Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Annual Public Meeting
August 20, 2008Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Brown Education Center
6200 Golf Course Drive
Houston, Harris County, Texas
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 20th day of August, 2008, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Brown Education Center of the Houston Zoo, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- 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
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas, Vice Chairman
- 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
|Name/Organization, Address||Matter of Interest|
|Glenn Miller, Nature Heritage Society, P.O. Box 330594, Houston, TX 77233-0594||Nature education in schools and local parks|
|Tom Linton, Friends of Galveston Island SP, 2119 Avenue P, Galveston, TX 77550||Thanks for park|
|Andrea Harbers, Monument Hill SP, LaGrange, TX||Continued success|
|Doug Evans, Texas Recreation & Park Society, Jonestown, TX||Partnership with TPWD|
|Ray Field, P.O. Box 692, Franklin, TX 77856||Big Bend Ranch|
|Richard Hill, 555 Butterfield Road #619, Houston, TX 77090||Park grants|
|Charles Herder, Houston Wilderness, Houston, TX||Houston Wilderness Trails , Program|
|Diane Schenke, The Park People, 2311 Canal Street, Ste. 116, Houston, TX 77003||Budget — general support|
|Karen Cullar, Houston Parks & Recreation, 601 Sawyer, Houston, TX 77007||Grants and partnering|
|Scott McDonald, 2312 Lees Court, League City, TX 77573||Non-indigenous snake permit and discrepancies between statute , and administrative code|
|Gary Harwell, 2854 Old Chocolate Bayou, Pearland, TX||Reptile regs|
|Buzz Jehle, East Texas Herpetological Society, 8 Leisure Lane, Houston, TX 77024|
|Ben Schmidtke, Texas Brigades, 2800 Loop 410, San Antonio, TX 78216||Texas Brigades|
|Helen Holdsworth, Texas Brigades, 2800 NE Loop 410, San Antonio, TX 78216||Texas Brigades|
|Allison Schmidtke, Texas Brigades, 2800 Loop 410, San Antonio, TX 78218||Texas Brigades|
|Veronica Argueta, Texas Youth Hunting Program, 8418 Ruthby Street, Houston, TX 77061||Texas Youth Hunting Program|
|Sergio Sanchez, Texas Youth Hunting Program, 302 Sidney Street, Houston, TX 77003||Texas Youth Hunting Program|
|Walter Norton, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 2943 Forest Gate, Baytown, TX 77521||Hunter education|
|Allie Biedenharn, Texas Brigades, 40 Corley Road, Boerne, TX 78006|
|Richard Memmer, 10307 Limewood Lane, Sugar Land, TX 77498||4-wheelers in national forest|
|Poly Cline, Legacy Land Trust, 23017 Kobs Road, Tomball, TX 77377||Sand pits|
|Carole Allen, Sea Turtle Restoration Project, P.O. Box 68123, Houston, TX 77068,||Sea turtles|
|Bob Stokes, Galveston Bay Foundation, 17730 Highway 3, Webster, TX 77598||General|
|Sue Swafford, HC 65, Box 222, Alpine, TX 79830||Burro killings in Big Bend , Ranch SP|
|Suzanne Vafiadis, 1738 Cottage Landing Lane, Houston, TX 77077||Burro killings in Big Bend , Ranch|
|Curt Swafford, HC 65, Box222, Alpine, TX 79830||Burro killings at Big Bend , Ranch SP|
|Glenda Callaway, Galveston Bay Foundation, 2400 Westheimer #118-E, Houston, TX 77098||Instream and freshwater inflows , and scientific support|
|Mike Nugent, Port Aransas Boatmen Association, Box 321, Aransas Pass, TX 78335||Federal/state regs on snapper|
|John A. Clarke, 13011 Hidden Castle, Houston, TX 77015||Flounder contamination|
|Chad Burke, Economic Alliance — Houston Port Region, 908 W. Main, LaPorte, TX 77541||Battleship Texas|
|Steven K. Howell, Battleship Texas Foundation, 903 Town & Country Blvd., #120, Houston, TX 77024-2208||Battleship Texas|
|Will Kirkpatrick, Texas Anglers, 21815 FM 705, Broaddus, TX 75929||Freshwater bass|
|David Pryor, 123 W. Brenda, Houston, TX 77076, , ,||Grass carp in Lake Conroe|
|Jim Smarr, Recreational Fishing Alliance, P.O. Box 58, Fulton, TX 78358||Fishing|
|Andrew Kasner, Audubon Texas, 709 High Meadow, Pleasanton, TX 78064||Water bird conservation|
|Linda Shead, The Trust for Public Land, 1113 Vine Street, Suite 117, Houston, TX 77002||Parks and park grants|
|Kirby Brown, Texas Wildlife Association, 2800 NE Loop 410, San Antonio, TX 78218|
|Sandra Strachan, Greater Houston Partnership, 1200 Smith Street, Suite 700, Houston, TX||Park funding, Houston region|
|Joe Turner, Houston Parks and Recreation Dept., 2006 Shady Branch, Kingwood, TX 77337||Grants/LHU|
|Trey Strake, San Jacinto Historical Advisory Comm., 2 Smakstop Circle, Houston, TX 77024|
|John Powers, Community Associations of the Woodlands, 2201 Lake Woodlands, The Woodlands, TX 77380||TRPA grant funding|
|Jane Dembski, TRAPS — City of Bellaire, 7008 S. Rice Avenue, Bellaire, TX 77401||Importance of funding projects , and importance of parks in , Texas|
|Dana Larson, 182 Lilac Ridge, Conroe, TX 77384||Sportfish Restoration Act|
|Tom Hilton, 5310 E. Plantation Oaks, Arcola, TX 77503,||Gulf fisheries management and , TPWD near shore reefing program|
|Ed Parten, Texas Black Bass Unlimited, 1102 Lisa Lane, Kingwood, TX 77339,|
|Geoffrey Castro, Council for Environmental Education, 5555 Morningside Drive #212, Houston, TX 77005||Education|
|Mary Anne Piacentini, Katy Prairie Conservancy, 3015 Richmond, Suite 230, Houston, TX 77098-3114||Increased funding|
|Bob Bruce, The Woodlands, 2201 Timerloch Place, The Woodlands, TX 77381||Local grants|
|Larry Spasik, San Jacinto Museum, One Monument Circle, LaPorte, TX 77571||San Jacinto Battleground Park Visitors Center at Battleship , Texas|
|Beth Robertson, 601 Jefferson, Suite 4000, Houston, TX 77002||Conservation and more money for parks|
|Rick Behrend, 4137 Riley, Houston, TX 77005||Croakers — make state game fish|
|Deborah January-Bevers, Quality of Life Coalition, 1200 Smith, Suite 700, Houston, TX 77002||State parks|
|Tom Dornbusch, Super Neighborhood #22, 6110 Tyne Street, Houston, TX 77007||Urban parks|
|Gina Donovan, Houston Audubon, 440 Wilchester Blvd., Houston, TX 77079||Habitat conservation|
|Linda Mercer, White Oak Bayou Association, 5807 Kansas, Houston, TX 77007,||Urban nature|
|Brad Raffle, Houston Wilderness, 1309 Kidling, Houston, TX 77006||Conservation in Houston|
|Bill Bahr, 766 West Forest, Houston, TX 77079||Regulation of fishing offshore , in Texas state waters|
|Ray Dietrich, 3010 Vollmer Road, Houston, TX 77092||Fish|
|Larry Oaks, Texas Historical Commission, Austin, TX|
|Patricia Dement, 2131 Harold Street, Houston, TX 77098||Slaughter of horses|
|Kathy Lord, Bayou Preservation Association, 2329 Bluebonnet Blvd., Houston, TX 77030||Waterways and new parks|
|George H. Clark, Gulf Coast Council of Dive Clubs, 7812 Dixie Drive, Houston, TX 77087||Sportfish Restoration Act|
|Evelyn L. Merz, Lone Star Chapter — Sierra Club, 7095 Santa Fe Drive, Houston, TX 77061||Parks and nongame|
|Lynn Burkhead, 630 S. Hyde Park Avenue, Denison, TX 75020||Grayson County deer|
|Luci Correa, Houston Parks & Recreation Dept., 601 Sawyer, Houston, TX 77007||Improvements to state parks|
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER HOLT: At this time, we will adjourn the committee meetings that have been going on all morning, and reconvene in this room at 2:00 p.m., which is right now.
So unless any of the other Commissioners have any reason, or are we ready to get started?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And reconvene for the annual public hearing. And before I ask Mr. Smith to make his comments, I just wanted to thank the Houston Zoo, and Houston for the warm welcome. Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has not held a Commission meeting outside of Austin for I think almost ten years.
And we realized that, you know, not all our constituents are in Austin, Texas. So we're very glad to be here in Houston, be in Harris County, and be in this part of Texas.
And this is our annual public meeting, and Mr. Carter Smith is going to make some comments about how the system works. But we're glad to be here today, and I'm glad all of you are here today. Thank you.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to reiterate you welcomed everybody. This is really our chance during the course of the year, to hear from all of you, our partners and stakeholders and constituents, about any issue that you have and want to bring to the Commission's attention. And so we appreciate all of you slogging through the rain, and joining us today for this special session.
I want to remind everybody of a couple of things. One, if you've got a cell phone or a pager or any kind of PDA, if you would be so kind as just to turn that off during the course of the hearing.
If you wish to speak to the Commission, there is a sign-up sheet outside, and please put your name on that sign-up sheet, the list of folks will be brought to the Chairman; he will call you up individually.
Each person will have three minutes to address the Commission, and so he'll call you. We'd ask that you go to the podium, we'll keep time here so that everybody has a chance to talk. The green light means go, the red light means stop and that your time is up, we would also just respectfully request that any item that you bring up is certainly fair game; we just ask that you do so in a very constructive and respectful fashion.
So we're very pleased that you're here, if you have any notes that you want to give to any member of the Commission, if you will please give them to either Ms. Carole Hemby or Ms. Michelle Klaus to my right, and if they will distribute that to the Commission.
So again, welcome, and we appreciate your coming today. So thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, thank you, Carter.
We will now hear from those who signed up to speak, and I have quite a few that have signed up. So what I'll do is, I'll call the first individual up, and then I'll call the second name out, so if that second person then will be ready to come up after the first one speaks.
And that way, we can kind of get a rhythm going, because I think I have 35 or 40 people that do want to speak.
Again, to remind you please, three minutes is about the time frame, that gives everybody a chance to speak, but obviously the Commissioners have a right to ask questions, and certainly will do so if they want to.
With that, we will get started. Mr. Glenn Miller, up first, and if Tom Linton, I think I'm saying that right, will be ready.
MR. MILLER: I'd like to say, good afternoon, Commissioners. I have been with Parks and Wildlife since the early '80s, and I first would like to say that you guys do a tremendous job. Since the days of Commissioner Terry Hershey, and Al Henry, I've been working in getting urban programs brought from Texas Parks and Wildlife, and you all have responded in a great way.
Working with Houston Independent School District, the great people there, the great people at the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, we've been able to serve thousands of kids, and introduce many families, urban families to the great outdoors.
I just also would like to say, I've not had a chance to shake his hand, but everywhere I go in Houston I hear the name, Carter Smith.
MR. MILLER: So I'm looking for somebody who's about nine feet tall, and all of the staff is motivated to do great things. In our programs we service parks, fishing activities, birding activities and all that. And all these people are saying, "Glenn, you've got to meet this man, he's a great guy."
So I've never seen your staff more motivated, and the terrific things that they're doing, and I just would like to say that as a thank you as I try to rush off to a meeting with the Houston Independent School District. But much appreciate it, all the kids all the families in the urban areas that never would have tasted the great outdoors owe you a great thank you, and I'm just standing here for them. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mr. Miller. Now, you've made him nine foot tall, you know.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We're going to have shrink his head for the rest of that day, so ‑‑ thank you very much.
Mr. Linton up, and Andrea Harbers next, please.
MR. LINTON: My name is Tom Linton. Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, I'm the president of the Friends of Galveston Island State Park. The Friends group was formed seven years ago, and along with a continuing financial support and volunteer assistance for educational-related activities such as at Camp Lyle, and the youth fishing event, one of our major objectives has been the restoration of the coastal prairie.
In an effort to achieve this, the Friends have applied for, received and expended $108,000-plus from grant funds over the past four years to make this happen.
Many areas in the park are not amenable to mowing, although we have funded some mowing activities. It's because of the moisture of the soil conditions there. In addition, mowing has become very expensive, as you may have noticed when you go to the gas pump.
Since the coastal prairie ecosystem was maintained historically by fire, the alternative to mowing or letting the difficult areas go unmowed was to conduct a prescribed burn. The number of entities and individuals that had to be involved to get the cooperation and coordination needed to accomplish this prescribed burn was time-consuming.
However, in the end it was shown to be well worth the time. Much to the delight of all the individuals and entities, a prescribed burn was conducted on 30-31 July this year, and it was exceptionally successful. The fire reduced 652 acres in the park to ash-covered ground. After two weeks and several rain events which we are blessed with here today, that ground is now covered by a beautiful blanket of lush, green prairie grass.
Galveston Island State Park is not only one of the major revenue generators in the state's park system; it is also one of the most visited parks in the state system. It is of tremendous economic and aesthetic value to Galveston and the Galveston area.
In support of this claim and to educate some of our local folks, I submit with this statement the following: a copy of an editorial from the Galveston County Daily News, entitled, "Another View of the Island's State Park." A letter of commendation from the City of Jamaica Beach, the park's neighbor to the south; and a resolution from the city of the City of Galveston, the park's neighbor to the north, and a resolution from the Galveston County Commissioners Court.
The local organization by the park superintendent Angela Deaton and Ranger Haglund ‑‑ I see I'm about to lose my time. Thank you all, but one of the nice things about this is, we've made one of our guys in the park a hero; he made the front page of the local paper and he has four children, two to 12 years old.
And so when they ask him, "Daddy, what do you do at work?" he says, "I set fires."
MR. LINTON: The fire that he helped set was a good start. Now, it was a prescribed burn. This prescription worked well on helping us get rid of invasive species, now if we can keep that prescription current, and I can get down the Gulf Freeway home, like Jerry Jeff Walker said, "without gettin' killed or caught," this will be a wonderful day. Thank you very much for your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mr. Linton. And friends of the parks across the state are one of the main reasons we've had the success we've had, so thank you again very much.
Andrea Harbers up, and Doug Evans next. I think I've got that right, Doug Evans.
MS. HARBERS: Good afternoon, can you hear me?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MS. HARBERS: My name is Andrea Harbers. I am in my second year as president of the Friends of the Park, Monument Hill, Kreische Brewery, State Historic Sites. To shorten that, we call ourselves, Friends of the Park.
MS. HARBERS: I'm here today to thank you for the good work that your employees do at Monument Hill. They have done the preservation, the restoration and they continue with the maintenance in the park. We are very happy with the way Texas Parks and Wildlife are maintaining Monument Hill State Park.
I would also hope that by this day you have all received a letter from me, inviting you to Texas Heroes Day on September 20th, where we honor the men who are entombed at the Park, from the Dawson Massacre and the Mier Expedition.
This is a ceremony that the Friends of the Park sponsors each year. Also in December, we sponsor the Trail of Lights, the first three weekends in December. You are also invited to that as well.
I'd like to ask you, how many of the Commissioners have been to Monument Hill State Park?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I haven't. I'm sorry to say.
MS. HARBERS: Is this not part of your job, to visit the parks? It is part of your job. I would consider it a great honor for you to come and visit this park. It is a very important park; there are men there who are buried, from the Dawson Massacre and the Black Bean Drawing.
It is a beautiful, historic place to be entombed, it sits high on the bluff overlooking the Colorado River, and an expensive piece of property, I might add.
We would appreciate it, the Friends of the Park, if the Texas Parks and Wildlife would continue with their service to this park, preferably not the Texas Historical Commission, we would like for the Department to continue to be able to do their job in this park. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, thank you very much. Again, the friends like I say, of parks across the state are one of the reasons we've had the success we've had. Thank you.
Doug Evans up, and next after that, Ray Field, please.
MR. EVANS: Honorable Chairman Holt and members of the Commission, my name is Doug Evans. I'm the Director of Parks and Recreation, City of Grapevine, and I currently serve as the president of the Texas Recreation Park Society, you've probably heard of it, called TRAPS, and that's what I'm going to refer to it as.
Our society is a professional and educational association, for parks professionals in Texas; we have about 2,000 members. I'm here just to make a couple comments about our partnership, and I'll take my seat.
But anyway, first of all, I'm so happy, we are so happy that funding was approved in the 80th Legislature for improvements to state parks, because it definitely needs it. More funds are needed, I mean obviously it is, and not only for that, for the acquisition of new parks, and the development of new parks in Texas.
