Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Nov. 5, 2008Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 5th day of November, 2008, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas, Committee Chairman
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Ralph H. Duggins, Fort Worth, Texas
- Antonio Falcon, MD, Rio Grande City, Texas
- Karen J. Hixon, San Antonio, Texas
- Margaret Martin, Boerne, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Carter P. Smith, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good morning, everybody. This is Wednesday committee meetings. I think the meeting is called to order. Before proceeding with any business though I think Commissioner Duggins had something he wanted to say. So I'll let him start before Mr. Smith has his statement.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I've been living in fear of lawsuits ever since the spring bass-fishing tournament that Dan put on — Dan and his bunch put on when I borrowed Mr. Parker's pen and —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Lawyers are always worried about lawsuits.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: There was a failure on somebody's part to get the pen back to Mr. Parker. But thanks to the good work of Commissioner Friedkin and his staff the pen has been located. And, on the record, as we say, I want to return it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Thank you very much. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We may have had something to do with losing it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So, John, are you now going to indemnify him that you won't get into all that legal mumbo-jumbo back and forth.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Bright, can you and I have a conference?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, thank you everybody for coming this morning. Obviously it's kind of interesting times in — going on in the world — literally the world. And, of course, the election yesterday and last night and we'll see what comes out of all of that.
But we're going to hold our regular meetings — committee meetings today and our open meeting tomorrow. So I welcome everybody. And, with that, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.
MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 of the Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official minutes of the record.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mr. Smith. We will begin with our Regs Committee.
Commissioner Friedkin, please call your committee to order.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The first order of business is the approval of the previous committee meeting minutes, which have already been distributed. Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So move.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Bivins.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second by somebody. All in favor.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.
Committee Item Number 1, Update on Parks and Wildlife Progress in Implementing the TPWD Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan. Mr. Smith?
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Appreciate it. Saturday was the opening day of deer season, and, obviously, that's a big time of year for us. Reports from our wildlife biologists and game wardens were a little slow around the state with the weather — big mass crop in a lot of places too that hampered deer activity — but looking forward to a good deer season.
It was also curiously enough the opening day of the 54th Game Warden Academy. And so Scott and Pete and their team have got 55 new cadets at Hamilton County. It's going to be the first class going through the new Game Warden Training Center there, and so we're very, very excited about the development of that. Half of our cadets are males and half are females, so that's an interesting ratio there — and looking forward to seeing that class through to fruition over the next seven months.
And, just as a reminder, Scott is leading a campaign with the foundation to help us with the fund-raising there to complete that center. And so we're very, very excited about that.
I guess speaking with — on deer, in the last session there were a number of interim committees that were charged to look into a number of things. There was a select interim committee that was charged with looking at deer breeding and how those business practices could be improved — what sort of marketing could be brought to the table to help that industry, what obstacles were there.
They held their first committee meeting on the first of October. Mr. Bass is there to represent the Parks and Wildlife Department on that committee. Clayton Wolf did a great job testifying before that committee. And they talked about a wide range of subjects relating to just the health of the industry and business practices and disease issues and property rights and related concerns. So we'll report more on that as it unfolds.
I guess the last thing that I will mention — and Scott has got a great presentation that he's going to share with us a little later on this morning having to do with the impact from Hurricane Ike. And so you all are going to hear a lot about the response from our various and sundry teams on that front.
One of the things we tried to do was be as flexible as possible with our constituents that were impacted by Hurricane Ike. And so, you know, one good manifestation of that with our coastal fisheries team, because of the huge amount of debris that was in the waters offshore and in the bays, we relaxed the restrictions on the turtle excluder devices through the 26th of October and, instead, put in place kind of a limited trawl times there, and so — to make sure that they weren't picking up any turtles by accident. But I think the shrimpers were appreciative of that change.
So, anyway, that's my report, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Carter. Appreciate it. Okay. Committee Item Number 2, Rule Review — request permission to review rules.
MS. BRIGHT: Good morning, Commissioners. For the record I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. And I'm actually going to do three presentations regarding our rule review process.
Chapter 2001 of the Government Code requires that agencies review all their rules every four years. We have to include in that review an assessment of whether the reasons for adopting those rules continue to exist. And then we publish notice of our proposed review in the Texas Register for public comment. And then we either request that regulations be re-adopted, adopted with changes, or repealed based on the review.
Normally the review occurs over three meetings. First meeting we request permission to begin the review, second meeting we request permission to publish changes as a result of the review in the Texas Register, third meeting we seek to adopt changes that have been proposed.
This is a chart — you've seen this before — with a schedule. Now we are looking at beginning the real review process for Chapter 57, which is Fisheries, and Chapter 65, Wildlife. So staff requests permission to begin the rule review process for Chapters 57 and 65. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Ann? Everything okay? No further questions or discussion. I'll authorize staff to begin the rule review.
Committee Item Number 3, Rule Review — request permission to publish proposed changes.
MS. BRIGHT: If you'll recall the last — for the record, I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. We do this in a three-meeting process. And this is the second meeting for these rules, Chapter 53, Finance, 59, Parks, and 69, Resource Protection.
53 mainly — Chapter 53, a bulk of that concerns fees. And in going through that — and I'm just going to put these up here — there were a number of permits and fees that were either duplicative, needed to be put in another chapter so that they're easier to find, or have been eliminated — no longer exist. And staff is proposing — recommending that we propose to make these changes.
Parks had a number of changes as well. The entrance and use fees as a result of the fiscal control issues — those need to be updated. Use fees — same thing. Also we need to delete references to the railroad. The chronology and thematic organization, development guidelines, personnel selection and training, and classification and guidelines — all of those really basically need to be redone in order to just reflect current practices.
For example, on personnel selection and training, we now have the managing park operations training, fiscal control training that needs to be included. Development guidelines refers to the General Services Commission, which no longer exists — has been replaced by the Building and Procurement Commission. So for all of these we're wanting to update and reorganize.
And the rules of conduct — again, the same thing. For example, we want to address supervision of children, collection of firewood — things that we want to just make sure that we're clear about in the parks.
On Chapter 69, Resource Protection, we're not requesting any proposed changes.
So we're requesting permission to publish changes to Chapters 53 and 59. And I listed 69 even though there are no changes being proposed. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I have one.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: On the finance item, 53.12 —
MS. BRIGHT: Okay. Let me see if I can —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — have we never charged more to non-resident commercial boat fishermen than residents?
MS. BRIGHT: That is a good question — if somebody can help me. I don't know. Currently we don't. I'm not sure what it has — currently we don't, but I'm not sure what the history has been on that. I can get that information for you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'm sorry. I didn't catch it. Can you repeat —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I asked a question about 53.12 and the changes. It says eliminate duplicative language regarding commercial fishing boat fees and clarify there's only one license with the same fee for residents and non-residents. And I was asking has that always been the case that we've had one fee or have they ever charged more?
MS. BRIGHT: And I don't know the answer to that, but I can — we can —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can we get an answer to that?
MS. BRIGHT: Actually, Robin knows.
MR. RIECHERS: For the record, Robin Riechers with Coastal Fisheries. On that commercial boat fee, I think what we're trying to accomplish there is they're currently at the same cost and we're just trying to merge those two together. They're relatively small cost anyhow on those. And our belief is at this point in time since they are the same we should just merge them together and do away with those two different license types on that particular one.
MS. BRIGHT: If I understand your question it was whether historically they have been difference.
MR. RIECHERS: Not in the recent past it has not.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is there a reason why out-of-state, non-resident fishermen — commercial fishermen don't pay higher fees?
MR. RIECHERS: Well, they do for — this particular commercial boat license for the non-resident shrimp license, non-resident oyster license — any of the actual licenses to prosecute a fishery in our waters — they actually do pay a higher fee.
But the boat license was kind of a commercial — to get a total count of commercial licensing years and years ago. In some respects it's only used now — and Pete may be able to help me if there's a law enforcement reason — but I think it's used in the perspective of if you had some other vessel that was operating with one of those prosecution boats in some way that would have to have that on board — they have to have it on board as well.
But it's — in some respects it doesn't hold the same function it once did historically, which was to identify it as a commercial boat and when we didn't have those other species driven licenses at some point in time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I assume — you're asking from a financial point of view — should we charge more for non-residential than residential.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is there any reason to or not to do that?
MR. RIECHERS: And I have to admit I don't remember the exact numbers on this, but I think our belief was it was a fairly small amount and that, you know, at this point — the savings we will gain from a one license perspective versus the amount of money that would generate would probably be better off for us here.
One of the things we could do here is make sure that we come back with all that information for you all at the next meeting and the history behind this license a little bit so that you have a better handle on that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That would be awesome. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That's what I was going to suggest — coming back. But I'm glad that Commissioner Duggins brought it up because I feel like we probably have significant number of boats being run in our Texas waters out of Louisiana — and I know they've run in the river over there between the states.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. So for the next meeting will you come back with either a briefing or a little bit more information on how we're going to proceed.
MS. BRIGHT: We'll do that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Ann? Okay. I'll authorize to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item Number 4. Ann Bright? Rule Review.
MS. BRIGHT: For the record, I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. We're now to the third meeting of the three-meeting process for rule review on these rules — Chapters 51, 52, 55, and 61.
In August the Commission authorized staff to publish changes to the rules that were identified as part of the rule review process. These were published in the Texas Register on October 3.
The proposed changes are for Chapter 51, Executive, to revise the petition for rule-making provisions. First is to allow staff to deny a petition for rulemaking that is duplicative of a petition received — I should say received and denied within the previous six months, to amend the petition for rule-making process to address a situation in which staff believes staff's recommendation is that a petition be granted, and then to eliminate the requirement that staff verify that Commissioners receive the petition for rulemaking.
The reason for this final thing is that, given the realities of modern communication, that usually happens anyway. I mean, we have faxes ‑‑ will come back ‑‑ return; letters will come back return, that sort of thing. And then to revise the employee fund-raising rules to more accurately reflect current agency practice. As you are aware, we changed that practice recently so that donations are — donations over $500 are approved monthly by the chairman of the Commission and the chairman of the Finance Committee so that we can go ahead and start budgeting and expending those items. And then these donations are acknowledged by the Commission at each meeting.
And then on the hunter education rules, to clarify that the required passing grade is 70 for in-person courses and 80 for online courses.
On the public — and on 52 we want to change the title to Stocking Policy, which is more accurate. Law enforcement were no changes.
Chapter 61, Design and Construction — this is a regional park program — a grant program. And we wanted to change the ranking system to track the changes to the other programs made in the previous rulemaking. And these have to do with things like whether the program supports the land and water recreation and conservation plan — that sort of thing. And then revise the definition of low income.
On gifts to the Department we received 20 comments, six in favor, one against. The one against mainly was just concerned that persons making gifts to the Department might have undue influence. On the petitions for rulemaking we received six in favor, zero against. We did receive one open records request for information about this proposal, but no comments.
On the hunter education we received 19 in favor, three against, and all are apart. And the persons who commented against mainly believe that the passing grade should be the same for in-person and online courses.
And in terms of the design and construction we received three in favor, one against in part. And the one against really was not germane to this. It merely expressed a concern about legislative earmarks.
This is the recommendation that we will be presenting to the Commission tomorrow to adopt these changes as published in the October 3 Texas Register. And I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: What is the basis for establishing a passing grade of 80 versus a passing grade of 70?
MS. BRIGHT: We thought you might ask. Steve Hall is here, and he is our hunter education coordinator. He's — apparently it's an industry standard ‑‑ and he's ready with an answer.
MR. HALL: Steve Hall, Education Director, responsible for hunter education. Yes, it's a national standard that the internet providers use. 90 percent of the internet providers for boater education — excuse me — hunter education and 100 percent for boater education use that standard nationally. And we're simply making a rule out of a policy.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But it's different than the other one.
MR. HALL: The in-person courses. Correct.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: What's their rationale for the difference?
MR. HALL: The difference is they're prepared — the higher standard for internet prepares them better for the field course that they're — they come and take a shorter field course, but it's a higher, more rigorous, you know, hands-on training episode. And so that higher standard prepares them a little better on the internet side.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. I think that's your question.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And then also we receive correspondence regarding passing grades on other testing. Is there any way we could standardize the passing — I mean, I understand the difference in your internet-based testing and your in-person testing, but is 70 the standard for passing on all in-person regardless of what the testing protocol may be?
MR. HALL: It's a primary standard. It's about 70 percent around the country that use 70 percent as a passing grade and the others use 80 percent all the way through.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And, specific reference, we have some people in the audience today that are falconers, and there's a falconry test. And we received correspondence from someone regarding the requirements to pass that exam at an 80 percentile rather than an 70 percentile. And I don't — I assume that was an in-person exam, but I don't know if it was or not.
MR. HALL: Well, I can't comment on that other than to say that the education standards are typically internet 80 percent.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay.
MR. HALL: In-person fluctuates but it depends really on what the nature of the topic is usually.
MS. BRIGHT: We can provide more information on that if you'd like.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: That's fine. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Ann? Okay. No further questions or discussion, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Committee Item Number 5, Threatened and Endangered Nongame Species Regulations Amendments — permission to publish request.
MR. WAGNER: Good morning, Chairman and Commission. My name is Matt Wagner. I'm program director for Wildlife Diversity. With me this morning is Dr. Gary Garrett in our Inland Fisheries Division. We're going to talk to you today about our threatened and endangered species regulations and some proposed amendments.
Texas endangered species are handled under Chapter 68. Endangered species are those that are designated by the federal government or listed as threatened with statewide extinction by our executive director. And for your information there are no state-listed endangered species currently that are not already federally listed. A 60-day notice is required prior to filing this list with the Texas Secretary of State.
Now, threatened species are handled under Chapter 67, which is our nongame species regulation. Threatened species are defined as those likely to become endangered in the future, and these are handled under the Administrative Procedure Act in which a 30-day notice is required prior to adoption by the Commission.
Our proposed amendment would be to include the list of federally endangered species in the same subchapter of Texas Administrative Code as the state threatened list. At the same time we want to remove the Arctic peregrine falcon from the threatened species list. This bird was delisted several years ago and we are following suit with our state threatened list. And also to add the San Felipe gambusia to the threatened species list.
In your packet you will find both the endangered and threatened lists. And just also for your information Louisiana pine snake was left off the threatened species list erroneously. We want to make sure that that snake gets back on the list if we go to publish in the Texas Register.
So, with that, I'd like to turn it over to Dr. Garrett to tell you a little bit about this unique fish.
