Public Hearing, January 23, 2014
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION
JANUARY 23, 2014
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
COMMISSION HEARING ROOM
4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Good morning, everyone. This meeting is called to order January 23rd, 2014, at 9:10 a.m.
Before we proceed with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.
MR. SMITH: I do, Mr. Chairman. Thank you. 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.
I want to join the Chairman and Commissioners in welcoming everybody. It looks like we've got a standing room only crowd this morning. We're delighted to have everybody. We're going to start the meeting off really honoring colleagues, many of which have had decades and decades of service to this Agency. We're going to honor some colleagues who are getting special recognitions for their important contributions to our great state.
After we finish up those service awards, the Chairman is going to call just a brief respite to allow those of you that came in especially for that to leave and at that time, we'll start the remainder of the meeting. We do have a few action items on the agenda today that the Commission will be taking action on. For those of you who came to speak to those items, we'd ask that you sign up out front at the appropriate time. The Chairman will call you and ask you to come forward by name. Please state your name and who you represent and what your position is on that issue. You'll have three minutes to share your perspective with the Commission.
We've got a little red light, yellow light, green light system. Green means go, yellow means start to wind it down, and red means eject. So -- and so if y'all would just help us honor that, that will make sure we get out in an orderly fashion and we get folks on the road before the weather gets bad.
Last but not least, just anybody who's got a cell phone, etcetera, just remind you put it on silent or vibration. We love the babies crying. The babies can do that all meeting long. We're good there, so don't you -- don't worry about that. So, welcome.
Thank you, Chairman, Commissioners.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: We have a couple of business to take care of, and then we'll do the service awards. The first thing we need to do is approve the minutes from the previous meeting that was held on November 7th, 2013, which have been distributed. Do I motion?
COMMISSIONER JONES: Move approval.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Scott and Jones. All in favor say aye?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any opposed?
Next is acknowledgment of donations that have been made to the Department. Do I have a motion to...
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Move for approval.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Ralph and Jones. All in favor, aye?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any opposed?
And next consideration is the consideration of contract amendments, which have been distributed. Do I have a motion to accept this? Margaret Martin.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: And Bill Jones. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any opposed?
And with that, we will have the service awards, Carter.
MR. SMITH: All right, somebody is in trouble right off the bat. Let's hear that baby crying. It's -- enough of this. Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the record my name is Carter Smith. Good morning.
One thing I want to do before we kick off, we've got a couple of new colleagues that have come in in leadership positions inside the Agency. I think last time y'all had a chance to meet Kent White, our HR Director. Our next one right here to my right is Josh Havens. Josh has come over to us as a Director of Communications Division. We're awfully excited about the leadership and energy and passion he's already brought to that team and welcome, Josh. Don't hold that UT degree against him for all you Aggies up there. So he's going to do -- yeah, the whoop. Josh, get used to that. It's -- there's a gaggle of them out here.
Also, David Eichler is with us and David is -- is David over here over my right shoulder? David is working with Ross Melinchuk as a Special Advisor to him and so he's got the unenviable task of trying to keep Ross between the lines and so I think David is up to it. And so let's give them a welcome as they've joined our team, so welcome everybody.
(Round of applause)
MR. SMITH: Yesterday we had a chance to talk about the Eastern turkey restoration and stocking program over in East Texas. And one of the things we didn't have a lot of time to talk about were some of the partners that helped make that possible and at the top of the list really is the National Wild Turkey Federation. One of the preeminent wildlife and hunting and conversation organizations in our country. They do so much for our wild turkeys, our habitat, introducing young people into hunting, the outdoors, the shooting sports. Just an extraordinary partner for us in Texas and really help make restoration projects like what we're doing over in East Texas possible with their financial and technical help.
Another thing that they do each year is honor a Game Warden for their extraordinary and exemplary service and we couldn't be more proud to announce that this year one of our own, Daniel Roraback, Game Warden out of Red River County there on the Oklahoma border is named as our National Wild Turkey Conversation Officer of the Year.
Daniel graduated from the Game Warden Academy in 2009. Has been stationed up there in Red River County on the Oklahoma border. Works great with our counterparts in Oklahoma on a variety of issues that transcend the border. Made some great cases on there on aerial permitting issues, criminal trespass. He told me he just had the busiest hunting season over the past year since he got out the Academy. And in addition to just being a fine, fine Game Warden, he's also one of our community leaders and he takes very seriously the responsibility of all of our colleagues out in the field to be embedded in that community.
He's gotten very involved in the National Wild Turkey Federation JAKES Program, which is a program designed to introduce youth into the out of doors and teach them how to hunt responsibly, use firearms. He sponsors a bunch of youth hunting programs there in the county, and has just been a great leader in that regard.
We're privileged to have Shawn Roberts, who's the Director of the Western U.S. Field Operations for the National Wild Turkey Federation and we're going to ask Shawn to come forward as we present this award to Daniel. And so let me ask Shawn to come forward, and then we'll ask Daniel to come back. So, Shawn.
MR. ROBERTS: Thank you, Carter. Just want to say a couple words about Daniel and the National Wild Turkey Federation. I was Regional Director at the time that Daniel was positioned up there in Red River County. He immediately got involved. He is a self-proclaimed turkey hunter, he loves the sport, and that's great. So he came to me and we -- the chapter up there was a little bit of dire straits. We'd had some people that had been running that chapter for several years and they retired and they were ready to move on and I was looking for someone to replace them at their request.
Daniel stepped up and not only did he step up, Kodee his wife stepped up has well. They both got very involved and they turned that chapter around. Next think you know, we're having a JAKES event that he put up himself. He got a -- I think it was four schools that bused kids to a Wednesday JAKES event and really got that town fired back up about the National Wild Turkey Federation and our mission.
As we go forward, we've got a new initiative with the National Wild Turkey Federation. We want to create 1.5 million new hunters in the next ten years. We want to open access to half a million acres to public hunting throughout this nation and want to conserve/enhance another 4 million acres of wildlife habitat across this nation. Texas is a big part of that and I know with partners like Texas Parks and Wildlife and officers as fine as Daniel Roraback, we'll be able to do that. So with that being said, Daniel will be going to our national convention next month. We're looking forward to him having a good time and representing the great state of Texas up there and I'm honored to name Daniel Roraback as our Officer of the Year. So, Daniel.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: You know, one of our flagship programs here at the Agency is our Hunter Education Program. Started in 1972 as a voluntary program. 1988, the Texas Legislature formally authorized it in statute requiring all future hunters born after September 2nd, 1971, to take hunter education. And the -- really the intent of the Legislature was to make sure that all future hunters were trained to hunt safely, responsibly, lawfully, ethically and also knowledgeably.
And really since the program's inception, you know, over 40 years ago, it's done extraordinary things to make sure that our hunting accidents have gone down, our participation in the shooting sports and hunting have gone up. We couldn't have done it without or volunteer instructors around the state. We currently have almost 25, 26, 2700 instructors around the state. Last year, our instructors and our staff trained over 47,000 new hunters helping to introduce them in the support and get them out into the field and we're excited about that.
But the big milestone last year was the certification of the 1 millionth Hunter Ed. graduate and that individual, Dee Harrison from Cedar Hill, took that class under the capable leadership of Suzy Duffeck there at the Grand Prairie Gun Club. And so in honor of that milestone and your Hunter Ed. Program, we asked Dee to come in. We want to get Robert Ramirez, our Hunter Ed. instructor. Terry Erwin, an old colleague from the -- a veteran, not old. A veteran colleague from the Department -- let me quickly correct myself -- who retired recently representing the Hunter Education instructor. We've got a -- we've got a gun to present to Dee. A nice .22 rifle that I know that he will enjoy immensely. So let's ask Dee and Terry and Robert to come up and the Chairman as we present him with this 1 millionth certification.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Rumor has it that Dee and a buddy are going to chase some ducks headed back home and so they're going to hit some of the public lands and he better not use that .22 to shoot them. Am I right, Colonel? So anyway, what a great prize and what a great honor for him and that Hunter Ed. Program. Fun to celebrate that milestone.
We've now got a couple of colleagues that are retiring after, again, literally decades and decades of service. And really over the last six and a half years, I can't remember a time in which Ed Hegen was not here in the audience to help celebrate an award that one of his colleagues there on the coast was receiving. And so it's only fitting today that we honor Ed after 43 years of service to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and as our Regional Director in Coastal Fisheries for 30 years down in Rockport.
Ed started as a technician. Quickly moved up working with the finfish program. Led the Finfish Harvest Program. Robin Riechers and Jeremy and Lance talked about that gillnet sampling program that our fisheries biologists have had in place on the coast for 35 years that just provide very robust scientific data about the health of our fisheries stocks on the coast.
Ed was really one of the pioneers in helping to develop that, utilize it, write the technical series publication on it. He's been at the forefront of every major fisheries management and conservation issue on the coast from Speckled trout to Redfish to protecting our seagrass there through the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area. He's been a great leader. He's also been very well-embedded in that Rockport community. Has served on the local school board, his church board, the Lions Club. Again, just one of those community leaders that we could not have been more proud to have on our team. He and his wife, Annette, celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary recently and that's also great cause for celebration and we're awfully proud of Ed. We're going to miss him, 43 years of service, Ed Hegen. Ed.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: For the record, Ed got a hall pass. There were a lot of stories that could have been told after 43 years; but out of respect to Annette, I kept my mouth shut.
Our next colleague, Gary Garrett, 32 years of service. Dr. Garrett got his PhD there at UT. Studied under the late, but also one of most famous fish biologists in the state, Clark Hubbs. Gary based there in Mountain Home. Published over, you know, 70 scientific papers during his career. Really an expert on rare and unique fish in the state. Just kind of the go-to guy for information on very cryptic and hard to study fish throughout the state. Particularly in Hill Country and desert rivers.
He's been an important part of the faculty at a variety of universities in the state. He's a fellow of the Texas Academy of Science, an adjunct professor at UT, Texas A&M, and Texas State. I first met Gary, I guess it was in the 90s, and there was a little fish there in the Devils River called the Devils River Minnow that folks were at war about and the ranchers were carrying pitchforks and threatening to impale any biologist that came into Val Verde County and -- but the one thing that every one of those folks would tell you who they could trust was Gary Garrett and to this day, has an open invitation and a key to every gate in that country.
Gary just represented us extraordinarily well with great professionalism. 2009, Dr. Garrett became the Director of the Watershed Policy and Management Program with the Inland Fisheries Division and he's done a ton of work on the Hill Country rivers and just, again, represented us very well. Thirty-two years, he's retiring, Dr. Gary Garrett. Gary.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague has also been with us for three decades, Lee Ann Linam and Commissioner Scott will appreciate this. Lee Ann started out there at the that J.D. Murphree WMA there in the marshes around Port Arthur. Learned to jump levees in an airboat and wrestle alligators as she was tasked with leading our alligator harvest and management program. In April of '90, she transferred here to Austin to lead the Endangered Species Program. As Lee Ann will certainly tell you, the 90s and endangered species were a pretty tumultuous time. It was for, again, a wildlife biologist working in that realm, it was -- to borrow a phrase from Robert Penn Warren -- not exactly like Easter week in a nunnery. And Lee Ann held her chin high, and represented this Agency well.
She went on to move up through the Wildlife Diversity Program. All of the citizen science programs that you've heard about, the Nature Trackers, the Whooping Crane Watch, the Mussel Watch, the Amphibian Watch, the Box Turtle Survey, all of those Lee Ann has very capably led those.
She also had another pretty important milestone while she was here at Parks and Wildlife. She met her husband, Gordon Linam, who's a biologist in our Inland Fisheries Program. And so while Lee Ann is retiring after 30 years of proud service to the state of Texas, Gordon is still with us; but today we're celebrates Lee Ann. Lee Ann Linam, 30 years of service. Lee Ann.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague, Todd Imboden, is with State Parks. Retiring after a quarter of a century with this Agency. Todd got his start right here at headquarters. He was part of our maintenance team here in headquarters and worked every shift imaginable helping to take care of this building, anything and everything.
A couple of years after that, Todd got a job in State Parks and became a Park Ranger over at Bastrop State Park. Not long after that, he found a new boss over there. Somebody everybody knows here, Brent Leisure. Todd quickly got the hell out of dodge and moved to San Angelo and enjoyed West Texas for a few years before he got a little saltwater in his veins and he and his family moved to the marshes, Commissioner Scott. It's -- everybody had their start there in some form or fashion and was there at Sea Rim State Park there on the coast for a number of years before Todd and his wife wanted to get closer with their kids back to the grandparents.
And Todd got the job at the Palmetto State Park between Luling and Gonzales. That's a great old CCC park right there on the San Marcos River. Some of you have heard of the old Warm Springs Hospital there that treated polio, folks with polio back in the 40s and 50s and 60s. Our park is right next to that. It's a beautiful spot. The old Ottine swamp is there. Todd and his team have created an extraordinary boardwalk that you can get out and enjoy all those native palmettos there.
