Committees, January 25, 2012
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION
JANUARY 25, 2012
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
COMMISSION HEARING ROOM
4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744
REPORTED BY: PAIGE SLOAN WATTS
Sunbelt Reporting & Litigation Services
1016 LaPosada Drive, Suite 294
Austin, Texas 78752
Go to Regulations Committee — Conservation Committee — Finance Committee
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Good morning everyone. This meeting is called to order January 25th, 2012, at 9:24 a.m. Before proceeding with any business, I believe we have a statement to make. Mr. Smith.
MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 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 the meeting. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Okay, I will now call the Regulations Committee to order. The first order of business is approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes from the November 2nd, 2011, meeting, which have already been distributed. Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: So moved.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Hughes, Commissioner -- second by Commissioner Scott. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.
Committee Item 1, Update on TPWD Progress in Implementing the TPWD Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan. Mr. Smith.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And just for the record and the Commission, I'm going to move the updates on the Land and Water Plan to the Conservation Committee. I think that's probably the best vehicle for us to report on it. I've got a presentation in the Committee that we'll talk about kind of where we are with respect to meeting all of the deliverables of the plan and the 25 action items that were approved by the Commission. And at that time, I also want to talk about a new approach that the Chairman and I have had a lot discussion about, about going back and taking a look at the plan itself and the specific deliverables and a process for the Commission to re-authorize some new priority items for us. And so I'll present that in the Conservation Committee, so I don't have an update for this Committee.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, thank you. Appreciate it. Item 2, 2012-2013 Statewide Hunting Proclamation, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register.
MR. VACA: Good morning.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning.
MR. VACA: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the record, my name is Scott Vaca. I'm Assistant Chief of Wildlife Enforcement for the Law Enforcement Division. I'm here this morning to present proposed change to the regulations governing lawful means for hunting alligators, game birds, and game animals.
Under current regulations, it is unlawful to hunt alligators, game animals, or game birds with a firearm equipped with a silencer or a sound-suppressing device. I would like to point out that a person can legally have a firearm equipped with a silencer or sound-suppressing device with them while deer hunting right now. The person could use the firearm with a silencer to hunt feral hogs, exotics, or nongame and if they saw a deer they wanted to shoot, they could simply remove the suppressor.
Under the proposed regulation, it would be lawful to hunt alligators, game animals, or game birds with any legal firearm, including a firearm equipped with a silencer. And I would like to note here that the term "silencer" is used to be consistent with State and Federal law.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: How does that -- pardon me for interrupting. How does that relate to the suppressor category? Because I've got some suppressors ordered and doing that route, so how does that law deal with lap or overlap or whatever?
MR. VACA: The definition of silencer does include sound-suppressing device.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Okay.
MR. VACA: So suppressors.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'm sorry. Could you repeat that, the definition?
MR. VACA: The definition of the term "silencer" does include suppressors or anything designed to muffle the report of a firearm.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I just didn't hear you, thanks.
MR. VACA: Okay. In addition, a person must comply with all State and Federal laws governing the possession of a firearm silencer. And one other note I would like to make, this proposed regulation change was presented to the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee two weeks ago and the members of the Committee did not voice any concerns regarding this proposal.
And if you would like, I'd take questions on this now or we can do questions all at the end; however you would like to.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I'm just curious. Do you know of any other states that allow the hunting of wildlife with suppression devices?
MR. VACA: Yes, sir. We have polled the other states, and we've gotten 33 responses. Out of those 33, 14 allow hunting game animals with silencers.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions on that topic?
Okay. Thank you, Scott. Appreciate it.
Mr. Alan Cain, good morning.
MR. CAIN: Good morning, Commissioners, Mr. Chairman. For the record, I'm Alan Cain. I'm the White-tailed Deer Program Leader and today I'll be presenting several proposals regarding White-tailed deer regulations. Last year, the Department was petitioned from individuals in Collin County requesting archery only deer season in Collin and Rockwall Counties. In the process of formulating staff recommendations to that petition, the White-tailed Deer Technical Committee, which is comprised of Wildlife Division staff, determined that hunting opportunities could be provided in those counties as well as neighboring Dallas County.
Currently, the Wildlife Division monitors deer populations at a resource management unit scale to determine impacts of harvest regulations on those deer populations. However, in urban and suburban areas characterized by highly fragmented habitat and isolated pockets of deer populations, monitoring efforts would provide very little reliable data or confidence in those data as to impacts of the harvest regulations on those deer populations.
In addition, deer populations in closed counties are not monitored either, which would include Collin, Dallas, and Rockwall Counties, which have been closed for 25 years presumably on the assumption that stable populations had ceased to exist because of lack of habitat in those areas. However, there are small pockets of habitat that harbor deer in those counties. This is a similar situation in Grayson County, where most of the county cannot support deer populations and only viable deer herds exist in bands of the habitat along the Red River and Grayson County is an open season, open deer season up there, restricted archery equipment since the early 1960s.
In analyzing the petition for rule-making, staff determined that there was no biological reason not to allow hunting in Collin, Rockwall Counties and it's an opportunity to increase hunting opportunity, however limited that may be, and that opening the season would also provide an additional method for addressing nuisance deer issues where the use of archery equipment was not prohibited by county or municipal ordinances. Staff also determined that Dallas County was suitable for application of this urban hunting unit approach and for simplicity sake, avoidance of law enforcement issues resulting from different regulations; so we want to keep the regulations consistent within those four counties, including Grayson County. So the Grayson County season structure should be employed in all these counties.
Staff notes that traditional biological rationals used to justify season lengths and bag limits are moot in the case of deer populations in these counties. Given the continued urbanization of these counties, the sparse deer habitat that remains is expected to continue to decline. The proposed regulation is to remove the current permit requirement for antlerless deer in Grayson County and implement that season structure in Collin, Rockwall, and Dallas Counties, which would include a special and general archery season with a four deer bag limit to include no more than two bucks or two antlerless deer. It would also include antler restrictions in those -- all three of those counties.
Again, the chosen season structure is to provide the uniformity of regulation and ease of enforcement. Not necessarily of biological management of the resource there. Staff have also corresponded with leadership from the Grayson County White-tail Association and other individuals in Grayson County and Collin County and those individuals expressed support for our regulation proposal. Some comments were this would be a great opportunity or a chance to provide youth hunting opportunities and also to better allow -- better -- help them better -- be more capable of harvesting does. Or not more capable, but allow an opportunity to harvest a doe without having to go through that permit process and so they were very supportive of that and indicated it was a win-win situation for the landowners, hunters, and Parks and Wildlife in those particular counties up there.
Galveston County is also another county that has a closed season, but deer are present in the county despite the fragmented habitat in those areas. Currently, all surrounding counties, including Harris, have an open general deer season. These counties are similar in characteristics to Galveston in that Fort Bend, Harris, and Brazoria have suitable deer habitat and then pockets of isolated deer throughout the county in those habitats.
Staff has determined that like the counties in North Texas, additional hunting opportunity can be provided under the regulatory structure currently in effect in those surrounding counties -- Harris, Fort Bend, and Brazoria. In addition, Galveston County fits within the same resource management unit as Harris and those surrounding counties. For consistency in the regulation, it makes sense to use that same season structure and regulation. It should provide additional hunting opportunity and a tool to help manage the deer numbers in those particular areas, especially where they may be a nuisance like it could be an issue up in North Texas counties.
The hunting opportunity would consist of an archery only season, a general season, and a special late muzzleloader season with a bag limit of four deer, not to exceed more than two bucks or two antlerless. Antlerless harvest would be allowed without a permit for the first 23 days of the season and then after Thanksgiving, the hunter would require -- be required to have a permit to harvest antlerless deer. And antler restrictions would apply in those counties.
This concludes my portion of the presentation. If y'all have any questions, I'll try to answer those or we can wait until the end of the Statewide Hunting proclamation.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Do you have a question?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Alan, I have a question. What's the rational behind the Thanksgiving date on antlerless deer in Galveston County? I mean why -- before Thanksgiving you can shoot your two. If you wait until after Thanksgiving, what's the reasoning for that?
MR. CAIN: That's a good question, and I'm not sure I have a good answer.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I mean it looks like you're going to allow them to shoot two before Thanksgiving, what difference does it make if they shoot it before or after Thanksgiving?
MR. CAIN: I think some of the -- or some of the biologists or staff think that when you extend the season in those areas, especially in the eastern part of the state where you have high hunter densities, that a longer season may increase the harvest to an extent where it could have an impact on the populations over there versus just a 23-day doe season where it forces people to harvest during that time frame.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mitch, anything to add to that or does that get us to our answer? Good, okay. Commissioner Duggins?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But to follow up on Dan Allen's question, if you're trying to limit the take after Thanksgiving, why would you have a permit process? Question one. Question two, what's involved in the proposed permit process? What do you have to go through? What are the criteria for getting it?
MR. CAIN: I believe the permits for Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Harris County would be like essentially a managed lands deer permit and most of those folks are probably seeking a Level 1 permit where they can receive or be able to harvest does during that general season there and obviously there's a process to that.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But aren't we creating more work for somebody having to take an application and decide whether to issue it? Is it discretionary --
MR. CAIN: Potentially -- yes. I mean if there is request for those folks seeking Level 1, then, yes, it's you know obviously an additional workload on those biologists or a potential increase. But -- and I think going back to the first part of that question, there is areas or pockets of areas where there may be higher deer densities. Like say along the river bottom or a bayou where the county season structure and bag limit may be more restrictive than what they need to harvest. And so, you know, in those situations, you know, the doe days may not fit, you know, or might not meet the goals of those particular isolated areas and so you might need a permit after that to help manage your deer populations there.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But who is going to issue the permit? Who's going to decide whether to issue a permit?
MR. CAIN: Our Wildlife Division staff, biologist for that county. He'll work with those landowners through the Managed Lands Deer Permit program.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So it's only available to somebody who's in MLDP?
MR. CAIN: I believe so. I don't believe the LAMPS is in place in those counties -- Brazoria, Fort Bend, or Harris County. And so if we're going to have the same season structure and permit requirements in place, then LAMPs -- then LAMPS is not available to those counties, and so it would be only through Managed Lands Deer Permit Program.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mitch.
MR. LOCKWOOD: My name is Mitch Lockwood, Big Game Program Director. In just an attempt to clarify a little bit, Commissioner Hughes, I don't think the issue is whether or not the harvest takes place before or after Thanksgiving; but the fact is is that the data has indicated that that population at that scale for that resource management unit couldn't withstand a full season either sex harvest and we've learned that a 23- to 30-day doe day period is sufficient and wouldn't result in over harvest of the population. It just happens to fall -- the way it's designed is to start in early November and conclude around Thanksgiving, so it's not really whether it's before or after.
But there are -- while that population as a whole can't withstand more harvest than that, we believe based on the data we do recognize there are pockets of higher deer densities and when there's data to support more aggressive harvest, such as individuals through the MLDP program who monitor those populations at a finer scale, then we can justify issuing more permits for more aggressive or more intensive harvest.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Okay. Thank you, Mitch.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Alan?
COMMISSIONER JONES: Are we getting any push back from any of these counties?
MR. CAIN: We haven't received any negative comments yet. I had one person in Collin County asking if we had an idea what the deer density was and what impact this may have. But as I mentioned, one, we don't monitor deer populations in closed counties and then in these highly fragmented habitats, you know, monitoring deer populations don't provide any meaningful data and it's not a resource issue in those areas. You know, this is to provide hunting opportunity for the few pockets of deer that do remain for those landowners that have habitat that support those areas.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. SMITH: Commissioner, just to add to that just as a reminder, we did receive a petition to open up deer season in these areas last year and we asked if we could defer it to put it into the normal regulatory cycle and so that's what we've done. I suspect once we go out for comment, I mean we will hear both sides of the issue and some will express concern about a deer season in and around urban areas. And so that's just something you should probably prepare for, for some level of feedback on that.
COMMISSIONER JONES: And the timing of when we would ultimately decide this, would it be in place in time enough for deer season this coming fall?
MR. SMITH: Yes, assuming you decide to go forward in March, then would be the time in which the Commission would vote to take action on it or not and then assuming you did, then it would be in place for next hunting season.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Bill has ESP. That was my question.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I definitely have ESPN.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Alan on that subject? Okay. Thanks, Alan. Appreciate it.
All right, Robert Perez. Good morning, Robert.
MR. PEREZ: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Robert Perez, Upland Game Bird Program Leader. I'll be presenting the Upland Game Bird portion of the statewide hunting proclamation, which includes proposed changes to pheasant and Lesser prairie chicken regulations and also a discussion of potential modifications to quail regulations.
The first item is a proposal to close pheasant season in three coastal counties -- Chambers, Jefferson, and Liberty highlighted in yellow here. This proposal is in response to absence of a population. These are the only coastal counties with a current pheasant season. In 2003, the Commission adopted closure of the pheasant season in Horton, Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Matagorda Counties shown in black for the same reason. These populations were the result of over 17,000 pheasants stocked by TPWD in the late 1970s and 80s. Populations have blinked out over time, as these birds are not well adapted to the climate and available habitat. This potential change would effectively close the pheasant season on the Texas coast.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I'm just curious. I know none of us were here then, but what was the thinking why they released those birds down in that part of the country when they are typically more adaptable to the colder climates and the more seasonal changes that you might find --
MR. PEREZ: Right.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- in the Panhandle?
MR. PEREZ: Through the history of wildlife conservation, State game agencies went through a time period where they stocked every critter of every kind in every place and this Agency is no different.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. PEREZ: And it took some time before biologists realized that, you know, it did provide some hunter opportunity for a limited amount of time; but eventually in often -- as is often the case, those populations would blink out. One that took hold is our populations of pheasants in the Texas Panhandle and that remains and still remains a resource. But the one in the Texas coast, it just did not. It didn't work out.
The next item is in regard to Lesser prairie chicken. In 2005, the Commission adopted rules to create a Managed Lands Permit for the harvest of Lesser prairie chicken. The rules were adopted in response to long-term data indicating a decline in population trend for Lesser prairie chicken throughout much of their historic range. In 2009, the Commission closed the season on Lesser prairie chicken in response to continued concerns about the species. It now appears that resumption of prairie chicken hunting will not take place in the foreseeable future. Because there's no longer a need for the rules, staff proposes the repeal of Section 65.25(B), which sets forth the requirements for harvest of Lesser prairie chicken on managed lands.
As you are likely aware, the Lesser prairie chicken is currently a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act and our staff and partners continue to work diligently on recovery efforts. We expect to see further developments in relation to Lesser prairie chicken conservation in Texas. It is important to note that hunting is in no way a contributing factor to the declines in these populations. The gradual disappearance of large, intact native grasslands is a primary factor.
Now, on to quail. According to the National Breeding Bird Survey, Bobwhite quail has significantly declined in Texas. Over the past four decades, they have declined at a rate of about 2.8 percent per year. According to Parks and Wildlife -- according to the Parks and Wildlife Small Game Survey, Harvest Survey, the number of quail harvested and the number of quail hunters have declined along with populations. It's important to understand that quail hunting is not the cause of quail declines. The loss of hunters and habitat and harvest is simply symptomatic of a much larger habitat problem.
Texas is a diverse state. Quail densities and trends are different among regions. For example, lack of rainfall is not the root cause of declines in the eastern third of the state. These areas lack suitable habitat. However, weather plays a larger role in the annual variation in the western third of the state. The Parks and Wildlife Annual Quail Roadside Survey indicates long-term declines, even in the core western areas of Texas like the Rolling Plains shown here. These trends are not explained by weather alone. Fragmentation, habitat changes, and potential unknown factors have also had impacts.
Notice the last three years, which are the lowest ever recorded. Long-term drought has likely influenced this recent decline. Here is the quail roadside count data for South Texas. According to this, this region has also experienced long-term declines for the same reasons as the Rolling Plains. Although suitable habitat is limited in the Gulf coastal prairies, drier conditions may have benefited Bobwhite. Our survey indicates a record year in this region; however, the Parks and Wildlife Quail Roadside Census is designed to detect changes at the ecoregion level. In any given region, there are individual properties with higher or lower quail densities related to finer scale habitat variables.
Quail face many challenges, including the lack of fire, improper grazing, exotic grasses, habitat loss, and fragmentation and most recently long-term drought. Harvest regulations alone will not reverse quail declines; but under the current climatic conditions, they may help some birds make it through tough years that may not have otherwise. This can set the stage for a quicker recovery with appropriate rainfall and habitat conditions.
How harvest impacts quail populations is scale dependent. At a statewide scale, harvest has an insignificant affect on population trends. For example, last year there were an estimated 50,000 quail hunters a field, yet there are millions of acres of potential quail habitat in our state. There are simply just not enough hunters to impact the statewide population. However, at the ranch or pasture scale, harvest can influence local quail populations. This depends largely on the intensity of hunting that takes place. For example, the effects might be minimal on a good sized property that's only hunted a few times a year. While another property with heavy harvest in every pasture could result in long-term declines in that population.
In a fragmented landscape, any number of factors, including harvest, may result in local extirpation. In this scenario, the probability of immigration -- that is new quail coming into that population -- decreases as fragmentation increases. Harvest, predation, flood, famine, any number of factors in this scenario could result in a total loss of islands of quail populations in a fragmented landscape. So with the clear understanding that non-harvest factors have the biggest impact on the future of statewide quail populations, Texas Parks and Wildlife staff offer the following conclusions related to the impacts of seasons and bag limit changes.
I would also like to reemphasize that regulatory changes alone will not reverse long-term declines, but may only set the stage for faster recovery under favorable conditions. Research indicates that only drastic changes in bag limit that is greater than 50 percent would impact statewide harvest. And any season length reduction that removes late harvest may have positive impact on quail breeding potential. This is because birds that have survived the winter are more likely to breed. So the harvest of these individuals can be considered additive to natural mortality.
And lastly, the creation of two or more quail regions or zones may be more appropriate for managing populations in fragmented habitat. This graph illustrates the points that only substantial bag limit reductions would impact harvest. As you can see, the majority of hunters according to these data, harvest fewer than six birds per day and the largest category is zero birds harvested. However, these data are based on an average of birds harvested per day. That is defined as the total number of birds harvested divided by the total number of days hunted in one season. In order for us to get a true daily bag and the timing of harvest throughout the season, a new survey is being developed by staff to provide a clearer picture of quail harvest in Texas.
This graph illustrates the annual life cycle of quail. As you can see, the greatest number of birds on the ground occurs midsummer when all the chicks have hatched and then it just rapidly decreases to its lowest point in early spring with somewhere between 20 and 30 percent annual survival. Hunting often takes place in late winter when the birds have almost reached the spring breeding season. This graph depicts the proportion of quail that will have the opportunity to breed throughout time. So in November, some small percentage of the population is likely to survive to breed. The graph shows 20 percent around November there. But as you approach the breeding season, the proportion of breeding birds in the population steadily increases until you reach the actual breeding season, when all birds have the potential to breed given favorable habitat. This proportion varies by year, but the relationship remains the same. Reductions in the season closing date results in more birds being available to breed.
The Resident Game Bird Technical Committee, which is made up staff biologists, submit the following recommendation which creates two zones. The eastern zone reflects an area of the state with highly fragmented habitat and very low level populations of Bobwhite. Staff proposed the Saturday closest to November 1st to January 31st season with a five-bird bag. The western zone reflects populations that have the potential to occur at much higher densities than the eastern zone. Staff propose the opening of the season and the bag limit remain the same, Saturday closest to November 1 with a 15-bird bag; but the closing date be shortened to January 31st.
The east zone rational. The season length reduction protect potential breeders from late season harvest and the bag is reduced to a level that can begin to impact harvest while maintaining hunting opportunity. Retaining a season in this zone acts as an incentive for landowners and land managers to actively manage for this species. Habitat restoration at a meaningful scale is the key to recovering Bobwhites in this region of the state.
The west zone has the same rational for season length reduction. That is protection of breeders. This scenario also removes late season harvest, rather than reducing harvest through bag limit changes. It also sets the stage for faster recovery under suitable conditions and is sustainable over the long term since it fits well with the annual life cycle of the species.
The Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee, which acts as an -- in an advisory capacity to the Parks and Wildlife Commission, recently met to discuss potential quail regulatory changes. This Committee had lengthy discussions with perspectives ranging from season closure to no change at all. After reviewing the staff proposal, the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee suggested some modification to the west zone, which includes a closing date of February 15th instead of the staff proposed January 31st closing. The Advisory Committee also suggested a west zone bag limit of ten instead of the current 15 bird bag limit.
Incentive programs were also discussed in the meeting, but the majority of time was spent working on a potential -- on potential season and bag limit changes for quail. Incentives certainly have merit, and more work can be done in this area. Incentive programs, however, would likely look different in each zone considering the challenges and population levels are not the same. Staff were also instructed to look at potential further regionalization of quail zones for Texas.
If more zones were deemed necessary, this map reflects some of the ecological boundaries that would likely be appropriate. But at this time, there's not enough data to support quail changes at this scale. Once the additional harvest surveys mentioned earlier are completed, we'll have new information which can be used to reevaluate additional quail zones.
Here's a map illustrating the current quail season and bag limits of surrounding states. You'll note that Texas has the most liberal season and bag by comparison. So in summary of both -- here's a summary of both recommendations before the Commission today. I would only like to add that the ending dates may need to be modified to the Sunday nearest January 31st or nearest February 15th, so we can take advantage of weekends and not close on a weekday. I also recall the four zone map illustrated in the lower right-hand corner. This is a scenario that will require additional data. And with that, I'd be glad to take any questions at this time.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Anybody want to kick it off? Ralph, do you have any questions?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, my reaction to this is that -- and I know this is a very important issue to this Commission, and it has been for sometime. But the first suggestion that I've heard that I think makes some sense is to push the decision for this from March to August, where we have data from this spring and we know what happens in the summer. We've got a much better feel for what's occurred this year, and there's no reason -- we make decisions on dove in the fall when we know what the surveys have shown in the spring and I think I would urge us to consider, first of all, moving the decision date on this to the August meeting where we'll have data from what's occurred this year.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Can I interject on that one?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yeah, anybody can interrupt me any time.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Robert, if we were to push it -- obviously, it's a complex issue and one that we take very seriously. But if were to push this decision process to a later date, can you give us a feel for what we will know in August? I mean holding the outdoor annual regulatory cycle aside, because our interest obviously is the protection of the specie and that's what --
MR. PEREZ: Right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- is most important, but --
MR. PEREZ: The annual roadside survey is completed within the first two weeks of August. So by mid to late August, we have a clear understanding of production and number of birds available. Also, reports from the field. Rain events in Texas can trigger production at any time from February all the way to August. In certain years we've seen production begin in August, as late as September in a couple of years since I've been doing this. So this bird is highly adaptable. It will take advantage of any tropical depression, rainfall in any form, El Nino, El Nina, whatever situation that provides rain, they respond to almost immediately and in general --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But we'll have a better sense. Obviously, we'll have gone through understanding of the population dynamics based on prolonged heat, rainfall, and you know other data that we can collect. Currently, we're getting information on a statewide level?
MR. PEREZ: Ecoregional level.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We are?
MR. PEREZ: Ecoregion, yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So if we were to take a regional approach, which we've done with other species obviously and it seems to make some sense and recognize, for example, the four zone state, how could we -- how could we differentiate data that we're getting currently? I mean do we have a way of breaking our data up for those four regions and getting some meaningful input?
MR. PEREZ: We would with exception of the eastern zone. Our annual roadside counts were discontinued in 1988 in that zone, but we've got a pretty good understanding of what's going on. They are very low level populations, and all the rain in the world would not bring populations back. That's a function of habitat, loss of habitat.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And do we have a sense of February offtake in these various regions or in the state currently? Do we have a pretty good sense of what the offtake is, hunter offtake is in February?
MR. PEREZ: We wouldn't -- you mean how many birds would be --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.
MR. PEREZ: They specifically --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No, no, no. How many are hunted in February?
MR. PEREZ: By our data currently --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Our current survey, does it provide that much level of detail?
MR. PEREZ: It doesn't. It doesn't provide that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Does not. So that would also allow us the opportunity to -- you know, another thing I've been thinking about and we've had some discussion about this. Carter and I have talked about it at length. But I think it provides -- delaying it for some period of time provides an opportunity to really take not only a regional approach to the data collection, but also fine tune the type of data that we get. I think, you know, it's obviously something that, you know, is very sensitive. I think it's fair to say that we're all very worried about the general trends in the state with quail.
Population dynamics are compelling. And I think -- I think it would be good to take this opportunity to delay this decision until we have more data, until we're closer to season to understand the summer dynamics a little bit better, and in the process, gather more information. I think we -- it's incumbent upon us to come up with some more robust data collection in the form of surveys that are a little bit more specific and gather more information about February offtake, February hunting pressure, the impact that may or may not have on populations regionally and, you know, take a good look at this in February. So I don't know if there's any input from the rest of the Commission.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Looking and knowing pretty much about this, I've hunted a few birds in my days, I know the issue in East Texas and I follow your logic and I do agree on the habitat situation. So I think that is its own problem up there. But in far West Texas and then all the way up through the Panhandle, the need for the data, to me, is important. We're very familiar with South Texas. I mean there's enough people that have places and everything, you know, I think to do that. So I basically concur with my fellow Commissioners here about the need to delay and get good data.
MR. PEREZ: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: But I do like busting it up into more regions because that one with just the two, I don't think is representative.
MR. PEREZ: Okay.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: But we do have to be very cognizant that -- and particularly out -- particularly up through the Panhandle. I mean it's a -- it's a pretty big industry and so we have to make sure and get data that supports our position. If we're going to make some changes that drastic, we sure need to have accurate data; so that's where I kind of sit on the issue.