DR. GARRETT: Good morning. Actually I had the good fortune to discover and name this fish a few years ago — named it after the most famous ichthyologist in Texas, Dr. Clark Hubbs. It's a mosquito fish — that means it eats mosquito larvae for a living, so it's fairly popular in a lot of areas.
This fish, however, occurs only in San Felipe Creek in Del Rio. That's obviously an urban stream. It's about 10 miles long, fed by the third largest spring in the state, which makes it a fairly stable environment. It emanates on a golf course then flows through town. The total creek's about 10 miles and the gambusia — San Felipe gambusia occurs in about half of that habitat — so very restricted in its habitat. But very specific to that area — highly adapted for that area.
We've worked with the City of Del Rio and the golf course over the years to develop a creek master plan to help them protect that natural resource that they're very proud of in a way that it will be there for a long time — designed to protect that natural ecosystem but allow the citizens to use it.
And the mayor, the city council, the golf course staff are all very proud of what they've done. They're very proud of the fact that their work on this creek in working with Parks and Wildlife has enabled us to actually find this fish. This fish has been there forever, but I myself have collected in that area for like 30 years — others, such as Clark Hubbs, for 70 years or so. The fish has never shown up. Old museum collections never had this fish in it.
After that devastating flood in 1998 in Del Rio — it occurred about the same time we were working with the city and the golf course staff to reduce pollution — fertilizers — things like that — to clean up the creek — make it a more natural environment. That flood came through, really flushed it out, and, subsequent to that time we discovered this fish — and it's actually in high numbers now.
It's a testament to the good work that they've done in taking care of their natural resources. So they're very much in favor of everything they can do to protect this.
MR. WAGNER: So the proposed amendment — we're requesting permission to publish the amendments as presented in the Texas Register for public comment. And I'll be happy to take questions at this time.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I'm just curious on the threatened list — I know you're delisting the Arctic peregrine — but the list of — the peregrine falcon is still on the Texas threatened list and it was delisted in '99. And I'm just — and I know there is a population along the coast that's a little iffy, but I just was curious is that's something that we'll change and ‑‑
MR. WAGNER: We essentially have two subspecies of peregrines. We have the tundras, which is the one we want to delist today, and then the Anatum, which are the nesting birds in West Texas. And those are the ones we still believe need protection. Those populations are not doing as well. So we want to make sure that they have that protection, and they do, through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other regulations to protect them.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions? No further questions or discussion I'll authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
MR. WAGNER: Thanks, Gary.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. All right.
Committee Item Number 6, Raptor Proclamation — consistency with the federal rules. This is a public request.
MR. WAGNER: Moving from fish to falcons. Again, for the record, my name is Matt Wagner, program director for Wildlife Diversity. We have an amendment to our raptor proclamation we'd like to tell you about this morning.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently authorized falconers to engage in abatement activities using raptors to control nuisance pigeons, grackles, and other birds. This federal abatement permit allows falconers to possess raptors for abatement purposes, in addition to raptors possessed for falconry purposes.
So the proposed amendment would be to Section 65 of the Texas Administrative Code to allow possession of additional raptors by licensed falconers for purposes authorized by a federal abatement permit. So staff requests permission to publish the amendment as presented in the Texas Register for public comment. And I can take any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Basically this is consistency with the federal —
MR. WAGNER: That's right. We want to make sure this activity can proceed and we don't have anything in our state rules that would conflict with it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right. How many falconry permits have we — do we have in the state?
MR. WAGNER: We have roughly about 200 permitted falconers. In fact, several members of the Texas Hawking Association are with us this morning, and we work closely with them. We have a falconry and raptor council we meet with a couple of times a year to work out any issues that might arise.
And I believe there are only three or four that are actually permitted with this abatement permit currently. It's becoming quite a popular activity and effective around —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Where is that done?
MR. WAGNER: Well, we know that in Fort Worth — some downtown Fort Worth — some of that work's being done. Some airports — I think the DFW Airport might recently be looking into this. If we have any more detail I'd be happy to introduce some of these.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Sure. Please.
MR. WAGNER: Sheldon Nicolle is with us — and vice president of the Texas Hawking Association. If you have any more questions for him I'd really like to turn it over to him.
MR. NICOLLE: Good morning, Commissioners. Sheldon Nicolle. We — the bird abatement is — it's an age-old tried method of controlling nuisance birds. The changes that have come about just allow us to use captive bred birds. Historically we've had the ability to use what they call exotics that are non-indigenous to the United States. And that's been a flourishing industry for years. And the Feds have allowed us to use it with the special use permit. The new change just allows us to use the captive bred.
And it's a very effective way. Texas has a Harris Hawk, which I don't know if you're familiar with. That bird is very effective with grackles and we — I was actually last night flying my Harris Hawk at DFW Airport. We got a contract that we started on Monday evening.
Downtown Fort Worth — you might be familiar with what's going on down there. We've been flying down there pro bono for five years because the permit wasn't in act so we couldn't charge. And there's — it's kind of an iffy statement — you know, charging to use your raptors. We were doing it just as a proof of concept with the mayor. Mayor Moncrief and a few others in downtown Fort Worth helped us in pushing through that federal permit. So it's a very — I guess it's a successful way of controlling these birds.
COMMISSION HIXON: How do we get you to San Antonio?
MR. NICOLLE: There's one that lives in Austin. You know John Karger who does our show. John did this years ago before these regulations using exotics as well. So it's a tough industry. You have to stay on top of it.
And it's not something that you go and do for an hour. In a lot of cases it's — you know, it's an all-night activity and that — you have to have numerous raptors. And I think the changes that Director Wagner is pushing through for us is — how many birds does it take to do a job. Currently the falcon regulations limit you to one bird as an apprentice, two as a general, and three as a master class falconer. One project may require five birds or 10 birds, and that's what the federal regulations allow us to do.
MR. WAGNER: Thank you, Sheldon.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: One other question. When you refer to exotics what birds are you talking about?
MR. NICOLLE: Lanner Falcons from Africa, the — there's a list of them — a whole list. But Lanner Falcons from Africa is one of the most popular ones. They use them in California in the wineries getting nuisance birds off the grapes.
The Saker Falcon is another one that's considered exotics. It's just a non-indigenous raptor, so it's not indigenous to North America and protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Interesting. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Fascinating. We know what Commissioner Duggins is going to be doing on his lunch break. Thank you. Any other questions? Okay. No further questions or discussions I'll authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item Number 7, 2009-2010 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation Preview. Clay Brewer please.
MR. BREWER: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Clay Brewer and I am currently serving as acting director of the Wildlife Division. I'm here along with Clayton Wolf to present the potential regulation changes for the upcoming hunt season. I will present a couple of items for game birds and Clayton will present a rather lengthy list for deer.
The first is a briefing item concerning pheasants. If you will recall at the January Commission meeting staff agreed to investigate changing the current pheasant season structure by adding a week to the end of it. Since that time staff, along with the Upland Game Bird Council, have met and discussed the issue. And at this time staff, along with the Council, recommend no changing — no changes to the current pheasant season structure.
And any — I know that's — there's still a considerable amount of discussion on that item, and so any further direction or guidance that you guys can provide would be greatly appreciated.
The next item is a proposed regulation change to the Lesser Prairie Chicken hunting season. Staff, along with the Upland Game Bird Council, recommend a suspension to the Lesser Prairie Chicken season as a result of continued population declines in Texas and range wide.
Now, these declines are associated with adverse impacts to habitat rather than hunting — and I want to make that very clear. Hunting is currently provided on a limited basis — a two-day season in October — by permit only to landowners working under — who — working under a wildlife management plan.
And I will tell you that the suspension is intended to be a temporary thing. The ultimate goal is sustainable in huntable populations. And staff is in the process of developing a realistic recovery goal that will be presented to the Commission in March. And the ultimate goal is to restore limited hunting opportunity again.
So before we — I'm sorry, I forgot to change my slides here. Before we move on to the deer proposals I'll answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can we go back to the pheasant?
MR. BREWER: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Why not extend it for the week? What was the reasoning behind the —
MR. BREWER: Well, it was a number of issues — declining — when I say habitat issues that part of the world is experiencing declines in CRP primarily, expanded wind development — wind power development — and so a considerable amount of threats to that habitat of various things.
But it — within, I would say, 10 years 75 percent of the CRP contracts will expire and it gets worse. Another five years after that — another five years or so it's 96 percent of those CRP contracts will expire. So we have definite concerns about that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So with the wind and ethanol and all the rest of it the CRP is going away.
MR. BREWER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Because there's incentives to do other things.
MR. BREWER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I also have a request that I would like to continue the pursuit of. In our January meeting — in the discussions here — the potential of actually opening the season a week earlier was also brought up. And I would like to put that out for public comment to see if the guiding community, as well as the public hunting community in the pheasant area, would appreciate the opportunity to be able to hunt pheasant on the week following Thanksgiving —
MR. BREWER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — which would — which in opening it a week earlier would include that weekend. Now, I am also aware that there may be some issues with law enforcement in that that coincides with the opening weekend of the mule deer season in the northern Panhandle. And so I'm not trying to create an additional burden for these people, but I just want — I mean, it's — I feel like it's our obligation to increase opportunities in any way we can. And I also understand the — that the limiting factors that you just referred to with regard to wind energy and then this, the population increase in the Panhandle if nothing else.
But it just seems to be able to include pheasant in that traditional hunting family — hunting period would be very well received by the hunting community if it can be done effectively within the confines of our law enforcement restrictions and if — you know, if knowing that that's going to take place we could move people from an area that, you know, isn't hunter-intensive into the Panhandle just for that one weekend or just for the period that they need to be there, if that's practical. I'm once again not trying to —
MR. BREWER: If you wish.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And protecting the population ‑‑ bird population because that's one of the issues.
COLONEL FLORES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, I'm Colonel Peter Flores, Director of Law Enforcement. Commissioner, to answer your question, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The division's position is that we are for more hunter opportunity obviously. And the more time that families get to spend out we're for that.
But the division's position is it is a management issue, and we will take every proactive step that we can to provide for protection of our resources and be able to have wardens afield to protect mule deer and pheasant and make it work. So we will do everything we can with our management —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And I want them —
COLONEL FLORES: — to allocate our resources. COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — to be part of the comment process — obviously not just public comment, but department comment as well. It's an opportunity I think merits, at least, examination.
COLONEL FLORES: Yes, sir. Throughout the state we work multiple seasons at any one time, and it's a matter of prioritizing and moving and being able to answer the calls. And it's all over the state, not just unique to the Panhandle. But we will make this work. Through our supervisors up there — and our wardens are a can-do bunch and we'll do our best to serve.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Well, it's — you know, the busiest day at the Amarillo airport is the Friday before the opening of pheasant season. And it's a big industry in the Panhandle of Texas, and we need to take advantage of that fact with, of course, conservation always in mind. But it just seems like an opportunity that needs to be at least flushed out.
COLONEL FLORES: We'll make it work.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you.
COLONEL FLORES: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Brown?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I had a question on the — you had made reference to the impact of wind energy. Are we doing ongoing scientific studies to document what the impact is ultimately going to be?
MR. BREWER: Yes, sir. We have several things going. In fact, you'll have a presentation later on this morning about wind development and some of the things we have going. Kathy Boydston will be making a presentation later this morning.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: And in your view the impact is — is it because the renewable — or the wind energy is removing some of the wind from — is it CRP?
MR. BREWER: CRP. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Is that the impact, or are we talking about an impact from birds flying into these —
MR. BREWER: It's my understanding that the impacts are first the infrastructure — there's lots of road development — things like that — construction activities. Then the structures themselves and the — the information that we have on wind power is related to Greater Prairie Chickens — that it was an adverse impact. So in Texas and what it's done specifically to the Lesser Prairie Chicken — we really don't have a whole lot of information right now. So that's where we stand on that issue.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Clay, thank you.
Any other questions?
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman, for the record I'm Clayton Wolf. I'm the director of the Big Game Program. And I — as Clay indicated I've got a rather long list of proposals, mostly dealing with white-tailed deer. This list has been three years or more in the making.
But before I began what I would request to do is invite up Mitch Lockwood. Some of this long — this laborious process of looking at how we count our animals and the populations of inference — we've gone through some dramatic changes since the science review in 2004. Mitch, along with our white-tailed deer committee, has worked diligently to look at a more biologically based units for counting deer. And we think it would be worth your time to see these changes.
It will help you understand that when we list — when we show a group of counties how we chose that group of counties for a particular proposal. So if you don't mind I'll turn it over to Mitch.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record my name is Mitch Lockwood. I'm a white-tailed deer program leader. And as Clayton indicated this morning we'll discuss some basic principles of how and why we monitor deer populations in this state and how we use those data to formulate harvest strategies, to develop those, and which eventually result in regulation proposals.
The response to the science review that was conducted in 2004 by Wildlife Management Institute — we've made many major changes to the way we monitor deer populations in this state. This morning we'll focus on the first, and perhaps the most important, of those changes, which was redefining the populations of inference.
Prior to 2005 the white-tailed deer populations that we monitored in Texas were based on these political boundaries that we called reporting units. These reporting units were comprised of groups of counties that were considered to be somewhat similar with respect to general habitat types, what we did know about deer population parameters and harvest and whatnot.
But, quite frankly, we did not have a lot of data available at that time. There was some subjectivity that went into that decision-making process. And, as a result, we did end up with quite a bit of variability in our data sets, especially as a result of those political definitions, because, as we all know, wild critters don't recognize those political boundaries.
One of our goals was to reduce the amount of variability in our data sets and to increase the confidence in our population estimates. In order for us to achieve this we would have to abandon these politically defined management units — or reporting units rather, and adopt more of a biologically defined management unit that we now call resource management units, or RMUs.
So we began acquiring and analyzing spatial data, data regarding soil types, vegetation types, precipitation, land use practices, et cetera. We used the common resource areas defined by NRCS as our foundation, but then we used more recent data, on the ground knowledge, and we made some adjustments to those.
We have already learned how this process is increasing the confidence in our population estimates, but we're continuing to make some minor adjustments to these delineations as we go as we collect more data. We now have four years of population data with this approach and the data are indicating some areas where some minor adjustments are necessary so we can reduce even more variability.
And before we started this process we were asked to explain the reasoning behind population and harvest monitoring. I think that's a very important question. Our main goal with this effort is to evaluate the effects of our regulations on these populations. If we have, say, a liberal antlerless deer bag limit that we proposed, if that were to result in over-harvest we'd need to be able to identify that consequence and respond accordingly.