During the last session, I can tell you we were diligent in working to help the Texas Parks and Wildlife. We passed 117 resolutions statewide, cities, counties and other entities, in support of the Parks and Wildlife and funding for Parks and Wildlife, and we have another round going right now of our resolutions, so I can tell you that we're working hard on that.
The other thing is, we're also pleased that our grant program, the Texas Recreation and Parks Account received full funding again, and we're proud of that; that program is so important to communities across Texas, for the acquisition and the development of parks and recreation facilities.
We do have one issue, though, however: We have been fighting the last several Sessions, and I know it's a touchy subject but I have to bring it up, and that is the Legislators approving projects without going through the grant program and the scoring system developed by the Parks and Wildlife Department. We think it's a fair process, we all participated in that process, and ‑‑ to make it fair.
So we will be active in trying to kill those things again next time, and we appreciate the support of the Parks and Wildlife Commission on that. It's only ‑‑ it's a fair process ‑‑
(sound of feedback)
MR. EVANS: Am I almost done or something?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wow.
MR. EVANS: Did I say the wrong thing?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Something kicked in, obviously.
MR. EVANS: Anyway, to continue on and to finish up, we're excited about the Texas Outdoor Family Program that's just being kicked off, and we're here to support and promote that program as much as we possibly can.
And in closing, I just want to thank again the Commission. You have some great staff, Carter Smith, Walt Dabney, Scott Boruff, Tim Hogsett ‑‑ I could go on and on and on. But we have a great working relationship with those folks, and look forward to a long term relationship with you all. Thanks so much for the opportunity today.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful, thank you for your comments. That's great.
Ray Field up, and Richard Hill afterwards.
MR. FIELD: Good afternoon and thank you. My name's Ray Field. I'm Executive Director of the Wild Horse Foundation. My direct concern is with the Big Bend Ranch State Park out in West Texas. I have several concerns, that ‑‑ I've been requested to assist with removal of some wild burros out there, and at several requests I've not seen an operational report of why these animals have been wanting to be removed out there.
I know they cross back and forth from the Rio Grande River, they've been doing it for hundreds of years. I noticed that the State of Texas has allowed the longhorns to be moved in by the state's request. I've always been upset at that, that you'd let longhorns but you'd never allowed the Aggies to roam free out there, I've just never understood that one, but ‑‑
MR. FIELD: ‑‑ you know, you're removing the longhorns, but ‑‑ I don't know, that's political I guess with the Aggies, but ‑‑
MR. FIELD: ‑‑ the bottom line is, while the tragedy last year of the episode that happened, I won't go backwards, I like moving forward with things, but I'm requesting that the Commission actually furnish me a copy of the long-range report, a copy of what its future plan is with the Big Bend Ranch Park.
I know you all want to remove the burros because they say, they're not indigenous to the area, but when Kevin Good read off the list, including fire ants, that you all want to be removed out there, I made him a promise that if he removed the fire ants out of that part of the world, I'd pay for everything else to be removed at my expense. Because if we get rid of fire ants, folks, we do everybody in Texas a deal. But I'm upset at the fact is, that to this day I have not seen a biological report on what the land could hold, as far as the aoudad sheep, the burros, livestock and everything else that's out there.
And yet I'm meeting out there this weekend to go over with the park superintendent on the removal of the burros, and I'm worried about over-removal of one thing, over-compensating for another, that I think we need to look at it both economically, ecological-wise, and I've not seen a report as of this day.
And I always try to be pro-activist, instead of reactive to the situation, and while the Commission's got your hands full with everything else that's ‑‑ the good job you're doing in Texas, I want to look at this responsibly to make sure that it's being done right, and that we're not doing something to really damage more of the historical value that we have out there in West Texas.
Because it just seems like we're not really ‑‑ have looked at the whole, bigger picture here. Okay? I made several recommendations, and that's what I'm going out there this weekend for, is a fact-finding mission to make my recommendation on what we can do to help.
And while I appreciate the Commission coming all the way to Houston this year, when normally you're in Austin, I appreciate you with the rest of us and the weather and stuff, but I would like a copy of the Commission's report on exactly what your long term goals are on that, whether it's ten years from now or 20 years from now.
Because it's taken you 20 years to go this far; and I just ‑‑ it seems like to me that you haven't got a plan together yet. And I'd like a copy of that before we remove any of the burros from out there, because it's just fair to the public, and it's fair to us as taxpayers of Texas ‑‑ we're footing the bill, here.
I appreciate your time. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right. Thank you very much. And when you have a visit out there, visit with the superintendent and he'll have some ideas that he can talk to you about.
MR. FIELD: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Richard Hill up, and Charles Herder next.
MR. HILL: Hi, my name's Richard Hill. I'm an avid equestrian, I ride my horse in the area around Bush Intercontinental Airport and to areas north along Cypress Creek and Spring Creek.
I'd like to share with you some of the issues that we, me and the other people that ride up there see, and how you could help us.
Houston's a very fast-growing city, a lot of development's going on, and in land that's developed, permanently lost to recreation, we would ‑‑ I'd hope that the Commission could direct its attention to acquiring this land and permanently saving it, and letting the development and turning it into an active park, take second to getting this land safe.
The ‑‑ in the local area, the park where I ride, the Commission should give a preference to an interconnected trail system. What we're seeking is a transportation infrastructure. There is opportunity for hundreds of miles, or there are existing today hundreds of miles of trails out there, and they're not formal, and as citizen volunteers we maintain those trails so we can ride our horses down them.
But it is a beautiful resource: Spring Creek goes for probably 15 miles it meanders ‑‑ on the inside of each meander is a white sand sand dune and beach. It's incredibly beautiful. If we were there right now, we'd spent the day out there today we wouldn't see anyone, because nobody can get to it, but it's a very beautiful thing.
Harris County, Montgomery County are beginning to develop that resource with grant funding from the Commission. The administrative process of that, and particularly Pund Park, where I've been involved and I've gone out and done some work there, seems too cumbersome and time-consuming.
Like, the park right now is closed and locked, and it's not a "park" yet because like the flood-proof, you know, restroom hasn't been built yet or things like that. As you acquire this land, if you can have a phased-in development, and utilize citizen volunteer labor to develop the park, you bring the recreation, you know, into near time, and we can, you know, we can ride it today rather than ten years from now.
I'm a member of a citizens' group at Bush Airport, Intercontinental Airport, where we ride around the airport and provide security service back to the airport security on things we see. While that is a fact, they've built 35 miles of trails in their buffer forest, and then you have probably another, twice that amount around ‑‑ in the open fields.
So you've got essentially a park out there, that, you know, is not on anyone's radar screen, but we go out and enjoy it, and ride it often.
The ‑‑ well, I've run out of time; I've got a written statement that I've given to the staff, but I appreciate the opportunity to speak, and that ‑‑ we need to get this stuff available to people sooner rather than later.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you very much, and certainly one of our tasks not only short-term but long-term is to create more urban parks. So if you'll work also with your local legislator, legislators and municipalities, we're all trying to work in conjunction to create more of those urban parks around all these large urban areas.
But it does take time, no doubt about it. Longer than we want, sometimes. Thank you.
MR. HILL: Okay, thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Charles Herder up next, and Diane Schenke ‑‑ next, after Charles.
MR. HERDER: Thank you. My name is Charlie Herder, and I would warn the fellow that was here a couple ago that you let a bunch of Aggies loose, we propagate pretty fast.
MR. HERDER: We'll outdo the hogs, I promise you.
I'm with ‑‑ representing the Houston Wilderness here, and I've had the benefit of working with the George Foundation for a long time, and I really have three things.
First of all, I want to tell you that Houston Wilderness has a passport program to try to encourage children to get out and see your park and see the sights around this 20-county area, and I believe we can document that within the time Houston Wilderness has approached this project, we've had about half, or 50 percent of the fourth-graders in this area who have gotten out of the classroom and gone out either to one of the sites we've put together, or one of the Texas Parks and Wildlife sites.
And that's how we're going to protect these areas, if we get them educated and get their parents educated. So we're real happy about that.
Second, we have a paddling trails program; we have a goal by February 2009 to have about 120 miles of paddling trails in place. We're working with Texas Parks and Wildlife to do that; it's not an easy thing to do. I can see coming up pretty fast that we're going to need Texas Parks and Wildlife to assign some staff to that, so that's a formal request. Our goal is much more than just the Fort Bend-Brazoria County area; our goal is to also include Spring Creek and Cypress Creek, Lake Houston ‑‑ just a circle around this area. So that's my second request.
And then the final request, which I think I've already been told is impossible, but that's the kind of challenge I love; and that is that, in order to build boat ramps, I think your State Boating Access Program that's funded by federal funds, and those funds have tied to them the requirement of motorboats and the larger boats.
And the problem with that is, that not everybody wants to put a motorboat in the river; some of us would like to put a kayak or a canoe. And if we need to build an access ramp to do that, there is a 25 percent matching requirement from the local entity, in order to do that.
Now, if I've got to go build a ramp big enough to put a huge motorboat and park 20 cars and do all that stuff, it's never going to happen. If I've got a trails program around this area, and what I want to do is to bring, safely, a canoe or a kayak down to the river, and not get eaten up by fire ants and just have a safe access, there ought to be a way for us to find funds to allow ‑‑ or a design, excuse me, that's reduced in concept so that matching funds can be generated, and maybe if the beer lobby is pushing the motorboats, we need to drink more beer when we're all the way down in our kayak.
But if there's a way to do that, I would love to find a way to do it. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Diane Schenke, and Karen Cullar, up next. Diane?
MS. SCHENKE: Good afternoon. Thank you, Chairman Holt, Vice-Chairman Friedkin and other esteemed Commissioners for coming here in Houston today for your open meeting. We're very appreciative.
I'm Diane Schenke, the Executive Director of The Park People. The Park People lobbies constituents at the local, state and national levels for more and better parks. We were created in 1979 by Terry Hershey, who was a Commissioner at Parks and Wildlife many years ago, in response to a national urban recreation study which found Houston and Harris County sadly lacking in park space.
And I'm passing around some materials that give you a little bit of background on The Park People that you can study and have in your files for reference.
In 2007, The Park People worked very closely with George Bristol to achieve the budget that Parks and Wildlife is now working with. We coordinated many of the groups that are here in the audience today, under George Bristol's able leadership, to convince the Houston-Galveston-College Station delegation that the pathetic state of state parks was something that really needed attention.
And to do that, The Park People raised money to film commercials that particularly focused on Galveston Island State Park; those showed 974 times here in the Houston area. We also coordinated the group of 30 people that went by bus up to Austin during the Legislative Session; we generated countless letters and faxes. At one point, a local state senator implored us to turn off the bubble fax machine.
But we know the result, and what we want to tell you is that we're prepared to work with you in this upcoming Session, and in particular we'd like to support your budget request in three major ways.
First of all, we're very happy to see the $14 million that is dedicated to acquisition for new parkland. We live in an area of the state that has very high ecologic value properties. We also are projecting a growth of 3.5 million people by the year 2035.
We can all see the collision of people and loss of habitat if we don't act to protect that. So we would hope that the acquisitions would be targeted for that area.
We also applaud a healthy budget for local parks grants, because those park grants have made some really wonderful parks projects happen.
Finally, we support the dedication of the sporting goods tax to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. We think it's a tax on the people that use the parks, and we would like to help make that happen.
We look forward to working with you on a variety of issues, and we know and love your people here in this ‑‑ that work in the state, so we look forward to working with the Commission. Thank you for coming to Houston.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure, glad to be here. Thank you, Diane. And your group was a great help, and we will need that help going forward as we keep this momentum up.
MS. SCHENKE: Well, thank you, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, sure.
Karen, and next up, Scott McDonald.
MR. CULLAR: Hi, I'm Karen Cullar with Houston Parks and Recreation Department. I'm really here today to thank you for the many ways in which Texas Parks and Wildlife partners with Houston Parks and Recreation.
We try to think of Houston without blinders on; we try to think of Houston as a regional need, knowing that the burden of providing much of that need in our local area falls on Houston Parks and Recreation Department.
We actually have 350 parks, not just two major urban parks. In terms of urban parks there is a new funding mechanism within the Texas Recreation and Parks Account this year; it was mandated by the Legislature, but I'm here to tell you that the Department did a lot of work on designing that urban parks program specifically to fit the needs of the major metropolitan areas.
Six major cities, seven counties, population over 500,000. We appreciate it, we thank you, and we are recommended for funding on your agenda, for two different grants, and one of those is indoor, one of those is outdoor, and we're grateful for the opportunity and the work the Texas Parks and Wildlife does.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great, thank you. And I think we're voting on those tomorrow if I remember correctly. Yes, thank you very much, Karen.
Scott McDonald up, and Gary Harwell afterwards.
MR. McDONALD: My concern is regarding the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code 43.851, and allowing of licensed ownership of certain reptiles.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Could you speak up just a little bit more, sorry.
MR. McDONALD: Okay. And versus the Texas Administrative Code 55.652(b), which supposedly is based upon 43.851(b), and there are errors between the two.
First, the constitutionality of local ordinance bans. Texas Administrative Code 55.652(b) wording does not differentiate between local ancillary ordinances with Texas Parks and Wildlife Code 43.851, for forbidden ownership by local ordinance.
While ancillary local ordinances remain viable with the new statute, forbidden ownership within local ordinance violates the Texas Constitution, Article 11. It was exceeding in its statutory authority; Texas Administrative Code 55.652(b) as written adds material not originally addressed in Texas Parks and Wildlife Code 43.851(b), and should be amended.
And in 55.652, there seems to be a possible attempt at letting the existing local ordinance stand, with regard to certain reptiles, and it reads, "The permit issued under this subchapter does not relieve any person of the responsibility of complying with any federal, state or local ordinance regulating the possession and transportation of controlled exotic snakes."
And while there are some differing Attorney General opinions, that are contrary to that, and I'll read a few of them before I go:
"A city is preempted from regulating in a field if the city's regulation is expressly prohibited if the Legislature intended state law to exclusively occupy that field, or if the city regulation conflicts with state law, even if state law is not intended to occupy that field." That was Jim Maddox, Attorney Opinion 619.
Another one, "Even if the Legislature has not preempted home rule cities from adopting regulations in a particular field, however a home rule city may not enforce an ordinance inconsistent with state law." This is a yellow light, my three minutes are up?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm sorry?
MR. SMITH: It means, you've got about 15 or 20 seconds.
MR. McDONALD: Okay. What the statute allows, a city may not by ordinance forbid. As a result, it appears local governments can add regulations ancillary to possession, but they cannot currently ban certain reptile ownership of the types listed in the statute.
Thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure, thank you.
Scott, I mean, obviously I'm not a lawyer or a legal ‑‑ if you have a ‑‑ something you want to write in a letter and send it to our executive director then we will try to get an answer back to you. But I can't do that here.
Gary Harwell up next, and Buzz Jehle ‑‑ up next.
DR. HARWELL: Okay. I'm Dr. Gary Harwell, just have two comments regarding reptile regulations, and then separately, I'm a 30-year practicing veterinarian here in Houston, I've been a prior vet here at the Zoo, I'm a previous employee of Texas Parks and Wildlife way back when. I've been a consultant for U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Arizona Game and Fish, worked in Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.
My point in tooting my horn here, is that I got to this point because of nurturing when I was a child, being allowed to interact with snakes and tarantulas and everything else on Texas roads.
With all the recent legislation regarding reptiles, I believe some of it's good; the main issue I have is with the closure of Texas roads to hunting. It's something that I was brought up with in the '50s and '60s with my father and family; I've done it with my son who's now grown.
And my main concern is that access to Texas for the average person is very closed. I'm also a part-time resident of Arizona; we have a lot of more public lands than here. It's very difficult for the average person, not the person with means, to get into the wild here.
And closing off our Texas roads is just one more little chink in taking away things for some average people that want to enjoy the outdoors. It's one less opportunity for children and parents to bond, out snake hunting, cruising roads. There's been no significant ‑‑ no accidents in the last 50 years regarding road hunting for reptiles at night. Every year there's more hunting accidents, boating accidents and by far more horse accidents, so it's a very low-risk occupation.
It's a very small, non-intrusive recreation that I think ought to be reconsidered. It does put some money into Texas economies. I was just out in Sanderson a week and a half ago; I was talking to a couple of the hotel owners there, and people don't get on the roads now, for respect of the law.
I would ask you to please reconsider some rule changes for this in the future. If our roads remain closed, myself and others are going to go to New Mexico and Arizona, who are very open to having permits.
I'd also consider ‑‑ ask you to consider opening the state parks to limited reptile collection on a fee-based permit system.
