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Recent Legislation Affects Texas Wildlife, Parks
AUSTIN, Texas — New limited-entry management programs for the Texas oyster and Gulf of Mexico shrimp fisheries, changes in game bird stamps hunters are required to buy, creation of an all-terrain vehicle trail program and new or clarified enforcement powers for game wardens are among the outcomes of bills passed by the 79th Texas Legislature.
The deadline for Gov. Rick Perry to sign or veto bills was June 19, and a number of bills that became law affect the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, its constituents and the state’s fish and wildlife resources. Below are descriptions of selected bills.
The descriptions below do not constitute legal definitions and are solely intended to provide brief summaries of new legislation. For general information on most new laws that affect hunting and fishing this fall, see the Texas Outdoor Annual booklet, available free in early August wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.
Unless otherwise noted below, all new laws take effect Sept. 1.
- HB 505 — This bill makes it a Class C misdemeanor to discharge a firearm across a private property line while hunting or engaging in recreational shooting. The bill contains a provision so there is no violation if the person shooting owns both sides of the property line or has obtained written landowner permission.
- HB 506 — Currently, when private property becomes flooded by a public river or stream, that land can then be used for hunting. This bill requires a person to obtain landowner consent in order to hunt any wild animal or wild bird on private land that has been submerged by public water when the land is conspicuously marked as privately owned by a sign or signs.
- HB 883 — Under the Texas Artificial Reef Act of 1989, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department administers the Texas Artificial Reef Program on sites permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This bill allows private citizens, groups, and/or associations to deploy reef material under guidelines and rules established by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. It would also allow law enforcement agencies that have confiscated a derelict watercraft to transfer it to TPWD for use as an artificial reef. This bill took effect when the governor signed it on May 27.
- HB 942 — This bill provides that any boat 35 years old or older will be included in the antique boat classification, which gives boat owners greater flexibility with the placement of identification decals. The current definition for an antique boat covers any boat manufactured prior to 1968.
- HB 1076 — As a token of appreciation for the sacrifices being made by active duty Texas service members, this bill directs the TPW Commission to waive all fees for hunting and fishing licenses for Texas residents currently on active military duty. A Texas resident is defined as a person who has resided continuously in the state for more than six months prior to applying for a license.
- HB 1636 — Currently, the Parks and Wildlife Code defines “resident” as an individual who has resided continuously in Texas for more than six months immediately before applying for a hunting, fishing, or other TPWD license. However, there are no requirements for documenting whether or not a person is a bona fide Texas resident. This bill gives the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission the authority to establish the proof required to demonstrate residency for the purpose of obtaining a department license or permit. This bill was technically effective when the governor signed it on June 18, but as a practical matter it won’t take effect until the Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts the proposed requirements at the Commission Meeting on Aug. 25.
- HB 1959 — This bill will provide an enforcement tool to deter unlawful hunting of deer with dogs in certain East Texas counties where the activity has historically occurred. It is not intended to prevent lawful hunting, including trailing a wounded deer in counties where that is legal. The bill applies to 22 East Texas counties, including Angelina, Hardin, Harris, Harrison, Houston, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery, Nacogdoches, Newton, Orange, Panola, Polk, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity, Tyler and Walker counties. The bill authorizes the department to specify the type of firearm a person may have in possession during an open deer season, if that person is hunting on someone else’s property with a dog. The bill imposes the same penalties on hunting deer with dogs as are currently imposed for hunting game animals at night, hunting from a vehicle on a public roadway, and hunting with artificial light–three examples of violations which decreased dramatically in recent years after penalties were increased.
- HB 2025 — This bill transfers jurisdiction of the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site-National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg to the Texas Historical Commission. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department currently administers the museum as part of the state park system. This bill took effect when the governor signed it on June 18, and TPWD is in the process of developing an agreement with THC to transfer operation of the museum as directed by the legislation.
