuated over the years, as you can see here. There have been two price increases since the program began, one was in 1996 with a fee increase from $35 to $40. Although there was a slight decrease in sales following the fee increase, sales rebounded quickly.
The second price increase in 2003, from $40 to $48 resulted in a sharper decline in permit sales, which has only recently stabilized. We are still selling APH permits for '08, and at the present time we are up about 5.4 percent in sales over last year ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, and how is ‑‑ sorry to keep interrupting.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: '07, it doesn't show '07. Was '07 flat with '06, or was it starting to rise again?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, this ‑‑ actually the '06 is the beginning of the hunting season, so this is actually '06-'07 ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, good ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: '07-'08 we're still selling, and didn't ‑‑ but we're up ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: 5.4 percent.
MS. CAMPBELL: — 5.4 percent, yes, sir ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: — at this point. About 31,000 permits is about what that is, what that represents.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And the max year was 45,000, it looks like, in '01.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes. Regarding our walk-in hunting program, again APH, we increased the number of acres for the first ten years, and have leveled off since 1997. We've lost acreage in recent years due to the loss of lands in the program belonging to private timber companies in East Texas.
We've tried to compensate for this by increasing the number of acres in our small game lease program, by going to the private sector.
We began our draw hunt program in 1954, by drawing 75 hunters to hunt deer at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area. This chart shows the last nine years of history. You will note that even with a slight drop in applications resulting from a $2 to $3 application fee increase in 2003, applications have been steadily climbing in our draw program.
The popularity of our draw hunt seems to be gaining as we continue to offer diversity of opportunities to choose from. For example, last year we offered a pronghorn hunt on private land that drew lots of applications, and this year we'll offer three pronghorn hunts on private land.
Considering the number of permits offered for drawn hunts, we have held fairly steady at around 6,000 permits, since 1999. Weather-related events affect the number of permits we offer; for example, you can see the dip after Hurricane Rita in 2004.
Our short-term dove lease program began in 1994, with ten leases. Since that time we've expanded the program to include more areas and a diversity of small game. We increased the number of leases dramatically from 1994 through 1999, and have held fairly steady at around 150 leases.
The constraints on growing the program are field staff time to negotiate the leases with landowners, and money to pay for them.
Let's see. The acreages leased through the small game lease program has leveled off at about 55,000 to 60,000 acres since 2002. You might notice this outlier in 2001 was the result of a very large property in West Texas leased for a minimal cost. We found out that the use by hunters was not good, and it was subsequently dropped from the program.
The cost to secure these leases continues to rise, and tends to track rising lease costs in the private sector. This shows the average cost per acre to lease lands for small game hunting. The cost per acre is rising, and is increasing faster in certain areas of the state. For example, South Texas and Central Texas.
Again, our lease negotiations are affected by the average lease prices in the various regions of the state.
The potential for growth in the public hunting program lies primarily in expanding opportunities to cooperate with private landowners to lease their lands for public hunting.
We'd like to focus on increasing the number of small game leases on private lands, increasing the number of agreements with landowners interested in working with us to achieve their population management goals, by offering big game hunting through our public draw system, and we want to continue to maximize hunting opportunities on WMAs and state parks, consistent with research, demonstration and other recreational uses.
Finally I'd like to show you this map of the locations of our small game leases during the 2007-08 hunting season. We target properties within a two- to three-hour drive of high population areas, which you see those in the hatching, and those near major transportation corridors.
And this map shows the location of the properties providing big game hunts to the public hunting program in the '07-'08 season. We are working to grow this program as well, with the major constraint being funding.
And with that, I'll answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I'm assuming as far as private landowners, you know, donating or making the property available, there's always the issue of liability.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Now, I'm wondering, is there a way that we, legislation could have some form of limited liability unless there was just gross negligence or something like that, that would encourage more landowners to make their property available for these public hunts.
MS. CAMPBELL: That has been suggested, Commissioner, and I ‑‑ at this point the liability is basically Chapter 75, which is what all landowners are covered under, which caps liability.