Lastly, and my last point I'd like to challenge you or ask you is that I've spent a lot of time in state parks, and I talk to employees; is ‑‑ your pictures hang in all the walls, but nobody's going to recognize you if you walk into any of your state parks. I would ask you to please contact your low-level employees, your other people, they're not going to recognize you, and talk to them, the morale is very low in a lot of the parks. I don't envy your position. I'm very honored to be here with you. And thank you for allowing me. Continue doing a good job, you've got a daunting task. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. And luckily we've got some great people in all our parks, and it has been tough over the last few years, but we're starting to get a little momentum, getting them improved. Thank you, Gary.
MR. JEHLE: Hi, my name's Buzz Jehle ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sorry, just a second; and Ben Schmidtke up next, after Buzz.
MR. JEHLE: Thank you, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MR. JEHLE: My name's Buzz Jehle, I'm with the East Texas Herpetological Society; we've been sponsored by the Houston Zoo here for ‑‑ this is our 20th year.
One of the reasons I moved to Texas 20 years ago was to have the ability to collect and keep reptiles and study reptiles, it's an avocation, not my vocation. And we've done a lot of good teaching Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, kids, adults all over the city and surrounding areas about reptiles.
And as Dr. Harwell just said, cutting off all the public roads in Texas to hunting reptiles, lizards, turtles or whatever, has really hurt us, and hurt our ability, because kids lose interest, you can't collect them in parks; virtually all the land in Texas is private; and if you can't even walk down a highway where you can't see a car for 20 miles, and catch a snake that's coming across, while it's perfectly legal to run it over with your pickup truck, seems a little strange.
MR. JEHLE: So, you know, we would like to see you guys reconsider that rule. Right now a large group of our club is going to Arizona this week, for the very reason that they can hunt snakes and reptiles out there. And so they're spending money on hotels, travel and food, and there used to be signs when you went to Del Rio in the summer, saying, "Welcome, Snake Hunters."
I haven't kept one of those snakes in 20 years. I like to go look at them, I photograph them, I let them go. And that's illegal now. I would like you to reconsider.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure, thank you.
Ben Schmidtke, I think if I'm pronouncing it right. Helen Holdsworth up next.
MR. SCHMIDTKE: Hi, my name's Ben Schmidtke and I'm here representing the Texas Brigades, which is a wildlife youth camp of the State of Texas. I'm 17 years old and I live in Frio County down in South Texas. I first got involved in the Texas Brigades in 2007, when I was a cadet of the Eighth Battalion, South Texas Buckskin Brigade. My experiences at the Buckskin Brigade that summer is what got me addicted to the Texas Brigades.
Therefore, to satisfy my addiction, this summer I attended the South Texas Bobwhite Brigade, and was also accepted to return to the Buckskin Brigade as an assistant herd leader.
Today, as I look back at the kid I was before my first camp in 2007, I realize how much I have matured in so many ways due to these camps. I can honestly say that the weeks I've spent at the Texas Brigades has been the most memorable and best weeks of my life.
The Texas Brigades take kids in that have an interest in wildlife, and mold them in every direction, and the end result is 30 cadets leaving camp with more wildlife and conservation knowledge, self-respect, self-esteem, public speaking skills, and leadership skills than many adults even have.
On top of all those gained attributes, I've also made numerous contacts and an uncountable number of great friends throughout the State of Texas thanks to this organization.
The Texas Brigades has tested me physically, mentally and pressed me to go places I never thought would have been possible. They reward the youth who step up and accept these challenges. A good example would be, just this year, I was accepted as one of the 2008 Bobwhite Brigade Cadets to attend the National Call Unlimited Convention in Springfield, Missouri.
The trip was funded by the Brigades, and I was given the opportunity to spend the weekend meeting and interacting with very influential people in industry throughout America and promoting the Bobwhite Brigade.
This is an example of just one of the many experiences that the Texas Brigades provide youth with who are committed and hardworking. I recall that at the first camp I attended, back in 2007, I was given a Silver Bullet to memorize and recite whenever I was called upon.
This Silver Bullet was the following: "Give a man a fish and you've fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you've fed him for life."
At that stage of my life I just saw this quote as some phrase I had to memorize, and to recite to make the instructors happy. And it had no bearing upon me. But as this quote crosses my mind today, I realize how true it is, and I'm honored to say that I am one of the many youth that the Texas Brigades has taught to fish.
On behalf of the Texas Brigades we'd like to thank the Texas Parks and Wildlife staff that have served on the Bobwhite Brigades Committee, and provided this opportunity to be with a bunch of youth throughout the State of Texas. Thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, thank you. Very well spoken. Helen Holdsworth up next, and Allison Schmidtke after that.
MS. HOLDSWORTH: Thank you. On behalf of all the cadets, volunteers, and various agency personnel involved with the Texas Brigades, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today.
With me today are graduates of the Texas Brigades, Ben, who you met a moment ago, Meredith Holdsworth, Matt Springer, Allie Biedenharn, Callie Tweedle, and Allison Schmidtke, as well as Cassie Shepherd, who's a Texas Brigades program assistant.
As one of the original partners involved with the very first Bobwhite Brigade, which was started in 1993, Texas Parks and Wildlife has been involved and instrumental in all the Brigade camps since then.
When we decided to reorganize the Bass Brigade two years ago, Texas Parks and Wildlife Inland Fisheries Department stepped to the plate. Dr. Gary Van Gelder, who has served as the Inland Fisheries Chairman, agreed to serve as the camp coordinator and invested many hours of his time as a volunteer to help make this happen.
And Phil Durocher made sure that the Parks and Wildlife staff was at the table. And in July, the Third Battalion of the Bass Brigade mustered at Lake Buchanan.
Mandy Scott, Darren Gossett, and Greg Cummings took key roles in developing the curriculum and serving as instructors throughout the week. They also included some of their coworkers from their offices, as well, and Parks and Wildlife was instrumental in making this camp a success.
The Bass Brigade's mission is to educate and empower Texas youth to become conservation ambassadors, and focuses on aquatic ecosystems, with particular attention paid to the role of land stewardship and the health of these ecosystems, as well as the management of public lakes, rivers and streams.
Some of the highlights from the camp included the census techniques that Parks and Wildlife researchers and biologists use, such as collecting fish by seining, and electroshocking, with the Parks and Wildlife staff on Lake Buchanan; casting skills and in-depth media training, as well as fish biology and habitat management.
Our goal is not only to educate and empower, and we accomplish this by focusing on building leadership and communication skills, throughout the week.
The Brigades program touches 150 to 160 youth each summer, who in turn will reach over 15,000 direct contacts each year with educational programs and projects. And these graduates will become leaders of our state and may someday sit in the chairs that you now occupy.
They may also serve on their community school board or on their city councils; they could be teachers, doctors, and lawyers. But it doesn't matter, because either way, they'll be educated about our state's wildlife, fisheries and natural resources, and make wise decisions about the care and management of these valuable resources.
So thank you to Parks and Wildlife and their staff for supporting the Texas Brigades. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right. Thank you very much. Texas Brigades does good work; a lot of outreach.
Allison Schmidtke up next, and then Veronica Argueta, I think, will be up after that.
MS. SCHMIDTKE: Hi, my name is Allison Schmidtke, and I recently attended the South Texas Buckskin Brigade this summer in the 9th Battalion. Today I was asked to speak on how the Buckskin Brigade has changed my life.
It was hard for me, writing a speech, to know where to start. I've been around hunting my whole life, because my Dad manages wildlife on two ranches outside of Pearsall; that's a small town in Frio County.
I'd never fully understood much about habitat and wildlife management, and tried to learn as much as possible by listening in on my Dad and brother's conversations.
I heard about the brigades through a friend, and when I was a freshman in high school, and that year my older brother attended the Buckskin Brigade. The next year rolled around, and I was tired of being so ignorant on important subjects my father and brother discussed on a daily basis.
So this year I attended the camp, and didn't even know what hit me. I was talking beyond what I'd expected, and I realized I knew more than I thought I did as we had arguments about the pros and cons regarding high-fencing a ranch, and is hanging corn feeders good or bad.
The topics that were discussed throughout this camp were not new to me. They were things I'd heard my Dad and brother talk about many times. I'd always loved wildlife, but never knew just how much I had a yearning to learn and be knowledgeable about it.
I learned how to score and age deer. I was taught how to lead a stem count survey and measure brush density. I got to participate during a GPS scavenger hunt. I was taught how to march. I was forced to work with a team and rely on them as we completed plant quizzes, deer trivia, a rival competition. I learned the five ways to manage habitat. I shot a bow for the first time.
This camp not only made me more knowledgeable in the area of my Dad's interest, but it sparked in me an interest in wildlife that I never knew was there.
A second way the Buckskin Brigade has changed my life is, this camp revealed to me what my own personal potential can be. My whole life I have heard my parents tell me, "You can do anything you set your mind to, if you work hard."
I went into this camp knowing that, and I had one goal: one huge goal for me. I was pushed to my limit on memorization. I was tested on things I'd learned throughout the day; I was drilled on marching skills and working together with the team.
I worked hard and had tons of professors backing me up the whole way. I truly had the time of my life at the 2008 South Texas Buckskin Brigade, and I'm proud to say I reached my goal. I was honored to be voted by the entire camp to represent the Buckskin Brigade as the 2008 Top Cadet.
What a great feeling. I had never felt so good about myself. I realized that when I really want something bad enough, I can attain it if I'm willing to work for it. My relationship with my Dad has grown even stronger than it was before as we carry on conversations about wildlife and habitat management techniques.
I feel as if I'm a more respectable person. I am forced to show responsibility as I continue to accomplish projects. No, the Buckskin Brigade doesn't end that last day at camp. In fact, I believe this is the kind of camp that never truly ends.
Not only do you have assignments and projects to complete during the summer of the camp, I have learned priceless information that will never be forgotten. I learned how to get up in front of a group of people and give them a presentation on an important subject.
I learned how to respect authority, rules, and to always be on time. This is the kind of wildlife camp that will benefit me later on down the road, whether I manage wildlife on some huge ranch, or if I end up in an office in New York City.
Sure, the camp is based on the white-tailed deer, but it sets a foundation for youth of this country. And on behalf of the Texas Brigades and myself, I would like to say a huge thank you to the Texas Parks and Wildlife organization, for supporting us in truly making a difference in America and the lives of many youths. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you very much. Very well said, thank you. Veronica Argueta, and Sergio Sanchez after that.
MS. ARGUETA: Hello, my name is Veronica Argueta. I'm representing Chavez High School, and the TYHP ‑‑ youth hunting.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can you pull that down just a little bit closer; there you go.
MS. ARGUETA: Basically, I came here to talk about how much the Texas Youth Hunting Program has changed my life. First of all, our main focus in the program is not what we harvested or what ‑‑ who has the best shot. It basically comes down to growing as a family and appreciating the earth and what it gives to us.
Through this program I've learned many skills and have practiced them. I have learned to give back to the community and help other kids with their hunting program, and encouraging them to partake in roles that can save the earth.
And it's just been a wonderful program that I encourage many kids to participate in. And it has brought together me and my school, and it's ‑‑ takes everybody in the program and turns them into one big family, and that makes us very grateful for it. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, well, thank you.
Sergio Sanchez, and then Walter Norton after that.
MR. SANCHEZ: Good afternoon. My name is Sergio Sanchez. I attend Stephen F. Austin High School in the Houston Independent School District.
I am a member of the Texas Youth Hunting Program. I am here to talk to you all a little bit of what I have learned in the Texas Youth Hunting Program.
I have harvested my first deer through the Texas Youth Hunting Program; I am an inner-city student. I really haven't gone hunting out there, but this year with my ag teacher I got the privilege to go and help kids the way other kids have helped me during the program.
I learned how to skin a deer, how to quarter it, how to field-dress it, it's stuff that, you know, you don't see it in the city, unless your ag teacher takes a deer and shows you have to quarter it in the classroom.
But it's better to learn it outside in a ranch, where the landowners are very respectful, real nice, and they care about you. And mostly it's good for the inner-city students. Because there's nothing like being out in the great outdoors. Everybody knows that.
There's kids that just want to be inside in the video games and on the computer; that's when I have friends of mine, I tell them, "Hey, let's go hunting, let's go hunting." They don't want to and stuff, because they'd rather be playing their video games.
But once I show them pictures when I harvested my first deer, they stay surprised. It's like, "Whoa, I want to go," I'm like, "Well, we're going to have to wait until next year. Here it comes."
And it's just a great experience, and I got the privilege from my ag teacher to go out to New Mexico to go on a turkey hunt, and I harvested my first turkey, and it was just something very great. I was on an Indian reservation, it's something that I don't think I would have ever done. But through this program, the Texas Youth Hunting Program, I was capable of doing it.
And I would also like to thank the Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Houston area supporters. Thank you, have a good day.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure, thank you. Great opportunities.
Walter Norton up next, and then Allie Biedenharn after that.
MR. NORTON: First of all, I have been accused of being addicted to hunter education.
MR. NORTON: Fearing that my wife would come and testify, I had to plead guilty. I've been teaching hunter education for 35 years, at Baytown, at the Eddie Gray Wetlands Center which I'm sure you are familiar with, because Parks and Wildlife have been a great sponsor of that organization, under the direction of Tracey Prothro.
Why spend 35 years doing this? First reason, it's fun, I enjoy it; and the great leadership that we have. Starting out with T.D. Carroll, back in ‑‑ years ago, 1972, he had to organize this, and up to date we have Terry Erwin and Steve Hall and Heidi Rao from Dickinson. They have been a great help.
They supply all our needs, maybe not such much our wants, but you all understand that. And it's been fun. I do believe that we make a great difference as volunteers, doing this. I think there's seven or eight of us still left from that first group.
A couple examples that I can give you. I had a fellow, came in, middle-aged, and I know nobody's ever done this, but walk into a biker bar, and he was there, he would be there, not him, himself but his physique, the look, he would be there, you could see him right there.
He came up to me before class and said, "Man," he says, "I did not graduate from high school, I'm afraid to take this test, I just can't do it." And I said, "You know, there was another guy just about like you that didn't do that, it was A.J. Foyt. He never graduated, and he did pretty well."
And so I told him what to do. He made in the high 80s ‑‑ great, you could see the thrill on his face. And he was happy, and he has helped me get some of my wants in the past.
And there was another little kid came in with Mama. I could see it, I taught school for 33 years, and here they came. Mama had been dragging him in the class. About 12, about 14 years old, and she said, "This is Johnny, he does not do well in school, he plays hooky, he makes Cs and Ds, and I just don't know what to do, I'm a ‑‑ you know, but he's got to have the class."
I says, "Ma'am, here's what you got to do. I want him to sit in the front row, and I will say, remember this, mark this, mark that, everything will be fine."
So he made a 92. Mama came back the next day, and said, "I don't understand, he's been failing, he doesn't know what to do, he just doesn't like school but he makes a 92 on your test." I said, "Ma'am, there's two reasons: Number one, he wanted to pass the class. And number two, I'm good."
MR. NORTON: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, sir. We appreciate it.
Allie Biedenharn, and then Richard Memmer up after.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, he's not going to speak. Okay, Richard Memmer. Is Richard here?
MR. MEMMER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir. And then I think it's Poly Cline, or ‑‑ I think I'm saying that right, up next. From Legacy Land Trust. Okay.
MR. MEMMER: I want to thank you for taking the time to let me speak here. I want to say that I was very upset to hear about the four-wheelers in Davy Crockett National Forest.
I'm 66 years old, been saving my money for a four-wheeler all these years, finally get a four-wheeler, and what do I find out, can't use it.
MR. MEMMER: I really don't understand why. I've heard that, "Well, they're causing damage, there's people abusing it," but logging roads are not being damaged by four-wheelers. Logging trucks are tearing up the dirt roads up there in the National Forest, they're causing more damage than anything, and I just don't think it's fair that a few people who are abusing the privilege ruin it for everybody.
And I didn't know anything about the meeting before, and I don't know what the participation was, as far as the public goes, and I don't know whose idea it was, whether it's the Commission or whether it's the Forest people, these are questions I would kind of liked to have asked.
But I just feel that I would like it to be reconsidered, if not this year, it's probably too late for this year, but to bring it up to the public again to get some participation to actually see what the public's opinion is, versus maybe what your Commission's opinion is, and to reconsider maybe possibly next year, to bring it up again.
And like I say, I'm 66 years old, I'm healthy, I get around fine, but that climbing stand would be a whole lot easier to put on the back of that four-wheeler than it would be to tote a mile on my back. But I'll tote it a mile if I have to. But I sure would appreciate it if you could reconsider it in the future. Thank you very much for your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure, Richard. Now, and ‑‑ I'll ask somebody to visit with you. If it's National Forest we have no jurisdiction, at all ‑‑
MR. MEMMER: So it was their idea?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ we're only state. That's correct.