There in that little community, he's affectionately known as the "Mayor of Ottine" and Todd is retiring after 25 years of service to this great Agency and so let's celebrate Todd's work here. Todd.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We're now at the end of the service awards and our first one fittingly is Mary Humphrey and Mary has been with us for three decades. Graduated from Stephen F. Austin with a degree in forestry, a minor in game management. Went to work for the State Parks Division there at Guadalupe River State Park when she got out of college and then transferred over to the Piney Woods or back to the Piney Woods where she was a Wildlife Technician before she decided she wanted to get a little closer to her home in Central Texas.
Became a Wildlife Technician there in the Hill Country. Ultimately was promoted to a Wildlife Biologist in 1997, working there in Crockett and Schleicher and Sutton Counties, where she has just got an extraordinary relationship with the ranching community out there in Sonora and Ozona and Eldorado and those communities where she works with them on game and nongame management, deer and turkey and dove and quail.
Throughout her career, she's had a chance to serve as the acting manager for the former Walter Buck Wildlife Management Area near Junction, which is now folded into the South Llano River State Park there. She's worked with a host of species from mountain lions to black bears to you name and she's just a great representative for us out on the Western Edwards Plateau. Mary Humphrey, 30 years of service. Mary.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Brent, we don't have your plaque; so we'll put it in the mail along with your paycheck. So what a more fitting name for a State Park Director, Brent Leisure. Have you ever thought about that? Brent Leisure.
So Brent's had a great career with us starting 30 years ago working as a seasonal park worker while he was a student at Texas Tech, I'll proudly proclaim, going to show you that alums of Texas Tech really are going to take over the world, Brent. So you just keep going. Brent really has worked his way at so many different parks.
Started as a Park Ranger there at Tyler State Park. Moved on to Lake Lewisville. Assistant Superintendent here at McKinney Falls right next door. He was a superintendent at Lake Somerville State Park. He was promoted to the Complex Manager there at Bastrop and Buescher State Parks, again just down the road from us. Before being named State Parks Director, he was our Regional Director there in Central and East Texas.
Just could not have a more consummate professional, an extraordinary servant leader. He has just served this state and your fine park system so, so very, very well. We're awfully proud of Brent Leisure, 30 years of service. Brent.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague, Brent Bumguardner, has also been with us 30 for years there in our Coastal Fisheries Division. He started out there at the Perry R. Bass Hatchery there in Palacios as a technician. Worked his way up to a biologist very, very quickly. Really instrumental in developing a lot of the fish rearing and culture techniques for propagating trout and redfish and flounder. He's -- was promoted in 1993, where he worked on marine fish life history research projects looking at spawning and age and growth rates and survival on everything, Red drum, Black drum, trout, flounder, tarpon, snook, you name it. I mean he's just studied everything in our marine waters.
He was promoted to the Manager position there in 2004. Currently continuing his research there at the facility. Doing a great job of representing us there in that Palacios community and along the coast. Today we're celebrating 30 years of service, Brent Bumguardner. Brent.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Well, we mysteriously found Brent's plaque and so let's haul him back up here and -- as opposed to that invisible one, so.
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague is also from Coastal Fisheries, Michael Robertson. Been with us for 30 years. Actually started out there in Law Enforcement there in Corpus as a Fish and Wildlife Technician. Took care of all of the vehicles and boats and trailers for our District 10 there in Law Enforcement.
Moved over to Coastal Fisheries -- I'm glad somebody poached somebody from Law Enforcement after yesterday, Craig, your comments. And so Michael moved over to Coastal Fisheries where he's a Fish and Wildlife Technician there responsible for a whole host of things there with hatchery operations at what used to be called the John Wilson Fish Hatchery. Now, of course, the CCA Marine Development Center that some of y'all have been to in Flower Bluff. And Michael intimately -- was intimately involved with production of redfish and trout and all the species that our hatchery biologists and technicians are working on the coast to making sure that we're able to enjoy a very healthy and bountiful fishery. We're very proud of Michael, 30 years of service, Michael Robertson. Michael.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague, Clemente Guzman in our Communications Division. Clemente has got an extraordinary life story. Just an amazing, amazing man. Started out with our Communications Division in something called repographics. Josh and I are too young to know what the hell that is; but we now call that Creative Services, I think.
And for those of you who don't know Clemente, you know him through his artwork. Clemente is an extraordinary illustrator. I mean an amazing illustrator and painter. Just painstaking accuracy in terms of his depictions of the lands and waters and fish and wildlife and habitat of the state and you see Clemente's artwork, whether it's the cover of the Parks and Wildlife Magazine; whether it's the Game Warden memorial poster; whether all of the old posters celebrating expo, the Great Texas Birding Classics, the River Centers at San Marcos Springs, the Parks and Wildlife Christmas cards. Clemente is the pen and ink behind it and he's just an extraordinarily talented individual. We're very blessed and fortunate to have him on our team. Clemente Guzman, 25 years of service. Clemente.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague, Tammy Schulle, is again one of the great backbones of this Agency. Part of our Administrative Resources team. She's been with us for 25 years. Started her career in Boat Registration in 1988; but ten years after that, she transferred over to lead our Lifetime License section and anybody that has had the pleasure of dealing with Tammy will absolutely tell you she takes customer service to new heights.
I've got the privilege to get a lot of letters that come to the Agency. Most of them are good. Every once in a while we'll get an outlier; but when it comes to Tammy, they are also excellent and our customers just rave about her helpfulness, her responsiveness, her service, her problem solving skills. I've been stopped two times in airports around the state wearing a Parks and Wildlife shirt, asked if I know Tammy Schulle and because she's helped them with their lifetime license issue and most recently Tammy was on that license transition team as we transitioned from the Verizon system into the Gordon-Darby system and so she spent months and months and months and months helping us test that system to make sure that we got it right and we're awfully proud of her. Tammy Schulle, 25 years of service. Tammy.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We've got another colleague that's been us for 25 years in Wildlife, Judit Green. And Judit is one of our Wildlife Biologists. We'll talk about that in just a minute.
She started as a Fish and Wildlife Technician in Tyler, and she worked for five or six years in the Piney Woods area. In the early 90s, our Wildlife Division recognized the importance of stationing wildlife biologists in our urban communities around the state so that we could help bring information about hunting and the outdoors and wildlife management to citizens in urban areas that were far detached from that and Judit knew that that was something that she was going to be interested in.
Apparently, she also had a deathly fear of public speaking and so she enrolled in Toastmasters and worked her way through that and now, as her husband and colleagues proclaim, she can't quick talking. And Judit does a great job there in San Antonio. She engages members of the community on all kinds of issues there in Central and South Texas. She's just a delight to work with.
She started the first Master Naturalist chapter there in San Antonio, which led to the creation of the whole statewide program. We celebrated, I believe, 10 or 15 years of that program and so she's been at the forefront of our urban outreach and education. Twenty-five years of service, Judit Green. Judit.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague is another Wildlife Biologist with the Agency, Matt Wagner. And Matt has also been with us 25 years. He started out as a Biologist there in the State Parks Division helping develop management plans, prescribed fire plans, invasive species control in parks and Central and West Texas. He was part of the team that did the initial biological inventory on Big Bend Ranch State Park when the Agency acquired that special tract of land out near Presidio.
In 1991, he moved over to the Wildlife Division to help lead our Nongame Program. Matt was really at the forefront of creating that urban wildlife program that we just talked about with Judit and creating those positions in San Antonio and Dallas and Houston. Also, Matt at that time recognized the growing interest in nonconsumptive users of wildlife and so at that time, the Agency started working on promoting wildlife viewing and nature study and the coastal birding trails and other things around the state and Matt was really at the forefront of that.
In '98, Matt transferred to College Station and as an Aggie, said that was about a mecca for an Aggie, and stationed there at Nagle Hall that has produced a lot of fish and wildlife biologists for this Agency. As a technical guidance biologist, worked with landowners on hundreds of thousands of acres there in the Post Oak Savannah area of Texas. Helped start a big watershed initiative along the Trinity River, which in 2009, Governor Perry honored as one of those kind of signature landowner community led projects around the state.
Matt returned to Austin in 2006 to lead our Wildlife Diversity Program. 2010, he was promoted to the Deputy Director of Wildlife, in which he handles all kinds of administrative and fiscal and programmatic activities for the Wildlife Division. Essentially, everything Clayton doesn't want to do. And Matt does it very, very, very, very well. Led the division strategic plan. Matt is an adjunct faculty member at A&M. He got his PhD while working full time for the Department. He's also the past president of the Texas Society for Range Management and current president of the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society; so he represents us very, very well in the natural resource profession. Twenty-five years of service, Dr. Matt Wagner. Matt.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague, Chris Thibodeaux, has been with us for 20 years. He started out as a seasonal employee there for Coastal Fisheries at the Marine Development Center in Flower Bluff. Again, working with the hatchery program on rearing trout and redfish and flounder. He then transferred in '95 as a Technician over to the old Dow Chemical rearing ponds over in Freeport and that was kind of the predecessor for the Sea Center facility that we have now that's one of the great flagship sites for the Agency and the Coastal Fisheries Division.
In '97, he moved over as a Biologist and later the Hatchery Manager there at the Perry R. Bass facility there in Palacios, where he oversaw all of those hatchery operations. It was in 2003 when he rode out Hurricane Claudette when that area took a direct hit, at that time Chris began looking around and said I like what those Inland Fishery biologists do. And so Chris and his family moved over to San Marcos to the A.E. Wood Hatchery and has worked as a Hatchery Biologist working on Florida bass, Channel cats, Guadalupe bass, Rainbow trout and Bluegill, Striped bass, you name it.
And Chris has been involved in so many programs inside the Agency from expo to invasive species stuff. He got the Outstanding Fisheries Worker in Fish Culture from the Texas Chapter of the Americans Fisheries Society in 2012. Most recently he's been instrumental in the rearing program for Guadalupe bass and the restocking of fingerlings in the Hill Country rivers. I think last year he was involved in stocking over 360,000 fingerlings in the South Llano and Blanco rivers; so he serves our state and our rivers and our fisheries and our fishermen very, very well. Chris Thibodeaux, 20 years of service, Inland Fisheries. Chris.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We've had a chance today to really celebrate the careers of a lot of our technicians and biologists and park superintendents and others that are really on the front lines of taking care of the State's fish and wildlife and parks. But, you know, there's a backbone to all of that and that's our colleagues in Administration that really help make all of that possible and I think all of us would attest that we absolutely cannot do our job without our colleagues in Administration.
And so it's a special pleasure to honor Liz Castro in State Parks for her 20 years service. She started out there at the regional office in State Parks in Rockport. In 1993, started out as a Clerk. She promoted up to the Staff Services Officer. More recently, she's been one of our key trainers in State Parks for the Administrative Park Operations Training, helping to equip our administrative staff with the requisite and necessary skills to support our park operations, your 94 parks and historic sites and natural areas around the state.
She's our Regional Purchaser and she's working on her Certified Texas Purchaser Certificate and I feel certain she'll get that soon. We're awfully proud of Liz. Twenty years of service in Rockport, Texas, Liz Castro. Liz.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, that concludes my presentation. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: At this time, anybody who would like to remain for our regular meeting is welcome to. Otherwise, it's a good time to leave the room and we're going to take just a couple of minute break and we'll get going.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right, we're going to proceed with our meeting and take care of business we were -- we came for today.
The first order of action is to approve the agenda. I want to announce that Agenda Item No. 4, the Adoption of Use of Noxious and Toxic Substances to Capture Nongame Wildlife, has been withdrawn from this agenda. However, we're honored today to have Representative Susan King from Abilene who represents Jones, Nolan, and Taylor County to address the Commission.
Representative King, would you like to come.
REP. SUSAN KING: Thank you, Commissioners. It's my honor to be here to address you. Usually it's the other way around that I'm sitting in your chair at the Capitol and someone is addressing us. Hopefully, I will be as respectful of you and that's my intent, as many times the Legislatures in the Capitol are not respectful -- we won't go there -- for people that are testifying.
Before I say anything and I -- please turn on these buttons. I don't want any exception for me. Go ahead and turn on your buttons, Mr. Smith, Executive Director. A lot of people complain that people in the Legislature and Congress don't have to follow by the same rules and I disagree with that, so I will go by these little lights.
