Public Hearing, January 26, 2012
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION
JANUARY 26, 2012
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
COMMISSION HEARING ROOM
4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744
REPORTED BY: PAIGE SLOAN WATTS
Sunbelt Reporting & Litigation Services
1016 LaPosada Drive, Suite 294
Austin, Texas 78752
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning everybody, welcome. I appreciate everyone being here. This meeting is called to order January 26, 2012, at 9:10 a.m. Before proceeding with any business, Mr. Smith, I believe you have a statement to make.
MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed at the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting.
Mr. Chairman, if I could, I just want to welcome everybody this morning. And we've got a great audience here. No doubt many of you are here to help celebrate the service awards that we're going to be sharing and going through just very, very shortly and recognize colleagues that have had very long and successful tenures with this Agency and I particularly appreciate all the family members that have come in to help us celebrate that today. And so that will be the first part of the agenda as we recognize colleagues and then some very generous gifts that have been made to the Agency.
Following that part of the presentation, the Chairman will then give everybody time to leave who does not want to stay for the rest of the Commission meeting. Of course, all of you are invited to stay as long as you want. For those of you who are staying for the remainder of the meeting, I just would ask if everybody can just watch your cell phones. If you can either put that on vibrate or silence them or even better yet, just turn them off. If you've got a conversation to have, if you don't mind stepping outside and doing that and just remembering that these walls are thick; but not that thick. So if everybody could just stay as quiet as possible.
If you're here to speak on a particular item, we would ask that you sign up outside, at the appropriate time the Chairman will call your name and you'll with asked to come forward to speak specifically on the item for which you've signed up to speak and you will have three minutes to speak. We've got a little timer over here. Green means go, yellow means start to wind it up, and then red means stop. And so we'll let you know after three minutes. So thanks for joining us and thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Carter. Next is approval of the minutes from the previous Commission meeting held November 3rd, 2011, which have already been distributed. Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Approved by Commissioner Scott. Second, Commissioner Jones. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.
Now we're up with acknowledgment of a list of donations, which have all -- also have been distributed. Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Approved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Hughes.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second, Commissioner Morian. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Motion carries.
And now service awards and special recognitions, Mr. Smith.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission. For the record, my name is Carter Smith. Yesterday, we talked extensively about the State Park's campaign and the public appeal that we had made to ask all Texans who care about the future of these great treasures to help us with a fund-raising campaign. All of you know how important that is. And I think what's particularly heartwarming in our state is when you have an appeal for something that matters, just to watch how that has inspired people. And we have had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of citizens come forward with gifts to support this Agency and particularly your State Parks in gifts big and small.
And as Lydia told you yesterday, in December when we did the big press conference asking for help, we were certainly hoping for a response. I'm not sure we were fully prepared for the first response that we got, which was a phone call from a longstanding friend of this Agency, Buddy Temple. And Buddy called to say he had seen the campaign and was aware of it and wanted to know a little bit more about it and so we talked about it and about four hours later he called and he said, "Carter, I'm about to climb up in a deer blind; so I don't have long to talk. But I've just talked to all of the other trustees on the T.L.L. Temple Foundation in East Texas and we're very proud to make a $250,000 gift to this great Agency to support our State Parks." It's just another in a series of many, many generous acts by the Temple family and their foundation in East Texas and throughout the state. And Buddy and Ellen and Buddy Zeagler, the Executive Director, and the other trustees couldn't be here. I think they're having their own board meeting. But with your permission, Chairman, we have a resolution that we're going to be sending them and I would like to just read this into the record if I may.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right.
MR. SMITH: Whereas Texas State Parks are a beloved part of our history and heritage, whereas record heat and drought and devastating wildfires have led to an alarming decline in State Park visitation and revenue in recent months and whereas the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department issued a public appeal for support in December of 2011 and whereas the T.L.L. Temple Foundation was created in 1962 by Georgie Temple Munz in honor of her father and through donations from other Temple family members has grown to be one of the largest charitable giving organizations in the state and whereas the T.L.L. Temple Foundation is committed to protect the places where people live, work, and play, and whereas the T.L.L. Temple Foundation quickly responded to Parks and Wildlife's public appeal to support our parks with a generous $250,000 gift, and whereas the Temple family has an enduring legacy of natural resource stewardship that began with T.L.L. Temple and continues today and whereas this generous gift will continue the Temple family legacy of preserving the state's natural resources and enhancing the quality of life for its inhabitants, therefore be it resolved that the members of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission hereby recognize, honor, and bestow their thanks to the T.L.L. Temple Foundation Board of Trustees for the generous contribution that will support Texas State Parks in East Texas and beyond.