I've gotten some communication from different people and a lot of them I know that have -- particular South Texas, they've basically arbitrarily just not shot anything in the last two years. I mean they may work dogs and they may work coveys, but they don't even pull the trigger. You know, they don't even have a gun. They're just working dogs. So I think there is a certain amount of self-regulation on it going on. People who really do care about it.
MR. PEREZ: Certainly.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: There's some coalitions that I've had some communications with that are pretty major players in this whole statewide effort that do support if the data shows on change in limits and everything, I don't think that that is an issue. You know, it's not an all or nothing deal from the -- at least from the -- some of the letters and conversations I've had. So I like the idea about trying to increase our database.
MR. PEREZ: Anecdotally, there's information as you've mentioned that many hunters self-regulate. We just don't have that information in the collected form and we could definitely go out and find out hunter motivation through surveys.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I think you could get some people who would be quite willing to work with you and I'll be glad to hook you up with the ones I've visited with. A couple of them pretty good sized organizations involved with quail and I think they would like an opportunity to give y'all that data so that we can come up with an accurate database so we know what we're dealing with.
MR. PEREZ: Much appreciated.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Who all is a part of the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee? Who's on that committee? And I don't mean specific names. I'm just saying who are the representatives --
MR. PEREZ: Representatives from other conservation organizations, landowners, land managers, universities, heads of universities. It's a broad membership of individuals that are nominated or asked to serve by the Commission --
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Appointed by the Chair.
MR. PEREZ: By the Chair.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. PEREZ: And it's the same -- it works as the same function as the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee or some of the other -- Private Lands Committee, it's another one of those type of committees that serves an advisory role.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Chairman, I also heard the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, that we probably should postpone making a decision on actual bag limits and I agree with Commissioner Scott that I think as a whole, most quail managers do self-regulate the amount of quail they're taking off their property during the season. When there aren't many quail, there are not very many of them shot. Maybe even no hunting. I would like to know, are we going to do any scoping between now and the time we get back together?
My biggest concern with East Texas -- and I'm not -- I don't know a lot about it, but I bet -- I would assume there's probably some pockets, some landowners that have done quite a bit to their property and maybe have a high number of quail and it may just be a few areas. What are they going to think of the five -- proposed five bird limit? Are we going to scope, or is that going to be put out?
MR. PEREZ: I imagine so.
MR. SMITH: Yeah, absolutely, Commissioner. If the Commission wants us to delay this decision and take this further, which I think I'm hearing from all of you that that would make sense given the weather conditions and also the desire to have better information just given the sensitivity of this bird and where we stand now, that you can be assured that we absolutely will do a lot of scoping with our many partners in quail.
I mean this is an issue that has attracted the attention of a lot of stakeholders. A lot of universities are doing important research on this area. We have a number of conservation organizations. A number of who have representatives in the audience here today that I know will be very eager to work with us on this and give us feedback on that front. I think just also -- and I know we're not trying to necessarily nail down exactly when the Commission might make a decision on this. Just recognizing you want the benefit of more time and more data in finding out, in particular, what's going to happen weatherwise. You know, there's some process issues that obviously we have to adhere to with respect to publishing things in the Texas Register well in advance to make sure that that's done before a decision is made. And so we can just work with the Commission on those issues to find the right time for you then.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: To your point, Dan Allen, I think if we did push it off -- and I'm not wed to August, but I just proposed that because it seems like a logical date -- that would give the opportunity for the stakeholders to come to that meeting and voice their opinions at the meeting because I think it's important to hear from everybody that wants to be heard.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Well, again, my concern with East Texas is I would assume there are going to some pockets of -- and some landowners that have done quite a bit of work and restoration and may have large populations of quail. I don't think we have an ML -- MLD quail program so that individual ranchers can harvest more than what the State regulations require, do we, at this time or --
MR. PEREZ: We do not. But as I mentioned in the presentation, that part of the state, any type of incentive program would likely look much different than in a western -- the more western parts of the state. In talking with our staff and our recommendation from East Texas, there are a few pockets; but landowner motivations are there -- oftentimes, are simply to see or hear the quail and are very limited in their harvests. They just enjoy the opportunity of the work that they've done to be able to see a few quail. To get a five bird bag limit in East Texas would be quite a feat. Unfortunately, that's the case even in those areas where people have done a lot of good work and we've worked with plenty of good landowners that have made restoration; but the motivation is to see and hear quail and to take very few and I think they would be very pleased with that.
Of course, we're going to scope that issue. But based on our staff interaction with landowners we work with now, many of those individuals are in favor of this type of change for that part of the state.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just as a comment to what you're saying, Dan. I have -- I've hunted up in there and, you know, all the places that I've ever hunted up there, it's all pen-raised birds. You know, it's hunting lodges and everything. I've never gotten much feedback that there is a very good population, wild population. And I think that's -- so if we give those people up there the opportunity -- I like your idea. But I think we're going to see that that is a limited population in East Texas. It really is, for whatever reason.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I also agree with -- I think, Dick, you said this -- that we ought to look to the four zone or maybe even look at beyond four, but certainly not two. I don't think -- I'm not sure -- I think four sounds -- it looks better and it would give us the chance to focus more on regions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Like we do on other species. And I think several people have commented on the importance of the data. You said I think we use roadside counts now?
MR. PEREZ: Roadside counts by ecoregion.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I don't --
MR. PEREZ: But the trends aren't different enough between North and South Texas to differentiate a zone at this time. We would need to collect, as I mentioned, additional data.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, what that was bringing -- the point of should we look at a different type of data collection. I think -- I'm not sure that's as reliable as we could get and are we talking to game managers and ranch managers and really drilling down on this. I think that's important as we try to gather the information that we explore new ways to get better data and more specific data.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I agree.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Think about that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Morian.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I would just like to have a lot more information before I'm asked to make a decision. I mean I would like to know where closed season or reduced bags have affected these -- I would like to know what happened in East Texas. East Texas used to have the finest quail hunting in the country.
MR. PEREZ: Correct.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: And I don't know -- the areas I'm familiar with, there hasn't been a quail for 50 years, so.
MR. PEREZ: We can provide that information, indeed.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yeah, I would like to have that and why we chose the bag limit of five. Anyway, there's a lot of data I would like to have that we don't have yet before I'm asked to make a decision.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Go ahead.
MR. SMITH: Well, I was just going to say I think the benefit of having some more time may help with that to a certain degree, Commissioner. And certainly that's certainly something that we can be very, very focused on in the interim in trying to get the best possible data sets and, again, drawing on those from partners, etcetera, to help amplify what we have. So, again, it's something that we can work on.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Just to -- I think it's a good point. And I think we need to organize our data differently. We need to benefit from the scientific community and the partnerships that we have with other organizations, research organizations across the state who have been very helpful. And what I would like to do is I would like to get -- encourage staff over the next few weeks to come up with -- if we are to pursue a four zone scenario, what type of data do we need, what's missing, how can we organize our information in such a way and look at correlations between February offtake in following your populations and all sorts of dynamics at play and find out where we're missing, frankly, the research. You know, obviously, there's a lot of dynamic research going on in the quail world; but, you know, some things that aren't known about quail and then -- and so the Commission can benefit from that information and know what we will not know in August. But at the same time, organize our information so we can make regional decisions for the following season.
And I think if staff could do that, Carter and I will obviously stay close to this. I would like to be a part of the research method -- or the data collection methodology, as well as the survey methodology. And I agree with Commissioner Scott. There's a lot of good organizations who can help us come up with surveys that are meaningful and give us the information that we need to have to make the right decision.
So I would suggest, to speak to your point, Reed, that we spend the next few weeks kind of gathering a list of information that we would like to know before we deliberate and make these decisions at a later date, likely to be sometime around August.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Mr. Chairman, may I ask just a quick sort of overall question?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Please.
COMMISSIONER JONES: And I don't want to beat this dead horse too much. But generally speaking, what has been your findings of why the population has decreased significantly, particularly in East Texas, if hunting pressure is not the thing that has caused the decline in the population? What is the thing that you've found so far scientifically that are or combination of two or three things, whatever, that's causing the decline that we know so far?
MR. PEREZ: It's just a fundamental change in habitat. The forests used to be more open. There were native grasses growing. Now it's all been replaced with exotic grasses, Bermuda or Bahia, in every opening. Cows used to be in the forest. They're not in the forest any longer. I think, you know, light doesn't reach the forest floor the way that we harvest timber, the way that we do agriculture. Everything has changed from the 40s where it was more of a patchwork of small grains and farms to what it is today, which is pretty monoculture and clean and we just don't -- it probably was an accidental by-product of poor farming techniques in East Texas that made the 1940 population so great. We didn't do that on purpose. But at that time, we created a beautiful patchwork of habitat for quail inadvertently and that patchwork no longer exists today. The Blackland prairie as opposed to the Savannah, the Pineywoods, all those ecological regions are missing those prairie type habitats that were once there that have all either been plowed under or grown into forests.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: How do you deal with fragmentation on the roadside counts? I mean how do you adjust for that currently?
MR. PEREZ: The methodology is at an ecoregional level and the lines that were instituted in 1978, met a few criteria and assuming they meet that same criteria today, they are all biased equally. So any change that occurred through time, should be reflected in the survey as a change in the landscape at that scale.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. SMITH: I think that's a really important point, Chairman and Commissioners. I mean the data set that we have is very beneficial to look at macro, macro level, long level trends. And it was designed to collect data at that level. When we see and are experiencing the problems that we have now at much different scales and more localized scale, we then can't take that data and scale it down to give you the answers that you're looking at. But, you know, we've always operated under the premise that we're going to collect data at big scales to help set a big kind of overarching latitude and then work with and encourage private landowners and hunters to manage populations locally based on information that they have and certainly encourage those landowners to help collect that data and have that data and make informed decisions at a more local level.
We set a broad, regulatory framework that provides a lot of regulatory latitude there. So I just I want to make sure that that point is not lost. Also, Chairman, I think you made this point well about acknowledging the collaboration that Robert and our biologists, you know, have with researchers and universities and partners and I just want to make sure the Commission knows that we absolutely are not operating in a vacuum here. I mean I -- we absolutely work every single day with our partners on this front and will continue to do so. So --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good.
MR. SMITH: -- just want to make sure that's clear.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Carter, one comment and I know as Commissioner Jones said, I don't want to beat a dead horse. But seeing that collecting the data is so important, one thing we may want to think about is there's a large part of our state that are under either MLDPs or under managed lands that are doing annual aerial surveys counting different animals and I know on our particular ranches, we count the quail year after year and I've got graphs you can see up and down. Would it be out of line for us to ask all these managers to count -- most of them count covey quail anyway, to turn that data in. One year doesn't give you a lot; but if you had eight or ten years of regional data of how many quails are observed out of a helicopter, that's a lot better than driving down a road and seeing how many you see by the road I would think and a lot of that data is being collected right now. It's just something to think about. There's a bunch -- many surveys going on across the state and it may be a pretty easy way to get data that's already being collected. We're probably not -- we may not be asking for it right now.
MR. SMITH: Well, that -- that is certainly something we can pursue and, you know, one of the things that's important when we're comparing data sets is making sure that we're comparing data sets that were collected in the same manner, so that we're comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges, as you well know. And it's certainly something that's part of this process that we can go out and see what kind of data is available that would be helpful in that regard. You know, obviously we've helped fund some of that aerial research to look at helicopters as a means to help count quail. Again, a reminder in terms of the roadside counts. That was always designed to be trend data. It was never designed to give a population level estimate for an ecoregion or the state. It was simply to show what are the trends and what's happening from year to year and provide a standardized basis.
So just want to make sure we understand the purpose of that data and also its limitations. But I think, again, as we go forward, you know, one of the things, Robert, that we could do is come back to the Commission after, you know, our team works on this and work with our partners on the kind of data, additional data we might be able to collect, is come back and talk about that with the Commission so y'all understand what you're looking at and what information we will have to maybe help y'all make a decision down the road, if that makes sense.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And potentially challenge how we currently gather that information.
MR. SMITH: Sure.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Or consider what additional ways we can use to gather that information.
MR. SMITH: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think that's a good suggestion.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Could we possibly ask for an update on the data side of this for the March meeting? Just some thoughts on how we might --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think that's a very good point. In fact, timing would work well for that if we could come back in March and say, okay, this is the methodology and this is what we're going to look at and how we're going to break it down by potential ecoregions and gather the information for presentation at the -- at a future meeting --
MR. PEREZ: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- after the summer.
MR. PEREZ: Very good.
MR. SMITH: Is that -- I just want to make sure, Robert, is that reasonable? I mean can we do that by the end of March? Will we have time to do that? I want to make sure if we're trying to get this data --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Not the actual data --
MR. SMITH: Yeah, but at least the framework.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- but the framework and the methodology.
MR. SMITH: Yeah.
MR. PEREZ: How we would approach it, I think we could do that. Yes.
MR. SMITH: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: And I like your idea a lot. I mean I think we're all headed down the same path. But these other stakeholders, I know you've got them in; but while we're trying to expand and get a new parameter on how we're doing -- getting data, how it's accumulated and compiled, I repeat myself, but I think we need to get these people, these organizations and ranches and all of them, we need to get people that are living it day to day involved. I mean it's -- the sooner we can get something out to them so that they understand they need to respond to us. You know, we set up a framework for them to give us information. That way we can proceed on and hopefully speed up getting information from them because that's going to be a delay. You know, obviously, if we wait until that late, you know, I mean it isn't going to happen in 60 days. So --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good point.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: -- my point, we just need to try to get them involved as soon as possible.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Get all stakeholders engaged.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Early, I agree. Commission Falcon, you had something you --
COMMISSIONER FALCON: No. I agree. I like Commissioner Hughes' idea and Commissioners Scott's idea of enhancing the data. I think it's very important to continue with our baseline, the counts that we're doing now because you don't want to corrupt the longitudinal gathering of data. But at the same time, I think it can be greatly enhanced with the ideas that the other Commissioners have. I really like that because we need to know what's going on. I think there's something missing here that may be obvious that's out there that we're not going to find out unless we collect more data.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Consideration of how we might go about this down the road, you know, at the end of the summer when we have more information, and organized in a way that we collectively feel will be more beneficial of -- you know, I would like to suggest that we consider a special meeting for this. Obviously, it has a lot of intense interest. A lot of concern for this resource, as we do. We take it very seriously. It's important that we make the right decisions or the best decisions possible, certainly. And I would suggest that we consider dealing with this issue for next year late in the summer in a special meeting. The benefit of that is we can get good public input. We can get good presentations from our partners, the scientific community and, otherwise, we would be dealing with it as we are today in a regulations meeting.
So I just think that we're going to be smarter for it if we call a special meeting for that. So I would like to get Commission feedback on that and support for it if you agree.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I think that's a great idea, Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah, I support it.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Absolutely, I think it's a great idea.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It has enough -- this thing has enough stakeholders and people that want input. I think we would be doing a disservice if don't do what you're saying.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good, appreciate it.
MR. SMITH: Chairman, I guess I just -- I know the --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yeah, go.
MR. SMITH: Well, I just -- Robert spent a lot of time on this and --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I was just going to -- yeah, go.
MR. SMITH: So I just want to acknowledge Robert and our biologists spent a lot of time on this issue recognizing the sensitivity, the visibility, just how important this is to so many folks that are involved in this and I just want you to know how seriously they take what you're saying and have taken in terms of making sure that we're listening, we're being responsive, that we are soliciting the input of our partners. There are no silver bullets here. And as Robert said at the outset, we're not going to regulate our way out of this problem. And I want to make sure that we approach this with clear-eyed reality in terms of understanding what we're seeing at the population level scale around the state. And so there's a lot of issues here that are very complicated, as y'all are aware of; but seasons and bag limits are going to be very, very difficult to do much for this species on the kind of scale that we really need to be thinking about from a conservation perspective, so.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good. And I want to add my thanks, too, Robert. I know a lot of energy and work has gone into this and certainly Clayton and Ross and all your teams and please pass on our appreciation.
MR. PEREZ: Thank you, will do.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: There's been a lot of attention to this, and we appreciate it very much. Good.
MR. PEREZ: Very good.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Is that -- was that two? Does that complete two?
MR. SMITH: It does.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. So no further discussion. I'll authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item 3, 2012-13 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Request Permission to Publish in the Texas Register. Ken, good morning.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski, with the Inland Fisheries Division and I'm here today to go over the freshwater fishing proposed regulation changes. I might note there's a few proposals in this -- my presentation that cover both fresh and saltwater. Some of the ones that we presented to you in November, Lake Aquilla in Hill County, a reservoir operated by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. It currently has an 18-inch minimum length limit for Largemouth bass that was enacted in 1994.
Our goal there was to increase the density of bass and provide some greater opportunity to catch some bass bigger than 14 inches. Staff has been looking at that population over time, and we see few benefits to the population since the 18-inch was implemented. Right now angling effort for bass is very low and staff feels that the habitat is limited in that reservoir to produce a good bass population and they plan to work -- work in the future to try and improve the habitat in that reservoir. But based on that, we feel we can go back to the statewide 14-inch, simplify the regulation and still maintain the population at its current level.
The next two reservoirs are Phantom Hill and Proctor. They're both West Texas reservoirs that are subject to water level changes. We've implemented 16-inch minimum limits for bass out there to try and take advantage of some of the increased water levels and extend the good fishing. Our goal was to increase the abundance and catch of 14- to 16-inch bass. We've taken a look at those over time and we've seen few pre- and post-regulation changes to the populations and the population of these reservoirs are similar to other bass populations in area lakes with 14-inch limits.
We've taken a look at some of the influence of water level and the water levels in those reservoirs is the determining factor for the populations fishing or fish -- bass harvest as not having much of an impact. So once again here, we -- since we're not having any benefits from the 16-inch, we propose to go back to the statewide 14-inch limit.
At Possum Kingdom reservoir, unfortunately there we had -- fish populations have been decimated by Golden Alga starting in 2001 and in 2002, we reduced the Striped back -- bass bag from five to two to try and help the population there while providing some harvest. Unfortunately, Golden Alga is still a problem there and it's inducing periodic kills to the population, limiting the abundance of Striped bass. Very few fish are surviving and being harvested. Bags is really not having any impact. This is a population -- the Striped bass population is in there on a put-grow-and-take basis. We're not allowing for -- we're not relying on any sort of reproduction of the population. It's just simply generated by stocking. So we feel that since it's not having any benefit there, we could go back to the statewide limit of five Striped bass.
Lake Naconiche in Nacogdoches County, is a new reservoir that was impounded in 2009. We've been doing our management there, stocking various species to get the population started. It's set to open in September of 2012. We're anticipating, as in most new reservoirs, angling effort will be high and we want to protect those 14- to 18-inch bass from some harvest and ensure we have a good quality population, bass population, established in that reservoir.
Our proposal is to put an 18-inch minimum length limit, maintain a five fish daily bag, and we also will prohibit some of the passive gears from using their -- in that reservoir, it's a smaller reservoir. It will probably have a lot of high use. Some of those gears will interfere with that and also that will -- the implementation of that will help some of the other fish populations to get established. Taking a look at some gear restrictions, this is in State Parks and this is a proposal that was initially presented by Law Enforcement and it does impact parks both in fresh and saltwater. Excuse me, it wasn't Law Enforcement. It was a State Park proposal.
The user conflicts have -- State Park personnel have noticed some user conflicts in areas with limited space on man-made structures. People coming in with 10, 15, 20 poles and dominating some of those small structures and causing some problems. So their change, the proposed change is to limit each person to two fishing poles in those areas. We have a similar regulation on our community fishing lake and it was implemented with some of the same -- with some of the same goals in mind to not allow people to come in there and dominate some of those small areas and also distribute some of the harvest of fish in those systems. So we think that will be a good change there that will help alleviate some of those problems.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Can I stop and ask a question?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Sure.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: How do we expect to manage that if you have an adult that brings in two or three kids under ten and puts two poles out for each of them and says they're fishing, when they're really not?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, you know, we'll just have to -- we have our Law Enforcement personnel. Brent Leisure can address that a little more directly.
MR. LEISURE: Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Brent Leisure, Division Director of State Parks. We did initiate this and certainly not to try and further regulate the activity in parks, but this was driven primarily motivated by conflicts that were happening and some of them pretty significant, where a fisherman would come in to a pier or a dock and set up 20 poles or more, totally consuming the space, and threats being made and this is not an isolated incident. It's happened in several locations across the state.
To answer your question specifically, Commissioner Duggins, if you have three fishermen or three people fishing, that would constitute six poles. I mean that's how our enforcement officers would choose to enforce that. So, you know, if they are actively fishing then -- primarily the problem was a single person coming in and setting up a number of poles and creating great conflict between users.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I agree we need to change to address that. I was just wondering --
MR. LEISURE: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- if the people are taking advantage and doing what you just said, I can see them trying to figure out this is another --
MR. LEISURE: That potential does exist. We think this is going to go a long way and help revolve the conflicts. And it's important to note that this is only on man-made structures, piers and docks. The shorelines, there are no limits like that; so it's not limited to two devices.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Why wouldn't we have --
COMMISSIONER JONES: I -- Rob, I think if somebody wants to bring a couple of kids under ten, the price of having to put up with the kids under ten is two fishing poles, I think that's a fair exchange.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Maybe. And, of course, we want kids fishing. I'm not in any way trying to inhibit that. I'm just trying to ask the question for people who might try to gain the system when the kids aren't really there, they aren't fishing. They're just sitting up in a car playing with a computer or something. But why do we not do this -- why do not propose to use the rule on the shoreline and just limit it to the pier? Why wouldn't we still say --
MR. LEISURE: We just don't have that space restrictions that exist on -- and it's a popular activity. You come to a lake, you may be fishing White bass at Lake Somerville and you're setting up five poles. It's really not been a conflict in those situations. It's only in those confined areas that we've had problems, and so that's where this regulation would apply.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Okay, moving on to the next proposal on -- I lost the screen here -- on the gear restrictions. This pertains to gear tags. This was one that was originally presented by Law Enforcement. Let me look at my notes here. And Law Enforcement had noticed that some of the passive gears used in freshwater, primarily throw lines and minnow traps, did not require a gear tag like most of the other gears. And for enforcement purposes, it was good to have those gear tags.
A gear tag is something that has to be attached to the device with the name, address, and the date, the date it's set out. So the proposal was to add those devices to the requirement of a gear tag. Let me get caught up here. And from additional discussions, the discussion was made to modify the date that those tags have to be set out. It was currently 30 and the proposal is to move that down to ten days. Ten days would allow people to set these things out and not have to re-date them, for instance, over two weekends if they were out fishing. And this would impact all -- most of the passive gears in freshwater, it would concern jug lines, minnow traps, throw lines, and trotlines. In saltwater it would also apply to minnow traps and perch traps and also crab traps that are fished noncommercially. Commercial -- crab trap fishermen or commercial license have different standards and date requirements and rely there.
So to make this language and these regulations work, we'll have to make some additional changes that aren't reflected in your copy of the proclamation. We have to modify a little bit of the language there and also modify the language for gear tags to account for all these changes. Next, getting to a proposal we -- a couple proposals that we didn't present to you in November that have come up that we feel there's a need to address. You're all familiar with impacts of exotics and species. We currently do have the authority to regulate possession and transport of those harmful and potentially harmful species and the ones we're focusing on here are Zebra mussel and Asian carp. Looking at some of the characteristics of those species and the situation, we're proposing some additional rules to stop the spread of Zebra mussel and Asian carp incidental to some other activities and uses.
We've had an ongoing awareness campaign on exotics, which we feel is having impact. We're hearing -- when we go to meetings, we're hearing people certainly focus on that "Clean, Drain, and Dry" message; but we feel there's some other steps we can take to impact this problem. The zebra mussels, we presented some information to you in the past on these. They can -- some of the problems they cause. They clog pipes and intake structures. They colonize hard structures like beaches. Their shells are very sharp. If you walk on them, you would cut your feet walking on those. So there's a lot of just structural problems with the adults.
Zebra mussels, they can build up good populations. They feed low on food chain, feed on plankton and that leads to decreases in the overall productivity in the system, which can impact our fish and mussel communities. Zebra mussels are established in Texas and Lake Texoma since 2009. We have found adults in a few other areas, West Prong Sister Grove Creek which was receiving some water from Lake Texoma and also Ray Hubbard, where we did find one adult; but at this time, we're -- we haven't found any evidence of reproduction in those other systems other than Lake Texoma.
Silver and Bighead carp, you might have heard a little bit about this. We haven't really addressed it too much in the past. They're native to parts of Asia. They were introduced into the U.S. in the 1970s for aquaculture and also for -- to water treatment purposes in sewage treatment plants. Unfortunately, they escaped and are now found in or along the borders of 18 states, including the states around Texas. Found from the lower Mississippi River all the way up into the upper Mississippi River.
Like similar to Zebra mussels, they do feed low on the food chain. Feed on plankton and compete directly with many of our native fishes at all sizes and also for Zebra mussels. And the one additional feature these fish, the Silver carp, if you've seen any pictures of the fish jumping out of the water, they're building up some tremendous population numbers in some of the areas of the Mississippi River and they'll -- when they -- they school -- with their schooling activity, they'll jump out of the water and it really just creating a hazard to boaters in many of these areas.
COMMISSIONER JONES: If they jump out of the water, can you shoot them?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, I have seen pictures of people bow fishing.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It might be a new sport.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, I think people have beat you to that. People are doing that. It seems -- it seems a little bit different for sure.
MR. SMITH: You're limited to two shotguns, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Just coming up with ways to raise money.