But there has been discussion of that issue, and I do think it would be beneficial.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Would you expound on that ‑‑ the discussion part.
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, just as he says, if there would be some way that landowners who work with the state in providing opportunities for public hunting could have some benefit in liability coverage, above what is available now, I think it would be of benefit.
DR. BERGER: Chapter ‑‑ let me just say, Chapter 75 I believe offers ‑‑ caps their liability at a million dollars if you do not exceed, I believe it's 20 times the ad valorem tax on that property. And that's for anyone, regardless whether they're in the public hunting program or not.
And unless I'm mistaken that's never been tested, or challenged or anything, so ‑‑ and that has been brought up as a concern, that ‑‑ whether it would really hold up. But if we could do something additional for public, those people who are involved in offering properties on their private land for public hunting, that would be an additional incentive to join in this.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I think our public hunting program is great. But we all know sitting here around this table that it has got to be expanded to keep up with our surging population, especially in the metropolitan areas, if hunting licenses, sales, are going to at least in some way track the growing population of the state.
And for my part, I think that we should throw the throttle wide open and within this area, start thinking about it, how can we do it, what do we need to do to become even more forceful in our thought-process, than we already are, because we have just got to increase this area of hunting, public hunting.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I agree with you, John, and staff has spent a lot of time, Linda's done a great job ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — but I agree with you. We also, you know, I think it would be helpful just to talk for a few minutes about the website, and the ‑‑ because if you look at it, its channels, we've got the APH and the other one, and then the third significant one is how we get people together through the website. And you guys have done great work with that, but I don't know, if you can just spend a couple minutes describing that, and the growth of it, and so forth.
MS. CAMPBELL: I'd be happy to. It's called Hunt Texas Online Connection. It's been rolled out to landowners now for a number of months. We have at last count I think 160, somewhere exceeding 160 leases, leasing opportunities listed by landowners.
The idea of course is to put something on our website that would get landowners seeking hunters connected with hunters seeking opportunity, as a public service to both constituencies.
And we are working right now on outreach to hunters, now, to try to let them know that this is an opportunity for them to seek, you know ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And that's a big focus area for us over the next year, isn't it? Let's see, do we have a sense of what the hits are on that site? Has it increased over the last, you know ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, we haven't really ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I know it's ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: — rolled it out to the hunters as much as we are going to over the next few months.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — right.
MS. CAMPBELL: Landowners, though, we have a number signed up. We sent a letter to all lease license holders, that prompted lots of signups. So that was a good deal.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: This one?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I also don't want to get away from John's point, which is a good one, is that we've got, you know, increasing urbanization, we need to make sure that we can grow this program and grow hunting opportunity close to urban areas, particularly ‑‑ and I agree that it's somewhat of a ‑‑ it's a significant opportunity, somewhat of a crisis for us if we don't, because of the potential decline in interest in the outdoors, something that we've got to address in our strategic planning process.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I really think the liability issue, if there was a way to deal with that, I think it would make a ‑‑ would have a huge impact on making additional property available.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is it ‑‑ do you run into that much when you're trying to lease short term lease property?
MS. CAMPBELL: They ask about it. But again, we go back to giving them copies of the Chapter 75 caps, which is about all we can do at this point.
DR. BERGER: And just to clarify, I mean, I think everybody here knows, but in order to do what Commissioner Brown is talking about, getting something additional, that's a statutory change that's necessary, it's not a Commission ‑‑
DR. BERGER: — action.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right. Another question too, getting to John's point about, well, right now we're spending let's say $250,000 on short term lease costs per year; what if we double, what ‑‑ you know, we go to legislation and we double that money. Can you get the leases?
MS. CAMPBELL: It would help, because we would have more money to negotiate with landowners. But our pinch point then becomes field staff time to find the landowners and negotiate the leases. That's always been a constraint ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: — because they have to get out there and find the people, to work with.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So personnel issues, our own personnel ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir. Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — going out and finding the leases.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes.