We'll make sure this framed resolution gets to all the board members with the Temple Foundation and we'll send a big round of thanks. So let's give them a round of thanks for that gift.
(Round of applause)
MR. SMITH: I think as all of you know in fund-raising, that kind of success oftentimes begets more success. And I hope all of you know the critically important role that our official nonprofit partner, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, plays in supporting this Agency behind the scenes. We have a very, very dedicated group of volunteer leaders from around the state that serve on that board chaired very ably, I might add, by Kelly Thompson of Fort Worth and they work assiduously to help raise funds to support high priority Department projects. And just last week, the foundation had their board meeting here in Austin. It was the first time that they had met since we announced this public campaign for State Parks. And I'll tell you for those of us that were in the room that day, it could not have been more poignant and gratifying to hear the discussion of those board members about what was the single most important thing they could do at this juncture to help this Agency.
And they were just looking at the results of a very successful year from a fund-raising perspective, a great credit to the board and their staff, and looking at unrestricted gifts that they had received and to a one, that board voted unanimously and unambiguously that they were very proud to make a $500,000 contribution to help our State Parks at this time of need. I wish every single one of our 1,300 colleagues that work in State Parks could have been there to hear that conversation and to hear their expressions of support for State Parks and what they mean to all of Texas.
And I couldn't be more pleased that today we have with us some old friends that serve on this board. Kelly Thompson, the Chair; of course, Mark Bivins, no stranger to this Commission; Hunter Henry, who serves on the board; and I haven't seen Pat Murray, but hopefully he's here. And I would like to ask them to come forward and ask Kelly to say a few words and then I would like for them to be able to get a picture with the Commission. And so let's welcome Kelly Thompson.
MR. THOMPSON: For the record, I am Kelly Thompson. I chair the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. We're very pleased to be here. It was very gratifying last week -- actually, two weeks ago that we held the board meeting down here and voted unanimously to make a -- what we hope is a catalyst gift to serve a real need of the Department and that we can grow a campaign throughout the balance of the year to help with this deficit and funding need for your State Parks.
And I would like to recognize Hunter Henry, who's on our Executive Committee, and Mark Bivins, former Commissioner. I'm sorry that Pat Murray could not be here, who is also our Executive Committee member. Carter.
MR. SMITH: If we could get a picture with you, that would be great. So, yeah, thank you all.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, that may be the hardest thing we do is to try to get everybody lined up for that picture, so. But it's my privilege now to recognize one of our longest standing partners in State Parks and I hope that all of you, if you haven't already, have a chance to visit Brazos Bend over there near Houston. Just a spectacular, spectacular property there on the Brazos River. Beautiful, beautiful giant oak trees. A very bountiful alligator population, Commissioner Scott. And just a great, great place to recreate.
And one of the things that makes that park function so well is our Friends Group and the volunteer organization. One of the most active in the state. Over the years, they've made well over a half a million dollars in contributions to help support the State Park. They give very generously with their time and labor in terms of trail maintenance and clean up, interpretation and education. And as our Superintendent Steve Killian will tell you, we absolutely could not run that park to the extent that we do without the incredible dedication of this group of volunteers. And today, they're here today to hand over the keys to two new John Deere Gators with hydraulic dump beds and so you can rest assured we'll put those to use on the park and you know how functional those will be. And we've got the organization's president with us today, Offie Walker and we've also got park superintendent Steve Killian and so let's recognize them and ask them to come forward. So thank y'all.
(Round of applause)
MR. KILLIAN: We have an outstanding, awesome volunteer organization at Brazos Bend State Park. With their help, it's helping us get through these tough economic times. These two new Gators will help us build at least three new trails and maintain over 35 miles of existing trails. So without my partner here, Offie Walker, it would not be possible. Thank you, Offie.
MR. WALKER: Thank you. Commissioners and Chairman, we really have a lot of fun in the park. We thank you for the opportunity to be here. We thank you for the time and devotion you expend for our State Parks. I would like to introduce you to two volunteers that were in our first class in 1989. Mr. and Mrs. Williamson, Anna Dell and Bruce.
(Round of applause)
MR. WALKER: They're still a very big part of our organization. I don't want to take too much time. I do want to mention that we have worked some joint projects with Texas Parks and Wildlife Austin. It's been a pleasure working with them. We look forward to doing bigger and better things in the future. Thank you, gentlemen.