MR. SMITH: God bless you.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We can sell a permit for that, too.
MR. KURZAWSKI: And in and around Texas, Bighead carp, we have found them in the Red River below Texoma and some of the tributaries of the Red, the Sulphur River below Lake Wright Patman and Big Cypress Bayou below Lake O' the Pines and that includes lake -- Caddo Lake is in that area where we have found them and some of the areas other than Red River along Oklahoma have also found populations.
Silver carp, we haven't found any directly in Texas. They are in the Red River in Louisiana and there was one recent occurrence in the Red in Oklahoma of a Silver carp was captured. Some of the concerns that we're looking at addressed with these regulations, Zebra mussels, you know, a lot of focus on the adults, which even are pretty small and hard to see. But the Zebra mussels also have a free-swimming microscopic larval stage called veligers, which is you can't see with the naked eye. And this can occur in any water taken from lakes, for instance, Lake Texoma.
So people could go out there for bilges and live wells on taking water and there's a good possibility that veligers would be in that water and it's easily transported in live wells, any hauling containers, all the various boat motor intake systems; so that's a real concern. With the Silver and Bighead carp, these young Asian carp can easily be confused with native bait fish. There's activities for collecting bait fish below some of those reservoirs mentioned. People throw cast nets and they might catch a hundred, 200 Shad and if you had a few Silver carp mixed in with those same size, it would be real easy to not see them and transport them to another lake and accidently introduce them to another area.
So our goals of these proposals is to try to keep the Zebra mussels and Bighead/Silver carp confined to those limited areas that they're now found as another tool to do that and these proposed changes are trying to address the spread of these organisms incidental to some of these activities and uses. The proposed rules have two parts to them.
The first would require -- we would require all water be drained when leaving the listed waters. This is to get around the sort of an enforcement problem if you're on these waters and you, as I say, you took up some water, there's a good possibility that you would have veligers in them; but, of course, you can't see them. So we're crafting this language that if people make good faith effort to drain their boats when leaving this list of waters, they would be deemed in complying with our regulations.
This would prohibit the transport of any water or live fish off those waters, listed waters. We are going to allow travel to another ramp on the same water body would be allowed. For instance, on Lake Texoma the Striper Fishery there is one of the -- it's prime calling cards. A big -- a big draw at Lake Texoma. There's a lot of fishing guides operating on the reservoir. This would allow them if they're out fishing putting in -- say they put down -- put in down near the dam and the wind comes up and they want to take out, move to another ramp on that lake, this would -- this would mean they wouldn't have to drain the water, say, if they have any Shad in their live wells or any Striped bass in their live wells. They would be able to just travel to those other ramps on that reservoir and continue fishing within that same day. The same thing if there was a bass tournament and they were having a weigh-in at one particular boat ramp, they could take out at another boat ramp and proceed directly to that boat ramp to do the weigh-in and then drain the water.
So the places where this part of the rule would be in effect are Lake Texoma and Lavon. We're including Lavon there, even though we haven't found any adults there. With some of the adults finding -- found in one of the creeks leading into that, we're anticipating, hoping against hope maybe that they won't show up there; but we want to include that for now. And we would also include the Red River from Texoma downstream and to the Arkansas border and upstream and we've changed from your -- the draft language that you have, we've set an upper limit. We set sort of a buffer there upstream from Lake Texoma at the I-44 bridge in Wichita County. As you go up the Red River there, the conditions, the substrate conditions, a lot of sand shifting the substrates. We don't feel those conditions will be conducive to Zebra mussels being established that far up in the Red River.
The second portion of this -- these rules --
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Can you -- before you go to that.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Sure.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is the proposed rule on Page 33 of our book under 57.972(J) or excuse me, excuse me, K?
MR. KURZAWSKI: K.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is that it?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Yes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, your bullet point says requires all water to be drained when leaving listed waters. But K, as I read it, would say you've got to drain it if you've got -- it's tied to the possession of harmful or potentially harmful species defined in 57.111. Why not just -- if your bullet point is accurate, why not just say that your water has got to be drained when you leave the listed waters and not put some sort of second criteria about whether what's in that water, just require it to be drained?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, we don't believe we have the direct authority just to require you to drain water. We're sort of tieing this to the assumption that any water taken up from those reservoirs will contain veligers, so we want people to be required to drain that water because they would be transporting a prohibited species if they did not drain the water because most likely the veligers are in that water at most times of the year.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But does the person have to know that the harmful or potentially harmful species are invisible to the unaided human eye? I mean it just seems like it puts a lot of the requirement -- knowledge requirements on the user before they would be in violation and I'm just trying ask couldn't we simplify this. If the goal is to get them to empty their water, let's simplify it. Maybe I'm missing the point here.
MS. BRIGHT: And this may be something that we want to discuss separately concerning our authority.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.
MS. BRIGHT: We tried to structure this in a way that was going to make -- sort of take maximum use of the authority that we were able to identify.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I'll look forward to getting your legal advice on that. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just as a point of reference, are any universities or are we doing any research on trying to find something to kill that little Zebra devil?
MR. KURZAWSKI: We aren't doing direct research on it. There have been research done on them. Not much -- once they get in a big reservoir or any large system, there really isn't any effective way to eliminate them. You can do that on a -- you know, if they're confined to a small area; but unfortunately, that's the problem with these species. Once they get into the system, they become established. They're pretty much there.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That sounds like an Aggie problem to me.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Just give us a little while.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Research, research.
COMMISSIONER JONES: We'll figure out something.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Getting back to the second portion of this. The additional rule would be to prohibit the transport of live nongame fish. This would be Shad, things like that. And we're doing that to prevent the movement of those Silver and Big carp mixed in with those nongame fish and this would also be in effect in the Red River downstream to the Arkansas border and in the two tributaries of the Red, Big Cypress Bayou and the Sulphur River below Wright Patman.
And we would -- this would allow people while on those water bodies to take nongame fish, use them for live bait on those waters while they're fishing; but they wouldn't be able to transport any live fish off those waters to other areas. We did investigate. We held some -- we held some scoping meetings on this in Denison, which is up near Texoma area and also in Jefferson near some of those tributaries of the Red.
There were concerns expressed about impact on fishing guides and the enforceability of these regs. We tried to address some of those concerns by -- to the fishing guides, allowing them to move from boat ramp to boat ramp. We think that will have some benefits to them. And there certainly, especially up in the Texoma area, there is some support for the need to limit exotics. They've certainly been under the gun up there for Zebra mussels and people are getting a sense of the important of that and the impacts it can have on other parts of the state. We also would request that you -- if these rules do get to adoption stage, later on that we consider an effective date before September 4th. Typically most of our hunting and fishing regulations go into effect September 1st; but we would request that, if possible, we could get this in 20 days after the register filing. That would probably be sometime, you know, before the summer season and then we would be able take advantage of that to limit some of that activity at that time.
And one additional last item that we need to discuss with you concern reciprocal license agreements. We have some long-standing agreements with Louisiana, Oklahoma, that allow seniors from these states to be exempt when fishing as nonresidents. Recently, Oklahoma changed their senior age designation from 64 to 65; so we have to implement the corresponding change in our rules. So that means now Oklahoma seniors instead of being exempt at 64, they would be exempt at 65.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Ken, on that point, do we see more people from Louisiana and Oklahoma coming here and taking advantage of that or vice versa?
MR. KURZAWSKI: It's -- since -- we really can't tell since we're giving free licenses, but certainly there's -- you know, we sell a lot of nonresident licenses in two primary states. Oklahoma is probably number one, and Louisiana is number two. And at least on this change, it probably would impact maybe, you know, a thousand people or so based on last year's information.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But I'm just saying in general, the wisdom of being a part of this compact, are we coming out ahead or behind? It seems to me more people are coming to use our facilities than going into Louisiana and Oklahoma. From a revenue perspective, I wonder whether this is advisable to stay in this.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, we don't really have any way of tracking that because essentially people -- you know, people aren't -- don't have to take -- don't have to have a license to do this. But, you know, these are long-standing agreements that were just done sort of convenience for seniors in these states. Certainly our residents, when we make changes to this, they're always very interested in getting that senior license to go to those states. It seems like Louisiana along down along the coast and Toledo Bend are some of the areas that I hear a lot from our seniors going over there. So there are benefits to our seniors. Whether it's, you know, comparable on both sides, we just don't know.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.
MR. KURZAWSKI: And that's all.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That is weird.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That is weird. I do like the idea -- I don't know how the rest of you feel -- about moving this up so it takes effect as soon as we can legally do so, assuming everybody agrees with it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Are there any other questions I could answer at this time?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions for Ken? Ken, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Robin is up.
MR. RIECHERS: Chairman, Commissioners, I'm here to present to you today the results of the scoping process for the Coastal Fisheries Division and then the staff recommendations that we will have moving forward to you. In our scoping proposals, in the first one, the migrate rules proposal, there actually was not any part of our scoping process. That has come to us as a change as a result of us finding something that was left in the -- as we split hunting and coastal -- or hunting and fishing proclamations apart. There was a couple of things that were left in the hunting proclamation and then as we've been reviewing this, we're going to now propose that as a proposal moving forward.
The other two, the clarification of proclamation regarding take during a freeze event and the designation of the JFK causeway as a State Scientific Area and the no uprooting of the seagrass protection rule, much like Red Fish Bay State Scientific Area, were scoped. We held six different scoping meetings based on -- two were in Corpus Christi, one in Austin, one in Houston, one in San Antonio, and then one in Port Isabel, which were basically chosen because those were the areas that primarily fished in that State Scientific Area that we talked about or those were the ZIP codes that primarily fished in this those areas.
As we walk through these one at a time, the migration of the alternate license system and log, as I indicated before, was just a -- it's a nonsubstantive change that was left in the hunting proclamation. We're now just taking those same -- that same verbiage and moving it over to the fishing proclamation. It basically doesn't have any real changes. It was really a precautionary proclamation item we put in place at one time in case we had to go to issuing licenses by hand versus the current electronic system and when we were in a change-over at one point in time. And so some people still believe it has some bearing and we just need to move it over into the appropriate place here in the proclamation.
The second item was the freeze closure clarification. And basically, again, that clarified that take by any device or means in those closed areas, those thermal refuges that we create if there's a freeze will be prohibited. Again, the take has been -- if there has been confusion, it was already using what we would consider an illegal gear or not illegal gear, a detonator by hand; but we're going ahead and putting this right where we have that thermal refuge rule so that there's just absolutely no confusion that if you're in that area, you cannot take by any means.
Really we got little reaction regarding this rule. In the scoping process, there was some general support for it at the meetings. There were 14 online comments. You can see there that they were relatively split. Some of the concern or question was the definition of aquatic life and then other folks were wondering about if you did have dead fish, then how do you go clean them up from those refuge areas. And, of course, the freeze closure would be lifted by that point in time and that can be dealt with in that way.
So again, that verbiage there just to remind you. Basically, it just really cleans that up and says no person shall take or attempt to take any aquatic life by any means in those effected areas during a freeze, so. So obviously our staff recommendation moving forward is to keep that as part of our proclamation process.
The next proclamation or scoping item that we had was the JFK causeway area set aside as a State Scientific Area where we would implement the seagrass protection measures. As you recall, we obviously went through a winnowing process where we looked at a lot of different areas along the coast and we eventually selected the JFK causeway area because it was a highly populated area, it had numerous access points, it was located near a gulf pass, it had shown prior scarring, and of course part of our rational was also the overlap and the nearness that it was in regards to the Red Fish Bay State Scientific Area and that we had partners in that area who had helped us with that, as well as fishing organizations, and we thought that would be a good proximity for this.
Again, as the crow flies, I think I showed you this slide last time that it's only about 10 miles away as the crow flies and for that 15,000 acres that we were talking about, we actually would be protecting about 14,000 acres of seagrass, where that's about the same amount of seagrass protection that we had in the Red Fish Bay State Scientific Area as far -- as it concerns acre for acre.
Obviously, as we went to scoping in this particular case, we met significant opposition to the State Scientific Area proposal, as well as the notion of no uprooting rule. We had about 307 attendees at our six meetings. Over half of those were at the two Corpus Christi meetings, which in that case is right in their backyard. We had over 437 online e-mail comments and they were still coming in as of yesterday, where the opposition is about 78 percent. We heard from local officials, local elected officials as well as State elected officials. We heard from fishing organizations in the area like SEA and RFA. And again, not to belabor the point, met with significant opposition.
The opposition basically stated we're not -- we're not opposed to protection of seagrass; but we would like to try alternative approaches before we go to this regulatory approach, in a nutshell basically. And so as we move forward, what we would recommend is that we basically remove the State Scientific Area proposal at this time and the no uprooting regulation and that we move forward to implement an aggressive, voluntary seagrass protection measure, both in that area and we may leverage that campaign into other areas as well. And, you know, that obviously will require extensive education and outreach in the local area and we're going to look to our partners. We've already had some decisions with some of those partners as to how we can mesh our activities with them and, you know, move that forward.
Some of the things we may do are PSAs. We did that at the Red Fish Bay State Scientific Area. We put up signage at boat ramps. We also may use a marking system as we've seen used in Florida, which kind of has a green for go if it's a high tide time of day or week and when it gets low, there's a red marker on that pipe and it tells you, you know, in certain areas you shouldn't be going. So we're going to explore those different options if you approve this and go forward with that voluntary measure. In addition to that, obviously one of our -- oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins has a question.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: In the opposition that you received on the -- those scarring regulations, was there a disagreement on the course of eliminating scarring, seagrass scarring? I'm curious to know what the -- the basis for the opposition to trying to eliminate or reduce scarring. I understand it's to the State Scientific Area designation.
MR. RIECHERS: I think there was a couple things. One is our aerial imagery in that location was somewhat dated and so we need to update that and that was the next slide that I was moving to. We don't really believe that because of the increase in fishing pressure and the intensity of use in the area, that scarring has necessarily gone down; but I think the overall belief was that they've done a lot of things from an economic development standpoint to increase tourism and increase the businesses in those local areas surrounding that tourism and they just didn't want anything to taint that in any way, if I had to kind of summarize it, and that they preferred a voluntary approach as we update our science and as we determine where we are as far as the science goes and the scarring right now. But I don't think as a whole, people would suggest they were opposed to reduction in scarring.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, if that's the way we go and it doesn't work, do they understand that regulations are likely?
MR. RIECHERS: Well, we've certainly used that model with Red Fish Bay. We started out there as a voluntary approach and then we went to more of a regulatory approach there. I think people believe that the voluntary approach will work and certainly we're willing to put the effort and the time into that as well from a staff perspective. Our goal here is habitat protection and if we can achieve that through a voluntary means, we believe we can.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Maybe I didn't ask question the right way. I'm saying did you sense from the feedback you got from the constituent group that if the outreach efforts were not successful, would they be receptive to some regulations? Because obviously some people either aren't paying attention or don't care.
MR. RIECHERS: I would say as a whole -- you know, Commissioner Duggins, that will be a different day and a different time. But I would say as a whole, I think people would be receptive if they understood that there is an issue and we needed -- and our voluntary efforts didn't work.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That's what I wanted. Thank you, sorry.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good. Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: One question following up on that. Having read some of the correspondence on people that were -- particularly elected officials, it appeared from reading the way it was worded that they had large concerns over the data that we were using as the justification for it.
My point would be on a broader spectrum, you know, if we're going to sit there and go out to somebody or scope a deal and have a short list, like this one had a pretty short fuse from the sounds that I got, from the letter, and I don't know if that's accurate or not; but it sure appeared like we were shoving this thing pretty quickly. I think going forward, we need to sure be cognizant of the data we're putting out and not be getting ourselves in a position where we can be -- you know, where they can say everything they said about it and it's an accurate statement because the data, as you say, we need to get better data.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, I -- and I would reflect this habitat data. They've gotten very used to us being able to provide them kind of our fisheries' data, which is an annual cycle, spring, fall, and we always have lots of that information to show folks. When it comes to this habitat information, it's much more costly to obtain and it's going to be more, you know, of a particular time scale. You know, this year, five years from now, three years from now, something like that. It's not going to be as current and up to date as an annual -- you know, on an annual basis as we collect many of our other pieces of information. We just don't have the resources to collect it in that way. It could be done, but we don't have those resources.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: You understand where I'm headed? You know, we just need to --
MR. RIECHERS: Yeah, yeah.
MR. SMITH: Absolutely hear you on that, Commissioner. And I think upon reflection, we all agree that in retrospect it would have been -- it would have been much better to have more contemporary data on -- with respect to what's happening now with respect to those seagrass beds.
I think Robin is right. We're going to do some aerial overflights and there's probably little reason to think that what we saw when we had previous data has changed much, but I do think it's incumbent upon us to have the best possible science when we bring it forward. I think really the two issues here to be fair were, one, you know, some real regulatory fatigue in that area and then secondly, a concern that this was an entrée to something else in terms of potentially leading to closing boat traffic in the area and I think those were really the two issues. Everything else was kind of tangential to that.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I think that -- yeah, I agree with that.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Just kind of throwing something out. It looks like to me, State Scientific Area is a limited area and you get everybody riled up. Yet, your correspondence to the guys who were opposed to it said that they're not opposed to protecting seagrass. Isn't it a simpler way to go -- and I don't know if the Commission -- we may not have the authority, but just say up and down the whole entire Texas coast it's illegal to uproot seagrass. I mean that's -- we all understand that seagrass is a starting point of the whole bay ecosystems and why -- it looks like to me it shouldn't be legal anywhere to uproot seagrass. I mean that's the starting point. You know, it doesn't mean you can't run boats across there. It doesn't mean you can't use any part of the area. But why are we even think it's okay for people to go uproot seagrass if they want to? And again, that may be out of our scope of what we can do; but instead of getting specific on this area or that area, it looks like to me that's just a better -- it may be a better way to look at approaching it.
MR. RIECHERS: Certainly that discussion came up at the scoping meetings and people have brought that forward as a notion of go coastwide. Currently, our authority allows us to come in with these type of habitat protection rules, either in State Scientific Area, Wildlife Management Area, or State Parks; so we don't have that broad authority right now. And that's why we, of course, did it in Red Fish Bay State Scientific Area the way we did and why we proposed this one the way we did. But certainly in future legislative sessions, that authority possibly could be granted and then we could approach it in that manner.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Is that a legislative --
MR. SMITH: It is. It's something requiring a statutory change, Commissioner. And I think, you know, one of the recommendations that Robin will get to here shortly, you know, is one that's aimed at getting stakeholders back together to look at the array of conflicts on the bay and the importance of protecting seagrass and get some further input on that on ideas to go forward, so.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, as I was indicating there, obviously we are going to update our aerial imagery to determine the scarring in that local area. We're going to continue the biological monitoring and the human dimension's types of surveys that we may need to do in regards to determine behavior and behavioral changes. And then, you know, that all gives us basically the baseline data to assess whether the voluntary measure is working or not. So we'll be moving forward with those things as we go forward. In fact, I checked on the aerial imagery. We thought we may have had it flown by now, but we haven't quite had the right weather pattern right after a front to allow us to fly it yet; but hopefully that will be happening very soon.
When we go forward with addressing the user conflict issue and I think a couple of people have alluded to that discussion here that there was an undertone or undercurrent of concern on the State Scientific Area and that it may lead to a -- some other way to deal with some of the user conflict areas and, of course, we discussed that with you at the last meeting, saying that we were exploring those low-impact fishing areas with our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee as well. Given that strong undercurrent, what we would recommend at this point is we -- that the Chairman develop a working group to identify solutions to reduce the -- to basically address user conflict and to weigh some of the options in the report that came out of the Challenging Our Bay's workshop. Not be limited to that report, but to consider those suggestions that were in that as well as, you know, other things that they may come up with and that it really include a broad array of the stakeholders -- recreational fishing interests, fishing guides, some of those same economic development kinds of folks who came out and discussed with us the State Scientific Area -- so that we really, if there is misinformation floating around out there, that we're able to get all the people around the table, let them all hear it at one time, and hopefully move forward with some suggestions coming back to you in that respect. And so that would be our last recommendation here today.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think that's a very good idea, and I'm certainly supportive of it. It's timely and I think it will be helpful as we try to gather more information and try to work with the various groups who are impacted, so full support for that.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: When you speak of reducing conflict, shouldn't that be slightly broader than just reducing conflict since we're talking about Dan Allen's point, protecting seagrass?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I mean I would love to have this working group support for legislation if needed to empower the Commission to take steps that are necessary all along the coast. So I would suggest we maybe expand reduced conflict to be a little more --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: More specificity and to actually define what the desired deliverables from this group are.
MR. RIECHERS: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So I think if we come back with that maybe at the March meeting and describe specifically what we're trying to accomplish and maintain, that would be helpful.
MR. RIECHERS: We can certainly work on that charge and try to wrap ourselves around a broader charge that will allow it to go beyond just the user conflict issue. Yes, we can do that.
MR. SMITH: I think that's good, Counsel. And also I mean we'll certainly as we put together, you know, recommendations for you, Chairman, to consider on the stakeholders, you know obviously make sure that we have our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee represented on that group as well.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Absolutely.
MR. SMITH: Because they're a very important role here, too.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And let me take the -- March is too late. We need to come up and disseminate kind of a list of what we're trying to get out of this and who's going to be involved and what the structure of the group is before that. So if we could do that in the next few weeks, that would be great.
MR. RIECHERS: We can certainly do that. With that, that actually concludes my presentation and if you agree with those staff recommendations, then we would forward the freeze rule from a Coastal Fishery's perspective and the rules that Ken presented to you from an Inland Fishery's perspective, we would forward those to be published in the Texas Register for the statewide recreational commercial fishing proclamation.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Robin? Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Do we need to do anything special to advance or expedite the implementation of the rules on the exotics?
MR. RIECHERS: I think that was his recommendation. So if we go ahead and publish that and then when we come forward and it's adopted at our next meeting, we can expedite that.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. All right. I'll authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Item 4, Briefing on the Federal Process for Species Review Regarding Potential Threatened and Endangered Listings, Wendy Connally.
MS. CONNALLY: Good morning.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning. How are you?
MS. CONNALLY: I'm well. How are you?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great, thanks.
MS. CONNALLY: Chairman, Commissioners, for the record my name is Wendy Connally. I'm the Rare Species Program Lead in the Wildlife Diversity Program. In our visit today, I'll provide some information on several external State and Federal issues which effect the Wildlife Diversity Program and about which you may receive some questions from our constituents.
The Wildlife Diversity Program is responsible for conservation, management, and rule recommendations for over 36,000 species of terrestrial nongame animals and plants. About 99 percent of the terrestrial native plants and animals in Texas are classified as nongame, so our responsibilities are widespread. We coordinate with rare species biologists in the Inland and Coastal Fisheries Programs regarding rare freshwater and estuary species and our programs are also responsible for implementation of the Texas Conservation Action Plan, which focuses on nearly 1300 rare, important species.
Through project review, incentive program delivery, surveys and monitoring, conservation data management, technical guidance, and collaboration with many different partners, our focus is to prevent listing and promote recovery wherever possible. Today, my presentation focuses on several recent higher profile Federal and State external influences effecting the workloads in the Wildlife Diversity Program's rare species biologists with statewide responsibilities, the Texas Natural Diversity database, and our regional diversity biologists.
Like many of the other programs in the rest of the Agency, those three programs were not spared the budget cuts of this last fiscal year and we lost approximately one-third of the experts across those programs. So for just a little bit of background on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing process, but not to get too far into the weeds, any person or organization can petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for candidates or for listing determinations. That would be listing, down listing, or delisting.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Does that mean I can petition to delist the Water turkey?
MS. CONNALLY: You certainly could, provided that you have sufficient information to support that.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Always a catch on it.
MR. SMITH: Yeah, details, details.
MS. CONNALLY: Always a caveat, so.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Always a kicker.
MS. CONNALLY: There you go. A petition requires the Service to make and publish their findings. If the findings are considered substantial, the Service and their partners conduct a status review based on the species biological needs, population health, and a threats assessment. If listing or delisting is warranted, then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posts proposed rules. It's important to note that not all findings result in listings.
Additionally, the Service annually calls for new information on the existing list of candidate species and may periodically call for information related to critical habitat determinations, critical habitat revisions, and five-year status reviews for those already listed species. All of these steps provide opportunities for public comment. By policy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has always relied on our biologists' expertise to help obtain the best available science for species status reviews, findings requests, critical habitat assessments, proposed listings, delistings, and down listings. This aspect of our work is not new.
That said, in the last few years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has received several large multispecies petitions and were subsequently sued for their inability to act on all of the petitioned species. In September of 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service settled lawsuits with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wild Earth Guardians, resulting in a list of just over 250 species which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must review in the next five years through the findings and any other relevant determination process.
Over 100 of those species are known to occur in Texas. Currently, additional petitions, changes from the 2011 candidate notice of review, and existing and ongoing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service priorities all contribute to a very large list of species, which require Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists review and response at any point in the findings and/or rule-making processes. Our responses require a thorough review of available information, which we maintain, plus a review of external and other research data, previous findings, maps, and visits with other experts.
The rare species biologists and the Texas Natural Diversity database have provided formal written response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 27 species in the last six months. Generally, our staff does not make recommendations to list or not list a species federally. In addition to our written responses, we may provide technical assistance in the field, participate fully on recovery plans, and conservation development teams. Some of our biologists are known as the expert for a particular species or a suite of species within the state.