Well, the only way for us to be able to achieve that goal is to have a consistent regulation throughout an entire resource management unit. As long as there's a single county that has a regulation of its own — a different regulation from the rest of the resource management unit there's no way for us to evaluate the effects of either one of those regulations on that population.
For this slide I'd like to give an idea of how we're attempting to provide consistent hunting opportunity throughout an entire RMU. And if you'll look at those orange counties, especially those — that string of orange counties that stretch southwesterly from the Red River — that may appear a bit odd at first glance, especially when we're considering regulations based on political boundaries.
But as you'll see with this next slide these particular counties comprise an RMU — RMU 24. A lot of these slides that you'll see from this point forward you'll see again with some more description in Clayton's presentation as he presents what we plan to propose. The different colors you see basically represent difference harvest strategies or different proposals — in this case the antlerless deer bag limit.
But, as I say, that group of counties is — comprises RMU 24. Now you can imagine there are many counties in the state. As you look at that fluorescent blue line there that's the resource management unit we're talking about. There are many counties throughout this state that are comprised of multiple RMUs, so a decision must be made as to which RMU to assign a county to. In most cases that's a pretty easy decision, but there are cases — in fact, here in the Blackland Prairies along the Red River provide a good example of when section assignment is not so obvious.
Let me show you with this example. Here we're looking at two RMUs, RMU 24 and to the east of that, RMU 22. The northeastern portion of RMU 22 extends into northern Grayson County, but by no means makes up the majority of that county. However, most of the habitat and most of the hunting activity occurs on the northern end of that county. And, therefore, from a regulatory standpoint Grayson County is assigned to RMU 22.
Now, with this particular example it doesn't really matter because, as you can see, in those orange counties that are both east and west of Grayson County we have a consistent regulation proposed in both RMUs 24, 22, and even 21 to the east. But the main point with this slide is that the county to which an RMU is assigned is not necessarily — or, rather, the RMU to which a county is assigned is not necessarily the RMU that makes up the bulk of that county. There are other considerations such as habitat availability, where hunting activity actually occurs, et cetera.
For this slide I'd like to give you an example of how we use data to monitor populations and react accordingly — how we formulate these harvest strategies or develop regulation proposals. As every one of you know we've dealt with poor-age structure among — throughout much of Texas for a long, long time, especially in the traditional one-buck counties where there's been a very heavy hunting pressure on bucks.
Fortunately, this is improving, especially in much of East Texas, with some recent regulation changes that are allowing for immature bucks to age. However, we do still have some — a number of traditional one-buck counties with no other limits where we have heavy hunting pressure on bucks throughout the Post Oak Savannah, the Blackland Prairies, and the Cross Timbers and Prairies region.
The western extent of this area where we have these age-structure concerns among bucks include RMU 24 that you see here, RMU 25, and RMU 26. As I said a while ago you'll see some of these slides again with some more description in Clayton's presentation. But, again, these colors that you're looking at are representing different proposed — or what we plan to propose different harvest strategies — for example, blue counties in South Texas being a three-buck bag.
Well, those yellow counties that you see there — and from this perspective the RMUs that include those yellow counties are where we have age-structure concerns among bucks. And you'll see a regulation proposal to increase hunting opportunity, but while also addressing this particular resource concern.
But notice the western edge of that fluorescent blue line there of RMUs 25 and 26. Just to the west of that you see a different color — kind of a beige/tan color. Well, there we would propose even more liberal bag limit, providing even more hunting opportunity because, quite frankly, in RMUs 27 and 29 and we don't have these age-structure concerns. Our data that we collect for these populations — the populations of inference that we've defined here indicate no age-structure concerns here — so no need for more restrictive harvest strategies.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can we stop you right there just ‑‑
MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — for obvious reasons? If I'm right on that edge, I mean, therein I assume lies some of the questions that come. RMU 24, 25, 26 versus 27 and 29 — theoretically that could split somebody's ranch. Correct?
MR. LOCKWOOD: They could.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Relative to the way that line is drawn.
MR. LOCKWOOD: That's right. They could.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Go ahead.
MR. LOCKWOOD: And that's one of the challenges that we have today, is the inconsistency that we have when regulating by political boundary.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. LOCKWOOD: But monitoring populations —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: By science.
MR. LOCKWOOD: — by biological boundary. That is a challenge that we have. But, even though an RMU may split your ranch, we have in the beginning of this process made a decision — for the most part an objective decision — as to which county to — which RMU to assign that particular county. So your whole ranch being in one county would have a consistent hunting regulation.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: With that county.
MR. LOCKWOOD: But currently we do have similar examples that you bring up where with a county-defined regulation your ranch could be in multiple counties and you could have different bag limits across your ranch.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Depending on the county's decision and what RMU they're in. In other words, two different counties could have two different RMUs — or requirements, and your ranch could be in both and be divided accordingly.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, even if —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Do I understand that right?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, RMUs aside, as it exists today and has forever without even considering RMUs you could have a ranch that is on a county line and you sit in both counties.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. LOCKWOOD: And one could be a one-buck county and one could be a two-buck county.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Basically what you're saying, but different.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. LOCKWOOD: But the same could exist with RMUs, but I think it still comes back to the point that we're — at this point in time we continue to regulate by political boundaries, and so that regulation will be set for that county.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So at this point if a ranch sits in two counties like that we don't go to the more restrictive necessarily. They can apply it for different parts of that ranch. [indiscernible] bag limits for different parts of the ranch.
MR. WOLF: Clayton Wolf for the record here. Just the regulations would apply separately. The beauty in Texas is — well, number one, when we set our regulations they're based on the average. And that means there are always exceptions out there. Fortunately, we've got our Managed Lands Deer Permit Program. So if we work with someone and they just — and the regulation package we have just doesn't work for their purposes then we've got at least a little safety net there with managed lands deer permits. And that would even include antler restrictions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You could adjust accordingly.
MR. WOLF: That's correct. Because basically with managed lands deer permits —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. WOLF: — you know, the county bag limits do not apply. And so we have — we do at least have somewhat of a safety net for those unique situations. And we use our regulations to manage the masses — I mean, what is generally occurring out there, but then we can also use our special permit programs for those exceptions — those unique situations.
MR. LOCKWOOD: And that kind of supports a point I wanted to make in that we simply don't have the resources to monitor any scale finer than this. We do recognize that there are ranches in this area of yellow that you see here that actually have pretty good age structure among bucks. They've been doing some good management for a while and they're not representative of an RMU per se — and we know that occurs. And I think that's where our technical guidance program really kicks in and where the managed land deer permits would be — would better suit their needs.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And in our existing system we are looking for age-structure above — we've got a lot of one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half-year-old concerns. Right? So really you're looking at three-and-a-half or four-and-a-half or above? How do we sort of define it?
MR. WOLF: That's correct. And I'll get into that in my presentation real soon with some harvest data criteria.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. LOCKWOOD: And, finally, we'll wrap this up and state — well, the point I wanted to make with this slide that we've already kind of touched on — and that's the challenges that we'll continue to face — and the biggest of those challenges being the fact that there is that inconsistency between regulating by political boundary and monitoring by biological boundary.
And, again, to emphasize that this isn't a final product. It's really close, but we are continuing to modify — to make adjustments to these delineations as the data keep coming in, and they dictate some needs and areas for minor changes to remove some more variability from the data sets.
But this does conclude my presentation. I know this is a brief overview of a major project defining populations of inference and population monitoring, and evaluating the effects of regulation. And so if you have any questions or would like for me to elaborate any more on it I'll be glad to.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Very helpful. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You say we regulate by political boundaries, but with birds we don't necessarily do it by county boundaries, do we? Don't we do it by highways?
MR. LOCKWOOD: That is correct. Well, with deer we have some examples. With Highway 90, for example, separating a three-buck bag from a two-buck bag. There are a few examples where we have highways that are the boundary between two regulations. But with white-tailed deer in general by and large we're regulating by county.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So we can — if the studies justify it you could do it with a highway as opposed to a county boundary.
MR. LOCKWOOD: There has been — to answer your question, yes, legally we could. There's some discussion just in the beginning stages that we plan to discuss in much more detail of how feasible such a project would even be. You mention highways. Rivers could be a possible boundary — some other major land features. But that is something that has been tossed around and I think has enough merit to — for further discussion on it.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, as an example, in the slide that has RMUs 24 through 26 — I don't know which one is — includes Stephens County —
MR. LOCKWOOD: Twenty-four, I believe.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But, anyway, Stephens County — the west side of that county, west of 183, is far different from the chopped up area east of that. And it would seem to me we ought to consider just looking at that one county as an example — look at 183 as a dividing line rather than put the whole county in what's proposed here in the bag restrictions. Has that been considered? Could it be considered?
MR. WOLF: I'd like to interject. Yes, it has been. In fact, we met with Carter Smith earlier, and he's given us a directive to look at trying to move these boundaries — our boundaries closer to more biologically defined boundaries. Of course, one of the big challenges we looked at — that we're going to look at is making sure that we don't make it more confusing for hunters. I mean, obviously, hunters are used to counties now.
And the other thing we want to look at is inclusion of other species. You know, having a management unit for white-tailed deer that is not consistent with turkey or quail or some other species would add a layer of confusion. So Director Smith has asked us to get with our game bird programs — in fact, we're going to have a meeting this afternoon with our RDs and PDs and talk about this concept here and just see if it's feasible.
So we are in the early stages here. We want to be very careful that, you know, whatever we do we just don't make hunting tougher, you know, for folks out there hunting out there. But you are correct. And, biologically, if we could get that regulatory boundary, whatever it is, closer — in fact, if — the slide right here that Mitch was showing you'll see just west of Bexar County there in San Antonio up on the screen Highway 90 — and you'll notice that those RMUs just north of that — or just north of Highway 90 — and obviously probably have something to do with building a highway where it was easy to build a highway just like Interstate 35.
And so there are some fairly easy boundaries where we do that already. And our regulations north of Highway 90 across those counties are different than south. And so we're going to progress forward looking at multiple species and see that that is feasible.
MR. SMITH: Commissioner, our wildlife biologist has really done a phenomenal job in terms of working to enhance kind of the biological underpinnings behind these recommendations and how they set harvest criteria and regulations. And, I mean, the work they're doing is really cutting edge around the country.
And I think Clayton captured it well is — is it going to be possible to move these scales from the monitoring perspective to the regulatory perspective across multiple species, and are there discernible physical boundaries such as highway and other points of infrastructure that would allow for an easy demarcation of boundaries as opposed to the current county system. And obviously we just don't know that — the answer to that.
But I think the good news is is the great science that they're bringing to bear here and thinking about this on a landscape scale perspective. It's — we're taking —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And the foundation of population dynamics.
MR. SMITH: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's going to be the one way that you're going to be able to walk in and talk the political game. Because, I mean, that's going to be the issue at the end of the day. Okay? It won't be just highways and rivers and that kind of thing. It's going to be, you know, the county commissioners and, You know, we've been doing it this way since 1950 and, you know, all those kinds of things and happenings.
So I want to give Clayton and all his group tremendous — the science that we're doing at TPW is second to none in the country. And what we've talked about — and Carter is behind 100 percent — is if we do our science right and our facts are correct then — I don't know to say this the right way — it makes it a little more difficult to argue then from just a political point of view — okay? — if we're truly trying to do the right thing for the habitat — I mean, for the population and the habitat.
And so I give these two fellows credit. We're getting there. And it's not easy, but we're getting there.
MR. WOLF: And there are no more questions for Mitch then I'll go ahead and continue with my presentation.
And, Commissioner Duggins, just to clarify, we are not ready right now for that project. When we talked about it we — and this is a big project and we have put folks on hold for three years on our regs package saying, Please wait, please wait. And we were kind of tired of nickel-and-diming folks with our deer regs, and that's why I'm going to be sitting up here a little bit longer and probably boring you. But we're not ready for that. That's our next step. And so the proposals that I will make today will still be based on these political boundaries — these county lines.
And with that I will go ahead and get started. Once again, just to clarify, this is our — your first view at this. Some of these slides will show proposals, but, obviously, we are not requesting permission to go to the Texas Register at this point. We're wanting feedback on these proposals so that when we come back again in January we'll have a more refined proposal that we can show you and request permission to go to the Texas Register. So this is just a first briefing.
What we're looking at here — this slide before you is a slide of the current buck bag limits in Texas. And what I will do for many of these is do a progression from current to what our staff is anticipating would be a good proposal — a biologically sound proposal. And so I'll probably toggle back and forth a little bit.
But as you'll see right now we've got basically four different kinds of buck bag limit packages in Texas — anywhere from one to three bucks and antler restrictions, of course, with South Texas there being our most liberal and a little hodgepodge in East Texas of antler restrictions. What I will do when I progress to the next slide — I'm going to ask you to focus there on the western Panhandle right now in those white counties. Those are currently closed seasons.
And when we progress to that slide right there I'll back up again — current to potentially the future. There are three counties there where we are proposing to open a season. They are currently closed and we're proposing — I mean, we would ask you to consider proposing opening a season for white-tailed deer. Those are Deaf Smith, Dawson, and Martin Counties. Very limited deer numbers, but we think they can sustain some hunting, especially with the landownership patterns out there. So the other packages I show you'll also note that with that there will be an antlerless bag limit that we would anticipate or ask you to consider for those three counties as well.
If you look there in the eastern rolling plains there just east of the Panhandle — and I'll back up to current, and then when I go to what we would propose you'll notice that we are — we would propose to extend the two-buck bag limit up through — and that's — if you remember that's RMUs I believe 27 and 29 — all the way up to the Red River — as Mitch had indicated different harvest characteristics, good age structure — can support a second buck in the bag limit.
We actually — when staff sat down they were actually thinking about taking the two-buck bag limit all the way up to the Panhandle. Because actually up in those one-buck counties right now the age structure in the Panhandle is pretty good. But we do have an issue up there with a burgeoning deer population. There are some deer density problems in that area. Mitch took a tour up there with some of the field staff this last year and they showed him around. There's some heavy utilization on the plant communities and there's a need to harvest more antlerless deer.
With that being said, when our staff looked at our big game harvest surveys — one thing we know about Texas hunters — and this is really — this is consistent throughout the southeast — your average hunter kills between one or two deer and that's it. And our big game harvest survey also shows that there's a slight preference for bucks.
So staff was concerned that if we added that two-buck bag limit up through the Panhandle that there might be some negative impacts to antlerless deer harvest. Now the reality is we really don't know. We really don't know based on our surveys. So what we are anticipating — or asking you to consider is that little stringer of counties there that we're going for two-buck bag limit is also one-buck.