(Round of applause)
MR. SMITH: Let's get a picture of the key hand off here. You notice he didn't let me touch it.
(Photographs are taken)
MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, we have two colleagues today that are -- or have retired from the Agency and they're back to let us honor them. One of whom, Arthur McCall, I know you had a chance to meet when he was presented with the Shikar Safari Officer of the Year award. A very, very big deal. And Arthur has the distinction of being one of the longest serving game wardens in the state. Was with this Agency for 42 years. Arthur told me I think after he hit 40 years, he said, "You know, Carter, you're the first Executive Director that's ever spoken to me," and you can see how well that's worked out, he's retiring. So I'll stay clear of your wardens, Pete.
Arthur -- and actually this will be of interest to Commissioner Jones and Hughes. He graduated from the Academy back when it was based at A&M. And when he got out of the academy, he served in Real County there in the Hill Country for a couple of years before he moved down to Atascosa County to work in the brush country where, let me assure you, everybody knows Arthur. Just a fine officer as you will absolutely meet. Very, very well known for his thorough investigations and his ability to catch people doing bad things in the brush, let me assure you. And led a number of very important investigations on poaching rings in South Texas.
He's also been the first one to help volunteer, to help underprivileged kids get into the out of doors, the "Who Done It" displays in camps that you see, at places like the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo where they've been set up. Arthur has always been there to help volunteer his time. He was also one of the charter members of the Game Warden Honor Guard and was the rifle squad leader. A couple other things about Arthur is he is a very, very accomplished western artist. Really is a masterful, masterful painter and represented by the Mooney Gallery in San Antonio and encourage you to go by there and see his work. He leaves us a very proud legacy with his son Michael, who's a game warden for us in Comal County. And so I'm very proud to recognize Arthur today, 42 years of service, retiring from the Agency. Arthur.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague that we're recognizing is also no stranger to this Commission, Mark Thurman. Mark was one of the Agency's videographers. First one I saw this morning when he pulled up and I've got to tell you, it was nice to see he and his wife in the parking lot. It felt a little odd to see him pull into the visitor space. Mark's been with us for so long and been such an integral part or the team. Been with us for 21 years and he was 15 years in the private sector before he got what he characterized is his dream job, coming to work for the Parks and Wildlife video team. He wanted to be a part of the TV show and just the extraordinary creative work that Lydia's team does with respect to producing TV shows and videos.
He's had just an extraordinary adventure with the Agency. And, you know, Mark shared a few samples with that. Over 21 years, as he said, he chased antelope and mountain lions and bears throughout the Big Bend country with wildlife biologists. He's ridden along with game wardens as they've chased outlaws. He was there shooting video when the state Largemouth bass was caught. Floated the Rio Grande with a geologist educating folks on the millions of years of history. Spent a week 45 miles out on the Gulf on an oil and gas platform so that they could send live video from 100 feet beneath the platform over the web to students to help teach them about rigs and habitat that they provide out in the Gulf. He's been to just about every park and Wildlife Management Area in the state. Was privileged to record the memories of 50 or so CCC veterans as part of our oral history project. Was at every one of the Parks and Wildlife expos. Videoed the Lone Star Land Steward Awards and also with the infamous other duties as assigned, Mark never missed a single Commission meeting in 21 years and Mark made it work and awfully proud to recognize him today. Mark Thurman, 21 years with this Agency. Mark.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We're going to now recognize colleagues that -- for service awards. And fitting that we're starting off with one of our Inland Fisheries biologists, John Moczygemba, that's been with us for 40 years. Started as an intern there in San Antonio doing work on Flathead catfish there in the Medina River. Took a little break when he joined the Army, but then came back a couple of years later to be based at the field station that we have up at Lake Texoma. And all of you know what a world class Striped bass fishery that we've got up at Lake Texoma and John played a big part in that.
As a biologist, he was involved with all of the early phase of that in terms of Striped bass introduction, procuring broodstock, helping to develop the spawning operations at a hatchery that -- or hatchery operations that we had up there at the time in Lewisville. He's done a lot of experimental work with fisheries in the state, not only with Striped bass, but the Walleye and, of course, the Florida strain of the Largemouth bass.