Before I go any further, we did have a public hearing in Sweetwater, Texas, which is in Nolan. Of course everyone knows that they are famous for their rattlesnake roundup. When I spoke to Parks and Wildlife in this building in November, I said please allow one of these hearings to be in Sweetwater. They have the most skin in the game and no pun intended there. I will tell you that there were over 200 people there. Parks and Wildlife was respectful, professional, they didn't roll their eyes, they didn't look at these farmers and ranchers and others who came in in their garb and their buttons and everything and were very colorful in their testimony; but respectful. I've never seen an Agency -- and I'm going to got out on a limb and say this -- that has been that respectful to a group of people that had no idea what we said that day. They weren't pushed, they weren't cut off, and so I thank you, Director Smiths, and I believe I've seen enough agencies in my short time in the Legislature to be able to make that comment. That's my opinion and I'm sticking with it, even though we don't agree in everything with regards to this issue.
So I would like to make a couple of comments. No. 1 -- and I'm going to have to go ahead put on my glasses -- thank you for listening to this. I know that you're volunteers, I believe. You're Gubernatorial appointees, but I don't believe you receive a salary for this; but you're taking time from your profession to be here, and thank you for that. Collaboration and transparency is mandatory with the Legislature. If we are not transparent, we are roundly criticized for that; so I believe that perhaps there have been some gaps along the way. Yes, the fuming or the allowing of fumes to encourage snakes to leave their habitat has been going on years and years. I believe that collaboration at this point, if we're going to move through with any regulation, needs to be very transparent and effective. We have worked with the Commission -- I mean with the Wildlife Institute here, but not everyone in the Legislature and other places has. What we find is there's this -- they're not on. I can see that.
MR. SMITH: You're okay.
REP. SUSAN KING: So what happens is the Legislature feels that because we are elected individuals, that we need to do everything with regarding statute; but we know that's not the case. That things happen in rule, and rule has the force of law. So we want to be very, very careful that we're in the game. That we're alongside you and whatever rules are promulgated to make it fair and transparent for those involved.
Clearly, I am not objective in this. I'll just say it. I am a native Houstonian. I went kicking and screaming to Abilene, Texas. I said if you make me move there, I'm going to go back to Houston every single weekend to do things I want. I don't want to go to West Texas. I will have no children.
When you make an immature threat, you eat a lot of blackbirds called crow and baby grackles. I don't know. They're federally protected. You know that don't you? Yes. So to continue on, I want to be collaborative with this. We found that as we discussed all this, there were people in leadership, perhaps the Governor's Office was very attentive to us, and we want everyone to know. It seems like a small thing; but in our district, it's a very, very large thing. It's very large and I think it runs the whole gamut of concern.
Are we doing things that are dangerous to the snakes? Is it their surrounding habitat? You know all the issues. The karst environment. Which the rattlesnakes I've seen, I'm not sure how well you could describe it that way because quite frankly, as we said in the hearing, no one can go in there after they have come out of that environment to see what is there. And having kept snakes at my house with my son, a ball python who was really sad and died of anorexia, even A&M's vet school would not take that snake. And then once -- I'll just come full forth to talk about transparency. My son captured an Indigo King snake, which is illegal evidently. We didn't know until we got home and he opened the pillowcase and showed us. We still didn't know. We ended up giving it back to the zoo for an inter-loan educational transfer agreement, whatever that is, so we wouldn't be taking this endangered or protected species.
So I really want everyone to join together to make the best rule, if there's any rule needed at all. The Governor's Office, again, was very interested in what we had to say. They were not in the loop they didn't feel. We also had a group with the House and Senate -- this is in the Legislature -- called the Texas Conservative Coalition. It was always interested in process, transparency, and perhaps expansion of government or overreach. You hear those buzzwords every day if you tune in to Fox News and other places.
We can argue all day about the scientific validity of this. I am not a biologist. I am a health care professional. I have eaten rattlesnake. I have held a rattlesnake, but that's not what I'm trying to tell you now. We really would strongly want to reach out with all the great universities. Yes, Texas Tech. We have two branches of that in Abilene actually, pharmacy and nursing. But whether it be UT or A&M or someone to do infield research now to really see the impact on what it is. We know you have to have a permit to catch these animals. Perhaps there needs, at the risk of expanding government, maybe there needs to be a permit for use of this type of substance. Maybe there needs to be a parameter on how much.
But then again, I hesitate to have someone as experienced and as vital in our wildlife scenario such as a Game or Park Ranger to come up to be doing this as an enforcement. I will tell you that I welcome each one of you -- I don't know if you would come -- to either come to the Rattlesnake Roundup and see that it is done professionally. We're not sensationally executing animals to scare and heighten the process in front of children. I've been there many times.
One time we even had a live, remote educational feed with children to listen and talk about safety of seeing snakes and being cautioned, cautionary when you're in the wildlife area. The problem with that is many times people would call in saying are you talking about snakes the reptiles or snakes that may be sitting in seats in the Capitol? And I really didn't like to juxtapose -- juxtaposition or the analogy of that, but I certainly understand what they were getting at.
So I will close in saying thank you for listening. I will be very, very active in this. As I told you, I have not been from West Texas my whole life. The only animal that I was glad to see go was the Houston toad, which many of you from Houston I think are too young to have been around that; but it was such -- I guess it was the pesticides. I don't know. But I remember as a young child walking barefooted through my front yard in Houston and the grass moving. I thought it's not windy out here, and it was those toads. So I do think we have to figure out a way to coexist with animals and do things that are reasonable and that's what I am asking for is reasonable transparency and hard scientific data. Not in a plexiglass aquarium or some type of field study -- I mean lab study that would not say definitively.
I respect these animals greatly, but I also feel that we must look at all the aspects of it. I certainly dispute a petition that came through. I have mentioned this to Carter Smith and Mr. Davis. The dissent with very few signers, with no attributions scientifically or academically as they sent it. Even people from out of the United States signed on. And that's a fun thing to do in your spare time is sign on to online petitions. So I feel that after I studied and saw the authors of them being from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Colorado, that maybe we need to use our resources in a better way and do our own research, our own Texas study, and not jump up -- with all due respect -- on a petition that was received and responded to; but certainly not to be the segue for a rule that may not impact Houston, Texas. I understand the difference, trust me. I'm fourth generation native Houstonian. But make sure that we understand the impact on all parts of Texas, which is difficult. We're so big and so geographically diverse. I don't think any of you are from West Texas. You may have been there; but that's always a concern for us, the rural Legislators.
We have 15 West of I-35 and, yes, we have 75 percent of the land mass. That's our choice and I would -- I always threatened I would move back to Houston. I did not do that. But we want to make sure that what we do is a definitive, scientific, and proven rule that will make a difference and not acted on by people that are concerned about what might be. I understand the issue with endangered species and the watch list and protected -- see, this is what happens when you didn't turn this on.
But it's very, very important to me. We know today, even yesterday in Abilene one of our Railroad Commissioners, Christi Craddick said that the Sage Dune Brush Lizard issue is back again. So will we halt definitively oil and gas production in the state? I don't know. That's not my issue today. Thank you for listening. I really appreciate it and I please hope you'll take our calls and responses if we try to contact you. I don't know. Is that legit? Can we do that?
MR. SMITH: Yes, ma'am, of course.
REP. SUSAN KING: Okay.
MR. SMITH: Absolutely.
REP. SUSAN KING: But thanks again to Parks and Wildlife. They have great events. I've bought many things from their auctions and collaborative things. They're fine gentlemen and women. Thank you very much, and thank you for your service.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Representative King, thank you for taking time to come address the Commission. We take our job very serious and we're going to look at all sides of the issue and then we'll see where we end up, but thank you.
Moving ahead, I notice that approval of the agenda, I have read the agenda; but we did not get approval. Do I have a motion to approve the agenda? Scott.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
MR. SMITH: Morian second. Opposed -- in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Opposed?
All right, first -- second item on our agenda today is Target Range Grant, Nancy Herron, please. Hi, Nancy.
MS. HERRON: Hi there. Good morning, Commissioners, Chairman Hughes, Mr. Smith. I'm Nancy Herron. I'm the Outreach and Education Director and I'm here this morning to ask for approval to proceed on two Target Range Grant applications.
It's been a while since we've been before you, so I'll take -- give you a very brief recap of the Target Range Grants. The -- there we go. The Target Range Grants are meant to improve public access, to save shooting facilities by providing funding for construction or improvement to ranges, building hunter education classrooms, roads, parking, restrooms, and secure storage areas. These are federal dollars that are available through the Hunter Education apportion of our federal funds and they come from excise taxes on the manufacture of handguns and archery equipment.
The funding may be used by TPWD or as pass-through grants to both the public and private sectors. They're matching grants and we provide reimbursement of 75 percent of the cost of the range construction or improvement. So I have just a few very quick examples to give you from some recent grants.
Here's the American Shooting Range in Houston who installed a 22-range for hunter education. Elm Fork Shotgun Sports outside of downtown Dallas used grant funds to develop a rifle and pistol range, roads, and storage areas. Pines Sporting Clays located just outside the city limits of Lufkin created a skeet field and range lighting. Washington County Hunter Education Training Center created an indoor range on the grounds of Brenham High School, and they also created an education classroom at the high school as well. So this gives you just a little feel for what these grants do.
This map shows the location of ranges that have been helped by TPWD grants. Since 1984, we've provided nearly $4 million to 65 -- in -- through 65 grants, 38 ranges and 26 counties. Each one of these ranges made a 25-year commitment to be open for public use and available for hunter education.
Today, we are asking for permission to pursue two grants indicated by the stars. One in North Texas in Wise County and in Hildalgo County in South Texas. Exhibit A is Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds. They are located in Decatur in Wise County. They are wanting to construct a hunter education classroom and improve parking facilities to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. They serve hunters, youth shooting sports, scouts, 4-H, university students and ROTC, and their project costs should be about 220,000 and they are asking for $90,000.
Exhibit B, our second grant application, is from the Mission Skeet and Trap Club in Mission, Texas, in Hildalgo County. They are wanting to do safety improvements to their archery range, including expanding a 3-D target range and upgrading backstops for their archery ranges. The project will cost $21,313 and they are requesting $15,813.
So the staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the following motion: The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes the Executive Director to execute contracts funding the projects at Exhibits A and B, pending availability of funds and federal approval to proceed.
And I would just like to explain that with your approval to proceed, the applicants will need to comply with all kinds of applicable federal and state statutes, that they'll need to demonstrate and that includes things with civil rights, Americans with Disability -- Americans with Disabilities Act, environmental requirements, health and safety codes, local ordinances, biological assessments, and archaeological clearances. It will then go through an approval with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a contract with Parks and Wildlife, and then they'll need to stay in compliance during that grant period. And with that, I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Thank you, Nancy. Any discussion or questions by the Commission? Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just a quick question. Just I'm curious. I did not realize we got federal grants for this stuff. What is kind of a total that is available every year to us?
MS. HERRON: That has varied, and it depends on how much money is available through the Wildlife Restoration Act. We have a big hunk of money right now, and that's why we hadn't -- you hadn't seen us in a few years. We didn't have much money recently, and so that can vary. It has been in the 240, 120,000 range. Last year it was like 70,000. This year we have 1.9 million to work with.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Wow.
MS. HERRON: So we're just beginning a new process that we will look more strategically at the Target Range applications seeking some others -- I'll share with you one additional slide I had just in case you were interested in this and where the target ranges exist in the state of Texas. These are not ones that we have necessarily helped; but we're looking more strategically at where they are, where they need to be, and where we can help. And this represents both archery, as well as shotgun, pistol, and rifle. We do anticipate with the increase of sales of handguns recently, that we'll have a second year of a high amount of money. So we'll be looking at pass-through grants, as well as maybe building something in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Ralph.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I have a quick question, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right, Commissioner Jones.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Does someone lay eyes on these places to ensure that they need the things that they're asking for?
MS. HERRON: Yes, there is a range -- there are range inspections. Again, the -- there are multiple stages of inspections and approvals that include biological assessments, archaeological, etcetera, as well as visiting with these applicants that they know what commitment they're getting into. And then as this is being created and after the fact, they need to comply with the standards through the National Rifle Association Range Management Standards. We have local field staff that go out periodically and visit, but there's a bona fide range inspection that goes on as well.
COMMISSIONER JONES: And -- but my question was specifically beforehand.
MS. HERRON: Beforehand.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Like as of now, somebody has laid eyes on these two places to make sure they need the upgrade and the ADA standards and the other such requests that they're making?
MS. HERRON: That's an excellent question. I can't say that that has occurred, so I -- we can -- Robert, can you help me there? Have they -- this is Robert Ramirez with Hunter Education.
MR. RAMIREZ: In Hildalgo County, that range has received federal pass-through grants in the past. We have been at that facility. The Fossil Pointe facility, we have not been on at this time.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Did they send a picture or something? I'm --
MS. HERRON: Yes, yes. I'm --
COMMISSIONER JONES: I mean I want to make sure that somebody has verified that they need the things that they're asking for. That's all. So has that happened either by picture, video, or walk the premises?