MR. MEMMER: Yes, I understand that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. MEMMER: So that was the National Forest's deal ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That would be a National Forest ‑‑ yes. That would be federal decision by the National ‑‑
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: U.S. Forest Service.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: U.S. Forest Service. So we have no ‑‑ really no jurisdiction, no say in it. But we have established in two parts, one in West Texas, one in, where is our four-wheel park area in East Texas ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We have two areas that we do have designated for four-wheelers.
MR. MEMMER: That is the state, that's in designated areas?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. MEMMER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And they are state-operated, and one is developed and being used, and then another is being developed over in West Texas ‑‑
MR. MEMMER: Yes, I kind of had a question on that, as to ‑‑ and maybe that's the National Forest that's going to control it, I asked them; I said, "Are you going to allow a person to ride a four-wheeler during deer season."
COMMISSIONER HOLT: If it's in a National Forest we would not have any jurisdiction at all.
MR. MEMMER: That's up to them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's up to them, yes.
MR. MEMMER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So if you want to contact somebody, or I'll ask somebody to visit with you afterwards, is that we do have two areas that we have designated for four-wheeling, specifically.
MR. MEMMER: Yes, I'm aware of those.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, you're aware of those two areas?
MR. MEMMER: Of Sam Houston, yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That the state does; but that National Forest, we have no control over whatsoever.
MR. MEMMER: But you have control in that area?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Not anything that's National Forest, no.
MR. MEMMER: Oh, okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Does that make sense?
MR. MEMMER: Because like up at Sam Houston National Forest ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No.
MR. MEMMER: I guess there's 85 miles of trail up there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It would be National Forest or the U.S. Forest Service.
MR. MEMMER: Okay, so ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So you'd have to visit with them.
MR. MEMMER: So if I get with somebody afterwards, can I get the information to who I need to ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, no. I think what I'm trying to say, and I'll ask somebody to visit with you. We, the State of Texas, Texas Parks and Wildlife, have two areas designated for four-wheeling. Okay? One in West Texas and one in Northeast Texas.
But they have nothing to do with these forests you're talking about. Those are U.S. Forest Service. So ‑‑
MR. MEMMER: Okay, so I'll need to find out from U.S. Forest Service who I need to ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Who you'd need to petition or talk to, relative to the particular areas you're talking about.
MR. MEMMER: Yes. Because I was under the understanding that they told me they had public hearing on this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They probably did have a public hearing, but again that would be federal; U.S. Forest Service.
MR. MEMMER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Not Texas Parks and Wildlife.
MR. MEMMER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay?
MR. MEMMER: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure, Richard. Thank you.
Is it Patsy Cline or Patty Cline or Poly Cline? Sorry?
MS. CLINE: Yes, one of them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, one of those. I remember Patsy Cline was a singer.
MS. CLINE: That's my dog. Patsy's my dog ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. And then ‑‑ sorry. Carole Allen up afterwards.
MS. CLINE: I'm with the Legacy Land Trust, I'm on the board. And for those of you who may not be familiar with the Legacy Land Trust, we manage properties in the Houston, in Harris County, surrounding counties, primarily along the creeks. Spring Creek has been an area of focus for us, Little Cypress Creek.
We recently acquired management of a property along the Willow Creek. One of the most severe problems that we are seeing along these creeks is the sand and gravel operations. I know that there's been legislation that's been trying to work its way through to try to bring these operations into the modern era, I might say.
However, as of today nothing significant has happened. I want to urge the Commission to work with all of the branches of government to put some teeth into the rules and regulation governing these operations. Many of them are operating without permits, or with permits for other activities, for instance, pond building; but they are in fact sand and gravel operations, with trucking operations and pug mills and all of the other things that go along with that.
If you have not seen the impact of a sand and gravel operation along our beautiful waterways, you would be shocked to see what happens. All of the old-growth trees are cut and harvested, all of the topsoil is sold, and then the sand mining operation begins.
When those sand pits fill up with water from rains, which happens frequently of course down here, they bring in pumps and pump directly out of the sand pits into the creeks. It's slurry, it's not just water, it's slurry; the creeks become clogged with sand.
And there seems to be little or no regulation of this type of operation. So again, I urge you to please work with our governments to help supervise these operations. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right. Thank you.
Carole Allen, and next up, Bob Stokes.
MS. ALLEN: Good afternoon, and I certainly want to thank you for coming to Houston today. My comments are about sea turtles, sea turtle protection and a population assessment on Texas beaches and in Texas waters.
Nesting by the endangered Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle has increased year after year from only six in 1996 on Texas beaches to 195 this past year. One of the most important factors is the eight-and-a-half-month closure of the five-nautical-mile zone in South Texas waters that the Commission approved in 2000.
Dr. Donna Shaffer, chief of the Sea Turtle Science and Recovery Program at Padre Island National Seashore wrote in her last year's report that this closure has likely helped limit strandings of adult Kemp's Ridleys, and increased nesting on South Texas beaches.
The Parks and Wildlife Fishing Forecast website summarizes the improvement in shrimp catch since the new commercial shrimping regulations were adopted in 2000 in this way. These trends further indicate that the 2000 regulations in combination with the other management measures already in place are having a positive effect on Texas shrimp populations.
My friend Mike Ray, Deputy Director of Parks and Wildlife, Coastal Fisheries Division wrote to me that, "Reduced trawling, whether it's due to high fuel costs, low shrimp prices at the dock, or regulatory restrictions does correlate to less bycatch. Juvenile Red Snapper have increased in recent years, and one reason is that it is for less trawling effort."
This closure has improved sea turtle nesting, recreational fishing, and shrimp harvest, making the case for extending the South Texas shrimping closure to 12 months.
Next, I'll explain why we'd like to extend the shrimping closure to the entire Texas coast. Sea turtle nesting on the upper Texas coast is also increasing; Dr. Andre Landry of Texas A&M at Galveston has conducted nesting patrols for the last two years on Galveston Island, adding Bolivar Peninsula this last year, and collected data for the upper Texas coast ‑‑ oh, no, it's yellow; from Sabine Pass to Matagorda Peninsula ‑‑
(Laughter at slide malfunction.)
MS. ALLEN: ‑‑ his research shows that a new nesting record was set for the upper Texas coast this year, with 17 nests.
I want to skip down, here. We've got also ‑‑ satellite tracking studies show that nesters stay in near-shore waters of the upper Texas coast during the three-and-a-half month nesting season, and we need to protect them like we're protecting the turtles in the South Texas waters ‑‑ don't do that to me; it's red.
Okay, let me finish. The Commission and the people of Texas should be very proud that the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle population is showing encouraging increases after years of grim statistics. Texas Parks and Wildlife research has shown that the closure adopted ‑‑ that you adopted in 2000 has improved recreational fishing, shrimp and sea turtle nesting in South Texas.
Now is the time ‑‑ last sentence, to expand the South Texas closure to 12 months, to include all Texas waters in the five-mile closure, and to provide funding for patrols and protection for sea turtle nesters and nests on the upper Texas coast. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great, thank you, Carole.
Bob Stokes up, and let me see if I can read it, I think it's Sue Swafford up next after that.
MR. STOKES: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Bob Stokes and I am the president of the Galveston Bay Foundation. I want to begin by thanking you for the opportunity to address you here today in Houston; we appreciate you taking the show on the road, so to speak.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MR. STOKES: Our mission very simply is to preserve, protect and enhance the natural resources of Galveston Bay. We've been doing that for about 21 years at this point in time. One of the things we always do, and what we've always tried to do is cultivate and work with partners.
And one of our strongest partners throughout that time period has been Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Coastal Fisheries folks, we work very closely with the folks locally and down in the Dickinson office; I just want to let you know they're doing a great job for your organization, their efforts have resulted in some great projects that you've probably heard about already.
Projects like the Shoreline Protection and Wetlands Restoration on Galveston Island State Park, Delehide Cove, Starvation Cove, and I just wanted to acknowledge that.
Segueing into state parks, we had the opportunity to work with many of the people in this room to travel to Austin in the last Legislative Session and let them know ‑‑ let our Legislators know that the people in the Houston and Galveston region care about state parks, that we think investments in our state parks is a wise investment, and just want to let you know that we're going to be there, you know, helping you support that message going forward as well.
But I want to say specifically about land conservation, just the general concept of land conservation. You've heard some people today talk about some specific projects; I want to talk generally about land conservation and the need for additional funding in the State of Texas.
You know, as you know we're blessed in the State of Texas to have a very strong economy; that means lots and lots of people are moving here, and an unfortunate side product of that is that we're just gobbling up acres of habitat and land, and we're not really spending, in my opinion, as much money as we should as Texans to preserve our natural heritage.
I had an intern this summer who worked for me and I had her do some research on some of the other funding programs across the country; states like Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, the list is literally ‑‑ the majority of the states in the country have really significant land acquisition programs; they're spending millions of dollars on land acquisition and conservation.
And we need to step up, as Texans, and make sure that we can do some of this as we go forward as well, because the need is only going to grow, and we're only losing opportunity as we move forward.
A related issue on population growth; it's something we've always ‑‑ we've worked on for a long time, and that's freshwater inflows, preserving freshwater inflows into Galveston Bay. And I know you're all aware of the State Water Planning Process, Senate Bill 3; just want to say that we've really enjoyed working with Texas Parks and Wildlife, they've shown great leadership in that, and we intend to continue working with them and supporting that effort.
Finally, on a more ‑‑ on a smaller and more concrete issue, Galveston Bay Foundation has been working to do an education program and get boaters in the Clear Lake and Galveston region ‑‑ unfortunately there's a percentage of boaters out there who think it's okay to discharge their sewage directly into Clear Lake, directly into Galveston Bay.
We're working on a big education program to combat that; it's hard to tell exactly what percentage is out there breaking the rules, but one of the things that we really need is some additional enforcement. There's really no enforcement ‑‑ I'm going to wrap up in just a second, there's really no enforcement going on.
And we've begun some initial discussions with some of the game wardens, and they're interested; I just want to encourage you all, as their Commission, to allow that to happen; to get the game wardens out there, they got a long list of things they're doing out there, but we want to have them address boater sewage with our boaters as well. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great. Thank you, Bob.
I think it's Sue Swafford, I think I'm saying that correctly. And next up after that is Suzanne Vafiadis.
MS. SWAFFORD: Longtime park workers have been forced into retirement, reassigned or dismissed due to decisions made by upper level TPW officials to kill feral burros and aoudads in Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Burros are useful animals, and contrary to the opinion of Bundy Phillips, do have an monetary value. Aoudads, which could be hunted for a fee, are being shot by employees instead. By their own admission, these men simply went into the back country and shot any burros or aoudads they happened to see. There was no plan.
Dan Sholly said in his deposition, "If we saw a burro, or aoudads, we would shoot them." One nursing mother was shot, her baby was left.
Whether written reports are accurate or not is up for debate. Sholly said, writing those ‑‑ meaning, reports on killing burros, "is not a priority for us." There was discussion about whether or not we should continue to report because the policy says this should be done discreetly.
Even after Scott Boruff told the men to stop shooting the burros, the killings continued. Walter Dabney said, "The reason they continued to shoot after being advised not to do so was because the park was about to open, and once visitors got into the area, I knew it would be difficult to do it safely and discreetly."
How can the public have confidence in these actions? If killing these two species en masse is the best solution these men can come up with, they need to be replaced.
Most people are not aware of the vast expanses of land at Big Bend Ranch State Park. There may be 100 to 400 unwanted burros, and up to 4,000 unwanted aoudads roaming the park; but a visitor could drive and hike all day and never see even one.
The people of Texas, who really own the park, do not see the need for these animals to be destroyed. We would like to see the park maintain herds of both species, and control their numbers by birth control or adoption.
No environmental studies have been done to determine the land's capability to support wildlife. Bighorn sheep did not evolve in a bubble; but if it is true that the bighorn are so fragile that they could not survive in the park without the removal of all burros and aoudads, they do not need to be in the park.
TPW does not only serve hunters; many tourists at the park would be thrilled to see a herd of wild burros; where else in Texas is that possible? Most are not trophy hunters, and couldn't tell the difference between an aoudad and a bighorn. They would be happy to see either.
TPW officials have never expressed any remorse for killing these innocent animals; in fact, after the Presidio meeting, I would say the stamp seems to be, "Hold some meetings, use scare tactics such as a film that doesn't apply and hints at disease-carrying burros, let the people air their grievances, and then get on with the business of killing non-native burros and aoudads, and stocking non-native bighorn sheep so we can attract big bucks from a few trophy hunters.
Dabney said the way to gain acceptance is public education. The opposite is true. If the public knew what you were doing, those of you responsible for this slaughter would be gone, and the burros and aoudads would remain. You know this is true, that is why your policy is, be discreet.
You have become so taken with your own power, so in love with your idea of attracting trophy hunters that you have forgotten you are public servants, charged with protecting our heritage, the land and the animals on it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
MS. SWAFFORD: And on a completely different note, if anybody wants to hunt rattlesnakes on my 600 private acres, they're more than welcome to do so.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Suzanne Vafiadis, I think I'm pronouncing it wrong ‑‑ right, I'm sorry if I'm not; and next up, Curt Swafford.
MS. VAFIADIS: That was close. I'm Suzanne Vafiadis, and I'm here as a concerned citizen about the lives of the burros of Big Bend.
I think it's very appropriate that this meeting is being held at the Houston Zoo, which is a place where we protect and preserve our animals for our children, and for all of us to experience the wonder and the beauty of animals.
God gave us dominion over the animals. It is an awesome privilege and responsibility. And it's never to be taken lightly. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
Curt Swafford, and next up after Curt Swafford, Glenda Callaway.
MR. SWAFFORD: I regret that I'm not here today to give Texas Parks and Wildlife accolades, although I know a great many people who work for Texas Parks and Wildlife that are very, very good people.
Texas Parks and Wildlife officials have killed at least 71 burros and six aoudads at Big Bend Ranch State Park. The people of Texas intend to send a message to Austin that we are not going to put up with this senseless cruelty. Many employees at the state park are equally upset.
I would like to read a sampling of comments from their depositions, following Texas Parks and Wildlife's internal investigation.
"Last week, Tony and I found some decaying burro carcasses. It appeared the burros had been shot while they were going down a trail. They were scared along the trail. I walked a little ways and saw a leg from a burro. One of the gunshots in the dead burros was right in the stomach, and one was hit in the buttocks. The other donkeys were scattered out on that hill; they must have been pretty frightened."
I've done a lot of investigating and research on this offense. I've probably made 100 phone calls since December. My investigations have taken me to higher-ups in Austin who misled me with vague answers in the process, I have discovered that former park police officer Robert Garcia, who incidentally is the only one allowed to carry weapons in the park, or who ‑‑ and who also is investigating the killings of the burros received a bad evaluation when he retired in protest, after 17 years with Texas Parks and Wildlife and 17 years of good evaluations.
And he received this from a man in Fort Davis called Ken Watson; I called Ken Watson, who also had some reservations about the evaluation that he gave him, and incidentally, Ken Watson was not even his supervisor during the time frame of the supervising ‑‑ of the evaluation.
But as we found out and as we suspected, the trail led back to the two men who actually ‑‑ who had instructed Ken Watson ‑‑ Mr. Watson to do the evaluation: the trail led back to the two shooters: Dan Sholly, and Mike Hill.
One other problem I have amongst others with Texas Parks and Wildlife ‑‑ over their actions, is the word, "discreetly," which is used at least six times in their depositions in reference to the shooting of the burros.
We do not want Texas Parks & Wildlife to be discreet about anything from this point on. You are public servants; and because of these needless slaughters, you have lost public trust.
Now you stand to win Texas Monthly magazine's "2008 Bum Steer Award." The people of Texas are going to keep a closer eye on you. Here's what I want:
I want the burros to stay where they are in the park. We can control the population with birth control, which is practiced on federal lands to control wild burros and Mustang populations; I want the Yosemite Mafia ‑‑ Dan Sholly, Mike Hill and Walter Dabney, punished. Termination of their jobs would be appropriate.
If Texas Parks and Wildlife does not take action, we will. I've already spoken with Kinky Friedman and Lacey J. Dalton about staging benefit concerts to help us make the necessary money. You know if I shot anything in that park, I would be in jail. According to Brewster County District Attorney Frank Brown, even Texas Parks and Wildlife officials could be protected [sic] for unlawful discharge of a firearm in a state park.
At this time I will entertain any questions the Commission might like to ask, I have ‑‑ like I say, I have done extensive research into this matter. I only had three minutes to put it all on paper.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Curt. I can assure you, we have done our own investigations. Thank you.
MR. SWAFFORD: All right, thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Glenda Callaway next, and then Mike Nugent.
MS. CALLAWAY: Thank you very much. I'm Glenda Callaway, I'm an emeritus trustee and a former president ‑‑ former chairman of the Galveston Bay Foundation.
