Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
March 26, 2009Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 26th day of March, 2009, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas, Vice Chairman
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas (Absent)
- Ralph H. Duggins, Fort Worth, Texas
- Antonio Falcon, MD, Rio Grande City, Texas
- Karen J. Hixon, San Antonio, Texas
- Margaret Martin, Boerne, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Carter P. Smith, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
|Donor||Description||Detail & Purpose of Donation||*Amount|
|1||Federation of Fly Fishers||Cash||Guadalupe Bass Restoration Program||$2,000.00|
|2||Texas Women Fishers||Cash||Guadalupe Bass Restoration Program||$500.00|
|3||Betta Thomas||Cash||Use for law enforcement equipment||$1,000.00|
|4||Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation||Capital Property Item||Electric pump, including hoses/piping, built on a trailer for mobility used to manage wetland habitat on North Toledo Bend WMA||$135,906.00|
|5||Council for Environmental Education||Cash||To assist in funding a statewide ProjectWILD facilitator's workshop||$5,000.00|
|6||McBride's Conservation Fund||Cash||To fund materials to build archery equipment for Archery in Schools Program - a Hunter Education Program||$1,000.00|
|7||Judy A. Taylor||Cash||Habitat restoration at Matador WMA||$1,000.00|
|8||The Mildred W. Fairchild Foundation||Cash||To be used to help rebuild Galveston Island State Park||$6,000.00|
|9||Brian Johnson||Other Goods||One Cardiac Science automated external defibrillator w/alarm case and battery for public safety||$2,295.00|
|10||Caldwell Rotary Club District 5870||Cash||To support TPWD law enforcement||$500.00|
|11||Friends of Colorado Bend State Park||Other Goods||Two (2) Big Max Ultra 8'x10' polymer storage buildings to provide additional storage for the Colorado Bend State Park headquarters building and for use by the park's Park Host volunteers||$1,944.17|
|12||Titus County Freshwater District||Other Goods||One hundred (100) Zebco 33 rod and reel combos to be given away at the annual Kids Fishing Day||$1,416.16|
|13||Texas Water Foundation||Cash||To provide funding for a statewide water communications initiative||$576.00|
|14||Government Solutions Group, Inc.||Cash||State Parks Welcome Kit Pilot Project||$4,500.00|
|15||Lake Arrowhead Volunteer Fire Department||Controlled Item||One (1) used Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) Heartstart FR2 model by Laerdal. Three sets of pads and an extra battery are included.||$900.00|
|16||Friends of Martin Dies, Jr. State Park||Capital Property Item||One (1) used 2004 Kawasaki 010 4x4 Mule Utility Vehicle, 400 hours on meter, hard top, windshield, and electric winch.||$5,315.00|
|17||Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, Inc.||Cash||For the seagrass conservation cause||$5,000.00|
|18||Aardvark Keith Moving Company||Other Goods||Two (2) surplus mahogany HON Executive desks for use by staff in the newly created offices located in the classroom wing of the Visitor Center at Government Canyon State Natural Area||$1,200.00|
|19||San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo||Cash||To offset expenses for providing outreach and education regarding conservation and recreation at the San Antonio Livestock Exposition||$5,000.00|
|20||Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (Anheuser-Busch)||Cash||Sponsorship for Texas Parks & Wildlife Expo||$22,724.74|
|21||Friends of Garner State Park||Cash||Printing of Garner State Park Maps||$1,500.00|
|22||US Fish & Wildlife Services||Other Goods||Thirty (30) seized taxidermies of animals to be used for state park educational purposes. These include one(1) Sand Hill Crane, one (1) Snow Goose and twenty-eight (28) Queen conch seashells||$500.00|
|23||Valley Zoological Society||Controlled Item||Two (2) Honda 2007 Fourtrax Recon All Terrain Vehicles for general park use at Resaca de la Palma||$5,130.00|
|24||Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer Organization||Controlled Item||One (1) Kubota Utility Vehicle RTV 900 for use at Brazos Bend State Park||$4,643.00|
|25||HOLT CAT||Capital Property Item||One (1) Caterpillar Motor Grader 140H to support operations at Big Bend State Park||$200,000.00|
|26||The NRA Foundation, Inc.||Cash||Texas Parks & Wildlife Expo Sponsorship||$1,500.00|
*Estimated value used for goods and services
|Admin Resources||Martha H. Moore||Accountant I||Austin||24 Years|
|Admin Resources||Kay Roxanne Smith||Accountant I||Austin||23 Years|
|Coastal Fisheries||Paul C. Hammerschmidt||Natural Res. Spec. VI||Austin||35 Years|
|State Parks||Roger W. Shelton||Prog. Spec. V||Bastrop||30 Years|
|Infrastructure||Sofia P. Johnson||Prog. Spec. V||Austin||25 Years|
|Inland Fisheries||Loraine Thomas Fries||Manager V||San Marcos||25 Years|
|Law Enforcement||James W. Guthrie||Major||Brownwood||25 Years|
|Law Enforcement||Craig Hunter||Director II||Austin||25 Years|
|Law Enforcement||Albert W. Lynch||Captain Game Warden||Houston||25 Years|
|Law Enforcement||Jose Antonio Navarro||Game Warden||Stephenville||25 Years|
|Law Enforcement||John Edward Russell||Game Warden||Breckenridge||25 Years|
|Law Enforcement||James Whiteaker||Major Game Warden||San Angelo||25 Years|
|State Parks||Carl L. Orbison||Prog. Spec. VI||Tyler||25 Years|
|Inland Fisheries||Aaron Barkoh||Prog. Spec. V||Mountain Home||20 Years|
|Inland Fisheries||Gerald Layne Kurten||Manager V||Graford||20 Years|
|Inland Fisheries||David C. Wilson||F&W Tech. III||Mountain Home||20 Years|
|State Parks||Leah Rae Huth||Prog. Supv. II||Moody||20 Years|
|Wildlife||Daniel J. Davis||F&W Tech IV||Ranger||20 Years|
|NAME/ORGANIZATION ADDRESS||ITEM NUMBER||MATTER OF INTEREST|
|Caleb McGee, Rep. Todd Hunter's Office, 1701 Ennis Joslin Road, #613, Corpus Christi, TX||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against changing flounder season and bag limits at this time|
|Leonard Ranne||2 — Action — Naming of the John D. Parker East Texas State Fish Hatchery|
|Karl Kinsel, Texas Deer Association, 403 East Ramsey, Suite 204, San Antonio, TX 78216||4 — Action — Trapping, Transporting and Transplanting (TTT) Deer Permit Rule Amendments — Application Materials Deadline||Against|
|Kirby Brown, Texas Wildlife Association, 2800 NE Loop 410, Suite 105, San Antonio, TX 78218||4 — Action — Trapping, Transporting and Transplanting (TTT) Deer Permit Rule Amendments — Application Materials Deadline|
|Leonard Ranne||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes|
|Wayne Boyd, 824 FM 2433, Port Lavaca, TX||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — flounder|
|Chris Boyd, 824 FM 2433, Port Lavaca, TX||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — flounder|
|Robert L. Morgan, 474 Seafoam Road, Houston, TX 77598||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes|
|Tony Reeves, 684 Pecos, Chandler, TX 75758,||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — flounder|
|Jim Smarr, RFA Texas, P.O. Box 58, Fulton, TX||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes|
|Chris Robbins, Ocean Conservancy, 106 E. 6th Street, Austin, TX 78701||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||For — reef fish/sharks|
|Robby Byers, CCA Texas, 6919 Portwest Drive, Suite 100, Houston, TX 77024||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Flounder|
|Larry Brannen, Inland Commercial Fishermen, 439 Hwy. 90, Liberty, TX 77575||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — alligator gar proposal|
|Sam Lovell, Gar Guys Bowfishing, 6992 FM 2781, Kennard, TX||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — alligator gar regulations|
|Chris Jones, 166 Waterwood, Huntsville, TX 77340||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Neutral — alligator gar proposed rule|
|Johnnie Brannen, 401 Hwy. 90, Liberty, TX 77575||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes|
|Steve Barclay, Gar Guys Bowfishing, P.O. Box 1587, Ratcliff, TX 75858||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — alligator gar regs|
|Chuck Waller, 125 Chapman Parkway, Canyon Lake, TX||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — alligator gar regulation|
|Robert Peebles, Bowfishing Association of America, 1531 Welsford, Spring, TX||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — gator gar restrictions|
|Kyle Kleb, 7640 Spring Cypress, Spring, TX 77379||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — gar regulations|
|David Curdieff, 10344 CR 3819, Athens, TX||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — gar|
|Tony Reeves, Texas Bowfishing Association and Bowfishing Assoc. of America, 684 Pecos, Chandler, TX 75758||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — alligator gar|
|Duane Hendrickson, 281 River Road East, Center Point, TX 78010||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Gar|
|Wendy White, 281 River Road East, Center Point, TX 78010||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Gar|
|Tim McKee, Texas Bowfishing Association, P.O. Box 1273, Georgetown, TX||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — alligator gar regulations|
|Tony Reeves, 684 Pecos, Chandler, TX 75758||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||Against — Deer hunting|
|Kirby Brown, Texas Wildlife Association, 2800 NE Loop 410, Suite 105, San Antonio, TX 78218||5 — Action — 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — Proposed Changes||For|
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Hello everybody. Well, that got everybody quiet quickly. That is great. Welcome everybody. Welcome to our Thursday morning public meeting. This meeting is called to order. And before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make. Mr. Smith.
MR. SMITH: I do. Mr. Chairman, thank you and good morning. A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551, Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of this meeting.
Also, I just want to welcome all of you who have joined us today for the Commission meeting. Thank you for bringing the rain. You are all invited back. So come often.
A few little housekeeping matters. While you are here, just for those of you who have cell phones or BlackBerries or PDAs, if you could please turn those off or silence them. If you have got a conversation that you want to have, if you all wouldn't mind, just stepping out for us, so that we can keep the room as quiet as possible during the proceedings.
We have got a lot of items on the agenda today, many of which I know are of interest to you. If you have a public comment that you wish to make, I would ask that you sign up outside at the appropriate time, and when the appropriate agenda item relating to your area of interest is up, the Chairman will call on you, and ask you to come forward. We will give you three minutes. And please state your name, the topic that you wish to discuss, and then present your position on that matter to the Commission.
And again, thanks for joining us today. I appreciate your being with us. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Next is the approval of the minutes from the previous meeting. Do I have a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. A motion by Commissioner Friedkin, second by Commissioner Hixon. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Next is the acknowledgment of the donations list, which has also been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved by Commissioner Bivins, second by Commissioner Martin. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great. Thank you. Service awards, one of my favorite parts, service awards and special recognitions. Mr. Smith?
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission. Good morning. For the record, my name is Carter Smith. We have got a couple of retirees today that we want to start off with recognizing, both of whom have worked in our administrative resources branch, behind the scenes, helping us to manage our many and complicated revenue streams on behalf of the Agency. And I know, as business people, that is an area that is of great interest to all of you.
We will kick it off with Martha Moore. And Martha has been with us for 24 years. Started as an accounting clerk, worked her way up to the position of accountant. Was responsible for managing a host of different revenue streams inside the Agency, everything from licenses and boat registrations and fines to mail rooms to park-related issues.
And so she has been with us for 24 years, knows the Agency inside and out. She loves to tell the story about how well she thought she knew the Agency until the first time she trapped a nuisance raccoon in her attic and brought it here for somebody to take care of and was promptly informed by Paul Israel that she needed a permit, and had better get that quickly. So Martha, for 24 years of service, we are going to miss you. Martha, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: Roxanne Smith is another colleague of Martha's that is retiring after 24 years with the Department but actually 34 years with the State of Texas. And another one who started in a clerk position. She actually started out at Pedernales Falls. And then moved to Austin, and worked her way up to an accountant position.
Again, worked with a number of revenue streams behind the scenes. Very involved in a host of things here inside the Agency. Particularly proud of her work with our license-testing system and working with the park revenue reporting section. Ended up her career working with the law enforcement revenue side of things. And so again, 23, 24 years of service, Roxanne Smith. Roxanne, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: We are going to now celebrate some of the tenure of our long-standing employees. And we are going to start out with Paul Hammerschmidt. Paul has been with us for 35 years and for those of you who know him, you know he is an exemplary scientist and a very dedicated and accomplished outreach and education professional who puts his science skills into practice helping to introduce youth into the wonders and magic, particularly of our marine world.
He got his start there in Rockport as a Fish and Wildlife technician, and worked his way up to the project leader at San Antonio Bay. Headed up the Perry Bass Research Center, our blue crab team. Very involved in helping to put in place good solid management strategies to protect our blue crab and shrimp. He worked very closely with the legal division when the Agency was sued by the shrimping industry to help provide all of the documentation that was necessary to help back up our scientific position on it.
Paul has taken a variety of different steps in his career, but all focused on helping to educate folks about the importance of our marine ecology, and the importance of our bays and estuaries. Very involved with our artificial reef team and led that, one of the members of the Clipper team.
At Expo, you may have seen a booth that Paul designed that was our most popular one. He designed a shooting sports deal where kids could bring their Coke cans and then put them in a gun and then try to shoot it into a basket, and the kids just loved it. And Paul has got just a world of creativity.
At the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo event a couple of weeks ago, we were there at an outreach deal, and he had his collection of seashells that he has collected over the decades. And the kids were just mesmerized. And so Paul is a great ambassador on behalf of this Agency.
He recently took a trip to China to help talk to folks over there about fisheries management. And so let's celebrate his 35 years of service. Paul Hammerschmidt.
MR. SMITH: We have got another one here with three decades of service, Roger Shelton. Roger is our regional law enforcement specialist for our state parks region, which extends all the way from Government Canyon, and the Guadalupe River, all the way over to Tyler State Park. And so he has his hands full on the law enforcement side in state parks.
He started off as a seasonal ranger there at San Jacinto. He worked at Varner-Hogg. Eventually was promoted to the assistant superintendent there at Bastrop State Park. And then when we complexed Bastrop and Buescher State Parks, he took on responsibility overseeing all of that. He and his wife raised their two kids on those two parks.
And so grew them and raised them in the parks, and is now responsible for all of our law enforcement operations in the region. And so please join me in congratulating Roger Shelton, 30 years of service to this Agency. Roger.
MR. SMITH: The next individual we are going to recognize is Sofie Johnson. And she is a program specialist in infrastructure. Has been with us for 25 years. Started off in administrative resources, working on contracts. And took those skills where she is now working in infrastructure and helping to manage our contracts with our design firms and construction companies that are carrying out the many capital projects which you all have heard so much about in the last couple of days.
Rich McMonagle yesterday talked about the mission of infrastructure, and how important it was to help serve the interest of its clients inside the Agency. And Sofie embodies that very, very well.
She said that she loves going out and meeting field staff while visiting our state parks and fisheries and wildlife management areas. And that she considers providing support to them to be her most important role. Great attitude. Let us congratulate her. Sofie, 25 years of service to this Agency.
MR. SMITH: The next individual that we are going to recognize for 25 years of service is Loraine Fries. And Loraine is one of our scientists in Inland Fisheries. She was responsible for setting up our genetics lab there in San Marcos, and the wildlife forensics lab there. She is a very noted scientist, has published extensively. Has really transformed that genetics lab into the envy of fisheries management agencies throughout the country.
She has been very instrumental too, in helping to develop research to address problems in largemouth bass, largemouth bass virus, golden algae issues that we face in places like the Pecos River, or at our hatcheries, which is a major problem. And she has been recognized inside this Agency several times for her leadership, and her innovation, and we are very, very proud to have her with us. So Loraine Fries, 25 years of service.
MR. SMITH: We have got a class of game wardens that we are going to now recognize for their 25 years of service. And we are going to start out with one who was raised in the hills of Edwards County. He is a third-generation game warden. Jay Guthrie, his grandfather was a game warden back in the '50s and '60s. He is the grandson and great-grandson, and maybe the great-great-grandson of an Edwards County ranching family.
They have got a beautiful place on the Llano River just north of Rocksprings. Jay followed in the footsteps of both his grandfather and father. When he got out of the Game Warden Academy, he was stationed in Refugio, and then he came back home to Edwards County to be the game warden. His father ended up being the Sheriff there in Edwards County.
Today, Jay is our Major. He is responsible for leading all of our law enforcement operations throughout Central Texas. Just a great professional. Jay Guthrie.
Jay, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: The next individual — forgive me for losing my composure. So much to say, so little time here. Craig Hunter is our next one that we will recognize. And I guess I should start out and say — and it is probably not very kosher for me to discuss my performance review in front of all of my colleagues. But I know that all of you admonished me to make sure that all work and no play was not making Carter a dull boy.
And I want to assure you that Lieutenant Colonel Hunter is doing his very, very large part to help address that. This highly decorated veteran officer, as he calls himself — and we first learned about that title. It is customary when we have birthdays up here to have a cake. And usually, it is also customary that we wait for the honoree or the birthday boy or girl to be there to have the first piece of cake.
In September it was my birthday. I happened to not be around. And after the third or fourth time that Craig came by to Michelle and Carole to help himself to a piece of cake, and he was gently rebuffed, then rather firmly rebuffed, Craig marched in and introduced himself as a highly decorated veteran officer, and he thought the Executive Office owed law enforcement, in particular him, at least a piece of cake. Pete, I want you to know that.
So Craig has had a very long and distinguished career inside this Agency. And started out obviously as a cadet. The story that you hear from his classmates, apparently, the first night, they had had a long day, and they were in their bunks. And Craig had drawn the black bean and was on the top bunk. And Henry Leal who is in Laredo was on the bottom bunk.
And sometime at midnight, a couple of the wardens woke up and they heard this rustling. And Henry turned on his flashlight, and under his bed was Craig Hunter. And Craig was sort of rooting around. You have to remember, Craig was a detective, and he had a lot of experience with Bell County, and Henry was a young cadet. And you know, he very politely asked, Mr. Hunter, what is it that you are doing under my bed? And Craig said, Hush, Henry, I am trying to find my candy bar.
He has made a very, very strong impression on all of his wardens since then. Craig, in all seriousness, Craig has had a very illustrious career with this Agency. He started out there in Conroe, worked his way up to a Lieutenant position there in Mount Pleasant, then was transferred over to Austin, in which he was promoted to Captain of Internal Affairs, and responsible for really creating the Commissioner and Executive protection team that works to help ensure your safety and security while you are here, and has just done a remarkable job with that.
Craig was our first game warden that was selected to attend the FBI National Academy by the Department of Justice, and he has been very involved in the advisory board with the National Academy, or the FBI Academy there. He is on the Governor Special Operations Group, representing the Agency. He serves on the Governor's Homeland Security Counsel.
He is also responsible for leading a very complicated multifaceted agency working with Pete and Scott and all of the rest of the team. And so, our field operations, our special operations, our aircraft division, and as part of that, something that Craig takes very seriously, and really all joking aside. Because teamwork means a lot to him.
And Craig is very strongly committed to the basic tenets of teamwork. He is known for his team-building exercises, in which he likes to take folks together, and get them to help establish an esprit de corps. And so one day I was with Craig, and I received —
I was looking through emails as we were driving somewhere. And Graham and Craig had sent me this email about a team-building exercise or a retreat that they wanted to have between some of the law enforcement folks and Internal Affairs, and asked if I could join them for that. And I am sort of thinking to myself, why do they need me for this team-building retreat, between Internal Affairs and law enforcement.
And so I asked Craig, everything okay with you and Graham. He said, Yes. Yes, everything is fine. And I said, Well, any issues going on right now between IA and law enforcement? No, everything is fine. I said, Well, why are you inviting me to a team-building retreat? And he paused for a second and then got a big smile on his face, and said, because we didn't want Michelle to know we were inviting you to go fishing.
So I will close with this. The next day, he put this on my desk, his definition of team building. And I would like to read it for your benefit. Number one, the refined art of drinking, swearing, partying, hunting, fishing and general carousing with Texas game wardens. Number two, apparently, a fairly complicated stress-relieving process, in which Executive Directors attempt to "get a life." And last but not least, a convoluted two party conversation, in which the first party, me, usually a dedicated, focused, energetic newcomer catastrophically fails to actually communicate with the second party, normally a lethargic, indifferent, could care less veteran government employee. Craig Hunter, 25 years of service.
MR. SMITH: We have got another one of our leaders in law enforcement that we want to recognize. Captain Albert Lynch. Albert has been with us for 25 years. He is one of the nicest and kindest human beings that you will ever meet. And Albert went through the academy with Craig and Jay and a few others that you will be introduced to shortly.
When he graduated, he was stationed up in Freestone County. And then came down to Houston, and then was sent up to Dallas. And very involved in a joint federal operation and a major law enforcement success, on stopping a poaching ring up there at Lake Texoma, on the Red River. Albert moved back to Houston, and then over to Beaumont, where he was promoted to captain, transferred back to Houston, where he heads up our operations there in Harris County.
And he leads a very busy team. Game wardens in urban areas are busy with a lot of different things, and Albert was just the consummate professional. Scott and I tease him unmercifully. The first time I met Albert, Scott and I were flying in to Houston for a meeting. And we had time for a quick lunch before the meeting.
And Albert asked if we wanted to grab something to eat. And I said, sure Albert, that would be great, any suggestions? And he said, Well, Mr. Cook always liked Sonic. And so, we settled on Dairy Queen. I want you to know. Albert Lynch, 25 years. Albert, where are you?
MR. SMITH: Tony Navarro, God bless him, went to school with all of these characters, I want you to know. And Tony went through the Academy with all of these fine game wardens. When he graduated, he went down to Jefferson County, there at Port Arthur. Worked hard on all of those coastal issues that you all are so familiar with, from shrimping and fishing and commercial fishing, and waterfowl hunting. He got all of the salt air that he could stand.
And ended up moving to Stephenville, in Erath County, where has been there for some time. It is his home place. He has been there now for 25 years, and says he plans to retire there. And so let's celebrate his 25 years of work on behalf of this Agency. Tony Navarro. Tony.
MR. SMITH: The next Game Warden that we are going to recognize for 25 years of service is John Russell. Again, going to the Academy with this group. After he graduated, was stationed there in Lubbock, on the High Plains. He transferred over to Conroe. From there, he was over in Wichita Falls, and then moved over to Breckenridge, where he has been there since 1997.
He got a law enforcement degree from Sam Houston State. He is certified by TCLEOSE which is the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. He is an instructor on a host of different law enforcement tools. He has been a great officer on behalf of this Agency. And let's recognize him for 25 years of wonderful service to our Law Enforcement Division.
John, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: The last one standing in this very illustrious class is Steve Whitaker. And if you ever go to West Texas, let me assure you, you want Steve Whitaker on your side. Steve is our Major in Far West Texas. Graduate of Sul Ross.
When he got out of the Academy, he was stationed there in Van Horn where he was there for 18 years, and developed some wonderful lifelong relationships with ranchers who still speak very highly of Steve, and think the world of him. He was a Captain in Alpine and then he was transferred over to San Angelo to take the Major job in West Texas, whereas he wrote in his bio, he had to clean up the mess from the last Major. The last Major was Pete Flores, by the way.
And Steve wrote facetiously that he hopes he still has his job after that little line. Steve is a wonderful man.
Steve, please come forward. Steve Whitaker.
MR. SMITH: We are now going to recognize Carl Orbison out of Tyler for 25 years with our State Parks Division. And Carl started as one of our regional maintenance specialists. Very involved in helping to build a number of our East Texas parks there, including Lake Bob Sandlin and Cedar Hill, Cooper Lake, Martin Creek.
He was responsible for helping to develop kind of the first over-arching park safety program for that division. Worked on that for the Agency as a whole. I first had the chance to meet Carl when we was working on the Civilian Conservation Corp volunteers that worked on behalf of the Agency and the country, back during the Great Depression.
And Carl and Janelle Taylor have been very instrumental in working with those survivors, collecting oral histories from their times, and the CCC, organizing reunion events. And has just done a masterful job of capturing and helping to educate about that wonderful piece of history and time in our state park system. He is a great leader. Carl Orbison, 25 years of service.