MR. RAMIREZ: Correct. They -- in the grant application, they sent aerial photos as well as their facilities that they have right now. Currently, none of the roads that they have at their facility are paved and they are concerned, again, with accessibility with those that are in a wheelchair and so those are the things that they're looking for as they partner with more high school shooting teams in the DFW/Denton County area.
COMMISSIONER JONES: And more importantly, you have verified that they're -- that they're -- I can't recall what it was. It was a parking facility. They don't have the parking facility that they need for the ADA standards currently?
MR. RAMIREZ: Correct. Currently, they're parking is caliche road base throughout their facility right now and their aerial photography illustrates that --
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. RAMIREZ: -- in their grant application.
MS. HERRON: And we have the draw -- as well as the photos, the engineering drawings, etcetera. But, yeah, we do have the aerial photos.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. And we've ensured that the Hildalgo County needs the safety improvements, whatever that happens to be, in the archery range?
MS. HERRON: These are baffles that they're going to be putting -- backstops that they'll put in.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Right. They don't currently have that?
MS. HERRON: That's correct.
MR. RAMIREZ: Correct.
COMMISSIONER JONES: And we've verified that?
MR. RAMIREZ: Yes, they -- again, they've sent the photos of --
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. RAMIREZ: -- what their current archery range is right now. It is more of a target range with an awning and backstops. They're wanting to expand to a 3-D range to include that explorer bow hunting option to their hunter education that they teach there at the facility.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay, all right.
MR. SMITH: Commissioners, you know, given that we've got a larger infusion of funds coming in through the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act -- and by the way, Commissioner, that's that excise tax and that hunters and shooters pay whenever they're buying sporting goods and firearms and so forth that go to support wildlife conservation and the shooting range program. That's the genesis of those funds that you asked about.
You know, as we're looking at our administration and management of this program going forward more strategically, one of the things we can certainly look at is the possibility for a mandatory site inspection before we bring a recommendation to the Commission and so let us talk about that and then come back with some revised procedures in terms of how we administer this and are prepared to present things to y'all.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Vice-Chairman Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Nancy, a couple things or questions. Do we wait for these -- I guess in this example, did we wait for Wise County to come to us to seek this grant or do we actively go out and try to promote these type of improvements or facilities?
MS. HERRON: We do promote it. This is on our website, through e-mails and presentations. However -- and, again, thanks to Mr. Smith -- we're going to go to a more comprehensive process. So basically we're catching these folks who have -- were in a prior process. But we want, moving forward, to have a more comprehensive outreach to solicit grant applications. Especially with the larger funding that we have available to us now. So we will have a more comprehensive process, but they did -- there was notice that went out with the deadline and application process, etcetera.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I'm glad to hear that we're going to be more proactive going --
MS. HERRON: Yes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- forward in perhaps looking for opportunities.
MS. HERRON: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And in that regard, I noticed that a number of these were rifle range or pistol ranges. So I would like to suggest we try to promote some that might be archery or at least have an archery phase or portion to it, number one. And No. 2, I would like to see us make an effort to inquire of the applicants what they're doing to broaden the user group and to go, for example, to schools and particularly in urban areas and see if they can't interest some inner city children or parents in perhaps taking something up that they might not otherwise take up and maybe who don't have equipment -- for example, don't have a firearm or a bow and arrow -- to see if we can't move this to a different audience than those youth who've got parents that are already fully engaged in this.
I mean obviously love to have them, but I'm just suggesting with this greater -- with the greater funds, we probably try to coordinate with the other programs we have on trying to attract new users, if you will, in urban areas.
MS. HERRON: It's an excellent point, and I don't think we've been positioned in a better place than before now with our community archery initiative. We have a wonderful archery range that's being created in the Houston area and we are looking at creating an archery outdoor skills center in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that I'm looking forward to coming back to you with that and, yeah, the archery is just escalating, the interest in archery, and it's a great entry level shooting sport as well. So, yes, absolutely. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right. With no more -- no more questions, Nancy, thank you very much.
MS. HERRON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Is there a motion -- excuse me?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Move approval.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Move for approval?
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Duggins and Martin. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Opposed? All right, moving forward. Thank you, Nancy.
Action Item No. 3, Exotic Species Rule Amendments Regarding Draining Water from Vessels and Portable Containers. Ken, please come forward. Oh, you're already forward.
MR. KURZAWSKI: God morning, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski in Inland Fisheries Division, and today I'm going to recap our proposed changes to the water draining rules that have as their primary purposes of impacting the spread of Zebra mussels.
As we discussed yesterday, those rules that you put into effect from the last Commission meeting, require that water be drained from vessels leaving and approaching public water and this includes any receptacles, bilges, or any other container that would have come in contact with public water while those vessels were out on our public waters and this would apply to all the public water bodies in the listed counties. That initial list included 17 counties, and it covers all areas where boats can be launched.
We did have some exceptions to that. We do have -- allow travel between access sites on the same water body during the same day. When we initially started on some regulations in this area, one of the first reservoirs that we had these rules, the precursor to these rules, that was Lake Texoma. There's active Striper guides up there and we wanted them to be able to if they were fishing one area of the lake during the course of a day and the wind came up and they want to take their clients to another area, we allowed them to do that. Take out and travel by a direct route to another access area on that lake during the same day without draining their water if they had bait fish or Stripers.
We did have an exception, governmental activities during collection of water. For instance, for water sampling and if there's any sort of emergency. Marine sanitary systems would be exempted and also commercially purchased live bait. If you bought some minnows at a bait store and you had a receipt for that, you'd be able to take those in the water onto these listed water bodies, listed -- in these listed counties.
The proposed rule that we mentioned yesterday was we were proposing to add 30 additional counties, including Bell and Coryell, which were recently where we found the Zebra mussels in Lake Belton. We did have the same have the same restrictions as those initial -- the initial rules and we did create an exemption that would allow off-site weigh-ins if confined to one lake and one weigh-in during the course of one day and the anglers participating in those organized tournaments would have to have some sort of documentation from the tournament organizers to prove that they were involved in that tournament, going to these areas that the Game Wardens would be able to verify.
This is what the initial 17 counties that we proposed, 30 counties that add to that would encompass these areas. And we did have -- for summary comment -- public comment, we did have two public meetings. Had Waco and Austin and we had two attendees or two attendees in Waco that were opposed to these proposed rules. And on most of our -- most of the additional comments we received are through our web comment. We've received a few additional since I've updated this slide, but it doesn't change the basic percentages there. And as I mentioned yesterday, we did have some people commenting that the rule should probably be -- both support and opposing the rules. That possibly consider taking them statewide and also concern expressed by some guides that operate, taking -- collecting fish in one lake and taking live fish to another lake were opposed to these rules.
So if you have any additional comments or questions that I can answer at this time; otherwise this would be our --
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions for Ken? Ralph.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I support this, as I said yesterday; but I want to reiterate my request that staff -- excuse me -- come back as soon as possible with its recommendations on expanding this to as much as a statewide area because of the extraordinary risk this invasive species presents to our state and to our water systems and our businesses and I think it also highlights the huge problem we face with exotics, invasive exotics, and I hope that since Representative King is here, that maybe she will help us next session restore funding for dealing with invasive aquatic.
As you may know, at one point we did have -- we had a request in our LAR for that and I think it got stripped out, didn't it, Carter?
MR. SMITH: Well, but it did get restored last session and so we worked with the Appropriations Committee and so we had funding restored. I think one of the things we do want to work with the Legislature on is looking at the possibility for expanding that, given the threats that we're seeing around the state and the impacts to marinas and lakes and businesses and utilities and anglers and all of those economies that are dependent upon those aquatic systems that are being inundated by these species.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And I think as an example, Florida, the state of Florida I think has, what, 7 or $8 million a year to fight invasive species and we just -- we face a huge battle here, and so we could use any help you could consider providing. I just wanted to use this as an example because of the risks that it presents to the state. Thank you, Ken.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any more questions for, Ken? Dick Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: As I stated yesterday and as Carter has made abundantly clear, since I spent the first 25 years of my life down in the swamps, this is a very serious threat and I'll be glad to help on the River Authorities is the ones I know; but we need to be cognizant of how serious this is for the Houston area, for the Beaumont/Port Arthur area. All of those that depend on massive amounts of cooling water everything, both for power generation and for a huge amount of manufacturing complexes, this cannot be overplayed because this will be a serious economic impact on the state of Texas if we don't act on it. So I support whatever we need to do on that.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right. Ken, thank you. We have two individuals signed up to speak today. First is Bob Maindelle and then, Rick Smith, be ready please. Bob.
MR. MAINDELLE: Good morning. I appreciate y'all letting me be here. What I have to say will take three minutes if I talk really fast, so much your ears hurt; or if you could give me three minutes and 17 seconds, it will be that much better. Could I do that? All right.
My name is Bob Maindelle. I'm a veteran, and a bi-vocational pastor and fishing guide. I operate an all-catch-and-release guide service on Belton Lake. I'm here to, again, request that TPWD include an exception in the Zebra mussel regulations allowing fishing guides to net bait on a given body of water, transport that bait over the road, and use that bait at any access point on the same body of water from which it was netted within a 24-hour period. It's a common practice on bodies of water where hybrid Stripers exist to net bait in the evening and use that bait early in the following morning after tending to that bait stored in a bait tank overnight.
Speaking from 22 years experience in chasing hybrids, there are times a year when there is simply no substitute for the use of lively baits. There are several scenarios in this arrangement is not just convenient, but very necessary. Scenario one, when winds or storms are forecast for early morning hours before a morning trip is to begin, bait must be netted the night before in order to avoid jeopardizing safety and avoid risking the possibility of not being able to access bait at all. Scenario two, when both a.m. and p.m. trips are scheduled on the same day, especially in the hot months when bait mortality is higher, enough bait for the following morning must be netted the night before, then additional fresh bait can be added to the tank to be kept for a much shorter length of time; thus providing enough bait for both trips, thus keeping all the bait fresh, and thus not having to risk no bait at all for the morning trip. Other scenarios exist.
I was concerned to see the following phrase in Section 3(B) of the proposed rule, quote, there is no cost of compliance. The proposed amendments will not impose any direct adverse economic affects on small business or micro-businesses, end quote.
This is not the case. For example, one, if I'm not able to capture bait the night before a trip and hold it overnight for use the following morning, I risk not being able to find and capture bait at all; thus forcing a trip cancellation. Example two, if I must compete with guides on unregulated lakes where the catch-at-night-use-it-in-the-morning practices are lawful, I'll be at a competitive disadvantage. Example three, if I must net bait and launch to fish from the same location, my expenditure of time and fuel sharply rises. All three of these are examples of adverse economic affects.
I don't want to be one to point out a problem and then offer no solution, so I've drafted language. It's brief. It's modeled after the fishing tournament exemption, which would allow mitigation of these adverse economic affects, while assuring no inter-reservoir water transfer occurs. And I've prepared copies of that draft for you. Further, I'm quit open to any manor of text-in, phone-in, or email-in reporting proactively forecasting my planned activities so there's an established record of my intentions for use of my bait should any question arise.
Do y'all have an questions about what I've just communicated?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I would like to ask Ken a question. Ken, do we -- I'm reading right now travel between access sites on the same body of water during the same day. So what he's saying -- what we're saying, you can't catch it one evening and use it the next morning, is that correct, catch bait?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Yes, it does have the -- by the most --
MR. MAINDELLE: Direct route.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Most direct route and the intent was during the course of one day's activities, to do that. You know, there's the enforcement concern that if you start moving away from that body of water going to, you know, another place of business, that we don't really know where they're -- that water is coming from then. That's difficult to track.
And I guess the one way that you can operate within that, if you take your bait, transfer them into a tank in the back of your truck that had water from a different source, you could keep those fish as long as you want, transport them back to the lake the next day, transfer them back to your boat, and use them in that manner. I know there's -- that -- there is some -- you know, that is more work. Certainly that involves more work than just keeping them in your live well with the lake water.
COMMISSIONER JONES: One of the things that we struggle with is during conversation yesterday -- because our number one priority is to stop the spread of invasive species in lakes and bodies of waters in Texas, and in doing so, I don't think we can suggest that there will not be an affect on anglers and people in business. It's impossible to pass any rule or regulation that doesn't affect the daily lives of the people who fish and who support fish.
What we have to do is -- what we're trying to do is balance the spread as best we can, to some inconvenience for all, and we even discussed yesterday why are we limiting it to the 30 counties that we're looking to add in this regulation, why don't we do it statewide and just make it a statewide practice, which would address one of the issues that you raised --
MR. MAINDELLE: The competitiveness, yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- the competitiveness. So why is my competitor in Lubbock or some other place not having to do this, Falcon Lake, not having to do this, but -- over in East Texas or Northeast Texas we're having -- and quite frankly, we are not done with this because we are seriously considering just making it a statewide ban because it's happening. It's spreading. And so why not just make it apply to everybody, and everybody has to comply with the same rule.