Fisheries Divisions relayed to me that they also respond to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service request for information, but fewer than Wildlife Diversity. On the litigation settlement list, about 1 percent of the species are fish or marine species. So that kind of brings us to some of these other external influences that are based off of that litigation settlement. In 2009, the legislature authorized the Comptroller's interagency task force on economic growth and endangered species. The recent litigation settlement spurred an increase in task force activity, including a creation of a website and federal actions tracking list for approximately 115 Texas species, such as the Dunes Sagebrush lizard, Lesser prairie chicken, rare East Texas plants, Central Texas salamanders, and West Texas aquatic species.
Director Smith is the TPWD representative on the Executive Steering Committee of the task force and I am staff serving that and several other related committees and special projects. We rely heavy on the Wildlife Diversity Program to support our participation in those committees and initiatives with the best available information. The multidistrict litigation settlement was a catalyst for heightened interest in and more requests for rare species information from not only the Comptroller's office, but also the Governor's office, the Legislative Budget Board, media, general public, industry and developers, educators, conservation partners, and researchers.
At a time when our Wildlife Diversity teams have diminished capacity, we're feeling a significant swell in information requests and an increased need to participate in related technical committees. We've shifted our priorities to accommodate these requests and needs. However, we aim to continue to provide a high level of technical guidance and conservation delivery in the field, promote and conduct sound science, and encourage volunteering conservation actions through private landowner and industry outreach.
We wanted you to be aware of these external initiatives and higher profile requests in the event that you receive questions from our constituency about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife litigation settlement, the Comptroller's task force, and Parks and Wildlife's involvement in some of those initiatives. That concludes my presentation. I'll be happy to take any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions?
MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, if I could, just to add to what Wendy said. You know, this -- arising out of this multidistrict litigation, there's been a lot of focus on these proposed listings. And there's a very strong expectation that the State will have biological data to help inform those decisions. Many of these species are very cryptic. They're endemic. They're hard to count. They're hard to figure -- to quantify in terms from a population perspective. It's difficult to assess threats. And I think, you know, because these issues have become so politicized, we just wanted to let you know the depth of our involvement in these issues; but also from a capacity perspective, this is one in which we are stretched very, very, very, very thin. And so I just wanted to make sure that y'all were aware of this because many of these issues I know have come to your respective attention and we're dealing with them the best we can, Wendy and her team and, again, really focusing on our role, which is to provide whatever science we have to help inform decision makers about these issues.
So I wanted to make sure y'all are aware of that, along with the important role that we always continue to emphasize with respect to engaging private landowners on a voluntary basis to help address species specific needs as they come up. And those two messages are always front and center for us as our team works diligently on this. So we wanted Wendy to share this with you, again, just because of the elevated attention that these issues have received in recent months and which we expect to only escalate as time goes on.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Is there a presumption in favor of endangered species designation or is the presumption the other way? In other words, if you're given a list of species, say 115 or whatever in Texas, to study, look at --
MS. CONNALLY: Yes.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- give your analysis, whatever, and you simply can't get to the 115 to give your analysis for data, is there a presumption that the species is endangered or does the presumption go the other way, we're not going to consider it endangered until you give us information that makes us believe that it is?
MS. CONNALLY: Well, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will consider the best available information that's deemed scientifically sound. If they determine that that information does not exist, they can call for more information.
COMMISSIONER JONES: But --
MS. CONNALLY: Does that help answer?
COMMISSIONER JONES: Not really.
MS. CONNALLY: Okay, I'll try again.
COMMISSIONER JONES: What I'm asking is do they -- do they go into it -- I understand they go into it assuming -- let's assume they have no information on some frog and they ask Texas, they say, hey, we understand this frog is indigenous to Texas or whatever, give us some information. Texas can't get them the information. Do they simply delay a decision or do they go into a decision with the presumption that this thing is endangered and we will declare it so until we get information that it's not?
MS. CONNALLY: They do not make that presumption.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MS. CONNALLY: They do not make that presumption. What they would do is they would essentially say there is not substantial information in order to make a finding, then they will call for more information, and that species will not be -- make it down the process.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Right, got it. It doesn't move until they get information.
MS. CONNALLY: It doesn't move.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Or adequate information.
MS. CONNALLY: Adequate, substantial information that's scientifically sound.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Got it.
MR. SMITH: Wendy, is a test that it must be warranted in terms of having a biological basis for the decision, is that the term?
MS. CONNALLY: For listing, they may -- they have several steps before they ever get to that proposed listing process and that is determined by 90-day findings and 12-month findings and then proposed rules, etcetera. And if a species is determined warranted based on essentially five factors that address population stability and threats and biological distribution and however some of those other things are effected, then they would look at those things and then determine whether or not it's warranted.
MR. SMITH: So, Commissioner, did you hear -- I just wanted to make sure there's some threshold there in terms of factors that they're looking at before making a decision about whether or not it's warranted to list a species.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Right. And I don't want to get down in the weeds on this because I would like to have a conversation with you later about some of the thresholds, some of those various thresholds --
MS. CONNALLY: Sure.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- that Carter just mentioned or that you just mentioned. But if -- obviously, as we've discussed today even before you sat down, the environment in Texas changes. It has changed --
MS. CONNALLY: Yes.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- based on farming habits, ranching habits, ownership of land habits, drought, the effect of drought on ownership of land as it did in the 50s. It's probably going to effect ownership of land now that we're going -- I mean there's just all these things that are constantly going on in Texas that changes literally the landscape, both vegetation as well as wildlife.
Do you know whether when you're considering whether a species is endangered, they consider the indigenous environment of that species as it used to exist or do they consider the environment as it currently exists and as it probably will exist or change going forward?
MS. CONNALLY: They certainly would consider historical range of that species, but what they're also going to look at is whether or not the existing populations are stable and viable and contribute to the continued existence of that species. Not necessarily however much the historical range has shrunk or expanded over time, but they're going to look at the current stability and viability of the populations of that particular species and make a determination whether or not there are threats or other biological factors that would cause that species to imminently wink out. And if there are not, then even if the range has significantly shrunk, but the species are stable and the populations are viable and the threats have been mitigated in some way, then that species doesn't necessarily meet the litmus test for threatened or endangered.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But they would still have the benefit of that trend information.
MS. CONNALLY: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay, okay. I would like to -- because I really don't know that much about this area, so I apologize for my questions; but I would like to learn a bit more about that particular area.
MS. CONNALLY: I would be happy to.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much.
MS. CONNALLY: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate all your efforts, thanks.
MS. CONNALLY: Thanks.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Item 5 is Nuisance Alligator Control Permit and Fee Rules, recommended adoption of new rules and proposed changes, Mitch Lockwood.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood. I'm the Big Game Program Director. And this morning, I will present the proposed changes to our nuisance alligator control rules. The once endangered American alligator is now doing very, very well in the state of Texas. Too well by some folk's standards.
In 2007, we estimated there to be 150,000 alligators just within a three county area of the upper Texas coast that is considered to be prime alligator habitat. Of course, there's a lot of people in this area as well, resulting in a lot of human-wildlife or human-alligator interactions and conflicts. And so we get a lot of phone calls, a lot of complaints when these conflicts arise. In fact, we've received about 1100 nuisance alligator complaints in each of the past few years and the cost associated with 1100 nuisance alligator complaints is about $121,000 in staff time. This doesn't consider or include operating costs, such as fuel or equipment or administrative costs.
Under our current procedures when we get a call, we first must determine whether or not it is indeed a nuisance alligator situation. This typically requires a site visit and that consumes about four hours of staff time. Now, when we do determine that it is indeed a nuisance alligator situation, then we contact our nuisance control hunters who contract directly with the Department to pay a per foot price for each alligator taken. Well, the problem is or part of the problem is is that there's only 28 nuisance control hunters in the state of Texas.
I didn't -- I'm not saying there's only 28 crazy -- or excuse me, brave people out there; but it's just not profitable. It doesn't pay them to do this. There hasn't been an alligator market for a long time. And then we put this fee on top of that that they pay the Department, depending on how long this alligator is and it cuts into their profits and it simply doesn't pay. So if the alligator isn't large enough or if it's too far away, they're not going to respond or in some cases we have more complaints at a given time than we have nuisance control hunters. And in these different cases, it's the Department who ends up responding and removing the alligator and that eats up a lot of resources.
All of these alligator removals are -- currently, are authorized on a case-by-case basis by the Department and this has proven to be a costly and inefficient process that we just can't afford to do anymore. This proposed rule would implement a market-driven approach where the nuisance control hunter would contract directly with the landowner who has the nuisance alligator problem. That landowner could cover the overhead, for example, of that person making that site visit; but then we would also still allow this nuisance control hunter to retain this alligator and to sell it to alligator farms or have it processed. So we're hoping that this approach would incentivize more people to get involved in this activity.
The Department would still respond in emergency situations; but since the Department staff would not be as involved in a case-by-case basis, we do think it would be -- excuse me -- would be prudent to ensure that nuisance control hunters are qualified and trained to conduct these activities. Basically, to be able to determine whether or not it is indeed a nuisance alligator situation, to minimize threats to human safety, and to ensure that the alligators, the nuisance alligators, are treated humanely. And so for this reason, the proposed rule require the prospective permittees to take a Department administered course, a training course, and to pass a test to assess their knowledge before we would issue a permit.
And so under this proposal, we would be able to refuse permit issuance to anyone who we believe lacks the skill or experience or the aptitude to conduct these activities. The proposed rule does limit the take to bona fide nuisance alligators, which is defined as an alligator that is depredating or a threat to human health or safety. The proposal does not modify our current tagging requirements. By Federal law, alligators cannot be exported from any state that does not receive export approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To receive this export approval, the state must require that all harvested alligators be tagged with a CITES tag, which is an identification marker that distinguishes these lawfully taken crocodilian species from the protected look-alike species.
Regarding the notification and recordkeeping requirements, this rule would prohibit the nuisance control activities without written authorization of the landowner or the control activities that take place. We also propose that each nuisance control hunter maintain a daily log of nuisance control activities, which would include the case number of the nuisance alligator complaint. So anytime they're -- the Department would know about all potential nuisance alligator situations and we would issue a case number that must be included on this daily log. The log would also need to include the date and the location of each alligator taken, the sex and the length of each alligator taken, and the disposition of each alligator captured.
The rule would also require the control hunters to retain an invoice or a receipt for each alligator that is taken and subsequently sold or otherwise transferred to another person. And we would still require the nuisance control hunter to complete a Hide Tag Report immediately upon take and to submit that within seven days of take and we would also continue to require that they submit quarterly reports of all their nuisance control activity.
As we've established with some of the other permitting programs, we propose that the decision to issue a permit take into account the applicant's history of convictions involving a capture and possession of live animals or other major violations of Parks and Wildlife code. Any such denial based on a conviction would not be automatic. We've discussed this with this Commission. This committee discussed this at length with some of our deer permitting programs that we have and we propose a similar approach where it wouldn't be an automatic denial, but rather we would take into consideration various factors such as the seriousness of the offense, the pattern of offenses, etcetera. But in the event that a permit is denied, we propose that there be a review process like -- again, like we have with some of our deer permits where the perspective permitee has been denied, would request a review of that decision by Department managers to ensure that that decision is well-founded. And that review panel would consist of these individuals or their designees: The Deputy Executive Director from Natural Resources, the Director of the Wildlife Division, and the Deputy Director of the Wildlife Division.
And finally we propose an annual permit fee of $252, which is identical to the current fee for an alligator farmer's permit. As I mentioned earlier, there are currently 28 people in the state who engage in these activities and our current annual revenue is about $9,800. But if you take 28 nuisance control hunters operating under a $252 permit, then the annual revenue would only be around $7000; however, we would no longer have $121,000 of staff time invested in this. And, again, we do anticipate some growth in this program. We're hoping that this -- these rule changes would incentivize more people to enlist as nuisance control hunters, which would result in a revenue gain.
I would like to share with you that we've only received seven comments to this proposal since it was published in the Texas Register. Five of which have been in support of this proposal. Two have opposed it. The reason that we've heard from those opposing was that there need to be more safeguards in place. One was concerned that this would do away with public hunting opportunities for alligators. But both of them kind of emphasized a need for safeguards to make sure that -- they think there's going to be abuse of the program. Basically any time that there's a complaint, somebody could profit from it is going to make sure it's a nuisance alligator so they can take it if there's a chance to make money.
And as I've shared with you this morning, I think that we've put some pretty good safeguards in place to prevent or at least minimize that from happening. Again, there would be the required training course where we would ensure that they have a thorough understanding of what we consider to be a nuisance alligator, what would not be acceptable for it to be taken. Again, we would have a case number for every take, every alligator complaint; so everyone would be tied to a named complainant and we could follow up. If the law enforcement dispatcher is suspicious based on what she's hearing or he's hearing about the situation, that person could notify a game warden who could follow up on a case by case, kind of do some spot checks as needed. And if we do find out that an alligator was taken that we don't consider to be a nuisance, then law enforcement action could be taken and with a conviction, we would likely or very possibly deny subsequent permit down the road. So I think we have some pretty good safeguards in place to prevent that or at least greatly minimize the threat of that. So with that, I'll be glad to take any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just a comment. Having spent many years and hours on all those waterways on these three counties, my concern over getting 1,500 all erroneous saying that they were bad, is not going to hurt that population. I mean it is so out of control down there, you know, that I can't see any downside. And I remember when that was put on when the alligator was endangered I was down there and now it's just they're out of control, you know, and even further up the river. So personally, I like this program myself and I don't see much downside, if any.
MR. LOCKWOOD: And we don't know that more alligators would be taken as a result of this. That's not the intent. The intent is to have a much more efficient process of dealing with these situations.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Right, that's my point. Even the downside is not down to me.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other comments or questions for Mitch?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I have one.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: On the permit denial, shouldn't we also be able to revoke an existing permit in the event one of those occurrences occurred? I mean I understand the denial. But if somebody has a conviction or pleads, it seems to me we ought to be able to revoke a permit, number one. That's one comment I had. Number two is I think one of your goals is to try to alleviate pressure and expense on law enforcement in dealing with these complaints and it strikes me that some of the requirements you were talking about may be a little bit stronger than we might otherwise need and you might dis-incent somebody who might otherwise step up and help out here if you've got to have a daily log instead of just keeping a book that has basic information that I got a call with the name of the complaining party, the phone number, the date you got the call, what you did with it, instead of having to have a case number and carry all that with you. It just struck me as -- if we're trying to get more people to do this and step up, we might want to look at not having too much in the way of regulations here. It's just an observation based on what I heard.
MR. LOCKWOOD: I think those are both very good comments. Regarding the first one, I'm going -- I think I know the answer. I look at Ann, feel free to come up if I mess up. But in dealing with this with some of our other permits, we do have the authority -- we are able to -- there is a permit revocation process. That process would involve the State Office of Administrative Hearings. I understand it could be a pretty long drawn-out process. This permit is good for one year and so in theory, subsequent permit denial, the situation would be addressed more quickly than if we went through an expensive and long-lasting permit revocation process.
MS. BRIGHT: I'm not here because you got it wrong. You got it right.
MR. LOCKWOOD: And on your other comment, we do think and certainly respect what Commissioner Scott said; but also keeping in mind that not all these complaints come from that three county area and up and down the coast and even inland. And we do believe that there is potential for abuse of this in some areas and so we do think that some of these requirements are actually necessary in some of these populations to prevent that abuse. Whether or not every single one of those requirements is necessary is -- that's up for debate and I'm certainly open to this Commission's thoughts on each of those, but we do think some of those would help prevent that abuse.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, when you say you've got to take a class, for example, how long is the class?
MR. LOCKWOOD: We're looking at -- yes, sir -- a four to eight hour class, we're saying a half day to maybe a little longer just to ensure mainly that folks do understand, perspective permittees do understand what we consider to be a nuisance alligator; but also what are the most safest and most humane methods of removal. And there's -- you get on the internet and look at some pictures on how some people think -- I'll use the term show they're brave -- and try to manhandle these alligators and it's not really a very humane approach and wouldn't reflect well I think on this Agency. So we do want to ensure that and we think a half day or so course would help --
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Half sounds --
MR. LOCKWOOD: -- ensure the integrity of the program.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Half sounds a lot better than trying to convince somebody to come in and give eight hours. It's just, again, I urge us to keep with your goal of protecting against abuse and gaming the system, balance the fact that you're talking about as you said some people that a lot -- most people in this room would not do this, so I think we want to incent people to step up and help us here.
MR. LOCKWOOD: The slide I did have at first to show that talked about training had a guy with an Aggie shirt on. I thought that might offend.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, you made one person happy anyway.
MR. SMITH: You missed an opportunity, Mitch. You missed it.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It's too bad you didn't take your shot.
COMMISSIONER JONES: It is a tough job market out there.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Any other questions for Mitch? Mitch, thank you.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it. I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
This Committee has completed its business, and I'll now call the Conservation Committee to order. All right. First order of business is the approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes from the November 2nd meeting, which have already been distributed. Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER JONES: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Jones. Second?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Hughes. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.
Committee Item 1, Update on the Parks and Wildlife progress in implementing the TPWD land and water resources conservation and recreation plan. I think Carter has a presentation for us today.
MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, my name is Carter Smith and thanks for the opportunity to talk a little bit about this. And I visited a little bit about this at the outset of the Regulations Committee and the conversations that the Chairman and I have had and then in turn Scott and I have had about, you know, a need to come back and revisit the plan.
You know, all of you know this is our strategic plan that really guides at a big scale the decisions of the Agency. You've asked us to operationalize this plan in terms of making sure that we're executing appropriately on the goals here. But, you know, I want to go through you kind of a benchmark of where we stand today with respect to our ability to achieve kind of 25 key deliverables that were authorized by the Commission and then suggest a process for how we go back and identify another set of actions and deliverables for the Agency to be pursuing.
You know, again, just by way of background, I think all of you are aware that the Land and Water Plan was originally adopted by the Commission ten years ago and that was an artifact of a legislative directive to help put together this strategic plan. We have since amended that plan on two occasions, most recently two years ago, and that is the plan from which we're operating now. I think it's always helpful to go back to what are the four overarching goals of this plan and make sure that we're always looking at what we're doing to make sure it's consistent with these goals and helping to advance them and you know them well.
It's making sure that we're focusing on the best science based stewardship, that we're looking to maximize opportunities to participate and get into the outdoors, that we're doing everything we can to help educate a growing Texas about the importance of conservation and outdoor recreation and then, of course, last but not least, in our fiduciary capacity to our hunters and anglers and park enthusiasts who pay for the bills of this Agency, that we are acting as good fiduciaries for their funds and the public trust and making sure that we're employing the best possible business practices in everything we do.
As I mentioned before, you know, the Commission has a very strong expectation that this is a plan that will not sit on the shelf. That we will use this plan then to be operationalized, that's happening through Division operating plans and then specific individual performance goals for all of us inside the Agency. Again, as you will recall, there were really 25 major deliverables that the Commission authorized and asked us to track and be responsible and to report back to the Commission to give you some sense of how we're doing with respect to accomplishing these major goals.
This project is managed out of our Project Management office, which brings an important level of sophistication just to tracking and monitoring this throughout the Agency and obviously we have been reporting back to the Commission at every meeting with respect to where we are. One of the things that the Chairman and I have talked about is, you know, again, how we make this process a little more participatory with the Commission, a little more dynamic, and just give you a better picture of things as they're going on, as they're happening as opposed to simply reporting on what's happened and before there are opportunities to make changes.
So how are we doing? Again, 25 deliverables. We've accomplished 20 of those. One of which another one we have partially met and then four we have not met for reasons which I'll elaborate and which are further elaborated on in the report that Scott and his team produced and which was just distributed to you. Just a couple of examples, some of the key accomplishments. This Commission has long been interested in the Texas Outdoor Family as a way to help get Texas families into the out of doors and recognizing that we can focus a lot of effort on getting children into the out of doors; but if their parents and mentors do not know how to participate in the out of doors, it's unlikely that those kids are going to continue in those activities. And so this a program of our State Parks. You had asked us to host 650 families annually and as you can see, we hosted a little over that in 2011 and I think we're well positioned to continue meeting that in spite of, you know, some pretty significant cutbacks with our State Parks team and we are looking for additional sponsorships just to help keep this program going.
Also, very important that the element of the Commission in terms of making sure from a technology perspective that we're using the most current and contemporary technology. We had set a goal of trying to have wireless technology at 70 sites throughout our system, not only for our staff use but also our customers and so folks had access to the internet and so forth. Our State Parks team, our IT team, our infrastructure team has just done a great job and we've got 92 sites across the Agency now that have access to wireless technology.
Also, we had set a goal to have solar panel systems at 15 sites throughout the system. Our infrastructure team, as you can see, has set up 24 systems at 16 sites, including the headquarters. And there's a great interpretive display right outside the door here in the lobby that talks about the energy that we're able to generate and hence conserve through this practice. Real pleased with that result and Andee Chamberlain from our team working with Rich and others, it made that come to fruition. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the State Energy Conservation Office who helped fund this to the tune of $4 million, largely through Federal grants.
Also, you know, we've talked a lot about this with respect to our conversation on Bobwhite quail. But, again, I just -- we can't reiterate enough how actively our wildlife biologists are working on a voluntary fashion helping to provide incentives and technical information to private landowners around the state. I mean they are doing that every single day, and that program just continues to grow and grow. We had set a goal of having 26 million acres under Wildlife Manage Plan. You can see where we stand now. We have almost 27 million acres under plans and a little over 7,000 landowner cooperators. Now, to put that in context, you know, that is almost 19 percent of all of the terrestrial habitat in the state under some form of Wildlife Management Plan. So the scale here is really important in terms of what our Wildlife Division is achieving in cooperation with private landowners and I'm awfully proud of their work.
So what are some examples of things we haven't met and why? We all know the importance of prescribed fire on the landscape. A really important tool in terms of habitat management, managing fuel loads. We had set a goal for the Agency of participating in 25,000 acres of prescribed fire. You can see that we fell short of that and some obvious reasons. This drought has really exacerbated things. You know, there have been times in which there have been, you know, 217 of the 254 counties across the state that had burn bans. So very, very difficult to burn safely in these kind of environments and obviously our teams respect that. So a very easily explicable reason for why we haven't been able to accomplish that, but you know how important this goal is and we'll continue to push hard on it.
We had also set a goal again consistent with the Commission's directive of trying to increase public hunting from a million 400,000 to a million 500,000 acres across the state. You can see that we've not been able to meet that. A couple things I want to point out. I mean we've talked about the past, the vestiture of timber company lands in East Texas in which we had big blocks of land leased for the public hunting program and many of those acres are no longer available for public hunting.
Also, to be fair, we probably overcounted when we set this goal of how many acres we had available for public hunting at Big Bend Ranch State Park, which, you know, encompasses 320, 325,000 acres and we had counted as part of this that all of those acres were available for public hunting and they're not; so we have an adjustment here. That being said, we know this is a very, very high priority and Linda Campbell and her team, Inland Fisheries has been involved on this, have secured a fairly significant grant from USDA to go out and lease additional acres for public hunting and also fishing access, as well as habitat work, and so we're redoubling our work on that. I saw Linda last week with some of her team members that are working on it, and please know this will be something we will continue to push on on your behalf.
This is an example of a partially met deliverable where we set a goal of stocking 39 million fingerlings a year. We actually exceeded the big goal; but, again, because of drought conditions and Golden Alga, we weren't able to quite meet our goal with our Inland Fishery hatcheries, again, for reasons which are well understood.
Probably an opportune time for me also to say in spite of this very, very blessed rainfall event that we just received, I mean we have two of our Inland Fish hatcheries, one at Electra and one at Athens, that we've been in real danger of being able to lose access to surface water to maintain our hatchery ponds and so the situation is serious. Certainly the water issues affected our ability to produce as many trout for our winter trout stocking that's so popular that we're doing right now. But going forward, this very well could impact our ability to produce fish going forward; so I want to make sure that y'all are aware of it.
Gary and his team are looking at the possibility for potentially using ground water as appropriate at a couple of these hatcheries to maybe help mitigate the circumstance. But the lack of available water in terms of impacting our inland fish hatcheries is a very real challenge for us right now.
With respect to going forward, what I would respectfully recommend consistent with what the Chairman and I have talked about is his desire to have a retreat with all of you. Not unlike a retreat that this Commission had a couple of years ago to really deliberate and think about the most important deliverables of this plan and focusing on the goals. We think that would be a very timely opportunity for this Commission. Also, that our team could work to help identify additional specific deliverables that would help advance these goals that we could bring to y'all for your consideration and discussion at that retreat and identify, again, these new deliverables that we could track.
We think it makes sense to keep the Project Management office continuing to track this and for us to report this, albeit in a different capacity, at the Commission meeting. So with that, I'll stop there and see if there's any questions about the Land and Water plan.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any thoughts or questions, comments?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I think the retreat is a good idea. Let's -- if we're going to do it, let's try to get on everybody's calendar pretty quick. Is that where -- is that where you're heading with it, Dan?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes, absolutely. I agree. So we can start that process.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: You've got nine -- you've got nine people to try to schedule.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right, keep organized.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It's like stacking BBs.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Let's try -- let's try to get something locked in next week if we can.
MR. SMITH: Okay. Okay, yeah. We'll work with you on some possible dates, Chairman, and locations and get one nailed down.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great.
MR. SMITH: Okay. Chairman, if there are not any more questions on that, there are a couple of other items I just want to make sure to have a chance to update y'all on. I think many of you are familiar with this Red Tide event that we have experienced since September. You know, historically we see that, that natural phenomenon occur down in the Lower Laguna Madre in the early fall; but because of the lack of freshwater inflows and the drought and the heat conditions, we've experienced -- you know, the Red Tide now exists, you know, all the way up to Galveston bay and so this is a very long-standing and long-running event. Because the fact that the oyster beds will absorb that Red Tide and then have the capacity to pass on neurotoxic shellfish poisoning to those who consume infected oysters, the Department of State Health Services closed the oyster season in the state and that was effective November 1st, which would have been the opening of commercial oyster season. It's still closed.