In later years, just like so many of our fisheries' biologists, he's had to get into the also sometimes more complicating and contentious areas of water management and invasive and exotic species and some of the other very difficult problems that our fisheries' biologists are having to deal with around the state. Been very involved in his professional organization and he takes a great deal of pride introducing young people to the sport of fishing. Let's recognize John for 40 years of service to this great Agency. John.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We've got another fisheries' biologist that we're awfully proud to recognize. This time on our Coastal team, Karen Meador. Karen has been with us 35 years. Actually, started out here in Austin and then wisely moved to Rockport where she has been working diligently on our Management and Harvest team there, helping to manage fishery stocks there in Aransas and Nueces and Corpus Christi Bay.
In '92, she was promoted to the Ecosystem Team Leader over Aransas Bay. And since that time, Karen has really been a thought-and-practice leader in terms of the fisheries' community there on the mid coast. She's been very active in Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission issues on Black Drum and involved in the marine mammal and sea turtle stranding networks. And, you know, Karen was very instrumental in helping to bring forward kind of the first habitat protection method on the coast and, of course, that's been the very successful Red Fish Bay State Scientific Area.
Karen has been really out front with efforts to help protect the integrity and vitality of our seagrass and helping to educate and inform boaters and anglers about the criticality of that habitat, for making sure that we can support our Redfish and trout and other species that depend upon it. And awfully proud to have her on this team, 35 years of service, Karen Meador. Karen.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We've got another fisheries' biologist to recognize, Dr. Gary Garrett, who's been with us for 30 years. And Gary is absolutely one of the preeminent experts on West Texas fishes and fish that are particularly rare or imperiled. You're going to hear Scott Boruff later on this morning give a presentation on the Devils River Working Group that y'all charted when we acquired the new Devils River Ranch.
And Gary has worked on that special river and watershed for many, many years and just did an extraordinary job of building credibility with the ranching community out there and working through some very difficult endangered species issues. Built incredible trust and creditability with those Del Rio and Val Verde area ranchers that -- and who put a lot of confidence in Gary. He's an expert scientist. He's published over 70 scientific publications on fishes of Texas in various forms of fashion. He is now the Director of the Watershed Policy and Management Program in our new watershed branch led by Tim Birdsong here. And they are just doing a remarkable job working on important rivers and watershed throughout the state. You may have heard about some of the work recently on the South Llano River that they have done and Gary has just been a great leader inside this Agency and awfully proud to have him on our team, Gary Garrett, 30 years of service. Gary.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: You know, I was looking forward to seeing all of our colleagues today. I'll confess, I was particularly looking forward to seeing our next one, Captain Robert Newman from El Paso. The last time I saw Robert was on TV and he and a gaggle of others were chasing a mountain lion down the streets of El Paso. I don't know what the hell he was going to do if he caught up with it, but we'll ask him here momentarily.
Robert started out with the Agency actually working at Hueco Tanks State Park, Brent, building fence. And as Robert's Major Steve Whitaker said, well, at least we got one summer's worth of honest work out of Robert. Robert after that character-building experience, went to look for a little cushier job, Pete, and was accepted into the Academy and graduated proudly. For West Texas boys, immediately sent down to the coast where he got to learn about Redfish and trout and crabs and ducks and all other kinds of things associated with saltwater that he had rarely seen in his life. Someone, I'm not sure, wrote this into the script. We should mention the exceptional patience levels of those who worked with and guided this young man with the seemingly endless levels of energy and enthusiasm. Hopefully, Robert is sustaining those energy levels today.
Robert ultimately moved back to Marfa, where he was a game warden out there for ten years there at Presido County. Then moved over to El Paso and was promoted to Captain, 2006 we recognized him with a community outreach award. And so very proud today to recognize Robert, 30 years of service. Robert.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We've got another colleague that we're awfully proud to recognize today, Carl Allan Perry, also been with us for 30 years and actually started his career in 1980 with the Texas State Railroad back when the Agency was running the railroad there in Palestine. And Carl was an integral part of making sure that that railroad ran well. Had been promoted to the position of supervisor over the Bridge and Building Department and then, of course, as all of you are aware, at the end of 2007, first of 2008, we ended up transferring the railroad and Carl moved over to take a position of Maintenance Specialist and our Back Up Utility Plant Operator there at Martin Creek Lake State Park and currently holds that position.