Carl, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: I think a number of you are aware that our Heart of the Hills Research Center there in Mountain Home is the epicenter for some wonderful research that happens to — that goes on there to facilitate our work in Inland Fisheries, and produce a range of very practical, pragmatic applied science. Aaron Barkoh is one of our scientists there in Mountain Home. He has been with us for 20 years.
He got his start in the Agency, thanks to Gene McCarty, I believe, who hired him. Started out there at the Dundee Fish Hatchery in Electra, and was very involved in setting up our first golden algae task force. Again, a problem that has had a major impact on our hatcheries. A wonderful scientist. Again, he has been with us for 20 years. Aaron Barkoh. Aaron, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: I think as all of you know, we have got eight fish hatcheries around the state. And one of them is there at Possum Kingdom, a little community in Graford. And Gerald Kurten is our manager there. Had a long history as a hatchery biologist with the Agency. While he was working on his master's at Texas State, he worked at the fish hatchery there in San Marcos. He worked at the one in Jasper, the freshwater fishery center, and is now responsible for all of our operations there at our Possum Kingdom hatchery. He has been recognized many times. A very prominent scientist with a lot of publications to his name.
Also, very instrumental in helping us tackle this issue of golden algae. And so Gerald Kurten, 20 years of service to the State. Gerald, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: Behind the scenes at a lot of our hatcheries and Wildlife Management Areas are our Fish and Wildlife technicians, who are literally Jacks and Jills of all trades. And certainly, David Wilson, who is our technician there at Mountain Home at the Heart of the Hills has been with us for 25 years, epitomizes that.
He started out as a seasonal employee, working on hybrid grass carp. He worked his way up to a full time Fish and Wildlife technician. Very involved in anything that goes on in that facility, from construction and maintenance, to working with the biologists to design and implement various and sundry research studies.
I can also tell you firsthand that he and his colleagues know how to do a fish fry. David Wilson, 20 years of service to this Agency. David, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: Two more that we have got for 20 years of service. And the next one, Leah Huth is our superintendent at the first State Park that we have ever had in Texas there at Mother Neff, donated by Governor Pat Neff, in honor of his mother. Leah started out as a seasonal worker at Mission San Jose State Historical Park. She said she would do it until she found something better. Twenty years later, she hasn't left.
Leah has had a great career in the State Park System. Worked at a host of different parks; at Guadalupe River, including over here at McKinney Falls. She was our superintendent there at Goliad, very involved in a lot of the battlegrounds and the preservation of that. Very important time in our history. Recently decided to move to Mother Neff State Park there west of Waco, on the Leon River, a park that some of you may or may not know, suffered a lot of flooding from the river being backed up by the dam there at Lake Belton.
And she is going to be very instrumental in helping to get that restored. And we are very proud to have her. She also has a daughter that works for this Agency as a Game Warden. Chrissy Huth out at Val Verde County, a recent graduate of our Academy. And I know that Leah is very proud of her service. So Leah Huth, 20 years of service to our State Parks Division. Leah, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: Last, but not least, Danny Davis. Danny has also been with us 20 years up in Ranger, Texas. Danny is one of our Fish and Wildlife technicians. Started out in the State Park System there at Fort Griffin and then transferred over to — well, actually stayed there and worked with the state longhorn herd. And then in May of '92, joined the Wildlife Division in Brownwood.
And Danny does a lot of research-related things. Been very involved in everything from dove and quail and turkey to Tobusch Fishhook Cactus. Works with private landowners on their wildlife management needs in four counties in that area. And Danny played a major role in helping to trap the buffalo from the JA Ranch that now make up the herd that is the state bison herd.
So Danny Davis, 20 years of service with the Wildlife Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife. Danny, please come forward.
MR. SMITH: We are going to now move on to the officer recognition part of the day. And we have got a special presentation today, that is going to be presented from the National Wild Turkey Federation.
And I think the National Wild Turkey Federation needs no introduction to all of you. They are a fabulous partner. They have been very involved in helping us get eastern turkeys reestablished in the Piney Woods and the Post Oak. They work very closely with our biologists and private landowners on habitat improvements and habitat enhancement, restocking efforts, biological surveys. They fund a lot of special needs that we have with respect to turkeys and upland game birds that we couldn't otherwise fund.
Bob Linder, their President is also very involved in the Texas Outdoor Partners, which is a consortium of hunting and fishing groups that work to support the efforts of the Parks and Wildlife Department. And there is over 60 such organizations. Bob comes to every Committee hearing at the Legislature. He is always there to help support this Agency.
And so I want to introduce Bob to come forward. He is going to make a special presentation, recognizing Tracy Large, who is one of our game wardens there in Guadalupe County, and just done a phenomenal job with helping to protect our turkeys in that area. And so Bob, would you please come forward?
MR. LINDER: Good morning, Chairman Holt, Commissioners and Director Smith. How in the world do you follow Carter Smith? No matter what I say, I am chopped liver. He is funnier than Jay Leno and "Saturday Night Live" all wrapped into one. Great. I knew he was going to be a great Executive Director, but I had no idea what an entertainer he was.
The National Wild Turkey Federation is proud to be represented here today in this ceremony of recognition, for some of the most important people in our outdoor industry. As Texas President of the National Wild Turkey Federation, when I think of the title, Officer of the Year, I am reminded that not only does the National Wild Turkey Federation want to recognize a most deserving Texas officer, but that officer also represents the other fine men in uniform that protect our wildlife and make sure that our game laws are observed every day.
About four weeks ago in Nashville, Tennessee, I had the privilege of spending a weekend with one of Texas' finest. The NWTF was proud to have Officer Tracy Large and his wife Carol as our guest at the national convention.
Tracy represents all of the wonderful traits that you would expect in a game warden. He is intelligent, courteous, kind and a fine conversationist, and I am sure he could be firm if called upon to do so. The National Wild Turkey Federation is proud of this year's Officer of the Year, Mr. Tracy Large, and I would like to present this plaque to Tracy as a token of our appreciation.
NWTF wants our Fish and Wildlife officers to know that we think of you each day when you are serving the great State of Texas and our Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Congratulations to you, Tracy, for an honor well deserved.
MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman and Commission, that concludes my presentation. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We are going to make one more presentation, so whoever would like to stay, please stay. The first order of business, is Item Number 1, an action item, Approval of the revised agenda. Action Item Number 12, Acceptance of land donation in Bexar County, Government Canyon, State Natural Area, has been withdrawn. Do I have a motion to approve?
COMMISSIONER HIXON: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Commissioner Hixon and second, Friedkin.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I would like to recognize we have some staff members from various representatives. Caleb McGee from Representative Todd Hunter, Jerry Needham from Senator Carlos Uresti has come to join us, and Gilbert Laredo from Senator Van de Putte's office. So I welcome you three.
SPEAKER: We are having trouble hearing.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, you are having trouble hearing me? Sorry. I might help if I turned it on, right? I will say it again, then. One more time. I want to welcome some staff members from various legislators. Jerry Needham from Senator Carlos Uresti's office, Caleb McGee from Representative Todd Hunter's office, and Gilbert Laredo from Senator Van de Putte's office.
So welcome you three. Are you there? Do you want to stand up? Great. We appreciate you all coming in. Thank you.
We now have an item I think that is of great interest to all of us sitting up here for sure, if not all of you in the audience. We have an action item, a resolution, the naming of the John D. Parker East Texas State Fish Hatchery.
Mr. Carter Smith, will you please make your presentation?
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Commission. A little sadness in my voice, as I am looking for the Commissioner in the bow tie that's not with us. And everybody here knows that we lost Commissioner Parker after the last January meeting, as he passed away due to a heart attack.
And I don't need to tell all of you how much Commissioner Parker cherished his role serving on the Commission with all of you, his relationships with all of you, and everything that he loved and cared about with this Department. Commissioner Parker was a very tireless and passionate advocate for all things outdoors.
And I think all of us can take solace in the fact that right now, he has probably got St. Peter and God cornered, and he is talking to them about red snapper, and how do we get more youth into the out-of-doors, and looking down upon all of us today.
I think it is very fitting that in honor of Commissioner Parker, we bring forth this resolution to you. He was very instrumental in working to ensure that we had the finest fish hatcheries and fisheries conservation program in all of the nation. And he worked to advocate to ensure that we had a new hatchery brought forth with funding from the fishermen and fisherwomen of Texas, to be built there in Jasper County.
And so today, we present this resolution in his honor. It calls for the naming of the John D. Parker East Texas State Fish Hatchery. And with us today, to see this happen are his lovely wife, Barbara, and their sons, Adam and Alex, and Arthur, and their family who have come in from the Piney Woods and their extended family all here on the second row. As you know, Barbara was a long-standing presence by Commissioner Parker's side at every one of these Commission meetings.
And it feels awfully good to have you back in this room, I want you to know.
"Whereas in November, 2003, John D. Parker of Lufkin, Texas, was appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission;
"And whereas Commissioner Parker served as a Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner, and as Chairman of the Commission's Ad Hoc Infrastructure Committee until the date of his death on January 26, 2009;
"Whereas Commissioner Parker deeply loved wildlife, the out-of-doors, and was a tireless champion for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and was particularly passionate about ensuring that all Texans, young and old, were given an opportunity to enjoy the out-of-doors through fishing, hunting, shooting sports, or visiting a state park;
"And whereas Commissioner Parker's devotion to the Parks and Wildlife Department was constantly on display, whether he was advocating for marine resources in the Gulf of Mexico, for additional funding for state parks, or for introducing shooting sports to Texas schools;
"Whereas among Commissioner Parker's many passions was the campaign to bring a new freshwater fish hatchery to his beloved East Texas.
"And now therefore, be it resolved that the new East Texas Fish Hatchery currently under construction in Jasper County, Texas, is hereby named the John D. Parker East Texas State Fish Hatchery."
And with that, Mr. Chairman, I respectfully submit this proclamation and ask for a motion to approve this.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You all are quick here. We have got a few people here that want to speak. So I just would like to let them speak. But thank you, both of you. We do have a couple of people that have signed up to speak, I think, in honor of John.
And I am going to call you all up. Leonard Ranne, R-A-N-N-E? Leonard? Then, after that, Adam Parker would like to speak, I think, for his dad.
MR. RANNE: Mr. Chairman, I would like just a moment to say that I can add very little that hasn't already been said about Mr. Parker. We all know that he loved our State, and he loved his family. He loved to hunt and fish. And to the Commission, I say, a job well done. You couldn't have picked a better man for the job. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Leonard.
And Adam? You don't want to get up and speak? Okay. You know, John and I were kind of the old-timers on the Commission. And so we were confirmed together.
And I think we all have John Parker stories. But what I loved about John was, one, of course, his enthusiasm, his focus on this Commission and the people in this Department. His love for the people in the Department throughout the State of Texas — of course, he was a Piney Woods guy, but he loved, South Texas, West Texas; it didn't make any difference.
And his desire to see all youth involved in conservation, hunting and fishing and all the things that go with that, throughout this State, were second to none. And so it was a real pleasure for me to be able to serve with John and get to know him. You know, that bow tie and that hat, I will never forget it.
And so I am very pleased to be the Chairman when we are honoring John. So I just wanted to make a few comments. Do any of our other Commissioners have any comments they would like to make?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So we have a motion, and we had Commissioner Duggins and Commissioner Hixon. All in favor.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Aye. Okay. Thank you very much. And I think I have a plaque I want to give to — if I could get Mrs. Parker and her family up front.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I forgot the cigar, too. I never forgot — he chewed that cigar all the time. I miss the man.
MRS. PARKER: I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. This was his life, and he was my life. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Barbara, and the Parker family. We are now going to be getting into the meat of the meeting. So any of those individuals who want to stay, of course, feel free to stay. But this may be a time to leave. We are done with recognitions and awards. (Pause.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We have one other staff member, I think, Leia Deyhle from Representative Homer's office, the Cultural, Recreational and Tourism Committee. So Representative Homer is the Chairman of that committee. One of our oversight committees for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
With that, we will move on to Item Number 3, an action item. Deer breeder rule amendments.
Mr. Mitch Lockwood, please make your presentation.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. My name is Mitch Lockwood, and I am the white-tailed deer program leader. This morning I will present a proposed change to the rules regarding the transfer of breeder deer.
The rule is specific as to whom or where one may transfer legally possessed breeder deer. To include another deer breeder, a nursing facility, a medical facility, an DMP facility, and for liberation. We propose to amend this rule to allow the transfer of breeder deer to the holder of a valid educational display or zoological permit that is issued by the Department.
As of yesterday afternoon, we have received comment from 18 individuals on this item, 17 of which are in support of this proposed change. The one in opposition is opposed to the practice of deer breeding in general. Therefore, staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt amendments to 65.610 and 65.612 concerning deer breeder permits with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the February 20, 2009, issue of the Texas Register.
This concludes my presentation. I will attempt to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions? Pretty straightforward.
Mitch, thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. There is nobody signed up to speak. Do I have a motion on this?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved, Commissioner Friedkin. I need a second.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second, Commissioner Bivins.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All in favor.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Thank you, Mitch.
Item Number 4, action. Trapping, transporting, transplanting, another deer permit rule amendment.
Mr. Alan Cain, please make your presentation.
MR. CAIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. My name is Alan Cain, and I am the district leader for the South Texas Wildlife District, and I will be presenting a proposal for an application deadline for the trap, transport and transplant permit, commonly referred to as TTT.
The next couple of slides go over a few of the rules, the current rules of the TTT program. First, complete applications received by the Department staff between September 1, and November 15, in a calendar year shall be approved or denied within 45 days. Applications may be received by the Department through March 31, and deer may be trapped and relocated between October 1, and March 31. Currently, folks have seven months to get us applications under this time frame. In addition, the TTT rules also require field approval of the wildlife management plan for the release site. Also field approval of the trap site and the release site portions of the TTT application.
And most important, habitat inspection on release sites to ensure that those properties can handle additional deer without negative impact to the native habitat. At issue, or staff's issue with this late deadline, so to speak, or no deadline, is that the majority of these TTT applications received after January 1.
And for example, in 2007, 2008, there were 77 TTT permits issued. Fifty-one of those occurred after February 1. That may not seem like a lot of permits, but it represents over 146 release sites, 87 of those occur in South Texas alone, in my district, and I have got 10 staff to handle that site, among other job responsibilities.
And to put things in perspective, they have got over 1,200 wildlife management plans that we have to deal with, aside from everything else. So there's lots going on down there. Our field biologists are constrained by the necessity to complete these TTT inspections, habitat inspections, especially with these late requests, in addition to providing equitable time to other job responsibilities, including programs such as the Managed Land Deer Permit program, which is habitat based, and also requires these habitat inspections out there.
In addition to our other job duties, such as technical guidance, regulatory surveys, research, everything that we are conducting in the field. So there is lots going on. And these late requests can constrain us in accomplishing these other job duties. As a solution to this issue, staff proposed the following rule change.
It would state that all TTT applications must be received by the Department staff no later than the first business day in January of the current permit year, and applications submitted to Department staff require at minimum that the trap site and the release site and the number of deer to be trapped and released be designated on that application. Now what was published in the Texas Register was a January 1 deadline.
After discussion yesterday with the Commission we revised that to the first business day following January 1, to be consistent with your suggestions and recommendations. To date, we received 26 online public comments from our Parks and Wildlife online comment section. Twelve were in favor, 14 opposed. Two of those that were opposed to the deer TTT deadline, were just against deer trapping in general. Twelve of those folks just opposed the deadline.
I have also had conversation myself, as well as some staff with other consultants, landowners, land managers. They are in favor of either January 2 deadline, or this early deadline, or as late as the January 15 deadline. Some of their justifications, trap site folks thought it was a good idea for them to have early deadlines so they could better plan and manage their deer, their deer management, so to speak.
For example, if they have got release sites that are potentially going to get deer to, and they fall through, then they have other alternative means whether that is general season, or it may be late season, MLDP harvest to remove some deer off the place. Inversely, those release site folks, some of them that I have talked to that say, yes, we would like to have a deadline.
Or if we had one early, and we needed to remove some additional deer to make room for TTT deer, we would have time to do that through harvest. This proposal has also been presented to the White-tail Deer Advisory Committee, back last October. And they supported this January 1 deadline, or this early deadline.
We have also presented this proposal to the Texas Wildlife Association and the Texas Deer Association. The Texas Wildlife Association they have heard this proposal in November. Their executive committee again, with their deer committee has heard it in December, and we visited again in February. So we fully expressed and tried to present this proposal to those folks, and explain what we are looking at.
And it has also been presented, the Texas Deer Association representatives in February. Both of those groups did not support our early deadline, or the January 1 deadline. And they have offered alternatives from as early as January 20 to February 1, and even March 1, in just some of the conversations they had. Nonetheless, they disagreed with our proposed deadline change.
And just in summary, I would like the Commission to understand that our research in South Texas on our habitat sampling method indicates that winter is the best sampling period to conduct these habitat surveys. So there is a short time window, which limits our ability to conduct a number of browse surveys, whether that be for managed lands deer permits, TTTs or whatever. You know, a private landowner may just request one anyway.
Both TTT and MLDP permits have requirements for these browse surveys. And so there is competing interests between the two, you know. We have got to have time to do both, to try to manage that time. Staff feels that a deadline, the first business day in January would allow us the flexibility and planning to address current TTT demands, plus meet some of those demands of our MLDP program that requires that, and provide good service.
You know, we are not trying to use this deadline to lighten our workload. We want to be sure that we can plan and get to those folks out there that are requesting these TTTs. But these late deadlines are having us, causing us to put off some other responsibilities. Or maybe not get to some of these folks.
So staff also feels it is important at this early January deadline to help us maintain their integrity to these other programs, such as the Managed Land Deer Permit program, which is habitat based. You know, we use that habitat information for the Managed Land Deer Permit survey to determine if our management recommendations are helping meet the goals of those private landowners that we are working with out there.
Staff did not feel that a deadline later than this first business day in January would suit our needs. We have looked at deadlines, and discussed deadlines from November 15 to early December to a little bit later. But based on our schedule and our workloads and what we see, we think this early January deadline will allow us the flexibility to address these concerns, a TTT request from folks, and to accomplish other job responsibilities out there.
That concludes my presentation. And I will be happy to answer any questions. Excuse me. Staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts amendments to 65.107 concerning permits for the trap, transporting and transplanting of game animals and game birds with the changes that is necessary to the proposed text, as published in the April 20, 2009, issue of the Texas Register.
That concludes my presentation. So if you all have any questions, I will try to answer those.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Ann Bright, did you have something you needed to add?
MS. BRIGHT: The date is wrong.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, is the date wrong? I didn't even notice. Yes.
MR. CAIN: Okay. As published in the Texas Register. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Are we safe, Ann? Okay. Fair enough. Any questions for Alan from the Commission? I think we can go ahead. Dan, you have one? Sorry. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. We do have some people that want to speak. Karl Kinsel.
Karl? Good to see you, my friend. Glad you are here.
MR. KINSEL: Thank you, Commissioners. I am Karl Kinsel, Executive Director of the Texas Deer Association. Also a South Texas rancher in the Cotulla area. Cow, calf and yearling stock operations and low and high fence hunting operations. Great presentation by staff, and a very good presentation, Alan, from staff's perspective.
Let me present it from another perspective, if I may, please. And I will address it kind of as the big picture, and then I will get down to the opposition that we, the Texas Deer Association in particular, about 14 of our different constituents you could call it, or members of our association have expressed to us that limits the ability of this program to be as good as it is.
Heavy increases in fees. We have been there. Without enough written notice. We feel we have been there also. But this unrealistic participation deadline, although we sympathize with staff's workload, we see it, we understand it. We respect it.
Yet at the same time, we don't want these deadlines to hurt a program that I think is one of the best programs you all have. It helps people. It helps deer. It helps habitat. It is kind of the cornerstone of what Parks and Wildlife stands for.
So what brought this about, you really had brought this here, is the adoption of fees increases, that made us, the laymen or the users assume, okay, if we go from $180 to $750, gosh, we can get this thing staffed. But now that is not the case. Now we are going to put a deadline on the program that will keep us from using it.
Because — put yourself not in the staff mentality but in the user mentality. Most of our users in this day and time are Houston doctors, lawyers or whatever they are that come to their ranch in the winter. And that is when they see the herd. That is when they understand it.
Maybe their ranch manager biologist told them all along, we need to move deer off. We need to bring deer on. We need to remove some off to help habitat. Parks and Wildlife provides a permit for that. We need to bring some on, because we need some new genetics, or we are short a deer, and that is propagation. Parks and Wildlife provides for that.
But they don't decide it until the hunting season, and that is just realistic. Can we force them to start working earlier? Yes. Over time. But not with a deadline that kills the program.
So what we are asking here, is those people that really realize it during the hunting season, and maybe more particularly, the Christmas holidays, and then they figure out, come January 1, my time is over. I can't use this. So I've hurt the habitat, the people, the deer and the program for at least that year.
We do have solutions. We do have some things we would like to propose on that. My time is up. I will stop there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Go ahead, Karl. I would like him to finish. Go ahead, Karl.
MR. KINSEL: Okay. My print got too little so I had to put my glasses on right quick. We also are dealing only today with the date. And I understand that. But we also question the accounting principles that took that $750 and where is that parity in other programs. So let me make that statement, and I will go to our solution.
If this biologist permit signature is on MLDPs, we question how many of these properties that are asking for TTTs area already MLDPs, and if such, has not that permission already been granted? Asking for a redundancy in getting another signature on a TTT costs staff time, money, exercise, energy. The same thing goes. That is equal though.
That is the same burden on the producer that it is on the staff. And that situation has caused some legislation. And there is no question, let me make that out of context right there too. We hate the legislative necessities from time to time, when we can't deal with it regulatorially. But that has been the case.
So I am referring to some of that, that is happening now. If in fact, MLDP cooperators, and I am sure that Alan or Mitch could address this, why is it do we need the duplicate signature on TTTs, and even more so, if we don't need the duplicate signatures, why do we need the duplication of time, energy, effort, money?
There is no cost if it has already been done, and there is no time allocation if it has already been done. Yet there is another $750 charge for it. And the issue of time that burdens staff.
The question then would be of the 77 and the 51 we talk about that came in after January. How many of those are in the MLDP and is that possibly an answer that helps us. You also — this application complete.
I bet to argue that when Mitch and Alan and I, Morty Berry, Lee Wheeler, when we met and those others have talked, this application complete, I think you call it provisionally complete. It is totally complete from a landowner perspective.
If I have got to know how many and who is going to take them and all that, that is as complete as it gets, see. CWD requirements or something, we know we have to do, and to write the check is not a problem. So we understood during the last, Chairman, and what you told us to come back with incentive programs to help on the deadline problems, and also to look at a way that we could do the permits so staff might fear to allocate manpower, but not have to have all the completed part of it, including, who is going to take these deer, which takes the longest part of the program. We have not done that.
We would ask for a February 1 deadline, and we would ask that an incentive program be put in here. Maybe a reduction in fee for those who get it in earlier. It makes a lot of difference. That is a lot of money for people taking 10 deer to their property.
And that is the reality of it is, the big landowners may trap 200 to get rid of them, or 200 permits to shoot them. If you make it so hard that they can't remove them, either they won't, and that hurts habitat, or they will just kill them, and that doesn't help population. It doesn't help somebody that needs them.
So I would ask that we not hurt a permit by overburdening it with fees or deadlines that are unrealistic to the user, although we respect staff's requests. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Karl.
Any questions for Karl?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. I was going to ask — well, I have got one other. Let's have Kirby.
Thank you, Karl. And let's have Kirby. Kirby Brown wanted to come up and speak on this.
And I will ask Alan, you or Clayton, somebody get up and kind of speak to some of these issues, just quickly. And then we will take a vote.
MR. BROWN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, good to see you. My name is Kirby Brown. I am with Texas Wildlife Association. And we have discussed this pretty extensively within both the Executive Committee and our Deer Management Committee. And our folks at both levels feel a better deadline is a February 1 deadline for the users themselves.