You heard Bob Stokes earlier mention that ‑‑ a concern about freshwater inflows was one of the things that the foundation has addressed over its slightly more than 20 years of existence.
It was in fact one of the issues that caused us to form the foundation. And I would like to talk to you about three things in particular related to freshwater inflows to Galveston Bay.
The first deals with the data that you collect; the second is the staff that you hire; the third's the funds that you allocate to reach your mission.
The data that Parks and Wildlife collects, particularly those data collected by the Coastal Fisheries Division, are what has brought us to this point in trying to determine what freshwater inflows are needed in our bays and estuaries, and have allowed us to begin the next phase, of trying to find a way to incorporate that into state regulations and permitting, so that we can in fact protect our streams and our estuaries for future generations.
So my first plea is for you to continue those data collection efforts. It's my understanding that our databases on species and habitat, and our ‑‑ particularly in our bays and estuaries, less so in our streams, is actually world-class. People ‑‑ we are the envy of the world in what we have to work with.
The second thing is on the staff that you hire. I can't emphasize enough how much the general citizen must rely on the expertise that is in your agency. We have all three of the resource agencies directed to work with stakeholder groups now, to help develop target flows and ways to bring those into TCEQ regulations.
We will use every scientific resource we can find, but I assure you there is no substitute for your knowledgeable staff. The people who do the modeling, the people who collect the data and make sure that it's of a quality that it can be used in the modeling, the people who work with policy. So we do rely on you for that.
Which brings us to the third thing, and that is that after looking at this issue for nearly 30 years, and I'm not the only one who's been looking at it for 30 years, we are convinced that this is not the kind of thing that you solve once and for all.
This is, like most resource management issues, something that's going to go on forever. We learn, we adapt, we have to grow, but I have grandchildren, and I want them to enjoy the wonderful resources that belong to all the people of the State of Texas.
And I'm asking you to use your resources to keep staff data available to support us in that effort. Thank you very much, answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. We plan on continuing to do that, but, you know, always visit with your local legislators so we can get that continued support. Thank you.
Mike Nugent up, and John Clarke next.
MR. NUGENT: Thank you. My name is Mike Nugent, I'm a charter boat owner-operator from Aransas Pass. I'm here today as president of the Port Aransas Boatman Association.
A couple of things I wanted to bring up to Commission is ‑‑ the first one is, if you'll remember a while back you all had entertained the notion of the Feds asking you to change our state red snapper management to coincide with theirs. And as of last week, the Gulf Council voted to send to the secretary a notice to force the states to go in line with federal regulations.
I'm here to tell you as president of our association and as a charter boat operator, that that's a far more important thing than the red snapper management, and that red snapper management is costing us money, as I'm here today, instead of on the water, but it's worth sacrificing some money for in order to keep the state regulating our fishery. As long as you think you're right, and as long as you think that our management scheme in state waters is superior to the Feds', as we think, well, then I'm asking you not to cave in to their request unless there's a very good reason to do so. Just, as the old saying goes, "Be sure you're right, and then go ahead."
The other part with it that I'd like to bring up, which is more complicated for us, is they've also passed an interim rule that we charter boat operators who operate both in the Gulf of Mexico Federal EEZ, and the state waters, we have to have federal charter permits.
Well, they passed an interim rule that if you have federal permits on your vessel, you can't go into state waters and fish, except under federal rules. Which means that when other people in the State of Texas can go into state waters to legally catch red snapper, we're not going to be able to if we have federal permits on our vessels.
And I understand that's a federal thing. But what we need to know is this: We buy our state license every year; we spend $200 on our guide licenses every year, and we're fixing to have to do this. And what we need to find out is, what is the state's stance on this matter.
In other words, are the state enforcement people interested in federal permits, or is this just a matter between us and the Feds? It's something that's economically important to us, because we need to know whether to renew our guide licenses or not, and that's coming up in a few days.
And it's a confusing issue, but I sure hope you all give it some thought, because we're kind of in a bind. Thank you very much for having the deal.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Want to let you know, we appreciate that bind, and we're working with the Feds, but it's a difficult situation right now ‑‑
MR. NUGENT: Yes, I know ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ ourselves and Florida obviously have taken a stance, and other states have taken a different stance. And so, John Parker, one of our Commissioners has been very involved, and we're working our tails off, but right now, it's ‑‑ we're kind of all in a crack ‑‑
MR. NUGENT: Yes, sir. I know that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And I know it's affecting you ‑‑
MR. NUGENT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ of course, and your livelihood. And so ‑‑
MR. NUGENT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: John Clarke up, and Chad Burke, next.
MR. CLARKE: Thank you for listening to me. My comments are in regards to the contaminated flounder that I've been coming across the past four or five years. I fish Galveston probably the last 20 years, the last three months of the year. Probably four or five days a week, and I spend half that time on Bolivar, and the other half on the Galveston side.
Now, the Bolivar fish are clean; there's nothing in them. In this past year, probably one-fourth of the fish that I cleaned had black specks in them, in the meat and on the liver.
And best I could tell, it looked like some kind of graphite or maybe from them coal piles, and I harvested about a dozen samples and took them to Webster, to Parks and Wildlife, so you all have a collection of what I took.
And my concern was that, it's showing up so much that I'm getting to where I don't even want to eat the fish that's coming off the Galveston side.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. CLARKE: So, you know, the articles in the newspaper didn't even bring up the flounder, but I can assure you, they're contaminated.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
MR. CLARKE: And it's only showing up on the Galveston side. So, thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, thank you. Of course now, you're aware that the other issues with the trout, and the other fish ‑‑ Chad Burke up, and Steven Howell after that.
MR. BURKE: Hello, my name is Chad Burke, and I'm from the Economic Alliance, Houston Port Region. I'm here in response to an attempt by a small but persistent group that wants to move the Battleship Texas from the San Jacinto Battleground State Park.
The Economic Alliance, Houston Port Region represents eleven cities and communities surrounding the Houston Ship Channel area, and our mission is to market and grow a vibrant, regional economy. And one of the main tenets of that mission is to improve our quality of life and assets, so that business, industry and tourists are attracted to our region.
The San Jacinto Battleground and Battleship Texas are an integral part in our region's quality of life and tourism development, our Project STARS program is in the early stages of bringing unprecedented awareness to the park, and the history that was made there, with over $1 million in funding currently from private industry.
The project includes epic artwork depicting the story of the Texas Army displayed on massive tanks provided by the petrochemical industry that line our region's highways as you travel to the park.
It also includes beautification projects, roadway improvement projects, city gateway projects, all with the goal of highlighting our heritage and encouraging people to visit the park.
By moving the Battleship Texas from the park, it would destroy park attendance and undercut a program that promises to revitalize our region, re-emphasize our history, create pride for all Texans and improve the quality of life for our citizens in the area.
It's plainly obvious how critically important it is to the local area's quality of life, that the ship is. This has been demonstrated by letters of support for dry-berthing the Texas at its current site, from everyone from Congressman Gene Green to our state senators and state representatives, all of the local cities that line the region, and our Chambers of Commerce as well.
Countless studies have indicated that the benefits of clustering tourist-related assets in order to maximize the impact in attendance, any argument for moving the Battleship is really void of logic and clearly not in the best interest of the park as a whole, or the region.
The Economic Alliance wants to thank the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its hardworking employees who maintain the Battleship and its heritage for all those to enjoy.
We really enjoy it down there, it's a part of our lives, and most of us who grew up in that area don't want to see the Battleship moved, and that's our message today. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right. Thank you, Chad.
Steven Howell, and next up after that, Will Kirkpatrick, please.
MR. HOWELL: Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Steven Howell, I'm the Executive Director of the Battleship Texas Foundation. On behalf of the board of trustees for the Battleship Texas Foundation, I want to thank this Commission for the excellent working relationship that exists between Battleship Texas Foundation and TPWD.
It is the essence of a public-private partnership, we enjoy the relationship, we have enjoyed thoroughly the work that we have done with you at all levels. In particular I want to thank Carter Smith, Scott Boruff, Walt Dabney, Steve Whiston, Chris Greer, Russ Kuykendall, Andy Smith, who is the ship manager, and Angela McLeaf, who is our curator on board.
Her office happens to be the same office that was formerly occupied by Admiral Ernie King when he was fleet commander of the Atlantic Fleet back in 1938.
And she tells me that every once in a while she gets a sense that his presence is still in that space, and I find that to be very encouraging.
MR. HOWELL: We have enjoyed working with Texas Parks and Wildlife at all levels, but particularly including the maintenance and restoration of the ship on an ongoing basis. She is a 96-year-old asset; she's been in saltwater since she was launched in 1912; we are looking forward to getting her into a dry berth. I think we owe that to her at this point.
Most recently, I want to thank TPWD staff for the report that they generated; they took their own resources, they took an independent engineering study of the condition of the ship, as well as a separate engineering study of the viable dry berth alternatives.
They put all of that together into a report that was presented to the Legislative Budget Board and we are all eagerly anticipating a positive response from the Legislative Budget Board with regard to the $25 million bond issue, that will provide the bulk of the funding for dry-berthing the Battleship Texas.
With your help and cooperation, Battleship Texas Foundation is closer than we have ever been to helping to place the world's last dreadnought into a dry berth.
And in conjunction with that dry berth project, the visitors center will do something that has never been done out there before, and that is to provide a central focal point for not only the battleground and the museum, but also for the Battleship in a way that allows the visiting public to see the entire sweep of history that's represented at the San Jacinto Battleground, the Battleship and the museum.
I thank you very much, and would stand ready to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thanks, Steve. Thank you very much.
MR. HOWELL: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Will Kirkpatrick up, David Pryor next.
MR. KIRKPATRICK: Good afternoon, my name is Will Kirkpatrick, and I would like for you to join me on a short but very expensive journey. In 2002, Phil Durocher asked me to set up a meeting with the local Hemphill influentials to gain support for a new fish hatchery to be built on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
October 29th, I picked up Mr. Durocher and Saul at the airport; we then attended a meeting where Mr. Durocher explained the new hatchery would cost $13-1/2 million for 50 ponds, all related infrastructure and buildings required for the project, and take up approximately 117 acres of land, which was to be provided by the Sabine River Authority. The only holdup was the pond-pumping cost of $85,000 a year.
In February 2004, Commissioner Parker asked me to represent Texas Freshwater Anglers at a meeting to be held at Martin Dies State Park, to explain the new hatchery location bidding process, with an estimated total of $16 to $20 million.
Shortly after this meeting, Mr. Durocher phoned me at home to request I stay out of the hatchery issue, as he didn't want it to become political and he would like some other comments.
On June 15, 2004, the San Augustine County Judge and myself attended a meeting at Athens, Texas, where we met with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation Hatchery Site Selection Board. At this time we became concerned with the overall selection process, due to previous knowledge that the site chairman had committed ‑‑ was convicted of violations of federal laws.
We stand here today with a 42-pond hatchery that's smaller than the original concept of 50 ponds, which would have cost $13-1/2 million, there was an $85,000 electrical pumping cost, which over a 50-year period would be $4-1/4 million. So ground it out, we've got $17.75 million for the hatchery on Toledo Bend.
The plans used for Toledo Bend were incorporated in a San Augustine County site using 110 acres, with a hill rising 12 feet, which was suitable for gravity-feed storage.
The location would have cost considerably less due to no groundwater issues, flatness of the land, proximity to the lake and tie-in with Stephen F. Austin State University. Today's hatchery project's overall cost is estimated, for ponds and all associated building and infrastructure, at $29,585,593.
It would still be required to pump water since a true siphon will not work; freshwater anglers are being forced to pay $11.7 million more than originally planned, for a project that will require more maintenance, and after four years still does not have a proper roadway, plus takes up additional land due to construction and design issues.
If that's not enough, anglers have been required to pay, and you may not know this, out an additional $5.4 million to service the bonds that shouldn't have been required in the first place.
We appreciate you bringing your meeting to Houston, and if you'd like to listen to more about this, KILT Radio tomorrow morning, "If Nature Calls," between 4:00 and 6:00 on 610 AM radio. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thanks, Mr. Kirkpatrick. David Pryor is up, and I believe Jim Smarr if I'm saying that right, is next.
MR. PRYOR: Yes, I'm David Pryor, and I'd like to address the vegetation on Lake Conroe. You know, back in the '80s they put the grass carp in there and they ate up all the vegetation, and then they came up with a program where they were dropping Christmas trees, and ‑‑ you know, out of an honor and a privilege, I got to go help drop the Christmas trees so that the fingerlings and the small, you know, fish could get in there and grow up.
Well, you know, it was like Christmas for those fish, Man, you know, because they ‑‑ it was a place for them to hide. Then finally those grass carp from the '80s, they died out, and then now they put new grass carp in there, and the vegetation's going away again.
So I'm hoping that our fish are not going to go away again or it's going to become a big mudhole at Lake Conroe, but really my main question is, I think there's a law right now when you catch a grass carp, you have to put it back. Could we catch them and dispose of them again?
And then get them all out of there, so they don't eat all the grass up? So our little fish can go back and grow up to be big fish. And that's all I got to say.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
MR. PRYOR: And Go Texans.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Jim, you're up; and we know Jim. Sorry, Jim, couldn't read the writing, there. Good to see you. And Andrew Kasner is next.
MR. SMARR: For the record, I'm Jim Smarr, I'm here representing the Recreational Fishing Alliance, State of Texas. I come here to say thank you to Parks and Wildlife, and Chairman and the Commission for all the work you've dedicated staff. As the federal government has continually restricted fisheries in the EEZ, while allowing commercial fishermen to be given an honor system 365-day red snapper fishery, unlike the recreational 64-day season, Texas Parks and Wildlife early on restricted commercial fishing anglers and gave them the same limit as we have in state waters. I commend the Commission for that.
We're pleased to say that TPWD has been very helpful with setting up an in-shore reefing system and allowing the local people to participate. Alabama understood habitat and is now reaping the rewards of early efforts by landing over 40 percent of the red snapper caught in the Gulf of Mexico from a very small coastline.
Texas ‑‑ I have to commend the Commission, Texas is beginning to get into that play, and we are appreciative of being a partner there.
Parks and Wildlife's been very helpful in allowing RFA to honor John Cowan, wildlife artist extraordinaire, with an artificial reef in his honor to be placed in the reefing area, one of TPWD's designated areas. Jack was very pleased to be honored with the gift that keeps on giving, as he told me just before he passed away this year.
Texas Parks and Wildlife recently sent a delegation to Washington on behalf of recreational fishermen. The red snapper issue, as Mike Nugent said from the Port A Boatmen's, has come to critical mass at this point, as the federal government via NMFS has attempted to control permitted recreational vessels in Texas territorial waters.
I'd like to thank the Commission for sending Commissioner John Parker and Robin Riechers as ambassadors of Texas to speak to our Congressional delegation. I'm getting word back from the Texas delegation that they did a fine job, Mr. Chairman, and I'm pleased with that. They even spoke to Chairman Bordallo, and she is willing to move forward. So I think you all in Florida might be on a little steadier ground than you think. I appreciate that.
I wish that Florida and Texas would push hard to maintain the in-shore fishery so that our charter captains can maintain, you know, their lifestyle in Texas waters. I think that this probably will have to go to judicial review. I don't want to see the RFA do a lawsuit. You know, I would like to see Florida and Texas join in and take the federal government to task over this.
I think that the fishing groups should step back and let you guys wrestle the bear and let us help you however we can. And I really appreciate sending the Commissioner and staff; I know that Coastal Fisheries worked very hard on this issue. And we got a lot of work to do. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Jim. I appreciate it, and yes, Robin and Commissioner Parker and everybody's focused on it here at TPW, and ‑‑ but as we all know, it just ‑‑ sometimes it just takes a lot of time. And I know that affects people that, you know, have to make a living every day. So ‑‑
MR. SMARR: Yes, sir. Congress is very tuned in though ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Hopefully ‑‑
MR. SMARR: ‑‑ so I believe you're going to get some help. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ yes. And we'll keep working. Thank you, Kim. Andrew Kasner up next, and Linda Shead after that.
MR. KASNER: Thank you, Commissioners for your time today. I'm the Director of Bird Conservation and Deputy Director of Audubon Texas. And I want to thank you first of all for the partnership of your agency with us in the efforts that we have throughout Texas for bird conservation. You've been a very important partner for many years, and we thank you for that.
I'm also an avid saltwater fisherman and hunter, and so I thank you for supporting my habit as well.
I just want to read a quick statement: "Audubon Texas has partnered with various organizations including the Parks and Wildlife Department for many years to manage and protect colonial water birds all along the Texas coast. We lease and manage over 13,000 acres of islands, containing greater than 80 percent of Texas coastal water bird colonies.
"We have multiple staff and a budget of approximately $200,000 per year that we invest in this public trust resource all along the Texas coast.