Normally the season will run through the end of April. We don't know if it will open again this year. That's in the purview of the Department of State Health Services and certainly we're working closely with them on that. But suffice it to say, you know, oystermen around the state have undoubtedly experienced some significant damage or harm as a function of this natural phenomena and so we're concerned about that and certainly so are they. But I wanted to just let you know the status on that.
Beginning the first of February, we'll open a new game warden cadet class there at Hamilton. We had almost 700 applicants for 44 positions there at the academy. Again, speaking to the competitiveness of this program. Almost as hard to get into that as it is to get into Texas Tech. The -- I will also point out that we have a new pilot position open in the -- with the Law Enforcement team. That position is required to be a game warden. We had 40 pilot applicants for that one position, so a lot of interest in that; but we think this is going to be a very important hire. So excited about that cadet class going forward. The team there doing a great job of training these cadets and I mean just literally world class officers that are being put out there and very, very proud of all of them.
It's also that time of year in which our administrative resources team, Julie Horsley, is leading the Agency through the development of the natural agenda. This is the five-year strategic plan that the legislature asked us to put together in advance of our submission of our legislative appropriations request. And so Julie works on that plan in consultation with all of the divisions to make sure it comports with the Land and Water plan, but it's also a prelude to the most important issues that we hope to discuss with the legislature with the submission of our legislative appropriations request in August.
And the natural agenda or this plan is something that she'll be coming to this Commission in March to talk about and secure your approval before we go forward. So I just want to let you know that that's moving ahead.
Last but not least, just a quick update on our Internal Affairs program led by Major Grahame Jones. The unit has certainly been very active as of late with respect to investigating a wide range of complaint allegations. Just to reassure you, nothing that would cause any of you undue alarm. They're also very, very active in the educational component, in-service training for our State Park peace officers and our game wardens around the state.
Important to note last week was the culmination of a boating accident that I think all of you are familiar with at Lake Buchanan that our game wardens had been investigating for almost nine years, if not more, on a hit-and-run accident that was just an absolute tragedy. And we are very, very pleased to see that come to a close. A very complicated case with a long downtime. Again, a very, very successful investigation by our game wardens, Internal Affairs team, and they just did a very, very good job working on an issue that was very, very sensitive in the local community and it resulted in the tragic loss of a young teenager who had an enormous amount of potential. So very proud of the team and their work with the District Attorney's office there and seeing that come to successful fruition. So with that, Mr. Chairman, I'll be happy to close and see if there's any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Carter. Any questions? Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Did the person who -- I guess the boat was found buried in his backyard. Was he convicted by a jury trial last week or --
MR. SMITH: There was a settlement and a plea bargain that was worked out and so the family were happy with the verdict and so it was just rendered last week.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good.
MR. SMITH: Tough one. Very tough one.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good update. Thank you, Carter. Appreciate it.
MR. SMITH: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Item 2, Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program and Designation of a State Scientific Area, request permission to publish proposed rules in the Texas Register. How are you, Cindy?
MS. LOEFFLER: Good morning, just barely. For the record, my name is Cindy Loeffler. I manage the Water Resources branch here at Parks and Wildlife. I'll spend a few minutes this morning talking to you about the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program or EARIP as we call it and the request to publish draft rules in the Texas Register for establishing a State Scientific Area in the San Marcos river. And Colette Barron-Bradsby, Legal Division is actually up at TCEQ Commission this morning, so that's why she's not here.
Okay, a little bit of background refresher here. The Edwards Aquifer serves as a primary drinking water source for over 2 million people. It covers quite a bit of territory. It's also the source of two of the largest springs in the United States, San Marcos springs and Comal springs. Also, an important water source for agriculture, industry, recreation, a number of things.
Associated with these springs, San Marcos springs, Comal springs, are a number of federally listed species. So eight federally listed species. Wendy Connally's presentation this morning was a good introduction setup to this concept of recovery of these listed species that EARIP, that I'll be talking about, is a program that's been under way in Texas for four years now to actually recover, help recover, these species listed here. So the -- I'm going to focus a little bit more on the San Marcos river in particular and these two species, Texas Wild-rice and the Fountain Darter.
Texas Wild-rice is a true Texas native. It's found -- the only place it's found in the world is in the upper 2 miles of the San Marcos river and the Fountain Darter is found in the headwaters of the San Marcos river and the Comal river. Texas Wild-rice has very particular requirements, and it's an aquatic plant. It spends most of its life submerged under water, emerging only to flower. The graph in the lower right-hand corner is the spring flow of the San Marcos river and you can see from this graph that the -- kind of the jagged orange line going through the middle of the graph is more or less what's considered normal or the median flow and you can see the decline of the spring flow over this past summer, quite a bit less than normal, due to the drought conditions. And just kind of FYI, this morning checking this information, it stated there was a nice --
MR. SMITH: Bolster.
MS. LOEFFLER: Yes, twice what the average looks like or the median; so that was good to see. Okay, so talking about the EARIP. This is an open, voluntary, collaborative stakeholder based process that's been going on, as I mentioned, since 2006. The goal of the RIP is to help recovery these federally endangered species that I mentioned. It started as a Fish and Wildlife Service initiated effort. It was codified by the Texas legislature into Senate Bill 3 and so now there are requirements in State law for us to work within the EARIP. So Parks and Wildlife is a member of the steering committee, as well as a number of other agencies you see there.
And here today, I would like to thank them personally, are the Program Director for the EARIP, Dr. Robert Gulley; the Science Director for Texas States Texas River Systems Institute, Dr. Thom Hardy; and then Dr. Glenn Longley who is the Director of the Edwards Aquifer Research and Data Center. So they've been -- oh, and I'm sorry. And Melanie Howard who is with the City of San Marcos. She's the Watershed Program Manager. And so these are folks that have been very important to the EARIP effort. I've gotten to know them quite well over the last four years, and so I really appreciate them taking time to come today.
So just a quick update on where we are statuswise with EARIP. We have been working, you know, as a group to try to reach consensus on identifying strategies for protecting spring flows, especially during extreme drought periods, now and going forward. I'm happy to report, very happy to report that late last year, December, we did reach consensus. The Edwards Aquifer authority board of directors approved that draft habitat conservation plan and funding the management agreements and that whole package has been submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who's now reviewing the HCP. They're working on developing the EIS and they're expected to issue an incidental take permit before the end of next year -- or I'm sorry, before the end of this year. We're in 2012 already. And that incidental take permit will allow the pumpers of the Edwards Aquifer -- San Antonio, Edwards Aquifer Authority, San Marcos, Texas State University, and City of New Braunfels -- to continue using that important source of water as their water supply.
So you might kind of pick up that this is a pretty big deal. You know, this was -- basically solved, if you will, 20 years of contentious legal wrangling. It started back in the early 90s with the lawsuit Sierra Club filed against Fish and Wildlife Service and so just a few of the headlines that were in the media last month to kind of really put a point on how important this -- reaching this point has been.
Okay, so I'm going to spend just a minute or two talking about what is in this habitat conservation plan. We refer to this as the "Bottom Up" approach. We refer to it that way because it's a set of strategies incremental, phased in over time to get us to that end goal of protecting the spring flows, the amount of water flowing at the spring orifices. So it's a combination of things. Reducing pumping from the aquifer during drought. Additional water conservation in some of the smaller communities around San Antonio. This idea of aquifer storage and recovery and that's an innovation that allows you to take water during good times and actually bank it and store it underground in an aquifer for use during dry times, so it's -- it really hasn't been used much in Texas, but I think there's a lot of potential in the future.
Another important part of the EARIP "Bottom Up" package is this concept of voluntary suspension of irrigation rights. So that's something the Edwards Aquifer Authority will implement. And then an additional new critical period management, stage five. They currently have four stages that get progressively more stringent and they would implement an new stage five that would allow even more conservation during drought periods.
And then second-to-the-last bullet, talking about ecosystem restoration, managing exotic species, and recreation, that's where the State Scientific Area proposal comes in. It's -- we'll get into a little more detail about it, but that's where it fits into the whole HCP process. So talking about the San Marcos river and the State Scientific Area, you know, as we've discussed before, the recognition that the San Marcos river is a very important recreational resource.
Over half a million people use this as a resource. That is something that must be considered as we go forward. You know, we're trying to manage the species, as well as protect -- or manage recreation as well as protect the species. The draft rule that we'll be talking about in a minute has been fully discussed with the folks at the City of San Marcos and the University folks. They fully support this draft rule. It's something that's been talked about through the EARIP process with all the members of the EARIP and so it -- the concept came about as, you know, truly as a part of the RIP process and there is support that we'll get to in a minute.
So just a couple of quotes there that I thought really kind of highlight the goal with the State Scientific Area that came from the joint letter submitted by Texas State University and the City of San Marcos. You know, just really getting at, you know, trying to strike this balance between managing human use and then protecting the species. And the second point there about, you know, trying to really use this as an educational opportunity to help raise awareness about the importance of these species and what this is and why we're taking this approach.
So some of the details of the actual proposal for the proposed rule. So what we're talking about is the San Marcos river, approximately a 2-mile stretch from Spring Lake Dam to the waste water treatment plant. Only the public water portion of the river, not private land at all. The proposal would at any time, any flow rate, would prohibit uprooting of Texas Wild-rice. So that would be unlawful. We would be working with the stakeholders there -- City of San Marcos, Texas State University, and others -- to develop and implement a public awareness campaign. That would also happen early on and that would be something that would take place at all times.
Then we would also work with the partners -- Texas State, City of San Marcos -- to work on ways to redirect access away from the more sensitive areas, provide better access points where appropriate. Then during low flows -- and it's been identified as 120 CFS, based on work that was done by the University. At 120 CFS, the Department, again, working with the partners, may go in and implement physical barriers to protect the more sensitive, the more threatened areas of Texas Wild-rice as the flows drop. So that is something that would happen only during certain low-flow periods. And then under all of this, there would at no time be areas restricted from bank to bank that would prohibit or would impede the ability to recreate or to flow downstream on the river. So that would not be part of it.
So summary of public comment or public scoping, I'm sorry, several meetings in December, one including at the San Marcos Lions Club and here today also is the president of the San Marcos Lions Club, Al Green. We also had a couple of public scoping meetings. One at the Texas State University campus. We had about 32 folks show up. A good discussion. Comments were generally favorable at that meeting. There was one comment or one commenter that thought that it probably wasn't necessary to protect Texas Wild-rice; but in general, the comments were favorable. And then on December 13th at the City of San Marcos, 11 participants and that evening, the comments were more supportive.
In addition, we've also received 12 comment letters or e-mails to date. Ten comments support the designation of the State Scientific Area and then the logos that you see there are kind of representative of those entities that support the designation. One comment opposed closing the San Marcos river and I think that was the, you know, the thought that we were somehow coming in and saying that there would be no recreation allowed. So that was that comment. And then one comment was off topic.
And the urgency for needing to proceed with this at this time, I think this map -- we're tired of seeing these maps that -- you know, these are updated periodically and we're really hoping to see one that does not show Texas as all brown. But this is the most recent one and, you know, the forecast, the outlook for continued drought at least through the end of April, which is about how accurate the -- or about how far out the accurate predictions can go, you know, looks for no relief. And so given that, given -- you know, besides the nice kind of spike in spring flow today and given the current status of flows in the San Marcos river, we think it's imperative that we have the ability -- you know, if this rule is approved, to be able to -- when recreation season really kicks in in the summertime, to be able to help to protect those, you know, especially sensitive areas of Texas Wild-rice. Okay, and with that, we request permission to publish this proposed rule in the Texas Register for public comment. And with that, I'm finished. If there are any questions.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Carter, do you have any comments on the significance of the RIP?
MR. SMITH: I mean that is a Herculean accomplishment. I don't think that can overstated in terms of this stakeholder group led by Dr. Gulley that worked through some very, very, very complicated and what many perceived to be intractable issues. And it is I think one of the most remarkable accomplishments this state has seen with respect to water conservation in terms of the work of that group, Commissioner. It's having that many entities with so many divergent interests come together to agree on a suite of strategies that they're all getting behind, again, is absolutely nothing short of remarkable and I'm really proud of the work that Cindy and Colette and others on our team did in terms of representing this Department and this Agency as part of it. But just absolutely remarkable.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any discussion by any members of the Commission?
COMMISSIONER JONES: Cindy, can you go back to three or four, to that map that shows the 2-mile stretch? I think you need to go back one more. There you go. Are you able to -- are you able to pinpoint which sections of the 2-mile stretch would be affected? Because I know that you said that no private property would be affected and from what I understand, not all of this 2-mile stretch --
MS. LOEFFLER: Right.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- is affected.
MS. LOEFFLER: So we do have very good records, very good information and data about where Texas Wild-rice occurs today, thanks to some of the work that the Department has done through Jackie Poole and through the work that Dr. Thom Hardy has done and so we have a very good handle on where Texas Wild-rice is today. And thanks to the work that Dr. Hardy is doing, we can predict which segment or which stands of Wild-rice, if you will, would be most at risk as the flows drop, being able to predict how deep the water would be where those stands are. So I think to answer your question, we have a pretty good idea of the areas that need to be -- you know, have this physical protection in terms of barriers.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, are you able to -- are you able to point to that -- those places on this map?
MS. LOEFFLER: On this map?
COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah.
MS. LOEFFLER: Well, this map is kind of too small in some ways.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Oh, okay.
MS. LOEFFLER: I mean it would take a map that needs to be spread out on the table, but we could do that.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, I guess what I'm asking is I'm trying to understand the extent of the affected areas.
MS. LOEFFLER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I'm not able to tell --
MS. LOEFFLER: Right.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- by looking at this map or from your description how much of this 2-mile stretch is actually affected.
MS. LOEFFLER: Okay, sure.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I mean where there will actually be a barrier placed.
MS. LOEFFLER: Oh, Dr. Thom Hardy.
COMMISSIONER JONES: On the one extreme, you'll have a barrier that goes for 2 miles on both sides of the river. On the other extreme you might have, you know, a few hundred feet of barrier and I'm just trying to get in my head what are we talking about in terms of restrictions.
DR. HARDY: For the record, I'm Dr. Thom Hardy, Chief Science Officer at Texas State University for the River Systems Institute. The areas that have been identified are very localized. Often no more than maybe 10 or 20 square meters in an area on the river right on a bend. You may go another hundred meters before you would have another small patch. At no time in this would there ever be a barrier on both sides of the river. Just very localized areas. Maybe 10 percent of the entire river would be affected by this action.
COMMISSIONER JONES: And I suppose we're going to -- this is going for comment or whatever, so we're going to -- we'll actually look at this again at the next meeting --
MR. SMITH: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- as we get those in. When y'all present at the next meeting, can you have a highlighted map that shows the areas that you are targeting for closure?
DR. HARDY: Absolutely. We have that in great detail.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay, that's all.
DR. HARDY: We can provide it by section for you with specific areas that we've already identified.
COMMISSIONER JONES: That's all I needed, thank you.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Dr. Hardy.
Jackie is there anything -- Jackie Poole is a staff botanist who's one of the experts on Texas Wild-rice, has been monitoring those populations for a long time. Jackie, is there anything else you want to add to Dr. Hardy's?
MS. POOLE: All I would add would be that -- and I'm Jackie Poole, botanist, Parks and Wildlife for the record. All I would add would be that there is less than 5,000 square meters total of Wild-rice in that entire 2-mile stretch. So Thom probably knows how many square meters there are in the entire river. So even if you looked at the entire population, yes, it occupies probably much less than even 10 percent of the river; so this would be a pretty tiny area overall.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay, all right. Sounds good.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any other comments? Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just one comment. I was going to thank, Cindy. I did ask back when this was moving forward last fall to get the stakeholders and people involved and y'all have already -- y'all have all obviously done that and I appreciate getting everybody. I just wanted to make sure everybody was on the -- was on the same page. That was my concern.
MR. SMITH: Yeah. No, I really appreciate that, Commissioner. You know, as you will recall at the time, there was the issue with New Braunfels and the Comal and the Guadalupe and the container ban and we had talked about a concern about whether or not there would be some bleed over into this issue for folks that didn't understand the distinction between what was being proposed to accomplish here. And so I think, you know, we heard you loudly and clearly on that and Cindy and Colette and others, they've been out there in the community; so I think we've gotten good feedback on this. Yeah, thank you.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: One question I had, Cindy, is what is the source of the legal authority of the USF and W to regulate the take from the aquifer?
MS. LOEFFLER: Well, look who appears just in the nick of time, Colette Barron Bradsby, Texas Parks and Wildlife attorney.
MS. BARRON BRADSBY: Yes.
MS. LOEFFLER: I'll let her handle that one.
MS. BARRON BRADSBY: And I'm sorry. I was representing the Agency on a contested matter in front of the TCEQ, so I could not be here right when you started.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: We're glad you were there.
MS. BARRON BRADSBY: Thank you, thank you. Actually got a pretty favorable outcome. It was the BRA case.
MR. SMITH: Oh, good, good.
MS. BARRON BRADSBY: Yeah. I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What's the source of the legal authority of the USF and W, if they have any, to regulate the take from the Edwards Aquifer?
MS. BARRON BRADSBY: Are you talking specifically about taking Wild-rice or --
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: No, water.
MS. BARRON BRADSBY: -- about any of the...
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Wasn't this -- maybe I misread the slide. I thought it was -- let me go back to it.
MS. BARRON BRADSBY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife administers the Endangered Species Act in terms of non-marine species; so it covers fish, wildlife, and plants. Take is kind of a term of art within the ESA; so that agency, there's a prohibition against the take of endangered species. There's only a prohibition against the take of endangered plants when they are on federal property. So there is a very limited slice of the pie that's given over to plants.
There is a -- the Endangered Species Act does not allow endangered plants to be brought into commerce, but that's pretty much the extent of the protection for the plants. The ESA is a very, very strong law and it is paramount to other laws. Congress had expressed a very strong directive to protect these endangered species. If the species are being taken in violation of the ESA, the powers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are pretty broad.
They can prosecute the taker, those who are taking. They can enjoin additional pumping from the aquifer to protect the species. There's a whole suite of tools that are available to United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and nobody wanted that here. There's already been litigation where the feds said, yeah, we're going to come in and do this if you can't figure out a way to manage this aquifer in a way that protects these endangered species. And I'm going to echo what Carter said. It's incredible what the RIP has accomplished because decades of litigation and legislation and, you know, all sorts of hostile activities didn't get us where we need to be and this is our best chance to strike that balance and have I think broad support in the area to do both things, manage the water supply properly and protect the endangered species.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay, thanks. What I was referring to was that bullet -- that slide that says EARIP status, the last one. It said the USF and W is now reviewing the HCP and prepare -- expected to issue an incidental take permit to allow several cities to continue using the aquifer. And I was thinking that was just the water, but you're saying it's the water because of the impact it has on the --
MS. BARRON BRADSBY: To the species, exactly.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I just misunderstood.
MS. BARRON BRADSBY: Right. The incidental take permit allows you a certain amount of take incidental to a lawful activity, which would be the pumping of the aquifer. So it's that way of saying, okay, you're doing the best you can and we're going to go along with you. Even if there happens to be incidental take of a species, you've shown us you're going to mitigate for harm and minimize for impact. So we're waiting on that review. And Fish and Wildlife has been hand in hand with us at every meeting of the RIP and has sent us a lot of signals that they're going to look favorably. They can't tell us the outcome right now, but they would look favorably upon the application.
MS. LOEFFLER: I skipped over making a comment that I wanted to make here and that is there was an analysis done early on in the RIP process by the Science Committee that if spring flows were to be protected only through reduction of pumping, it would require 87 percent reduction of pumping at the Edwards aquifer. So that, you know, kind of was good incentive for people to get together and try to find a common solution that allowed the water source to, you know, still be usable and protect the species.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Anybody else comments? Thank you very much, great work. I will authorize staff to publish the proposed rules in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item No. 3, Proposed Land Sale, Randall and Armstrong Counties, sale of approximately 2,014 acres at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Ted Hollingsworth. Is Ted going to -- yeah, okay. I didn't see you, Ted. Ted, would you please make your presentation.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good afternoon. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. Back in 2008, we were very fortunate to acquire about 2,800 acres, 2,900 acres of property called the Fortress Cliffs Ranch overlooking Palo Duro Canyon State Park. About 6 miles of canyon rim, Fortress Cliffs canyon rim, arguably the most spectacular and prominent rim anywhere on the canyon and overlooking our camping area.
At the time we purchased that, it was on the market and there was a very real threat it would be acquired for development, broken up into small ranchettes, rim front ranchettes, each one ending up with a home plainly visible from the park. And so we worked actually with the Trust for Public Land, and were able to acquire that piece of property. As you can see, it is critically located in terms of the viewshed; but it came with a million-dollar ranch house and about 1,500 acres of pasture, which we didn't consider to be -- contribute much to the mission of the park. And at the time we acquired it, we were very -- excuse me -- we were very clear of our intention to carve off that part of the park that did not contribute and sell that and then keep the portion that overlooked the park for which we had acquired it.
I'm going to need some water. We spent several months actually doing a topographic modeling and computer modeling to determine what parts of the ranch were visible from the park, where a person might build a two- or three-story house, for example, and that roofline be visible or not be visible from within the park. And as a result of that, we identified an area of about 2,000 acres shown here as the conservation easement area, where a person could build, develop, operate, for example, and not be visible from inside the park.
And with your concurrence about a year and a half ago, we actually identified a broker through an open market competitive process, identified a broker, we've been very pleased with, who has actively marketed and shown this property for the last year and a half. In the last couple of months, we've identified a buyer and I would add that we've only been willing to consider the sale of this property with a very restrictive conservation easement on it that would only allow it to be subdivided once into two tracts, neither of which could be smaller than 500 acres. Each tract would be allowed only one small residential footprint. And in the last couple of months, that buyer has come forward, made us an offer we consider to be a very generous offer. It is in excess of market value on the property, and includes acceptance of all the terms in our draft conservation easement.
Just to give you an idea of how that tract now lays on the rim, you can see here that if you're down in the park looking up at that rim, that area is set back far enough to offer that visual protection we were seeking. I would also add that we've been very clear with the public from the time we acquired this property in 2008 that it was our intention to not keep that million-dollar ranch house or those pastures or that portion of the ranch that didn't really contribute aesthetically or recreationally to the mission, the primary mission of the park.
I also want to add that the funds from the sale of this land are land sale proceeds; but in addition, we did use Land Water Conservation funds, federal funds, in the purchase of that ranch in the first place. And so those funds are restricted in that they can only be used to acquire other lands that have recreational value and public access. We've already identified some acquisitions that would meet those criteria. With your concurrence to move forward, we'll run those past the National Park Service and make sure they concur; but, again, those funds are restricted in their use.
The buyer was willing to wait through a two-meeting process to close on this transaction and which we really appreciate because we do want the opportunity to go back out to the public and make it very, very clear that we're not -- that we're not doing anything we haven't said we would do from the time we acquired this property in 2008, that the property we are selling does not add significantly to the recreational value of the park, and that we have been through a very competitive open market process and identify what we believe to be the right conservation buyer for this property.
And if you concur, we would like permission to begin the public notice and input process. I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any questions or discussion? Mr. Morian.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Did you say the buyer is paying in excess of the market price?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. We had an appraisal done on the property, a very detailed appraisal to determine what it was worth without the conservation easement, what the fair market value would be with the conservation easement. Worked closely with Carter who has a lot of experience in this field to list the property at significantly more than the appraised value and I would add that we've rejected seven or eight offers now that were either because the price was too low or because --
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: List higher -- list the price higher --
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: We listed it higher and the offer that we got was very close to our asking price and was more than the appraised value. The individual knows that, his bank and broker -- his bank and lender know that, and we're confident the deal will close.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Okay, congratulations.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anybody else have any questions or comments? I have one to ask about the nonfederal money. You said the funds -- the portion of the proceeds attributable to the federal funds are restricted. What about the other portion?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, that's a good question. Tim Hogsett is our point of contact on the Land and Water Conservation Fund and with your concurrence to proceed, I'm going to sit down with him next week and we're going to review not only the properties that we would convert the federal interest to, but we're also going to explore whether or not the feds would allow us to use -- there is an excess of state match in this particular property -- if they would allow us to use that excess for additional match to bring additional Land and Water Conservation Fund properties to the table to increase -- to increase the value of that land sale proceed. At present, we don't know the answer to that question. We've never attempted that.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay, thank you. If there's no further discussion, I'll authorize staff to begin public notice and input process. Committee item -- thank you, Ted. You're on the next one.
Committee Item 4, Request for Storage Lease, Anderson County, Natural Gas Storage Lease at the Engeling Wildlife Management Area.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good afternoon. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This is actually the second reading of this item. You saw it in November, and authorized staff to proceed with the public notice process. A gas storage developer has requested permission to inject gas into a depleted gas formation under a portion of the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area located between Athens and Palestine in East Texas.
The portion of the WMA that would be affected is a very small percentage. It's about 547 acres on the south end of the Wildlife Management Area. The formation that they want access to is about 9,000 feet below the surface. It was depleted of gas several decades ago; but it's a course sand formation, and geologically is ideal for re-pressurizing the gas. What is done is that these formations are re-pressurized during times of high production, low demand; and then the gas is re-extracted and put back into pipelines and sold when there's more demand or when the price justifies it.