And while we continue to understand the concerns of staff, we think moving it two months to February 1, basically creates a whole new calendar that staff can work with, and an opportunity for them to look at this over a year, see what they are actually getting. See if that works in a way that helps them to kind of plug some dates in that they can do this for late opportunities. While at the same time, we work with them to move most of the people, the majority of people forward, so they can have input.
And so we think there are opportunities to do that. And use the February 1 date, just for those people that are actually going to be late in their decision making. Because as you know in South Texas and parts of the Hill Country, a lot of people start flying their helicopter surveys as a January survey. They don't know what they have. That is the first time they can really get up there after some of this.
And also, usually, it is after the peak of the rut in South Texas. They have had a chance to start sitting down and looking, over the holidays, at things that are going on. They have now got to make contacts with people, decide what they are going to do. Go forward. This is just too quick.
And it is, the perception will be that this is a bureaucratic decision that has come down that is very staff oriented and really not a user-oriented decision. From our standpoint, we don't think that is the best direction for the Department. It is not the best perception of the Department.
And we certainly hope that you all would consider that as you think about it. We are ready to work together with you in any way. We proposed a single alternative. But there are other alternatives that I think exist out there, that we can discuss, that could include additional ways for funding any additional programs that are out there.
But certainly, if staff are maxed, we need to be looking at private sector solutions that can come in and assist, that continue to create program credibility that we have right now. And that is all I need to say. Just wanted to pass that on to you guys.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Kirby.
MR. BROWN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions for Kirby?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thanks, Kirby. And Karl, thank you.
Alan, do you want to visit about that for a couple of moments?
MR. CAIN: Yes, sir. For the record, my name is Alan Cain. As far as the number of MLD cooperators that receive TTTs, I don't have that number. I can't tell you offhand. I can tell you though, that folks that are trap site, generally not a problem. We can sign off on that. It is just part of the application. The release sites that may be under a Managed Land Deer Permit program, many of those that are on the Level 2 or 3, there is a provision in the TTT rules that after three years of data, and if everything is in check, and you are meeting your goals, deer-density-wise, then we could sign off without doing a habitat inspection.
But we are so far behind, trying to keep up with this Managed Land Deer Permit, inspection of those properties, that if they are requesting TTTs a lot of them may not have been done anyway. And so we need to get to those folks in addition. So that may speed up, for those MLD properties.
But staff also get a lot of requests from folks just off the street. You know we hear comments like, somebody called me and said, I have got 10 deer to get rid of; do you want 10 for your ranch? You know, those folks never knew they needed deer in the first place.
So there is people out there that are kind of soliciting. Which I understand ranchers are trying to find places to go to. But the deadline hurts the folks that don't know that they needed deer, they never knew they needed deer in the first place.
In addition, I understand that folks do a lot of surveys late in the year. January, maybe some in February, late December. And they don't make a decision. But those same folks, they continuously year after year do those late season surveys. They know, basically, it is the end of deer season. The end of hunting season.
They know what is going to be left out there, what is going to be coming into that fall population. Those folks are also collecting, especially during their MLD, some herd composition data. So we know what that fawn crop is, coming into the fall.
Those landowners ought to have an idea early in October, November, what their deer population is, and whether that needs to be lowered through harvest or TTT or whatever mechanism they have available to them. But you know, as far as the TTT and the number of MLD cooperators, a lot of those times, we still need to do habitat inspection. And just because a person has got the required data that we can forgo that, doesn't mean that we need do.
Maybe that place, we have got some questions about the deer population out there; what the real impact is. We may need to follow up, even if we have done a browse survey on the place. And so we want to make sure that we let deer, approve a permit to move some of those deer to other properties, it is not going to impact that native habitat.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
MR. CAIN: I may let, with the Chairman's permission, let Clayton speak to some of the other issues.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. I will give him permission.
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman, for the record, I am Clayton Wolf. And just a couple of things that Alan spoke to on some of these last minute requests. We did visit with TWA and TDA and did listen to the recommendations for some incentive-type programs, or a fee incentive or something to encourage folks to apply earlier. Maybe discourage folks from applying later.
But Alan did hit on a critical point where we felt like this simply wouldn't function and that is, a lot of these late season requests are from folks that are not familiar with the program. And so if we have an incentive built into a program that they are not familiar with, then obviously, by the time they find out that they would like to have some deer, it is too late.
And also, in visiting with TWA and TDA representatives on what they expressed, at least in our early meetings was that this, this would basically be a one-year issue. That once folks learned about this, after year two, it wouldn't be an issue. And we even talked about a phase-in program. And just to be honest with you, we felt like it was — that it would be a very complicated rulemaking process, or at least, we would be coming back again to you.
And then it wouldn't help Alan and the folks in South Texas deal with the workload problem coming up. And then finally, although not directly related to the proposal at hand that you are considering, but the fee structure for TTT permits, I do want to make clear that — I believe there was a comment that I guess there was an assumption that with the fee increase, services would be increased.
And I just would like to remind you that when we went through the methodology for the last fee increase, we were simply recovering our expenses out there. So we were charging $180 at the time, and we were doing $750 in work. So it was a break-even proposal with no promise to provide more services. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Clayton, thank you. And Alan, thank you.
Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: One, and I understand TWA and TDA's frustration a bit on this. That White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee, which both of you have representatives on there, is certainly aware of a lot of this thought-processes, that it processed. And so this isn't just staff driven. It did go through the Advisory Committee. And I would just tell you, from my point of view, I rely on that a lot.
So and certainly, I think, Kirby, and I can't remember if I talked to you, Karl, and explain that it kind of got by you. And I understand that. But so I just want make sure everybody understands, this isn't just staff driven. It was brought by staff, but it did go through the White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee and that is what that Advisory Committee is for.
And so I want to go ahead and take a vote on this. Is there any other discussion on this?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Mr. Chairman?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: I would like to ask staff, or maybe somebody, is there somebody here from the White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No. I don't think so.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: If maybe they considered a hybrid solution. And I know we discussed it a bunch yesterday. But if there was a way to extend the application deadline with some kind of maybe increase in cost.
And is there the possibility of hiring outside consultants to help our staff with this surge in need at the end of this deadline period, when all of a sudden, a lot of people may ask if it can be done. Can we hire outside consultants, and pass that cost on to the person that is requesting it?
MR. SMITH: Clayton.
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman, again, for the record I am Clayton Wolf. Commissioner, from the perspective of looking at a fee increase or some kind of differing fee structure, once again, we have some perennial TTT-ers. And from what we hear from them, they are aware of the fee structure.
And if this proposal goes through, or if it doesn't, they will be familiar with that. It is those folks that are not familiar with the TTT program, and we do get requests in February and March of every year, last minute requests. And typically, those are folks that are new to the program.
They may be a one-time release site, and we may never see them again. And so once again, if we try to build in any kind of incentive, what we feel like is those folks won't be aware of that incentive. They will come late and it will be after the deadline. And they probably would pay the increased fee to get the deer.
So it wouldn't in any way — we do not think it would in any way change the workload or reduce the number of late requests. To the using the private sector, right now, the private sector is allowed to write wildlife management plans. And I do need to make it clear that for a site to qualify for release that they do have to have a wildlife management plan.
But that plan does not have to be prepared by a Parks and Wildlife biologist. However, it does have to be approved, and that site inspection does have to take place. One other note — probably two sessions back, there was a bill filed that would look to put a lot of responsibility on the private sector, including decision-making responsibility for releases.
And we took that draft language, or that filed language to our White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee and talked about that. And at least at that time, and the committee composition has changed some. But at that time, the committee recommended that that ultimate decision on approval or denial remain with the Department since that is — the statutes actually delegate that authority to us. So that was the state of affairs at that time.
But I would like to reiterate at least some of those activities can be done by consultants, and in fact, they are, as far as preparing the plan, looking at the data and even collecting the data. I hope that answers your question.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Are you okay with that?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes. Just to follow up on that. If, let's say that we stay with the time frame that you all are recommending, which would be the first business day after the first of January, I believe, if somebody wanted to file an application after that, to work with your recommendation, some of these other organizations, is there any way that we could put in language to say that if it is done after that deadline, after our deadline, the 2nd of January, or the first working day after January, that the cost would be passed on directly to the landowner, and that they would have to hire an outside consultant?
Is there — I am just trying to find a way to work with these organizations, understanding that you all have a really tight deadline. And the presentation yesterday was really good about why we can't extend that end of March deadline to the middle of April to accommodate some of these other thoughts. So is there something else that we could do so that it doesn't encumber you with more work, and yet, they realize that if they file late, they are going to have to pay somebody out of their own pocket to get this done by a second deadline that we could set.
MR. WOLF: Well obviously, that is a decision that this Commission has to make. The staff recommendation is that at least in summary that we felt like that would not — that there would be a lot of latecomers. In fact, we do have, when folks show up late, and staff doesn't have to write the plan, Alan, correct me if I am wrong, many folks get private consultants.
They pay them to prepare the plan, because we don't have to do that. So it is really simply the habitat inspection.
MR. CAIN: Again, just Alan Cain for the record. But again, I wanted to reiterate, there are some folks, while there is a handful that come in with these late requests, and we say, we can't get to you, if you don't have a plan, you don't have a survey. And they will hire consultants.
But there is others that don't have the money or the funds that are going to say, Hey, can we get your assistance? You know, we are going to help them out that direction, you know. And as far as the browse survey, like Clayton said, I don't know. I guess that is in statute or whatever, that we are responsible for conducting that and not the private consultants.
You know, they can prepare a bunch of that stuff and get it going early. But the browse surveys are a lot of what is hanging us up, you know. Trying to accomplish those.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It is your inspection. And your inspection time is the issue.
MR. CAIN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I personally would prefer that stays in Texas Parks and Wildlife versus going outside on that side of the habitat issue. It is what MLDPs are all about. I mean, I am generalizing to make a point.
And so I would like that to stay within the Department. I think it is important to have it there. Thank you all. Why don't we go ahead and take a vote on this.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Mr. Chairman?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I have a question. On the recommendation of staff, the first clause of subparagraph B says, "Applications received by the Department between September 1 and November 15 in a calendar year shall be approved or denied within 45 days of receipt." If we adopt the first business day in January, would November 15 change to the first business day in January?
MR. CAIN: No, sir. That would still remain intact. If they get us the applications by the 15th of November, we have to guarantee response. After that, there is no guarantee. There is no 45-day approval process. You know, it is just we have time to get to it, even with that early deadline.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. I just wanted to be clear on that.
MR. KINSEL: Chairman?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure. Yes. Come on up, Karl.
MR. KINSEL: I will be quick.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. No problem.
MR. KINSEL: I would like to address that, too. Because I think that is a great thing that the Department has offered. And I think there is something here, we are maybe missing the boat on it. We are all extremely guilty of, especially from the associations, TDA and TWA and from the Department.
No matter what we do, if we don't mark it, what it is, so that the people can know. Alan specifically said, Well, maybe this is the problem. Or Clayton, I believe, problem for a year, and then everybody will know. But in the same paragraph he said, there is a lot of them that come up here that don't know anything, so how are they going to know anything?
If we do not mark it and let people know, and you all have the names and the numbers in the database, at least the ones who have used it in the past. And those are the ones that are more inclined to tell others. We will be here again.
So I again, would ask also that the Commission look at the number of MLDPs that are requesting this TTT usage. Because although we have said today that we don't know what that number is, I think the reality is, because staff is behind on site inspections for MLDPs, we are punishing TTTs. And I would like to be careful with that.
That is a great program, and it doesn't need to have a negative connotation on it. Again, I would love to see an incentive program. And I would love to see a February 1. And let's take it to January 1 next time if you need to. I understand what staff needs. But as I look through here, what you have today before you is all about what staff needs. That is not what the producer needs. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, Karl.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Karl, I think you raise a good point about marketing our program, certainly.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. That is certainly the case.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That is something we need to certainly take a look at. But Clayton, I just want to confirm what I thought I understood yesterday, and that is that the Advisory Committee has had an opportunity, even though it didn't convene, to discuss this issue since our last meeting. Is that correct?
MR. WOLF: Yes. Since the Advisory Committee meeting was presented this one time in the full body, and then we worked through the Chairman, Mr. Bass, to verify that the Advisory Committee — stance. But there hasn't been a meeting since then.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. WOLF: And a good point that Karl makes, we do have a database and it would be very easy for us to get those names and numbers, if a rule change is adopted, and let folks know, and go back and cover those. Let everybody know about that. At least those folks that have been permitted for a while.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right. Let's go ahead and look at the MLDP permits and TTT and address that in the future, and make sure that we are not, in fact, charging twice for those services.
MR. SMITH: Absolutely. We will look into that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, everybody. Any other comments or questions from the Commission?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Let me make sure I am doing this right. Do I have a motion to approve?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I am sorry. Commissioner Bivins. Second?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second, Commissioner Friedkin. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you. Thank you everybody, and thank you for your comments, Karl and Kirby, thank you. Item Number 5, a 2009, 2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing proclamation. We will make this presentation.
And we do have a lot of people that have signed up for comment. And we will want to go ahead and move through those also. So I have quite a few. Yes, sir.
MR. TERRE: Thank you, Chairman Holt, Commissioners. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you. I would like to present the freshwater-fishing proposed changes for this year, again, for your consideration.
Our first proposal has to do with Lake Ray Roberts, which is a 25,000-acre reservoir located near Denton, Texas. This lake is surrounded by state parks and a Wildlife Management Area and offers excellent fishing opportunities for a variety of species. In 1998, the Department implemented a special 14-to-24-inch slot length limit and five-fish daily bag limit.
Our management goal at that time was to increase trophy bass fishing opportunities on this reservoir. As we have shown you in previous Commission meetings, here last January. These limits did not meet our expectations in terms of increasing the numbers of large fish in this reservoir.
Consequently, we recommend changing the harvest limits to the statewide 14-inch-minimum, five-fish daily bag limits. We now believe that these less restrictive limits here are better suited for this fish population and fishery. These new limits are expected to draw more tournaments to this lake, and in doing so, we feel like they will yield some positive economic benefits to the local community.
And all of our bass anglers generally support the statewide 14-inch-minimum size limit. As far as public commentary on this, the proposal received a great deal of public support at our public hearings, and on the Department's website. Blue catfish. Anglers are beginning to support the idea of creating trophy fisheries for catfish, and are now open to the idea of more restrictive size limits to accomplish this.
To explore these opportunities, we have proposed an experimental 30- to 45-inch slot length limit and 25-fish daily bag limit, of which only one fish over 45 inches could be harvested per day. This limit would allow harvest of fish up to 25 fish both below and above the slot limit. Of course, one fish could be 45 inches or larger.
Blue catfish and channel catfish in this reservoir, in our experimental reservoirs, are currently managed using statewide 12-inch-minimum length and five-fish daily bag limits. Candidate reservoirs for this experimental slot include Lake Waco in McLennan County, Lake Lewisville in Denton County, and Richland Chambers in Navarro County. We feel that the benefits of this regulation is that they are expected to increase — this experimental regulation is expected to increase numbers of fish in these populations, over 30 inches in size. We believe that this will draw an increased number of anglers in pursuit of trophy-fish, specifically, the blue catfish. Under these rules, anglers will be able to retain one blue catfish over 45 inches, but will offer opportunities for them to submit those-fish as lake records, or state records.
That information is also going to be useful to us as we go forward and evaluate these limits. These new limits are expected to improve and diversify catfish angling opportunities in the State of Texas. Follow-up studies by the staff will help guide future management efforts as we go forward with the management of catfish in Texas. So the information is useful for us.
As far as public comments were heard, at our public hearings, we had seven comments that were heard in favor of the proposed rule change, and five against. Comments made on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, however, showed very solid support for this regulation change. Lake Texoma. The Department regularly meets with the Oklahoma agency to share results of our-fisheries management surveys and to discuss management options on Lake Texoma.
Through the years, we have made considerable effort to standardize the rules between the Texas and the Oklahoma sides of this reservoir. This helps reduce angler confusion about regulations and aids law enforcement efforts on the water. On January 1, 2009, the Oklahoma agency put into place a one-fish-per-day daily bag limit for alligator gar, and a May spawning closure on the upper end of this reservoir.
We support these management actions, and desire to reciprocate on the Texas side to keep regulations consistent. As far as blue catfish, the Oklahoma agency has recently adopted a statewide one-fish-per-day over 30-inch rule for blue catfish, which would obviously affect Lake Texoma. The total bag limit there would remain at 15 fish.
This regulation would go into effect, will go into effect on the Oklahoma side of the reservoir, on January 1, 2010. We support these management actions as well, and would like to reciprocate on the Texas side of the reservoir to keep the regulations consistent on the lake. A few public comments were made on this proposal during the public hearing process.
However, comments made on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website showed good support for these changes. Now for a little bit of housecleaning. Town Lake in Travis County is currently managed with a 14-to-21-inch slot limit for largemouth bass. This lake was recently renamed in honor of Lady Bird Johnson. The reservoir is now called Lady Bird Lake.
We propose to make this name change in the Statewide Fishing and Hunting Proclamation. Alligator gar. Interest in alligator gar, the species as a trophy fish has increased in recent years. Information on gar species is generally limited, because they are often difficult to catch using standardized fishing survey methodologies, and populations have been depleted in many areas of the country.
Numerous states have joined forces through the American Fisheries Society to combine their data sets, and discuss options for management to ensure the viability of the species and to help maintain these valuable fisheries. Alligator gar have been listed as a species of concern in two states, in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Populations have already been extirpated in the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
And the species was recently listed as vulnerable by the American Fisheries Society's Endangered Fishes Committee. Several southern states have adopted fishing regulations for alligator gar. We have contacted all these states, and most states enacted these regulations in response to declining populations and shrinking range.
Some states, like the states of Oklahoma and Arkansas are concerned also about the potential for over-exploitation by angling. Many have enacted regulations with little or no data. Some desire to make their regulations more restrictive. Arkansas has even expressed an interest in using the Texas data to help build their case for more restrictive limits next year, in Arkansas.
The map on your screen there shows the general distribution of alligator gar populations in Texas. We have viable populations in areas. One is the Trinity River system and a few reservoirs in Texas, and also in our coastal bays and estuaries. It is important to note that alligator gar is only one of four species of gar in the State of Texas. There is generally less recreational interest in the long nose, spotted, and the short nose gar.
Alligator gar get very large and have a very unique life history characteristics that make them vulnerable to depletion through harvest or in changing environmental conditions. Let's talk about some of those characteristics. Alligator gar are a very long-lived species. A large female may be as old as 50 to 75 years. These populations experience low annual mortality rates, and a few fish actually reach these trophy sizes.
Alligator gars take a long time to become reproductively mature. Males take at least eight years to become mature, and females take better than 12 years to become mature, and to be able to spawn. Alligator gar need flooded terrestrial vegetative habitat and specific water temperature regimens at a specific time of the year to spawn successfully.
These conditions do not occur every year in Texas, and those conditions are expected to occur less frequently as we go forward, and water demands in the state increase. The Texas Parks and Wildlife began studies on alligator gar back in the late 1980s. We did a food habit study on Sam Rayburn Reservoir and found that alligator gar consume primarily gizzard shad, channel catfish and freshwater drum.
The population on Rayburn at this time was dominated only by a few year's classes of very large fish, and these populations were quickly depleted by commercial angling. We notice no impact to the game fish populations in Rayburn before and after depletion of the gar. And the Department is currently conducting other research investigations in many areas of the state.
Let's talk about those. Here is a map that shows the sampling locations that we currently are working on in Texas. We are looking at population size structure, year class strength, and are doing mark recapture studies currently to determine population size in the Trinity River system. We are also looking at seasonal movements, and doing some habitat use studies in the lower Trinity River using 38 radio-tagged fish. We have those transmitters in those fish right now.
We are continuing to supplement our food habits information on this species. We are collecting fish for information regarding for potential fish contaminants studies. We are supplementing our age and grow samples in numerous locations, and comparing those to age and growth work that has been done in other areas of the country. And we are conducting genetic studies in partnership with the Coastal Fisheries Division.
We are also sharing all the work that we are doing, and Texas is really considered a leader now in alligator gar research and work and our intention is to share — we are currently sharing that information with other agencies. This graph shows a basic comparison between the length frequencies of gar that you see currently in the Trinity River, which supports a great alligator gar population and in a location in Louisiana.
As you can see, what makes the Texas population unique are its large fish. The blue line there indicates the reproductive size and maturity of the males, and pink, the reproductive size and maturity average for females. So you can see that Texas has quite a few good quality populations, good numbers of fish. But those fish are certainly at risk. It is these fish that make Texas fishing for alligator gar popular.
And it is why people come to the state, to come fish these fish. These fish would be difficult to replace if populations became over-exploited, mainly because of their unique life history characteristics that I discussed earlier. As far as their status in Texas, Texas currently has the best remaining alligator gar populations in the United States.
We believe now that we have a window of opportunity to help protect this population and this valuable fishery. Our management goals are to sustain trophy harvest and to ensure viable populations long into our future. But to attain these goals, we must reduce harvest to sustainable levels and to protect critical habitats needed by the species.
So our proposal is as follows. Our proposal is to limit harvest of alligator gar to one fish per day. This rule will apply to recreational and commercial anglers. We view it as a first step for managing these valuable populations.
We will, of course, continue our research efforts throughout the State of Texas and in these key systems. And we will come forward and adjust these rules, or make recommendations to adjust these rules as needed.
As far as public comments were concerned, we had quite a bit of opposition in our public hearing process. Two individuals spoke in favor of it, 79 against. Those people who spoke in against were largely bow fisherman or commercial anglers.
However, on our Texas Parks and Wildlife website, we received good support for this proposal. We had 231 in support of the proposal and 92 people rejected it. Another 42 did not support the proposal in its entirety, but based on their written comments, about 30 percent of those individuals felt these rules were not restrictive enough.
So anyway, with that, Phil and I will be happy to answer any additional questions that you have. And I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Any questions before we move on?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, sir.
Okay. Robin, you are up next. This is all under Item Number 5. We will be going through each one of these, the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamations.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Carter?
MR. RIECHERS: Excuse me just for a second while we try to get the slide show back up.
MR. RIECHERS: For the record, my name is Robin Riechers. And I am here to present you the 2009, 2010 Coastal Fisheries Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proposals. Again, to recap, our public hearing proposals have three items that we will bring before you today.
One is a paddle craft guide license item. The second is a suite of species that we are considering for consistency with federal regulations. And then thirdly, we have both recreational and commercial consideration of limits and a possible closure regarding the flounder fishery.
I will kind of walk you back through our process. We held numerous scoping meetings along the coast, and those five locations that you see there. We held two rounds of those in the fall, which is a total of 10 meetings. We also created a recreational and commercial working group, each of which met twice. And then throughout the Statewide Hunting and Fishing process, there were 47 hearings across the state, of which we had comments at 13 of those.
When you look at the total, in total throughout the scoping and the public hearing process, obviously, we have heard from a lot of folks. Over 6,000 in the scoping phase, and then over the public hearing phase, over 4,000 comments regarding some aspect of these proposals. Yesterday, I went into pretty good detail about what these different organizations actually, what their recommendations were.
Today, I am just going to indicate that we did receive comments from the Coastal Bend Guides Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Port Aransas Boatmen's Association, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, Saltwater Fisheries Enhancement Association, Ocean Conservancy and the Pew Environmental Group. Some of those representatives are here today, and since I did go into detail about it yesterday, I won't go through those in detail today.
When we look at paddle craft guide endorsement again, what we were looking at when we came to you with this proposal was that under the current conditions, anyone who has a — to be a guide on a paddle craft, you now have to have an all-water guide license. That requires you to have a United States Coast Guard Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel certification. That particular certification requires 360 days of sea time in a power boat.
We believe that that particular requirement fails to address the unique safety issues associated with kayaks and canoes. And it is really kind of an overburdensome kind of requirement for someone who may not be in a power boat. Our proposal that we published basically required that the person go through a TPWD boater safety course, have a CPR and a first aid course. And then we had the options of American Canoe Association courses or British Canoe Union certifications.