He's well known for just being really an expert on plumbing work, electrical work, carpentry. I mean somebody that can absolutely just do anything and that's really important to keeping our parks up and running and I want to acknowledge that very, very important service, 30 years of service, Carl Allan Perry. Carl.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague that we're going to recognize, among other things, he's a pretty good scratch golfer; but he also doubles as a pretty good game warden, Jim Lindeman. Jim has been with us for 25 years. He's based over in Lampasas County. One of the drawbacks of that is you get all of these Austin game wardens that tend to have deer leases over there. A couple in the back here that will go nameless. Rest assured, Jim has a full-time job keeping an eye on those boys.
Jim really has done an extraordinary job in his career. Started out down in South Texas in Kenedy County and Sarita and then moved to Lampasas County in '96. He's received a number of accolades and awards. 2004, he received the Medal of Merit recipient from the Law Enforcement Division; 2010, Sheriff Wallace Riddell award for Hill Country Law Enforcement Officer of the Year; and then last year, he received the Director's Citation Recipient from the Law Enforcement Division.
You've heard us talk a number of times with y'all about just that horrific tragedy on Lake Buchanan almost nine years ago on a hit and run and that was very personal for Jim. He knew those kids that were in that accident, he knew their families, and was intimately involved with that investigation for almost nine years until it was brought to a successful close last week. Very, very proud of Jim and all of his work on that case, as well as the many other things that he does so well to represent us in that community. Jim Lindeman, 25 years of service. Jim.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We've got another 25-year veteran game warden that I'm pleased to recognized today, Captain David Modgling. And David also had his start at the Agency with State Parks, started out at Lake Brownwood. When he got out of Tarleton State, he worked at South Llano River State Park, which by the way, that is just an extraordinary park. If you ever find yourself over in Junction, I certainly encourage you to go by, visit.
In 1992, he was accepted into the Game Warden Academy. Sent down to San Patricio County. But before he was promoted to Captain there in Garland just last year, Dave spent I think over 15 years there in Palo Pinto County. Just an extraordinary part of our state. Very well known and respected there.
David, I just want to point this out. He and one of his partners, Cliff Swofford, were very helpful to us as we searched for a new State Park site in that area. David new every single landowner and all of those properties and provided some very unique insights from his many years as a game warden there. After about the first three years of us turning over every rock, he did pull me aside one day after we had just dealt with endless and endless landowners and he said," You know, Mr. Smith, well why is it that you guys tend to end up with all the crazy landowners in Palo Pinto County? Let me guide you over here where you might get a deal done."
So David Modgling a big help, 25 years of service to this Agency. David.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague that I'm going to recognize is Major Danny Shaw. Danny also has been with us 25 years, had a very long and storied career with this Agency. Started off down in South Texas there in Cameron County at Port Isabel working on the Lower Laguna Madre and some of the farm and ranch country there surrounding the bay.
In '90, he transferred up to Jim Wells County there in South Texas and then moved over to Kaufman County just east of Dallas. Quickly promoted there to the lieutenant in the Garland office and not long after was promoted to our Captain over in San Antonio. Where you ought to know Danny now is he leads our Game Warden Training Center. And Danny was responsible for managing the move and integration and start of the new center there in Hamilton County, making sure that he hired all of the new staff that were moving out there, putting in place really what has become known as just a world class training program for our law enforcement officers that go through it.
Danny is a very, very fine leader and we're awfully proud to have Danny Shaw working for this Agency, 25 years of service, Major Danny Shaw. Danny.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Danny gives me a little grief about my word choice every once in a while. We had a little inside joke there. Our next colleague that we're going to recognize is Jim Yetter, sergeant with our Law Enforcement Division. Also, been with us for 25 years. I found this pretty interesting. When he got out of the Academy, he was sent there to Matagorda Island where at that time, you spent three days on the island and three days off and so I know that was quite an adventure on the island. I can't imagine he caught any fish over there while on duty, Pete.
It actually sounds like a pretty dang good gig. I like that. He then transferred over to Shelby County, and good for Jim. He went on to get his bachelor's degree in applied arts and science in law enforcement and Spanish. Recently promoted to sergeant in the Environmental Crimes Unit where he works today. Awfully proud of his service, 25 years of service, Jim Yetter. Jim.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague is from our State Parks team, also been with us for a very proud 25 years, Kenneth Coleman. And started his time at the Agency working at Buescher State Park, which hopefully all you know is right there next to Bastrop State Park, just down the road. Promoted to Park Ranger II there. Worked for over 20 years at that special park. Again, one of the great jewels in this state.