There are already 20 depleted gas fields in Texas. With a -- with the current anticipated glut in gas from fields around Texas, especially the Eagle Ford in South Texas, there's an increasing demand for storage capacity. This 547 acres would be part of a larger lease of about 2,000 acres, the rest of which would be on private property. The only occupancy of our surface would be to replug three existing conventional vertical wells that are -- that were plugged many years ago, but which they would redrill and replug to make sure there's no -- they don't lose any product through those existing wells.
Based on the feedback we got from the Commission in the November meeting, we went back to the requestor with increased demand for compensation for the use of that formation and as a result, we've arrived at a compensation schedule that met your request and, in fact, exceeded it. There would be an initial -- there would be an initial damage payment for coming on to the surface to replug the wells. In addition, there would be an annual per acre payment for use of that 9,000-foot deep sand strata that would be increased each year on the basis of the Consumer Price Index.
In addition, it's well known that when a conventional field is drained of gas, there's still a considerable amount of gas in that field and they have ways of tagging the product they inject so that if native product is removed, it would be ours and we would be compensated in full for that product. So I think we met all of those conditions that you asked us to have met at the November meeting. And if you're in agreement, staff recommends that you adopt this motion. The Executive Director is authorized to negotiate terms and conditions under which this gas storage lease may be issued for the storage of gas under a portion of the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area in Anderson County and to issue a gas storage lease under those conditions. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any questions or discussion? Thank you, Ted.
I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. Thank you, sir.
Committee Item No. 5, Land Donation, Galveston County, approximately 47 acres at Galveston Island State Park, Mr. Corky Kuhlmann.
MR. KUHLMANN: Good morning. For the record, I'm Corky Kuhlmann. Or I guess it's good afternoon. This is in Galveston. This is a second reading of this project. The first reading was in March of 2011. The reason there's been so much time in between is because of negotiations between the owners of the land and the Corp of Engineer. This track is a mitigation site that they were mitigating for a subdivision they did. They're wanting to donate it to Parks and Wildlife. In order for us to take it, we will be responsible for part of the mitigation, which basically for our part that we will have to complete will just be some planting, some upland's vegetation and planting some in the wetlands. The park is fully prepared to do this with the Friends Group and volunteers and think they could accomplish this with very little cost to the Agency.
If you look at this, it is -- the green is the State Park and the donation tract is right adjacent to 13 Mile Road. If you look at the little indent right in the middle of the tract to the west, that's the little Wagner Oil tract that we had pursued at one time; but never were able to do anything with.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Where is that? What are you looking at?
MR. KUHLMANN: If you look at the little indent right where it says 13 Mile Road, right to the north of that there's a little -- there's like a 4-acre tract right there just along the road, we had pursued that at one point; but were unable to do anything.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: And who owns that?
MR. KUHLMANN: Wagner Oil.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Bryan Wagner.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Yeah, that's what I figured. What are they doing with it? Do you know?
MR. KUHLMANN: Nothing. He's a willing seller. We can't afford it. He was asking like something in the neighborhood of $3 a square foot or something like that.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I'm hunting with him on Friday. I'll talk to him about it.
MR. KUHLMANN: I think a lot of people have talked to him about it.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: You've talked to him about it?
MR. KUHLMANN: He's been very nice. I've visited with him several times. He's been very nice about it, but just says that -- because the partners in the project that he, you know, but -- so having said that, this is the motion that you'll see before you tomorrow. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to accept the donation of a 47-acre tract as an addition to Galveston Island State Park.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions for Corky? Corky, thank you.
MR. KUHLMANN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it. I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. I also just want to inform you-all that Item 3 in Finance, Game Bird Stamp Budget Overview, is no longer on the agenda for this afternoon. So those who are waiting for that, just letting you know for planning purposes.
At this time, I would like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Texas Opening Meetings Act seeking -- and seeking legal advice from the general counsel under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act. We'll now recess for Executive Session.
(Recess held for Executive Session)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So we're back. We'll now reconvene the regular session of the Conservation Committee on January 25th, 2012, at 2:40 p.m.
Committee Item 6, Request for Utility Easement, Hall County, Transmission Line from TUCO to Wheeler, Caprock Canyon Trailway, Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good afternoon. For the record, my name is still Ted Hollingsworth and I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item is in response to a request we've had for a high tension utility easement that would cross -- if built as proposed, would cross the Caprock Canyon's trailway about 3 miles from its eastern terminus in Estelline up in the panhandle of Texas. The trailway is a fairly significant recreational resource. It's about -- it's a little over 64 miles long. It crosses a bunch of diverse habitats. Crosses 46 bridges. Goes through the -- goes through an old railroad tunnel. And we have -- staff has gone to a great deal of trouble over the years to protect the visual integrity of the trailway, but we do -- are looking at a request.
It's been filed with the Public Utility Commission. Texas Parks and Wildlife has been involved as an intervenor in that process. There is currently on the table a settlement route that's been negotiated with a number of private landowners with Texas Parks and Wildlife. It does cross the trailway, but it crosses the trailway in an area that is not one of the higher used areas of the trailway. Staff considers it to be the second best route of those that were considered, over 100 segments of routes that were considered during the course of these negotiations.
You can see in this map, the little purple line is the settlement route that's currently being under consideration by the applicant and the PUC. You can see where that is in relationship to Caprock Canyon State Park and the trailway. A number of measures have been worked out with applicant that would minimize the impacts not just to the trailway, but to fish and wildlife resources along the entire length of that proposed high tension utility line.
And because of those measures that have been taken, staff requests permission to begin the public notice and input process. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Ted? Thank you, Ted. All right. I'll authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process.
Regarding Committee Item No. 7, Briefing Regarding Water Distribution Pipeline Easement at Monahans Sandhills State Park, Ward and Winkler Counties, no further action is required at this time.
This Committee has completed its business, and we'll move on to finance. Chairman Falcon, would call your Committee to order, please.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I now call this Committee to order. The first order of business will be the approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes from the November 2nd, 2011, meeting, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Commissioner Jones. All those in favor say aye.
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Opposed? We are going to have a couple of changes in the agenda. The first one is that Item No. 3 has been withdrawn and No. 5 will be discussed after No. 2 and then four and six in that order.
Mr. Smith, I believe you have a presentation to make on the update on Parks and Wildlife Progress in Implementing Parks and Wildlife Land and Water Resources Conservation Recreation Plan.
MR. SMITH: That's kind of a mouthful, Mr. Chairman. And actually, I'm going to dispense with the presentation this afternoon. As we talked about earlier and again from here on out, we'll have these discussions limited to the Conservation Committee.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Very good.
MR. SMITH: So, yeah. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Thank you, sir. Mr. Gene McCarty, please make your presentation. And before Mr. McCarty starts, I would like to say that the staff has made -- has put a lot of hours and a lot of work into this whole situation with the budget and finances. It's been rough for a couple of years and last year we had contingency revenue to deal with. We had the recession, budget shortfalls, floods, drought, fires. It's been really, really tough. And so far, the process has been able to maintain itself through a lot of hard work.
But I think one of the biggest concerns that we have is can it be sustained and as we go through this, I think it's important the Commission not just look at what we're doing right now, but what's ahead in the next year and what's ahead in the next two to three years and try to focus in a view that's further out than just the present because I think that's where we have a lot of potential problems. So I would appreciate, you know, as we go through this to think of not only the present, but the near future.
Gene, go ahead.
MR. MCCARTY: I'll defer to Mike. He can start off with his presentation.
MR. JENSEN: We have a combined presentation today. I'll present a few slides, Gene will present a few, and then we'll have Brent Leisure from State Parks come up. I'm Mike Jensen, Director of Administrative Resources Division. I have a couple of slides today. These are the items that we want to address with you and give you some information to think long-term strategically on some needs that need to be addressed for strategic planning purposes and for LAR purposes since we're in that development stage in the next few months.
I'm going to present some slides on declining revenue. I'll have the typical three fee structures. The State Park fees are in decline compared to this period last year, as are boat revenues, as are license revenues. And I'll also show you what the adjusted budget amount is for the first quarter because we were able to bring some funds in and some UV amounts and some unexpended federal funds. I'll have one brief slide that talks about a strategic plan and the LAR and then Gene will get in more in the details with respect to Rider 27 and Rider 25.
Rider 27 is the rider that we have in our appropriation bill that allows us to increase our appropriation authority up to a capped amount contingent upon meeting or exceeding the Comptroller's estimates for that revenue stream. So if we meet or beat the Comptroller's targets, then we have the opportunity to increase our appropriation by $5 million for Fund 9 and $6 million for Fund 64. But when you see the revenue slides, those are some contributing -- primary contributing factors to the BRE. If we're unable to hit those targets, then we don't have access to that appropriation authority.
And after Gene talks about those two issues, and Rider 25 is the rider that allows the Department to appropriate donations from vehicle registrations. The public has an opportunity to donate up to $5 or more per vehicle, and we have 1.6 million built into our budget based upon that rider right now. It's -- I'll go ahead and move over to the State Park receipts. As you see from this slide, year to date we're down approximately 9 percent. December was not a stellar month either compared to the prior December, but January is looking good. So right now we're about, for the first quarter, 800,000 behind; but through December, we're actually more about 900,000 behind. And most of you know this is a continuation of extreme heat, drought, the wildfires.
Visitation really wasn't that bad at the end of last summer. However, when you have open flame bans and fire bans, people visiting the park don't stay overnight, don't use the facilities. And Gene will get into some details about Fund 64, which is key to our Rider 27 has pre-budgeted right now 3 million in it that's tied to that -- the BRE.
The boat revenue -- I'm not going to go through all the details on this slide. I'm just giving it for your background information if you want to look at it. We're actually tracking behind approximately 6 percent, and that's about 198,000. I gave you the variance from 12 to 11 to 12 to 10, 12 to 9 and 12 to 8 because eight is the standard year that we used for the fee increase for fiscal year 2009. And so if you look at the variances, if you compare us to 2008, we're actually tracking poorly with respect to all of them -- sales tax, titles, and registrations. Part of that is due to the economy when it cratered in 2008. A lot of it is due to drought conditions.
We actually did a little bit better with registrations when we had some rain about a year and a half ago; but this past year of drought, it's really impacted State Park fee revenue, the boat fee revenue. And I wanted to give you the details on this because many of you are already aware that we have ability to transfer 15 percent of the revenues from titles and registrations to Fund 64, which is a great thing. However, when you look at the long-term picture, the value of that transfer is eroding with time because we're performing poorly on the boat revenue. A lot of that is attributable to weather and to market conditions.
The license fee revenue, just like the State Park revenue and boat revenue, is tracking behind what we were doing and performing last year at this time. We're about four and a half percent behind, 2.7 million. At this point in time, actually through November is what this slide is, most of the combination, a good portion of those combination licenses have been sold, hunting licenses. So we're looking probably from this point forward, a lot of the fishing licenses. And one of the things that Gene and I are looking closely at, we get a weekly report. We look at the residential freshwater fishing licenses. Through November, we're actually a million dollars behind there, about 32 percent. And through December, we're still about 30 percent behind on those freshwater fishing licenses. So if we get some rain events, we're hoping we'll see some improvement on the license sales; but the overall perspective on this is we may not erase this negative number that we're looking at, even if we do really well with fishing licenses because we didn't start off well with the combination and the hunting licenses.
At the annual meeting in August, the Commission approved a budget of 332.2 million. Now, the adjustments that you see on this slide basically reflect the federal funds that were already in existence at that time that had not been expended. So we're moving them into fiscal year 2012. That's about 13.82 million. And there are some large sources. Sport fish is one of the larger ones, 3 million. And then we have some others that are there.
We have other appropriate receipts in interagency contracts. The biggest contributions to that 14.43 amount are donations and the largest amount of those donations is with the artificial reef. That's about 9.6 million. We have the Rider 4 Construction UB above the Commission budget of about 43.95 million. Then we have an adjustment for fringe benefits; so our adjusted budget as of November 30th, 2011, is 404.5 million.
I think it's important to note and we mentioned this in August, the adjusted budget and the starting budget that we have included a -- about a million-dollar amount that was pre-budgeting salary lapse from the Agency's Executive Strategic Fund. This was to mitigate the cuts that went across all divisions and we're confident that we can fill that in through salary lapse. But that's just -- to illustrate to you, that's about a million-dollar hole right now that's primarily Fund 9. When we built this budget, we also were betting on the come on Rider 27. We were hoping that the outlook was going to be better than the performance that we've had for Fund 64 and Fund 9. So our budget has built in it $3 million as if we are going to get 3 million from Article -- I mean from Rider 27.
We did make a request for 750,000 for Fund 9, which was approved and certified. It's not a problem this year, but it could potentially be a problem next year because that's -- if we're not certified for that amount next year and we don't anticipate additional certification this year, that's a potential hole to look at as we strategic plan and prepare for the LAR. Oops, sorry.
That's why I threw this slide in here. I know that you're going to plan a Commission retreat to look at the Land and Water goals and plans; but we also have the statewide rolling strategic plan, which is very important for legislative oversight. Because really they respect our Land and Water plan; but when we go to ask for appropriations, they expect us to use their very prescribed format. It's not very flexible and we have great staff who help pull this together. Julie Horsley is great. We have great budget staff who then leverage that for the LAR. So as you work with Carter in the Executive Office, I would hope that we will be able to provide you the information you're going to need to include within -- well, we call it the natural agenda -- those items that are going to be important for appropriation's request, potential exceptional items, and that gets more fleshed out when we prepare the legislative appropriation's request.
So the natural agenda will probably get the instructions -- I have the slide February. That's probably wishful thinking. It'll probably be more like March. And we prepare that, that becomes the vehicle for the legislative appropriation's request. We'll probably get those instructions late May, early June, and our budget staff will be working with all divisional staff to pull that together. And so as you meet with Carter and executive management, let us know what information you need and staff will go pull those numbers and pull what you need so that you can make the decisions to guide us in the direction you want us to go.
Because right now, the issues we have on these slides are just a sample of the types of issues that you're going to have to look at. We have other things going on, like a license sales systems replacement. So there are other initiatives and agendas and you have all the science and the biology that goes on with the State Park issues and we appreciate your direction and your commitment to helping us be the best Department that we can be and serve the public.
I'm going to go ahead and hand this over to Gene and he can go into details of the Rider 27, Rider 25. And then Brent will come up, and he'll talk about Bastrop State Park.
MR. MCCARTY: Thank you, Mike. For the record, my name is Gene McCarty. I'm Deputy Executive Director for Administration. What I wanted to do today is kind of strategically talk a little bit about a particular issue that we've heard a lot about and I want to make sure that we're all on the same page on this particular issue and that really is the $4.6 million. You've heard a lot of talk about it. Lydia Saldaña will come up and talk to you a little bit about some of the steps that we've taken to deal with the $4.6 million. But I want to make sure that everybody understand -- understood the source of the $4.6 million and what -- and how we're moving forward to address that.
Also, like -- and Carter will probably chime in here a little bit and talk a little bit about the sustainability of our initiatives to deal with that and then, you know, just start thinking strategically about as we move into FY 13, how we build our budgets and then also how we build our legislative appropriation request and/or the natural agenda strategic plan.
The 4.6 million really comes from two sources. It comes from Rider 27, $3 million; and it comes from Rider 25, $1.6 million. Rider 27 being what some people call the entrepreneurial rider. It's basically a rider that allows us to increase our appropriation authority on any funds that we collect above the BRE. The BRE is the Biannual Revenue Estimate. In FY 11, our BRE was 43.03 million. By the end of FY 11, we actually generated 42.6. We were about 1 percent below the BRE. However, at the time in which we were developing the budget, at the time -- when we were in the legislative session, when we were talking about the BRE, when we were talking about Rider 27, we were actually running about 7 to 8 percent ahead of the BRE. That was in the March time frame. That was prior to -- prior to the drought conditions, prior to -- prior to the prolonged drought conditions, prior to the summer heats, and certainly prior to the September fires.
There was great -- we were quite optimistic that we would be exceeding the BRE on -- just on our base revenues. We also at that same period of time implemented a fee increase. About a 9 percent across the board -- not across the board, but a very specific about a 9 percent fee increase. We expected to generate an additional $4.2 million in FY 12 above the BRE. So then -- so that's what we used to build our budget, so that's where you built in this $3 million.
The BR -- the Rider 27 had to be certified by the Comptroller. However, early -- in our early projections, we felt comfortable enough to go ahead and build a budget with the Rider 27 funds in the budget. But over that period of time from the time in which we built the budget, submitted the budget to the Commission, got the Commission -- got the budget approved, and then ran into FY 12, September 1st, and then subsequently the fires, a lot of things happened.
The prolonged drought conditions began to take effect on park visitation. The heat took effect on park visitation, and then ultimately Bastrop fire and the visitation and revenue from Bastrop affected us. So you can see that our BRE -- our base BRE was 43 -- for FY 12 was $43.7 million. We believed and we projected that we would be making 47.9. That's based on two things. That's based on five-year trend analysis of park visitation and revenues and based on the fee increase. Well, ultimately because of all the -- everything that we've dealt with, our -- as you've seen, our current revenue for State Parks is down about eight -- a little over 8 percent, 9 percent. And so our -- when you project that forward, our estimate on revenues this year for State Parks against the BRE is 41.6 million. Well below the original BRE. Well below the requested adjusted BRE under Rider 27.
So that brings us back to our capped -- our base authority. We cannot utilize the authority that we would have been given in Rider 27 and we have to drop back to the base authority, which is $3 million less than what we budgeted. So there's 3 million of it, of the 4.6.
Now, this isn't just -- this isn't just a Fund 64 issue. We had Rider 27 in Fund 9, also, to a much lesser extent. We could already see -- and when we did revenue analysis on Fund 9, we could already see that we weren't going to get anywhere near the 2.5 million that -- or the, yeah, almost 3 million that the LBB had put in Rider 27; so we never even applied for it. We applied for 750,000 because we felt like we were going to get there and the Comptroller looked at the numbers and believed that we would also. But from these numbers as you can see in FY 12, with the BRE, the base BRE being 124.8 million and our Rider 27 estimate being 124.5, that's the 750,000 and our current new estimate based on -- based on the impacts of drought and low water conditions, we're only projecting 118.
Now, that doesn't affect Fund 9 this year. The BRE has already been -- and the adjusted BRE under Rider 27 has already been approved by the Comptroller. Those dollars are in our budget. We have plenty of fund balances to cover it, so really that's not going to affect our budget in Fund 9 for '12. But it does have an impact for '13 because based on this performance in '12, I would not expect the Comptroller to certify that 750 for '13. So that becomes a compounding budget issue for us for '13 and that's for Fund 9.
So I want to lay that out because when we come to you and start talking about Fund 9 and we start talking about how we're going to build our budget for Fund 9 in FY 13, we've already got -- we've already got a hole of the 750 if you're applying it back against the FY 12 budget. So I wanted us -- I wanted us to kind of strategically understand that.
Did this thing go to sleep? All right, there we go. All right. The other piece -- the other piece of the 4.6 million is the 1.6 million under Rider 25. Now, this is -- this really is revenue that was directly associated with HB 1301, which allowed the Department of Motor Vehicles to take donations of $5 or more on motor vehicle registration renewal on a number of selected classes of vehicles in the state. There's about 20 million vehicles in the state. About 16.5 of them will apply to -- 16.5 million of them apply to Rider 25 or to HB 1301.
And there was basically an estimate of about 1.6, that would generate about $1.6 million; so that is contingent revenue built into our budget, also. And at this particular point in time, our performance, the performance to date has been $56,000. So, you know, when you start calculating that out, that's probably -- that's probably going to run us half a million, $600,000 for the year, which puts us about a million dollars short of that goal. So really, that really is what makes up the 4.6. That's really the thinking that we had at the time in which we built the budget.
We were trying to do a couple of things. They gave -- the legislature gave us the authority. The legislature gave us some legislative intent that that authority was there to try to do everything to keep us from having to close parks and we built a budget in such a way that we were doing -- that we thought we were fulfilling legislative intent and trying to do everything possible to avoid closing parks. Now, that was good at the time. That was good last May, last June, when we were building this budget.
Knowing everything that we know today, that -- that's not a good -- that budget is overly ambitious. However, we've taken a lot of different positive steps and Lydia Saldaña will be talking to you about some of them. We did a very, very aggressive campaign to raise money, to raise money from donations, to raise awareness of the vehicle registration, to increase revenues across -- in this source, in both of these sources, in both Rider 27 and Rider 25. And we have -- and we have -- and, quite frankly, State Parks and the rest of the Agency has really done a great job of doing everything possible to reduce costs.
And, you know, I'm very optimistic at this particular point in time that we're not going to have a problem making the FY 12 budget. I think the problem that we have and I think the reason I'm spending the time here today to get everybody fully up to speed on what these dollars really mean, what they really are, is strategically how do we move forward. Strategically this is -- I don't believe this particular practice is sustainable. We can't continue to rely on donations. Many of the donations that we're getting that are helping in this particular case are one-time sources of revenue and not really sustainable. So we really need you to be thinking strategically and working with us as we move forward in building the FY -- in thinking about the FY 13 budget and also thinking about the development of the strategic plan and ultimately the LAR, how we move forward and try to fulfill the will of the legislature, but also maintain the best park system as we possibly can.
MR. SMITH: You know, we made -- we made every cut that the legislature has asked of us in terms of the reductions in parks. We've consolidated regional offices. We've gone through a very, very difficult round of reductions in force. We have cut back operations considerably at any number of parks around the state. We transferred one of the seven that the legislature had originally identified to a community that was a willing receiver of that state historic site. And we have launched this very, very public appeal to help keep your State Parks open.
And Gene is right. It is absolutely not sustainable. And so this is something we absolutely need the Commission to understand fully in terms of going forward. I think Gene in his finance team have done a masterful job of trying to figure out how we can reallocate funds inside the Agency to help us get through this fiscal year. But as we went out for our public call for help and Lydia will talk about that and she and her team did an extraordinary job on that and you only get to ask for that once and you can't come back to that well with folks.
We've had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people respond in ways big and small because they care passionately about their State Park system and they do not want to see it close; but in terms of us being able to get out there publically with that kind of appeal, it is not something that can be done on a recurring basis. I would submit we can't do it on a second basis. And so this was a very important presentation for us, for Gene to help just impart kind of the gravity of what we're dealing with financially. I don't think we're going to get this resolved this afternoon, but we absolutely needed y'all thinking about this in the hopes that we can work with you and deliberate on this going forward because the impacts are consequential.
MR. MCCARTY: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Gene, maybe I didn't understand. I thought you said we were falling a bit short on the 1.6 fund-raising -- that's the way I know how to describe it -- for -- for this -- for this year.
MR. MCCARTY: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. If -- yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER JONES: But you also indicated that for 2012, we would be fine or something of that nature.
MR. MCCARTY: We will make -- we will make budget in a different -- in a number of different ways. As I said, State Parks has done a masterful job of reducing costs. So we will -- we will make our budget even though we're falling short on our revenue goals, but we're doing it by raising outside sources of revenue and Lydia will talk about that a little bit more in terms of our campaign and coupling that with reducing costs within the Agency.
COMMISSIONER JONES: But what you're -- I just want to make sure I understand what you're saying. What you're saying is you can make budget this year, but next year you only got so many things you can cut, consolidate, or combine to --
MR. MCCARTY: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- make the budget numbers work?
MR. MCCARTY: Yes, sir. That is absolutely correct.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. MCCARTY: That is my message.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. MCCARTY: I think you probably need to make that work because I can't. There you go.
COMMISSIONER JONES: It just got new batteries.
MR. MCCARTY: No, it's just got to have somebody who knows what they're doing.
MR. LEISURE: Just to add on -- my name is Brent Leisure, Director of the State Parks Division and just to add on to the message that Gene has just shared, the efforts that have been made to save money in our operations have been significant and it's not just the State Parks Division. It's happening across the agency. But I just would like to recognize the people in State Parks because essentially the majority of that money, that savings that has occurred, is through a purposeful approach to personnel costs and savings. And it's not without that, in addition to the donations that Carter talked about, is not sustainable either. We just cannot continue to hold positions the way we have and accomplish what we need to accomplish in State Parks.
I wanted to share a little bit with you about Bastrop State Park specifically. And we had an opportunity to talk about this fire and what happened back on that fateful day in September on Labor Day weekend and some of you may have had the opportunity to see the park. I know, Commissioner Jones, you've taken advantage of that and seen the parks directly and it has changed considerably over the last few months thanks to the hard work of many people and I would like to acknowledge them.
But I want to give you a briefing of some post-fire activity that has occurred, and let you know how we're doing there. The park reopened on the 2nd of December, and was not fully opened at that time. It's basically a phased approach to the reopening of this site in large part due to the repairs that need to be made and some of the recovery efforts. But we were able to open the park with the golf course, the refectory, the group barracks, 25 RV campsites, and then one camp loop on tent camping area. There is other work that needs to be done in order to open some other areas of the park to include the cabins and they're currently under a Capital project to replace roofs and then also some electrical repairs at another campground, so that work is under way. But I want to talk to you a little bit about some of our estimated costs related to the recovery of this operation and what we've been able to muster and come up with within our operating budget and then those areas that we haven't, frankly, that we don't have the funds to address.
But originally I intended to share with you that we had hoped to open cabins in April of this year. Recent developments, as recent as the last 24 hours, may influence that. And then also in March or by spring break, we had hoped to open these remaining campsites that were pending an electric service repair; but we'll see as -- I'm going to share some very real and relevant real time photos with you here in just a minute of what happened this morning at Bastrop State Park.