DR. BERGER: When some of us were younger, I think you'd found a piece of land you wanted to go hunt, and you went down the road and found the farmhouse or the ranchhouse, and there's the guy that owned it.
Now, the ‑‑ you find a piece of land that looks likely, and there's nobody there and you got to go to the courthouse and find out who owns the land, where he lives, make contact, it's a lot more complicated process to get these contracts than it used to be.
MS. CAMPBELL: We ‑‑ if you don't mind me saying, we are exploring ideas of partnerships ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: — to try to piggyback on perhaps some other organizations like soil and water conservation districts, others that are out there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: That ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They're out there all the time.
MS. CAMPBELL: — yes. And we're going to, I'm going to try ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's a good idea, okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: — to pursue some of that, and see if maybe we could extend our reach.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'd be willing to ask for more dollars; the key is, because I brought in, I'm asking the question kind of to be rhetorical, is that one of our issues is, just personnel and people. We all want to increase this public hunting, but it's going to take manpower. I mean, whether it's on WMAs, or whether it's in these short term leases, finding them or whatever, so ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: And we can advertise and get people to come to us; we've done some of that. But it's still that personal touch that it's going to take, to sign folks up.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, that's the point I want to come to, say, there's a shortage of field staff to work on the acquisition of the properties, is it feasible to ask the game wardens, who tend to have good local relationships, to provide ‑‑ at least refer opportunities, or actually get involved and help there, or not?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir, and that has been done. And Mr. Cook certainly, you know, wanted that to occur and we do have some game wardens that, one particularly in the Panhandle that has 17 leases, if I'm not mistaken? And he's signed up a bunch of people. So if we could get more game warden input, that would be great for us.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's a real good point. Maybe even potentially create ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Those game wardens don't have enough to do, do they?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mr. Parker? You had something.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I'll just piggyback on what Commissioner Duggins talked about, the game wardens. You know, no one is closer to the landowners, within TPWD, than the game wardens.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Those guys are closer, and the landowners have more confidence, in those people; I think they're ‑‑ so if we could, you know, just look at the sitting down and beginning to really think this ‑‑ I think we've just scratched the surface of this, and if it takes more budget, see Commissioner Brown.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You know, and ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Mr. Finance, right?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: — he can make that happen. This is an area that warrants hot attention. And not that ‑‑ you all have done a wonderful job in getting this thing off the ground, but now we need to get it above treetop height altitude, make it soar.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: You know, John ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: We have an opportunity ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — I agree. And, you know, in my experience the only way to make that happen is to establish a goal and a time frame for it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good point.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And say, This is where we want to be, to grow this program. It's important, it's vital, it's consistent with our mission; it's the backbone of our mission. And we need to establish a goal and a time frame for it, and then work back from there and make it happen. And that's why it should be a big component of the strategic planning process that comes out of our natural agenda.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And you know, not only private lands but begin to think about how we can utilize the lands we already own, for instance, Big Bend Ranch State Park.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Palo Duro, expanding that acreage up there.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Creative ways within the systems that we already have.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sure.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes, and the last comment I would make about that, and I'm going to get to Commissioner Bivins, who's been waiting patiently, is that I'd encourage everyone to look at the website and to provide feedback. They ‑‑ the staff's worked very hard on it, and I think it's a great program, and it's going to ‑‑ our goals are going to have to be fueled by a strong marketing program.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And so I'd encourage everyone to look at that and to provide feedback, and I think that's going to be a great avenue for us. Bivins?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I just have a process question. In ‑‑ for instance a remote tract of land that's under private ownership is leased as a public hunting venue for quail hunting. Is it the game warden's responsibility to take these hunters to that property ‑‑ I mean, I'm not saying physically take them there, but is he going to be, if it's a locked gate for instance, is he going to be the one responsible for opening that gate, or is the landowner going to be the one responsible? Linda?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir, I understand. Under our ‑‑ that would be a walk-in hunting under our annual public hunting is what you're describing would fit into. Our field staff mark those areas as public hunting fields, with signs. We put a map with all of the details of that property in our dove supplement book.