In November of 2007, he was promoted to Park Ranger III there at Monument Hill and the Kreische Brewery site, which is one of the historic sites in La Grange. It's an old historic German brewery. A really, really neat spot that we steward. He's just been a great interpreter. Wonderful ambassador. Everybody talks about just his contagious smile and just how well he represents this Agency and 25 years of service to our State Parks team, Kenneth Coleman. Kenneth.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our last service award is again no stranger to this Commission. One of the most talented and creative people that we have on our team here and that's Lee Smith. Lee has been with this Agency 20 years. He's one of the videographers working with Lydia. Just been involved in a bunch of different things with our TV shows. Help -- member of the team that created the "Made in Texas" TV series. He -- you will recall Lee in terms of him leading the "Water" series. The ten-year series on the state of water throughout Texas. Just one of the absolute best educational pieces that this Agency has ever done. Won Emmy awards for those productions.
He was the one who had the courage to just pick up the phone and call Walter Cronkite and ask him if he would narrate those documentaries, which Mr. Cronkite did and what a great piece of history for this Agency. And Lee is just an artesian well of energy and ideas and just does an extraordinary job. We now have him working on our Hunter Education videos and, again, helping us with our overall hunter recruitment and retention. A perfect fit for him. He's a lifelong hunter and angler who loves the out of doors and just a wonderful friend and colleague, 20 years of service, Lee Smith. Lee.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Oh, that is a memorable moment in the history of service awards. God bless him. I shouldn't have mentioned that creativity. You know, it's my great privilege now to recognize an officer who really is just doing extraordinary, extraordinary things for this Agency. Brad Chappell is someone that I hope all of you've had a chance to meet. You've heard from him talk about a number of his cases and investigations on illegal importation of deer into the state.
He's really become one of the foremost authorities across the nation on Lacey Act violation. Just an extraordinary officer and could not be more pleased that Brad Chappell has been recognized from the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies as the officer of year. Had a long, long history. When he got out of the Game Warden Academy -- and by the way, his dad was a game warden and we have a number of those situations in the ranks and so he grew up in this environment. Was sent over to Sabine County in East Texas where he got to work on a lot of deer hunting with dog cases.
Then he lateraled over to Panola County whereas they say he made many acquaintances with waterfowl hunters as they fired their final volley at wood ducks making descent to roost. Let me assure you, you don't want Brad Chappell on your tail. Brad, again, just had an extraordinary career. I'll read some of the highlights. One time he made a routine stop for littering, ended up catching a guy that had a warrant out for him for capital murder. He also caught an ex-licensed deputy who was fabricating temporary fishing licenses and selling those and pocketing the proceeds.
There was a couple of Louisiana poachers who ventured into East Texas and had illegally killed a deer or two. Brad tailed them all the way back to Louisiana, where he introduced himself as a game warden who had come to take them back home and they said, "Well, this is going to depend upon the landowner filing charges," and Brad said, "Don't worry about that. I'm the landowner, too."
So Brad -- I love this story too about you don't have to be smart to be an outlaw. He apprehended the same group twice about a year apart who were shooting fish with high-powered assault rifles from the same highway bridge a year later. So where Brad has I think really made his mark has been in the investigation of all of these illegal cases having to do with people importing deer illegally in this Texas. As y'all know, the Commission set important borders to keep and protect the health of our native deer herds.
Unfortunately, we have people that are taking action to illegally bring deer into the state and Brad has just done an extraordinary, extraordinary job of investigating and prosecuting some very, very high profile cases. Most recently a Federal Lacey Act conviction. It was the culmination of a four-year investigation for illegal importation of live deer into East Texas. One of the defendants ended up being sentenced in Federal court, had to pay $1 million in fine to the Federal Lacey court -- or Lacey Act fund. The biggest fine that anyone has ever had to pay into the Lacey Act fund and Brad Chappell led that investigation. In addition, that defendant was also ordered to pay a half million dollars in community restitution to the Parks and Wildlife Foundation.
Brad is an extraordinary defender of our state's native fish and game and making sure that everybody is playing by the same rules. He is a crackerjack investigator and just done an extraordinary job out there on behalf of the Agency and my privilege to introduce our Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency Officer of the Year, Brad Chappell. Brad.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. CHAPPELL: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, I'll take just a moment of your time. I would like to express my gratification for receiving this award. It means a tremendous amount to me. I have a unique position with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. As a statewide investigator, I have the rare opportunity to work with many Texas game wardens throughout the state with diverse backgrounds, training, and a lot of talent.