So I hear -- we hear what you're saying. But at least from my viewpoint -- and I can't speak for the entire Board, we're all going to vote whatever we think is best; but we are asking the fishing population to put up with some inconvenience so we can try to stop these mussels and I'm sorry for that.
MR. MAINDELLE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER JONES: We really would rather not have to do that, but...
MR. MAINDELLE: The -- and I just wanted to reiterate that what I'm requesting involves no transfer of water outside of the single body of water in which both the bait netting and the fishing activity using that bait would occur. There is no transfer of water outside of that system.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Here is our scenario. Our deal is what if, for whatever reason, the fishing trip is canceled anyway. Then what do you do with the water? Do you drive all the way back to the lake to dump it back into the lake, or are most people just going to dump it wherever it's convenient for them to dump? Which may be their driveway or out in the pasture somewhere or in some other lake. And I hear what you're saying. We don't fuss with you that you wouldn't do that.
MR. MAINDELLE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER JONES: But what we're trying to do is set up a rule and regulation that makes it -- that stops the spread. I mean that's at least my viewpoint of it and I can't speak for everybody else and there are other ways to accomplish what you need to accomplish. Freshwater from some other place. From, you know, from your backyard water hose in a separate container. There are ways to maneuver and still be able to do business.
MR. MAINDELLE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any other comments to, Bob? Bob, thanks. It's a point well taken. We will discuss it, but I do think today that the amendment the way it's presented is probably going to be passed by the Commission. But thanks. It's a good point and understand your situation and we will discuss it a little further.
MR. MAINDELLE: Okay, thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Thank you.
Second to speak today is Rick Smith.
MR. RICK SMITH: Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you and I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to talk a little bit about this rule and regulation. I am Rick Smith and as I introduced myself back in November, I'm president of the Boating Trades Association of Texas and also president of the Central Texas Marine Association and we participate in bass tournaments throughout the state. Tuff Man is one of our trails along with Fishing for Freedom, which is an organization that gives military personnel an opportunity to go fishing, many of them for the first time, an opportunity whether they're just recently retired or wounded warrior or active duty to go fishing on area lakes and that's something we're very proud of.
But here today, I want to thank Ken and the staff and the Commissioners for reviewing the rules and regulations since the November meeting about Zebra mussels and for offering a solution that should work for us. So I'm here testifying in favor of what -- the rules that have been presented. I do want to remind everyone that Bill Taylor who is Director of Operations for FLW, which is the world's largest fishing organization, indicated to me that they have 12 tournaments planned for Texas in 2014 and this will bring approximately $5 million to the state.
So I think this exception of letting these tournaments be off site is going to work. I'm very pleased with that. There is one little thing in that exception, and I did talk to Ken just briefly about this. It doesn't say about on 51 about the same day. It just says -- I can't remember exactly the wording, but the tournament activities are restricted to a single public water body. Many of these tournaments are two-day events and they'll be held on different lakes on different days and I don't know that that's a big deal. Right now the interpretation of what he said was on the same day, so that shouldn't be a problem; but it's not in there.
Texas Parks and Wildlife, of course, has their tournament off site, the Texas Toyota Bass Classic; and that's brought about $1.5 million to the youth of Texas to the outdoor programs. Other tournament trails that I've talked with that are having off-site events this year are the Bud Light Trail, BASS, and of course Tuff Man. Bill Taylor was not able to be here at today's meeting; but he said that they do these tournaments throughout the nation, including tough environments like California and New York, where they're not really business friendly. But he said he'd be glad to talk to you about that. If you need to get ahold of him, I can give you his number.
The tournament directors that I've talked to are willing to work closely with Parks and Wildlife to assure the best possible practices and controlling the proliferation of invasives. Our goals are the same. I conclude by thanking you for working with the fishing industry. Texans can be very proud of the great work that Parks and Wildlife biologists and the Department have done in producing some of the best fishing in the nation. Thank you. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions for Rick? Thank you, Rick. All right, if no more questions -- oh, go ahead.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Ken, could you come back up and address the comment by Mr. Smith about the -- whether we need clarification on that one exception and...
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, if it would -- and that was certainly the intent of a -- from a single water body to a single weigh-in in the course of one day's activity. So if we need to, we could add that clarification to this if you believe -- if you feel that would help. That is certainly the intent of the rule.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I think we should --
MR. KURZAWSKI: Okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- make clear in the proposed rule that it is limited to the same 24-hour period.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right. And to address the previous gentleman's comments, you know, we certainly are cognizant of the operation of fishing guides and, you know, we know what the biology is here. If you're transferring water, certainly there's a great risk of moving these veligers around and it becomes an enforcement issue the more exceptions we make in allowing people to take the water over the course of a day. We can certainly continue to work on this and investigate some other things working with Law Enforcement to see if there's any other way we can accommodate this as we move forward, but...
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: It sounds like you addressed the first speaker, that he -- there is a way. He can catch bait, he can put it in another container --
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: -- or put it in live wells or -- but not in the boat in the same water.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Correct.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: So there are -- it's just a little more work.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any other question for Ken? All right.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Not -- I guess we still have the recommendation there to approve the amendments to 571.001, concerning draining water with any -- with some of the changes as we suggested here to the proposed text that we published in the Texas Register, so.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. I'll move approval with the modification that we change the draft language to make clear that the tournament exception is the one -- limited to the one day, 24-hour period.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: With that modification, I move approval.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Is there a second? De Hoyos. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Opposed? All right, motion passed. Moving forward --
MR. KURZAWSKI: Thanks, Commissioners.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: -- Action Item No. 4 has within removed from the agenda today. That was a recommendation -- recommended adoption of proposed rules for use of noxious and toxic substance to capture nongame wildlife.
The next one is a Grant, a Conservation Easement Along to the City of San Marcos along the San Marcos River as Part of a Bank Restoration Project, Corky Kuhlmann.
MR. KUHLMANN: Good morning. For the record, Corky Kuhlmann with the Land Conservation Program. This is a project or an easement request today, A.E. Woods Fish Hatchery, located in Hays County, San Marcos, Texas. The slide you see there, the easement area that the City -- we'll be granting to the City is the line between the red line and the blue line. The center of the river, the riverbank and the flood prone area along the riverbank.
The City of San Marcos is entering into an agreement with the Corps of Engineers to do a river restoration -- riverbank restoration project within the city limits of San Marcos. In order for them to be eligible for grant funds, they have to have some interest in the property that is involved in the project. Parks and Wildlife, the Inland Fisheries has about 3500 feet of San Marcos River frontage and they would -- we are willing participants in this bank restoration project and would grant easement to the City of San Marcos and we would make sure this easement would not adversely affect any operation of the hatchery now or in the future and we will have a reversion clause in that easement.
The San Marcos River is a pretty special place. This shot is right below Spring Lake, Sewell Park. A very popular place. It's on the campus of Texas State. Featured in this photo is wild rice, probably the most prominent of the endangered species that's found in the San Marcos River.
The project is to enhance the riverine integrity and protect endangered species. This by preventing sediment into the river, which is the most dominant pollutant source for the river. Having said that, Park recommends that the Commission adopts the resolution attached as Exhibit A, and I'll be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I'll make a motion to approve this subject to the things I brought up yesterday, being that we don't have any financial responsibility as Parks and Wildlife and that we put some time limits as we talked about. Because if this is not approved by the Corps or funded by the Corps, then it's not going to happen; so we need to put some timelines, you know, on getting that accomplished and making sure that we maintain, as was brought up, access to make sure that we can do anything we need to take care of that fishery, the hatchery down there.
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So that's my three points, but I'll make that motion.
MR. KUHLMANN: Well, we could -- you know, that would even -- could be done -- we could put it in the easement, in the reversion clause if something hasn't happened by this date, then the easement goes away null and void. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And I agree with what Dick said and you've just mentioned a couple of the items that I had referred to yesterday and out in the hall I spoke with Bob Sweeney, who I guess you're working with on this agreement.
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But I would make the same request that the -- to be sure that each of the items Dick mentioned and the ones I mentioned, Bob confirms are in that agreement.
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: We have motion from Commissioner Scott. Do we have a second?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Second.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Second from Duggins. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Opposed? That motion passed. Thank you.
MR. KUHLMANN: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Moving forward -- where are we, okay. Action Item No. 6, Acceptance of Conservation Easement Donation, Bexar County, 32 Acres at Government Canyon State Natural Area, Ted Hollingsworth. You're on.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. In spring of last year, we acquired 461 acres of land that we added to the Government Canyon State Natural Area called the MaBe Canyon Ranch. Government Canyon is almost 9,000 acres inside the city limits of San Antonio. A very, very special place and we've been actively trying to add those undeveloped parcels as we can.
This one came with an inholding. The property had already been sold to other landowners and the largest landowner, Mr. Khersonsky, has 32 acres of that inholding and the site manager, Chris Holmes, has done a wonderful job of establishing a good working relationship with all of our neighbors, including those of our inholdings and Mr. Khersonsky approached us recently with a proposal to donate a conservation easement on that 32 acres to prevent any further development and any further operations on that property that would compromise the operation of the State Natural Area.
It would be a standard conservation easement, in perpetuity. It would -- provisions would include no subdivision, no additional structures, no commercial activity other than home-based business should that occur in the future, landscaping at the house only, no exotic species. We have been working on that conservation easement. Mr. Khersonsky and his attorney have a draft that we've prepared. We've done baseline study work for that, and we're ready to move forward to consummate that easement with your approval. We've received no comments.
And the recommendation of staff is that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorize the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to accept the donation of a conservation easement on approximately 32 acres in Bexar County within Government Canyon State Natural Area.
I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions for Ted? No questions? Do -- we have no comments, no public comments. Do we have a motion for approval? Commissioner Martin.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Commissioner Morian. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Opposed? All right. Thank you, Ted.
All right, Action Item No. 7, Ted, you're on spot, I see. It's Modification of Access Easement, Bexar County, Approximately 3 acres at Government Canyon State Natural Area, Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth and I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item pertains to same that 32-acre tract, is actually unrelated. When the landowner first approached us last spring after we acquired the surrounding property, the property surrounding his inholding, he approached us about the fact that there were multiple agreements granting access to his property and some of which had been contingent upon the development of the surrounding property as subdivision as planned.
And the two agreements that do grant his access include a 60-foot wide easement, which gets within a couple hundred feet of his boundary, and then a license, which is -- an in perpetuity license with no strings attached to it, which gets him the remainder of the way to his property. He requested that we consider consolidating those into a single easement. Our request to him was that he allow us to restrict that to a 40-foot wide access.
In Bexar County, 60-foot access is required to plat a subdivision. We wanted to eliminate any prospect. That's a 32-acre straddle. The second highest point in Bexar County. Would be a great place to put, you know, quarter-acre homesites, quite frankly. We wanted to eliminate that possibility and so we began working on this several months ago, long before Mr. Khersonsky approached us about donating a conservation easement.
We would like to proceed with the driveway easement modification. The driveway does leave the existing easement in one location. That would be relocated to coincide with the easement, and we're working -- we're working to make sure that that driveway is in the place that makes the most sense from an erosion standpoint, management standpoint. Working with Mr. Khersonsky to make sure that his operations and our operations respect each other.
We've received no public comment on this proposal and the staff does recommend that the Commission adopt the resolution attached as Exhibit A and I would be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any question for Ted?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is it contingent on getting the conservation easement in place?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: No, sir. The two are running independent tracts. Staff would propose to do the driveway modification with or without the conservation easement. We would propose to accept the conservation easement with or without the modification to the driveway.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay, thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: No more questions? Motion for approval? De Hoyos.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I second.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: And Commissioner Jones seconded that, thank you. Thank you, Commissioner Jones. Please -- in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Opposed? No opposition, the measure passed. All right. Thank you, Ted. You must be back again.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I can leave if you want me to.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: No, you must be back up again. I'm having to look ahead. I --
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I like this one. Go ahead on this one.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right. Acquisition of Easement, Jefferson County Drainage District No. 7 at J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, Access to Levees for Hunter Parking at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. J.D. Murphree is certainly one of our premier public lands in Texas. It's in the neighborhood of 20,000 acres. It's down in the extreme southeast coast of Texas and it preserves marshes, water impoundments, bayous, lakes. It is a prime destination for waterfowl hunting and over the years, the highway in front of that -- of our headquarters has become a common place for people to park the night before their hunt and 30 years ago, that wasn't much of an issue.
The highway wasn't used a whole lot. It was a 55-mile an hour speed limit. But as time has gone on and the number of hunters has increased and the number of hunters who show up and basically spend the night on the shoulder of the road has increased, staff has become increasingly concerned about the potential for an accident on that highway.