So when you buy your $48 permit from a license vendor, you also get that book. And so then, it's up to the hunter, you know, with all the directions, to use that book, to find his way to that property.
And so that property is unlocked, I mean, is available for hunters to use during that period of time that's in the book.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And so if there's two different groups that want to hunt, do they have some sort of priority sign up privilege, or something like that?
MS. CAMPBELL: No.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Or do they have to work that out among themselves.
MS. CAMPBELL: In that program, it's walk-in, to everybody who holds the permit. So there is ‑‑ sometimes there is an onsite registration box, where people do sign in. But ‑‑
DR. BERGER: It is walk-in hunting, for all comers, that are there. And there shouldn't be anything locked, or that anybody has to make a special opening for, or, you know, or accompany anybody to hunt.
MS. CAMPBELL: The landowner gets paid a per-acre lease cost for opening that land for hunting, walk-in hunting for a certain period of time, for certain species.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Just trying to go through the mechanics of the process.
DR. BERGER: I think what you may be talking about, if I'm listening right, there may be an opportunity to work into some drawn hunting programs.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
DR. BERGER: So if you were doing, under the drawn hunt and not the APH annual hunting permit, what you're talking about might be possible, where somebody ‑‑ the landowner could accompany the hunters, could schedule the hunts at different times, and that might ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And also just to keep people from being right on top of one another.
DR. BERGER: Right.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Creating a danger, a potential danger situation where you have two hunting groups on the same property, and one may not know the other one's even there.
MS. CAMPBELL: There's usually a check-in area though; a designated parking area, so generally you know who else is there, because everybody enters the same way. Yes.
DR. BERGER: Let me just provide one more bit of information before we leave this. The ‑‑ on the Hunt Texas Online, you, some of you, I think all of you received letters from an individual or two who was concerned about this program competing with them, or injuring their business, and I just wanted to make you aware that there are some people who are doing this on a commercial basis, who have expressed some concerns.
We are meeting with those individuals, and trying to work that out. Also, on that website are listed all the commercial websites that we were aware of that do engage in that for profit, so that the people who visit that website are not limited just to us, but that information on the other sites is made available for them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I noticed that, yes.
DR. BERGER: But we think this is an additional service to individuals, not a competitive arrangement.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: I wanted to go back to the liability insurance issue, and is there a specific product that is available for owners to buy for this particular item, or is it just general liability insurance that is merely purchased for this?
MS. CAMPBELL: I believe it's just general liability, whatever the landowner has to cover his property ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: There are additional products and, you know, excess liability types of products, I'm certainly no expert in that area, but there are ways that owners can protect themselves from that type of liability.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: And is the concern that the cap has not been tested? Is that what you mentioned earlier?
DR. BERGER: I ‑‑ yes. I don't believe that the cap has been tested in a courtroom situation, and that is a concern that's been expressed to me, on an occasion.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I wanted to bring up, there was an interesting, I guess avenue on this public hunting but it was geared more toward the youth hunt. Last week, there were several articles in the Boerne paper that were talking about having youth hunts, possibly in the ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: County. County parks.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: — yes. I thought that was an interesting way of approaching overpopulation of deer, and it was already game fenced and I thought it was kind of an interesting avenue and I don't know if they ‑‑ I'm sure that has been ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, I can add to that, Commissioner. We are working with two cities now, Kerrville and perhaps Boerne, regarding bringing some of those parks into the public hunting program under our private lands program. In other words, we pay, per hunt position, for certain animals that they would like to have removed for population control.
And so that pays them for closing these parks, and so that's kind of how we're handling that. Now, there's the Texas Youth Hunting Program also. And so we're kind of approaching it from both angles; they're providing some opportunity for Texas Youth Hunting Program, and they're working with our public hunting program under our private lands hunts, to handle those city and county parks, I guess.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: That was an interesting angle. It's ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Have you had any problems with landowners dropping out of the lease program because of abuses or circumstance that Mark was talking about, where you had too many hunters on one property at one time?