- HB 2026 — This bill repeals some ambiguous language and clarifies statutes related to taking wildlife resources, possessing wildlife eggs, and disposing of seized wildlife, including exotic livestock and fowl. It also repeals the alligator hunting license and allows a person to take an alligator with a general hunting license. The bill repeals the maximum number of acres for a private bird hunting area and clarifies area sign placement. Internet hunting is banned under the provisions of this bill with a fine of $200 to $2000 and/or 180 days in jail. A person may not engage in computer-assisted remote hunting of any animal or bird or provide or operate facilities for computer-assisted remote hunting if the animal or bird being hunted is located in Texas. The bill also provides a $25 to $500 penalty for a person leaving public or private water who does not remove and lawfully dispose of any harmful or potentially harmful aquatic plant clinging to the person’s boat, trailer or vehicle.
- HB 2027 — Currently, a person may legally hunt state-owned riverbeds in Texas, but this bill makes it illegal to shoot a rifle, handgun or arrow from the bed or bank of a navigable river or stream in Dimmit, Edwards, Frio, Kenedy, Llano, Maverick, Real, Uvalde, or Zavala County. It does allow continued hunting in these areas with a shotgun, as long as the hunter is using a shotgun loaded with shot or buckshot (not slugs).
- HB 2032 — The bill broadens the scope of the Operation Game Thief (OGT) Committee of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to better support the efforts of game wardens to stop natural resource crimes. For the first time, it allows OGT to consider reward claims for phone tips involving boating while intoxicated (BWI), environmental crimes enforcement and several other offenses. OGT operates a toll free phone hotline, (800) 792-GAME, that allows citizens to report wildlife crimes in Texas, and callers can receive cash rewards if convictions result. This bill amends the law to allow OGT to consider a reward claim for many other violations wardens routinely enforce, including those related to shrimping, oystering, water pollution, and solid waste dumping, antiquities destruction or damage, arson and criminal mischief, criminal trespass, theft, tampering with identification numbers, tampering with governmental record, boating while intoxicated, intoxication assault, intoxication manslaughter, and payment of sales tax on boats and boat motors.
- HB 2037 — This bill permits game wardens to seize personal property and sell, destroy or use it if the property owner is convicted of hunting on private property without landowner consent. Property that may be seized includes items such as a firearm, knife, spotlight, GPS unit, radio, mobile phone or other item, but not a vehicle, aircraft, or vessel. Under current law, personal property may be seized for some crimes, but if the violator crosses onto private property and the landowner files criminal charges for hunting without landowner consent, there is no provision for seizing the hunter’s property.
- HB 2555 — This bill provides a legal defense to prosecution for people who act to show mercy by humanely dispatching a suffering animal that has been left mortally wounded by a non-hunting incident or appears to be a diseased animal or an animal that poses a risk of harm to themselves, people, or other wildlife. Currently, a person who finds such an animal or bird can be prohibited from killing it because it may be out of season or because the individual lacks a legal weapon. This bill took effect when the governor signed it on May 24. Proposed rules for implementing this new law will be adopted at the TPW Commission Meeting on Aug. 25
- HB 3024 — This bill amends the Agriculture Code to facilitate the sale of fish by the owner of a private facility to manage fish in a private pond. (Current law does not allow the sale of fish without an appropriate license issued by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or an Aquaculture License issued by the Texas Department of Agriculture.) Under the terms of this bill, fish must be collected and purchased by an aquaculture license holder. Sales must be documented within thirty days by an invoice submitted to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department by the purchaser.