Game wardens across the Lone Star State have an awesome investigative talent scattered out throughout our great state and I've had an opportunity to work with many of those and the privilege of working with these guys has been great and there's many other wardens throughout the state that are just as entitled to this recognition. Our accomplishments on enforcement activities are due to the awesome support from all levels of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Honestly, without walking in my boots, no one can understand just how much support that I've received, from Captain Greg Williford, Chief David Sinclair, Lieutenant Colonel Craig Hunter, Colonel Flores, Deputy Director Scott Boruff, our Executive Director Carter Smith, and from each one of you members of the Commission and I would like to express my appreciation for that.
Support of that nature enables anyone in our type of capacity to be able to achieve the intended goals. I would also like to express an appreciation to the -- my parents, Frankie and retired Captain Game Warden Wayne Chappell, for their support; my mother-in-law, Carol Chapulis; my fantastic wife Sharmane; and our awesome son JW. Thank you all.
(Round of applause)
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Okay, at this time I would like to inform the audience that everyone is welcome to stay for the remainder of the meeting; however, if anyone wishes to leave, now would be an appropriate time to do so. Thank you all.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. First order of business is Action Item No. 1, Approval of Revised Agenda. Action Item No. 2 regarding a request to the LBB has been withdrawn.
Motion for approval on the items at -- you're not hearing me, are you?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Approved by Commissioner Martin.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second Commissioner Jones. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, the motion carries.
Two is off. And Item 3, Request for Storage Lease, Anderson County -- there we are -- Natural Gas Storage Lease at Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth. Good morning.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Good morning. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. The item we're looking at this morning is a culmination of several months of working with an applicant for a gas injection and storage lease that would occupy a depleted gas formation in East Texas under a portion of the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area. The formation is about 9,000 feet beneath the surface of the Wildlife Management Area. The only occupancy of our surface that would occur would be for the purpose of redrilling and replugging three abandoned gas wells. Otherwise, all the facilities -- the pumping facilities, compression facilities, storage facilities, pipeline facilities -- would be constructed no closer than 1,000 feet from our boundary.
We brought this item to you in November. You asked us to go back to the applicant with a set of terms and conditions for that lease. They have agreed to meet all of those terms, including the compensation and the boundary from the park and so forth. So with their agreement to those terms, staff is now recommending that you adopt the resolution that you have attached as Exhibit A. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Ted? All right. Nobody is signed to speak up on that one, so no more discussion. Motion for approval? Motion --
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So motioned.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Scott. Second?
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Morian. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Hearing none, motion carries.
All right. Item 4, Land Donation, Galveston County, Approximately 47 acres at Galveston Island State Park, Corky Kuhlmann.
MR. KUHLMANN: Good morning. Corky Kuhlmann with the Land Conservation Program. This is a donation to Galveston Island State Park. This is the second reading of this item, the first being in March of 2011. It is on Galveston Island. It is a donation tract that is adjacent to and more or less an inholding to the State Park.
One of the requirements for this -- accepting this donation would be that we help with some of the mitigation that is still required on the tract, which has mostly wetlands and uplands vegetation reseeding. The Park plans to do this with volunteers and the Park's Friends Group, so there will be very little expense to Parks and Wildlife. Having said that, the staff recommends the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the following motion: The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to accept the donation of a 47-acre tract of land as an addition to Galveston Island State Park. I'll take --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Corky? Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Corky, I think we asked this earlier in the briefing on this. But there aren't any environmental -- we did an environmental assessment of whatever we typically do before we accept land?
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir. We have been over this tract thoroughly with our resource people. There's no concerns there.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions? Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Seconded by Commissioner Falcon. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.
MR. KUHLMANN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Corky.
Item 5 is Boating Ramp Grant Funding, Mr. Tim Hogsett. How are you this morning?
MR. HOGSETT: Good morning. Very well, thank you. Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, I'm Tim Hogsett from the Recreation Grants Branch in the State Parks Division. We're bringing forth today our annual recommendations for boating access funding.
The program is federal funds with a 75 percent match coming through as a pass-through from the federal government, matched against a 25 percent local match. In these cases, the local governments agree to operate and maintain these ramps. The revenue is a required 15 percent dedication of the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Account for these kinds of purposes each year.
This year we received 13 applications for new ramp assistance and for renovation of about 4.6 million in matching funds. Today we're going to recommend three ramps to you in the amount of 1.4 million. What we're facing is a situation where this fund is divided into two separate accounts, with 70 percent required to be in an account for freshwater boat access and 30 percent for saltwater boat access. This is a federal requirement based on the licensing activity in Texas.