We have had an accident involving overnight or early morning duck hunter at another wildlife management area. We'd really like to prevent that happening here at J.D. Murphree. Jim Sutherland, the site manager, has just done a wonderful job of establishing good working relationships with all of our neighbors, including the Drainage District No. 7 that owns and operates a storm control levee that runs through the wildlife management area.
As you can see in this map, it passes right behind the headquarters. And Jim and the staff at the Drainage District have worked out an agreement that would allow us to use that levee top during the hunting season for hunters to come in any time of the night, park, spend the remainder of the night there, and then get to their favorite duck hunting location in the morning. It would get them off of the highway and out of harm's way.
The Drainage District has requested that the Commission treat this as an easement and consider it in open session and concur with staff recommendation to enter into this agreement. The caveat is, of course, that we would be responsible for any damage that was done to the levee in the course of using it for hunter parking. The draft agreement is a ten-year agreement with an option to renew that and we have received no comments on the proposal.
With that, the staff would like to recommend that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorize the Executive Director to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Jefferson County Drainage District No. 7 that grants an easement to TPWD to allow hunters at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area to park on district land while hunting or preparing to hunt on the Wildlife Management Area.
I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions? Dick.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, I guess this is swamp day, so. As Carter made perfectly clear where I'm from. But what I would like to do is just -- once again, I grew up with Jim Sutherland and his lifelong ambition is -- was to do exactly what he's doing. And having event fought cancer and everything else, he lives every day for that.
I've been working on some other options to try to fix this problem long term, but this is a outstanding deal and I have sat and been in that line and watched cars come flying by in that curve and for those that aren't familiar with the area and the deal, it's pretty hard to comprehend how many aluminum boats. And if anybody is worried about it doing damage to the road, there are strict limits on the size. It's aluminum boats. It's not anything big at all, so I don't perceive that we have any issue as far as maintenance on that road. It's a Corps of Engineer levee, which did work in the last hurricane. Got to the top of it and then didn't breach or anything, so.
But my main purpose of speaking and to make a motion that this pass, is to congratulate you and Jim for getting this thing done because this is truly something I have lived with and watched and worried about for many years myself. So thank y'all for getting a good job done.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: And Jim has been working closely with the staff on how to install temporary barriers and signage and so forth to make sure that people stay on the asphalt, to make sure that parking and leaving the site is orderly, and to make sure that people don't drive off of that asphalt and do damage to the levee. He's working on that. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Ted, I noticed in the -- in your summary of the agreement it says TPW will be responsible for any damage done to the levee or road surface during this ten-year period. Do we have any -- do you have any judgment or does your group have any judgment about what potential liability we might be taking on with that commitment? And I'm not suggesting we not do it. I just was --
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Certainly, certainly. My understanding is that the greatest risk is of people getting off of the asphalt during inclement weather and rutting the levee, in which case we would be expected to dress that levee and re-establish that vegetation. Again, Jim is working with the District on signage, with possible temporary bollards and cabling that would make sure that drivers do not leave the asphalt. That's really the concern is drivers leaving the asphalt.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, your third bullet point says that we will install signage and barriers.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So, I mean I think I would like to see us do that up front so we don't end up spending a lot of money with people that leave the designated area.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. And the issue is that the barriers and the signage may not penetrate the soil; so they're working on pylons and other kinds of devices that can be set out and then taken up without having to punch them into the ground or do damage to the asphalt. So they're working on that actively.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any more questions for Ted? All right, do I hear a motion for approval? Commissioner Scott. Commissioner Martin second. All in favor, say aye.
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Opposed? All right, motion carries. Thank you.
We have a few briefing items; but before we do that, I just want to -- often we don't talk about donations that we receive at Texas Parks and Wildlife and we're very blessed that we get some very nice donations. I mean almost -- well every time we come to a Commission meeting we approve it.
I just want to point out a few today and all the -- all the -- whatever size are always needed and appreciated; but Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, for example, this -- in the past couple of months has given $100,000 for the Sheldon Lake State Park for boardwalk and campus site phase 3. Texas Parks and Wildlife gave two very nice gifts to the Neighborhood Fishing and Maritech Resources donated a artificial reef that was valued at about $350,000. Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation also gave a nice gift to Palo Pinto Mountains State Park and the Coastal Conservation Association gave a very nice cash gift to the -- for the construction and planning at the Dickinson Bayou Wetland Restoration Project. So all gifts are appreciated, but occasionally we like to point out that there are really some very substantial donations that are made and we appreciate all of them.
Okay, Ralph is pointing out one more. Operation Game Theft provided funding for creating a new reporting software for OGT. OGT?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Operation Game Theft.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Operation Game Theft, there you go. Okay.
With that, moving on. Briefing Item No. 9, update on Public Hunting Program, Linda Campbell.
MS. CAMPBELL: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. I'm Linda Campbell. I'm the Program Director for the Private Lands and Public Hunting Program and I would like to provide an overview of the Public Hunting Program for you today, including our current opportunities that we offer, strategies to provide more hunting access, and the importance of the program in managing our wildlife resources and building public support for the Agency.
TPWD offers public hunting on 64 wildlife management areas and public hunting units and 45 units of State Park system. We also provide hunting for dove, waterfowl, upland game birds, and other small game on 118 properties covering over 38,000 acres and we do this through one- to five-year lease agreements with private landowners. In addition during the 2013-14 season, we provided big game hunts, both deer and Pronghorn through contracts with private landowners on ten properties.
Public hunter access is provided by three types of permits. The regular or daily permit is used for small game and migratory bird. It's valid for a single-day hunt on a single area and it's issued to an individual at the hunt area on the day of the hunt on a first-come-first-serve basis. The cost for that is $20.
Our annual public hunting permit is valid on multiple areas, offering walk-in hunting during a license year and it's issued to an individual through a licensed vendor. The cost for that one is $48. And then finally the special permit, valid for a single hunt period on a single area and awarded to an individual through a drawing. The cost is either 80 or $130 for successful applicants, depending on the length of the hunt, whether it's three or five days, and there's no permit fee for use.
Hunt proposals for all public hunting land -- including wildlife management areas, State Parks and long-term lease areas -- are requested from State Parks and wildlife staff each October. These proposals are collected by headquarter staff in January and over the next few months, they're collated, reviewed, and evaluated. After hunting season dates are set, information from these proposals is used to formulate the applications for drawings booklet and the public hunting map booklet. Each February through May, staff seek and secure hunting lease agreements from private landowners for dove, waterfowl, and other small game species. These private lands under lease agreement, together with public lands either owned or leased by TPWD, comprise the public hunting lands available to those who purchase the annual public hunting permit.
What I want to do now is to show you how we implement our Public Hunting Program on areas that serve as our primary research and demonstration areas. These areas were established to represent the ecological regions of Texas and serve as research venues for the ecological region. Another top priority is to promote sound resource management through education and demonstration.
Staff are assigned to these areas and work with researchers and others to carry out the research and demonstration priorities. These WMAs also provide public hunting, hiking, camping, bird watching, and a host of other outdoor recreational opportunities compatible with the primary uses. Examples or research and demonstration WMAs include the Chaparral, the Kerr, Gus Engeling, Elephant Mountain, and Matador.
I would like to run through an example of how activities, including public hunting, are scheduled on our research and demonstration WMAs. We've used the Matador in this example, which is typical of the research and demonstration areas. On the Matador, deer and quail surveys are conducted during September and the first few weeks of October. Research activities such as vegetation surveys, bird banding, and brow surveys are conducted during the periods of -- during the period of May through August.
Habitat management and enhancement work is scheduled at key times during the year. For example, herbicide work, as you can see here, is scheduled during the windows of time most appropriate for the control of the target species. On lands that would graze as a habitat management tool, time periods are planned for working and shipping cattle. Prescribed burning is an important habitat tool, and so windows of time are scheduled for this priority activity. Preparations for prescribed burning such as firebreak maintenance and burning black lines, is often done during December and January, working around the planned hunt schedule.
Outreach and education is also an important priority for these research and demonstration areas and fall and spring are the busy times for things like field days and workshops, youth shooting sports events, and school field trips. Working around all the research management and outreach activities, staff schedules a full agenda of hunting opportunities consistent with habitat management and research goals. As you can see, the Matador schedule is full during the hunting season.
On other public hunting areas, habitat conservation and public hunting are highest priorities. These areas are more numerous, and do not have staff on site. Many are under long-term lease from landowners such as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Sabine River Authority. Like the research and demonstration areas, these lands were established to represent habitats and wildlife populations typical of an ecological region, but with the primary goal of providing public hunting opportunity.
Now I would like to provide some data on the history of the Public Hunting Program, including acreages in the program, permit sales, and the cost for leasing private lands. The annual Public Hunting Permit program began in 1987 to provide hunters with affordable walk-in hunting opportunity and sales have fluctuated over the years. There have been two price increases since the program began. One in 1996, with a fee increase from 35 to $40 and although there was a slight decrease in sales following that fee increase, sales rebounded quickly. The second price increase in 2003, from 48 -- from 40 to $48, resulted in a sharper decline in permit sales, which stabilized in subsequent years. We're still selling APH permits for 2013-14; but at the present time, we are up about 8.5 percent in sales over last year.
Regarding our walk-in hunting program for those holding the APH permit, we increased the number of acres for the first ten years and have leveled off since about 1997. We've lost acreage in recent years due to loss of lands in the program belonging to private timber companies and we've tried to compensate for this by increasing the number of acres in our Small Game Lease Program.
We began our Draw Hunt Program in 1954 by drawing 75 hunters to hunt deer at the Kerr WMA. This chart shows the last 14 years of history. And even with the slight drop in applications resulting from a two- to 3-dollar application increase in 2003, applications have been steadily climbing. We hit a high in 2013 with 52,000 permit applications. The popularity of our drawn hunt seems to be gaining as we continue to offer a diversity of opportunities to choose from. For example, we began offering private land's Pronghorn permits in 2006 and have continued to diversify our big game hunting opportunities. This map shows the location of private properties providing big game hunts to the Public Hunting Program during the 2013-14 season.
We're working to grow this program as well, with the major constraint being funding. This shows the number of the permit offered for drawn hunts and we've held fairly steady at between five and 6,000 permits since about 1999. Weather related events, including drought, effect the number of permits we offer on both state parks and WMAs. And, for example, you can see the dip in 2005 as a result of Hurricane Rita in 2004.
Our Short-term Dove Lease Program began in 1994 with ten leases and since that time, we've expanded the program and focused on offering a diversity of small game species. We increased the number of leases dramatically from 1994 through 1999, and have averaged about 140 leases since about 2000. The constraints on growing the program are field staff time to negotiate the leases and money to pay for them. Our Public Hunting Program is state funded, so our ability to fund leases depends on state appropriations for funding and personnel.
This shows the acreage and we have averaged on our APH about -- on our small game leases, about 51,000 acres in the program since about 2000. The outlier in 2001 was a result of a really large property in West Texas that was leased for minimal cost and it turned out that the hunters -- hunter use was not good, and so it was subsequently dropped from the program.
In recent years, we have focused on providing a more quality hunt experience and have developed more effective evaluation tools to inform decisions on whether to keep or drop a lease. The cost to secure these leases continues to rise, intents to track rising lease costs in the private sector. This map shows the locations of our small game leases during the 2013-14 hunting season. We target properties within a 2- to 3-hour drive of high population areas and those near major transportation corridors.
Small towns all over Texas rely on the economic boost from hunters, as we know, to buy gas -- you know, that buy gas, rent motel rooms, and eat in restaurants, buy supplies, that sort of thing. So we feel like our public hunting lands certainly contribute in a big way to the economic well-being of rural Texas. This shows the average cost per acre to lease lands for small game hunting. The cost per acre is rising and is increasing faster in certain areas of the state, such as South and Central Texas. Again, our lease negotiations are affected by the average lease prices in the various regions of the state.
To expand hunting opportunity, we believe it's important to increase the number of small game leases on private lands and increase the number of agreements with landowners interested in working with us to achieve their population management goals by offering big game hunting through our public hunt draw system. We also want to continue to maximize hunting opportunities on WMAs and state parks consistent with research demonstration and recreational uses.
We also think it's important to expand the mentor hunting workshops on state parks and WMAs. These are designed to teach hunting skills while providing workshop participants a chance to practice those skills on a public hunt. And finally, we are excited to work with our license vendor, Gordon-Darby, in the development of a new online draw system where hunters can pay -- well, apply, pay and be notified of selection. In previous surveys, our drawn hunt applicants have told us that online convenience, e-mail communication, greater choice in hunting opportunity, and good online maps are important to them.
We receive a lot of compliments on the public hunting experience offered on both state parks and WMAs and here are just a few that show how the passion of our staff translates into positive experiences for youth and their parents, those new to Texas, and to first-time hunters. So with that, thank you, and I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Linda, I've got several. Are the -- if you go to your page on the permit breakdown where you've got the three different permits?