MS. CAMPBELL: We have landowners in and out of this program, and really it was established just to get people started, in leasing land. I mean, many go on to lease in the private sector, and that's fine, I mean, you know, we get them started and they move on, and they begin to lease privately.
The land is still open for hunting, so ‑‑ we oftentimes get people just kind of entering this arena of leasing land for hunting. Many stay, some move on to the private sector. Then we get new ones in. So we get in and out, we do have multi-year contracts now where we can renew, with mutual consent, for a couple of years.
So we are working that angle, so that we don't have to renegotiate every year. Upon mutual agreement, we can actually renew these leases.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But have you had landowners drop out and tell you, "I'm not going to do it anymore because of," this abuse. And I'm just curious what the abuses or ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: We have had some of ‑‑ we have had some problems, yes. I mean, any time you have that, I mean, gates being left open, you know. Trash. You know, things like that happen on public hunting lands. And, yes, we have those occur.
DR. BERGER: I would say that's ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: Off and on. It's fairly rare ‑‑
DR. BERGER: I wouldn't want to characterize that as frequent or common, but ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: We try to be very clear in our books that the public hunter is a guest on private land, and if they don't conduct themselves as guests that we will lose that opportunity. And so we try to be very clear that we like people to conduct themselves in a manner that they would be welcome, so.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Over time, as the program grows, hopefully we can establish some protocols and procedures that, you know, there's always going to be that ‑‑ those examples, we're going to have to deal with that.
But ‑‑ and of course that's going to require resources, so ‑‑ Commissioner Brown?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Again?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: He says, no problem.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think what we're all saying
is that, it's a program that needs to expand, it's a ‑‑ we need to develop it, it's vital to our mission, and we've got to establish some parameters; a time frame for it, and also some goals in terms of how we handle it with requests from the Legislature and so forth.
Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I want to add, I like your suggestion of setting some goals or at least some potential goals; for example, where there are holes geographically in this map ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — west of Tarrant County, just to pick where I live, that ‑‑ out where, Shackelford County and Stevens County, I mean, I think there should be a lot of opportunities there, to come back to the relationships that I know most of those landowners have with your game wardens, and they're good ones. So I think that's a good potential source of ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, that was great.
MS. CAMPBELL: Appreciate the opportunity, thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. And I think we're hearing answers from the Commission, so we'll focus on this relative to going in to the Legislature too. And so I think it will help us with what kind of resources you're going to need, you know, whether it's dollars for leases, or it's dollars for personnel to help us oversee this in some form or fashion might be an increased effort.
DR. BERGER: Yes, sir. We'll do that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thanks. I think you're up next.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir. I'm going to stand right here.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Public Lands Proclamation.
MS. CAMPBELL: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Linda Campbell, again Wildlife Division Program Director for Private Lands and Public Hunting.
Today I'll brief you on the proposed changes to regulations governing public hunting for 2008-2009. The first item is rulemaking affecting the Public Lands Proclamation; the second item is establishment of annual open season on public hunting lands; and the third is approval of public hunting activities on units of the state park system for the 2008-2009 season.
At the March meeting of the Regulations Committee, staff was authorized to publish proposed amendments to the Public Lands Proclamation in the Texas Register for public comment. Those amendments would create a mentored hunting permit and fee, and waive the access fee requirement for spectators at field dog trials held on wildlife management areas.
The mentored hunting permit would allow TPWD to hold weekend educational workshops targeting hunter recruitment on wildlife management areas. A mentored hunt would be held for participants following the workshop. Field staff are in the process of planning an event targeting new hunters to be held on the Justin Hurst WMA in September.
Just wanted to let you know that as well.
We received very little public comment on the proposed rules. Six people supported the proposal to create the mentored hunting permit, and four people opposed the proposal. Eight people supported the proposed fee of $25 and three people opposed it. Two people offered a specific reason for their opposition; one person felt that there should be no fee, and one person felt that the fee should be the same as the APH permit, which is $48.