So we would have a group — we'd have some RMUs that are one-buck going to two-buck and we'd have an RMU that's one-buck staying at one-buck with increased antlerless bag limits in both. And by doing that we hope we might gain some insight and see if the second buck in the bag does have a negative impact on antlerless harvest or not because we really don't know.
So it's kind of a field test. It's obviously not the best science in the world because, you know, we have little control over your controls, et cetera. But we've used our antler restrictions like this before to impose a restriction and then look at other similar counties and weigh the results. And so we have gained some insight — it's fairly coarse. And so we would ask you to consider allowing us to propose the two-buck bag limit up on the eastern rolling plains but maintain it in the Panhandle.
Now we'll focus on the east side of the state. Going back to current you can see some one-buck bag limits. Basically this is what we consider I guess our last real bite at where we would go with antler restrictions. I'll go forward.
One thing you'll notice down there in South Texas, just south of Bexar County — this is current and this is proposed — that one county down there in the three-buck zone is Atascosa County. Last year we received a petition for rulemaking from folks in Atascosa County who were interested in the antler restrictions. And Atascosa County is kind of split where the eastern edge has different harvest demographics than the western part.
But, anyhow, we asked — we basically — in our recommendation that you should receive we asked to postpone until this package came up. And so we are also wanting to propose that in Atascosa County. And this is a result of a petition for rulemaking that we received over a year ago.
As far as the question on the harvest demographics, all these counties that you see there in yellow where we would propose antler restrictions right now, unless they are under current antler restrictions, or if they got antler restrictions recently, prior to the imposition or currently 55 percent or more of the harvest is comprised of one-and two-year-old bucks in the harvest.
As Commissioner Friedkin was indicating, there's a lot of harvest on the younger end. There's not many deer that are making it to the older age class. And just to kind of refresh your memory, this is a slide from our six original counties where we have had the antler restrictions the longest. A lot of bars there, but the take-home message is before we started 75 percent of the harvest was one- and two-year-old deer. After six years it's leveled out and we see that 75 percent of the harvest is three-year-old and older deer. And, in fact, 40 percent of the harvest is four-and-a-half year old and older deer.
So big change in age structure. An important aspect to get here is we're also looking at hunting participation ‑‑ youth hunting participation to make sure that antler restrictions are not having a negative impact. And what we're seeing with all those demographics is that hunting participation is no different in these counties than it is in other counties without antler restrictions. We can't measure any difference, and we know some of our critics of antler restrictions were concerned about this complexity having a negative impact, as well we are. And so we've been tracking that, and we have not been able to detect any negative implications as far as hunting participation, and we broke that down by youth and adult as well.
As far as the antlerless deer bag limits, the slide before you shows the current antlerless deer bag limits in Texas. Most of Texas, except for South Texas, West Texas, and the Plateau is a two-antlerless bag limit. That's up to two. And, of course, South Texas and the Edwards Plateau have up to five. Now, I do want to reiterate that that's a total deer bag limit of five. So if a hundred chose to shoot all antlerless deer then they wouldn't have any buck tags left. But they could opt for as many as five, and then that's in conjunction with the buck bag limits that I showed you.
On this particular slide here — I will progress forward. You're going to see a up to the middle of the state pretty dramatic — what we would propose is a dramatic increase in the liberalization of the antlerless bag limits. I just mentioned the need for more harvest in the eastern Panhandle. This would increase the bag limit in the Panhandle and up through the Cross Timbers. And you'll even note this was one of the slides that Mitch showed you where that one RMU there kind of sticks out. The population demographics are a little bit different in that area.
I'm backing up — this is current again. You'll also look in Trans-Pecos. And as we progress forward there in Terrell and Pecos and Upton Counties our staff has looked at that — those counties, and they see that that area also needs more antlerless deer harvest — or at least can sustain it.
Of course, in conjunction with the bag limits we have days during the season when you — when hunters are allowed to take antlerless deer without the need for a special permit. You'll see on the slide before you for most of them — the middle of Texas they can do that during the full season. You take a license tag and put it on a deer and that's all you need. You do not need a permit of any kind.
As you move into the eastern part of the state we get more restrictive. We have some areas where there are only four days in the year. Some of those are antlerless by permit only. That's typically the Blackland Prairie and Post Oak Savannah. I'm going to progress to the next slide. In all cases the changes you see are liberalizing the number of doe days. So there's an increase — a proposed increase from our staff in the number of doe days to that right there.
Now, I would like to make one note and — yes, Commissioner?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I have a question. I probably should know the answer to it, but I don't. But in areas that are closed do we — are we still allowing managed land programs to exist?
MR. WOLF: My understanding is no. The way the regs are written right now there does have to be a deer season — an open deer season in that county. And so in some of these counties — for instance, in the last year when this Commission adopted the regs for mule deer seasons we did have that question come up. By regulation we did not have the ability to issue MLDs in these counties. Very small populations, but we proposed to open the season so that folks could either hunt by regulations or by MLD. But the short answer is, no, they cannot utilize MLDs in the close — if these have closed seasons.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Is that something we should consider?
MR. WOLF: If that's so we can surely take a look at that and see if — obviously if the Commission has the authority we could look at that as an option. Yes, sir.
The — I will progress forward again here. These are the proposed day —
I did answer your question, did I not, Commissioner?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Yes, you did.
MR. WOLF: Okay. So what we're looking at is the liberalization of doe days in Texas. One thing — if you look up along the Red River there — the one orange county in the middle, that's Grayson County. Your Commission materials that you have would actually show no change. In fact, if I back up one day you'll see that right now Grayson County has four doe days. What we learned in retrospect is the four doe days are — obviously they're in conjunction with the archery-only season that I'm going to talk about in a few minutes.
But what we recognized here of late is that in that RMU 21 — that staff would recommend that it be regulated under RMU 21, which is antlerless by permit only. So that would be a correction to the materials you have. And I'm going to talk about Grayson County at the very end of my presentation because of the — a lot of interest we have in the archery regulations there right now.
After the regular season closes on the first Sunday in January we have late seasons in Texas. Those are muzzleloader, antlerless and spike seasons, and it's also a regular modern firearm season. Of course, South Texas season closes two weeks later, so the season is later.
We are — our staff would propose to enhance these seasons — add more counties — RMUs and counties. And so I'll progress to the next slide. One thing I would like to note is that the muzzleloader seasons starts the Saturday after the close of general season. So there's a five-day period there where there's not a muzzleloader season. But on the antlerless and spike modern firearm it begins the Monday after the close. There's a little bit of an inconsistency in our late season that we would like to address, in addition to expanding opportunity.
This slide is where our staff would propose to take the antlerless and spike season and the muzzleloader season. And, in addition, we would hope to cut down on confusion — is we would start — we would propose to start all these seasons the Monday after the close of the general season and run for 14 consecutive days.
The other thing that we noticed as we were looking at this is staff is proposing to put muzzleloader seasons in some counties that are antlerless by permit only right now. Staff has some concerns about doing that, and so it would actually change our composition of the bag limit. And so what staff is proposing for muzzleloader seasons going forward, since this is really additional opportunity and it's not really viewed as a tool for population control as it is with your modern firearm season, we would propose that for the modern firearms antlerless and spike be the bag limits — remain the bag limits, but for our muzzleloader seasons that we go with the county regulations.
And what that means is if there are doe days during the year — during the season then it would be either sex. And what that would also mean is that we would remove the spike buck limitation and just propose that it be any legal buck. So, really, you're just looking at an extension of the deer season using muzzleloaders.
And our youth-only season — this slide before you shows the days in green, which are our general firearm season this year, and the days in red, which are your youth-only deer weekends. Of course, October 25th and 26th have passed. January 17th and 18th of this — of 2009 will be our youth-only deer season. You'll also notice there's that gap. Deer season closes and then we have to wait two weeks before our youth season.
What we would propose is to simply close the gaps here. Now, we understand that a lot of those days are weekdays. Kids are in school — or should be in school I guess unless they're home-schooled. We also know that like where I live in Fayetteville a lot of those kids like to get out after school and go hunt a little bit, so there might be some use after school.
But basically we would like to propose the same philosophy in closing that gap between there and just running the youth seasons all the way up to the general firearms season. Maybe somebody gets out of school early on Friday and gets to go to the lease and hunt a little bit. And so we propose to close the gap and add a weekend. So all these seasons on the end — the muzzleloader, the antlerless, the spike, and the youth would all begin the day after close and run for two weeks.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Can I ask a question?
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I appreciate you thinking about the kiddos — with these expanded days for them. But let me ask you this. If we're thinking about the kiddos, and you're talking after school — well, that's not really much hunting time where a dad can get off and — or a mom can get off of work and take them to a field to hunt.
We have certain special deer seasons in the month of October. In fact, one of our youth — our two youth hunt days — which is preposterous they only have two days in the season — why could not these Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday days be placed on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the month of October. Then if you want to add it to January then make it Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in those two weeks of January. To me I believe that would make more sense and offer more youth hunting accompanied by a parent than sticking these Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday days in there where you know that the kids are not going to be taken out of school on those days to go deer hunting. And there are a few schools in East Texas that still close on the first day of deer season as a tradition. But I'll argue for that.
MR. WOLF: Let me make sure I understand. You would suggest all weekends in October plus the Fridays would be youth season?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So they get out there to the deer camp or where they're going to go deer hunting to start on Friday evening, hunt Saturday, and then Sunday morning too.
MR. WOLF: Well, we could certainly look at that. I know that several years back we had a proposal that was very similar. I don't recall the years, but in one period we had every weekend in October and every weekend in January was the proposal for youth deer seasons. And, roughly speaking, there was a lot — the opposition — the only opposition that came — and it came primarily from the archery community — was for the youth weekends on in October. There wasn't — there didn't seem to be a problem with January. So — and I don't recall exactly why, but for whatever reason the Commission at that time chose to not adopt or withdraw that proposal. But, obviously, you know, it's at the discretion of this Commission to tell us what —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Actually, I wasn't on the Commission then. That was before my Commission time, but I clearly remember that. And the muzzle people of this — you know, had a fit. But in my way of thinking I believe that it's more important for us to take care of those youth hunters and get them into the field than it is to take care of a special group of people that want to hunt with a special gun. You know, it's — to me, that's a slam dunk.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So, John, your concern is it appears that we're adding a lot of incremental opportunity, but we're really only adding one weekend.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That's right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And in October you'd like to add every weekend for youth hunting.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sure. Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any thoughts on that?
MR. WOLF: I mean, as far as resource concern, I mean, it's — I mean, there's not a resource concern with that. It was — and so we'll definitely take any feedback we get from you and put together a proposal, you know, as far as it relates to youth seasons.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, let's talk about it in October under managed land plans. Of course, you can start hunting October 1.
MR. WOLF: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Bow hunting starts October 1. So the season's open in a lot of ways for a lot of different groups already in October. Let's just talk about October.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Except for kids.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, that's what I'm leading to.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And why should our future —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And what you're saying is then we should have youth hunts on the weekends —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Friday, Saturday, Sundays for every weekend in October, along with that — the others.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And, departmentally, you're already in the hunting season for a lot of people anyway in some form or fashion. Okay. January — help me again just because I kind of lost it. What would you like to do in January?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Just those two after season weekends.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right. Friday, Saturday — yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So, is your initial reaction, Clayton, that in January you'd look at not having the weekdays and just the weekend, or have you got —
MR. WOLF: We're willing to go with either of those. Like I said, it's not a resource issue. If we want to — I mean, if we want to exclude Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we can do that. I mean, I'm just looking for some direction here. I don't — it sounds like Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is the direction we want to look at. If you would like for our proposal to exclude those other weekdays we could do that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: In January, of course, the season has ended — let's say that January has ended on the 4th.
MR. WOLF: That's when it will end this year. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, if you're a managed land plan now though you can still be hunting —
MR. WOLF: Till the end of February.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — and still be open. Muzzleloaders still be hunting?
MR. WOLF: But if our proposal — if the proposal we presented to you goes forward and is adopted then muzzleloader would run through the 18th.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So that would still be open and ‑‑
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — and going on too. So you could just run it all the way through. In other words, it's not just the weekends — but just run it — the youth all the way through —
MR. WOLF: Correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — just like you have it here. Okay? And it would give you — add two more weekends and during the week if — because we're thinking about, you know, shutting the hunting camp down then trying to reopen it type of thing relative to the youth hunts. But you'd have a lot of those already be open and would stay open. Okay. That could make sense. That could make sense.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Take a look at keeping October and January consistent. And maybe that's too many days —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Say that louder.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Just for consistency I think keeping October and January consistent would be helpful I think just for people to remember what —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Unless you see a resource issue as you go through and look at this.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Part of this proposal you may remember is — provides some consistency in January with respect to the late antlerless and spike season, the muzzleloader season, and the youth-only season. So if they're running concurrently and ending the same time we think that's kind of cleaning up and simplifying somewhat with a consistent ending date. So that — just so you know that was some of the logic behind that. And also with that —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Pardon me. If you went just Friday, Saturday, and Sunday even in January it would still be the 18th.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, but getting the whole week ‑‑ I mean, in other words, it doesn't have to be Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It could run all the way through the 18th.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That would be fine. The more for the kids the better.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Correct.
MR. LOCKWOOD: The January part of this looks good then as is? Is that right?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes.
MR. LOCKWOOD: And now — and as far as October goes are we looking at — for instance, if that were this year the 3rd, 4th, and 5th, 10th, 11th, and 12th, 17th, 18th, 19th?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And 24, 25, and 26.
MR. LOCKWOOD: And 24, 25, 26.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That adds a lot. The only thing — so January would look the same except for the last weekend would be added potentially? Are we looking at adding that whole weekend?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, because what ends on the 18th ‑‑ why are you ending on the 18th of January?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, it — our muzzleloader and our late antlerless spike seasons —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So that's when they end.
MR. LOCKWOOD: — in everywhere except South Texas would all end then. So we think it — at least as far as keeping up with that —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So that adds effectively two total weekends if we amend it as suggested, which is also six weekend days.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: In October do — have all your weekends be youth hunt weekends — potentially.
MR. WOLF: Okay. I think we're clear on that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Commissioner Parker, [indiscernible]?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That's very — that's the way I would like to see it for the youth.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So I agree. We're trying to encourage youth hunting. There's no doubt about it.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: On the last weekend in October then it would not include — if you did — you wouldn't include the 31st, 1st, and 2nd of November. It would end ‑‑ it would just be the —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: The 1st of November is the opening of deer season. And they've already got 31 in —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So just run a grid.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right. Okay.