MS. CAMPBELL: Oh, that's -- okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Early on. I think it's your --
MS. CAMPBELL: Early on, yes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yeah, that one.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Are the permits shown there, the regular permit and the annual -- sorry, the daily permit and the annual permit available for purchase online? You said when you made your remarks, they're available from vendors.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, point of sale.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Not online?
MS. CAMPBELL: No, not online. The --
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I sure think they ought -- why wouldn't they be offered online if it's a fixed fee?
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, actually the daily permits are issued on the site and we don't issue a lot of those; but those are a convenience for those that can hunt on a daily basis and don't have an APH. The APH is an endorsement on your license and most people buy it when they purchase their license from a point-of-sale vendor. And so you can purchase it online, you know, with your purchase of your license.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. So it is available on --
MS. CAMPBELL: It's online as a part of your license. Yes, sir. Yes, uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Why is there such a disparity between the annual public hunting permit, which is $48, and then the permit if you're drawn, which is 80 or $130?
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, the annual public hunting permit is for walk-in hunting. So it's a do-it-yourself permit. It's good all year for the lands that are open for walk-in hunting and we have like, you know, 900,000 acres or so, including our small game leases and our public lands. So it's a do-it-yourself. Now the drawn permits are guided -- I mean not guided, but they are special permits and so staff time is involved in that and the hunters are oriented; so there's a lot more -- a lot more staff input into those special permits for drawn hunters as opposed to the do-it-yourself $48 walk-in permit.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Have we looked at or should we next time we look at our fee, license fee, the amounts we charge, should we look at these and in particular what seems to be a pretty low charge for the right to hunt annually for the entire year on a walk-in basis?
MR. WOLF: Vice-Chairman, for the record, Clayton Wolf. And when we were going over the slides with Linda, there is one thing that we noticed. That permit was $35 before it was 48, I believe. The annual public hunting.
MS. CAMPBELL: It went 35 to 40 and then 40 to 48.
MR. WOLF: Forty to 48. And during that last increase, you know, typically when we do fee increases, we'll lose -- we'll lose a little, a few customers; and we typically regain that. And something -- although we can go back in again and look. What's interesting is we did not seem to regain that customer base on this last increase in fees and so I'm not going to -- I'm not going to suggest cause and -- you know, a direct cause and effect; but there is a value that is perceived on these permits.
For instance, that $48 permit that you buy, gives you the season long hunting; but it's come-one-come-all and so you're not -- you don't have an area to yourself like you do on our WMAs. And so people with orange vests can be walking by and coming and going and so there is a -- there's no doubt there's a quality difference. I'm not going to suggest that they're appropriately priced; but relatively speaking, there is a big difference in the type of hunting experience that you get for that $48 permit versus the other ones where you get put in the stand and you have that area to yourself.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right. Well, then that brings me to the next question is given the number of special permits offered, do we -- how many more applicants do we have than permits?
MS. CAMPBELL: A lot. A lot.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So then that would suggest that's underpriced. Particularly since you've described that experience as --
MS. CAMPBELL: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- involving a lot more effort on the part of staff and the quality of the hunt is vastly superior.
MS. CAMPBELL: What we -- you know, what we're challenged on really is the number of permits that the we can offer. You know, we hunt our public lands to the max and we hunt our leased lands. We try to get more in the private sector for -- working with private landowners. But, you know, it would be nice to go upwards on our numbers of permits and with additional public lands, perhaps we can do that. We've hovered around five to 6,000 for many years.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But that would -- I mean if we -- if we -- I'm not suggesting that we increase it. But it appears we should consider looking at whether the special permit should be --
MS. CAMPBELL: If it's priced correctly.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- increased and if you do that, that's going to provide additional funds to lease more property because this is an exceptionally valuable --
MS. CAMPBELL: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- program we have. I mean I don't know that there's any more important to affording hunting access to hunters and their children who otherwise are financially unable to enter into a lease for private property and so I would suggest we look at the -- at least the special permit fee.
And second, I would encourage us in our LAR this summer when we put this together, we make another pitch for funds for more public hunting. Because if people can't get access to property to hunt, we lose them. It's not fishing where we've got enormous amounts of public water available. Anybody can find a lake to go fish, but it's not true with hunting.
MS. CAMPBELL: And I will point out that these are undedicated funds. These are state appropriations and undedicated; so the appropriation authority to spend them would come into play, also.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any further question for Linda? Reed.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: The -- you have 52,000 applicants, is that -- did I read that right?
MS. CAMPBELL: Applications.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Applications?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: And how many permits do we -- are drawn?
MS. CAMPBELL: A little over 5,000 this year. Let me see, yeah. 5,063 I think it is or something like that.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So 10 percent. Now is there a program where you get preferential -- I mean the more times you apply, could you tell me how that works? Somebody was trying to tell me. They finally were drawn after 14 years.
MS. CAMPBELL: Well, that -- and it works, but it increases your chance somewhat minimally because we have so many applications for the number of permits we have. Now we are working with our new license vendor to try to look at the mathematics of that so that we can attempt to make it work better for those that are loyal and continue to, you know, apply with the Public Hunting Program.
And I would say if you-all are interested in a subsequent briefing on our new system that we're developing, I think we'd be more than happy to do that as we get further along with it.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: How does it -- how does it work now?
MS. CAMPBELL: You apply, every time you apply you get one point, and so that's placed back in the random draw. It is random, but it -- but you're put in twice. So every time you apply, you get one preference point.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: And is that -- that's separate number from your 52,000 drawn hunt applications or is that the same? Is that the total number of chances, or the total number of applicants?
MS. CAMPBELL: The 52,000 is not -- does not consider the preference points.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: That's just the number of applications.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: We have much more demand than we can meet. Thus, we feel like the -- you know, our APH walk-in program is so essential because to give -- you know, we only have so many permits in Texas because we are a private land state and we can only do so much that way. So the only way we can really grow this is to work with our private land partners and try to open up more land, provide more access for walk-in hunting and also hopefully to work with landowners to try to get more, you know, permits that we can negotiate with private landowners to provide to our draw hunt system.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any more questions for Linda? Commissioner Duggins has one more comment.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Linda, I think that this last comment you made about trying to increase the amount of acreage out there through contacts with landowners, I think when this came up before, we emphasized, Craig, to your predecessor that we really take advantage of our boots on the ground there and that's our Wardens who have got the relationships with these landowners and I think we ought to -- I don't know what we're doing there, but I would redouble your efforts to perhaps have each of the regions make it a point to educate the Wardens on this opportunity.
In fact, it ought to be a responsibility to promote this. I mean not every landowner will be interested in it. We get that, and it's got to be voluntary; but, boy, that's our easiest way and the most efficient way, in my opinion, to attain that.
MS. CAMPBELL: I will -- I will add that we do have a MOU with the National Wild Turkey Federation for that purpose. We have a person on the ground doing that every day and we would like to keep that going and grow that with our partners. So I just wanted to add that, that boots on the ground to get that done is a constraint for us.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Linda, thank you that's a very important program for our state and thanks for giving us an update this morning.
All right, Briefing Item No. 10, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Citizen Science Effort, Richard.
MR. HEILBRUN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Richard Heilbrun. I'm from the Wildlife Diversity Program. I supervise the Urban Wildlife Technical Guidance Program and our Citizen Science Programs. I've been asked to brief you today on our Citizen Science Program and some of the programs that we're working on and some of the changes that we're planning new projects.
Our Citizen Science Program consists mainly of two distinct programs. The Texas Master Naturalist Program, which is a corps of well-educated volunteers that donate their time to conservation projects throughout the state; and our Texas Nature Tracker Program, which is typically a subset of our Master Naturalist, but receive more training in conducting surveys of high priority species.
The Citizen Science Programs are a way for us to engage our urban constituency and take advantage of the passion and the dedication these folks have for our natural resources and also the time that they can dedicate to these populations. Typically in a typical year, we train between 700 and a thousand new volunteers for these programs and each year they donate about a quarter million service hours. You divide that by a typical biologist's time, that comes out to the equivalent of about 143 full-time employees. So it also represents a pretty substantial economic donation to us.
They get involved in about 4,000 conservation events each year. So in the 15-year history of Master Naturalist Program, we've trained more than 8,000 volunteers who have given us more than 2 million service hours and we value that at more than $45 million.
Our Texas Nature Tracker Program consists of nine different projects that targets populations or types of organisms. And what I would like to do today is highlight three of those projects and give you some background and some history. Our Texas Mussel Watch focuses on the mussels within our state boundaries. Recently, 12 state listed -- 12 mussel species became state listed and are proposed now for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act. Volunteers have donated in this project 2500 hours of service and these are 2500 hours of walking through rivers and lakes and hunched over examining mussels through a microscope. So this is tough volunteer work. And they've had some successes.
They've documented the presence of sensitive mussel species in several watersheds. Work that we just can't do as biologists because we don't have the resources. So they're very appreciated service hours. In September of this past year, it was a Texas Mussel Watch volunteer that first detected Zebra mussels on Belton Lake and that information allowed our Inland Fisheries Division to take immediate action in terms of an outreach campaign, clean-drain-dry campaigns, and further monitoring, and so these volunteers have very real impacts in the field of conservation.
Another one of our oldest Citizen Science Programs is the Texas Hummingbird Roundup and this allows, especially urban volunteers, to provide us data from the comforts of their home. So they not only watch the feeders in their backyard, but they give us information about native plants and so it allows us to engage these urban folks; but also to establish a relationship with them to encourage native plant propagation and to provide habitat for some of these species. When the program was started, we thought that we had fairly -- it was thought that we had fairly low diversity of hummingbirds in certain parts of Texas. With the valuable data from this program, we were able to change our understanding of hummingbird distribution throughout the state.
Our volunteers basically conduct annual monitoring for us. There's a lot more of them than there are of us, and they're willing to provide us this helpful data. Just one quick example of the boots on the ground effects of this program. The Rufous hummingbird was previously thought in the published literature to migrate only through West Texas and after 18 years of data, we can now say that they actually migrate throughout the entire state, which drastically changes how we support this species and other hummingbird species.
The Texas Whooper Watch is a brand new program in the last couple years. As many of you might know, Whooping cranes are critically endangered and Texas is home to the wintering ground of the largest migratory flock in North America. The Texas Nature Tracker volunteers help us to document and monitor these Whooping cranes on their migration route, but also at new locations. What I want to do is show you this map. The red dot shows the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where Whooping cranes have traditionally overwintered here in Texas. Our volunteers have given us data and given us locations on six new wintering grounds throughout the state and one of these is up in this part of state, Granger Lake, which is drastically different than the coast. And so these volunteers have monitored these birds and given us really important information about diet, habitat use, avoidance of predators, and how they're doing being so close to people.
Many of the Whooping cranes are watched or monitored with satellite transmitters. However, our volunteers help us to fill in the gaps. So some of these transmitters give us locations every couple of days; but it's our volunteers that tell us how they're moving within those two days, how they're avoiding predators, what they're eating, if they're injured, and allows us to respond to any management concerns that we might have about these birds.
So there's some exciting new developments in the field of Citizen Science and what we're realizing is that the people that are interested in natural resources -- the birders, the wildlife watchers, the nature photographers -- really like to share this information and so they post them online. The websites that I have listed here. What we've started to do is look at this data as a potential source for augmenting our understanding of these species to help us manage, especially the imperilled species that we have here in the state.
Typically speaking, if the Agency needs to respond to something, our biologists collect data, put it in our database, and then our Agency issues a response or conducts whatever action that we need to conduct. But what -- imagine, what if we had several thousand more boots on the ground giving us information, how much better our understanding would be.
Well, you don't have to imagine because I have some data. This is an animation of the Dickcissel occurrence throughout the United States given to us by birdwatchers putting their reports online and what it shows is how these birds migrate through the continental United States; but if you zone in on an area of interest, what it tells you is are birds avoiding, are they coming in early, are they coming in late, are they fewer than last year, are they more than last year, are they avoiding certain areas, maybe there's a problem with a certain area or a certain habitat. So we can use the quantity of data that these folks are giving us to augment the work that we do here in the Department.
A little closer to home, the brown dots on this map represent the official sightings that the Department knows about the Texas tortoise. Now we know that they're located throughout South Texas, but we can only act based on our official records. If we bring in the blue dots from our Citizen Scientists, it rounds out the picture of where these critters are and it maybe changes our understanding of how numerous they are or they aren't.
Another example is the Woodhouse's toad. We knew that there were Woodhouse's toad in North Texas, but we had no official sightings and so we couldn't use -- we can't tell the Legislature or we can't tell certain groups trust us. A lot of times we need to rely on hard data. Well, our Citizen Scientists have been able to give us this data and now helps us identify new population centers to help us manage the species a little bit better.