And what we proposed was that they would be at the ACA level, two essentials of kayak touring, and you would also have to have a Coastal Kayak Trip-Leading Course. If you took the British Canoe Union group, you would have to have the British Canoe Union 3 Star Sea Kayak and 4 Star Leader Sea Kayak Course.
When you look at the comment summary regarding these proposals, you see that about 89 percent of those people who spoke to this proposal support the proposal. And about 11 percent opposed the proposal. On the opposition side, there was a general feeling that it was not inclusive of those general boating safety guidelines. It was not as stringent as the U.S. Coast Guard requirements. And there was a call for drug testing, if we were going to do that.
Again, as I indicated yesterday when we looked further into this proposed amendment, we basically saw the need, that all we really need to do is require the second courses that we had listed in that previous proposal, because the first courses are a requirement to get to the second course. So that would actually, if we just require the second one, it leaves the burden on our deputies as they are trying to check for those certifications. So we would propose amending that to require just either of the ACA Coastal Kayak Day Trip-Leading Assessment, or the British Canoe Union 4 Star Leader Sea Kayak program.
Next, we will move into the federal regulation consistency for sharks. Our federal regulation consistency suite, and the first thing we will deal with is sharks. The proposal is to match the federal prohibited shark list. We have 21 species listed there.
And for all those other sharks, except for Atlantic sharp nose, bonnethead, and black tip, which will remain at 24 inches. All the other shark species, where there are allowable take will move to 64 inches total length, which will match the federal consistency of 54 inches fork length.
When we consider other species here, the first of which we are going to consider is greater amberjack. We are increasing the minimum length limit from 32 to 34 inches. Currently, there is a one-fish-per-person-per-day bag limit, and that will remain that way.
For gray triggerfish, we are establishing a 14-inch-minimum length limit and a 20-per-person-per-day bag limit. As I indicated yesterday and the subsequent slide is going to indicate, we are actually going to suggest that be the 16-inch total length minimum length limit because it was just an error that brought that forward. And certainly, the record indicates that we were trying to be consistent with the federal rule.
For gag, we are going to establish a 22-inch-minimum length limit and two-per-person-per-day bag limit. When you look at all the comments in regards to these in aggregate, you can see that other than sharks, all the others are about 95 percent. Sharks are about 90 percent or 87 percent approval. And then when you look at the opposition, you are in that four to five or 13 percent range for sharks, respectively.
As we talk about what those comments really are getting at, mostly in regards to sharks, there is a call for greater protection on some of those species. And to be more proactive in management regarding some of the HMS rules that are still coming down the pike. And HMS is highly migratory species.
There is an amendment 3 that is moving, and there is people that have asked us to go ahead and adopt rules that would affect those species that are being considered there. In addition, the comments also suggest that for the three species we are keeping at 24 inches, to go ahead and move those up to the 64 inches as well. The other part against, is concern over the federal data, and just how the Feds come up with their proposals in regards to this. And sometimes, it is just the lack of information regarding some of these species, which we don't have a lot of information on.
And then lastly, there was a question about identification issues regarding sharks. And as I indicated yesterday, within the context of the federal requirements that were passed, they have done a lot of work in regards to education and identification issues, regarding people in that fishery, and certainly, we are going to follow up here in Texas with that kind of work as well.
As I just indicated, for gray triggerfish, the proposed amendment to the published proposal would be or the staff proposal would be to establish a 16-inch minimum length limit, total length, instead of the 14 total length as published. And that would actually make us consistent with the federal regulation of a 14-inch fork length.
Next, I will move on to flounder, and the flounder issue. As we have discussed for quite some time now, this basic trend summarizes the condition of the flounder fishery. This is our resource independent sampling here that I am showing you. Our gill net catch rates.
And certainly, what you see there is a decline of about 50 percent from the early 1980s to the current time frame. And what that basically means is that to get back to that level of the early '80s, we are going to need something like 100 percent increase in overall spawning stock, biomass, if we are going to get back to that level. That is just kind of a ballpark figure of something that we would want to be looking towards because we want to go back to that historic time frame.
Our proposal regarding flounder was to decrease the bag and possession limits. Bag equals possession limit in this fishery. So in this case, the recreational bag and possession limit would go from 10 to five fish, and the commercial bag limit would go from 60 to 30 fish. And right now, the proposal is to close November to all take of flounder for both the recreational and commercial.
As we walk back through, some of the things that you have considered and certainly we have considered with staff and working with the groups that we have worked with, you see here a suite of options that you looked at, at your last meeting. The one in green is the proposal, and it basically shows that if we would adopt that proposal, you would increase spawn and biomass to about 100 percent. And what you have to do to get to that 100 percent increase is about a 45 percent reduction in overall harvest numbers. And of course, there is other considerations there, several options of which we have considered.
As we try to categorize these flounder comments, I basically took the liberty of trying to figure out some way to categorize them. And the way I did that was, I basically split them into the bag limit categorization and then the closure categorization. When we look at that, so someone might have said they were in favor of the five and 30 but were against the current November closure. They were yes, yes, to five and 30 and then no to the other. So trying to break that down a little bit.
And we did have over 7,800 scoping comments and public hearing comments that in fact, were in favor of the five and 30 bag limit. They were for an October, November and December closure to gigging. But when you see the comments in a second, they would be marked against the closure aspect, but they may have been in favor of a different closure. And in this particular slide, I didn't show you the full 78, because we are only dealing with the period of time after the proposal. And so that is why you have 2,300 or so there.
But as you can see for the five-fish bag limit, 95 percent approval of that proposal. And when you look at the 30-fish bag limit, about the same. As we discussed yesterday, overwhelming lack of support for the November closure here. About 90 percent are not in favor of the November closure, as we proposed it. We discussed this a little bit yesterday, and we just wanted to bring it back up again.
Certainly, there is some — we use our abundance trends. That is really what we manage off of. We look to see whether those abundance trends are going up in time or down in time. One year up does not necessarily make a trend. And so we are kind of looking for a suite of data that would start going back up in that first slide that I showed you.
When we are dealing with the uncertainties in the modeling, certainly, if there is static conditions as of right now. And so if fishing effort goes up, and that leads to an increased take, or increased fishing mortality, then our projection would actually be optimistic in this case. If fishing pressure actually went down, and that allowed more fish to stay in the water, and they weren't actually people catching more fish to make up for that, or to compensate for that, then our proposal would in fact be a little bit pessimistic. So you know, just part of that consideration as you are making your decision.
In regards to this particular rule, because the fish lives about six years, we will see about 90 percent of the total impact of our regulation in three years. And then lastly, I just kind of want to remind folks that we do have a buyback program. It was implemented along with the limited entry program that we put in the commercial fishery in 1999. The buyback program started in the year 2000.
To date, we have purchased about 190 licenses out of that fin fish program. We have a current round open right now. There is 21 applications. I don't know how many of those that we will purchase. We have a ranking system that we do that with. We don't want to overpay for those licenses. We are trying to make sure that we get bang for our buck when we purchase those licenses. Some of them come in at fairly outlandish numbers, and we haven't accepted those in the past.
In considering the amount of lack of support for the November closure as it stands now, we were looking at ways, and presented you a description of the efficiency of gear question that has been brought up from time to time. And when you look at recreational bag distribution by gear, the rod and reel there is in the blue, and kind of the orange figure is the gig fishery. And what that basically shows you is the number of people within the context of each of those fisheries that actually reaches one, two, three or 10 fish in the bag limit as it stands right now.
And you can see that certainly 80 percent or so of the folks that land a flounder, land one flounder in the rod and reel fishery. And then it goes to about 10 percent for two, and then the other 10 percent spread across three to 10. When you look at the gig fishery, you see there, about 18 percent or 20 percent, each land up to one, two or three fish, and then there is — the percentages then are spread until you get to about 10. And at 10 fish there is almost 8 percent or so folks who land up to 10 fish.
With that notion, you know, we basically were looking at, if you were going to allow some opportunity in the month of November, but you wanted to restrict the most efficient gear, here are some options that you may look at. Again, the green indicates your current proposal. And as we walk down, this would be allowing the hook and line fishery with a two-fish bag limit.
And you see that spawning biomass would increase to about 80 percent. If you allow three fish, it goes down to 77 percent, and five fish, 72 percent. When you look at the cost as we have described it, in numbers of fish that would have to be landed, all of those are in the range from 33 to 36 percent in cost, or harvest decline, that you would have to get, to get that rate of recovery. Just to kind of summarize the Regulations Committee discussion yesterday, at the end, as you go to hear public testimony, but you were discussing an amendment that would allow the hook and line fishery a bag limit of X fish for the month of November.
And whether that is two, three or five, certainly, you haven't made your decision on that yet, but I just wanted to go ahead and kind of summarize that discussion with this slide right here. With that, I would be happy to answer any questions, and we will wait on public comment.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Questions. Yes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Robin, if you could go back to the regulation impacts slide that contemplates the hook and line fishing for November. Yes, that one. Is that based on the previous slide that shows the estimates of the number of flounder taken by rod and reel?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. I mean, basically, it includes in the modeling effort the number of fish that are taken by rod and reel, and by gig. Yes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So if you turn back to the recreational bag distribution slide, if those blue bars were to change, and become higher towards the middle of the page, that would essentially wreck your predictions, wouldn't it?
MR. RIECHERS: It certainly, I mean, it would change the amount of increase in biomass that you would expect to get. It would lower the amount, the expectation that is projected here. And certainly, I think the question you are talking about is, if some of those giggers shift to rod and reel during that month, then there may be a chance that more people will catch more fish.
Not more total, but more than projected within the context of the rod and reel fishery right here now. And the other aspect of that is, if people shift their effort in some way, we will not gain as much as we think we are gaining, even with the gig closure, if people shift their effort from the month of November, more to December or more to October. That will also reduce the overall impacts of the regulation.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Commissioner Hixon.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Just sort of an adjunct to that, to Commissioner Duggins' question. When you go back talking about 90 percent recovery of the biomass in three years, the fact that one year, I realize does not make a trend. But all of this, when you are looking at your models, and say — I mean, you are, whatever passes, obviously, you continue to look each year. Because if there is a trend or no, you know, there could be a significant change in that year, could there not?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. Every year, you know, in fact, unfortunately, for some of here in the room, the process for next year statewide almost starts immediately after the gavel today. And so we will start looking at the species again, and flounder is high on our list to continue to looking at it, and we will be reviewing that each and every year, until we reach a point where we feel like we should come back to you, either and talk about the success we have had, or talk to you about maybe further regulations that we need to take.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any other questions for Robin?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, Robin, thank you.
And I think we have one more speaker. Clayton Wolf is up on deer. And then we will get to public comments. Before you speak, Clayton, I wanted to recognize Dr. Doug Slack.
Dr. Slack, are you here? Would you stand up? And he has his class here. Will you quickly explain your class? And we welcome them.
DR. SLACK: It is a conservation course at Texas A&M that talks about conservation policies, history and part of that policy is the rulemaking. The effort of the Commissioners and how they relate to the biology and opinions. So they are learning about the sausage in conservation policy.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I think we talked about that yesterday. Sometimes, it can be kind of ugly. But hopefully, we get things done. Will the class stand up, and we will recognize them. I am glad everybody is here.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you very much. And thank you, Dr. Slack.
And Clayton, with that.
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the record, my name is Clayton Wolf. I am the director of the Big Game Program in the Wildlife Division. And I am here to present to you the Wildlife Division proposals, proposed changes to the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation.
First off, as you recall from yesterday's Committee meeting, we have a proposal to suspend the lesser prairie chicken season in Texas. Lesser prairie chicken numbers in Texas are in decline, as they are across their range. We do know that hunting is not the cause of this decline, and much of this is habitat based. However, our Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee as well as our staff recommended that a prudent measure would be to close this season until these numbers recover to a huntable level.
As far as public comment goes on this particular proposal, we received 238 comments. Ninety-five percent of those individuals agree with the proposal to suspend the lesser prairie chicken season in Texas.
We have a suite of regulation proposals relating to whitetail deer regulations and one for mule deer. If you recall that we went through a rather extensive process here, of looking at every county in the state this year, and trying to develop regulations that fit within the resource management unit and make sure that our regulations match our populations of inference. And so we looked at every county in Texas.
And so I have quite a few proposed changes for you. The slide before you depicts the current buck bag limits in Texas, ranging from one to three, and then even antler restrictions in East Texas. If you will focus your attention there on the eastern Rolling Plains, the two-buck bag limit that we have in the Edwards Plateau, we propose to extend up to the Red River there in nine counties. This area is depicted by larger land ownerships and better controlled harvest and Deer Management programs.
And our data right now indicates very good age structure in this area. And our staff feels that this area can withstand a two-buck bag limit. I will back up again and just show you there, the current buck bag limit in East Texas or the eastern part of the state, and you will see how that ranges anywhere from one to two bucks, and antler restrictions. And we have proposed antler restrictions for an additional 52 counties in Texas.
As far as public comment on these proposals, we segregated those by the addition of the extra buck and the bag limit there in the eastern Rolling Plains. Eighty-seven percent of the individuals that commented agreed with this proposal. In the antler restriction counties, we received 635 comments, and 67 percent of the individuals agreed. And as I indicated yesterday, some of the comments we receive, some of the rationale folks were disagreeing with our proposal, and staff response, but I won't go into detail unless asked.
As far as antlerless, bag limits in Texas, the antlerless bag limit ranges from two to five. And you can see that in the Edwards Plateau and in South Texas, we have our most liberal bag limit. But as I indicated yesterday, particularly in the eastern Panhandle, we have burgeoning deer numbers, and there is a need for landowners and hunters to control deer numbers in this area of the state.
Additionally, in the Cross Timbers, and there toward Dallas-Fort Worth we have deer populations that can sustain additional harvest. And so we are proposing to extend the antlerless bag limit up to five through this region of Texas. We segregated our comments on the web and by public hearings. And you can see there before you the response we received. It was overwhelmingly in favor of.
It ranged anywhere from 84 percent support, up to 91 percent support with 250 to 361 individuals responding. Of course, antlerless bag limits are not the only way that we attempt to manage our deer populations in Texas. We also use Doe Days. That is a term that we utilize. But basically, it allows for the take of antlerless deer without the need for an antlerless deer permit.
And we restrict that to certain days in the season, particularly in the eastern part of the state. This area has smaller tracts of land and hunting pressure can be higher. And so obviously, the need for better control measures. When I transition to the following slide, it will show the proposed changes, and with the exception of one county in Texas, all of our proposals are to increase the number of Doe Days in these counties. The slide there is the current, and this is the proposed.
The one exception that I am referring to there is just north of Collin County there, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. You will see that in that county, there along the Red River, we received — 74 percent of the folks agreed with our proposal. This is Grayson County. And I just want to reiterate that we do intend to maintain the archery only season in Grayson County.
However, we have proposed changes in there, in that county. And one of those proposed changes is the antler restrictions. And the other one is to — we have proposed to go from four Doe Days to antlerless by permit only, to make the antlerless harvest in this county consistent with the others in that RMU to the south. As far as the other comment goes, the response or those that agreed range from 83 percent to 92 percent.
We have proposed to open a whitetail deer season in Dawson, Deaf Smith and Martin counties. Our staff was approached last year when we were going through our rulemaking for adding mule deer seasons in this part of the state. Staff looked at the data and we did find that there are limited whitetail deer populations in this area. And therefore, staff proposed a one-buck, two-antlerless, full season, either sex. Ninety-five percent of the respondents agreed with that. I think it is fair.
It is only fair for those folks in Lamesa, Texas, that showed up at the public hearing to let you know that I believe it was six, seven or eight individuals, all of those people opposed opening seasons. There is a concern about overharvest. And our staff feels that landowners in this area have good control over access and numbers, and they feel like this proposal will allow for harvest and flexibility to manage the deer herd. And obviously, it will provide additional hunting opportunity for three counties in Texas that currently have no hunting, legal hunting opportunity for whitetail deer.
In Dallam, Harley, Moore, Oldham, Potter, and Sherman counties, right now these are the only six counties in the state that have a 16-day whitetail deer season. And this happens to overlap our mule deer season. So staff proposed to make this season consistent with the rest of the general season in Texas, excluding South Texas.
And just to clarify, this was included in the other slides, that would result in a full general season, one-buck, two-antlerless bag limit. Full season, either sex. And that was permit only in that area. We have a couple of seasons that run late in the year, after the close of the general season. There in the central part of the state, central and southern part of the state, we have a late antlerless and spike season, where hunters can take antlerless and spike deer by modern firearms.
That season begins the Monday after the close of the general season, and runs for 14 days. We also have a muzzle loader season. However, the muzzle loader season doesn't start until the Saturday after the close of the general season, and runs for nine days. And so the first thing we have proposed is to make those seasons run consistent.
And in addition, we have proposed to expand those. So if you will look at your map, first up there in the Panhandle area, recalling that, we have a need for increased control of deer numbers; we are proposing — we have proposed to expand the modern firearm antlers and spike season up through the central part of the State. I will back up one more slide. If you will look over there to East Texas at some of the muzzle loader counties. You will know we are proposing to extend muzzle loader season up into the northern Piney Woods.
Also the southern Post Oak Savannah and oak prairies and marshes. Additionally, to make these start dates consistent and cut down on confusion, we are proposing for both of these types of seasons that the opening day be on the Monday following the close of the general season and run for 14 consecutive days. As far as bag limits are concerned, we are proposing no changes to our antlerless and spike bag limit.
But for muzzle loaders, we are proposing that the bag limit be the same as it is during the general season. So if there are antler restrictions in that county, antler restrictions would apply. If the take of antlerless deer is by permit only, that would also apply. 358 individuals commented on the extension of the late antlerless and spike season up in the North Texas. Eighty-seven percent agree. And 360 people commented on the muzzle loader season and the change in the bag limits with 88 percent agreeing. We have federal land in Texas. A lot of it in East Texas. And oftentimes, access to that land is unlimited, and hunting is allowed. And so these federal entities look to our Agency to regulate the harvest of animals to ensure proper resource management. Our language currently in our regulations is somewhat of a hodgepodge. And so this is a housekeeping rule.
And we have proposed that the standard language for all of these types of — all these tracts of land be antlerless by permit only, unless we specify otherwise in the regulations. And we do have a couple of exceptions that we have proposed. One of those is for Fannin County, where no antlerless permit will be required on Forest Service land, and that is because there are other control mechanisms in place on the two tracts of Forest Service land in Fannin County.
And in Wise and Montague County, we have proposed four Doe Days, Thanksgiving day, through the Sunday following Thanksgiving day on the Forest Service land there. Eighty-nine percent of those that spoke to these proposals, this proposal agreed. We do have one proposal to open a mule deer season in Parmer County. Parmer County is there on the New Mexico line.
We were approached last year, late in our regulations process, where we were talking about mule deer. And so we held off until this cycle. We are proposing a mule deer season, a buck-only mule deer season for this county. And as far as comments are concerned, we received 216 comments. Ninety percent agreeing.
The slide before you depicts a calendar for this past season, with the green showing the dates for the general season and most of Texas excluding South Texas. And then the red showing where the youth-only deer season has occurred this past year. We have proposed to extend the youth-only deer season, the late youth-only deer season to include one more weekend and 10 other weekdays there. And these would start the same as our late antlerless and spike seasons and our muzzle loader seasons.
All these seasons would start the Monday, the close of the general season and run for 14 consecutive days. 508 people commented on this particular proposal; 80 percent agreeing. You have heard me say many times that our Whitetail Deer Advisory Committee has been working on various rules relating to cold storage and processing, waste of game, tagging, et cetera. And we do know that some legislation has been filed downtown.
And that there is some legislation in place that would actually implement recommendations of our Whitetail Deer Advisory Committee. However, one of those issues dealing with tagging requirements and when tagging requirements cease, this Commission can deal with, because this Commission has the authority to amend or modify tagging requirements. Currently, tagging requirements cease when a carcass is at final destination, has been processed for cooking or storage, and is beyond quarters. And I don't think I need to go into much detail, just to summarize that.
Beyond quarters does cause a technical issue for someone that may quarter a deer and put it in the freezer and not go beyond quarters. So we propose in the Texas Register that these tagging requirements would cease when the carcass is at final destination and at least one quarter was removed. And kind of just change that time when tagging requirements cease.
If you recall yesterday, I explained that there is a little bit of confusion among our Whitetail Deer Advisory Committee members and staff as to whether tagging requirements that we speak to in this proposal simply apply to tags and permits or whether it also applied to wildlife resource documents, requirements and proof of sex requirements. So staff is withdrawing this particular proposal. And we propose to go back to the Texas Register and propose that wildlife resource document and proof of sex requirement cease when the carcass-tagging requirements cease. Additionally, we will also be looking at language that provides this Commission and also our advisory body, such as the Whitetail Deer Advisory Committee the broadest latitude in trying to decide when those cease.
And by proposing this, then we will have the latitude or this Commission will have the latitude and the Advisory Committee will have the latitude if they want to recommend or you adopt something that is a little bit less stringent than what we propose. And finally, we have a few housekeeping measures, just some non-substantive changes that result from a previous rulemaking. Just some inaccurate references to paragraphs that just a little bit of cleanup there.
And staff recommendation, and this is a recommendation for inland, for coastal and also for all of the wildlife proposals is that the Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the repeal of Section 6542, amendments to 65.3, .56, .64, .72 and .73 and the new Section 65.42 concerning the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation with changes to the proposed text as published in the February 20, 2009, issue of the Texas Register. And with that, I will take any questions, or step aside for public comment.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions for our various presenters?
Thank you, Clayton.
We have quite a few public comments. We will get that started right away. Leonard, you are up first. What I am going to do is, I am going to call the individual up. And then I am going to call the second person, so they can be on standby. After Leonard, Caleb McGee from Representative Todd Hunter's office. Leonard.
MR. RANNE: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Leonard Ranne, Freshwater Anglers. I didn't come here today to bury Caesar, I come here to praise him. You are talking about this big fish, putting the big whale in this big fish. We are talking about the alligator gar. The possibility within 60 years it will grow to eight feet in length.
The only problem there, my concern is, I am not going to be here to fish for him 60 years from now. I am concerned about how many fish are out there in the lake. How fast are they going to double their population or increase their population with only one fish harvest? We have programs that is in effect right now that has been the backbone, as far as the freshwater fishery industry, that is your Florida bass, your catfish, crappie, other species of activity out there to bring those people out.
As we work to develop this program here on the alligator gar, we need to know exactly where we are going with this program and what effect it is going to have on it. We have programs in effect, like the black bass program, the Florida bass. These fish were introduced and spread quickly across their state. You have got many and many a lake out there that you don't even know about that produce a 13-pound bass.
Lake Fork came on, and all the big bass coming out of Lake Fork and people coming all around the world to fish for it. Japan and everywhere else would come to fish. The Department has done a fantastic job on Choke Canyon, Falcon and Hempstead. I have never heard of a place where during a tournament an angler would catch two or three lunkers, not counting all of the 10- and 12-pound fish that he caught there at the same time. That is a credit to the Department, the staff they have in operation.
They can manage the big fish program, I mean, the gar. But I would like to see if we build this big wheel that we grease the wheels that we have right now, we need to — we have gotten, we are looking at a 10 percent population unemployment. People who have worked their lives, set aside for their retirements losing 30 or 40 percent in the stock market.
Right now, when you talk about the cost of fishing, it is so great. People are not involved in fishing. They are not buying fishing license like they want to. The key here would be to grease those wheels to create work for the fishing industry. To create more activities in freshwater fishing. And such as the Crappie-thon, Mr. Catfish, your catch and release programs. I am sorry.
As we go forward with this program here, we have to make sure we protect what we have. And I think it would be best for the Department to work with the fishing industry to try to come up with new programs that would be stimulating and get people wanting to go to the lake. To go back to the rules that a family that fishes together, lives together. We need fishing there where the whole family can be involved in it.
