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TPWD to Consider Sweeping Deer Hunting Regulation Changes
AUSTIN, Texas -The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has transitioned away from political boundaries for the purpose of monitoring white-tailed deer populations and toward biologically-based communities or Resource Management Units (RMUs).
The department has identified 33 unique RMUs across the state having similar soils, vegetation types and land use practices they believe will more accurately capture deer population dynamics. The intent is to develop deer season bag limit frameworks based on these units, although implementation will still track county boundaries to avoid confusion among hunters.
In a briefing of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission’s Regulations Committee, TPWD unveiled an extensive suite of potential regulation changes in deer harvest throughout much of the state. The department will be gathering public input on the possible proposals during the next couple of months and present to the commission in January a comprehensive set of proposals.Those proposals will then go back out for official comment during a series of public hearings around the state next spring. A final decision will be made by the commission at its March 25-26, 2009 public meeting.
Expansion of Antler Restriction Regulations
One key potential change involves further expansion of the department’s successful antler restriction regulations into 52 additional counties where biologists have identified a need to provide greater protection of younger buck deer. In these counties, data indicates more than 55 percent of the harvested bucks are two-and-a-half years of age or younger, which creates an imbalance in the deer herd age structure.
According to Clayton Wolf, TPWD big game program director, based on data to date in the 61 counties where the rule is currently in effect, the antler restrictions have improved age structure while maintaining ample hunting opportunity.
Potentially affected counties include: Anderson, Angelina, Archer, Atascosa, Brazos, Brown, Chambers, Clay, Cooke, Denton, Ellis, Falls, Freestone, Grayson, Grimes, Hardin, Harris, Henderson, Hill, Hood, Hunt, Jack, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Kaufman, Liberty, Limestone, Madison, McLennan, Milam, Mills, Montague, Montgomery, Navarro, Newton, Orange, Palo Pinto, Parker, Polk, Robertson, San Jacinto, Smith, Stephens, Tarrant, Trinity, Tyler, Van Zandt, Walker, Wichita, Wise, and Young.
Bag Limit Changes
The department is also looking at increasing the bag limit from one buck to two bucks in Baylor, Callahan, Haskell, Jones, Knox, Shackelford, Taylor, Throckmorton, and Wilbarger counties. Wolf noted this area of the state is characterized by relatively large tract sizes and light hunter density and the deer population has grown over the years as habitat has become more favorable to white-tailed deer.
In addition, the department is considering increasing the bag limit from four deer to five deer in Pecos, Terrell, and Upton counties. White-tailed deer densities throughout the eastern Trans-Pecos are very similar to densities on the Edwards Plateau, where current rules allow the harvest of up to five antlerless deer. This change would increase hunting opportunity while addressing a resource concern.
The department is also looking at increasing the bag limit in most Cross Timbers and Prairies and eastern Rolling Plains counties from three deer (no more than one buck, no more than two antlerless) or four deer (no more than two bucks and no more than two antlerless) to five deer (no more than 2 bucks). Counties affected include: Archer, Baylor, Bell (West of IH35), Bosque, Callahan, Clay, Coryell, Hamilton, Haskell, Hill, Jack, Jones, Knox, Lampasas, McLennan, Palo Pinto, Shackelford, Somervell, Stephens, Taylor, Throckmorton, Wichita, Wilbarger, Williamson (west of IH35), and Young.
Another possible change would increase the bag limit from three deer to five deer (no more than one buck) in selected counties in the western Rolling Plains. Although white-tailed deer densities are highly variable in this part of the state, areas containing suitable habitat have become saturated with deer and whitetails are expanding into marginal to poor habitat.
Browsing pressure is severe in these areas, where little woody vegetation exists within five feet of the ground. The proposal would provide additional hunting opportunity while addressing a resource concern. Counties affected include: Armstrong, Briscoe, Carson, Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Crosby, Dickens, Donley, Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Garza, Gray, Hall, Hardeman, Hemphill, Hutchinson, Kent, King, Lipscomb, Motley, Ochiltree, Roberts, Scurry, Stonewall, and Wheeler.
The department is also considering for the first time implementing a general open season in Dawson, Deaf Smith, and Martin counties (three deer, no more than one buck, no more than two antlerless).
Another issue where deer surveys indicate a need for change involves additional antlerless deer harvest opportunities. Therefore, the department is looking to increase antlerless deer hunting or "doe days" in the following areas:
- from 16 days to full-season either-sex in Dallam, Denton, Hartley, Moore, Oldham, Potter, Sherman and Tarrant counties;
- from 30 days to full-season either-sex in Cook, Hardeman, Hill, Johnson, Wichita, and Wilbarger counties;
- from four days to16 days in Bowie and Rusk counties;
- from four days to 30 days in Cherokee and Houston counties;
- from no doe days to four doe days in Anderson, Henderson, Hunt, Leon, Rains, Smith, and Van Zandt counties.
This proposal offers more hunting opportunity as well as making "doe days’ more consistent within each resource management unit (a suite of counties with similar population and habitat characteristics). Data indicate that the deer populations can withstand the additional harvest pressure proposed.
The department is also looking at expansion of the late antlerless and spike season into additional counties.
Counties affected include: Archer, Armstrong, Baylor, Bell (West of IH35), Bosque, Briscoe, Callahan, Carson, Childress, Clay, Collingsworth, Comanche, Cooke, Coryell, Cottle, Crosby, Denton, Dickens, Donley, Eastland, Erath, Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Garza, Gray, Hall, Hamilton, Hardeman, Haskell, Hemphill, Hill, Hood, Hutchinson, Jack, Johnson, Jones, Kent, King, Knox, Lampasas, Lipscomb, McLennan, Montague, Motley, Ochiltree, Palo Pinto, Parker, Pecos, Roberts, Scurry, Shackelford, Somervell, Stephens, Stonewall, Tarrant, Taylor, Terrell, Throckmorton, Upton, Wheeler, Wichita, Wilbarger, Williamson (West of IH35), Wise, and Young. In Pecos, Terrell, and Upton counties, the proposed season would replace the current muzzleloader-only open season.