MR. WOLF: So we — that last week would we just — would we run that straight through?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, here's the argument. Yes, in October should you just make October all youth — I mean, the whole month youth hunt month? What difference does it make?
MR. WOLF: Well, from a resource standpoint — I mean, when we look at our big game harvest survey and I look at the harvest data, you know, you could see that kids are getting out there. You can detect that. But, you know, from a resource standpoint as long as our — you know, our county bag limits are the same, you know, our answer on that end is it's going to get more kids hunting and it's not going to have a impact. We would tell you that, you know, just —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You think the archers will have a problem with that? Is that what — I'm sorry.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Oh, no. I'm just saying it's a good idea. I think we should do the whole month.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Just to open the whole month.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Simplify the process.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Just simplify the process. In other words, the month of October becomes youth hunt, along with bow.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I was going to follow up on Robert's thoughts and reason. I think that archers may have an issue with it for the same reasons that we see the tension in Grayson. I'm not saying don't do it — I'm just suggesting that there's likely to be some negative —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Well, you know, I'm sure, Mr. Duggins, there will be some argument there. But what are we trying to promote for the future hunting in Texas? Where is that increase going to come from? It's not going to come from specialty hunting groups. It's going to come from the population as the population comes to age 21 or wherever it is that they can buy their hunting license and go hunting by themselves. And that is the resource that we have to direct ourselves to.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You know, I don't disagree you won't get some argument. Remember, we are going to go to public hearings on this.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: This is — remember, this is just to get the conversation started. I like the idea of making all of October youth along with bow and other versus just the weekends alone. And let's see what kind of response we get in our public hearings. Let's see whether — the bow hunters are fairly well organized. We'll hear quickly back one way or another.
MR. WOLF: And someone wiser than me passed me a note and reminded me about youth turkey also, which is not in my program. But I would suspect that we would look at consistencies.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, maybe you ought to talk about that this afternoon and try to figure that out — coordinate all of that now. We're getting way beyond my capability here.
MR. WOLF: Okay. We will then — we will take that all of October and what we see on January — and it's my understanding when we propose the most liberal package that offers us some opportunity to back off of that — the Commission does — as opposed to the flip side. And I will proceed. I do have a few more items here.
Antlerless harvest on United States Forest Service and some of these other public lands basically needs to be restricted to some degree because in many cases these properties have open access. Our regulations are kind of a hodgepodge and so we're just kind of — we would propose to clean this up a little bit and have the standard language be "antlerless by permit only." There would be a couple of exceptions — one exception in Fannin County where no antlerless permit would be required because of other types of control mechanisms and then an exception for Wise and Montague Counties where staff would like to propose four does days on these — on Forest Service land.
Additionally, last year after we were well into the process we got a request to look at Parmer County as far as the mule deer season. We do our mule deer surveys in January. And so we anticipate we will come back in January with some kind of a proposed season for Parmer County if we end up finding some mule deer in Parmer County.
And our White-tailed Deer Advisory committee and staff have been working diligently for over a year on a bunch of different issues related to wasted game and tagging. Boyd Kennedy, our staff attorney, has been drafting the legislation. Most of these changes that we would like to recommend would require statutory changes. But he did discover last week that this Commission may have some authority to amend tagging requirements when it comes to when tagging requirements cease. And so in January we anticipate coming back with a proposed rule that would better define when tagging requirements cease.
And now to Grayson County. Most of you are probably aware that we received a petition for rulemaking earlier this year to open a firearms season in Grayson County. Grayson County is the only county in the state of Texas where during what is normally the general firearms season ‑‑ the take of deer — white-tailed deer — is restricted to archery equipment only. We received a petition for rulemaking, and the petitioner basically made the argument that Grayson County looks like some of the other counties around there. The deer herd should look the same and, therefore, Grayson County has the capacity to sustain a deer — a gun season just like the other counties.
And there's some merit to what the petitioner is arguing. This is a close-up of Grayson County. And you'll see these are the two resource management units that Mitch was referring to. And they're in the north end of the county up against Lake Tacoma. That's where the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is. It's kind of an epicenter for bow hunters. It's world known. And some of the hunting also takes place on private land up there. But most of the deer habitat in Grayson County is up in that gray area — that RMU 22.
Well, what the petitioner argues is Denton and Cooke County just to the west there — they look the same and they've had a gun season for many years. And that is true. That country just to the west of there — the habitat type's the same. It's in the same RMU classification. And there has been a gun season there for many years. So answering that question, could Grayson County sustain a gun season, the answer is yes. Now, however, there is a unique —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: When you say that you're talking about from a biological or scientific?
MR. WOLF: From a biological or scientific standpoint. Now, we've received a lot of opposition to that — honest answer. And to be honest with you when we received the petition for rulemaking our staff told us — they said, Look, this is going to be very unpopular. We ‑‑ all the fine people in Grayson County — we're going to make many of them mad by proposing a gun season — and we've heard from many of them.
But the honest answer is that if a gun season were opened in Grayson County under the current regulations then Grayson County could sustain it. But we do understand that there's some concern because Grayson County, albeit the data is very limited — it's intuitive ‑‑ that because harvest is restricted to bow only that the age structure of bucks in this country would be different.
You look in Denton and Cooke County — it's very fragmented habitats, as it is in Grayson County. There's a lot of people competing for very few deer. So the deer herd — the buck segment is — there's a lot of pressure on young bucks. You get in Grayson County and all the data would indicate that the age structure is better. And so that is what we feel folks are wanting to protect, obviously, is that older age structure. So although the petitioner says it could sustain it the deer herd does look different in Grayson County because the take of deer is by bow only.
We were able to contact Mr. Cantu, who is the acting director on the Hagerman, because we figured there may be a data set up there that's better than any data set we have and just to look at age structure. Because the one thing that maybe we haven't been good in conveying to folks is that we would not propose — if you remember the RMU maps we have antler restrictions proposed all the across that part of the state.
So the difference is — the paradigm shift is if we were to propose a gun season in Grayson County it would not be like the current gun season in Denton and Cooke County where every buck was legal. What we would propose is antler restrictions. So we received the data from Rick Cantu there on the Hagerman just we wanted to look at our antler restriction data from our six counties and compare it to the data on the Hagerman.
On the chart before you the light-colored bars on the left for each age class — those are — that represents the percentage of each age class in our six original counties. And you can see that, you know, 20 to 30 percent of the harvest is one- and two-year-olds, and then in those six counties the bulk of the harvest is three- and four-year-olds.
On the Hagerman it's a little bit different — and this is restricted to bow only — in that in some years — or many years two-and-a-half-year-olds make up the one age class with most of the harvest. But they do kill three- and four-year-old deer. They have — and probably if you went into Cooke and Denton County you would not see that. And that's what they're wanting to protect — is that older-age class.
What we would suggest to you with the data we have is that to the argument that a gun season would destroy or decimate the deer herd or the deer population the data we have would indicate that that's not the case and that there is some indication that actually that more bucks would be put into the older age class because these two-year-old bucks would not be legal for harvest.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Clayton, sorry to interrupt, but do you mean that by county in totality for the county or could it potentially compromise this, you know, kind of different habitat and specially managed area?
MR. WOLF: We —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — part of 22?
MR. WOLF: As Mitch indicated we — for Grayson County and for the buck segment using our RMU concept, since the north part of the county is where the deer habitat is we would choose the RMU 22 package, but it would apply to the whole county.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. WOLF: So it would be for the whole county. Now, on the antlerless end part of the bag limit what we would suggest, to stay consistent with RMU 21 — Ellis County, for instance, is RMU 21 — that's permit only. What staff would propose is if a gun season — if you chose to propose a gun season and if it were adopted that we would propose antlerless by permit only as opposed to the four doe days that are currently there in Grayson County. Now, I'll say that we have received — yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The four doe days that are there now —
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — are bow only?
MR. WOLF: They're bow only. Yes, sir. Now, I will say, as most of you are probably aware, we received a lot of comments. And, here recently, we did receive a letter from Representative Larry Phillips — that's his district up there in Grayson County. And Representative Phillips asked that I read this letter into the record. And so I'm ‑‑ if you don't mind I'm going to do that. It reads:
"Dear Mr. Smith, Thank you for visiting with me recently about maintaining archery only deer hunting in Grayson County. As we discussed — and I would request that the Department leave the current regulations regarding deer hunting in place. The current archery only regulations have wide support within the community and among local government officials.
"I have attached a copy of a resolution on this matter from the Grayson County Commissioner's Court and a letter from our local district attorney, Joe Brown. I attended the County Commissioner's meeting during which the resolution was passed, and the primary concern of the Commissioners was the safety of the public should the hunting restrictions be lifted. They also recognize that Grayson County has been able to maintain a healthy and sustainable deer population via these restrictions, which could be threatened should these restrictions be lifted.
"I share both of these concerns and request that you convey these concerns to the Chairman and the Commissioners of Texas Parks and Wildlife. It is my hope that this issue is not further pursued by the Department. Again, I appreciate your time on this matter. Please contact me if you have any questions or require additional information. Best regards, Larry Phillips."
And then here recently a letter — I'm not — we weren't asked to read it into the record, but we also received a letter from Senator Estes here recently requesting that we not — that we be more careful about this. There is a common theme. Senator Estes doesn't talk about the concern about a gun season having impact on the population, but he does reference safety as did Representative Phillips.
My information in talking with Ann Bright is that this Commission does not have the authority to adopt seasons and bag limits and means and methods based upon safety concerns. And this issue has come up before and we've received an Age's opinion on that. But if you want any further clarification I think I would defer that to Ann Bright, somebody with a little bit of expertise there.
I believe that concludes my presentation, and so I'll be happy to take any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Clayton, is there wide support for expansion currently in that county or is it mostly the other way?
MR. WOLF: Expansion —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: You know —
MR. WOLF: Gun season?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes.
MR. WOLF: No, sir. Most of the comments — the majority — the vast majority of comments that we receive here at Parks and Wildlife, to include petitions with numerous signatures, oppose the gun season.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. WOLF: Or a gun season.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Did you consider the possibility of allowing rifles to — or rifle hunting on MLD permitted lands only?
MR. WOLF: If I am not mistaken — and I may be — but I believe that the county regulation on that trumps it. And if I'm wrong — if maybe Ann or Robert or someone might tap me on the shoulder. But we've had this question come up before and I believe MLDP cooperators in Grayson County right now are restricted to archery equipment. So if we were to look at that we probably would look in that in conjunction with Commissioner Brown's suggestion and just reviewing our MLDP regulations.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, that could be a way of expanding it through the MLDP program.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So what's driving this is we have a petitioner that's asking that it be opened up to rifle hunting at some level. Is that correct?
MR. WOLF: That's correct. That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And, obviously, this is the only county in the state that is bow hunting only at this point.
MR. WOLF: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And all we are again doing is looking at this to see what makes sense and what doesn't make sense. Is that correct?
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir. And, you know, from our — from staff's perspective, you know, our — I guess our first duty is to just look at what we believe will happen to the deer herd and respond to those comments. And, as I said, we — you know, we think that maybe there's a — we need to do a better job of explaining the impacts of antler restrictions because we do not think that we would see a deterioration of the age structure.
And that would — but that would only address those individuals that are concerned about the age structure. I mean, obviously, you know, Grayson County is unique in that it's archery only, and so there may be other folks. And, as I indicated from the safety standpoint, it's my understanding we don't — this Commission doesn't have the authority to adopt these season's bag limits, means, and methods based upon safety concerns.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right. And so then the issue that we have as a Commission though, of course, are other issues — political and otherwise. So at least as Chairman — and we can — this is open for conversation — I'd like to throw it out there that we look at it, say, we do public hearings — okay, we've obviously gotten a response from the county commissioners, from the representatives up there. Let's hear it from some of the citizens then we can make some decisions in the next round.
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir. Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And certainly I have no bias one way or the other. You know, they've had quite a history up there and very wonderful tradition. And staying with it may be the right thing. But I would like to go through these one more round —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We need more information.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — in the process.
MR. WOLF: And I would like to say, you know, our staff has been — I mean, they in no way want to antagonize anyone — all the fine —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Nor do we.
MR. WOLF: — folks in Grayson County and —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We create enough antagonism. But I think the way the process works overall and the great job that you all do is that this should be part of the process. And then as we go through public hearings and do those kinds of things obviously we are already getting very strong push back about wanting to keep it bow.
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We certainly can vote and leave it that way.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Verify something in my mind, Mr. Chairman. Are we going to say that we are going to include this county in our gun program for hunting deer, and if you want to come say something about it you're welcome to come say something about it? Or are we going to say to the public that we have received this request and we want to hear from all of the people before we make a decision?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: The latter?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The latter.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: The latter. Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. And that we will present at the public hearings and other things the straightforward — you know, buck harvest, age structure comparisons of, you know, the various counties around there — those kinds of things. As we've been told we have no say on the safety side of it. We'll make sure we get that fed back to our local representatives and our state senator up there that if they are against it they may want to take another approach. You know, I want to work with our constituency up there. Okay?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I think that's a safe way for us to do it — it's prudent.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, I want to do it prudently, but I also want to stay with the process that Texas Parks and Wildlife uses and has used and has proven year after year after year — is that we go through the process. Okay? And at the end of the day normally if you use the process correctly the right decision comes out. And we certainly want to honor the local constituency in Grayson County. I have no issue. Let's do it the right way.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Right.
MR. WOLF: Could I just seek clarification on the record then that we would include a gun season in the proposal that we would come to you with in January, and then that would go to the Texas Register, and then we would conduct our public hearings — and we would have one in Sherman. And then — or are we talking about some kind of a scoping process in advance of the January meeting?
MR. SMITH: Yes, I think that's the real question, Chairman, if you want to give us direction to have a formal public hearing in Grayson County between now and the January meeting. Because I do want to be clear is we have done exactly what Commissioner Parker has suggested and we got the petition — I mean, this is not a well-kept secret in Grayson County. So, I mean, we've gotten —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Obviously not.
MR. SMITH: — a lot of feedback —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Feedback.
MR. SMITH: — and we have made it abundantly clear we're just bringing it forth for —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, then let's do a scoping — is that the term you're using?