These are the programs we need right now, if we are going to turn this around and get more people buying fishing licenses. More people involved in the fishing industry. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Leonard. Appreciate it. It is all right. I did the letter. We are going to talk to gar. But we will go to flounder now. So I have got a group of people for flounder. I would ask everybody to respect — since I have quite a few people that want to speak, respect our three minutes and watch those lights.
Caleb. Thank you.
MR. MCGEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. I am here on behalf of Representative Todd Hunter today. Unfortunately he was not able to be here so I have a letter from him that I am going to read. It's very brief to respect the time of others.
"The sport of flounder fishing is not only a pastime but a family tradition. For years, members of the Coastal Bend have enjoyed the challenge of flounder fishing. And by closing off the entire month of November, this would alienate one of the most memorable times for anglers in my district. Along with the negative recreational benefits, the economic impact for local businesses that in prior occasions would thrive on a flounder run would now see a significant loss in revenue. I am in full support of the Coastal Bend as well as keeping the current season and bag limits the same. Thank you."
State Representative Todd Hunter.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great.
MR. MCGEE: And Mr. Chairman, would you like me to give you this original?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Give it to Carole over there, and then she will pass it out. Great. Thank you. Thank you for coming. Thank the Representative. Sorry, I didn't call out.
I have got Wayne Boyd, and it says, Chris Boyd. It says, Boyds together. Do you all want to come up together or do you want one speak and then the other?
MR. WAYNE BOYD: One, then the other.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. WAYNE BOYD: Thank you all for allowing me to speak today.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Are you Wayne or are you Chris?
MR. WAYNE BOYD: Yes. I am Wayne. I am sorry.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You are Wayne. Yes, sir.
MR. WAYNE BOYD: My name is Wayne Boyd. I live in Port Lavaca. I am the President of Kingfisher Marine, a dredging and marine construction company that my grandfather founded over 60 years ago. I am a fourth-generation fisherman of Calhoun County, and have been gigging flounder all my life. I am here today to speak to the Commission on what I believe to be a horrible business decision that is about to be made concerning flounder, and floundering.
Being a businessman myself, I could never back the recommendations that I have seen presented by the Parks and Wildlife based on the data that was presented at the meetings that I attended. It is my belief that no changes need to be made concerning floundering because we don't feel there is a problem with the flounder population.
I have here a diary that I have kept of my floundering trips over the last 11 years; 73 trips in all. And they were all gigging flounder at night. According to the Parks and Wildlife data, I should be catching fewer flounder today, but that is just not the case. We catch as many fish today as we ever have. And in the last two years, there just seems to be a real abundance of small flounder out there. Excuse me. I am not used to speaking in front of a crowd.
We were told at the meetings that some of the data was collected from boat ramps, the gill net samplings that were shown on your screen and night trailer surveillance counts. The first business question I would have is, why were the gigging flounder at night omitted from this fish count? There seem to be no record or no documentation that any of the flounder men that were out at night, commercial or recreational, their fish were ever counted.
Surveillance cameras were set up to do the trailer counts and they could have no idea of how many fish they had in their boats. And because this just makes the data completely inaccurate by not using all of the fishermen who actually catch flounder to count the flounder. I would just ask that you please make sure that the Texas Parks and Wildlife does their job to collect the data from all of the fishermen, and not just the ones that fish in the daytime. Because this makes the count very inaccurate.
Because I assure you, there is a lot of flounders that are being caught at night. And the last thing I will say, the six years, the Parks and Wildlife said it takes a six-year life span to see the effects of any changes that takes place when these regulations are changed. Two years ago, the possession limit was cut in half from 60 to 30 for commercial and from 20 to 10 for sportsmen. And why is this six years not been, why has this change not been given a six-year course?
I believe in the graph you showed, you saw a definite spike this year. And I think that is evident by all the fish we are seeing out in the bays. And to only give this two years, this truly slowed the amount of flounder being caught, this regulation change you all made two years ago. And it just really bothers me that it is not being given the full six-year span to see its effects. Because you know, we flounder out there at night with our lights on, and we can see the fish, and we count the fish. And does this mean I should be finished? I am sorry.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Go ahead and finish up. That is all right.
MR. WAYNE BOYD: I would like to leave you a copy of my diary for you all to look at. It documents 73 trips. And like I say, we catch as many fish today as we ever have. I thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you. Leave it with Carole. Chris Boyd is up. John Williams, next.
MR. CHRIS BOYD: How are you all doing today? For the record, my name is Chris Boyd. I also work at Kingfish. I am the tugboat captain. So I am on the water pretty much every day, all the time. Me and my dad have a big problem with the idea of closing the floundering season for the month of November.
If you look at the diary my dad gave you, please notice we only average about seven trips a year. This is because of bad weather. If you go floundering at night, you need to have good weather. In our opinion, Mother Nature closes the season enough for a month of floundering, on her own. And maybe even more often than that. I can promise we would go more than seven times a year if we could. Because we really enjoying seeing these beautiful fish lying on the bottom.
The problem is, Mother Nature will not allow us to. Northers, high wind speeds, rain and fog are natural occurrences. They restrict floundering at night. You must have calm winds and clear water to flounder at night. Let Mother Nature take care of the month of November and all the winter months, because she has done a great job so far.
The other part of argument is cutting the possession limit two years ago. Before that change, you were allowed 10 flounder per day, which means 20 in possession. That would be 10 before midnight and 10 after midnight. This possession limit was reduced in half by making this change.
The reduction slowed the number of boats, and the amount of time people spent floundering, especially after midnight. We do not see as many boats as we did two years ago, on the bays, before or after midnight. The change was made to 10 in possession, no matter now long you stay out floundering. The people who flounder at night count these fish by seeing them as they lay on the bottom.
With the regulation changes that have already been made, the number of small flounder that we are seeing is unbelievable. Seeing as many small flounder is all we can talk about the last couple of years. We are asking for two things. One, give this change the full six years to prove itself to see the true effect. And two, do not close the month of November, or any other winter months. Leave this to Mother Nature.
I would like to say one more thing. Closing the month of November to floundering would be like not being able to shoot a whitetail deer in November, during the rut. You know, that is the prime time to be able to go out and catch fish. So that is all. Say you go to your deer lease, and you can't shoot a buck because it is in rut. That is basically the same thing. And that is all I have got to say about it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you. Could I stop — there is Robin. Did I lose Robin? Robin, can you get up and speak to what happened two years ago on the cutting of the limits, because I don't remember.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. For the record, Robin Riechers for coastal fisheries, in 2006, the possession limit was equal to, it was two times the bag limit. In 2006, we basically made the possession limit equal the bag limit. That was the change that was made. And certainly and as we have shown that spike in that gill net, we first saw that in our bag seines.
We knew that year class was coming on. We have seen that spike. And we have even indicated to people in those forums, that we understand that you are seeing more fish, because there is more fish out there. But what you have got to remember about that spike is, it is still on the real lower end of that overall trend, even though there has been a spike in the last year.
But certainly, some of that spike could be attributed to one of two things. One was, we did have a cold winter back around that period of time and we have talked about that temperature impact. And yes, the other part could be some of the impact of that rule.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Do you remember, what were the numbers, the change. The numbers, the bag limit.
MR. RIECHERS: I am sorry. It was a 20-fish possession limit. And it was now moved to a 10-fish possession and bag limit. For commercials, it was 60 fish. Basically, it was the same for commercials. It stayed at 60.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It stayed at 60, if I remember. Okay.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mr. Boyd also referenced inclusion or exclusion. I didn't hear it, of nighttime data. Can you speak to that real quickly.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, certainly, our creel survey is conducted during the daytime. And so we don't get that nighttime fishery on our normal routine sampling. We have done special studies in the past, and the last one was done in 1991.
The surveillance study that he is talking about, we did that last year, as we were coming forward with this rule. We basically did the rows as we had done in the past, counting boats at slips. And then we also used some technology of surveillance cameras to look at the comings and goings of people.
And the best we can tell by that at this point in time is, we didn't see — there was a lot of discussion about an increased amount of fishing pressure at nighttime. And we really didn't see that. And that is what we were looking at. And you know certainly, we believe that the overall trends of abundance still show us what is going on in the fishery. And so we were looking to see, was there a different cause going on here.
But the reality of it was, is that basically that surveillance study confirmed that there really wasn't a huge shift in nighttime effort or more nighttime activity than we had seen in some of those past studies. In those past studies, where we actually put boots on the grounds, we actually did get their catches. We specifically interviewed those people.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any other questions? Okay. John Williams.
MR. WAYNE BOYD: Can I please make one more comment?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure. You can make one more. Come on up.
MR. WAYNE BOYD: About one thing. This is Wayne Boyd again. Thank you for giving me one more quick — Robin and I have been going at it pretty good here for the last several months. Just to clarify the possession limit that they changed, to make sure that you all understand this. I know you all, maybe you do, and maybe you don't.
But the possession limit that they changed, and it was definitely a loophole in the law. You know, if I went fishing, and I was out there after midnight, and I stayed until one o'clock, I could catch 10 more fish. So I could come in. Say, me and my son were out there. We could have 40 fish in the boat, and be there at the dock at 12:30. We might have caught them all before midnight. But as long as we were out past midnight.
And the same thing with the commercial fishermen. If they had 60 and stayed out until one or two o'clock in the morning, they could actually have 120. So when you change this law, you closed a huge loophole that was there, and it was abused. And I assure you, it was abused by a lot of floundermen.
And when you did that, you ended that loophole. One night of floundering, 10 flounder each. There is no more loophole. And we saw a huge effect. I know it affected the way we fish. When we caught our 10 fish before and after that, we had to come in. And it is going to have a huge effect on the flounder population.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. BOYD: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful. Thank you. Appreciate the clarification.
MR. WILLIAMS: I don't care to speak.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. We have, it looks like, Robert Morrison up, I think I am saying that right, hopefully? And then Tony Reeves after that. Robert.
MR. MORGAN: My name is Robert Morgan. I am from the Houston area.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Morgan. I am sorry.
MR. MORGAN: That is all right. The first thing I would like to do is really recognize Robin at Coastal Fisheries for the work they do for us. They work pretty hard. I didn't come up here to question their data. I believe their data is correct. From what I have seen, I fish all up and down the coast. We have had a problem with flounder.
We have had a problem for a while. We should have been here sooner, truthfully. The thing that I ask, is that when you look at implementing changes, look at it fairly. One shoe don't fit all. If you will look, Parks and Wildlife presented graphs to me at the first scoping meeting that said, Sabine area is flatline. They have been since we started gathering this information. They have flatlined.
In other words, their stocks have not dropped. Galveston, as you move further south, it seems like it goes down. One of the explanations for this was that when we get down to Mexico, the further down the coast, the further south, that is the end of the range. What I ask of you is that the people in Sabine, they don't deserve to have a November closure.
We need to start regulating coastal fisheries in a bay system by bay system, or else region by region. We were here six years ago with trout. We ended up with a 25 plus trout. We had a problem then. And the majority of the problem was in Baff, and that is where we should have started. Like we did here a couple of years ago, down toward Mansfield.
Whatever you put into place here, I would like to see you try to look at it as some kind of Sunset attachment to it. Say the life cycle for I believe it is six years for this fish. If we come back and we look at this, and we look at this deliberately. Not just, they just happened to gloss over their information and find out there is a change. We come back here purposefully to look at this again.
I think that one of the things that has to happen is the fairness equity of all of it. And one other question, I haven't ever been able to get answered, and you all might be able to help me with. If we push to make flounder a game fish, do we have to start here, or do we have to start with the Legislature? And that will be all I have to say. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Excuse me.
MR. REEVES: Of course, I put together a large flowable speech, but after rehearsing it, it was well over three minutes. So I am breaking it up here. I don't refute the data that is out there. I do believe there is a problem with the flounder. But I oppose against the proposal as presented.
It seems to me that every time there is a fish in need of protection, the commercial fisheries is at the heart of the problem. Yet it is the recreational fishermen that pay the cost through taxes and reduced limits. If you think back to the redfish wars of the '80s and even the shrimping industries refusal to use turtle-excluding devices.
This industry clearly cannot and will not regulate themselves. I note these families have every right to make a living and provide for themselves as we do. But if they don't regulate themselves and they take all that the sea has to offer, they will be out of a job anyway.
Why not take the fish from them while there is still a viable fishery to be enjoyed by the recreational anglers of Texas. Sorry. I believe that reducing the recreational anglers take to five-fish daily and only one-day's possession limit will keep many out of town anglers at home, thus reducing the research and restocking moneys that are earned through Texas taxes and license sales. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you.
I am sorry I didn't call you up next. Jim Smarr.
MR. SMARR: Chairman Holt, Commissioners.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Jim.
MR. SMARR: For the record, I am Jim Smarr. I am here representing the Texas Recreational Fishing Alliance. And we happen to be, I happen to live in Rockport. And due to closed passes there, we have a problem with flounder. I understand some other areas of the state don't have nearly as big a problem as we do. But we do have.
We have supported due to the fishery being in trouble, in the lower end of the range. We have, for our area, supported Coastal Fisheries' November closure. I know there is a proposal for rod and reel only. But gigging in Texas is a tradition. And I had, our group fought long and hard over this. And we would rather see a total closure for one month, and have business as usual the rest of the year, with the bag limits as proposed by Coastal Fisheries and Robin for the rest of the time.
I really believe in fisheries management, that we need to get a little creative. And you know, I have said before here that Parks and Wildlife — I would like to see Coastal Fisheries go for grant monies. There are probably 14 closed name natural fish passes. And I have a report here by B.D. King, who did a huge study — for many years, had a place at Cedar Bayou and Vincent Slough where they sampled fish.
This report is astounding. I am not saying this is just for that pass. It is for all coastal passes. Dr. McKinney once said, you can't fish in a corked bottle. And I think that we should be out trying to access tax money and give you guys a big gold star on your lapel for carrying through. You know, we did with the Commission, the fish hatchery, and it is wonderful.
But our natural fish hatchery depends on the coastal passes being open. The Vibrio virus problem we are having could be lowered by the fresh cool Gulf saltwater coming in. So if we could get on a program to where we could ask for grant money, Kingfisher Marine's here, I am sure they would appreciate a little dredge business. And I think it would be a great enhancement.
The saltwater, or freshwater inflow is not going — we are going to be fighting with cities. And the future of this fishery to really help Robin in Coastal Fisheries, if we worked hard with all of the user groups, to open the passes and push for the money to help you guys, I think that would be one of the biggest beneficial things that Coastal Fisheries could do, and Parks and Wildlife, then we wouldn't be here fussing over who gets what when as far as cutting limits and giving you guys heartburn.
So anyway, I have this report. And I have a report on artificial reefing written by Bob Shipp on the snapper deal, which is another thing that is near and dear to me. I would like to give these to staff, and have staff provide you all, at your leisure, these to look at. I think the reports are very important. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great, Jim. Thank you. Chris Robbins, up. And Robby Byers on standby.
MR. ROBBINS: Thank you, Chairman Holt and Commissioners —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MR. ROBBINS: My name is Chris Robbins. I am here on behalf of the Ocean Conservancy. If I may, I would like to break with tradition here, and not talk about gar and flounder, but talk about reef fish and sharks. The Ocean Conservancy wholeheartedly supports the proposed rule changes for greater amberjack, gag grouper, gray triggerfish and sharks, as do hundreds of our Texas-based members.
We commend TPW staff within the Coastal Fisheries Division for working with you all, and stakeholders to bring these rules forward. Scientists have determined that these species are undergoing over-fishing. And aligning state conservation measures with the federal ones for these jointly managed species will help these stocks recover and rebuild faster. It will reduce angler confusion and help officers enforce uniform sets of rules on the water.
Ultimately, the healthy abundant stocks will ensure sustainable and sustained fishing opportunities now and well into the future. We respectfully ask that the Commission adopt these proposed rules. Thank you for your consideration here today.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Robby Byers.
MR. BYERS: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Robby Byers. I am the executive director for the Coastal Conservation Association of Texas. And I thought I would just read our statement to you.
"First, I wanted to thank you for your careful attention and management of the Texas coastal marine resources, and to ask your help in the management of southern flounder fishery.
"CCA Texas recognizes the challenges that the state faces in managing southern flounder for many user groups. Although there have been several regulatory changes through the years, as well as significant reduction in shrimping effort due to the license buyback program, the flounder stock has continued to decrease for decades. CCA feels that it is time to put some regulations in place that are going to make a significant impact, and help get this valuable fishery back to historical levels.
"CCA Texas board of directors unanimously voted to ask the Commission to implement and complete gigging closure for both recreational and commercial fishermen for the months of October, November and December. Additionally, we ask that the bag limits for both groups be reduced by half, with possession limits reflecting a one-day bag limit and minimum size remaining at 14 inches.
"According to the recent status of flounder, the southern flounder population in Texas report prepared by Texas Parks and Wildlife, these fish are most vulnerable and easily targeted during the fall months, when they are staging to migrate offshore to spawn, with almost 100 percent of the flounder harvested being females. Because giggers are harvesting the majority of the flounder in Texas, we felt that a three-month closure to gigging would allow more fish to complete their spawning cycle and to help recover the stock.
"The closure will achieve significant conservation benefit for the species, but also allow all user groups to participate in the support and fishery with a rod and reel. We have the opportunity to help this declining species by putting conservation measures in place. They will have a real impact on their recovery. If we are aggressive on the front end, we will all be able to reap the benefits in the future.
"We did it for redfish. We did it for speckled trout. Now it is time to save the flounder. We appreciate the great work that Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and staff do for managing our fisheries, and we look forward to continuing to work together to see the flounder population flourish again.
"In addition, CCA Texas supports Texas Parks and Wildlife in their efforts to mirror federal regulations in regards to sharks and amberjack. In regards to Gray Triggerfish, we would support a 10-fish bag limit with a 10-inch minimum and a 20-fish possession limit. Thank you all very much."
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Looks like we are going all that signed up on the flounder and the saltwater. We have now some freshwater, about the alligator gar proposal. Larry Brannen is up and Sam Lovell on standby, please.
MR. BRANNEN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen. Let me get my glasses on. I am here about the gar proposal. I would like to voice my opinion about the alligator gar. I don't agree with the finding that the state has come up with. They have no evidence, no scientific numbers, nothing to back up what they are talking about.
Too much emphasis is put on the trophy. Seems like we are trying to protect the trophy gar for our rich Europeans or Japanese to come over here and catch. We live here. The gar is not in danger. They haven't been in about 18 years since the state wisely abolished net fishing, gill nets. Long nets, trammel nets.
The gar are in good shape. They are thriving and doing very well. I have got 50 years of experience with these gar, more than any biologist or group of biologists you have here. I have seen them.
It is always the commercial fishermen that take the biggest hit. We are a small group, probably 15 of us. We don't even fish half the time. We do other things, other kinds of fishing. And we are the last generation. There is no future in it. Our children don't want to do it. It is good to see these students here. I wish I had been one.
But we are the last generation and we would like to finish out our life doing what we do. If the state is determined to stop us from catching gar, why how about giving us something else to do. Our river is loaded with crabs, but we can't harvest them. Maybe you could let the ones of us with permits, the right permits, harvest the crabs. Let's see.
Nobody from NOAA, the Department of the Interior, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has said anything about the gar being depleted or endangered. Where is Chicken Little? The sky is not falling on these gar. They are in as good a shape — well, my time is up. Does anybody want to ask me a question? I would love to answer some of them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Anybody have a question?
MR. BRANNEN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, sir.
MR. BRANNEN: Appreciate your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We appreciate you taking the time. Sam Lovell up and Chris Jones next.
MR. LOVELL: My name is Sam Lovell and my partner and I own and operate a bow-fishing guide service on the Trinity River. I am opposed to any harvest restrictions on gar. And the reason being is, because I have seen an increase in gar over the last several years. And I believe that mainly due to the crackdown of illegal netters. And I believe that any restriction could lead to overpopulation of these gar.
And it was mentioned that the gar are not prolific spawners. But in the last 20 years, I have seen the gar spawn on the Trinity River every year. Where females and males are spawning. So that is my belief on that. Also, I have an age to length chart that Texas Parks and Wildlife had given me that I would like to talk about, if I could maybe show it to the Commission. Is that all right?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MR. LOVELL: I have a memory stick, but I wouldn't know where to plug it in at, so I will just let you all look at the hard copies and it will probably be a lot easier. Like I said, that was handed to me by Texas Parks and Wildlife. They did the study on age and length on the gar.
And although, you know, I can't say that gar don't live to be 50 to 75 years old, they might do it. But on that chart, we caught seven gar, and we give them to Texas Parks and Wildlife and they did an age study by sawing the ear bones in half, which is supposed to be the most accurate way to age fish, and two of those fish that we turned in were over seven-foot long. And one was 21 years old, and the other one was 29 years old.
So that is half the age of what this 50-to-75-year-old belief was. I mean, they grow a lot faster than what people assumed in the past. And that is scientific evidence to prove that right there. And so I guess that is pretty well all I have got to say. I appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sam, thank you.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Excuse me, Sam.
Do you have a question?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Mr. Lovell, I have a question for you. What do your clients do with the fish that they shoot?
MR. LOVELL: Most of them have them mounted. They will spend several thousand dollars at the taxidermist to have a six- or seven-foot gar to put in their trophy rooms. And the gar that aren't mounted, we dress all our fish. We try not to waste any fish. And we dress them, so they are not wasted. And the ones that we don't eat, we sell.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you. Chris Jones is up. And then Johnny Brannen on standby.
MR. JONES: Commissioners, for the record, my name is Chris Hunter Jones. I am with the Longleaf National Environmental Law Group. I grew up in Spring. I represent a number of scientific-based conservation groups, such as the Universal Ephesians Church of Lake Livingston, the Piney Woods Sierra Club, Trinity River Expeditions, a canoe outfit in Dallas, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Today I ask you to vote and amend the proposed rule to prohibit any level of alligator gar harvest for five years, in order to allow scientists to study populations in Texas without being threatened by bow fishermen. Bow fishing for alligator gar in Texas is comparable to the great white shark hunts of the 1950s. Unlike catch and release, upon meeting an adult alligator gar for the very first time, bow fishermen instantly destroy this ancient fish that may live well over 100 years.
At the very least today, I ask that you close harvest in May of known spawning grounds on the Trinity River and migration routes at the Highway 7 dam in Leon County, and on Lake Livingston. This fish may travel more than 30 miles to known spawning grounds on the Trinity. We want the Department to respect other user groups of this fish who value 10-foot gars alive, and want them protected as permanent components of the riparian ecology of Texas. We want people to be able to see them every time a person visits a Texas stream.
Two weeks ago, we submitted the Department an emergency rulemaking request to prohibit harvest for two reasons. The Department is allowing unlimited harvest which is causing population depletions here in Texas, and is allowing commercial fishermen who are also bow-fishing guides to harvest gar from the Trinity and sell their meat as food to Asian and Latino seafood markets in Houston and interstate.
We cited studies that trophy gar are extremely dangerous to consume, because they bioaccumulate contaminants that are carcinogenic at levels that are dangerous to human consumers. We cited this state's advisories and bans against consuming gar from the Trinity River.
We cited published population models, including those calculated by this Department that demonstrate removing adults lead to depletions in the wild and take decades to recover and only if left alone by man. Stability is maintained by the constant presence of breeding adults which are the precise targets of bow fishermen. We also cited the following evidence. Published authorities that advise allowing a one-fish-per-day creel is arbitrary and will continue to deplete populations and interfere with legitimate data collections.
Residents and rod and reel anglers of the Trinity who can no longer observe big gator gars because they have all been taken by bow fishermen. Texas websites and videos of bow-fishing guides plaguing rare spawning sites, and migration routes on the Trinity in May. And their admission is working more than 200 days out of the year guiding about bow fisherman and constantly searching for new river stretches to shoot gars because they have depleted other streams.
It is the most susceptible fish to visual observation in Texas during the day and at night. It has a remarkable air lung that allows it to breathe at the water surface during periods of poor water quality.