"Nesting success is considered the most limiting factor in the recovery of declining water bird populations, so we focus our efforts on increasing nest success by improving habitat, and protecting nesting birds from known causes of failure.
"The main cause of nest failure and colony abandonment in many areas is frequent and repetitive human disturbance. Increasing numbers of recreational users of Texas bays encounter water bird nesting islands, often getting close enough to the islands to disturb the birds by scaring them off their nests, leading to egg predation, egg overheating, and nest abandonment.
"Water bird populations, many of which are priority species in the state's Wildlife Action Plan will continue to decline and disappear in many areas where this is an increasing problem.
"We're expanding and diversifying our efforts to educate the public about colonial water birds and other coastal natural resources, and acknowledge the Department's efforts and partnerships with us in helping achieve that goal.
"However, there remains an increasingly urgent need for the establishment of a recognized distance from which people should stay from nesting islands, only while nesting birds are present, in order to prevent nest failure.
"We ask the Commission to clarify its commitment to protect water bird resources on the Texas coast by broadening the scope of what constitutes disturbance to nesting water birds beyond the actual destruction of a nest, and inclusion of a recommended distance from water bird nesting islands to prevent disturbance that leads to nest and colony failure.
"We will gladly continue to work with the Department biologists and staff to determine reasonable distances for protection of water bird colonies, and we're committed to continue to educate recreational users about these colonial water birds issues, and their importance to the health of coastal ecosystem as a whole."
And with that, I thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And great, Andrew, thank you. Just want to remind everybody again, please. If you have cell phones or BlackBerries or whatever, if you could turn them off, I think it somehow disturbs all the electronics around here, so.
Linda Shead up next, and then Kirby Brown.
MS. SHEAD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners for ‑‑ once again we're all thanking you for coming out to the Houston area ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MS. SHEAD: ‑‑ and giving folks a chance to be here without all of us going en masse to Austin, we know it's a time and effort for you but we really appreciate it.
My name is Linda Shead and I'm Director of the Coastal and Southeast Texas office of the Trust for Public Land. With our slogan, To Conserve Land for People, we obviously share a great deal in common with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and have worked extensively with the Department on a number of projects.
We have offices in central Texas and have worked heavily with the Government Canyon project, we have office in North Texas and are currently working with the Department on Palo Duro Canyon.
We have local parks grants work with, for example, Corpus Christi that we're working with on Oso Bay right now, so our reach is across Texas, and we do appreciate our partnership with the Department.
I want to emphasize some of the same things that many people have said to you before. We have an incredibly growing population in Texas, and the 3.5 million in 30 years or whatever number, whichever forecast turns out to be right, and how fast that's going to happen.
But with that kind of growth, with approaching 90 percent of our population living in urban areas now, and with 94 percent of our land being in private hands, we need to work harder on making lands available, park lands available for our urban populations.
And so I want to emphasize the importance of that, and part of doing that is to maintain a commitment to your land and water conservation plan, getting a state park close to these large urban areas.
Without those kinds of parks, many of our youth are going to grow up with the famous Nature Deficit Disorder. You know, if they don't have access close to home, they're not going to learn how to hunt and fish; you know, they're not going to learn to appreciate our resources. They're not going to support funding for your Department to continue and go forward to protect those resources.
We need to make that access more possible for these kids. One of the ways to do that is to continue also funding for the Parks Grants programs, making those parks close to home in addition to the state parks. At the Trust for Public Land we often talk about the funding quilt; that's what it takes. It takes a partnership. It's not going to be all you; it's not going to be all local government, it's not going to be all federal government.
But we all have to chip in together to make it happen. The Trust for Public Land will join many of the groups here in the room that have helped work with The Park People and George Bristol's Texas ‑‑ oh, I'm going to say it wrong, but anyway, George Bristol's group, to help with getting your funding for this.
It is so critical that we do this, and that we maintain the state share of that funding quilt, and it's not just for those youth, it's also for the economic benefits. I know that you've seen the studies, I know you've seen Dr. Crompton's work showing the economic benefit of Galveston Island State Park, for example, the other statewide ‑‑ was it Perryman that did the other one, that showed the economic benefits.
And the Trust for Public Land has resources, and I'll make sure that you all get a copy of "The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space." Because this is not just a feel-good green thing; it's also an economic benefit to our state, that we need to maintain.
So once again, thank you very much for being here. We appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Linda, thank you very much, and thank you for all you do, working with us. It is a true collaboration.
Kirby Brown, and after that I think it's ‑‑ I think I'm saying it, Luci Correa is up next.
MR. BROWN: Thank you Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Kirby Brown, the Executive Vice President of Texas Wildlife Association, and our members are landowners, land managers, hunters, conservationists, and an increasing number of educators, who own and control almost 35 ‑‑ over 35 million acres of Texas.
And I know you all know about our advocacy at TWA, but it's our working relationship with Parks and Wildlife that we appreciate most, and our members do. We very much appreciate working with the staff and the Commission.
On the Hunting Heritage side of ‑‑ we have three banners, Advocacy, Hunting Heritage, and Conservation Legacy. On the Hunting Heritage banner we're very proud of our partnerships that we have with you in Texas Big Game awards and the increasing number of big game that have been recognized this last year, and Mr. Chairman, you recall we had 20 Texas Grand Slams this year ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. BROWN: ‑‑ which is the most we've ever had. That's just a testament to what's happening in Texas with hunting and with wildlife management.
Also, under the Texas Youth Hunting program, again a great partnership that we have with Parks and Wildlife, and you heard a couple young people today that were here and talked about that. What a great opportunity to take kids from the inner city, and we take about 350 from Houston itself, hunting, all of them for their first time, and it's ‑‑ that's a great thing.
We appreciate the partnership with you, and on our Conservation Legacy banner in education, we do appreciate the work that the staff has done in many of the things that we cooperate with in putting on activities like the Wind and Wildlife Conference, the recent Trans-Pecos Wildlife Conference out in Alpine that was this last week; and those were truly innovative type of programs that really bring adult education to the forefront.
But also, we've got our youth education programs, our lands program, "Learning Across New Dimensions in Science" is raising on preimposed test scores, raising TAKS scores 20 and 25 points, on science scores in the seventh and eighth graders. That's an incredible bunch of progress that we're seeing, and we hope to continue to expand that.
And we hope that we might work with you, at the Commission and with the staff, in basically putting outdoor education and conservation education in the schools during this coming Legislative Session.
And now I'm going to change my other hat real quick, because I also operate as Chairman of Texas Outdoor Partners, which is hunting and fishing groups, and we want to ‑‑ and other conservation groups. We want to say thank you to you and especially to the staff, Carter Smith, Gene McCarty, Scott Boruff, in working to incorporate a lot of our recommendations into the LAR.
We appreciate that very much and we think that's very powerful that you all have adopted those and are moving forward.
And finally, we all want to thank you for your service on this Commission. We know it's hard work, and we know what you do and the amount of time that you put into it, and we greatly appreciate it. I mean, it's tremendous and we want to thank the staff at Parks and Wildlife for all they do.
Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Kirby. Appreciate you coming over.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Mr. Chairman, can I say something?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Kirby, we wanted to thank you for your incredible commitment with the youth as well. You know, without the testimony of these young individuals here, well, you know, they're going to be following right behind us, and so thank you for your great leadership on that.
MR. BROWN: Thank you. Good young people, really ‑‑
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: They are.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Always good to hear from them. Thank you. I have Luci Correa up, and Sandra Strachan ‑‑ I may be pronouncing it wrong and I apologize.
MS. HEMBY: Luci's observing today.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm sorry?
MS. HEMBY: Luci's observing today.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, Luci's observing. Sandra? Did I say that right? Is there a Sandra?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, ma'am. You want to come up?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Joe Turner.
MR. TURNER: Certainly.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Come on, Joe. And then Trey Strake on standby after Joe.
MR. TURNER: I always have something to say. Commissioner Holt, Commissioners, on behalf of Mayor White and our city council, welcome to Houston and some of our liquid sunshine. We're very happy to have that; we had an event this past Friday, that you ‑‑ Texas Parks and Wildlife was a partner where we opened Keith-Weiss Park and we created a 100-acre detention pond in it, and it was fitting; it absolutely poured down rain, and I said, "What better process or what better opening could we have with a flood detention program than a rain to open it," and it was wonderful.
MR. TURNER: We also thank you and we know you haven't had a lot of these meetings outside of Austin, and we really thank you for that. I'd also like to thank you for allowing the six large cities and the seven large counties, working with Tim Hogsett and his department in formulating the Large Urban Grant Program that we operate under now.
We had a great workshop that was facilitated by Andy Sansom in San Marcos, and we have a program we think that's workable.
I'd also like to thank our local staff we work with so much here in Houston; they're a great resource to us, particularly Diana Foss and our bat program that we operate here on Buffalo Bayou.
Of course, always Scott is very supportive of us, Walt, we put up with Walt ‑‑ what can I say? Walt's a great partner, and then Justin Rhodes, who's just moved in here, we're happy to be working with him.
I thought I would, though, give you an update on our partnership. You know, our partnership actually started two years ago with the transfer of Lake Houston State Park to the City of Houston. And it's right at two years since that has happened. And quickly to give you a quick update:
In October we put out a nationwide RFP looking for someone to do the master plan for that park; it was down to four firms, SWA of Houston, Wink Associates of Denver, Colorado; Shakemaps Associates of Boulder, Colorado, and Portico of Seattle, Washington.
I never pick a consultant but I sit through all those and one of the questions that was asked in each one was, "Why would you want this project?" And the answer was, "There's nothing else like this in the country right now."
This 4,900, 4,700, 4,800 some-hundred acre park we have, we will know that at the end of this month, we have actually had that entire park surveyed, and that survey is coming at the end of this month and we will be able to tell you exactly how many acres we both own.
But as we work through that, SWA is our master consultant on that, they're working through of course the archeological, the environmental regulatory, the ecological, the transportation system; I mentioned the boundary survey; we have market analysis of how we're going to use that park, and then an eco-economic analysis also on this park.
Currently we have $4-1/2 million that was transferred to get this park started by Mayor White, along with our partner, Commissioner Ed Rinehart, who's at Precinct 4. This park will also ‑‑ two years ago actually we started this program ‑‑ real quickly, four years ago, two years ago of course we transferred it in. But within the last year, because we're working with the park itself, and of course it feeds ‑‑ the streams feed through Lake Houston, this is our major water source for the City of Houston.
So this park is going to play a major role, from an environmental standpoint, in protecting our water supply. And so I'd like to leave you with one quote, if I can find it real quick, the quote says ‑‑ Well, before I say it, I'd just like to tell you, we support Texas Parks and Wildlife, of course in the next Legislative Session in the budget, in the development, and particularly of urban land acquisition for us in this part of the world, and conservation.
And the quote I'll leave you with is: "The values we care about the deepest and the movements within society to support those values command our love. When those things that we care about so deeply become endangered, we become enraged, and what a healthy thing that is. Without it, we would never stand up and speak out for what we believe."
Hopefully we'll do all that for you. That quote, if you don't know it, is from Mr. Rogers and "The World According to Mr. Rogers," and a person who actually does that day in and day out for us in this part of the world is this man sitting right here.
Shannon Tompkins is probably one of the best supporters you've got of Texas Parks and Wildlife, and I just want to ‑‑
MR. TURNER: ‑‑ acknowledge that. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Thank you, Joe.
Trey Strake up, John Powers next. Trey?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No Trey?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: John Powers, and then Jane Dembski after that.
MR. POWERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. My name is John Powers. I serve the Community Associations of The Woodlands as its assistant general manager.
I'm here today to provide some comment on three different topics. First, I want to thank you for holding the meeting here in Houston. I applaud your effort to reach out to communities around the state and afford more citizens the opportunity to interact with the Commission.
I encourage you to continue this practice.
Secondly, regarding your agenda items number 10, 13 and 14 that you'll be considering tomorrow: These are grant-funding items, and I ask that you support the staff recommendations for funding the projects.
Item Number 10, one of those benefits the residents of May Valley, an area within The Woodlands served by MUD 386. These residents will benefit greatly from your matching funds from the Outdoor Recreation Grant Fund, and the development of an area park and the protection and conservation of a natural creek.
I would point out that 16 projects qualified, but there was only funding for eight of those. One of the recommended trail projects on your agenda item number 13 is sponsored by The Woodlands Association, one of the associations that I serve.
This trail will be an extension and an enhancement to an existing trail within the George Mitchell Nature Preserve. The preserve is 1,800 acres of natural forest that straddles Harris and Montgomery Counties, with Spring Creek running through the middle. It's a beautiful and important natural area, and thousands of people are using the trail each month.
With this grant, we will be able to extend and enhance and improve the trail, and leveraging your funding through a significant natural asset.
Speaking of Spring Creek, your agenda item number 14 includes funds for Montgomery County, Spring Creek Parkway Phase 2. I believe the Spring Creek Parkway, or the Greenway, is the most significant public recreation and conservation project in the state to occur in recent history.
The Greenway will preserve and connect 12,000 acres of a very valuable and diverse ecosystem. I strongly support the continued acquisition and development of the Spring Creek Greenway. It takes great vision, leadership, dedication, and money to make such great projects happen.
I must say on a personal note that I am opposed to appropriation riders that take money from the Texas Recreation Parks Account. I believe you have a fair and equitable competitive process in place. I'm very conflicted, as the Spring Creek Greenway is a tremendous project worthy of millions of dollars, and the George Mitchell Preserve is connected to and part of that Spring Creek.
Therefore, I understand the desire to ensure its funding through appropriation riders. I just think that these funds ought to come from somewhere else besides the TRPA Account.
State and federal funding is vital to parks and recreation to our overall quality of life. So in closing, I ask your support to protect the sporting goods sales tax revenue, which is the lifeblood of the TRPA Account. Let us not let the list of sporting goods identified be diminished which would adversely impact local and state parks. Please protect, if not enhance, what was established in the 80th Session of the Legislature.
And finally, I greatly appreciate the great works of the Commission, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and I thank each Commissioner for your dedication and leadership to the great State of Texas.
I would like to acknowledge personally the great work that Walt Dabney and Tim Hogsett does for us; they're great professionals and a great asset to all of us in the Parks and Recreation of Texas. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right, thank you. Thank you, John.
Jane Dembski up, and Dana Larson after that.
MS. DEMBSKI: Good afternoon, and thank you for being here, welcome to Houston. I'm going to be brief, because everybody has said what I'm going to say or what I would like to say.
I'm representing the City of Bellaire. We have a grant going on right now, and we appreciate you all giving that to us. We're in the process and we hope to have a beautiful park in the next couple years to be completed.
I'm also representing the Texas Recreation and Park Society. I'm a past president; John Powers is also a past president, Sally Gadlik is also a past president, and Doug Evans is our current president. And we want to tell you that we just thoroughly enjoy the partnership that we have with Texas Parks and Wildlife, and we'll see you at the next Legislative Session. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great, thank you. Thank you for your support.
Dana Larson up, and Tom Hilton after that.
MR. LARSON: Chairman Holt, Commissioners, Mr. Smith. Thank you for coming to Houston. Today I have a single request: I request that Parks and Wildlife Departments begin to comply with all of the provisions of the Sports Fish Restoration Act. Good chance that some of you individuals are not familiar with this Act. Maybe because it's been submerged for a while.
The basic premise of this Act for 60 years has been user-pay, user-benefit. The user benefits as mandated by this Act are protection, restoration, enhancement of fisheries and their habitats. The SFR Act and several related acts have provided the Department over the 60 last years with over a quarter billion dollars.
This last year alone, the Department has received $19.9 million. There's no question that offshore fishers and divers have paid more than their fair share of these taxes that fund this Act.
By any reasonable interpretation of the Department's own mandate's data, offshore fisheries and habitats should have received $3 million. It appears, however, that in the year 2008, the Department has not expended any funds from SFR to offshore habitats, or in 2007 or 2006, or ever.
In ‑‑ recently I started ‑‑ tried to verify this and I submitted FOIA, Freedom of Information Act, request to the Department, then to the distributor of these funds, the Albuquerque Regional Division of Fish and Wildlife, and then finally Department of Interior.
Got a response back from Department of Interior, and they said they had absolutely no documentation whatsoever on SFR. And because they didn't have anything, that satisfied my FOIA request.
This in spite of the fact that in the Act it is mandated that the state do audits every year; the distributor of the funds, Fish and Wildlife, do audits every two years.
Finally, I hope that the Commissioners share my belief that the Department should not only be law-abiding but should also be fully accountable and transparent. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, I wrote a note. Thank you.
Tom Hilton. And then next up after that, Ed, if I can read it here, I think, Parton, after that. Tom.