Additionally, we're pleased to launch our mobile app in the next month or two to further take advantage of the general public's interest in helping us in giving us data. The fun thing about this is this isn't just a one-way conversation where they give us data. We can now engage these users and not just take advantage of their data, but take advantage of their passion and their interest. The Citizen Science Program is an exciting avenue for wildlife managers and we're happy to take advantage of the folks that are so energic and enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the wildlife here in Texas.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions for Rich?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I have a question.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Go ahead, Margaret.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: When are you expecting the app to be available and is it free or do you have to have, you know, any criteria or what's your -- what are the parameters on it?
MR. HEILBRUN: The app will be available for all mobile phone platforms and we anticipate it being released within the next two months and it will be a free app.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Okay, thank you. That's exciting.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any other questions? Richard, thank you. That's a great presentation and obviously we're getting -- our citizens are helping us better understand our wildlife and birds and thanks for the presentation. It's very interesting.
MR. HEILBRUN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right, I think we're down to our last briefing of the day. Texas Conservation Action Plan, Update on Efforts to Conserve Fishes of Greatest Conservation Need, Tim Birdsong. Hi, Tim.
MR. BIRDSONG: Morning, Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Tim Birdsong. I'm with the Inland Fisheries Division and this presentation will highlight efforts to conserve freshwater fish diversity in Texas through implementation of our Texas Conservation Action Plan.
Nationally, all states have developed action plans commonly referred to as State Wildlife Action Plans or Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategies and they have a shared set of goals of keeping common species common and preventing the need for federal listing of species under the Endangered Species Act.
Our initial action plan was developed in 2005 and then subsequently updated in 2012. That 2012 plan took an ecoregional based approach to conservation planning. We involved over a thousand different organizations in helping identify priority conservation actions within those 12 ecoregions on the slide and those actions were focused on conserving focal species, referred to a species of greatest conservation need, and that list included over 1300 species of rare plants, fish, and wildlife, including 64 freshwater fishes.
In our efforts to conserve those freshwater fishes of conservation need are guided by data that we collect through a variety of special studies and surveys throughout the state intended to help us better understand some status and trends of populations and condition of their habitats.
Another source of information is through the Fishes of Texas Project. This is a project that we've undertaken in collaboration with The University of Texas and we've assembled all available fish collections dating back to the mid 1800s, data from universities, non-governmental organizations, other state and federal agencies, and it provides us with this high-powered tool that allows us to examine historic and current distribution patterns and even conduct predictive modeling where we can look at anticipated changes and suitable habitat conditions and how that may lead to changes in distribution of our species.
Additionally, that data set allows to examine overlap in species ranges, as well as major degradation issues on the landscape that are affecting a set of species. So each of those color-coded areas on the map represent a set of rivers and associated watersheds and a set of species with similar conservation needs. And I'll highlight the area in green as an example. This represents streams that flow across the northern edge of the Texas Hill Country or Edwards Plateau ecoregion and it's representative of a set of species, including our state fish, Guadalupe bass and several imperiled minnows. And the set of issues that we're focused on addressing in these streams are degradation of stream corridors from poor land management practices, barriers to fish movement, and primarily poorly designed low water crossings or low head dams, and then also water withdrawals that alter natural flow regimes for native fishes.
This Fishes of Texas database also allows us to conduct spatial partization analysis and this figure shows bang for the buck, if you will, on conservation value. The black and dark blue areas are areas that represent the lowest conservation value for conserving freshwater fish diversity. Areas in yellow and red represent highest conservation value basically because there are a high number of focal species that occur within those areas and typically those species have very limited ranges and may only occur within those areas highlighted in yellow and red.
Now once we have this information that we can use this to guide special conditions that we include in permits, such as the nongame fish permits that were discussed yesterday, we can use that information to influence with where we permit actions that seek to modify instream habitats such as our sand and gravel permitting program. We can use that information to guide permits that support the collection, propagation, movement, and introduction of native and nonnative fishes statewide.
We also have defined roles in a number of other federal and state administered -- agency administered regulatory programs we have influence over. Water withdrawals from rivers and streams, we can provide consultation on major storm water and wastewater management projects, dam and hydropower operations, major urban development projects that affect rivers and streams and we also provide technical guidance on stream restoration designs for mitigation banks in the state.
And through all these actions, we're attempting to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to native species and over the last five years, we've provided consultation on projects affecting over 800 miles of Texas rivers and streams. Additionally, we're involved in a number of proactive, voluntary based initiatives. Specifically focused on conserving these 64 focal fish species that I've referenced. And for each of the figures that I'll show, moving across the state, I want you to note the different colored stream segments that are identified there.
So yellow represents areas we're actively conducting surveys or special studies to examine status species and trends and the green segments of stream are areas where we have habitat restoration projects that we're either leading or funding and the red areas represent areas where these focal fish species were extirpated and where we're actively working to reintroduce those native fish assemblages.
So in the Trans-Pecos or Chihuahuan desert ecoregion, we're working to conserve 29 fishes of greatest conservation need and you can see that we're working throughout the Rio Grande and the Pecos River and their major tributaries and I want to highlight one specific stream. This is Alamito Creek and it flows across a portion of Big Bend Ranch State Park and in total, we currently have over 265,000 acres of public and private lands that a committed to watershed scale conservation in the Alamito Creek watershed and that supports conservation of eight fishes of greatest conservation need.
The specific property pictured there on the slide is the Alamito Creek Preserve and is a roughly thousand-acre property that's managed by the Trans-Pecos Water and Land Trust and through funding from the National Fish Habitat Partnership, we're conducting a number of different stream habitat improvements and riparian improvements to benefit several focal species, including the two pictured here at the top of the screen, Mexican Stoneroller and Long-nosed Dace, which again are focal species in our action plan. Rio Grande Chub and Rio Grande Cutthroat trout on the bottom of that slide, historically occurred in the tributaries of the Pecos River that flow through the Davis and Guadalupe Mountains.
And Rio Grande Chub still occurs in the stream that's identified in yellow there. This is Little Aguja Creek that flows through the Davis Mountains and we're actively working with the Nature Conservancy and The University of Texas to monitor that population. And these two species historically occurred as part of a native fish assemblage in McKittrick Creek as well. This is a stream that flows through McKittrick Canyon, which is the photo on the slide and this is at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This is another photo of McKittrick Creek and back in the early 1900s, nonnative Rainbow trout were stocked in this creek and then there were subsequent introductions of several nonnative sunfishes and these exotic species led to declines in native fish populations and eventually the extirpation of several native species.
So in partnership with the National Park Service, Trout Unlimited, and the Mexico State University, we're currently conducting surveys to understand the habitat conditions and whether or not those conditions would support reintroduction of an native fish assemblage. We're also looking at populations of these nonnative fishes to see if -- just to determine feasibility of this reintroduction project and it's pretty exciting to think about the possibility of restoring a native trout to Texas.
And moving across the state to the Edwards Plateau ecoregion, you can see that we have a significant footprint in this area and most of the work that's underway is tied to our efforts to restore our state fish, Guadalupe bass. We're currently working with over 187 different landowners throughout the Hill County. We have over 78,000 acres of lands that are committed to watershed skill conservation and multiple sub-watersheds of the Colorado and Guadalupe River drainages. We have -- we're providing funding through a partnership with Linda Campbell and the Landowner Incentives Program. We're providing incentives to various ranches, supporting over 2700 acres of habitat restoration, mainly stream corridor improvements.
This work directly benefits over 100 miles of streams across the plateau. Additionally, we've stocked over 700,000 Guadalupe bass over the last four years to support reintroduction into segments where they were extirpated. Specifically a segment of the San Antonio River, the Blanco River, and we're also supporting stockings in the Llano River to address hybridization and just to support genetic restoration because of hybridization that occurred with nonnative introduced Smallmouth bass.
So collectively this work is supporting the long-term persistence of 14 fishes of greatest conservation need in the Hill Country, including again our state fish, Guadalupe bass. Moving to the Southern Great Plains ecoregion, I'm going to focus in on the Canadian River, the Wichita River, and the Upper Brazos River, and specifically want to look at that segment of the Brazos highlighted in red. That's a segment know as the John Graves Scenic Riverway. It was designate as such in 2005 by the State Legislature and because of dam construction and hydro-peaking operations, we lost the native fish assemblage in that particular segment of river.
But Brazos River Authority recently decommissioned their hydropower operation at Possum Kingdom Dam and agreed to minimum flows that we think will be conducive to restoring, reestablishing a native fish assemblage. And there are five of the species that are being considered for that reintroduction project.
Moving over to the eastern portion of the state, main stem Texas rivers. Those areas, those segments of stream highlighted in yellow are locations of major instream flow studies that are being conducted under the Senate Bill 2 Instream Flow Program. And I want to talk briefly about a precursor to that work, which is an environmental flows process in the Big Cypress Basin affecting Big Cypress Bayou and Caddo Lake. And there's been a major initiative led by Caddo Lake Institute, the Nature Conservancy, and the Army Corps, and our biologists have contributed information on the flow needs of focal species.
And you've heard -- you've talked at length about flow ecology relationships for Alligator Gar and how important it is for over bank flows to provide access to spawning habitats and there are a number of other floodplain spawning fishes that also use the floodplain under pulse flows and then there are also species that are spawning or other sorts of life history traits are cued by these pulse events.
So over the last roughly eight years, there was a large number of different organizations that worked together to try to put forward a flow regime, a recommended flow regime to benefit fishes and habitats within the Big Cypress Basin. And this figure represents a simplified version of a hydrograph, and the flow components that are being recommended. So across the X axis, you see months of the year. The Y axis is river flows and you several different pulse events and those pulses are tied to specific habitat requirements, life history needs of these focal species. So you so those pulse events that occur in the spring months and that's intended to help trigger and cue spawning of paddlefish, which were extirpated from the system; but beginning in March of this year, we're going to partner with the Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce 50 paddlefish and we'll be tracking those paddlefish over the next several years to see if they use these flows. Additionally, our staff will be designing a monitoring program to evaluate ecosystem response and fish response for several of the other species that are listed here.
The two minnows that are shown below the photo Alligator Gar there, Taillight shiner and Ironcolor shiner, and both of those are very similar -- have similar life history traits as Alligator Gar in that they move out onto the floodplain to spawn and I have figures of Bald Cypress there on the upper left of the -- this diagram and the point there is that this pulse event, this over-bank-flow event, helps move seeds and transport sediment throughout that system and helps support production of Bald Cypress.
So there are broader benefits than just to fish and we're trying to take this sort of success that's laid out here in the Big Cypress where we've put forward science-based flow recommendations that are being adopted by the Corps and the Northeast Municipal Water District and similar recommendations will result likely from the instream flow studies that are being conducted throughout the state. And these areas, these segments of river highlighted in red are priority studies that should be completed in 2016 and we'll be making recommendations to the Commission on environmental quality for flows that support a sound ecological environment.
So I've hit on 50, 60 different projects that we underway statewide and I could have delved into details on any number of those and spent about as much time up here; but hopefully this gives you a good snapshot and if there's interest in being involved in site visits or participating in any of these projects, I'd be more than happy to make that happen. So with that, I'll answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Very nice presentation, Tim, and great work, too. That's all good. And is there any question for Tim? Ralph.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Tim, what do we do to educate people in the area where we're reintroducing, for example, the paddlefish to try to get them not to kill these cool creatures?
MR. BIRDSONG: Yeah, Caddo Lake Institute is initiating a PR, Public Relations, campaign and promoting paddlefish as this ancient fish that's representative of environmental conditions and ecosystem health and they're even talking about in May of this year, putting together some sort of paddlefish festival and lots of media and press that will come out in the March timeframe. The week of March 3rd is when those fish will be introduced into that system and the Nature Conservancy, our Agency, the Army Corps, Caddo Lake Institute, a number of groups are involved in helping plan a fairly extensive campaign leading up to that.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: To make sure people know this is protected?
MR. BIRDSONG: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good, thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any other question for, Tim. Thank you, Tim.
MR. BIRDSONG: Thanks.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: And, Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its business and I declare us adjourned.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
(Commission Meeting Adjourns)
In official recognition of the adoptionof this resolution in a lawfully called public meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, we hereby affix our signatures this _____ day of ______________, 2014.
Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., Chairman
Ralph H. Duggins, Vice-Chairman
T. Dan Friedkin, Member, Chairman-Emeritus
Roberto De Hoyos, Member
Bill Jones, Member
James H. Lee, Member
Margaret Martin, Member
S. Reed Morian, Member
Dick Scott, Member
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 25th day of February, 2014.
Paige S. Watts, CSR, RPR
CSR No.: 8311
Expiration: December 31, 2014
Firm Registration Number: 87
1016 La Posada Drive
Austin, Texas 78752
Job No. 174054