You have seen the high tech air boats with motorcycle engines and spotlights that are used to harvest them at night. Outfits use chainsaws to remove log jams to navigate tributaries and access populations. Log jams serve as safe harbors for large aquatic wildlife in Texas. This fish has no chance in Texas under the current regime or a one-day limitation unless you protect it now for five years.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Finish up, Mr. Jones.
MR. JONES: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Your light is on.
MR. JONES: May I say one —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You want to finish up?
MR. JONES: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Quickly.
MR. JONES: If this Department claims it does not have jurisdiction to create laws to protect human health from Fish and Wildlife that derive from Texas. As a courtesy, I reveal, this creates an excellent long-awaited opportunity to challenge this claim, and fuse the Department's response with other non-game animals like freshwater turtles which are being commercially harvested from Texas as food. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Great. Thank you, Mr. Jones. Appreciate it. Johnny Brannen up, and Steve Barclay on call.
MS. BRANNEN: Good morning Commissioners. My name is Johnny Brannen. I am a commercial angler. I also own B&J Seafood in Liberty, Texas, which is on the Trinity River where it seems to be all this is about. I have been raised in this business. My stepfather, which many you all know, Mr. Durocher knew him very well, Bob Mueller has been coming up here for years. This is what we have done.
The problem I have is we are going from zero regulations to one, why? All of a sudden and I think there was two years from 1986 to 1988 that the gar was studied. 2007 to 2008, it is being studied. Why not go ahead and take the time. Table it. Study it. Then come back and see what there is.
When we did get to fish the gill nets, I can't tell you how many pounds of gar that, yes, we did catch with the gill nets. We don't have that anymore. Mr. Durocher did say, he introduced us to be able to go out there and catch a gar on a jug line. I didn't think it was possible. That is not the way I was raised. It can be done.
But if we go out there, and I hope I get through, but if we go out there with 10 or 15 poles, maybe even 20. Take the time go and bait these out today, and if I have maybe five or six gar, I am going to get to bring one in, what is going to happen to the rest of them? They are gone already? Why am I going to throw them back in the water and let them come up and float to be ruined whenever we can at least profit from it?
Tomorrow or the next week, if I get to go about maybe once a week, I go back the next week to fish, and I throw my poles out and I don't catch any. Well, you know, I have got to wait another week to go again. It is just that I don't think that there is enough evidence to show and warrant the proposal from zero to one. There is 20-something years of study. I think it is about 20 years on the flounder to warrant all the proposals that has been going on with that.
Give the alligator gar a chance. I remember when the alligator gar started out at 35 cents a pound. That is what we were selling it for 40 years ago. I retail it now for almost $4 a pound. The commercial fishermen, they go, they harvest it. They are getting about $2.40 a pound is the market now. If we buy it wholesale from another wholesale dealer, they are also selling it for around $2.60 a pound.
I am glad that it is getting recognition. It does need some recognition. It is also a very good fish to eat. Most of you all have probably never tried it. But it is very good. And it helps provide a good source of food for low and medium income families. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great. Thank you. Steve Barclay up and Chuck Waller on standby.
MR. BARCLAY: Good morning, Commissioners. I am Steve Barclay. I own Gar Guys Bow Fishing Guide Service. We guide on the Trinity River. I am the guy the gentleman before was talking about with a big air boat, but it has got a 572 Chevrolet on it, not a motorcycle engine. But I have guided on the Trinity River full time for quite a while now. Sam Lovell and I started a guide service a few years ago, but we fished the Trinity River for alligator gar for 25 years.
And in that 25 years, we have seen a substantial growth in numbers of alligator gar. I applaud Texas Parks and Wildlife for starting studies now to gain some information on these fish. Many years ago, nothing was known about the fish. Nobody knew anything about them at all. And we were some of the first to promote the trophy aspect of the fish, through our videos we put out, and the many seminars we do.
Our website, we have gained international acclaim and have people come from all over the world to fish for these alligator gar both with rod and reel and bow fishing on the Trinity River. The stopping of commercial netting many years ago, as has been mentioned several times gave the gar a unique opportunity to increase on the Trinity River.
There has been a couple of people mention the growth in those numbers. We worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife this past year extensively gathering data for these studies. We provided actually, I believe 11 otoliths and exact measurements on gar. And I went to the Heart of the Hills to be solved and to develop more accurate aging techniques on the gar.
We also carried out field biologist and the Region 3 Director of Inland Fisheries Craig Bonds and Larry Hodge and they were able to take a couple of big gar rod and reel with us, and film a large school of gar and several hundred gar over six foot. I was able to attend the committee meeting in January when the proposals were given to the Commission and I was quite alarmed by a couple of things that were actually said in testimony given to the Commission, I believe, by Mr. Durocher.
Mr. Durocher said that in the Trinity River, there is no more than five or six gar a year taken over six foot. I personally provided more than that to Texas Parks and Wildlife to be sampled. He also said that he had never seen a juvenile gator gar, and I personally provided samples of juvenile gator gar to be studied as well.
At that time, I was confused about that, and thought that maybe Mr. Durocher was wanting to mislead the Commission but now I understand that is not the case. I understand now that there's just a lack of information. And I believe that Texas Parks and Wildlife has made a commitment to get the studies out there. And I appreciate that very much.
There is very little known about the alligator gar right now on the Trinity River. I have spoken to many field biologists in the last few months, and not one has told me they believe there is sound scientific evidence for the proposals that are out there right now. I will be brief. But Texas Parks and Wildlife mission is to provide public opportunity with a philosophy of providing sound science to support that to make those decisions.
This proposal would limit public opportunity that we are creating without the sound science to support that. I would respectfully ask that this be tabled until the studies are done. It is in my interest to have a strong gar population, both in numbers and in trophy size. We want the same things.
I am concerned about the overpopulation of the gar on the river. With my time being up, I will stop there. But thank you very much for what you are doing.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Steve. Chuck Waller, up and Robert Prebles, I think I am saying that correctly, on standby. Or Peebles, I may have mispronounced, sorry.
MR. WALLER: My name is Chuck Waller. I live in Comal County, and I thank you for the opportunity to speak. I don't have a big flowery speech ready for you. I thought I would just give you a little bit of personal experience. I have been bow fishing for alligator gar in the State of Texas since 1963. I think I have just a little bit of experience on it.
The places that we used to fish in the '60s today still have tremendous populations of alligator gar. At least the numbers that we had back then. I don't think that there is any survey anywhere that actually verifies that the alligator gar is in trouble in the State of Texas. They may be in some other states, but there is nothing to show that there is a problem in the State of Texas. That is really all I have to say. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you, Chuck. Robert Peebles. I am saying that right? Maybe I am not reading it right — is up. And then Kyle Kleb on standby, please.
MR. PEEBLES: Good afternoon. My name is Robert Peebles. I am a recreational bow fisherman. I do not support the change in alligator gar at all. Alligator gar is a trophy to us. I have been bow fishing for 20 years, and have taken four over a hundred, and never gotten one over 200. Now I am not out trying to shoot those. We are out after numbers, after those carp and those buffalo.
But I want to see the state make a decision based on scientific data, and I don't see that at all. You are looking at numbers. If we are seeing any data at all, it is out of the Trinity River, and no one said anything about any other river or lake that I have seen. I don't want a decision made for the entire state.
If you even consider it, maybe even think about different areas. Because the Rio Grande, the Trinity and the Red are three completely different bodies of water and they are not going to have the same number of gars in any one of those locations. And that is about all I have to say.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Kyle Kleb. And then up, David Cardiff or Curdieff.
MR. KLEB: I think everything has pretty much been said, except for the fact that when you all started the research into the gar, the bow fishermen were not even contacted, the guy that was mainly doing it. And we are a large source of information on gator gar. We have fished them forever. They are our biggest trophy. Our Boone and Crockett, buck is a 200-pound gar to us.
So we are concerned about having trophy gar. But to go from no regulations whatsoever to start with, it was catch and release only, which complete does away with bow fishing for the gar, or over seven foot. If you are shooting at rolling gar in the river, you see them for a split second. You have to shoot. Can you determine if he is six-foot-nine or seven-foot in a split second? No, you can't do that. The no-size limit is okay with me. The whole system of that.
But I think the people that are researching need to do more contacting the bow-fishing association, bow fishermen that are out there doing it, seeing it all the time, to get an idea of what is really going on with the population. There is plenty of them. There is a lot. We are a very small group that is out there doing this. I mean, I think with the catfish thing, people estimated 400 bow fishermen over the whole State of Texas.
Not every bow fisherman takes one every year. I maybe get one a year, you know. There is not this huge decimation of gator gar by bow fisherman. That doesn't happen. Archery, as you know, is a very difficult sport. We are limited. If you are rod and reel fishing, you can go out. You can put 10 rods. You can sit in a gar hole. You can catch fish all day long.
Hooking mortality with catch and release on that, that is something to study. You know, they are saying they don't kill any gar that they catch. Do they? Do they not? They are hooked deeply in the intestines to hook. They will not hook in the mouth. They have to be hooked in the guts to be caught. What is the mortality on that? Let's see. I think that is about it.
But we need more association with Parks and Wildlife and the bow fishermen to get good data before any decisions are made. We do want the largest best population of gar that we can have. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Just a quick question, if I can please.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Go.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: You mentioned, did I hear that right. Your off-take, you take one per year?
MR. KLEB: On average. I mean, we don't really target gator gar in our fishing style. We are mainly going after the small gar, carp, invasive grass carp, that type of thing. We are more — we do get them. It is not — we don't target them. We don't go after gator gar.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. And we are talking about a limit of one per day.
MR. KLEB: Yes. I know I don't have a problem with that. I really don't have a problem with that. But I think we need to have more data on what is really out there, what needs to be done with the commercial fishermen. There is a lot of people that is making a living off of that.
We are in hard times right now. Is it justified to do away with that, to take their livelihood away with no data. That is what I am saying. We need to get more data before we do anything.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. David Curdieff — I think I am saying that correctly, up and Tony Reeves on standby please.
MR. CURDIEFF: Good morning. Good afternoon, Commission. Thank you for having me here. I am a recreational bow fisherman. I have never shot alligator gar, never. And I could probably live with the one-a-day. But there is no data for that.
I am sorry, but I just don't feel the Commission or the Texas Parks and Wildlife understands bow fishing for alligator gar. I was on the Trinity last weekend 11 hours. I shot a couple of needlenose, but I didn't target alligator gar. I feel like the Trinity River itself is our focus point today, but there is more alligator gar all over the state.
And if you feel like one habitat is being targeted, then regulate the one habitat. Let's just don't put a rubber stamp and say Texas one, all day long. I mean, there is gar all over the state. And so if you all can come to see that more information is needed, and more information is needed in other regions.
I saw your math that you had. You targeted the Trinity River. I live in Athens, Texas, which borders the Trinity River, one of the few places on the Trinity that you can get on publicly. I would like to see more ramps and more ways to get on the river. I would like to see more game wardens on the river. I would like to see more studies done. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Tony Reeves up, and Duane Hendrickson, standby.
MR. REEVES: Now we can get back to the first part of my speech that I wrote last night. Your Honors, thank you all for allowing us to present our arguments for or against today's proposals. My name is Tony Reeves. I am here today representing the Texas Bow Fishing Association. The Bow Fishing Association of America as well as U.S. Sportsman Alliance. I am here to argue against the alligator gar proposal.
First, I would like to discuss my other passions. You see, I am not only a bow fisherman, but I am also an avid Texas outdoorsman. I hunt deer, ducks, turkey and I rod and reel fish in the saltwater as well as the freshwater of our great State. I enjoy all that our state has to offer. And this next bit talks about alligator gar, but this also covers Lake Texoma proposals.
My current issue is with the State of Texas Hunting and Fishing regulations, is the overemphasis on trophy. Trophy deer, trophy bass, trophy carp and recently, trophy catfish. During these hard economic times, state agencies forgetting about the hungry people and focusing on the man with the money.
Today the staff is proposing a 30- to 45-inch slot limit for catfish on Richland Chambers, Lake Waco, Lake Lewisville, and a 30-inch maximum on Lake Texoma, the lake that gave us the two past state records. I lost my place. It just looks like we are looking out for the guy that is willing to spend the money to catch the big catfish and even the guides that get paid to put them on it. But what about the guy that wants to feed his family of five?
You have already taken away bow fishing for catfish, because it wasn't sporting enough for CCA and other elite rod and reel fishermen. What is next, trot lining? I guess the old Bocephus song, "Country Boy Can Survive," needs to be changed to "Country Boy Can Survive If He Breaks the Law to Do It."
On the alligator gar argument, I believe that there is not nearly enough data presented to go from no regulation to one-a-day regulation. Please listen to this example that I have. If a man from out-of-state, say Michigan or from within our state even, takes a long three-day weekend to sample our great alligator gar fishery. He is going to spend a considerable amount of money on fuel for his truck, fuel for his boat, meals, overnight accommodations and out-of-state license fees, which are high.
If the first two days are raining and just not right for alligator gar, but the last day is perfect — the river has risen. The water is in a perfect temperature and gar are rolling everywhere. Thirty minutes into the perfect day, he makes a snap decision and arrows a rolling gar right at his feet. After a short fight, it turns out to be an average four footer. After spending hundreds of dollars and two rainy days on the river, this man now has to go home with one four-foot gar. I do not believe that the man would come back very often.
I give this example based on my experience a few weekends ago with David Curdieff. I live here, so I already have a license. But I spent a tank of diesel fuel and four hours' driving time to get to and from the fabled Lock and Dam area on the Trinity River. I spent another four hours, please bear with me — I spent another four hours.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. You need to do a closing.
MR. REEVES: All right. Anyway, we spent 11 hours. Eight hours of that was driving time. We actually got to fish about three hours before we had to make a return trip, down 64 miles of treacherous river. Didn't shoot an alligator gar. The time wasn't right for that.
What I would ask you to do, I strongly urge the Commission to table this issue until the studies can be conducted. By Mr. Durocher's own admission, these studies could take several years to complete. We haven't shot these fish to extinction in 100 years of bow fishing. And I don't believe that we will shoot them all in the next year, either.
I also would like to ask that the Commission would offer a question and answer phase or an Advisory Committee like I have heard about the Whitetail Advisory Committee. That would be between the Commission, Parks and Wildlife staff and members of the bow-fishing community, before any regulation was handed down. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Tony, thank you. Duane Hendrickson up and Wendy White on standby.
MR. HENDRICKSON: Hello, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Duane Hendrickson, and I am a bow fisherman here, and a guide also in the State of Texas. I am against the regulations on the alligator gar. I believe that we just need a little more data, a little more records to show. I am a member of the TBA, Texas Bow Fishing Association.
And I know that we are willing to help in the survey on the harvest of the alligator gar here in Texas. I feel like we might be jumping the gun just a little. And I know we are getting status and stuff from other states on the alligator gar. I think Texas has never been a follower. I think we are a leader. And I think that we need to take a little more time and just look at the status of how many alligator gar are harvested each year here in the State of Texas.
Please table the alligator gar limit for a while. And let's see if we can't get some more stats to know if we are heading in the right direction. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Wendy White up and Tim McKee on standby.
MS. WHITE: Greetings, Committee. I am Wendy White. I am an avid outdoorsman or outdoorswoman here in the State of Texas. I enjoy hunting and fishing and have done it all my life. I noticed on your presentation, on the alligator gar, all the data that is shown pertains to other states. As he said, as Mr. Hendrickson said, we need to do our own data on our own State of Texas and our own fishing people, whether it is rod and reel, bow fishing, whatever. We need to do our own data and collect it for over a period of time pertaining to the different fisheries also.
I think this is a premature proposal, and I would ask that we table it and take more time to collect some data pertaining to Texas and not the other states. The only study that was proposed was shown in your presentation was back in 1988. That is 21 years old, so it is obsolete. We need new information. And this is basically premature. And that is all I have to say.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Tim McKee. I think I am saying it correctly.
MR. MCKEE: Good afternoon, Chairman and Commissioners. I am Tim McKee, director of the Texas Bow Fishing Association. I have here what you may have already seen, a very recent report from the Heart of the Hills Fishery Science Center. After going through it, I had kind of pinpointed a few words from it that I would like to mention to you, that just shows that there is not enough data available.
For example, page 2, it says because little data exists, it is unknown — I am sorry. That is it on that one. And page 4 says, little is known about the alligator gar movement and habitat use. Page 5, although the severity of these declines is unknown. Page 6, little is known of population status. Although no data exists, especially by bow anglers. Alligator gar habitats in Texas have been significantly altered in the past, although effects are unknown. This is a very recent report from them, your own department.
If the alligator gar is considered such a valuable resource, and perhaps consideration ought to be done for stocking them like they are doing in other states. There are plenty of bodies of water in Texas that does not have any alligator gar. We have tournaments every year. This year alone, we have about 28 tournaments scheduled. And we can provide staff with very valuable data.
For example, during a tournament if you take a three-man team, in a 12-hour tournament, and you have 10 teams, and 20 tournaments in a year, that is 7,200 man hours of looking for fish on the water. The bow fishermen can provide valuable data to the staff, but we have never been asked. We have been around 22 years. We have had more than 20 tournaments a year. We can count our gator gar at the end of the tournament and report this to the staff. You will know the date they were taken, the body of water from, and how many were taken.
There are plenty of alligator gar out there. There is just not enough data to justify your decision on limiting it, going from zero to one. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Phil, a couple of comments. Can I get you to come up? Since your name was bandied around a little bit on alligator gar. Not trying to put you on the spot. Maybe a bit of an answer relative to Tim's quoting a report, and also just obviously various people indicating we have no data or very little data. And obviously then, why we are making this decision or considering making this decision.
MR. DUROCHER: Well, you know, I agree with a lot of what they said. We don't have all the data we would want to be able to go ahead and make — to go ahead and do everything we need to do. But we feel like we have enough data. There is enough information out there for us to be extremely concerned.
You know, the alligator gar is the alligator gar, whether it is in Louisiana or Kentucky or Alabama. The life history of the animal is the same. And when we look at the life history of the animal, those are the things that give us the most concern. You know, we have been through this. It is an animal that lives a long time. It has to be quite old before it is mature.
Let me just, I am trying to think of a way to basically tell you what we saw in the model that gave us the most concern. Fishing mortality is what impacts a population of fish. There are several aspects of fishing mortality.
One of them is natural mortality. Gar, since they live a long time, obviously have a low natural mortality. It has got to be one less than 1 or 2 percent a year if they are going to live to 40 or 50 years. If it was 5 percent, they are not going to live that long. Natural mortality will thin them out.
Now we have to look at exploitation or angler mortality. If angler mortality is only 5 percent in alligator gar, which means — and particularly the adults, if angler mortality is only 5 percent, in 20 years, all of them are going to be gone. Or in less than 20 years, those animals will be gone. And if we don't limit them, the angler mortality, the exploitation and those fish are gone, because of their life history, it is going to take many years to get that population back.
You know, we are collecting a lot of data, and we are looking at information. And everybody assumes that we are looking for information to make this more restrictive. We would like nothing better than to go to the Trinity River which we agree is probably the best alligator gar population anywhere in the world right now. I mean, we agree with that. If we were to go to Trinity River and find a spawning sites that we can protect, and find that the population is even better or in better condition than we think it is, we can come back and revisit this regulation and make it less restrictive.
So yes, there is a lot more that we would like to have. But we feel like we take a big chance if we don't begin to protect this species now, because of all the habitat issues and the increase in activity towards the harvest of gar. And we have been looking at this sport grow, and we want it to grow. We want it to always be here.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Any questions for Phil from the Commission?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you. I appreciate it. I wasn't trying to put you on the spot. I think that was very helpful, at least for me. We have two more up on these. These are on deer. Tony Reeves, coming back up. And then Kirby Brown on standby.
MR. REEVES: Thank you, Commission, for letting me speak again. Like I said, I am an all around outdoorsman. I try to do as much hunting and fishing, you know, as my wife and family allows me to do, and I take them with me quite a bit too. So speaking of deer hunting, I am in favor of more opportunities, and the addition of muzzle-loading days is much appreciated.
I am a primitive hunter, thus the archery hunting, and it brings out the muzzle loader hunting in me as well. The Youth Day proposal, while it is a step in the right direction, 10 days during the week I believe are a waste of time. Most school age children return to school on or about the 2nd of January. I would like to see maybe a few additional weekends in January in lieu of the wasted 10 weekdays while the kids are at school.
And about the four Doe Days proposed for Henderson and surrounding counties, you know, at first, I jumped at the thought. But the more I spoke with managers of these large hunting properties and leases, I see their arguments about small surrounding tracts bringing in their uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters all to come shoot those does. They could wipe out the population. I believe that to be true.
However, I truly believe that a landowner that has five, 10 or 15 acres in the country, and sees doe after doe crossing his back pasture every afternoon, he should be able to take one of those does to fill his freezer and feed his family. You need to focus on the hungry people of Texas and not the rich people of Texas. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Kirby Brown.
MR. BROWN: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Kirby.
MR. BROWN: I am Kirby Brown with Texas Wildlife Association. And we support the staff proposals on the wildlife side of this. Very well done. Extensive rewrite of regulations. Well thought out in the use of the resource management units was a very focused and well done program that is really going to help us for years to come. So I want to congratulate the staff on their hard work on this. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Kirby, thank you. Obviously, a lot of information. We went through a lot of it yesterday. Obviously, even before that, we came in. Do the Commissioners have any questions? Are there any specifics that we need to go through before we vote? There is a bit of change in some of the language.
Maybe Ann, you can help us with that. Start with Dr. Falcon, and we can just kind of go down the table here, if we need to.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes, sir. Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask Robin a question.
There was a point brought up about the differences in the flounder population as you got further down the Coast. And for some reason or another, I am glad they brought it up, because I didn't think about it yesterday. But I do remember you talking about how the population dropped as we went further south.
And did you all give any thought to maybe doing zones to where I think the point brought up, why punish somebody in the northern zone if they have adequate flounder and why not make it a little bit more — set the rules up so that we give greater opportunity for the population to come back, as we go further south.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, and certainly, I would be happy to answer that. You know, we did look at and considered a zonal kind of regulation. And as we looked at that, one of the things that you have to keep in mind, the fishery does change as you move further south. As you are up in the Galveston Bay area, it is more of a rod and reel fishery.
As you move further south, it is more of a gig fishery. More impact from the gig fishery. Certainly, that temperature influence that we have talked about may affect it, moving from north to south and the freshwater that we see further up in the northern end. But the reality of it is, is that throughout most of the range, and throughout most of the bay systems, we are seeing this downward trend.
Now Sabine is somewhat of an anomaly. They have stayed not — they certainly haven't seen the same downward trend, either stayed flat or stayed a little bit more stable, if you will, throughout this period of time. But the other thing you have to remember is, that a flounder that escapes can populate any of those bay systems. And so when we are looking for this escapement, a flounder that escapes from Sabine can help repopulate the population in Matagorda Bay or San Antonio Bay or anywhere else along the way.
So that is kind of one of the things that we have to keep in mind as well. The other thing I just want to clarify, since I was asked back to the mic, regarding this bag limit, just so that it is exceptionally clear on the record, in 1996, is when we went to a 10-fish bag limit on the recreational fishery, and a 20-fish possession limit. And we went to a 60-fish bag limit on commercials period. On the commercial side, it was possession equals bag at that time. And so then in 2006, is when we changed possession equals bag on the recreational side.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any more questions for Robin while he is up?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you, Robin. Any questions?
Commissioner Falcon, did you get yours answered?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Commissioner Martin, any questions for you at this time?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I did want to make the comment that biologists are constantly looking at so many of the different I guess, data and information that comes through. And any decision that is made today, it is not as if at this point forward, everything ceases to be researched and reviewed and looked at, and information taken.
So I just really wanted to make that point, that we continue to look at all the information and data, as we continue with the new regulations, if there are some put in place today. And then in here, we continue. And if we have to make adjustments along the way, then we certainly do. I just, it is more of a comment than anything.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right. Thank you, Commissioner Martin. I think that is very true. That is part of our job, and part of the staff's job is to continually assess.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I still have some fundamental concern on this gar issue, as to whether or not the data set we have is sufficient to justify what we are talking about. But in thinking about the one-fish-a-day limit, I know that these sport fishermen out there that do this as a livelihood perhaps need more opportunity.