MR. HILTON: Commissioners, my name is Tom Hilton, I'm here from Houston. I'm a free-ranging Aggie and I sure appreciate you all coming over here, because Austin's out of my range today.
MR. HILTON: I'd like to speak to you about a couple of items, both relating to the Gulf fisheries management. As you know, the federal fisheries management is trying to force Texas into complying with federal regulations.
If their data was based on clear and justifiable science I would back that move, but frankly what they're trying to do is a political move. It has no basis in scientific fact, so the National Marine Fisheries Service has basically micro-managed the harvest of the fishery for years now, and they've never really done anything in regards to providing habitat.
Like Mr. Brown intimated a while ago, when you're managing wildlife, managing the hunters is one aspect, but you also have to provide adequate habitat for all types of wildlife, and Texas Parks and Wildlife has been very successful in your efforts, much more so than the National Marine Fisheries Service has ever done.
So I would urge you strongly to stand firm against the federal push to make ‑‑ mandate federal guidelines to be upheld inside of state waters.
Secondly, I'm here representing a private entity, Reefman, LLC, and I would like to commend Texas Parks and Wildlife artificial reefing director Dale Shively, and John Embesi from the Dickinson office in helping to establish a ten-acre tract in the Vancouver site, it's nine nautical miles south of the Freeport jetties.
They've allocated a Reefman, LLC, reefing area to begin the implementation of Texas Parks and Wildlife near-shore reefing project; we're going to have the Jack Cowan Reefing Complex located inside of this area as well.
Studies on the eastern Gulf has shown that for every dollar invested in reefing, the cost-benefit ratio is an astounding 100 to 1 annually. So we're planning on placing $500,000 from private funding sources, per year, in the next five years, into providing habitat in Texas Parks and Wildlife already-permitted reefing areas.
That equates to $50 million per year, cumulative, as a benefit to Texas coastal communities, so it's very important for Texas to stand firm, because if we lose our state fishing rights and kowtow to the federal mandates, it's going to severely impact that very big project that's on the horizon for us. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Ed, I don't know if I got Ed's last name right, sorry. And then next up after Ed is Geoffrey Castro.
MR. PARTEN: Greetings, thank you sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
MR. PARTEN: Hopefully I can speak better than I can write.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I don't have very good eyesight.
MR. PARTEN: That's no problem. Actually if I really put my real name it would be, Fat, Bald and Ugly, but you wouldn't have called that, so I just said, Ed Parton, like Dolly Parton. Not going to say I'm important but I sing better than her. But everybody sings better than Dolly Parton.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, I like Dolly Parton, now.
MR. PARTEN: Now, I didn't say you didn't like her, I just said she couldn't sing.
MR. PARTEN: All right. Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak, for being here. It's been an awesome pleasure working with Texas Parks and Wildlife for over 30 years. I reminisced today that I had the pleasure of sitting down with the great Bob Kemp, many years ago, start talking about a very liberal fish limit, possession limit of 15 fish.
And we've seen that that's been reduced, and the effects have been astounding; the efforts by Inland Fisheries from that period of time to today has been monumental, whatever the word is ‑‑ I can't even talk.
But anyway, it's been awesome and I want to say, thank you.
What I'm here today to tell you is that I am with Texas Black Bass Unlimited, and we are endeavoring to accomplish a feat in the City of Humble to open a new fishing lake with the help of Inland Fisheries and TPWD,
for youth to fish in.
We are very excited about it, it's easily accessible, we're working with the City of Humble, Harris County, Commissioner Jerry Eversole, other people, and we're looking forward to an extremely beautiful facility, a place that can accommodate some 200 kids at one time to be able to fish, and that it's been a long time coming but we can see just around the corner that this is a possibility or A probability, and we're excited about it, and we would like to encourage Mr. Carter Brown ‑‑ Smith, Jones, whatever ‑‑
MR. PARTEN: Carter, I get up here and I get nervous. You wouldn't think somebody as big and ugly would get nervous before a bunch of people, but I do.
But anyway, long story short, we look for a great working relationship with Phil Durocher and his people ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right. Good.
MR. PARTEN: ‑‑ and a chance to make this dream come true. And I just wanted you guys to know that you have a lot to be proud of, in the people that are in the field.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
MR. PARTEN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Appreciate your taking the time. Geoffrey Castro, and then Mary Ann ‑‑ boy, I can't read this one. Anyway, Mary Ann.
MR. CASTRO: Good afternoon, and welcome to Houston.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sorry, all right. Yes, sir. Go ahead.
MR. CASTRO: My name's Geoffrey Castro, and I'm here representing the Council for Environmental Education. CEE is a nationally-recognized leader in environmental education. It's been a nonprofit more than 35 years, and has provided environmental education programs and services that promote the stewardship of the environment, and further the capacity of learners to make informed decisions.
Each year CEE's benchmark programs provide materials and training workshops to more than 50,000 educators who reach millions of young people each year with essential information about conservation and the environment.
I'm here today to show our appreciation for the leadership Texas Parks and Wildlife has given Project Wild, CEE's benchmark program which is one of the most widely-used conservation and environmental education programs among educators and students across the nation.
It is based on the premise that young people and educators have a vital interest in learning about our natural world, and addressing the need for human beings to develop as responsible citizens of our planet.
Project Wild is administered through every U.S. wildlife agency, and through Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas is the largest provider of Project Wild in the entire United States. Within the last two years alone, in Houston, TPWD has provided training and materials to over 800 teachers, who've reached over 41,000 students.
Receiving many accolades from participating teachers, we hope that your support of this program continues, as it serves a great need in our urban community, and furthers the growing movement to connect children and nature. Thank you so much for your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right, thank you. Thank you for what you do. I didn't realize you did that much outreach.
Mary Ann, and ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Piacentini. Very good. Is that how you pronounce it?
MS. PIACENTINI: Close, I'm Mary Ann Piacentini ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Very good.
MS. PIACENTINI: ‑‑ I better give everyone Italian lessons, here.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, definitely. And, sorry, Rick Behrend will be on standby, thanks.
Sorry. Go ahead, Mary Ann.
MS. PIACENTINI: I'm the executive director of the Katy Prairie Conservancy. We're a nonprofit land trust, we're working to protect the Katy Prairie for people and wildlife.
The Katy Prairie is home to hundreds of species of wildlife, and native plants, and is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world: the prairie system. To borrow a phrase from one of our partners in the winter we have ducks and geese, virtually unlimited; and we are a partner with Ducks Unlimited in lots of things that we do.
We're just about 30 miles west of downtown Houston, what's left of the Katy Prairie. You can't drive there in 30 minutes, but you could fly there in 30 minutes.
But it's a reasonably accessible destination for Houstonians. Our extended family includes hunters and nature lovers from across Texas, and nature tourists from around the country and beyond.
We've all talked probably ad nauseam for you about the growth that Houston is experiencing, the 3.5 million people that we should have by 2035. But also they talk about Texas doubling its population. And places like the Katy Prairie are becoming more important as the state's urban and suburban populations grow.
There's a new study that the Katy Area Economic Development Council did, that said that by 2035, all of the vacant land in western Harris County will be developed.
That the only thing that will be left that's green is the Katy Prairie Preserve System, will be a sea of green in an island of suburban and urban development.
We ‑‑ green places such as the Katy Prairie are important not just for the recreational opportunities they provide and also for the wildlife habitat, but also because in our case, we provide flood reduction and increased water quality downstream.
We hope that those kinds of places will become cherished in every community across the state, if, and this is a big if, we can redouble our efforts right now. We all need more funding, and we hope that the Commission will continue to work with park advocates, with land trusts, with park-goers, to try to increase funding.
Not just to take care of the stewardship, the needs that you have in your existing parks and WMAs, but to increase those. Jane Jacobs, the author of the landmark book, The Death and Life of the Great American Cities, wrote in 1961 that big cities need real countryside close by.
Her observation is just as true today as it was then. But real countryside, strategically located does not come free, or even cheap. As Texas becomes an increasingly urban state, we need to devote adequate resources to making sure that prime countryside continues to be close by the places where Texans live. We need your help sooner rather than later. We all stand ready, but we hope that you will understand that acquisition funds are just as important as stewardship funds. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Thank you. Thank you, Mary Ann.
Rick Behrend up, and Bob Bruce next.
MR. BEHREND: Chairman Holt, fellow Commissioners, thank you for being here. I also want to thank the game wardens of South Texas, specifically Kinney and Kleberg County. My name is Rick Behrend; to my good friends I'm also known as Captain Ricky Ray.
And I only have one topic today and I hope you will give me your attention for that one topic, and that is, save the croaker; make the croaker a state game fish.
And then I'm going to relay a personal story that happened to me about a month ago down in Baffin Bay when I was wade-fishing a beautiful set of rocks on a Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m.
A guide boat pulled up, I'd say within 30 yards of me, with two paying couples on board, and he proceeded to hook all four lines with live croaker, including his own line, and over a period of 45 minutes, after upsetting me greatly, if which it was a good thing I did not have a gun, or his engine would be un-operational, I just thought I'd sit there and watch exactly what happened.
And over those 45 minutes he proceeded to pull out almost 35 to 40 live trout, weighing somewhere up to three to six pounds. And I thought about that for a moment as I watched him ‑‑ or, using the word, "fish" is kind of being too kind, as he proceeded to set the hook and reel in the fish basically for his clients, and take probably a good portion of female trout off that structure that I had been fishing prior to him coming up, I thought about two prior means of fishing that my grandfather told me about.
One was, throwing a live stick of dynamite in the water, and the other was, throwing an electrode in the water, both of which I believe are extremely illegal.
You know, guys, I think the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre are something that you as Commissioners ought to take a look at. It's an unbelievable estuary, it's something that is so unique on this Texas coast, that I wish you all would give it serious consideration.
I know you all have taken steps in the Lower Laguna Madre to lower the trout limit to five fish; you know the Upper Laguna Madre I think is just as important, and I hope you will focus your attention on that.
I have seen too many times where live croakers have been used by guides to basically decimate an area that was populated with trout. And if we're not careful, over the years ‑‑ because fishing pressure is only going to increase, we've heard about population growth today, so that is not going to go down, but I would hope that you all would manage this resource.
You know, it ‑‑ I have to drive down there and spend money but it's my pleasure to get away from these 3-1/2 million when I do that. So I would just like you all to take up that topic of making the croaker a state game fish, and thank you very much for your time, and I hope you come back to Houston.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Bob Bruce. And then after Bob, Larry Spasik.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Whoops, no Bob Bruce?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, Larry Spasik. I think I'm saying that right; is Larry here?
VOICE: He is.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: He is, okay. Great. And then Beth Robertson.
MR. SPASIK: As the oldest state-established historical organization onsite at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, and a partner with TPWD in preserving and interpreting this site, it is my pleasure to speak to you today.
It is my extraordinary privilege to even work at the San Jacinto Museum of History, and I want all of you to know that we are working very hard to raise the level of awareness about the intrinsic value of history to our citizens.
We will always keep in mind the kind of insightful understanding of history that the future deserves is whatever standard we hold ourselves accountable to today. The San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site has many elements to offer varied interests of the public, from the restored wetlands to nature trails, to the San Jacinto Monument and Museum, the Battleship Texas and the battlefield itself.
We want to honor the sacredness of this battlefield, and those who chose to sacrifice and risk their lives for the principles and freedoms which San Jacinto veterans stood and fought for.
Although the independence of Texas was won at this site, our freedoms will never be fully and forever won without continuing sacrifices. In this same way, the Battleship Texas rests here as a constant reminder that Texans and other Americans proudly fought for these same ideals.
This will always be the price required for keeping our hard-won principles of democracy. We should cherish the task of passing on our beliefs to all future generations, the history of fundamental truths, realized and obtained, sacrifices embraced, and to celebrate what has been required and met in our distant and more recent past, and eventually what will be required once again in the future.
We will help accomplish this through our educational mission at the San Jacinto Museum through a restored Battleship Texas, battlefield interpretation, a new visitors' center, and in time, a new museum.
We are proud of our past, and we look forward to an equally proud future. Let us set our aspirations high, but gentlemen and ladies, please let us also respect all the history of Texas, its citizens, its representatives, and the role of democracy involving this battlefield.
The Museum agrees with the San Jacinto Historical Advisory Board, the only state organization established to give guidance to the state on historical interpretation at the San Jacinto Battlefield. Leave the Battleship Texas where she sits, as Texas, and Texans intended.
Thank you for this opportunity of your time and attention.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Larry, thank you.
Beth Robertson, and next up, Deborah January Bevers, I think.
MR. RAFFLE: Let me speak. My name is Brad Raffle, chairman of the Houston Wilderness Organization, and Beth Robertson, who had to leave, is also on our board of Houston Wilderness, and ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. RAFFLE: ‑‑ make four quick points. I echo everybody else ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You're speaking for Beth is what you're doing?
MR. RAFFLE: Speaking for Beth, yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. RAFFLE: And for Houston Wilderness ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. RAFFLE: ‑‑ and wanted to again extend everybody's appreciation to you coming here to Houston. It's a thrill to have you here.
The points being: Houston Wilderness is a conglomeration of a variety of organizations, nonprofit, government organizations, citizens and government, as well as corporations, who have taken a newfound interest in protecting our natural systems.
And my main point I guess today is that I think there is a new and growing constituency for what we're all trying to achieve in terms of the pressure on green space we've been talking about today, including parks and natural areas as well.
Simply, on behalf of the board of Houston Wilderness, I want to say very directly to the Commission that there is strong support across the ‑‑ unanimous support for both the budget that we're seeking, for greater reliance on the sporting goods tax to support that budget ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.
MR. RAFFLE: ‑‑ as well as the incredible importance of bringing new funding to the table for land acquisition.
Several speakers here today from Diane Schenke and Bob Stokes and others, have talked about how important it is going to be for us to leverage funding.
Houston Wilderness is an organization that ‑‑ we've passed out our information here today to you, An Atlas of Biodiversity. It's the first book, we think, of its kind, and perhaps in Texas, that has described exactly how much ecological resource we have in this region.
And truly many of our citizens don't know about it, but they're beginning to learn about it. And so what we want to leave you with today is a little bit of information about Houston Wilderness, and all the incredible organizations we have. And resources we have to protect.
So I hope that you will take us up on our offer to be a very, very strong voice of support for what we think your funding needs are going to be in the upcoming Legislature, we are behind it, and we think there's a growing new constituency, not just hunters and not just fishermen, but as well, just citizens that are interested in protection of open space. So we're very, very glad you're here today. Thanks.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thanks. Sure, thank you for taking the time.
MR. RAFFLES: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. We will need your help.
Deborah? And then Tom Dornbusch after Deborah.
MS. JANUARY-BEVERS: Good afternoon. My name is Deborah January-Bevers. I am Executive Director of the Quality of Life Coalition. This coalition is made up of over 85 endorsing organizations in the City of Houston, Harris County area, many in fact of the civic groups that you've heard from today are included in that coalition.
Now, the coalition also includes a variety of business groups including the Greater Houston Partnership. And I'm not going to repeat what you've hard from many wonderful people today, but I did want to emphasize that the business community here is very much in collaboration and coalition in support with the civic community on parks.
The coalition works on four areas: parks and trails and open spaces. One of those areas, and we very much support increase in parks, particularly increase in state parks in our urban area, and we also want to urge that ‑‑ and let you know that we support your efforts in having sustained and increased budgets for purposes of establishing additional state parks, particularly in the much-needed urban area. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful, thank you.
Tom Dornbusch up, and Gina Donovan after that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Whoops. Tom?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Gina Donovan? And then next up after that, Linda Mercer.
MS. DONOVAN: Thank you, Commissioners, for the opportunity to address you this afternoon, and thank you very much for your dedicated service to the Texas Parks and Wildlife.
I am Gina Donovan, Executive Director of the Houston Audubon Society. And as others have mentioned this afternoon, and so eloquently spoken about issues of great concern to Houston Audubon, such as freshwater inflows, land conservation, state parks, fisheries, and turtles, I will concentrate my comments this afternoon on North Deer Island, wind energy and Texas Teaming with Wildlife.
Our organization has had many opportunities to partner with the Department on a number of successful projects, not the least of which was the recent North Deer Island partnership, which received a First Place Gulf Guardian Award.
We understand Carter Smith desires to continue these partnership efforts, and Houston Audubon looks extremely forward to working with the Department in protecting important habitat.
While the North Deer Island project was a huge success, and is considered one of the most productive water bird colonies in the state, it is threatened by Texas citizens robbing birds' nests of its tasty delicacy, the eggs.
We respectfully request the Department's wardens help us monitor these remarkable nesting areas, and levy strict penalties on those who disturb these protected areas.
For at least a year now, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Houston Audubon and numerous other groups have worked diligently to develop siding guidelines for wind farms. While we support wind energy, it is critical this alternative energy source meet siting criteria.