And no other public comment was received.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: On the opposed up above, any particular comments?
MS. CAMPBELL: No, sir. No, all the comments were on the fee, so.
Under Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 81, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission may prescribe an open season for hunting on public hunting lands. This is done on an annual basis, and the season is year-long.
The Commission also annually approves a list of specific hunting activities to take place on units of the state park system during the year. Those activities are located at Exhibit C of this item.
Staff request that this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comment and action by the full Commission. And I'll answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Going back to the hunting on state parks, how many state parks do we allow hunting on, about?
MS. CAMPBELL: This year, we've got our proposals in, 41 total.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Forty-one?
MS. CAMPBELL: Forty-one, total.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is that an increase?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, by two. Up by two this year.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So we're going the right way, then.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: And we're up 167 hunt positions from last year.
MR. SMITH: Just on state parks, Linda, or as a whole?
MS. CAMPBELL: On ‑‑ just on state parks.
MR. SMITH: Okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir, 167.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: A hundred and sixty-seven what?
MS. CAMPBELL: Hunt positions.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Hunt positions.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So these are 167 ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: No, we're up 167 compared with last year's number of hunt positions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So what would be your total number, then ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: Total number for this upcoming season is 1,795.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: State parks?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, state parks.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: On state parks. Then how do you get to ‑‑ are you getting that word out? I mean, I know I keep asking that question, and Mike gets tired of it, but ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: Getting?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I mean, in the past one of the things that I felt is we're not really doing enough outreach to really let people know that these state parks are available, these slots are available, that ‑‑ I mean, is there anything you've added to any other ‑‑ any more outreach relative to these ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, these ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — to a state park and just public hunting overall.
MS. CAMPBELL: — you know, these go in our draw book. These are our drawn hunts for state parks. So we put those in our drawn book. I don't know otherwise how ‑‑ I mean, press releases and things like that, when we talk about them ‑‑
MR. SMITH: Is it on our website?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I have another question. What about the larger state parks, such as Big Bend Ranch State Park, Palo Duro, any other state parks that we have?
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, we have ‑‑ 35 parks have drawn hunts. And then walk-in hunting is offered on 11 of them, and Big Bend Ranch is one of those.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What are walk-in hunts?
MS. CAMPBELL: Walk-in meaning they buy the $48 annual public hunting permit, and then it's walk-in hunting. And we have 11 parks that are doing that, as well as 35 that are holding drawn hunts ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Palo Duro.
MS. CAMPBELL: — let's see. Palo Duro ‑‑ no. Okay. The walk-in hunts are on ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Is there any reason why we don't [indiscernible] Palo Duro?
MS. CAMPBELL: I believe they are included in the drawn hunts; I think Palo Duro is offering drawn hunts. They are not ‑‑
MS. CAMPBELL: Okay.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Is there any particular reason why?
MS. CAMPBELL: I think they're assessing their game populations. I mean, we get the proposals in from the staff that justify the public hunting, and at this point, I ‑‑
DR. BERGER: We ask for those proposals every year, and there's ‑‑ Walt and our staff are doing an assessment of the public hunting, of what kind of opportunities there might be available there. That assessment is still ongoing if I understand correctly.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So the assessment will not come in in time for us to meet the deadline for the assessment.
DR. BERGER: Not for this year.
MS. CAMPBELL: Not for this year, no.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Commissioner Parker, there's some new property, you know, that's been added to the canyon that would provide excellent hunting opportunity, but it's so new in the system, I think it's going to take some time to fully digest usage patterns and also, due to the high amount of pedestrian traffic in that park you have to be very careful on where you do allow hunting.
MS. CAMPBELL: We do have walk-in hunting in 11 state parks, though; throughout the system.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Linda.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Mr. Chairman, we've completed our business.
(Whereupon, at 10:32 a.m., the committee meeting was adjourned.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: May 21, 2008
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 67, 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
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731