But as an individual, being able to catch one gar per day for 365 days a year, I think is an adequate amount of catch. But I do think that for the commercial aspects of this, we may need to consider the issue a little bit further before we put a limitation on them. But I am opening that up for discussion.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I understand what you are saying. Remember, we spent a lot of time and effort and discussion on this, in the sense of looking at it, in all ways. If you are a commercial fisherman, plus you bow fishermen which were most of our speakers, remember, when you are working the river, whether it is the Trinity River or any other rivers, you are fishing for all kinds of species, not just alligator gar. And I think most of them spoke to that. And so we are leaving all of those opportunities there.
So there is plenty of opportunity. And I think this Commission, certainly as the Chairman, I feel strongly has to lean to being conservative, even if we "don't have all the data." And I guess on almost any species, we will never have all the data.
And I am not trying to be facetious or sarcastic here. I am just saying, certainly from my point of view, from what I have watched and observed over the last five years on this Commission is that when we have made conservative decisions and then continued to study, we have always made the right decision no matter what species we are dealing with.
And as Margaret talked about, Commissioner Martin, we can always come back and revisit this. And in fact, that is the notes I have written on both the flounder and the alligator gar. And I will ask Phil to do that, of course, on the freshwater side, and Robin on the saltwater side. But we do that continually.
I think that was the point you made, Commissioner Martin, and I think you are correct. Just like we do deer, or any wildlife. And so but on these two, I think this is a very sensitive issue for a lot of different people, that we will make sure we revisit this on an ongoing basis.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I think with that in mind, that I would be willing to vote in favor of the regulation change. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I can't really add anything to that. That is pretty much what we are all thinking, and certainly what I was going to say. It is a dynamic process. And I think it is certainly incumbent upon us and staff to think about it on an annual basis and think about how we can come back with more concrete data, particularly with regard to gar. I know the challenges involved with it, because you have explained them to us, Phil.
But I do think we should come back and you know, soon to the Commission and with a specific suggestion on how we can gather more information and data that is valid to Texas waters. And how we are going to develop that model. And get some information out of it. Also, as Chairman of the Regs Committee, I just want to take the opportunity to thank Coastal, Inland Fisheries and certainly Wildlife for all of your efforts. It is a tremendous amount of work that goes into this process by so many people, starting with summer scoping, and reaching all parts of the state and gathering information and getting it back to the Commission through our committee meetings and certainly to the Commission at our Commission meeting.
And I just want to voice my appreciation on behalf of the Commission for all of staff's efforts. It is greatly appreciated.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Commissioner Friedkin.
Yes, ma'am, Commissioner Hixon.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I just want one little point of clarification, and I probably should have asked Robin when he was up there. The amendment as it stands, with regard to the flounder is — as presented, it is the cutting in the bag limit and it is the closure of November. It doesn't include the other sort of sub-amendment that was presented yesterday.
MR. RIECHERS: That is correct. Unless you make a change, or direct us to make a change, and if you want to do something different than a November closure to both the gig, recreational and commercial and rod and reel, you need to direct us to that today. And I am assuming you are accepting the other changes that we presented, but you would still need to address that particular change.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Then just a quick clarification. Sorry, Robin, on the X, two, three, four, five, you are suggesting we go forward with latitude, or we need to define that for you currently?
MR. RIECHERS: Oh, no, sir. I am sorry. I left that as X, two, three, four, five because as we left the Regulations Committee yesterday, you all were still wanting to consider the public testimony today before making your decision. You need to provide us direction whether that is two, three, four, or five today.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Well then, I am still confused.
MR. RIECHERS: I am sorry.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Because I didn't — I am thinking — we are now considering that two, three, four or five, or are is that whole amendment still — do we have to direct that that whole amendment be added.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I think we have to define it. And I think what Commissioner Hixon is asking is, is it going to stay as it was originally recommended by Robin, which means you close November.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The discussions we had, and if I said this right. Correct me if I am wrong. So don't hesitate to correct me. Yesterday, the discussions were that we would leave it open for rod and reel only, so that would be one change. And I think Commissioner Hixon has an issue with that.
And as we have talked about, she of course has the right to vote any way she wants. And then there is the issue of the number, which we have to clarify. If we decide that we would keep it open for rod and reel. Am I saying that correctly, Robin?
MR. RIECHERS: I believe so, Chairman Holt. I mean, the reality of it is, that you didn't change our proposal that was published in the Register yesterday in committee as you came forward. So the proposal that is before you right now is a November closure of everything. And I just tried to summarize your discussion in committee because you were wanting to hear that in public testimony today before you made your decision.
So yes, you basically need to direct us in your motion the number of fish and/or your sense of what you want that to look like today, either through an amendment to the current proposal and then adopt the whole proposal or you can do it all in one. However you would choose to do that.
MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, would it be helpful to see that slide again, that shows the spawning biomass recovery with the two-, three- and five-fish take? Would that be helpful, if you are going to discuss that, or are you all well enough versed in that to know where we stand there?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: If we could see the one with the suggested amendment, I think that was —
SPEAKER: The last one in yours.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. She is going to try to get that up.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Which one are we doing now? Are we doing that chart or are we doing the amendment?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No, just the language.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The language.
MR. SMITH: They are right next to one another, so we can toggle back and forth when we get there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No. That is fine. Let's look at it.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: No, that is — I just guess —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No. You are trying to get clarity, I think. You are asking good questions, here. Before we vote on anything, I think we had better be clear on what we are voting on. Yes. Okay. So okay. Because I don't know exactly where it is in my computer.
Allow the hook and line fishery only, a bag limit of two, three, five, for the month of November, but you also, Ann, and correct me, or Robin. Really, we have to first make a decision whether we are going to allow rod and reel fishing in November. Is that correct?
MR. RIECHERS: Well, as it currently stands, the proposal is not to allow rod and reel fishing.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. RIECHERS: So if we don't change that, there will be no rod and reel fishing. Because that is what was published in the register.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I have got you. Right.
MR. RIECHERS: So if you are going to do that, we will have to adopt something similar to this in the context of either adopting the Statewide Proclamation as a whole, or you can adopt this as an amendment first.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, I see. Okay. It says, allow the hook and line fishery, which indicates then you are changing it, and then put the bag limit with it.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. I am sorry. I have got it. Does that help?
COMMISSIONER HIXON: That helps but I am still — I am sorry to be confused.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No. There is a lot of stuff.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I guess it just goes back. Because the whole recommendation coming from the Regulations Committee covers everything.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: And do we vote all or nothing?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Ann?
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Or do we vote on the individual parts of it?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That may be what we are going for.
MS. BRIGHT: For the record, I am Ann Bright, General Counsel. One option, and I know this was something the Commission did before, is we could pull out, if the section where there may be some disagreement, is just the flounder section, or just the flounder regulation, I guess the motion could be to accept the recommendations of staff except for flounder. And then have a separate motion just to address the flounder. That would, I think, take care of it.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Thank you.
MS. BRIGHT: Normally, it is all or nothing.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But I think — correct me if I am wrong, Ann.
To answer your question, Commissioner Hixon, my understanding is we are voting on the entire proclamation.
MS. BRIGHT: That is how it normally occurs. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I make a motion that we carve out the flounder issue from the rest of the proposal so that it can be considered separately, first. Second, I wanted to comment that on the gar issue, a number of you folks who fish for gar, whether it be by bow or otherwise said to us that you would be willing to cooperate with the staff in providing data.
And that is a really welcome offer on your part, and it is something I encourage the staff to take advantage of. Whether you folks could leave your names and numbers to facilitate communications between you and the Inland Fisheries people. But I know, given this issue, where we do have some questions about the data, there is no better way than to have feet on the ground, and people who are there on a regular basis to share with us what you saw, what you caught, what you shot, whatever it is.
So I really think that is critical going forward, and should fill in a number of gaps that have been raised here. So I thank you for making that offer, and would ask that you maybe take time before you leave to leave some contact information so that we can stay in touch with you. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We have a motion. Do I have a second on that motion, which would be carving out the flounder and then we can talk about it later. Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: A second. All in favor for that motion?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Now we have carved it out. Help me out on legalities here. Okay. So do we want to go ahead and take a vote on everything except the flounder at this point, so that we can then focus on flounder. Would that be appropriate way to do it?
MS. BRIGHT: Ann Bright, General Counsel. Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you. Ann, you might want to stay up there, just to make sure we do this right. We only voted on the motion to carve out flounder. So now I am going to make a motion. And the reason I wanted you up there, is to make sure I am saying it right, that we are essentially voting on Item Number 5.
We are essentially voting on everything except the flounder issue, and I don't know if that is in A, B, or C, or how that is put in the register. It is just flounder, okay. Do we have a motion? We have had discussion. We have had our public speakers. Any other comments on anything but flounder? We will get to that later.
On any of the other things. I think we have had quite a bit of discussion on alligator gar primarily, some of the other. Saltwater, getting into coordination with the federal rules and regulations, and of course, the deer. Do we have a motion to vote on that?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: A second?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Excuse me. Motion by Dr. Falcon, second by Dan Friedkin. Okay. All in favor of those regulation changes?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So those all carry. Are we doing that right, Ann, to this point?
MS. BRIGHT: It sounds good.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sounds good. Okay. And we will sort that out. Okay. Now we need to discuss the flounder issue as a separate item, I guess, for lack of a better term. Does that sound correct? Okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I would like to move that we allow rod and reel take in November for two fish. And the reason I propose two, as opposed to five is that Robin Riechers' comments that his numbers and assumptions were based on that chart that showed, the bar graph that showed the number of fish taken by rod and reel and that there is a chance that gill fishermen will migrate over to rod and reel. So I think we should be more conservative with the two than five. And that is the reason that I make the motion on that basis.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You mean gig fishermen.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I am sorry. Gig fishermen. Yes. I misspoke.
SPEAKER IN AUDIENCE: Mr. Commissioner, may I make a comment?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No. Discussion is up. No. This is a discussion amongst ourselves. We have a motion.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes, sir. Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any discussion on that motion?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes, sir. If we are going to go on ahead and open it up for November, should we consider then to limit the number for at least one of the other months, while we have the spawning season?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I would like to stay with staff as close as we can. So what we are doing is, we are taking just remember, their recommendation was close November for all flounder fishing of any kind, gig or rod and reel, commercial or. So I think we are trying to find a bit of happy median here, but not go too much one way or the other.
I don't think there was a recommendation on the other months, and personally, I would like not to get this thing too confusing. Are you okay with that? So we still have a motion from Commissioner Duggins. Do I have a second?
MR. SMITH: Chairman, can you clarify that motion? A little confusion on the staff end as to what exactly that motion is.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Commissioner Duggins ought to be able to do that.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: The motion is to permit for the month of November recreational rod and reel fishing to take two a day. And to close the fishery for all other methods of take. Is that sufficiently clear?
MR. RIECHERS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Do I have a second?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: A second. So Commissioner Duggins made the motion. Second by Commissioner Friedkin. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All opposed?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Aye.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Aye.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All opposed. We have one opposed. Sorry, two opposed. Commissioner Falcon and Commissioner Hixon are opposed. But we do have a majority, so it does carry. Any other questions or comments?
SPEAKER IN AUDIENCE: How can you make a change like that without public comment being included?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Ann Bright?
MS. BRIGHT: First of all, and I will remind the Commissioners that you have already closed public testimony on this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, we have. No but go ahead and answer the question.
MS. BRIGHT: But I would like to just address the legalities of this. Really, the way that the proposal process works, and what the law basically says, is that if the rule is adopted is a natural outgrowth of the rule as proposed, it is going to be permissible.
The other thing that staff tends to do is, for example, this is the rule, maybe on the far left. And the staff will propose the rule on the far right, knowing that if the Commission adopts anything in between, that is something that should not be a surprise to the general public. So this is well within that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Ann. With that —
Yes, sir. Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Mr. Boyd, I do want to comment, or I want to echo something that Vice-Chairman Friedkin said about this being a dynamic process. And the staff is going to continue to look at this as we move forward. This is not something that is set in concrete for years and years to come. At least, not in my view.
And I do think that it will be revisited on an ongoing basis. And it may be that we have to take more stringent action. It may be that we can relax it. But I just want to tell you, I am confident in Commissioner Friedkin's statement, and I think that the rest of us all agree on that. That this is a dynamic ongoing evaluation. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: With that, I think we are going to take a lunch break. It is already a quarter to 1:00 or about 10 to 1:00. And we will reconvene in about 40 minutes, about 1:30. Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 12:50 p.m., a recess was taken.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Hello everybody. We will reconvene. We will start with Item Number 6, an action item. Rule review of Chapters 57 and 65.
Ms. Ann Bright, please.
MS. BRIGHT: Good afternoon, Commissioners. I am Ann Bright, General Counsel. If you will recall, every four years, we are required by the Administrative Procedure Act, which is the law that governs our rulemaking process, to go through a review of all of our rules. And we have just completed a review of Chapters 57 and 65.
Back in November, the Commission authorized us to begin the rule review process. In January of 2009, the Commission authorized us to make changes that came out of that rule review process. And we are here today to seek permission to adopt the rules. I am just going to go through these. On Chapter 57, it concerns fisheries. This Chapter was actually in very good shape, because as you will recall, we do, when we do the Statewide, a lot of times, we will go through and correct these pretty much every year.
However, we did notice that there were a few things that needed to be corrected. Primarily, having to do with species names and references, in subchapters A and B. And then I am going to skip to D, to E, which just has to do with the correction of the game fish definition. C is a little bit more substantive.
Back in 2008, the Commission adopted a full package of rules on aquiculture. One of those provisions allowed a person who had a permitted offshore aquiculture facility who lost its permit to have 60 days as opposed to 10 days to remove the infrastructure. Staff, and I think everybody believes that 10 days was really unreasonable. And 60 days was the intent of that. There was a lot of discussion about that. It was just for whatever reason, omitted.
The other thing, on subchapter F which is to clarify who has authority to revoke a permit. Currently, it says the Executive Director. Statutorily, it should just be the Department. On 65, again, these are the wildlife rules. We have two new Wildlife Management Areas. The Muse Wildlife Management Areas and actually, the other one is not a new one. But we changed the name to the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area.
Also, we wanted to clarify the use of off-road vehicles to help disabled hunters. We want to make sure that the persons using those vehicles stay within normal speaking voice of a disabled hunter. Also, to address youth. We want to make sure that youth under 12 are supervised at all times. If a youth is over the age of 12, but has hunter education, we are okay with a little bit more relaxed supervision, so long as there is an adult, a responsible adult on the same public hunting area.
And then we had an incorrect reference regarding bobcats. We had 11 agreed and 11 disagreed. And I know you thought you were through talking about alligator gar. But a number of the commenters I guess didn't get enough comments on the statewide, so they also commented on this about their opposition to alligator gar regulations, and those were really not germane to this particular rulemaking. One opposed the increase to 60 days to remove the offshore aquiculture infrastructure, but did not give a reason for that.
And this is the proposed motion. And it is long, because we are requesting two things. One is to adopt the changes. And second is to basically adopt the rule review, to say, okay. We are through with this rule review process. So the motion is to adopt amendments to Sections 57.111, .112, .156, .157, .252, .258, .377, .397, 65.190, .201, .202 and .256 as published in the February 20th Texas Register and to adopt the completed rule review of Chapters 57 and 65. I would be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Commissioner Duggins, have you read each and every one of those, and have them down, memorized?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I haven't memorized them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You are a good man, sir. I read them, but I can tell you, it gets blurry after a while. So I have to be honest.
MS. BRIGHT: A lot of those changes are intended to help, not only our biologists, but also our law enforcement staff.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No. They are absolutely necessary. So I am pleased. Don't take it any other way, Ann. But sometimes I have to admit, I bog down a little bit. Any questions or comments for Ann?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The fastest he has moved. You want to get home or something? Is that what is going on? Anyway, a motion by Commissioner Duggins, Second by Commissioner Falcon. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great. Thank you, Ann. I think we were going to take on the action items at this point. Number 7, rule review. Ann, 53, 59 and 69. Ann Bright and Walt Dabney, it says.
MS. BRIGHT: Again, I am Ann Bright, General Counsel. For these chapters, we actually began the rule review process in August. In January, the Commission authorized staff to publish changes in the Texas Register for Chapters 53, 59 and 69. For Chapter 69, there were actually no changes that were necessary.
Chapter 53, we had published some proposed changes, but with the discussion yesterday about the fee increases, and the way that the Texas Register rulemaking process works, some of these sections are the same sections that are impacted by the rules, by the fee increase. And just given the timing, we really can't do both of them. We can't do these and then go do the fee increases.
So we are going to roll those rule review changes into the Chapter 53 fee increases. Does that make sense? Does it not make sense?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: For next month? I mean, for May?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. May.
MS. BRIGHT: Yes. We actually did a fairly comprehensive review of the State Park rules. There were some of these that we are going to handle outside of the rule review process, as you know. There is a lot of work going on right now with the TxParks System. And some of the fee rules really would be more appropriate for adjustment when that comes online.
The subchapter C having to do with acquisition and development, we made some minor changes, really just to reflect current practices and current terminology. And the same with subchapter D, administration of the state parks. And then I mentioned the Park Concession rules are going to be handled outside of the rule review process. And subchapter 7, we actually completely did a rewrite of subchapter 7 to try to group like topics together, make these clearer, do all of the things that we hope to do in a rule review process.
The comments we received, five, seven agreed, five disagreed. One was concerned with the deletion of a reference to the WMAs in Section 59.64. However, the WMAs still are referenced in these rules. And this has to do with how we classify our properties. I think there was a concern that we were excluding WMA classification. One was concerned with the placement of the term "aboriginal." It is not a term apparently that is used by professionals.
Again, the historic site classification didn't really go into a lot of detail. One person actually wanted us to loosen up on the nudity rules.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Walt.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You have become a prude, Walt? We have got somebody back here, going thumbs up. Yes.
MR. DABNEY: I told Dan, we would probably never find him out there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And one Commissioner. Okay. He is a doctor. You know, he wants everybody naked.
MS. BRIGHT: And one was concerned with the consolidation of state parks and wildlife management functions as an agency. Again, that is not really germane. And this is the recommendation. That we repeal 59.75 and we adopt amendments to 59.41 through .47, .61 through .64, .131 to .134 as published in the February 20th issue of the Texas Register with changes as necessary. And that the Commission adopt the completed rule review of Chapters 53, 59, and 69. I would be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions for Ann?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I have one.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Ann, why is it again that you are proposing to delete recreational areas from all of the headings on pages 188?
MS. BRIGHT: That is a term that we don't use anymore. We either have, the classifications are state parks, state natural area, state historic site, and then state park and state historic site, and then wildlife management area.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any other questions for Ann? Do I have a motion?
COMMISSIONER HIXON: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Good. Commissioner Hixon.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second by Commissioner Duggins. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. The motion carries. Thank you. We are going to another. We are going to do the action ones first. Let me see.
MR. SMITH: Number 11.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Number 11. Yes. Action, Resolution designation of a representative to the Biological Advisory Team of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Regional Habitat Conservation Plan. That is a mouthful. Dr. Matt Wagner.
DR. WAGNER: A long title for a short item. We are required through our code to appoint members to these habitat conservation plans in the State. And today we are asking you to appoint Dr. Wendy Gordon to the Edwards Aquifer Barton Springs Habitat Conservation Plan. This is a plan that has been underway for about five years now. Formerly that Habitat Conservation Plan was chaired through the Biological Advisory Team from a retired employee, Dr. Andy Price. We are simply asking you to approve Wendy Gordon.
And Wendy comes to us from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since November. Has quite a bit of background in water quality and quantity issues. She is really well suited for this role, coming from the Wildlife Division. We are really happy to have her. So if you have got any questions, I would be happy to answer. Or maybe Wendy could answer some questions for you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wendy, do you want to come up for a second? At least introduce yourself to us.
DR. GORDON: Sure. I am Dr. Wendy Gordon of the Wildlife Division. And I know we had a similar item in the last Commission meeting, and there were a few questions about it, which I am happy to spend a moment just explaining what this particular action item again is, as far as the Habitat Conservation Plan goes.
This is the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District that is working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on trying to acquire what is called the incidental take permit. So it would allow them to continue operations, groundwater pumping permitting and so forth, and at the same time, protect the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. So the District is working on various mitigation management actions that would protect the Aquifer.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And the salamander.
DR. GORDON: And the salamander.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is that going to be possible with the —
DR. GORDON: Well, people are hopeful. Actually, this process, as Matt mentioned, is pretty close to completion. It has been reinvigorated by some new funding.
And the intent is to get this wrapped up in the next few months, to basically make a few revisions based on some new data, send that to the Fish and Wildlife Service and then they would approve or not the Habitat Conservation Plan. And I believe the time line is to get that published in the Federal Register about the end of this year.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good. Okay. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Welcome aboard. Thank you. Do I have a motion?
COMMISSIONER HIXON: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So moved, Commissioner Hixon.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Seconded by Commissioner Martin. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. We have Item Number 12. No, that was the one withdrawn by Bexar County. Thirteen, Item Number 13, action, land acquisition, Houston County, Mission Tejas State Park.
Mr. Corky Kuhlmann. Corky.
MR. KUHLMANN: Good afternoon. Corky Kuhlmann with the Land Conservation Program. This is a small acquisition at Mission Tejas State Park, Houston County, which is northwest of Lufkin. The red star represents the acquisition in relation to the total boundary of the park. It is right at the entrance on the Highway 21. This is the yellow parcel you see.
There are two or three other parcels there we would like to acquire. But this is for Parcel 1. Staff recommends that you adopt the motion before you, which states that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire this .26-acre tract of land as addition to Mission Tejas State Park. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions for Corky? Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Corky, who owns the land to the right of the yellow, between Highway 21, some of it is in blue, and then light blue.
MR. KUHLMANN: It is right-of-way. It is part of the Highway 21 right-of-way.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You didn't want to ask about minerals or executive rights?
MR. KUHLMANN: I think there is a salt lick on it or something.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We are giving him a hard time. Corky does a good job. Any other questions or comments for Corky?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I need a motion.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Second.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Commissioner Martin, second Commissioner Hixon.
MR. KUHLMANN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Corky. Sorry. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. That is all our action items. I think we will go back now to Number 8. A briefing on ocelot conservation and recovery in Texas.
MR. SMITH: Chairman, let's go to nine.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Go to nine? I am sorry.
MR. SMITH: [inaudible] is not here right this moment.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. No, that is fine. We will go to Number 9. Sorry we are jumping around a little bit, but this was to help people. A briefing on State Parks Wildland Fire Management Program. Mr. Jeff Sparks.
MR. SPARKS: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. This afternoon, I am here to brief on the State Park Wildland Fire Management Program. I kind of, I would like to begin with a history of where the program has actually started. In 1979, we conducted our first prescribed fire at Mission Tejas State Park, ironically, the park we just discussed. As you can see in the top right, this is a slide from a fire during this era of time.
If you notice, we don't have — there is not much personal protective equipment, and our suppression equipment at this time was rather limited. Before 1979, the Wildland Fire Management primary focus on our state parks was actually fire suppression. In the top left photo actually shows the CCC at Bastrop State Park where they actually had firefighters on call that created fire breaks around the park and suppressed all the fires that started.
From 1979 to 2001, prescribed fire was a routine management tool we utilized on our state parks. We continue to use that tool today. In this time frame, there were no formal procedures as far as requirements for a burn boss and for firefighters participating in the burn, and there were no requirements for actual burn plans. In 2002, the first agency procedures regarding prescribed fire were actually approved and implemented as a policy. This actually then put requirements, training and experience requirements for burn bosses as well as outlined minimal requirements for personal protective equipment.