MR. SMITH: Uh-huh — a scoping meeting.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, let's do a meeting sometime January —
MR. SMITH: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — specifically about this so that people — and make sure they get plenty of notice and there's plenty of opportunity. And I'd definitely like — of course, the county commissioners — obviously any interested constituents —
MR. SMITH: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — let them know way ahead of time, but also any of the elected officials up there, whether it be our state representative or our state senator.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is it an all or nothing proposition, or can this process allow for other suggestions, such as a muzzleloader only or a limited one-week season? I'm just saying — I'm asking that question — I'm not —
MR. WOLF: Well, my understanding is, of course, when — in January when we go to the Texas Register — whatever publish if — you know, if there are other alternatives out there, typically speaking, if they're all put out there on the table then this Commission has the authority to not necessarily adopt all — as long as the public has had an opportunity to comment.
So when we do these scoping meetings in — before January when we come forward then, you know, we'll have an agenda item. But the simple fact of the matter is our latitude is — our — where we have the greatest latitude is if we propose a season that we can then — that this Commission can choose to say, No, don't do that.
And — because I suspect when we go to Grayson County the meetings will be well attended. I do not think that a gun season is going to be popular. I don't know about these other opportunities — or MLD opportunities. But if that's the case, and if our predictions hold true and it's not popular, the question would then be when we come forward to you in January we'll probably just lay it out there and then seek guidance from you and then decide what we're going to go to the Texas Register with.
MR. SMITH: But I guess, Clayton, I think what I hear Commissioner Duggins' question is though, if between now and the January Commission meeting someone comes forward with a different idea — one that has not been considered but one that — which potentially has merit, could that be considered by the Commission in January and then giving us direction to go forward with additional public comment through publication in the Texas Register. Is that what you're saying, Commissioner?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes. But I'd also like to invite the people up there to weigh in and make suggestions, if they have them, for alternatives if this one is so unpalatable, which it evidently is.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That could be discussed in these public hearings?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Is there a way to —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: If that could be done.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — reach out and do that through what — through the —
MR. WOLF: We could use the local press, no doubt, and our media folks to get the word out. And I'm sure the county commissioners and everyone would — in the local press up there would help us —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. WOLF: — get the word out and just get as many folks — and we can just put together a laundry list of suggestions to bring to you —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, and then we can pick and choose and say yes or no or whatever. Okay.
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I like that. Okay.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: is this whole process emanating from one person's request or is there a group of people that want to change this?
MR. WOLF: The process was initiated by this petition. Now, I have to be honest with you, we received the petition just prior to our regulations process. So I can't say that when our staff got together and used this RMU concept, and we looked at those RMUs, Grayson County's going to stick out like a sore thumb. And we — staff — would have a hard time coming up with a biological justification for that.
So — but, nonetheless, I guess the petitioner brought this forward before. If you read the blogs — archery blogs — and some of the responses to articles there are some people out there that suggest that a gun season is appropriate and that that resource should be available to gun hunters and bow hunters. But they definitely are in the minority.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Well, I think this public-hearing process will certainly answer, you know, the — if there is a groundswell it will come forward at that time. But it just seems to me this is all coming from a very, very small group of people.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You mean the gun part? It is.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Do we have to — in this process of hearing the people — I mean, the letters that I have been getting have been overwhelmingly against having the gun season. And, you know, I hate to agitate anybody more when they've already spoken so loudly. So whatever process we do I don't think we should go out there and create more problems for ourselves. If there's going to be a hearing — do we have to have a hearing saying that we're going change the rules or can we just have a hearing saying we want to hear more from the local community?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: My understanding is the latter.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Okay.
MR. WOLF: Yes, we can do that. We routinely have scoping meetings if our staff is thinking about something before we come to you just to kind of get the pulse. So we're not restricted to doing that after it's published. We can go up there and ask folks' opinions ahead of time.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: The other thing is that I'd like to hear more about this safety issue — that we shouldn't make any decision based on safety. But we don't license people unless they have a safety course.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, that's kind of interesting.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: And so I'd like to —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's the first time I'd heard that.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: — I'd like to hear a little bit —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sounds like we are in the safety business —
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes, we are.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — in some form or another. Maybe Ann Bright can help us. Ann, is there some —
MS. BRIGHT: For the record I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. On safety, there are — I mean, definitely there are some provisions in the Parks and Wildlife code where the Commission does have some authority — for example, there's water safety. Individuals over a — I guess under a certain age have to have attended some sort of hunter safety program.
However, that's pretty much the extent of it. Seasons and bag limits are based on actually several factors, and that's it. This came up — I don't know if any of you were on the Commission back when there was the issue about hunting in river beds. That was a safety — the sole concern was a safety issue, not a biological issue. And so while there's some safety authority when it comes to setting seasons and bag limits it's really based on biology.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So it's just the way the regs are written.
MS. BRIGHT: Right. I think —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And I'm probably not using the right term.
MS. BRIGHT: And there are a couple of A.G. pinions ‑‑ you know, they're fairly old, like in the early seventies but — that make clear that the authority does not extend to human safety.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: The A.G. opinion actually says that?
MS. BRIGHT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They don't want you getting up there and getting involved and — it's being a highway patrolman.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: So if you vote for a safety issue you have to say that it's because of — you're against the biological presentation.
MS. BRIGHT: There are a number of factors —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Watch out for that big deer.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: What would be the difference in the safety with that county and the rest of the counties?
MR. WOLF: Well, the safety argument has been brought up numerous times. And the fact of the matter is is there's a lot of country in Texas that looks like Grayson County. It's, you know, right on the edge of Dallas/Fort Worth. It can be right down the road here in Williamson or Travis County where it's highly fragmented.
You know, there are — I believe it was two sessions ago there was a statute that the Legislature adopted that made it illegal to shoot across a property line. And so, you know, the Legislature has, you know, taken some action dealing with firearms discharge — not necessarily for hunting purposes I don't think. But there are some statutes out there that make it illegal to shoot across a property line. But there's a lot of Texas that is highly fragmented, highly developed, and is still hunting with firearms.
MS. BRIGHT: If I can make one more comment about that too, which is that how this is normally handled is that municipalities do have authority to prohibit the discharge of a firearm within the city limits. And counties have authority to enact a similar prohibition in a subdivided area. So that's — in other words, they have a little bit more authority with safety, and that's where a lot of these regulations — safety type regulations come in.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But counties have no zoning authority. They can't really limit an unincorporated, unsubdivided area in any respect.
MS. BRIGHT: That's correct. And the other thing is obviously a landowner can always prohibit discharge of firearms on their property.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No other questions? Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Robin Riechers is coming up.
MR. RIECHERS: For the record, my name is Robin Riechers of the Coastal Fisheries Division. And I'll be here to present to you the 2009-2010 coastal fisheries scoping proposals for the statewide hunting/fishing proclamation.
Our three scoping issues are going to center around flounder regulations, consistency with federal regulations regarding snapper and some of the grouper species, not including red snapper and also sharks. And then also we would like to scope an item which we — is a paddle craft guide endorsement — or a new type of license. And we'll explain some of the reasoning for that today.
Just to briefly catch you up on the southern flounder issue from the presentation that I gave to you in August, in Houston this one slide basically depicts the whole picture. These are our spring and fall gillnet catch rates. Our fishery independent monitoring program — or part of our fishery independent monitoring program — you can certainly see the long-term downward trend since '84-'86. And you remember bay trawls, our other fishery independent gear, also showed this, as well as our bag seines. And, in fact, even our fishery dependent catch statistics from both the commercial and recreational fisheries indicated this downward trend.
So with that we, of course, presented that to you in August. And then we went on to schedule some of our workgroup meetings. We scheduled both a recreational and a commercial workgroup. These meetings were actually scheduled for the week that Hurricane Ike came in shore, and so we canceled those and we moved those to October 22nd and 23rd in Port Lavaca. And then beginning next week and the following two weeks we will have additional scoping meetings where we've invited anyone who had a commercial fin fish license and also anyone who is recreationally involved in the fishery that we could identify and reach out to.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Where will those be?
MR. RIECHERS: Those are in Port Arthur, Dickinson, and Port Lavaca, Rockport, and Port Isabel. And the dates on those are on the slide there — next two weeks. In addition to that, just so that you know prior to your January Commission meeting, we will have additional scoping that will include flounder, but also these other items.
Let me just kind of briefly catch you up on what happened at those first two scoping meetings in regards to our various management tools that we really have to use in addressing this issue.
Certainly we considered a decrease in the overall bag limit, and there was mixed review of that. The commercial folks on their workgroup feel like they're at about a bag limit of 60, which is kind of a minimum point for them to meet the efficiency requirements that they need in order to continue to harvest fish. Recreational folks were more inclined to decrease the bag limit, and they were suggesting decreases in bag limits from 10 to five fish on their bag limit and for the commercials from 60 to 30 — basically cutting the bag limits in half.
When we looked at increased minimum size limit there wasn't a lot of support for any sort of increase in the minimum size limit. And the reason for that, simply put, is a gigged fish doesn't have a lot of opportunity for — to live afterward so — and not to mention the difficulty in telling the length of fish when you have such a large portion of your fishery that is prosecuted with the gig fishery.
Additionally, we looked at and discussed area of closures, which would be closures around the passes where that escapement occurs. Not really a lot of favor for that — certainly there's not a lot of favor from our perspective as well due to the difficulty in law enforcement. And that's the reason there's not a lot in favor in that. Trying to delineate a line, trying to enforce that line around a pass is a difficult task at best, and, certainly, in a nighttime fishery like that.
Lastly — and this is the point that we're certainly excited about at this point — when we consider time closures we consider those closures in October, November, and December. I will say that both groups certainly understand that to have an impact in this fishery and to reach the escapement goals that we're trying to talk about here I think everyone is in recognition that that's where you're going to have to have your action — is through some sort of protection during that October, November, and December, run.
Lastly, of course, the quotas in the IFQs. Really, because they won't guarantee that escapement protection they weren't really — we didn't discuss those a lot at all in this particular case.
So if I had to summarize those meetings, you know, they went very well. We will have some — bring in some additional — a broader set of folks in those next five meetings. And we hope to come back to you with a proposal that will have some consensus built around it in January. Yes?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Question. As far as the entire coast are we seeing the same percentage of decreases throughout the whole coastal region? And do we have information for each region?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, we do have that regional information and we have looked at that. While some bay systems might have had a slight uptick, if you will, still the overall trend along the coast and within those systems is they are not where they were historically. So we really — we believe it's a problem that is prevalent from Sabine all the way to Port Isabel. You know, we think that kind of management action is warranted and not a regionalization approach at this point.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Okay. Thank you.
MR. RIECHERS: When we look — I'm sorry.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: To carry forward on Commissioner Brown's question, can we — would you go back and look at that graph — up here gillnet rates, you know, there is absolutely no argument other than we need to do something and do it quick — and it might be severe on some people.
But if you look back at the redfish problem that we had — and that was severe — our actions were severe then on certain groups of people, but it had to be done to save the redfish in the bays from the Sabine to the Rio Grande. And as the senior citizen of this group, and I remember well the redfish war —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: We're not going to contest you on that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But, you know, then Chairman — when Chairman Bass looked at that — at that graph — and it was very, very similar to the graph that we're looking here on flounder, he said, Guys, we've got to do something. And if it means upsetting some people down there we've got to do it. And, you know, talking about the commercial side of this, you know, you can put a size on it, but, like you say, a gigged flounder is a dead flounder.
And, you know, I really, really think that we need to take some drastic steps and with your recommendations. And I think we have to bow our back — and our neck too — and get this resource under our control — not under the control of commercial fishermen, but under the control that will best serve all of the people that use that category of resources.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, and let me just follow up again with that, Commissioner Parker. Certainly in that rec workgroup and the commercial workgroup we're working with ‑‑ now, certainly, I think everyone would prefer not to do anything. But, as I indicated, everyone did seem to recognize the need to take an action — and a fairly severe action. And one of the proposals we talked about was a removal of the gig fishery, both rec and commercial, in October, November, and December. One of them was just the removal in November. And that — those kinds of removals will bring you an increase in spawning stock biomass of somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 100 percent.
So, you know, we're talking about severe reaction — or a severe cut that will create a needed increase that — like you're referring to. And, you know, we're not even through with that conversation. There was the additional conversation of bag limit reductions. There's additional conversation regarding some of the shrimp trawl catch associated with flounder. So, you know, we're — I agree with you. We want to make sure we come back with a proposal that is significant enough to try to turn this downward trend around.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But, you know, if you are setting your sights on increasing those numbers by 20 percent you're still below — drastically below your .02 ‑‑ .04 numbers. If you raised that by 20 percent you'd still be in the hole.
MR. RIECHERS: And the changes that we were talking about that I just mentioned were in the range of more like 50 to 100 percent increases. So we — I don't think we're looking for something at 20 percent. We're looking for a more significant impact than that, at least given the current conversation.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So your plan at this point is to go back and now formulate a proposal for January.
MR. RIECHERS: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And you remain of the opinion that no emergency measures are justified?
MR. RIECHERS: We believe that — yes, that's correct. We still believe that we can handle this in the current regulatory framework. And because we did have, as you can see on that graph, a very good recruit class in '08, you know, we believe we can do it with our current management structures, as well as the reality of the upper coast area right now.
In many instances it's probably going to be like we had a regulation in place this year from Galveston to Sabine given the nature of the Ike recovery up there. A lot of folks probably aren't going to be taking advantage of fishing opportunities. They're going to be doing other things at this point in time. So, you know, we've got — it's an unfortunate benefit, but we may end up with a kind of a regulatory benefit this year from that storm as well.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: But do you have any creel counts, gillnet — not gillnet — any creel counts, surveys from the commercials?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, sir. We have our trip ticket program, which basically captures the amount of catch that each individual brings in.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So hopefully we'll see all that as part of a data presentation —
MR. RIECHERS: We —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — accompanying the proposal in January.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. I mean, we basically get a proposal — we will bring as much of that as we need to help justify those proposals, certainly.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Robin.
MR. RIECHERS: And in some of the range we're talking about here, when you talk about that 30-fish bag limit reduction we've already taken a look at that. On average the average catch is around 37 fish on those commercial landings right now. 30 to 60 percent — one year it was 30, the next year it's been 60 percent because of that recruit class — have, in fact, landed over 30 fish at this point in time. So, you know, we're trying to see what the impact of those kinds of reductions will look like.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
MR. RIECHERS: Okay. Now, moving along to federal regulation consistency, as many of you remember we basically brought the National Marine Fishery Service Highly Migratory Species Plan, which was Amendment 2, to you last year in scoping. We had thought it was going to be adopted in the fall of last year, and finalized. As it turns out it did not adopt. We pulled it off of our scoping items in January because it hadn't been finalized. And it went to final adoption July 24th of 2008.