- SB 272 — This bill establishes a license moratorium for Texas commercial oyster licenses due to overcapitalization (too many boats working the water). It essentially creates for commercial oyster fishing the same type of limited-entry management approach that has been successful in recent years for bay shrimping and other Texas fisheries. A central concept of the limited-entry strategy is to reduce the number of boats working the fishery over time through attrition. This happens when TPWD retires a license after a boat leaves the business, thus reducing overall fishing pressure and creating more economically viable conditions for those who remain in the fishery. The bill authorizes regulated issuance and renewal of commercial oyster licenses based on historical participation in the fishery. It is needed because the commercial oyster fishery is the only Texas inshore open-access commercial fishery resulting in economic instability. This is a particular concern during high Texas oyster production years that correspond with poor production in other states along the Gulf of Mexico. In those years, new entrants from out of state can enter the fishery to take advantage of high production, thus reducing profits for traditional Texas fishery participants. This bill took effect when the governor signed it on May 20.
- SB 454 — This bill establishes a license moratorium for Texas gulf shrimp licenses due to overcapitalization (too many boats working the water). It essentially institutes for the Texas gulf shrimp fishery a limited-entry management approach similar to that which has been beneficial for bay shrimping and other Texas fisheries. The industry has suffered in recent years from new entrants in the fishery and market conditions as well as increased cost of production. Furthermore, a moratorium on shrimp licenses in federal waters (beyond nine nautical miles offshore) is anticipated. The result of the federal moratorium will be to drive more shrimpers into the gulf waters; thus a license moratorium for Texas gulf shrimping is necessary to further limit the destabilization of the market for existing participants. SB 454 allows regulated issuance and renewal of commercial gulf shrimp licenses based on historical participation in the fishery in order to provide greater economic stability. This bill took effect when the governor signed it on May 20.
- SB 489 — This bill authorizes the TPW Commission to adopt rules to revoke and suspend boat dealer licenses for rules infractions. It also requires boat dealers, distributors, or manufacturers to enter into a license agreement with TPWD and it redefines “dealer” to eliminate the requirement that a dealer be at an established or permanent place of business. The department currently has authority to issue marine dealer licenses, but there is no procedure to revoke a license.
- SB 804 — This bill strengthens TPWD’s legal claim to collect money from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and other licenses and permits that support conservation work. One key feature of the bill is to prevent a significant financial loss of conservation revenue to TPWD in the event of a license deputy bankruptcy. This bill took effect when the governor signed it on June 17.
- SB 1192 — This bill reorganizes the existing three Texas game bird stamps–the white-winged dove stamp, waterfowl stamp, and turkey stamp–into two new stamps. The new $7 Migratory Bird Stamp will cover all migratory game birds, such as ducks, geese, doves, and cranes. The new $7 Upland Game Bird Stamp covers all resident game birds, such as turkey, quail, and pheasants. The new configuration would provide funding to all species currently covered by the existing stamps, as well address concerns about declining species like mourning doves and quail. The new stamps will enable the department to improve its ability to measure hunter participation, and harvest of a number of these species. The stamp reorganization would provide much-needed flexibility for TPWD to use stamp funds where the greatest species and habitat needs lie. For example, research is needed for mourning doves, which population surveys indicate have been declining for years. However, white-winged dove stamp funds currently cannot be used for mourning dove research. The stamp reorganization is also expected to provide funding and flexibility needed to research and address quail population declines. This bill was technically effective when the governor signed it on June 17, but as a practical matter it won’t take effect until new season hunting and fishing licenses go on sale Aug. 15.
- SB 1311 — This bill establishes, within the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, a program to provide a system of trails and recreational areas for use by off-highway vehicles. The program is to be self-funded through the purchase of decals, fines levied for offenses relating to the operation of off-highway vehicles, and funds and grants received from the federal government and other sources determined by the department. The legislative analysis for the bill estimated nearly 60,000 off-highway vehicles were sold in 2001 in Texas and about 1.3 million users of off-highway vehicles and off-highway motorcycles in the state. However, Texas has only about six sites specifically intended for off-road use, and none of them use a management program. The bill envisions designated trails to allow off-road recreation while protecting natural habitats by limiting off-road vehicle usage in sensitive areas.
The full text of all bills is available on the Texas Legislature Online Web site.
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