We hope the Department will continue its work on establishing these guidelines in partnership with stakeholder groups.
Houston Audubon is pleased to serve on the Texas Teaming with Wildlife Coalition steering committee, and trust the Department and the Commissioners will support this initiative to bring federal dollars to Texas for habitat conservation.
I would also like to echo the comments submitted by Bob Stokes of the Galveston Bay Foundation regarding land conservation. We wholeheartedly support the Department's desire for land acquisition.
I'd like to thank the Commissioners again for their dedicated service to Texas Parks and Wildlife, and for bringing the public hearing here to Houston. Houston Audubon looks very forward to partnering with the Department in conserving critical wildlife habitat for our children's future. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful, Gina. Thank you.
Linda Mercer up, and Brad Raffle on standby.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No Linda?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Brad Raffle?
MR. RAFFLE: I just spoke.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Bill Bahr? Bill, and then Ray Dietrich up after that.
MR. BAHR: Good afternoon. My name is Bill Bahr, and I want to thank the Chairman and the Commissioners for being here today. I've not done this before so if I'm a little nervous, please forgive me.
I'm here today to share not only my concerns but the concerns of many of my fellow recreational fishermen about the fight that the state and specifically you guys are in with the Feds, over the right to manage our state waters, our fisheries.
When I get ready to go offshore fishing, I usually prepare by doing a number of shopping trips. I go to Academy for fishing tackle; I buy my diesel fuel from Bucky's; I get food and drink from Kroger's; I buy 100 or so gallons of gas from my marina operator; I buy bait and ice from Bridge Bait & Tackle.
The total for this little shopping trip is about $640. I usually take about 25 trips a year, and so you can do the math, that's about $16,000. And that's just to put a line in the water; that doesn't count the cost of boat ownership, insurance, and maintenance.
My days as a recreational fisherman will come to a swift and somewhat painful end if my wife ever hears me talk about these numbers.
MR. BAHR: But in all seriousness, if you multiply this money that I spend every year, times just 1,000 boaters, 1,000 recreational fishermen, that comes to $16 million. And I can assure you, and as you already know, that's a very conservative estimate of the dollar impact that offshore fishing has on our local Texas economy.
Many recreational fishermen like me feel very strongly that we need to continue the work that you're doing: that is, promoting the programs to keep our fisheries healthy, to support our recreational fishing industry and all the businesses that it impacts.
We need I think to continue managing our Texas fisheries with Texas resources, and with Texas-based research, science and data. I want to echo what Jim Smarr and what Tom Hilton have already said also; we need to take some lessons from the success stories of our neighboring Gulf states, who've provided reefing infrastructure and it has been very successful.
So I want to thank the Commission again for the fight that you've put up so far, I know it takes a lot of political backbone, I want to urge you to continue that fight, we are behind you 100 percent. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, and appreciate your support. We won't tell your wife.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Ray Dietrich ‑‑
MR. DIETRICH: I'm Ray Dietrich, I'm an outdoorsman, been out there since the '40s. I want to address the flounders. As you know, the creel reports and for years the numbers have been way down; and I think the only way we can restore our numbers to what they were 20 years back is to take the flounder out of the supermarkets or fish markets; in other words, you want to buy a flounder, it's going to have to be a privately pond-raised fish.
And my understanding is that a commercial fisherman can possess 200 flounder, while the average recreational fisherman can take 20, or ten, whatever the number is now. So we need to address the commercial fisherman.
I don't want to deprive him of a livelihood, but let him address something else as far as his living is concerned, you know, we had the redfish once upon a time, and the speckled trout was sold in the fish market and the supermarket. They were taken out, and those numbers have greatly increased.
Now a guy could go saltwater fishing and almost guaranteed to catch speckled trout or redfish. Well, flounder, maybe one to three per year, and that's not a very good ratio.
The other thing I want to address is, cormorants. Cormorants are a protected bird, and you see them living on lakes, by the thousands. I visited Lake Somerville about two years ago, three years ago and I swear there was over 10,000 birds that I saw on that thing. And now I'm hearing people who fish Lake Somerville say, "Well, we're not catching any white bass."
Where did they go to? Well, I told them, with the cormorants around, you're not going to catch any fish because they're great hunters.
I have seven stock ponds for my cattle. And when I have cormorants around, you walk the edges of your ponds, and you will find dead trout that are floating because they have a chunk of meat cut out of their back, by cormorants. And that fish when it died, nobody could catch it.
And the other thing is, I had a recent occurrence at my ranch in Kearns County, that the neighbor approached me and said, "Well, I bought the property next door, and I want to put up a high fence." "You do, okay. Go ahead." He said, "Well, don't you want to share this?" I said, "No, you want me to shoot you now or later? Because I don't believe in high fences."
MR. DIETRICH: I think the deer are open to roam, and you put that high fence in there, they're going to cut me off on one side. It would be one mile long. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Here ‑‑ Mr. Dietrich, were you aware that you can apply for a permit to shoot cormorants?
MR. DIETRICH: Sir?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Were you aware that you can apply for a permit to shoot cormorants on your property?
MR. DIETRICH: I know that if you are in the business of raising fish for sale, that you can shoot them, yes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, you don't have to be in the business, to ‑‑ of raising fish.
MR. DIETRICH: Well, if ‑‑
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: If you're interested, you should contact Jennifer Brennan at the Department, who can give you the paperwork to apply for a permit for cormorant control.
MR. DIETRICH: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, sir.
Larry Oaks? And then after that, Patricia Dement. Larry?
MR. OAKS: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission I bring you greetings from the 17 commissioners of the Texas Historical Commission. It's my pleasure to be here.
You know, as Texans we live in a very special place, and I don't think any of you are going to disagree with me. In fact, if you'll excuse the French, there ain't no place that's got such a sense of place as Texas.
And the reason that sense of place is there, really reflects yours and the Texas Historical Commission's responsibilities of stewardship.
It's all about the landscape, and the place that we live, and the people who have occupied it for 12,000 years.
So my message to you today is going to be very brief, but it's to give you an update in a couple of areas. But it's basically about how well our partnership is going, and how we have to work together to not only save those assets that we have, but to manage them in an effective way by sensitively using them for the benefit of people here in Texas.
So let me just give you a little bit of update on ‑‑ particularly I noticed Lydia sitting over here, I ‑‑ earlier today; one of the major programs that we continue to work with you and with Carter, in fact we had a meeting just four or five days ago, about the new goals for the coming year, is tourism in Texas.
We've gone through a branding exercise and we've got this new tag line, and it's "Real Places, Telling the Real Stories." So we have to work together to make sure that the places are saved that are important, that are character-defining to us as a people; but we have to do more than save them, we have to work together to make sure that those stories are told in ways that the interpretation is exciting to not only Texans but people who are coming to the state for the state's second-largest industry, and that is tourism.
So I report to you that the ‑‑ our staffs continue to work together, they work very effectively, and we're building a great program of tourism in the state. Of course, our niche on that is, heritage tourism. We luckily have just received a $9 million grant for funding those ten trails that we set up around the state ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful.
MR. OAKS: ‑‑ and we'll be running that program in a cooperative way with nature and art and other tourism, to make sure there's synergy that's generated by all of us working together to save the places, and tell the real stories, real being the critical thing here.
The other thing that I'll mention since the lights are changing colors quickly, we have very effectively and I'd like to thank folks from the State Parks Department, Walt particularly and his folks, who have worked very well with us, and having the transfer of historic sites that happened on January 1st, very smoothly; there are just two things I would point out. One will continue to work, an issue dealing with Sabine Pass and the hurricane and the issues there, and that's problematic but we'll get them worked out.
But I would let you know that we have an exciting thing to look forward to in the future; we're very creatively approaching the joint management of the state longhorn herd.
So I think there are many opportunities for us to work together well; we appreciate the work of your staff, they are super resources and we appreciate your supporting the preservation of Texas history, both cultural and natural. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Larry, appreciate your comments, and appreciate you working well with us also. So it's been a good partnership. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, no Patricia Dement. Kathy Lord?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is Kathy here?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, and then up next after that, George Clark.
MS. LORD: Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to speak ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MS. LORD: ‑‑ here, in Houston. I know it's a long trek for you from Austin. I am Kathy Lord, the new executive director of Biopreservation Association. And ‑‑ founded 42 years ago as many of you know, by Terry Hershey, former Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner.
I want to thank you also for the great opportunity to be partners with you, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife and Biopreservation Association paddle trail, the longest paddle trail in the State of Texas. And we look forward to the dedication on October 16th that I know Carter Smith is coming. Hope all of you will be there, for a very exciting dedication at Bridle Bend Park, right on Buffalo Bayou.
And on the 18th will be the public opening, and there will be lots of canoers along Buffalo Bayou, so we're really looking forward to it, and appreciate the partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife.
As you know, we have 2,000 miles of streams and bayous, and 22 watersheds here in the Houston area, the largest number in the United States. Our emerald necklace is our precious jewel, and we appreciate your helping us keep it that way. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure, thank you. Thank you for being here. George Clark up, and then Evelyn Merz, I think.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: George?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Evelyn? Evelyn Merz? Yes, ma'am. And then up after that, Lynn Burkhead.
MS. MERZ: Hello, my name is Evelyn Merz, I'm representing the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and also the Houston regional group of the Sierra Club.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Welcome.
MS. MERZ: I thank you all for coming here today to listen to us; we very much appreciate it. I've also submitted my comments in written form, which your staff is handing to you right now.
I'd like to make comments about a few items that we think that are especially worthy of note. First of all is the acquisition of additional state park land and development funds. We know that Parks and Wildlife has been limited by what the Texas Legislature is willing to grant, and in the last Legislative Session, most of the budget for acquisition really came from the sale of the Eagle Mountain Lake property; and that was restricted as to what it could be spent on.
Another $4.3 million was intended for acquisition of parkland adjacent to existing property, and we understand part of that was intended for Palo Duro Canyon. We note that your fiscal year 2009 budget includes $4.6 million for land acquisition. What we're asking is that in the next biennium, when you're preparing the budget, that the Commissioners build upon the credibility that Parks and Wildlife has worked to achieve with the Legislature through the auditing process, and we think that the reluctance of the Legislature shown in the past to fund acquisitions we hope has been answered by the very good performance of the Department.
This should hopefully lead to increased emphasis on the acquisition funding and development of those acquisitions.
Next is the need for additional natural resource managers for state park land. We're all aware that park personnel were drastically reduced because of funding problems. And that the management, natural resource management staff was especially hard hit.
There is a need not only for operational staff but also for staff dedicated to managing the natural resources in the state park lands itself, and knowing again everything is constrained by the budget, we ask that a goal be adopted of adding personnel dedicated to natural resource management in the state parks, and that they be assigned on a regional basis.
Next is the need to adopt a budget item for the control of invasive species in state parks. This is a problem across the entire United States, and it exists in Texas state parks as well. Of course the scarcity of funds is a problem. But we think it would be maybe a reasonable goal to try and develop an item in the budget for the control of those invasive species. This is actually an item in the Florida ‑‑ Texas State Park budget, and is being used very well there, and I think that it would ‑‑ certainly Texas has additional need as well.
We ask that there be additional support for programs such as the Texas Outdoor Families, which seeks to connect families to the outdoors, and for local park grants, which is absolutely instrumental to getting people into the state parks.
Regional, we have a request there; we'd like to urge the Executive Director and the Commissioners to take a close look at the possibility of acquiring the 19,000-plus acres that was originally required for the Wallaceville Reservoir, for the Army Corps of Engineers, and acquiring this as a state park. It's a magnificent area. It's between two large population centers, and the ‑‑ although it's open to the public, the Corps is not the best manager for state parks.
It would fit in well with the Greater Trinity River initiative. And we are aware that some analysis was done by the Parks and Wildlife staff several years ago, and that we would urge you all to please ask the staff to give you a presentation of that analysis.
My very last note is about nongame program funding. And right now, everything in that nongame program is funded by governmental funds, either state or federal. And there is a great possibility if the nongame staff could develop a relationship with private foundations, that on the basis of presenting their work as a means of protecting Texas wildlife heritage, this would be an additional source of funding to an often cash-strapped program, if they developed connections with private funding sources.
We really appreciate your attention, and thank you so much for letting me go a little bit over my time. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure, Evelyn. Thank you, Evelyn. Appreciate you being here.
Lynn Burkhead, is Lynn here? And then up, Luci Correa.
MR. BURKHEAD: Mr. Chairman, Honorable Commissioners and Department Executive Director Carter Smith. My name is Lynn Burkhead, and I'm here today as both a private citizen and as a representative of the Grayson County Whitetail Association.
I'm here today to express our opposition to an idea receiving consideration by your Commission due to a challenge that would ultimately, if it were approved next calendar year, result in a general firearm season for whitetail deer in Grayson County.
As you may or may not know, our whitetail herd is a precious but small commodity that has received some notoriety in recent years due to the quality of bucks that have been harvested by some of our hunters. The notoriety was magnified last season when a perfect storm of meteorological conditions caused by deadly and widespread flooding in the Grayson County region in June and July, caused Lake Texoma's 89,000 acres to nearly triple, pushing the lake over its emergency spillway for only the third time in recorded history.
That displaced most of the deer from most of their habitats surrounding the lake, and from Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, which was submerged for nearly two months. As a result for the remainder of 2007, the deer that normally would live in that refuge, and around property surrounding Lake Texoma were displaced, and as a result, hunters were able to take advantage of that displacement last year.
To be blunt, the habitat was destroyed and the food was gone. I don't know if you're aware of the history of our county, I'd like to briefly make you aware of that history. As late as the 1970s, simply seeing a deer in Grayson County was stop-the-presses type of event.
In the 1980s, your agency approved an early October archery season, and that was the only hunting that we had until the late 1990s. Our county summarily rejected a proposal in the mid-'90s to open a firearm season in Grayson County, with not one person speaking up at that public hearing in favor of that particular proposal.
In 1999, when a proposal was brought to open an archery-only season in the general season, there were a large number of people in attendance again, and that time, everyone spoke in the affirmative; not one person spoke in the negative.
As a Grayson County resident for nearly 29 years, and as a member of our association, I stand opposed to the idea of a deer hunt season in our county for three reasons: First of all, due to biology. After discussions with professional biologists, with local landowners, hunter and non-hunters alike, we dispute the Department's contention that there are enough deer to support a firearm season in Grayson County.
While Grayson County is a part of Resource Management Unit 22, the deer populations of other surrounding counties are much more substantial than they are in our own. You can drive around our county for weeks and not even see a whitetail, in a field or on the side of the road.
In fact, the total number of deer and the number of harvest is unknown by the Department, perhaps due to the fact that according to a report prepared by Mitch Lockwood, and I have it here, it's a deer population trend that was prepared by Mitch several years ago; the bulk of our county is un-monitored by the Department.
All of Collin County to our south, which is also in the Resource Management 22 is completely un-monitored. As we said, we believe that the biology information being used is flawed.
The second thing, and I'll make this quick, is hunter opportunity. We are a county that is rapidly expanding; the Metroplex is surging in our direction. Not one, but two and potential even three major transportation corridors are moving into our county. At best, right now in 2008, our habitat is fragmented. If you eliminate Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge from consideration we barely have any whitetail habitat.
That is only going to get worse. If a gun season is opened and it negatively impacts our herd, in a five- to ten-year period as we contend that it will, there will be limited opportunity in the future for anyone to hunt in Grayson County.
Third thing and final thing I'd like to address are the antler restrictions in place in East Texas counties, which we understand would be placed in Grayson County were a firearm season opened up.
Just to put it simply, those regulations are designed to get counties in East and Northeast Texas where deer are normally 1-1/2, 2-1/2 years old, when they're harvested, to get them into 3-1/2, 4-1/2-year age classes. And we would just politely and respectfully say, why would you take us a step back from what we've achieved unintentionally and indirectly already?
Our deer are not 3-1/2 or 4-1/2, most of the deer harvested in our county are 5-1/2 and 6-1/2 years of age. Simply put: if it's not broke, please, please, we beg you, don't fix it. Thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, thank you. Luci Correa.
MS. CORREA: Good afternoon, I'm Luci Correa, I'm with the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department, I just have a very, very brief statement to add to all the important comments that have already been made.
And that is, just as TPW grants reward new and different park amenities, our current state parks need capital improvements and new and different features to be competitive in the state marketplace.
And that's it, thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right, thank you.
Okay, is there anyone else?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We've had a lot of great speakers. I appreciate everybody being patient and taking the time. And we are very glad we did come to Houston.
And with that, then, the Commission has completed its business and I do declare us adjourned. Thank you all very much.
(Whereupon, at 4:51 p.m., the public hearing was adjourned.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Annual Public Hearing
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
DATE: August 20, 2008
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 149, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Leslie Berridge before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731