Specifically, we have known that erosion was going to be a considerable concern of ours. We've known this ever since we lost so much of the vegetation and the duff layer was consumed by the fire. This was known to be a problem for us moving forward. We've had about 13 inches of rain at Bastrop State Park since the fire and that was before today's rain, where we received about 6 inches I believe; but it came in a very short order, which was our concern. So we had originally estimated the erosion costs and control the potential for erosion was going to be in the neighborhood of $900,000. It's a very expensive operation.
We have an RFP on the streets right now as we're soliciting bids for some of this contracted work, and we'll find out more in the weeks ahead what exactly that cost will be. Some of the -- and meanwhile, we did take some steps to mitigate erosion by dropping dead trees on cross slopes and things like that in some of the very steep sloped areas of the park to try and slow down the erosion, the sheet erosion that occurs and the gully erosion that occurs; but it's important to note that these are all estimates and that the RFP that we're seeking will give us a more real time look at what those costs might be. But I can assure you that they're changing as we speak.
Another important part of the recovery work that is taking place is the hazard tree removal. And we initiated a contract for services where they're shearing trees around the roads and the boundary fence of the park. These are hazard trees around high-use areas that had the potential to affect visitor safety. We've committed about $527,000 out of our Capital Construction Project funds towards this. They've made great headway. Most of the interior roads of the park have been cleared. The road connecting Bastrop and Buescher State Park, most of that shearing work has been done. You'll see in this picture some of the -- what we're doing with the timber as it drops, it's being chipped, and those chips -- that chipping operation will continue for the next month or so as we hope to make great progress and get those roads back open again.
The projected recovery cost associated with this -- I'm really breaking up into three major areas. Those infrastructure areas related to the park specifically and then those resource recovery efforts to help restore this pine forest ecosystem and then also the regional office infrastructure and the equipment that were lost in this fire. As you might know, one of our State Parks regional offices is located off of Highway 71, but adjacent or actually on Bastrop State Park and we had considerable losses in both of -- in all three of these significant areas.
To break them down a little bit further, the park infrastructure damages, those damages are estimated at about $2.2 million. And they include things like utility repair that needs to occur, trails, damage, and rebuilding. In some cases, rerouting signage, bridges that need to be reconstructed, fences that are -- that were lost in the fire need to be reestablished, hazardous material removal, and things like that. To date, we have committed about $650,000 towards this $2.2 million need. We have an unfunded amount of about a million and a half.
With regard to the resource areas of the park -- and when I say that, I'm talking about those undeveloped areas, affects on the Lost Pine's ecosystem and our efforts to reestablish and restore them, those habitats. We've had considerable expense or we anticipate considerable expense with erosion control, archeological surveys, site preparation for reforestation efforts, invasive plant control, and such. We estimate those costs at about a little over three and a half million dollars. At this time, we've committed about three-quarters of a million dollars towards that effort, leaving about just under $3 million unfunded.
The regional office and the infrastructure equipment and equipment that was lost, we estimate at about $1.7 million. We've -- oh, I'm sorry. I didn't advance that slide. And we've -- to date, we've spent about $140,000. I'll talk a little bit here very briefly about the sources of these moneys that have come to this because I think that's very relevant and it's an important part of the equation. We have about a hundred -- a little over one and a half million dollars that is unfunded need in this area. Specifically -- and this is a good place to start talking about it -- the Meadows Foundation contributed $100,000 very quickly after the fire. We took $70,000 of the 100,000 gift that they provided and that's going to go towards replacing some of the equipment that was lost. We had 12 trucks to include a dump truck that was consumed by fire at the regional office. Many of those trucks were brand new about to be issued to Parks, so that was a tremendous loss to us. You know how hard equipment is for us to come by, certainly this year when we have no authority for such. And so we appreciated the Meadows Foundation stepping forward with that $70,000 gift towards equipment.
The remaining $30,000 that they gifted us, 25,000 of it which is going toward resource recovery work, hazard tree removal and some of our erosion expenses that we have so far to date. And that additional $5,000 applied to replacement of lost fire equipment that was lost in the fire itself. The overall recovery budget, if you take those three areas combined, we're looking at a projected need of a little over seven and a half million dollars. Again, this is very much an estimate because as you'll see in some of the slides, there's not a real science to this. It's -- these are changing conditions and as we go a little bit further and we discover, we contract services out, we find really what the exact costs are. But to date, we've applied about one and a half million dollars towards those needs and unfunded portions is a little over $6 million.
Some of the potential sources of funding -- before I -- actually, before I get into that, I think it's important to talk about where some of these expenses that we've made have come from. Our Minor Repair Program in State Parks is making up about $105,000 or so towards what we've committed to repair. Our operating funds of about $138,000 have been applied to this effort. We've got a combination of grants, both trail grants and then also a grant that we jointly applied for with the American Youth Works Organization, a $100,000 grant that was successful. And that's adding to approximately $300,000 that has come from our Capital Construction Program to help fund this American Youth Works environmental core that's working on site.
We expect that that's going to keep them on site for a little over a year, and these young men and women are doing great work. They're restoring our trails. They're helping to reestablish fences. They're working with erosion and hazard tree mitigation and things like that, and they have been -- they've contributed in a large way to why we were able to open up what we have been so far. But the donated funds through the Meadows Foundation, through the local Friends Group have contributed as well. Those are large contributions. You're going to see probably in the March Commission meeting the Friends Group from Bastrop State Park come forward with a gift of about $45,000 that they've raised since the fire that they would like to put towards erosion control and mitigation.
These are the immediate needs that we see. Erosion being one of the greatest. And we realize that it has -- it's having great, tremendous impact on our natural resources there. Last night's fire -- I mean last night's flood, we had six inches of rain and we had enormous amounts of runoff. Runoff like we have not seen typically with a 6-inch rain in this pine forest and simply because there's no pine litter, there's no vegetation to hold that water in check and sheeting and gully erosion has been significant.
I would like to see -- Andra Clark is going to share with me -- provide some photos that I can share with you that -- really these just came in last night or this morning. The road that goes up to the -- services the cabin area at Bastrop State Park washed out. This is -- that white pipe that you see there is a forest sewer main that extends from the cabin area and goes back to the main portion of the park. This is a different angle of that same washout.
This is going to set us back. We had hoped to reestablish cabins. Like I said when I came in this morning, I had hoped to tell you that April we were going to have cabins open. I don't know if that's possible now. Particularly when you take into account the road damages that are occurring in other areas of the park. I have many other photos that I've received in the last hour that look very similar to this where the surface has just been destroyed. The amount of water -- and this speaks to the influence of erosion on our infrastructure in our natural world and this is a powerful message that we can share with visitors, but and clearly this is a set back for us that's very disappointing because we had hoped to reestablish the park in a much quicker time frame.
Bastrop State Park generates approximately $1 million a year, so that loss of revenue is considerable. Particularly when you take into account all the other losses and difficulties and challenges that we're facing. This is that same washout. I see now they've come up with an innovative way to support that pipe.
MR. MCCARTY: You've got to love them.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Is that bungee cord?
MR. LEISURE: State Park staff can accomplish great things with a log and some straps. So I think that's the last picture that I have. But on my phone after the meeting if you would like, I can pull you aside and show you some other things; but the damages are pretty significant. One of the other problems that we anticipate with this erosion is the loss of soil that we're experiencing in the -- certainly across the park. The remaining seed bank that might have existed in that soil and how that might affect our restoration efforts of habitat is yet to be seen, but we'll keep you posted. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER JONES: Mr. Chairman, might I --
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Go ahead, yes.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Just a couple of questions. Is there or has there been an analysis of the golf course and whether it is economically feasible to reestablish the golf course or whether the land that currently is used for the golf course could be more adequately used for campers or other such use that might bring in more income? Particularly given that much of the golf course, not all of it, but I know about half of it survived the fire.
MR. LEISURE: That's actually a good question. We're trying to be as creative as we can possibly be to maximize revenue in State Parks. Not just at Bastrop, but other places. Bastrop is a unique site in that it's a National Historic Landmark established back in 1997. This designation is given by the National Park Service. As such, it's really the most significant designation, historic designation, that can be given in the United States for something like this and one of only six parks in the country recognized for its CCC contributions. A great example of a Public Works project out of the 1930s.
All that to say the golf course is a part of that development and a change in the way that course is used or operated would be considered by most a violation of that trust as stewards of that National Historic Landmark. I -- I'll tell you that the golf club that operates the course has done so for decades. They've struggled here recently -- obviously, as we have -- with revenue and being able to recover their costs. It's a nonprofit organization. But it has made a -- made for a great buffer between an incredibly high fuel source with this fire and essentially it protected the town of Bastrop. We were able to stop the fire thanks in part because of the golf course, the irrigation systems, the lack of fuel, and things like that.
We've looked for adaptive uses of facilities and grounds. There's a moratorium on development within that area that you're speaking about and that development area on -- at Bastrop State Park. It was part of mitigation agreement with the golf course expansion back in 1995. So even if we wanted to pursue that, we can't. We've -- due to the commitments with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the funding that was received in Land and Water funds and such apply to that golf course expansion project. We had to establish a moratorium on development within a certain footprint of the original historic area of the park.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I think that answers my question, but I'm still curious.
MR. LEISURE: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Let's set all of that other stuff aside, the challenges you would have with the historical designation. The fact that it contributed, quite frankly, to helping stop the fire that did what it did, has there been any thought to just the financial concept of does it -- I guess what I'm asking is does it cost more to maintain that golf course than perhaps what we could use it for, other purposes in the park? Not withstanding this other stuff and those other things may be hurdles that we cannot or may be we wouldn't even want to jump over.
MR. LEISURE: Right.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I'm just now asking financially has there been any thought given to if we use that part of the park for campers or other hikers or other sources, we can actually bring in more income to the park for -- for -- to use?
MR. LEISURE: Well, the -- Commissioner, the -- we have a leased concession contract for the golf course. So the cost of operation of that golf course, we really don't incur. Those operating costs, it's incurred by the concessionaire that we have a contract with. They have -- I think we have learned here recently over the last several years that golf course operations are not lucrative operations. We're not going to make a lot of money at that.
COMMISSIONER JONES: That's kind of my point.
MR. LEISURE: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah.
MR. LEISURE: We operate only one golf course in the system and that's at Lockhart State Park where we ourselves operate it. This happens to be a leased concession. That's not to say, however, that we don't have costs associated with that golf course because we do through the Capital Program. We simply have a moratorium on development within the footprint of that portion of the park. I don't -- not established by us, but in agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service. I'm not sure that we could do it if we wanted.
That's not to say, however, that outside of that footprint, that moratorium, that development moratorium, there might be future development at Bastrop State Park.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, here is the only reason I'm asking the question. My understanding, it's about eight holes; is that right? Eight holes were part of the burn? About half of it --
MR. LEISURE: Right.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- were part of the burn and they shut off the back nine or some combination of eight or nine holes and people have only been playing nine holes, I think that's right. Am I --
MR. LEISURE: Yeah, but that has been reestablished.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. LEISURE: That fire backed up right up to several fairways and so we had hazard trees on those fairways. We've been working very hard to remove those hazard trees. Now that -- now that that has happened and we're going to move forward in getting all 18 holes open again.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay, okay. So they're getting ready to open the full 18?
MR. LEISURE: Correct.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay, all right.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Dr. Falcon?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes, go ahead.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Brent, you talked about 12 trucks and a dump truck. Do we insure those vehicles?
MR. LEISURE: We do not, but we will moving forward. One of the complicating issues with all of this, some of the losses are -- can be recovered with FEMA reimbursements, and that is the case with the equipment. So I understand that 75 percent of our costs to replace that equipment can be recovered through FEMA. But if we did that, the requirement is that it be insured moving forward. And so most of the equipment that you find in the parks and infrastructure within the Agency, we do not insure.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: We don't insure vehicles throughout the Agency?
MR. LEISURE: No, sir.
MR. MCCARTY: We're -- the State is self-insured. We don't insure any of our capital assets except for those that have been involved in some of our FEMA recovery. The -- on the coast, we've got several parks that we've got insurance on because we -- getting the insurance on it qualified us for FEMA reimbursement. But for the most part, we're self-insured on almost all of our other capital assets.
MR. JENSEN: And that applies to all State agencies. This is my sixth State agency and about the only time you get insurance is when you have a disaster and you're required to buy insurance through FEMA for floods. When I was at Texas Education Agency, we had to buy insurance to replace textbooks. So unfortunately they say it's self-insured, but what that means is --
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: You're not insured.
MR. JENSEN: -- the legislature has to appropriate it next time they come around. There's not a policy there, so.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Are we putting together or have we put together any type of notebook with photographs and data on the damage that we could give to the Representatives and Senators and folks in that area to show what's happened? And maybe we don't want to do it until we make our LAR. I don't know. But it sure seems to me that the pictures --
MR. LEISURE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- portray a pretty -- you know, say a lot here.
MR. LEISURE: Yes, the pictures are powerful. What's even more powerful is a site visit, and we've been doing a lot of that. We've been giving tours of the park to legislative budget board or legislative members, both House and Senate that have an interest in coming and many have. And so that site visit in conjunction with the photo documentation that we have throughout this whole thing and the testimony that's been provided in drought and fire impacts as recently as yesterday to the House CRT Committee and so where we've talked about the impacts of drought and fire to the Parks system and specifically Bastrop, it seems to dominate the conversation. But we certainly have that well documented and the documentation that's required by FEMA has -- will also go a long way to help that because it's so extensive that we have a lot of information that we can share to the legislature about this fire.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I don't know that I would give them the FEMA book --
MR. LEISURE: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- because that may take five years to read through.
MR. LEISURE: Right. Well --
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But at our level.
MR. LEISURE: Exactly. The point being that we have collected and had to collect so much data and we have a number of -- quite a photo library now to document this event and we will moving forward too and throughout its recovery phases.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And then the other question I had is what would you say estimated are the relative number of acres that need to be replanted either grass, native grasses, or trees? And what can we do to take advantage of maybe getting something out there before we lose any more to erosion?
MR. LEISURE: I'll speak to it very briefly about our restoration efforts. And we really had no seedlings that came from a local seed source that were available that could be planted and fortunately the Forest Service, the Texas Forest Service has several hundred pounds of native Lost Pines seed and it's basically been banked for a potential of something like this, a catastrophic fire. And that seed now has been put in the hands of universities and commercial growers and we expect to have seedlings available to us within 12 to 13 months and that work will proceed in about a year, where we'll be planting these trees and we'll have -- you'll hear a great deal about this as we move forward.
To answer your question specifically about the acreage, we think about 5,300 acres of the park needs restoration efforts. 96 percent of the park was burned; but the intensity of the fire varied a great deal and we are hopeful that those areas that were moderately burned or lightly burned are going to have good, natural regeneration of that forest. The seed bank is going to be there, but we're afraid that those intensely burned areas are going to have very little seed and so it's going to be more labor intensive to reestablish that forest and that ecosystem.
But here pretty soon, I expect that we'll push forward and initiate a campaign to raise private funds to contribute to that effort. We believe that for $350 per acre, that that's going to help us to prepare the seed -- the seed -- the ground surface and prepare for planting, all of our reforestation, the seedlings, and any seed source that we bring in for that effort. Also, to provide the chemical treatment or mechanical treatment for invasive species that we expect to move into the area and one follow-up prescribed fire.
So that $350 will get you all that. It's essentially a five-year effort to recover 1 acre of land and we've already been approached by many people, both individuals and businesses that would like to contribute to that effort and we'll push forward with that pretty soon.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Are you getting any help at the local level, from the County or the City that -- for example, in coordinating some efforts to say, here, give $50 and you can plant a tree --
MR. LEISURE: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- or stuff like that?
MR. LEISURE: We were. The local community is in Bastrop is struggling. The County especially is struggling. The City of Bastrop did not suffer any immediate effects of that fire. Although they've benefited in a great way from the sales taxes because as people reestablish themselves and their lives in that area, they're spending a lot of money. It's tax revenue back to the City. The -- we have a great relationship with the City of Bastrop and with the County of Bastrop. Bastrop on the -- the County on the other hand is suffering. With a number of people moving out, the tax base being effected and so the school district is being effected. So they've contributed and helped as much as they can, but we share a lot of resources between the County and the City and local fire departments and such and so we're proud to say that we've been good partners with them and they with us.
MR. SMITH: Commissioner, there's also an overarching Lost Pines recovery team that's comprised of local and state and city and county officials and we have Park representatives on that. We have wildlife biologists that are on that that are working from a kind of overarching recovery of that Lost Pines ecosystem and helping private landowners that have been impacted similarly on this. So there's a big effort at that scale as well and our folks are contributing a lot to that, too.
MR. MCCARTY: And I think Lydia will talk a little bit our fund-raising efforts going forward and then also Darcy Bontempo and her discussions about the implementation of HB 1300 and our -- I guess our corporate sponsorship opportunities and how that may play into Adopt-a-Tree kind of program. She's going to come up here in the item after that.
MR. LEISURE: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Any further discussion? All right, let's move on.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Committee Item No. 5 -- we're going to go out of line -- State Parks Revenue Campaign, Lydia Saldaña.
MS. SALDANA: Good afternoon, Commissioners and Chairman. I'm here to update you on the State Park awareness campaign that Gene just mentioned and we launched that last month and I'm going to report on the results so far. I don't think I need to lay the groundwork for the 4.6 million. I think Mike and Gene did a great job of that.
We began discussing potential strategies to address this shortfall in mid November and right before Thanksgiving, we made the call to move forward with a comprehensive public awareness campaign to get the word out. Now, we had already been working on a campaign to increase awareness of the motor vehicle option and at that point, we broadened the whole effort and really kicked our -- kicked everything into high gear to get everything in place in time for a launch in early December. We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity for end of year donations.
The overall message of our campaign is very simple: State Parks need your help now more than ever. We had three primary goals. One was just to make sure that the public understands the situation, certainly encourage donations, and drive traffic to State Parks. This simple message was summed up in three calls to action that were included in every communication piece we did and those three calls were make an end of year tax deductible donation to Parks, donate when it's time to renew your vehicle, and finally because half of State Park revenue is -- half of the State Park budget is funded by revenue, visit a State Park was also a very important piece of that message.
Now, we utilized every available communication channel at our disposal to get this message out. We launched the campaign on December 6th, with 11 news conferences around the state. State Parks did the heavy lifting on hosting these conferences and key staff served as spokesmen and I can't stress enough how carefully we coordinated and what a team effort this was to pull it off. We needed to make sure that everybody was on the same page and that the message was delivered very consistently and very carefully. Carter handled two of the news conferences, Brent handled one, Scott handled one, and the other seven were handled by field staff. And I can't say enough about what a great job everybody did in delivering a very focused and consistent message.
I would also like to add that this really was an unprecedented effort. I've been here for 22 years now. We've never done anything like this in terms of the magnitude of this effort to get the word out. Also on December 6th, we issued a statewide news release and a video news report and we followed up with yet a second release right before the end of the year to stress that end of year donation. The foundation of our effort, of course, was our website and we developed a comprehensive "Help State Parks" page and promotion in record time.
This page also included a fund-raising video appeal from Carter that helped us personalize the ask. This message was prominently featured on our home page, as well as a spotlight on every single State Park page on our website. Of course, we also leveraged our social media channels. We did multiple posts on Facebook and Twitter and these posts were shared and re-Tweeted literally hundreds of times. We utilized several e-mail strategies, including the lead story in the "Life's better outside.®" e-newsletter that went out on December 8th to more than 108,000 recipients. We've done several other e-mail efforts as well, and I'll tell you about a few more of those a little bit later.
A number of our media partners stepped up to help the effort, such as KEYE here in Austin who ran online advertising on their websites free of charge. Other of our media partners did the same. In addition, we placed a very small online buy with the Texas Tribune that delivered close to 575,000 impressions to a very influential audience. Even though we were practically on press, we made a last-minute effort to get this message out in our magazine. We included a scout feature and Carter also wrote about that in his column, his "At Issue" column.
Here's a couple of samples of print ads that many of our partners are running for us for free, including in the Texas Travel Industry Association newsletter, our newspaper insert, and also in Texas Monthly. You'll also be seeing ads like this in upcoming issues of the Parks and Wildlife magazine. We produced a series of Passport to Texas reports and also did some radio news features that were broadcast statewide. And on another front, we're also making a significant effort to make sure that people know about the opportunity to make donations when they register their vehicles.
We've produced and distributed 100,000 bilingual rack cards that were produced in conjunction with two other organizations that are also receiving donations this way and those are out in tax offices now. We also have a bunch of custom Parks and Wildlife materials that we're ready to ship out. However, we can't ship it until they actually request it. So we're working with the DMV to get information out so that the request can be made and the information in our mail room can be mailed out, but we're ready to ship it.
Now, increasing visitation is a key part of our overall strategy. And we really had a great opportunity to do that with the inaugural "First Day Hikes." Chris Holmes spearheaded this effort, and you're going to hear a little bit more about this tomorrow; but he spearheaded this effort to make this event a big success. And as result, we had 47 State Parks offer a guided hike and more than a thousand people actually participated. I happened to be at Blanco State Park that morning, and I can report firsthand it was a great way to start the New Year. It was also a great promotional platform and it really enabled us to push for visitation with some success.
Now, I would like to talk about the results within the first six weeks of the campaign. First of all, I hope you-all saw some of the news coverage in your local markets. From my perspective, this was an incredibly successful way to get the word out with the launch. These 11 news conferences were very successful. Gene McCarty asked me, well, how much news coverage did we get? And I gave him the precise answer that he always likes to get -- a lot. We were literally on the front pages of newspapers like the Chronical, the Statesman, virtually every market that we ran it in, ran -- we got prominent coverage on TV, radio, newspapers. It was picked up by AP. Outdoor writers, including Shannon Tompkins, wrote about it; and we also had numerous editorials around the state on top of the news coverage that urged folks to support State Parks and to, you know, go online and make a donation.
We haven't calculated the value of this coverage; but it's certainly the most coverage we've ever received on a single topic that we wanted and we know we're talking about several hundred thousand dollars in media value. So this, from our perspective, was a very successful launch. The conversations continue on various social media outlets. People are still talking about this on Facebook and Twitter, and this is enabling us to kind of keep that conversation going and the donations happening. Now, thanks to Google Analytics, we now know exactly how effective some of our tactics have been. We know that more than 24,000 visitors -- and this is as of January 16th. We've had 24,000 visitors click onto that "Help Parks" page, with 4 percent of those making a donation. That's a very high rate.
As you can see from this graph, most of this traffic has come from our home page feature and all the spotlights on the State Park's pages. The social media, press releases, and e-mail have been the other top sources of web traffic. Now, this graph here shows the correlation of web traffic and donations to key communication tactics. As you can see, there was a huge spike right after the initial press release, the news conferences, and the social media push. There was another one when we did the e-mail blast on December 19th, and then a third one on the 29th with that second press release we did.
Now, what this slide doesn't reflect is the e-mail blast that we did just yesterday to 185,000 folks in our State Park reservation system. I'll tell you more about that in just a few minutes. As of and through January 16th, online donations processed through the foundation were at just over $104,000, with the average donation being more than $100. Mail-in donations here at Parks and Wildlife have topped $58,000 and as I believe Mike mentioned, motor vehicle donations are now topping $56,000.
We've also received several significant and incredibly generous donations as a result of this campaign that we've launched. We received $250,000 -- this will be on your agenda tomorrow -- from the TLL Temple Foundation. And just a couple of weeks ago, the Foundation Board of Trustees came through with a $500,000 donation. We're also seeing donations from various other groups that are continuing to come in, such as the Dallas Safari Club and various other groups who are responding to this plea.
We're also seeing some positive trends in State Park visitation and on-site donations that have been made since we launched the campaign on December 6th. As you can see by this graph, on-site donations -- that's people making donations at the park -- are up 88 percent over the same time period last year and visitation is also showing a positive trend. Now, most of the increase in visitation we've seen has been at the end of December and early January. Certainly there's many factors at work here. We had some great weather in December and that led to some good visitation. The "First Day Hikes" promotion that I mentioned also helped, and we believe that this campaign has had an effect as well in driving visitation.
Our grand total -- and again, this is through January 16th -- shows us at over $980,000. Now, of course, this is just the beginning of this effort and this campaign will be working on a number of ongoing efforts going forward. Certainly we're going to be coordinating very closely with the Parks and Wildlife Foundation to actively seek additional donations from corporations and other foundations. We're also exploring many cause marketing. Just yesterday, marketing and State Park staff met with Whole Earth Provision Company here in Austin. They are very interested in helping State Parks and what we're working on is a month-long promotion in all Whole Earth Provision stores that the proceeds are going to benefit State Parks.
I suspect we're going to be seeing more of that. We're going to be reaching out to more companies. We think there's many, many opportunities that we can involve corporations in helping us. And, of course, we're going to continue to promote State Park visitation. We're going to be working with Chris and Brent and his team to see if there's other promotional opportunities such as the "First Day Hikes" coming up over the course of the year that we can really get behind and push visitation.
Now, one new development that's occurred in the last few weeks that we're really excited about is that in addition to vehicle registrations now, people who are registering their boats can now make an online donation. We're working very closely with Frances Stiles and her group to get the word out about that. They've already added donation language to the coupon portion of the renewal notice as you can see and what this means is along with the vehicle registrations, people can now donate to State Parks when they renew their boat either online, by mail, in person at law enforcement offices, or participating county tax offices. We think we've got a real opportunity here, and we're going to take -- you know, make good use of it.
We'll certainly be doing all we can to continue building momentum and increasing awareness and we're going to be working real closely, for example, with our law enforcement offices because we really have an opportunity there for signage, to message that, and really encourage those donations to State Parks. We'll also be at boat shows. We're working on some material to go out in renewal notices, hopefully beginning in March and April. And then we're also working with many other groups to get the word. Folks have really stepped up to the table. For example, the Texas Public Employees Association just did a big e-mail push to their members encouraging donations.