So within that context we would like to propose to you a prohibited list that would match the federal prohibited list — that's a prohibited list of 20 species. And the only two species that are really of concern to us in that particular list are duskies and sandbars. Duskies and sandbars do make up — they're part of the top 11 species that we get.
Now, what I might say to that is, of those 11 species Atlantic sharpnose, blacktip sharks, and bonnethead make up 80 percent of all our catch. So these two species would be a relatively minor component to our catches. So they would move into — or at least we would suggest we mirror that prohibited list.
In addition to that, we would make a modification of our minimum length limit to equal their 54-inch port length limit, which would be about a 66, 65-inch total length limit for us, to those species which are allowed, with the exception of we would not include in that list Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead, and blacktips. We would have those three species remain at the 24 inches.
In addition to that, we would like to have the opportunity to scope our other re-fish and groupers that we have, three of which — three of the most important of which are on the slide there. We would like to include others as well. Again, this does not include red snapper. But of those that on the list there you see gray triggerfish, which has recently been increased to a minimum length limit of 12 inches — and we don't have any minimum length limit. You have greater amberjack, which has been increased from a 28-inch port length limit to a 32-inch — and we currently have a 32-inch total length limit, so we would want to slide that up as well. And gag, which has a 22-inch minimum length — we don't have any minimum length on that, and we would like to scope increasing — or matching that minimum size limit as well.
In addition, given recent discussion regarding scoping items, that kind of parlayed into my discussion regarding this aggregate bag limit discussion as well. There are a host of aggregate bag limits that the federal fisheries have in place right now. There's a re-fish aggregate bag limit, a snapper aggregate bag limit, and a group aggregate bag limit. And the snapper and grouper — some of them feed into the re-fish and then there are exceptions and — it's very complicated.
We would like to consider something like that, but it would have to make much more sense than we believe that current set — I mean, there's reasons why they've done it the way we've done it, but we hope we could bring you something simpler than by working with some of our constituents and working with law enforcement to bring you a set of — some sort of aggregate bag limits that would make more sense for us to be able to enforce it and for people to actually be able to understand it in a way that they can not jeopardize themselves out there.
Lastly, we would like to, again, scope a paddle craft guide endorsement. Just to catch you up on what this is about, currently anyone who fishes in saltwater has to have the all-water guide license which allows them to fish either in fresh or saltwater as a guide.
To get that license they have to show proof of a U.S. Coast Guard operator of uninspected passenger vessel, which is commonly referred to as the six-pack license. In order to get that particular license they have to show 360 days of sea time in a power boat. The reality of it is as kayaks and paddle craft, canoes, et cetera, has increased in their use we have some folks who basically just do their guide services out of paddle craft of some sort.
And so we believe we would like to look at, if there is a way that we can continue with some sort of safety training and training that is more specific to those paddle craft, we'd at least like to scope that out because we don't believe the Coast Guard license, in fact, really deals with some of the special, unique safety issues that you have when you're in a paddle craft. Obviously you're much more likely to overturn that paddle craft. Visibility for you is much lower out there as compared to someone in a power boat. Other safety concerns — if you do go overboard is probably somewhat different as well. So we would like to at least have a discussion with some of those people out there in this industry and see if we can come up with a different set of guidelines.
The things that we're considering at this point would be our current TPWD boater safety requirement that we have in place — or our course that we have in place, CPR and some sort of first aid requirement. And then, more importantly, those specifically dealing with paddle craft would — could include the American Canoe Association or British Canoe Union. They both have different levels of training that we think would provide adequate training of this sort. They are both offered here in Texas, and, in fact, this would actually be a cheaper alternative. Those — both the American Canoe Association and British Canoe Union — it's a little bit different in pricing, but we believe the price to get those kinds of certifications that we listed here would be around $500 as compared to that U.S. Coast Guard certification, which runs about $1,000. So we would like to have the opportunity to go discuss that with some folks to see if we can bring you back either an endorsement or a license that would deal with that issue.
With that, that concludes my presentation for coastal fisheries, and be happy to answer any other questions.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Why do we call this a six-pack?
MR. RIECHERS: That's a common term that's been out there. It's U.S. Coast Guard.
Do you know what that dates back to?
COL. FLORES: That's the reason you brought six people — it's number of people, Commissioner.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. It's six to 15. Is that correct?
COL. FLORES: Yes, something like that.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, something like that. And then they have to go to a different license if they're going to haul over 15.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Robin, thank you.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I would like to ask one question — not of Robin — because we don't have it on the agenda for discussion. But I would like to ask the Conservation Committee for January to make an item available to — for discussion for clear vetting the fiasco of the dove experiment up in Brown County this past last two days of August. And I would like the Conservation Committee to put that on the agenda for the January meeting so that we could have a total vetting of that. I think we owe the people an explanation of, not only what happened, but how we are going to take care of that in the future.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I can't speak for Conservation.
MR. SMITH: Commissioner, let us bring something forward in January. And I think what Commissioner Parker is alluding to, just to make sure everybody understands, is the research that we have underway on non-toxic shot in doves. And so we'll bring forward a — kind of a presentation and briefing on the underpinnings behind that research and — in a discussion then about some of our communication plans on the importance of that research. And we can talk about it in January. Would that be okay?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That would be fine. I just — you know, we took a terrible hit in the press over that. I just think that we owe it to the people to get a complete explanation to them.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. So is the briefing request for Regs or for Conservation?
MR. SMITH: We can put it either way. We can do Regs or Conservation. I'll talk to Scott and we'll make sure — but we'll have it on one of the committees. And we'll make sure we bring forward a briefing and discussion.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
Ken? Chipping away at it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You guys in Regs. Take all our time.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski. I'm the Inland Fisheries regulations coordinator. And today I'm going to go over our potential regulation changes for the upcoming license year.
Just to briefly go over our process for these, these are a result of ongoing studies by our district staffs and our research staff. Proposals are made earlier in the year — undergo review at the district level and the regional level. And then we also — typically in August we have a statewide meeting of all our biologists where we go over any potential regulation changes, discuss those, decide which ones we want to proceed with. Then we also present these before our freshwater advisory board. And the proposals that we're still considering are the ones I'm going to present to you today.
The first one is on Lake Ray Roberts, which is up — almost 26,000-acre impoundment on the Trinity River. It's up near Denton. It's surrounded by two — it has two state park units, six small satellite parks that are on some of the access areas. There's also a WMA there, and it also serves as a — sort of a trail head from the greenbelt corridor from Lake Ray Roberts down to Lake Lewisville.
Just to briefly go over the management history there, it was impounded in '86, officially opened in 1990. And the length that we had on there for largemouth bass was an 18-inch minimum length limit with a three-fish daily bag. When we did some consolidation of regulations we increased that bag to five.
A big change that we did implement there was in 1998. We went to a 14- to 24-inch slot with a five-fish daily bag and limiting the harvest to only one fish over 24 inches. Our goal there was to increase some of the trophy size bass in the population. There was a lot of interest there locally. They were producing some bigger fish and there was a hope that this lake could develop into a lake that would hold some of those larger fish.
Taking a look at what we've seen in that population since then — or looking at the population structure prior to the implementation of the regulation, those fish between 14 to 24 inches and after that implementation we really haven't seen any increase in those fish within the slot, which we were hoping to see there. This lake has produced a few sharelunker fish, but we really haven't seen any marked change in the numbers there. So basically we don't feel that the goals of that initial regulation change we're achieving what we wanted to see there.
What we're proposing to go to at this time is to return to a 14-inch minimum length limit — the statewide limit — and a five-fish daily bag. We think that's looking at the population — it's better suited to the fish population and also the fishery. With the state park — the large influence of state park and the state park visitors there's a lot of general anglers that come there just looking to fish — a variety of fishing experience. This is a — it does have a good bass population and has a lot of other good populations like bass, channel catfish, crappie. So it's a good all around fishing lake, and we think that regulation would be better suited to that.
It also might have some positive economic impact. It might allow a few tournaments to come to that reservoir. It's close to the Dallas/Fort Worth area and there might be some benefits there to local economies and to our parks. We would — some anglers may object to this increase in harvest and also to the potential for tournaments, but this is something we'll — you know, we'll propose and see what type of info we get there in the local community.
Next — if you're talking about — the next two proposals are concerning some fisheries and fishes we don't — haven't typically dealt with in the past. So largemouth bass is one that we've dealt heavily in.
The first one — we're talking a little bit about managing for quality catfishing. The blue catfish have drawn a lot of increased interest from anglers and biologists for its potential to produce large fish and trophy size fish. Some of you that were around when — in ‑‑ a few years ago when Splash, the world record catfish, was caught on Lake Texoma, that just generated a tremendous amount of interest in the press and local community and when we had it there on display at the freshwater fishing center. And that really highlighted to us, you know, how many people out there are interested in these larger catfish.
In a fisheries magazine some researchers did some surveys of anglers looking at what are their opinions of some developing trophy catfish. Seventy-five percent of them were — favored or strongly favored development of those trophy catfisheries and 65 percent would be in favor or more stringent regulations if they had a better chance of catching a trophy.
Additionally, eight states have adopted some sort of trophy regulation either on a statewide basis or a local population that they — that has the characteristics that would support some trophy angling. So these are some of the things we've been considering and — for here in Texas.
Focusing on our blue catfisheries, we have extensively stocked blue cat, into addition there being native to some of our reservoirs. Typically, when we stock those reservoirs fisheries are slow to develop — 10, 15 years before a large enough population develops to get a lot of good spawning and recruitment in the population, and also to develop some of those larger size individuals.
What we're seeing in Texas and what we — what other researchers have seen in Missouri and Oklahoma is that there's very high harvest of big blue catfish, and especially in winter months by jugline anglers and seeing some very high exploitation of anglers targeting these larger fish. And that's something, if we want to maintain some quality fisheries, that we feel we have to address.
Some of the reservoirs that have characteristics of the population is a blue cat population is that we want to look at — I'll go over. Typically when we're investigating a new regulation we like to look at a variety of reservoirs — just not go to one site. We try and go to multiple sites to try and learn as much as we can about how that regulation will perform in different populations.
The first one is Lake Waco in McLennan County. That's — a lot of the initial ideas about regulating these blue cat has been developed by our staff up there. We're looking at two other reservoirs — Lake Lewisville in Denton County and Richland Chambers. There's a couple of other reservoirs that have some of those similar characteristics in their blue cat population — there's good growth rates, some large individuals, and some interest there in the winter jugline fishery.
The regulation that staff is looking at at this time that think we can use to address some of those concerns in those populations is a 30- to 45-inch slot limit, maintaining the 25-fish daily bag, but only limiting the harvest to one fish over 45 inches. And that would be on blue catfish only. We still would want to maintain some harvest there. Harvest is an important part of catfishing, and that's something we certainly want to maintain there.
Also Oklahoma is considering a statewide limit for blue catfish, and we're going to discuss that with them as it may impact Lake Texoma. We meet on a regular basis with the Oklahoma fisheries people and try and keep the regulations on both sides of the reservoirs similar so it will be easy for enforcement and our anglers.
In looking at some of the benefits and considerations here for managing for these quality trophy catfish, we're certainly interested in increasing those fish above 30 inches. We're also interested in, you know having anglers increase the targeting of those big blue catfish. Allowing one over would anglers — would allow anglers to keep a trophy catfish if they did harvest one.
Some of the concerns there, there certainly will some have impacts on winter jugline. Maybe — you know, the activity may decrease. Our anglers may object to that slot limit. We're hoping the benefits of maintaining some of those fish above 30 inches will counteract that. And long-lived larger fish like this are difficult to evaluate, so our staffs, along with our — our district staffs, along with our research group, are going to closely evaluate these populations to see what the impact of the populations will be by any — you know, any regulations that we do possibly implement.
Moving on to a another species that has certainly increased in interest here in Texas — is alligator gar. There's certainly been a lot of changes in attitude toward gar in recent years. It's long considered a trash fish that had negative impacts on populations. Back in the '80s we did do a study of alligator gar in Sam Rayburn Reservoir. There was some concerns there about bass anglers — that they were impacting the bass populations. That's always the common perception that large fish like gar will — have negative impacts on game fish. But what we found there is that typically the gar in that population were preying on other species other than bass. They certainly, being a top predator, they do take some game fish, mostly species like gizzard shad compromises the diet of these fish.
Now anglers are targeting this fish for the large size. And even among those who are doing that there's some advocacy for harvest limits. The fishery here in Texas is literally drawing people from all over the world to come and try and harvest some of these large alligator gar. State agencies around the country have recognized this unique fishery. Some of them have started to implement regulations to protect some of these gar populations. In some part of its range there — the fish have been fairly decimated, both by harvest and habitat. Concerns have played a big part there, and some of those states are considering stocking to recover those populations.
Looking at what we're proposing here in Texas and what we're hoping to accomplish — some of our goals there — we have a unique fishery for large fish in Texas, and we certainly will want to sustain that trophy harvest. We want to ensure that there's — those populations continue to be viable. And protecting some of those spawning size fish is very important here, and maintaining overall good population structure. And to obtain these management goals we need to — we will have to have — reduce harvest to sustainable levels and continue to investigate I.D. and protect those critical habitat areas that are very crucial to the health of these species.
Special challenges here to our management — the populations are difficult to sample, especially in those large river systems. Our traditional gears that we use for — in reservoirs aren't real effective for gar in general, and alligator gar in specific. We have — certainly have to consider the impacts of commercial fishing. We do issue some permits in freshwater to allow anglers to harvest some gar, so we'll have to certainly consider that.
There's a general lack of information on all gar species, mainly tied to that difficulty of sampling in all types of environments. After my presentation here we'll have Dr. Allyse Ferrara come up and give a — give us some information on the status of gar around the country. She's one of the leading authorities and researchers on this — on those species. And we've taken some of the information she has with information we've collected here to look at gar populations all over the range to see what possible impacts we could have by management actions.
We've also initiated some research projects here in Texas — some tagging studies in the Trinity River to look at those populations, get an idea of some population structure — also to try and look at what are the critical habitat areas and also to look at some — the genetics of those gar populations.
One of the things that we looked at to try and get a little bit of idea what some possible impacts of regulatory actions would be — we did some population modeling to look at these populations. There's a number of assumptions that we have to enter into these models. There's a — you know you can vary these assumptions in a lot of different ways to get different outcomes to the model.
But, just to give you an idea of how some of those look under these certain conditions of, you know, low natural mortality, these are large, long-lived individuals. They become mature at a larger age — the fecundity ‑‑ the ability to produce a lot of eggs as related to those larger size individuals. And, just taking a look at this graph here, looking at theoretical population of about 10,000 individuals you can see with just an annual harvest of 10 percent over a 25 period you're looking at the reduction in that population of over 50 percent.