This was a large stride over those last 20 years. 2005, we were coming out of a drought, which we are actually still somewhat in. And we decided to evaluate these procedures to see if these procedures were actually fitting our state park needs as a whole. At this time, we kind of determined that we were well on the prescribed fire realm, but we were kind of weak on the wildfire suppression realm.
Many of our state parks were in remote areas. It would take a long time for responding fire resources to get to those parks, to protect those park infrastructures. So at this time, we actually started shifting our program to look at wildland fire management as a whole, that is, suppression of wildfires, when a wildfire occurs. But actually beefing up our prescribed fire program.
So with this, from 2005 to 2008, we sat down as a team and we worked up what we called a Wildland Fire Management Plan and Operating Procedures. These procedures actually in the end had two primary focuses. One is, it established us, the state parks utilizing the minimum standards consistent with the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. These are the same national standards utilized by all federal land conservation agencies as well as the majority of the state conservation agencies throughout the country.
We also determined there was a necessity for each park to develop a comprehensive fire management plan. At this time, each park would develop this plan, determine if a prescribed fire was an applicable tool, and if so, looking at writing a prescribed fire plan and if it was not, it would actually develop a wildland fire response plan to minimize fuels around park infrastructure and viable natural and cultural resources.
So to begin implementing these national standards, we began with training. And we started this immediately in 2005, and we could see that this was the direction we were going. Between 2005 and today, we have actually conducted 10 basic wildland firefighter-training courses, reaching more than 263 park staff. A basic wildland firefighter-training course is a one-week class, 40 hours, and it takes our state park staff and trains them in the basics of wildland firefighting, wildland fire behavior and proper use of personal protective equipment.
So you can see in the bottom right, it actually teaches them how to use a fire shelter as well as in the top right, this is an advanced glass, where we actually use sand table exercises to basically play and to determine, if an incident were to happen, how would we manage that incident. Then we took our equipment, and what would it take to get to national standards? Well, immediately, we had to increase our personal protective equipment we were utilizing.
We now issue all firefighters with all of the required elements of PPE, or personal protective equipment required by NWCG, which involves Nomex pants, a Nomex shirt, a wildland fire helmet as well as a fire shelter, which you can see he is wearing in the red pack there. Also we determined we needed to standardize our equipment and start typing our equipment to the NWCG standards. So we standardized our equipment across the state to where we are utilizing the same equipment on one end of the state as we are on the other.
So as we move firefighters around, and they work on different pieces of equipment, each equipment is set up identical and operates the same way, so this reduces training and our experience level has increased. The next element we had to implement to maintain NWCG standards is we now require physical fitness for all of our firefighters to actually work on the fire line with us. Currently, we have 165 firefighters currently certified either at the Arduous or Moderate level through the NWCG standards.
Another element that we had to adjust our system was implementing the incident and command system in all of our incidents. All of our prescribed fires and wildfires alike. Instant command system was actually developed through mutual aid wildfire response, where numerous agencies, fire departments responded to a given incident but there was no sense of organization. It was total chaos.
There was no one to look to on who was in charge of the whole incident. So incident command system was modeled after the military and actually provides a structure of command of a given incident, and it is actually applicable to all incidents. It is the same system we utilized to set up our hurricane response for Hurricane Ike and Rita. It has actually increased our crew briefings and a whole structure where no one individual fire leader is in charge of more than seven types of resources, whether it is staff or equipment, so our fire leaders are not over extended anymore.
We have also increased our public information greatly, from original burns being kind of behind the public scenes in areas where the public may not actually see the areas we have burned to actually bringing our prescribed fire and wildland fire as a management tool out front, and actually interpreting it to the public. We now routinely conduct public meetings before we do prescribed fires, so you can see in a couple of these slides.
We utilize public information officers which are generally loaned by the Texas Forest Service to us when we are burning in and near urban areas, highways or things like that where there might be questions or the media involved. This provides a direct inlet for the media to find out information yet not distract from the incident that is ongoing.
And we also have increased our visitor interpretation within the parks, as you can see on the top right. We are actually now interpreting prescribed fires and management tools and getting the public involved in what we are doing.
One of the biggest benefits we have reaped from this change is our interagency cooperation. We are now working with the same standards as all of the other federal and state agencies within the State and across the country. So we now basically can play in the same sandbox with them.
We have cross-trained routinely with Texas Forest Service and other volunteer fire departments. And the sharing of resources between us and Texas Forest Service has increased dramatically as well as it has with other entities such as the Nature Conservancy. Last year, for example, the Texas Forest Service gave us an engine and four staff for two weeks. They followed us around and went to eight different prescribed fires.
As far as wildfire response, to kind of give you an update of what we have accomplished or what our firefighters have seen on the field. This is actually a slide at Bastrop State Park last July of a Type 1 helicopter that was actually putting a wildfire out on the park.
In fiscal year '08 we had 22 wildfires on state parks. We also assisted on 17 wildfires outside of state parks with our resources totaling more that 250,000 acres. Fiscal year '09 so far we have had, when I wrote this, eight wildfires, but we had one over the weekend, so we are up to nine wildfires in our state parks. And we have assisted on the Wilderness Ridge fire, which occurred about a month ago, outside of Bastrop.
As far as prescribed fire, our primary goals on prescribed fires kind of shifted to protection of park infrastructure, especially in the last few years, due to the ongoing drought we have been dealing with, and also restoration of high value habitats. Fiscal year '08, we conducted 18 prescribed fires, and so far this year, we have conducted 16 with about 10 to 12 more planned in the next several weeks to come.
Research and monitoring is a very important aspect to us. And we do fire effects monitoring utilizing permanent vegetation plots, similar to the National Parks Service protocols of both prescribed fires and wildfires. We have a database with more than 1,000 permanent vegetation plots scattered across our state parks.
In this particular slide here, this is a recent research study we were doing at Purtis Creek. We were researching an old growth Post Oak Savannah where we found trees that dated back to the late 1600s. So we were able to determine what the historic fire frequency was in the 1700s, basically prior to settlement.
Now, how does fire fit in to state parks? Well, our natural resource goal for state parks is to protect and restore habitats, natural communities and landscapes on parks and historic sites. Prescribed fire is the number one management tool we utilize to both protect these resources through reducing fuel loads around them and restore these habitats by reintroducing the natural disturbance of fire.
It is also the most cost effective and natural management tool we can actually utilize, because it was a historic disturbance prior to settlement. With that, I would be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You had indicated that there were 17, no excuse me, 22 wildfires in the state parks in '08.
MR. SPARKS: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Eight so far. There are nine this year. How do most of those get started? Are they truly — go ahead and walk me through it.
MR. SPARKS: We have a variety. We have a database that kind of keeps track of that. But several different reasons. Lightning cause several. Several of them are wildfires that started outside the park, and then burned onto the park. And campfires actually started probably a handful of those, cigarette butts, and then of course, several of those that we don't know.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You do try to analyze all of them.
MR. SPARKS: Yes, sir. We maintain a database where we try to analyze that and maintain the statistics.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I guess the reason I was asking was relative to human starting, you know, cigarette butts or a fire, a campfire getting out of control or whatever.
MR. SPARKS: I would say 75 percent were actually human induced.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Seventy-five percent. One way or another. Okay.
MR. SPARKS: Roughly. I would say, roughly. And 22 wildfires on our state parks is the highest number on record since we have been keeping records, we have ever had. But if you look at the number of wildfires across the State of Texas last year, it was actually dramatically higher than any other year as well.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Because of the drought year?
MR. SPARKS: Exactly.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Okay. So you don't — because that is what kind of surprised me. It seemed like quite a few to me.
MR. SPARKS: That is quite a few. And I am hoping we don't have that many this year, but with nine already, that is above where we were last year at this time. We go into our wildfire season, and it tends, and we have most of them in basically June, July and August. So I look for it to be another busy year.
It has been great though that our firefighters are now trained and have the personal protective equipment immediately there, and they are generally on them. And many times, most of those wildfires are smaller than this room, because they are on them. They have their equipment with them. And they have a line raked around them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So these aren't — I know they are a wildfire, but they haven't gotten completely out of control.
MR. SPARKS: Exactly. And that is the whole shift of us going to being ready on wildfire response, so we can actually switch that switch and move to suppress a wildfire immediately before it does get big, whereas before we did not have the equipment or training to actually jump into a wildfire such as that. I think the largest wildfire last year we had was about 500 acres, and it was down on the coast in Coastal Prairie.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Anything better we could do for our park visitors to make sure they understand the danger particularly in these dry years?
MR. SPARKS: I think our park staff, and we are shifting more through these procedures we now have, we have a whole shifting towards utilizing science and what you see in the U.S. Forest Service. It says, Fire Danger Today is High, Moderate, Low. Our park interpretation program has done an outstanding job of actually getting the message out.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good. Okay.
MR. SPARKS: I think we are doing good.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Any other questions? Comments? Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You said that, I think your term was, we are in the same sandbox with other state agencies working on this. Who besides the Forest Service are the other agencies that you were referring to is the first question. And second, if we don't have personnel close by a state park that experiences a wildfire, who do we call to look to, to step in?
MR. SPARKS: Okay. The NWCG, or National Wildfire Coordinating Group are standards, are national standards that are utilized by agencies throughout the country. U.S. Forest Service in Texas utilizes them. National Parks Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Texas Forest Service. The Texas Forest Service being the primary state agency that we deal with.
As far as who would we call if we did not have a firefighter? Our goal is to actually get firefighters at every state park, and we are nearly there. But if there was not a firefighter working that day, or we did not have our preparedness beefed up, then it would be typical volunteer fire department close in, and that is what these fire management plans are calling in. And then if the volunteer fire department didn't respond and if it was needed, then the Texas Forest Service or whoever else would be responding from there. Exactly.
As Walt asked, our fire management plans that we are developing right now, we are in the development phase of developing those, defines exactly who is the — whose jurisdiction that particular park is in, and who should be contacted, and in what order.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good. Any other questions or comments?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful. Thank you for taking the time.
MR. SPARKS: Thank you for giving me the time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Congratulations. It sounds like you are getting it in a much more consistent manner. We are going to go now back to Number 8 which is a briefing on Ocelot conservation recovery. Is everybody here? Great. Mr. John Young and Dr. Mike Tewes. Tewes. Okay. We met earlier. I am sorry. I didn't mispronounce your name.
MR. YOUNG: Good afternoon. For the record, my name is John Young; I am the mammologist with the Wildlife Division. I would like to take a brief moment to recognize one of our partners in the effort we are about to introduce to you. That is Jody Mayes with Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge from the Fish and Wildlife Service.
And it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Dr. Michael Tewes from Texas A&M University, Kingsville, Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute to have him assist in presenting ocelot conservation and translocation efforts that we are starting to engage in.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful.
DR. TEWES: Thank you, John. Thanks for the introduction, John. I would like to, before I go ahead, recognize John; he was a student of mine, working on his master's in the early '90s and he decided to come back for more punishment. He is about to finish his Ph.D. here. And he is a very good attribute.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Congratulations. Yes.
DR. TEWES: What I would like to do is to provide a briefing on the situation with ocelots, the ocelot conservation and some of the problems that are facing the ocelots here in Texas, and talk briefly about translocation. And before I get started on that, I wanted to make another recognition as the Chairman, Peter Holt, and his wife, Juliana, were designated as South Texans of the Year this past January in Kingsville by the South Texas Charities Quail Hunts. And that is a big honor in the place that I come from. And also, I would like to recognize Chairman Hixon.
Karen and Tim have been supporters of my ocelot research for 27 years. And I am very much indebted to that and I appreciate that, Karen and Tim. Thank you.
What I would like to do for this presentation is go ahead and tell you the problem with ocelots. We only have less than a hundred ocelots remaining in Texas. There are probably less than 50. They only occur in two populations, in extreme southern Texas. And one population occurs in eastern Cameron County, which is right next to South Padre Island. And then the other one is a county just north of there. And both populations are likely 20 to 30 individuals.
During the 1800s one of the hobbies was collecting cat reports of jaguars and ocelots back from the 1800s. And there are a number of reports of leopard cats from 1820 to 1860 that cover throughout much of Central and East Texas particularly along the riparian areas and the rivers there. But over time, as the settlement of eastern Texas has occurred, the range constriction has reduced down to the very southern tip of Texas. And that has happened in a fairly rapid period of time.
And these are the two populations that you can see that are isolated, and essentially surrounded by farm fields and urban areas in the Rio Grande Valley. Those of you that are familiar with the Valley know the great amount of development that occurred in the area. And it is kind of amazing to think that we still even have a few ocelots in that area. Some research that we have been doing over the past 20 years is looking up the genetic variability of the ocelot populations in Texas.
If you look at the graph here, the reference in the very upper left corner is from samples that we obtained from ocelot skulls at the Smithsonian that were deposited back from 1890 to 1950. We were able to get DNA from those samples. The vertical axis represents heterozygosity, or just say genetic diversity. And above .6 is kind of typical for many cat species.
If you look over at the red dot, that is the samples that we have analyzed from Mexico, the research that we do on ocelots in Mexico, it is also above .6 and most biologists would say that is a healthy level. If you look at the research that we have been doing since 1984, the population at Yturria which is a Willacy population has decreased from about .53 down to about .45, and the Laguna Atascosa Refuge population in yellow has decreased from about .4 to .33 so over the past 20 years there has been a steady decline in genetic diversity.
Why should we care? Genetic diversity, when it is at a very low level, can affect reproduction, have less reproduction, less survival in the kittens and a greater mortality in the adults and in the kittens. Less disease resistance and things like that. So low genetic diversity is a problem with many endangered species. Some modeling that a couple of my other graduate students have done as well as our federal recovery team has done some population modeling shows that in this situation, the blue is the middle blue model is the population at Cameron County Laguna Atascosa Refuge. And it shows a fairly rapid decline.
The green population which is Willacy County has an even more rapid decline. I have this timed to extinction, about 20 years. We can't predict Armageddon like that. It is just a way to communicate this to you that the average, it could be 40 years. It could be less than 20 years. But the average of these models which have problems in themselves; models are just models. But the take home message here is that the decline is imminent and it appears to be rapid.
The problem, the underlying problem with ocelot conservation in Texas is lack of habitat, which is again, a problem for many endangered cats. And the immediate problem is road kill. Ocelots, the highest source of mortality for ocelots in Texas is road kills. And it is often because they are trying to access different patches of the small fragments of habitat that they have. And in order to do so, they have to cross this extensive network of roads in the Rio Grande Valley.
Translocation. We believe that translocation is a tool that we can use here in the near future. It is cited in our federal recovery plan which is up for final signature here in a short period of time. We have been working on it for a number of years. And it is suggested as a method to help stabilize and address some of the immediate problems that we have here. It is really to buy time. It is to help only patch over the problems until we can resolve the more fundamental problems of lack of habitat.
We are talking about, we are early in the planning stage now, so we are just talking about what we are going to do, and what options that we have here. And what we would like to do, is move a few individuals from Mexico, where we have a much larger population of ocelots that are more vigorous, more healthy, more robust and move just a few individuals into the two existing populations to augment the two populations of ocelots that we have now. And some of the modeling that we do suggests that it may only take two to four individuals to integrate into the population to help with some of the genetic augmentation and the demography.
So we actually just began some preliminary analysis this past month, here in Mexico. In part because of a donation that we received from Tim Hixon. And it looks very promising for some of the Mexico. We still have a lot of work to be done, though, with the different Mexican agencies and a lot of other bridges that need to be crossed. And we are still developing the specific translocation plan.
About a year ago, the Ocelot Translocation Working Group was formed of about, I guess, it is about 10 different groups representing, with 15 biologists. And we come together about once every three months. In fact, John Young is the leader of that group. And we are developing the strategies and the plan for this translocation, should it come to fruition. Translocation goals will be to delay the imminent threat of extinction, to help augment the demography of the population size and the genetics of these two populations that we have in Texas. To help offset some of this road mortality and the short term mitigation of mortality. Provide time for some of the habitat to come back and be restored.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Environmental Defense Fund already have programs beginning to restore some of the habitat. They have a pretty good ways to go. And ultimately, we would like to have some sustainable solution of maintaining a population that is above this critical threshold.
With that, I would just like to recognize and acknowledgments. I work at the Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute. The work that I have shown here is mainly my graduate students. I don't get to do any fun work any more. It is the students that do all the work, as well as other biologists such as Jody Mayes and Linda Lack that have been doing the work over the years.
Parks and Wildlife biologists, we have a number of our students from the University who are working here at Parks and Wildlife, including three of these four. John Young, Alan Cain, both my former students, Jesus Franco and then Matt Wagner. They have been helpful in a new camera survey project that we have going for ocelots that was funded by Parks and Wildlife, which we are just initiating which will help us identify some of these possible source populations and locations to lease ocelots.
Again, Tim and Karen Hixon have been very important, particularly with this initial support of the translocation. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in general have funded a number of projects over the years that helped generate this information that I have been presenting. Donations from the Busch Garden, Sea World of San Antonio, helping with the camera survey.
Mr. Frank Yturria of the Rio Grande Valley has a corps of the other second population. And actually because of his efforts and his establishment of some conservation easements is probably the reason we still have this second population here. And he has been a longtime supporter of our research as well. And with that, that is all I have for the briefing.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
DR. TEWES: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions? Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What did you say the genetic diversity was of the Mexican population or did you? I am not sure you did.
DR. TEWES: It was above .6 on that particular scale that I showed. It is levels of heterozygosity. There is other research we have done which shows similar problems where they lost allelic diversity. Alleles are variations of genes, I guess is a way of saying it. But in Mexico, it is healthy, and it has what we would expect for a normal population.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: As you think about this, does it make any sense to consider trying to take some of the Texas ocelots there to help their diversity? I am just curious about that, since that seems to be a big part of it.
DR. TEWES: Yes. Well, they already have existing diversity. And the diversity that we have in Texas is already represented in Mexico. So that wouldn't help.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: It doesn't help.
DR. TEWES: But there may be other things in the future where we do have cross-exchanges. And Mexico will probably be coming up pretty soon suggesting ways that we can help their populations. And in fact, we want to do that as well. But right now, I don't think, in terms of for genetic purposes, returning Texas ocelots to Mexico probably wouldn't have a net benefit.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Very interesting. Thank you.
DR. TEWES: All right. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, sir. We appreciate you taking the time.
DR. TEWES: Sure. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You don't have much left down there, do you?
DR. TEWES: No.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So hopefully, we can protect or be part of helping protect it. Any other questions or comments?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you. We are going to go to Number 10. Item Number 10, briefing, National Boating Safety Advisory Council.
Major Al Campos. Al.
MR. CAMPOS: Good afternoon, Commissioners. Mr. Chairman. My briefing item is on the National Boating Safety Advisory Council commonly called BSAC for Boating Safety Advisory Council. It was established by the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971. And the Council itself consists of 21 persons drawn equally from state officials, boating industry officials, and representatives of the general public or National Boating Safety organizations.
The Secretary of Homeland Security appoints council members. I was appointed by then Secretary Michael Chertoff in 2005. The Council generally advises or provides advice to Congress and to the U.S. Coast Guard on a broad range of boating safety issues, in an effort to reduce boating accidents and fatalities. The program has been successful since its inception, not just because of the Council, but overall.
In 1973 over 1,700 boating fatalities were recorded with 9.6 million registered boats, whereas in 2007, that number was reduced to 685 boating fatalities. At the same time, the number of registered boats increased. Issues that generally receive considerable attention on the Council include promoting life jacket wear, encouraging persons to take a boating safety course, and discouraging alcohol use while boating.
One issue in which I have taken the lead with the Council is making an effort to make nighttime boating safer. This is the typical arrangements of your boat lights. If any of you are nighttime boaters, you have probably seen that a lot.
Boat lighting regulations were originally enacted in the early 1900s. The rules back then generally — well gradually, they became a confusing patchwork of requirements. And in an effort to simplify the rules and make navigation safer, the Inland Navigation Rules were ratified in 1980. Now today, with increased traffic and faster boats and improved technology, it has advanced to a point that smaller and brighter lights that draw very little energy from the battery can be better utilized, I believe, we believe can be better utilized in a lighting arrangement to make recreational nighttime safer.
There is two main issues with nighttime boating. One is glare. And the glare is generally caused by the all round light, the white light. And the other is conspicuity or the ability to be seen. Because when you are out there on the water at night. You want to see. And that white light prevents you from seeing a lot because of the glare. And you also want to be seen.
And I think that the proposed arrangement which is an optional arrangement addresses both of those issues. You have got the picture up on the PowerPoint. I also rigged up my son's boat to also give you a picture. The culprit generally is the white light. It creates a tremendous amount of glare. And actually, it does not always serve its purpose, because it is supposed to be a 360 degree light. When the boat takes off at an angle, it is not visible from the front.
The proposal is really not that much different. If you will look at the PowerPoint and also at the model, either one, you will see that we maintain 360 degree visibility in both arrangements and also green is to the same direction. Right is to the same direction. So it should create minimal confusion.
The white all-around light, like I said, is usually the culprit. Any nighttime boater will tell you that it creates glare that affects the operators nighttime vision. The proposal is an option, and I have presented this to the National Boating Safety Advisory Council as well as to the Navigation Safety Advisory Council in Washington, D.C. I have received some support. You know, some of it is pretty adamant support.
Because we do have the improved technology, and because some of these lighting arrangements were measured, were really measured in candlepower when that was an issue in the early 1900s. You know, visibility for one mile and visibility for two miles. And today's technology with the new lights, almost any of them can reach that intensity, so that is probably not an issue anymore.
On a broader view, from the top, if you look at your PowerPoint, it just, it maintains a lot of the consistency. Red to port, green to starboard. And it maintains the 360 degree visibility. It helps the operator tremendously because this is the old system. Fewer lights. Now, when the lights are at or below deck level, we can use much brighter lights. Much brighter lights that minimize or eliminate all glare and they improve the visibility of the boat as it is going down the lake.
So in summary, these are the two issues. The Coast Guard has looked at them repeatedly in studies, in their boating safety circulars, but they have not really come up with an answer. They have addressed it with non-glare frosted bulbs for the all-around light or the white light. But that doesn't completely solve the problem, and it actually makes that light dimmer. So they keep looking at the problems.
And I think that this solves both of those issues. This would be an optional requirement. It would require some law changes to the U.S. Code and to the Code of Federal Regulations and you know, I have identified those where they would be minimal and very unobtrusive. Because this would be recommended as an option, not something for everybody to go to. Do you have any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, we've talked about this before, and my understanding is, are you going to a meeting here in the next week or two or so?
MR. CAMPOS: I am going to meet with one of the Admirals from the Coast Guard in Orlando, Florida. And he has looked at it. And then we are going to discuss possibly a next step with this proposal.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Great. Because one of the things I am thinking of doing is sending a letter on letterhead you know, recommending this. Because I think we certainly have one of the larger boat populations in the country. Am I correct when I say that?
MR. CAMPOS: Yes. About 600,000 boats.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: As one state.
MR. CAMPOS: Correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And this would be something that obviously could be a very positive thing for us and our boating population. So I will send a letter along with you, or however you recommend I do that.
MR. CAMPOS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. CAMPOS: I will get it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any other questions for Al?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'll give Al credit; he is really pushing on this. And other things, too. Because he has been selected by the previous — and what happens now? You have a new President in there? Do you get run off, or how does that work?
MR. CAMPOS: I need a letter.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I may not have much sway. I can tell you that.
MR. CAMPOS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Major. I appreciate it.
Any other questions or comments on that?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Well, is this actually true? We are getting to the end here. Yes. We are at the end. Did I miss anything?
MR. SMITH: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. This Commission has completed its business. I declare us adjourned. Thank you all very much. Thank you all who stayed, too. It went on a while.
(Whereupon, the meeting was adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)
In official recognition hereof, we hereby affix our signatures as approved this 26th day of March 2009.
Peter M. Holt, Chairman
T. Dan Friedkin, Vice Chairman
Mark E. Bivins, Member
J. Robert Brown, Member
Ralph H. Duggins, Member
Antonio Falcon, M.D., Member
Karen J. Hixon, Member
Margaret Martin, Member
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: March 26, 2009
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 216, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731