Finally, I want to mention the last e-mail tactic that we've deployed. Just yesterday, we sent an e-mail from Carter to almost 185,000 State Park visitors with e-mail addresses that we obtained from the Texas Park system. That e-mail went out at 10:00 o'clock yesterday morning and we almost immediately began seeing responses. In the 24 hours from when we hit the send button on that e-mail, within 24 hours we've received another 576 individual donations, which have brought in over $32,000. That's an average of a $56 donation. The open rate on that e-mail was at an astounding 37 percent. So people are responding to this message and as you can see, an additional 32,000 has been raised in just the last 24 hours.
So to conclude my presentation, I'm very pleased to report that we've now topped the $1 million mark for our State Parks, which means of course that we have another $3.6 million to go. We'll be doing all that we possibly can to get there. And at this time, I'll be happy to answer any additional questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Marvelous job.
MS. SALDANA: I've got a great team here.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good work.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Congratulations on -- and thanks for all your efforts.
MS. SALDANA: I think we'll be working on a Bastrop recovery campaign next. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Lydia.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Any other questions or comments from the Commission?
All right. We'll go to Committee Item No. 4, Implementation of Legislation During the 82nd Texas Legislative Session, House Bill 1300 Relating to the Proposed Rules for Official Corporate Partners and State Park Passes, recommended adoption of proposed changes, Darcy.
MS. BONTEMPO: Good afternoon, Chairman and Commissioners. I am Darcy Bontempo. I'm the Marketing Director here at Parks and Wildlife and I'm here to present the proposed rules and the public comments received related to H-Bill 1300, implementation that as Commissioner Falcon said, we will be looking for -- seeking adoption from the Commission tomorrow on this rule.
HB 1300 for partner partnerships was passed last legislative session and the intent of this was to help the Department, obviously, develop for partner partnerships so that they could bring in additional dollars for Parks and Wildlife and we've been hearing all about that today about the need for that. The legislature allowed -- and I'm going to move over here a little bit. The legislature allowed TPWD a great deal of flexibility in how we can use the revenue. We can use it not only for State Parks and sites, but also for programs, priority projects.
In addition, the revenue carries its own authority; so it's separate from any other revenue generating authority we have here in the Agency. And very importantly, it does not in any way limit our authority to accept other donations, so -- nor does it in any way negatively impact our relationships with nonprofit partners that we have.
House Bill 1300 provides a number of avenues for the Department to generate additional dollars, and I'm going to outline those now. One of the most obvious is that it gives us the authority to designate an official corporate partner or official corporate partners and to establish guidelines and best practices and how we would go about doing that. The manner in which they would be doing a joint promotional campaigns for us or raising the funds for us as well.
It also allows us to adopt rules to allow licensing of the TPWD brand to these partner -- for these official corporate partners. And when I say licensing, here I mean putting the TPWD logo on products or services so that they're sold and a share of the sales will come to TPWD. That also does not in any way interfere with our ability to, as we often do, give logo permission to use our logo with a lot of the nonprofits that we work with. That's a separate use of the logo, but this is related specifically to merchandise or products and sales of those products with our brand.
In addition, the for profit partnership allows us to adopt rules relating to advertising at Texas State Parks, as well as other TPWD sites. And finally, it allows us to establish rules to allow for the outsourcing of the sales of Texas State Park passes. So there are a number of avenues here that are open to us, and obviously provide a lot of opportunity. In November, as you may recall, these rules were -- I think Carter presented the rules and you-all granted -- the Commission granted permission to publish and those rules were, again, governing the selection of the official corporate partners and the rules setting forth the conditions that we would consider outsourcing the Texas State Park pass and we did publish those rules in the Texas Register.
I would like at this time to give a very topline overview or review of those rules to the Commission. First, looking at the official corporate partners. The department decided that it was important to have two levels of official corporate partners. A Department-wide official corporate partner opportunity, as well as a local official corporate partner opportunity. Particularly in the field where there was a -- well, we -- there was a belief that we could maximize the opportunities to develop these partnerships by being flexible. There will be smaller partners. We're already working in many of the parks and fields. We have many local partners already. It gives us an opportunity to use some of these new tools to further bring in revenue.
The criteria that we looked at, which was also very important, is we believe that from a Department-wide corporate partner, we're going to select these partners through a competitive process. Through an RFP process. That we believe will result in the greatest benefit to Parks and Wildlife. We also are going to ensure that no official corporate partner conflicts in any way with our obligations, our contractual obligations, our regulatory obligations, or any other obligations. That was very important.
And in addition, we wanted to set a minimum commitment level in cash or as we call it, good as cash, goods or services in kind. And that would mean something that was probably already in our operating budget. Like, for example, if we had an in-kind donation or a commitment of fuel cards that was going to substitute or replace cash we would have spent on fuel for vehicles, that would be an example of something that we would consider as good as cash.
It was also our belief that the benefits for the official corporate partner, the more benefits we could offer, the greater the opportunity it was to bring in dollars from these -- from this new -- from the new official corporate partner rules. And to that extent, we're looking at designating official -- a specific business category of Texas Parks and Wildlife, we would allow an official corporate partner to become, for example, the official corporate bank or the official bank -- excuse me -- of Texas Parks and Wildlife. We would grant them also exclusivity on the Department-wide level of that particular designation. And in and doing -- and becoming our official corporate partner, they would, as I mentioned earlier, have the opportunity to joint promotional campaigns, to do fund-raising, and to license if they so wished the TPWD brand, as yet another way to drive revenue and bring a better value to them as well as to us in terms of what this kind of a relationship can mean.
And finally, and we know that this is important to sponsors and I'm sure it will be important to official corporate partners, is that we would be able to promote these joint ventures to our own customers, as long as, again, they're benefiting the Department. There are also some new tools that we're looking at. We've done a lot of advertising or logo placement in our media products over time, as well as in our promotional materials; but we have never done any website advertising. That, again, is very valuable. Especially when you look at our website and the kind of traffic that we generate. You know, we have about 850,000 visitors a month to our website. And so we are looking at, for the first time, offering this as a benefit to official corporate partners as an added value benefit and we believe that that will help encourage a higher value bids when we do actually go ahead and submit the RFP and receive bids.
We also are looking, as I mentioned, at advertising, which is what -- we have been granted authority to look at advertising on TPWD sites, inside -- on-site advertising. And I can assure you that we are all here at Parks and Wildlife extremely mindful of how we're going to go forth and do that. We're going to be very, very careful about it and we're going to ensure that we set some very, very clear parameters as we go into this new territory. We will definitely not -- we will ensure that it does not interfere with the visitor's enjoyment, which is paramount to everyone here at the Department.
So that summarizes the Department-wide official corporate sponsor. Looking at the local official corporate partner, that partner will be selected -- or those partners, I should say, will be selected using a fair process. It may or may not be competitive. That will be left up to the field. These are going to be significantly smaller commitments, excuse me, and so they may or may not warrant a competitive bid. They will be limited to a specific site or a program. It will be for Garner State Park or for Texas Outdoor Family. It won't be a Department-wide official corporate partner designation. In addition, they will not be guaranteed exclusivity within their business class and should a Department-wide official corporate partner in that class, in fact, be secured, we would ensure that all of those agreements that we have in place with local official corporate partners would have an out clause. We want to make sure that we don't leave any important opportunities on the table by having a smaller local official corporate partner in that category.
And again, because we believe licensing of the brand is a very high value benefit that the Department can offer, we are not going to be giving those rights to a local official corporate partner. And finally, we won't be providing high level statewide recognition or promotion to a local official corporate partner. And then finally, the last item in the House Bill 1300 allowed -- gave TPWD authority to and the discretion to outsource the sale of the Texas State Park pass to commercial entities, to outside entities, pending feasibility and cost benefit analysis.
So we did, in fact, publish these proposed rules that you also see in your exhibit and we received very, very minimal comments. We had six comments in total. I was nervous about it. I'll be honest. But we had five in favor or five fors and five in favor of it and one opposed. The comment that was in opposition, it focused on two things. One is that they would like to have nonprofits have the same opportunity as for-profits would have in terms of selling the State Park pass if, in fact, that was something that was determined to be feasible and they also had expressed opposition in this comment, too, that gun and ammunition manufacturers would not be allowed to be official corporate partners. That was the extent of any opposition to the House Bill 1300, the proposed rules for implementation.
So tomorrow I'll be coming back before the Commission and seeking approval of this -- of these proposed rules and, again, in the hopes that we can begin to implement them. Hopefully by the end of the fiscal year, we'll be in a position to award some contracts and start bringing in some additional revenue. So we certainly are -- we're certainly going to do everything we can to do leverage this opportunity the legislature has given us to bring in additional dollars. And that concludes my presentation, and I would be very happy to answer questions.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: The local partners, would that go to benefit local parks? If you're from Bastrop, would that go to benefit --
MS. BONTEMPO: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: -- just Bastrop. It wouldn't come in a general --
MS. BONTEMPO: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: -- revenue?
MS. BONTEMPO: Yes, sir. It would benefit the local site or program.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Okay.
MS. BONTEMPO: Yeah, and that would -- we will be careful about that. We don't -- you know, Department official corporate partners may be interested more -- we expect them to be very interested in Texas State Parks. But we may also have official corporate partners that are a Department-wide scale that are interested in other divisions and we will be looking at how those funds relate to the intention, the interest of the official corporate partner and ensure it's appropriate.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Thank you.
MS. BONTEMPO: Sure, thank you.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'm good, thank you.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Given the money situation, is it not possible to speed this process up? And obviously we want to be prudent in awarding -- entering into any kind of business relationship, particularly if it's long term; but it seems to me we might be able to do some of this before September 1.
MS. BONTEMPO: We would love to be as aggressive as possible. We have a lot of divisions. We want to make sure that everyone is on board because once we set these rules, we definitely have to make sure that we can execute them and that all the division, the field, and everyone is comfortable. But I assure you, we have a very aggressive deadline, timeline. I won't share it with you because if we don't make it, I'll disappoint you. But we have a great amount of time and effort has been spent to date and we have a number of staff that are dedicated -- a considerable amount of their time is dedicated to trying to push this forward.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Have you gotten -- been contacted by, just to pull a name out of the air, Cabela's about buying a link on our home page or --
MS. BONTEMPO: Those are -- we get a lot of those calls all the time, to be honest with you, wanting to have placement on our website. That is -- we get a lot of that. At this point, again, we don't offer the opportunity to link to for-profit companies. Unless it's through a sponsor recognition logo, we have very strict rules. But this is what is opening up now with this -- with these opportunities. So we'll begin to look at how we can leverage website presence through the official corporate partnership program.
We don't want to be in a position of selling and the time management of selling links and managing that kind of real estate. We would rather wrap it up as a part of the benefit of official corporate partner so we can bring in a significant dollar amount, have fewer official corporate partners to manage on a Department-wide level so that they're meaningful, but also it's so we can execute it effectively to bring value to those partners.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, are you checking with others who market links on websites to make sure that when you ultimately make these decisions, that you're getting the most? I mean you say you want to do it that way, but maybe -- I'm not promoting Cabela's. I'm just using it as an illustration.
MS. BONTEMPO: Right.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But they might walk in and say we'll give you X dollars for a year's -- for a link on your home page. And I don't know why we wouldn't at least look at that before we made a decision that they had to be an official sponsor.
MS. BONTEMPO: Well, I think that those are all things that I think we are going to be open to exploring. I think that our website, again, is a -- it's the number one communication vehicle that we have, and we just have to manage it carefully; but I think that's something that we can definitely look at. And generally speaking, it has not been large dollars that advertisers are willing to spend for links and that's, you know, from being in the advertising industry. It's not something normally that they're going to give you a large ad buy for.
Banner ads, online banner ads, you can begin to see some dollars. But even then, it's better to package it up. And if they're one of few as opposed to one of many, you can usually really get a much better value than if you're selling a whole bunch of links at a small price and that's just from experience in the marketplace and I'm willing to certainly look at it again and I'd be happy to follow up with you in more detail. But generally speaking, that's not something that you can get a lot of dollars for in terms of just a website link.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Can you get a percentage of sales that are driven through a link?
MS. BONTEMPO: That's something -- that's a -- that's a budget issue. That's an appropriation issue. I don't -- that's a very complicated question. Because right now, we don't -- the specific authority for what revenue we can share in and that's not something that I may be the best person to answer, but that's not something we've been able to do in the past.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Who is the sponsor of this House Bill 1300?
MR. SMITH: I think Chairman Guillen was in the House and I'm sorry, don't remember in the Senate.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. It just seems to me as we come into the next session, we might want to work with those people who -- Representative Guillen and whoever it was on the Senate side, for expanded authority to maximize our ability to leverage this.
MR. SMITH: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And have more discretion on what we report in to them.
MS. BONTEMPO: But, Commissioner Duggins, Vice-Chairman Duggins, I do believe we're going to see a lot of opportunity with the ability for them to share in joint promotional campaigns and, for example, do sales promotions where they share a percent of their sales with us. I mean it's going to be interesting to see the kind of revenue sharing that we'll be able to --
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Excuse me.
MS. BONTEMPO: No, sorry.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I swallowed the wrong way. Go ahead.
MS. BONTEMPO: Hopefully -- hopefully, we will be able to see that we will be sharing revenues in some of these different ways. Not necessarily through a link, but I think there -- that's our intent is to share revenues. To have them share revenue with us through these joint promotional campaigns. I'm sorry.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, good. I'm excited about this. I'm sorry to be coughing. But I think this has a lot of upside. As you know, we -- a number of us have talked to Lydia and you about the potential at our website and driving more business and commerce through --
MS. BONTEMPO: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- the internet. It's such a much more efficient way for us to sell licenses and park passes.
MS. BONTEMPO: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And we get the word out on whatever it is we're trying to communicate.
MS. BONTEMPO: We're very excited about it as well. It's -- and hopefully, we'll be coming back to you sooner rather than later with an update.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Any further discussion by the Commission? All right, I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. Thank you, very much.
MS. BONTEMPO: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Committee Item No. 6, Capital Construction Program Update, Rich McMonagle.
MR. MCMONAGLE: Good afternoon, Chairman Falcon, Chairman Friedkin, and Commissioners. My name is Rich McMonagle. I'm the Director of the Infrastructure Division. This afternoon, I would like to give a brief overview of the Capital Construction Program and then I will update you on our project portfolio. Overview of the program, our current portfolio is 197 projects valued at $189 million. Over the next several months, those numbers are going to be decreasing considerably as we'll be finishing a lot of projects. That will be offset in a couple of months when you receive this biennium's bond funding, but I'll just tell you that over the next -- over the next year, we're going to be completing quite a number of projects.
During fiscal year 2011, we expended almost $50 million in the Capital Construction Program. As you can see by the chart at the bottom of the slide, that's a record. It's the highest we have in our last 12 years of records. The two previous years, we've averaged about $30 million and then the ten years previous to that, we had averaged about 19 million. So as you can see, we've really been spending a lot of money lately.
Moving on to the next slide, this is a recap of a bond program appropriations over the last three legislative sessions. You will recall that in August, you directed us to go to -- request the funding for the $32.35 million appropriated in the last session. We submitted that to the LBB and at the beginning of this month, we received the LBB's approval. Next month, we go to Texas Public Finance Authority and the month after that to the Bond Review Board and we'll be receiving that funding in April if we receive all of their approvals. So that's my overview of the program.
Now what I would like to do is just brag about some of the projects that we've -- that are ongoing and have recently been completed. And I'll start by talking about the 08-09 Bond Program, the first line there, the $44 million for statewide park repairs. Our bond program projects tend to be the dirty little, nasty little repairs that we do around the state. They're not real glamorous types of projects, but they are kind of meat-and-potatoes kind of projects that are the heart of the Capital Program.
Those of you that were here in 2007 will recall that, at that time, the legislature put considerable pressure on the Department to spend bond money faster. And because of that, we developed a new strategy and that strategy was to take the majority of those projects and bundle them together for construction and design in regional packages and we created three regional packages. And that strategy worked. We spent money considerably quicker than we had in the past, and that was mainly due to the efficiencies that came by putting these packages together.
However, we did find some inefficiencies as well. The packages were just a little too large to manage. So then in subsequent programs, we've continued to do the packaging. We packaged projects by type of work and by location or some combination of both of those things; but the packages are much smaller. We're finding that, again, we're able to use those efficiencies of bundling those projects. This program, as you recall, Capital Construction appropriation has a five-year life; so this appropriation is due to expire this year. And even though it took us over a year to get the original funding, we're going to complete these projects well ahead of schedule. Most of them are already completed or will be completed within the next two months.
Now, the pictures on this slide represent the majority of the projects that are in this program. The 96 different projects in the program, the upper right-hand corner is one of two restrooms that were replaced at Tyler State Park. There were 18 projects in this program that dealt with restrooms and in that program, we replaced 20 restrooms and we repaired nine other restrooms. Now, restrooms are really important to Park's visitors. A dry, ventilated, well-lit functional restroom can mean the difference between a successful or an unsuccessful visit to a State Park and so we have put a lot of effort into those restrooms.
The photo on the lower left is the Mission At Mission Tejas State Park that was renovated by up one of our five force account construction crews and these force account crews are full of historic construction experts and that's really their area of expertise. So at the Mission, which was originally built by the Civilian Conversation Corp to commemorate the first Spanish mission in Texas, our guys literally layed -- raised the roof to replace a log ceiling joist. They replaced some of those logs. They reconstructed other logs. They reroofed it. They refurbished the inside and out. They replaced the chinking between the logs. As you can see, it's nice and white now and they refurbished the stone floor inside.
And this is one of 17 projects in this program that were projects to refurbish and renovate historic structures. Other projects included CCC structures at Garner, Bastrop, Balmorhea, Longhorn Caverns, and we also did work on Fanthorp Inn. The photo on the lower right is from at campsite at the Piney Hill camping area at Bastrop State Park. In this program, we had 11 projects that upgraded individual campsites, as well as upgrading the utilities at campsites. Most of these upgrades deal with upgrading electricity capacity at the sites, as well as adding connections for water and waste water. And when these upgrades are made, we can then accommodate the largest, new RVs. That makes these sites more desirable and even more importantly, State Parks can then charge a higher fee for these sites.
We did renovations at 11 camping areas in this -- in this bond program. In the photo, you can see that this photo -- you can assume this photo and correctly assume that this photo was taken before the fires hit Bastrop. We did repairs at all four camping areas at Bastrop. The fires affected all four of those camping areas; but, thankfully, the impacts were minimal because most of the work is buried underground.
Speaking of the work being underground, the right two photos kind of symbolize the fact that some of our most important work happens underground and it's never seen. Nineteen of the projects in this package dealt with water and waste water system repairs. And these projects tend to be the most expensive things that we do in the bond programs; but, of course, they're the most important because without the water and waste water systems, you couldn't support visitors at the park. So as I said, 19 of the projects in this package were for water and waste water systems.
And finally, I'll mention that five additional projects that's just been added or were added in the last year and those were to deal with the repairs due to wildland fires at Bastrop and Possum Kingdom State Parks. Moving on, as a conservation agency, as part of a conservation agency, we in the Infrastructure Division take very seriously our role as part of that Agency. And one -- in fact, one of our division goals is to promote the use of alternative energy, as well as environmental sustainability. And nowhere is this more evident than in our program to install photoelectric -- or photo -- photovoltaic solar systems.
As Mr. Smith mentioned earlier, we had a program over the last year and a half where we installed 26 systems at 18 sites. And the map in the upper right shows those locations. Below are the list of those places. I know that those in the audience can't read that slide, but at least the map will show a dispersion of the sites across the state. As Mr. Smith mentioned, we received a grant for $4 million that came from the State Environmental -- or the State Energy Conservation Office and that -- those grants provided 80 percent reimbursement for -- 80 percent reimbursement for eligible costs.
Now, over the last year, construction costs have been down considerably. It's a tough time to be in the construction business because construction materials costs have gone up considerably. But at the same time, cost of work has gone down and so construction companies are really getting squeezed; but what that meant to us was that we ended up coming in under budget at $3.6 million on these projects and we will receive an 80 percent reimbursement at about I think it's $2.9 million.
I will mention that one of the projects was not subject to the grant, the Texas Freshwater Fishery Center. And you can see the picture in the lower left corner. We did not receive a grant for that project, but Coast -- or Inland Fisheries decided to go on and do that project as well. I will note the difference between Mr. Smith's report of 24 -- or I'm sorry, 16 sites and 18 sites dealt with we have two projects that are still ongoing and will not be completed until next month.
Next, I would like to talk about the John D. Parker East Texas State Fish Hatchery. The fish hatchery is located below dam at Lake Sam Rayburn in Jasper County. And the hatchery replaces the old Jasper Fish Hatchery that was originally built in 1932 by the Civilian Conservation Corp. The new fish hatchery was designed with 64 production ponds, a 34,000 square foot production building, and you can see the photo in the upper right is from that production building, a 8,000 square foot administration building and two support buildings. When we originally went to construction on this, due to a shortage of funds, 22 of the ponds were left out and the photo, aerial photo on the left and the photo on the lower right were taken during construction of the original construction. Excuse me.
Since then, we found the funding to add 22 more production ponds to bring up to the total of 62 and those new ponds will go to the -- below the ponds as you can see them in the photo. The Inland Fishery staff of 20, along with four game wardens, have already relocated to the new hatchery and they've already begun operations at the hatchery. Right now they are storing and distributing Rainbow trout and they will begin regular production in the spring.
Ultimately, when the fish hatchery goes into full production, they estimate to produce four to 5 million fingerlings a year and that will include Largemouth bass, Blue catfish, Channel catfish, and Bluegill sunfish. Next, I would like to talk about the Mack Dick Group Pavilion at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which is the generous gift of Mr. Mack Dick, an Amarillo area developer and long-time friend of the Palo Duro Canyon State Park. In addition, a donation from the Partners in Palo Duro Foundation is providing the furnishings and the appliances. This indoor/outdoor pavilion is a gathering place for weddings, family reunions, local group meetings, as well as RV groups. A single story building. It's 3,300 square feet. It provides a large dining room that will seat 200, along with a full commercial kitchen, restrooms, and plenty of porch space as you can see in the photos.
This facility will earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, recognizing that it meets the standards of design construction and operations as set by the U.S. Green Building Council. Construction will complete in March. This building not only meets the need for group facility there in Palo Duro, but we will be using this as the model in other places. The need for such group facilities across the State Park system is one of their primary new development needs.
The Daughtrey Law Enforcement Bunkhouse and Training Facility is at the James E. Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area, which is adjacent to Choke Canyon Reservoir, halfway between Corpus Christi and San Antonio. This facility along with an adjacent firing range that we completed in 2010, provide a place for meetings and training for Law Enforcement Division. Not only is there a training mission here, but -- and I think people would probably -- Colonel Flores would agree that more importantly, there's an operational mission here. Is that due to the location, this is an ideal place for forward staging and establishment of an emergency -- forward emergency operating center for emergencies or disasters along the lower coast, such as hurricanes and flooding events.
In addition to the Law Enforcement Division, we anticipate that other divisions within TPWD as well as local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies will use this facility. The building you see in the photos is a 3,700 square foot premanufactured metal building. It provides five bunk rooms for sleeping up to 40, with separate rooms for men and women, separate restrooms for men and women, a full commercial kitchen, a dining room/conference room that will seat 60. And, again, as I said, there's also an adjacent firing range. Construction of the bunkhouse was completed this month.
And finally, I'll talk about the Joe McBride Firearms Training Range, which is at the Game Warden Training Center in Hamilton County. The primary purpose of this new range is to provide marksmanship training in shotgun, pistol, and rifle for the cadets. Previously -- or, yes, previously the cadets had to go off site to do their weapons training. We calculated that there's 10 to 12,000 miles of vehicle driving, as well as time, and $2,500 in fuel costs, all of which will be saved by having the cadets have an on-site firearms range. As well, game wardens will use the range when they're doing their in-service training -- thank you, Pete -- in-service training at the facility. And like the Daughtrey Bunkhouse, it will also be open to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to use the range.
One of the unique features of the range, you can see in the upper right corner of the photo is the -- is a bullet trap system to catch the rounds. Because not too far behind that berm is the property line. The range was named after Joe McBride, who is a businessman, outdoor enthusiast, philanthropist, and a long-time friend of Texas Parks and Wildlife. He's currently a board member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, as well as the chairman of Operation Game Thief Committee, and soon to be the chairman emeritus from what I understand.
The range consists of five firing lines, with the furthest line at 50 meters or 50 yards, excuse me, and there are 15 firing points on each of those lines. The range will be operational in time for the new class that starts. And with that, I'm done bragging about the projects we've recently done. Are there any questions?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No, I'm just asking if he had --
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Any questions anybody?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It's always good to see good process.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Thank you for very much.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Very good, thank you.
MR. MCMONAGLE: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Chairman Friedkin, this Committee has completed its business.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Mr. Smith, I believe we've completed our business and I declare us adjourned.
C E R T I F I C A T E
STATE OF TEXAS )
COUNTY OF TRAVIS )
I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand Reporter in and for the State of Texas, do hereby certify that the above-mentioned matter occurred as hereinbefore set out.
I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such were reported by me or under my supervision, later reduced to typewritten form under my supervision and control and that the foregoing pages are a full, true, and correct transcription of the original notes.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Turn in date _____ day of ________________, 2012.
Paige S. Watts, CSR, RPR
CSR No.: 8311
Expiration: December 31, 2012
Firm Registration Number: 87
1016 La Posada Drive
Austin, Texas 78752
Job No. 95405