You know, this is all somewhat theoretical, but, you know, it's not too hard to imagine some of our populations that are sustaining some harvest at that time — have harvest at these levels. So this kind of gives us a cause for concern that we need to address these populations.
Some of the management options that we've been discussed — our staff, led by Dave Buckmeier, who's here with us today, have looked at a lot of various options for managing gar to see if we could obtain our management goal. One of those would be a tag — issuing a tag to anglers — an on-demand tag that we would be able to go back later and possibly query anglers on their activities — get some more information on the populations that could possibly be limited to one fish per year and could have a minimum length limit. We could go with a length and bag limit — a minimum length limit limiting it to one per day.
Some of the other options we considered were some of the other things — area closures, quotas, seasons, gear restrictions, and catch release. But we believe those — the first two options are the best ones that we can implement and would have an impact on our fishery at this time.
So what are our next step here as — with all these regulation proposals? We're going to continue to evaluate the options, collect information, continue our research and our activities in this area. And if we decide to move on this we will continue to collect your input and input from others and settle on an option before the January Commission meeting.
Those are all our options that we are considering for this year. If you would have any questions or comments further on that — and I would also, you know, once again, note that Dr. Ferrara will follow me with some additional information on alligator gar.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Ken.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'd like to ask her some questions. I didn't realize she was coming.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks very much.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Any questions on the other two proposals?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions or discussion?
Thanks, Ken. Okay. I think we're — for the Item Number 8, status of alligator gar populations.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Once again, my name is Ken Kurzawski of the Inland Fisheries Division. And we have with us today Dr. Allyse Ferrara as associate professor of biological science at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Dr. Ferrara did her Ph.D. work at Auburn University on life history and strategies in gar management. And she's one of the — continued her research there at Nicholls State University on gar populations. And, as I said, she's one of the leading authorities on gar in the U.S. and would like to have her give some information that she's gleaned over the years of her research.
DR. FERRARA: Good morning. Thanks for the opportunity to speak about one of my favorite fishes. Okay. Alligator gar historically have ranged from about southern Texas — excuse me, southern central Florida down through Mexico to Veracruz along the Gulf Coast, and then up into southern Ohio and southern Illinois, and then westward over to parts of Texas and Oklahoma. So it's a pretty large range that was covered by these fishes. But, unfortunately, we've seen a dramatic contraction in the range of these fishes, not only in the U.S. but also in Mexico.
Just recently the fish had been listed as vulnerable by the American Fishery Society Endangered Fishes Committee. And what this vulnerable designation means is that the species is in imminent danger of becoming threatened across its entire range, or at least a significant portion of its range.
In Oklahoma and Kentucky alligator gar are currently listed as species of concern. And they've been extirpated from the northern portions of their range in both — in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio.
Some of the reasons for this recent listing include the very long life span of these fishes. We believe that they can live somewhere between 50 and 75 years. And whenever you have an organism that has a very long life span like this you're going to see a very low natural mortality rate. They also mature at a relatively old age and relatively large size.
And they have very, very specific spawning habitat requirements. So they require flooded vegetation. And this can be areas like vegetated marshes, they can be found in the more coastal areas, or in the interior portions in inland rivers. Specifically, you have to have that overbank seasonally flooded area, which in many parts of Texas doesn't happen every year. And, again, they're restricted mostly to the eastern and central portions of the state. But in those inland rivers these types of habitats that are needed may not be inundated every single year. So in some of these populations you may have recruitment occurring very infrequently.
So the current regulations in other states — and, remember, the northern portions of the range in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois the fish has been extirpated. For the states that still have alligator gar populations we see two that have no harvest, in Tennessee and in Florida. In other states that still have at least some semblance of alligator gar populations we see bag limits. So we see a one per day in Alabama, two per day in Mississippi, two per day in Arkansas, and a new regulation that will be going in this January in Oklahoma in a one per day. Missouri — kind of out there a little bit with a 50 per day, but at least they have a limit.
In the western part of the Gulf — in Louisiana and Texas we currently don't have any regulation. And I guess that's why I'm here. In Louisiana we don't have regulations either and we do support pretty extensive commercial and recreational fisheries. But the recreational fishery in Louisiana is very different from the fishery here in Texas. We have large fish — we have 100-pound, 150-pound, 200-pound fish out there, but not in the numbers you find in Texas. So Texas definitely has a very, very unique fishery. And the goal of trying to promote a trophy fishery is pretty much only — Texas is the only place where it's going to happen now because we see such a decline in the numbers and the size structure of the remaining populations.
So in Texas there are some amazing fish. There are alligator gar that are 150, 200 pounds. There are 200-pound fish that are harvested every year — or caught every year. So it's a place that anglers know about and are coming to in greater numbers to try to have the opportunity to catch these fishes.
This is an image that is becoming more prevalent on Texas fishing websites. This is a picture from 2004. And you can see that these men harvested a large number of fishes, and we think that about half of them looked to be reproductive-size females. So the word is out — I mean, people know. They're coming to Texas for the big alligator gar.
In this figure I've got two different populations. The red is Bayou DuLarge from southeastern Louisiana. This is a coastal population. And there are about 300 plus — 328 fish collected. And the data on these fish were collected with the assistance of a commercial fisherman that we've worked with very closely for a couple of years. And the particular data that are shown here are going to be used by a master's student at Louisiana State University. We've also had many students in our lab doing various aspects of research on this particular population.
The orange bars are data that's been collected from a guide on the Trinity River and Texas Parks and Wildlife personnel. So there's close to 300 fish there. And you can see that the size structure of the Louisiana population is definitely skewed towards smaller individuals. There's two other bars to notice on this graph. The blue bar is the size of maturity for males. So you can see that both the Texas and Louisiana populations have a lot of new productive-size males. The pink bar is the size of maturity for female alligator gar. And you can see that in the Texas population in particular there's a lot of large reproductive-size females that are still in the population. For the Louisiana population it doesn't look quite as good.
The Louisiana fishery, again, is made up of both commercial and recreational anglers. And we see an overall much smaller size fish than what we find in Texas. And we think a lot of it has to do with the pressure that these fishes are receiving from the commercial fisheries.
And this box here indicates the largest individuals. This would be the trophy size fish that are 150 to 200 pounds in sizes. And for Louisiana fishery there's only one fish that we caught out of the more than 300 individuals that actually falls into this size category. We had one individual that was over 150 — I think she was 153 pounds. And then we drop down to fishes that are just over 120 pounds. Now, if you look what the Texas population has, this is almost 5 percent of the population that is made up of these very, very large trophy individuals. And you compare this to the Louisiana population less than 1 percent of the population is of this size.
Okay. So just comparing the Louisiana and Texas populations again, the fish in Texas — the average fish is about three times as heavy as the fish in Louisiana. So Texas definitely has longer and heavier fishes. Again, in Louisiana we do have commercial fishery, which we think is one of the main reasons that we have a smaller size structure. We also have a tremendous amount of habitat, though I don't want to say in Louisiana that we need to get rid of our commercial fisheries. I think that we actually have enough habitat to support commercial and recreational fisheries, but we don't have this tremendous trophy fishery that Texas has. We do have big fish out there, but not in the abundance that you find in Texas.
So, in summary, alligator gar populations have declined throughout their range. And it looks like the western Gulf of Mexico is the area where we have the strongest populations in both Texas and Louisiana. But Texas population, again, is unique. There's monster fish out there. I mean, we've got 150-, 200-pound fish swimming around, and the anglers want to catch those fish. So the current harvest rate is probably pretty high. So there needs to be some sort of regulation of the harvest rate so that we don't see a shift towards smaller, average-size fish that we see in Louisiana.
The probably most difficult portion of this is trying to identify these spawning and juvenile habitats. But if we don't identify those habitats and don't protect those habitats putting in a harvest regulation really isn't going to do much good. As we see increased pressure on our water resources we're going to see an increased pressure on these types of habitats and potentially a decline or degradation of these habitats, which will result in lower recruitment rates.
So there is a two-pronged approach that should be taken to try to preserve this population in Texas for trophy fishery — reduce the harvest and also protect these types of habitats that are absolutely critical for spawning and for the development of the juvenile fishes. That — if there's any questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thank you. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What is the impact that — if you take out a thousand pounds of alligator gar from a particular area, what fish takes its place? What is the result of the change? I mean, isn't it still a trash fish?
DR. FERRARA: I wouldn't call it a trash fish.
VOICE: She loves those guys.
DR. FERRARA: Well, in some areas where there has been heavy pressure on alligator gar you see — but I think out of the true trash fish or rough fish things like carps become more common.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You'd better be glad the carp fish [indiscernible].
DR. FERRARA: I know. But they do — they have to play a critical role. I mean, thinking of them being a top predator in these types of environments. They're weeding out other species — they're weeding out other fishes. And, you know, I can't lie — I'm incredibly biased. But what Texas has that is so unique is this tremendous size structure and an enormous desire to maintain that trophy fishery. Nobody else can do that. Nobody else has the size structure that Texas has.
So there are probably going to be some people that are going to be negatively impacted by this. But with the decision to go towards trophy fishery I think if you can regulate the harvest and protect these critical habitats it's going to work.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But if you do remove the gar you don't see them replaced by catfish, for example, or bass? Or do you know?
DR. FERRARA: I have to say I don't know.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
MR. KURZAWSKI: I make one observation — you know, gar in our systems they are native — they are part of those ecosystems that have developed over time. So those systems — they compensate when certain fishes increase or decrease. And, you know, there's the other complement of native fishes, whether they be crayfishes or other game fishes will fill in those — you know, niches of — for the production for that whole system. It's really individual to the particular area how that will happen.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?
Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you for taking the time to come.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Committee Item 9, Trapping, Transporting, and — Triple T — Game Animals and Game Birds Rules — request permission to publish proposed changes.
MR. CAIN: Good morning, Commissioners. For the record my name is Alan Cain. I'm the district leader for the South Texas Wildlife District. And today I'm going to present a proposal for change in the application deadline for the trap, transport, and transplant permit, commonly referred to as a Triple T.
And to get started with and give you a quick review of the current rules for the Triple T permit in regards to the deadlines and some of the requirements, the complete application received by Department between September 1 and November 15 in a calendar year shall be approved or denied within 45 days of receipt. Applications may be received through March 31 and white-tailed deer may be relocated between October 1 and March 31.
In addition, the Triple T application requires field approval of the release sites. A wildlife management plan must be approved by field staff — by the biologists out there. In addition, the — on the application itself it must be signed off on by field staff for trap and release sites and an on-site habitat inspection must occur on those release sites.
At issue — at least for field staff — is the majority of Triple T applications are received after January 1 in the permit year. For example, last year in 2007-2008 we had 77 permits issued. Fifty-one of those were actually issued after February 1st. Now, 77 permits doesn't sound like a lot, but that represents 120 release sites across the state. In my district alone in South Texas we had 86 individual release sites last year, so that's a lot of you out there.
As such, field biologists are constrained by late Triple T requests and the necessity of complete habitat inspections — you know, folks come in in February or March and say, Hey, we want to get this permit. We're scrambling to try to get that done.
In addition to that request — trying to field those requests we're having to sacrifice or put aside other Parks and Wildlife programs, such as our technical guidance program, our managed lands deer permits program, which also require our brow survey, same type of survey that the Triple T permit requires for the release sites. And other job duties, whether it's regulatory surveys or whatever else we're called to do during those time periods.
And, for example, again, to put things in perspective, we've got 733 last year level 2 and 3 managed land deer permit cooperators. Those guys are also seeking our assistance as required by the permit itself to conduct on-site habitat inspections, as well as these Triple T requests. And so we're trying to find a balancing act there.
So we're proposing this rule change — the Triple T regulations. And it states that all trap sites, release sites, number of deer to be trapped and released to be designated on the Triple T application and must be received by the Department no later than January 1 of the current permit year.
And, in summary, when you look at the research we'll be conducting on how to do habitat inspections and the best time of year — the winter sampling period is the best time, so it's a short time period to get this done — January, February there — parts of December. Both Triple T and MLD programs require habitat inspections. And this January 1st deadline would provide the biologists the flexibility in the planning to hopefully accomplish these Triple T requests coming in instead of being crunched late in the season and sacrificing other TPWD programs, whether it's managed land deer permit or technical guidance. And it would allow us to maintain the integrity of those programs.
And, with that, staff requests permission to publish amendments as presented in the Texas Register for public comment. And if you all have any questions I'll be glad to try to answer them.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions? Yes. Go ahead, Karen.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Does this change — do you still have the 45-day —
MR. CAIN: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: — room to respond to that?
MR. CAIN: From September 1st to November 15th we still have to respond within 45 days.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Okay.
MR. CAIN: And what we're asking is that as of January 1st that the applications must have the trap site and release site — all that has to be complete in to the Department field staff — or Department — the Department could come here — but by January 1st, so we don't requests after January 1st. But it wouldn't change. We'd still be able to approve or deny within that 45 days.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That was my question. I wasn't clear whether we were sliding this thing forward without the benefit of the spring fawn crop.
MR. CAIN: We're keeping the first part, the November ‑‑ or September 1st to November 15th, will still be intact. We have to guarantee approval or denial of that permit within 45 days.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So if an application were to come in after the first of the year just we'd ignore it?
MR. CAIN: Yes. What our field staff would probably do is say, Look, you missed the deadline. Let's get you set up on a management plan. Let's find out what you need to do and get you on the process for next year — you know, try to work with them and get them in the program. But at that point after January 1st we're not going to accept any more applications and try to get them in, you know, completed brow surveys or whatever by that time. You know, we'd work with them and hopefully get that through the next trapping season.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions? Discussion? Thank you.
MR. CAIN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it. If we have no further questions or discussion I'll authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period. And that concludes the Regulations Committee.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Now what am I supposed to do here? This is quite complicated ‑‑
MR. SMITH: Well, I think if we just go ahead and convene Finance and then we'll cover a couple of items.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. SMITH: I know that we have some out-of-town partners, Fisher-Heck and PROS Consulting. And after we finish their presentation then we'll recess Finance. We'll open up Conservation, approve the minutes, and then we'll recess for Executive Session. So I'll coach you along the way. How's that? It's —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I think I can handle it.
MR. SMITH: You got it? Okay. Good. All right. (Whereupon, at 12:05 p.m., the Regulations Committee meeting concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: November 5, 2008
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 135, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731