Biologists are also looking to implement a special muzzleloader season in additional counties, lengthen the existing muzzleloader season by five days to be equivalent in length with the special antlerless and spike buck seasons in other counties, and alter the current muzzleloader bag composition to allow the harvest of any buck (not just spike bucks) and antlerless deer without permits if the county has "doe days" during the general season.
Counties affected include: Austin, Bastrop, Bowie, Brazoria, Caldwell, Camp, Cass, Cherokee, Colorado, De Witt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Goliad (North of HWY 59), Goliad (South of HWY 59), Gonzales, Gregg, Guadalupe, Harrison, Houston, Jackson (North of HWY 59), Jackson (South of HWY 59), Karnes, Lavaca, Lee, Marion, Matagorda, Morris, Nacogdoches, Panola, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Upshur, Victoria (North of HWY 59), Victoria (South of HWY 59), Waller, Washington, Wharton (North of HWY 59), Wharton (South of HWY 59), and Wilson.
In response to a commission directive to seek additional opportunities for youth participation, the department is looking at extending the early youth only season to include the entire month of October and the late youth-only season by 12 days during January in selected counties to run concurrently with late antlerless and spike seasons. The intent of the proposal is to allow adults and children to hunt together during different special seasons.
The department is also considering a petition to implement a general open season (with antlerless harvest by permit only) in Grayson County. TPWD staff has determined that there is no biological necessity for retaining the current rule, which restricts lawful methods to archery equipment and crossbows, but will be seeking input from county residents prior to making any official proposal to the commission in January. The date and locations of scoping meetings in Grayson County have not been finalized.
Other Wildlife-Related Issues
Other wildlife-related issues that could be advanced by the department include potentially implementing an open general season in Parmer County for mule deer, contingent upon the results of winter surveys and the temporary suspension of the two-day October lesser prairie chicken season until population recovery supports a season.
Changes Possible in Freshwater Fishing Regs
In addition, several possible changes to freshwater fishing regulations were offered to the commission for consideration including: modifying blue catfish regulations on three reservoirs, modifying largemouth bass regulations on another and providing increased protection for alligator gar statewide.
Harvest regulations for blue catfish on Lake Lewisville, Lake Richland Chambers and Lake Waco currently reflect the statewide limits (12-inch minimum length limit and 25 fish daily bag limit). Possible proposed changes would consist of a 25 fish daily bag limit with a 30 to 45-inch slot length limit and harvest of only one blue catfish over 45 inches would be allowed. No harvest of blue catfish between 30 and 45 inches would be allowed.
Harvest regulations for largemouth bass on Lake Ray Roberts are currently a 14- to 24-inch slot length limit and a five fish daily bag (only one bass 24 inches or greater may be retained each day). Potential changes would consist of the statewide limits for largemouth bass (14-inch minimum length limit and five fish daily bag limit).
The department discussed possible regulation strategies that emphasize protection of adult fish (alligator gar)* , while allowing some limited harvest of trophy fish to ensure population stability while allowing utilization of the resource. Two possible regulation scenarios were highlighted. The first would consist of issuing tags that would limit the size and/or number of alligator gar an angler could harvest in one year. The other would involve setting a minimum length limit of 7 feet and a daily bag limit of one. Under either scenario, harvest through commercial activities would also be restricted.
Alligator gar populations are believed to be declining throughout much of their historical range, which includes the Mississippi River system, as well as coastal rivers of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida through Texas to northern Mexico. Although the severity of these declines is unknown, habitat alteration and over-exploitation are thought to be partially responsible. Observed declines in other states, vulnerability to overfishing, and increased interest in the harvest of trophy gar indicate a conservative management approach is warranted until populations and potential threats can be fully assessed.**
Coastal Fisheries to Look at Flounder, All-Water Guide Licenses and Consistency
Despite a relatively good year for flounder coastwide this year, TPWD Coastal Fisheries biologists remain concerned about a long-term downward trend in the abundance of southern flounder in Texas bays. Gill net catch rates have fallen from a rate of .14 fish per hour in 1982 to about .03 fish per hour lat year.
State fisheries biologists have already met with commercial and recreational fishermen to discuss possible changes to flounder regulations, and have planned a series of public scoping meetings to outline management options and receive input from anyone with an interest in the issue.
Management tools at the department’s disposal include decreasing the bag limit, increasing minimum size limit, area or time closures and quotas.
Also subject to scoping in the coming months is a proposal to change the requirements for a TPWD All-Water Guide license, which currently calls for the applicant to hold a USCG Operator of an Uninspected Passenger Vessel, or "Six-Pack" license. The changes would apply to applicants who wish to guide paddle craft trips only.
The draft proposal presented to TPW Commissioners includes requirements that licensees — in lieu of holding a USCG license — successfully complete TPWD Boater Safety training, hold current CPR and First Aid certifications and successfully complete ACA Level II Essentials of Kayak Touring and Coastal Kayak Trip Leading, or BCU Three-Star Sea Kayak and Four-Star Leader Sea Kayak certifications.
Finally, Coastal Fisheries biologists presented several issues pertaining to achieving consistency between state and federal regulations for sharks and reef fish such as gray triggerfish, greater amberjack and gag grouper.
Dates have not yet been set for public scoping meetings on the proposals to change the guide license requirements for paddle craft guides, or for changes in migratory and reef fish regulations to achieve consistency with federal regulations.
Scoping meetings have been scheduled for possible changes to flounder regulations.
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