Right now, we've somewhat come to a limit on the amount we're going to be able to do on freshwater for a while. So today we're only recommending funding for saltwater ramps and hope after new apportionment money is received later this year, to return some of these freshwater ramps for recommendation for funding at that time.
Having said that, we're recommending funding for three projects. One in the city of Aransas Pass at Con Brown Harbor; one sponsored by the City of Corpus Christi, a ramp under the JFK causeway; and one in Willacy County -- actually, two ramps in Willacy County in Port Mansfield, those being renovations. Having said that, the staff recommendation: Funding for boating access construction and renovation projects listed in Exhibit A in the amount of $1,406,632, is approved.
I'd be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Tim? Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Tim, you said -- is it 70 percent freshwater, 30 percent saltwater?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And so we're way over on the freshwater side?
MR. HOGSETT: We're at our limit on freshwater right now in terms of past grants that we've made.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay, thanks.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions? Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: So moved, Falcon.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Falcon. Second Commissioner Hughes. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, the motion carries. Tim, thank you.
MR. HOGSETT: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Next is a briefing item, update on the Devils River Working Group, Mr. Scott Boruff. Good morning, Scott.
MR. BORUFF: Good morning. Get my eyes out here. Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director for Operations. I'm here today to give you a briefing on the Devils River Working Group, which this body chartered a year ago. I'm going to move these maps over where you can see them. If I can get them out of the way a little bit. Does somebody know how to work that thing? Pardon the delay, please.
I'm here today to give you a briefing on the work of the Devils River Working Group, which as I said was chartered a year ago. I thought I would start out with a little background about this project since we do have some new Commissioners since this project started. The project started with our interest in what was called the Devils River Ranch. This is down in Val Verde County. You can see from the maps that I've put up here in front of you, the Devils River Ranch is the yellow polygon there. The green is the old Devils River State Natural Area. What you see in orange there is the Texas Nature Conservancy's Dolan Falls Preserve. Those are some -- the three large publically owned properties along the Devils River out in West Texas.
We became interested in the Devils River Ranch, which is almost 18,000 acres, some very unique habitat. It's kind of a nexus between the Chihuahuan desert, the Edwards Plateau, Tamaulipan thornscrub. It has 10 miles of frontage along the Devils River. A pretty significant recreational opportunity. Both the Devils River Ranch and the old state natural area are under strict conservation easements that are held by the Nature Conservancy. As we went to look at the acquisition of the Devils River Ranch, we went out to the public and asked for some feedback from the public.
Our original plan, our original contemplated course of action was to actually sell the State Natural Area, the old State Natural Area, and use those funds to leverage against additional funds to purchase this new State Natural Area. When we went out to the public, we did focus groups locally in Del Rio. We went around the state to all the major metropolitan urban areas and we got significant feedback that the public didn't like that idea. And those of you that were on the Commission will remember we came back to you at that time. We shared with you that public feedback and as a result of that, we abandoned the idea to sell the State Natural Area and buy the Devils River Ranch. And instead with the tremendous support of Commissioner Hughes and Executive Director Smith, we embarked upon a private fund-raising campaign and I'm going to talk about that in a few minutes. It was very successful and ultimately allowed us to purchase the Devils River Ranch.
As we went through the public process though, not only did we hear opposition to divesting ourselves of the old State Natural Area, we heard three major areas of concern. And, of course, the first was the loss of conservation land if we were to move forward with the divestiture, which we decided not to do. The others were very consistent and that was the public's real concern for the impact to the condition of the river. That if we were going to put more people on the river, that it could result in some significant impacts with the quality of the river and the quality of the river experience.
We also heard that there was significant challenges along the Devils River that had historically resulted in conflicts between recreational users and private landowners out there and I'll talk to you in a few minutes about the nature of those conflicts. So we went forward with the acquisition. As I said, with the leadership of Commissioner Hughes and Mr. Smith, we raised almost $9 million in private donations from nine different donors. We used almost $3,000,000, $2.75 million of State money that was available and it was available only for acquisition. It was not available to support operations in State Parks unfortunately. And we also had about $1.35 million in federal money. I might also mention that the seller sold this land to us at a bargain price, which allowed this thing to happen and was very important for us as an acquisition. So there was a bargain sale, $9 million of private money, 2.5 of State money, and 1.3 of Federal money that allowed us to purchase this and essentially add it to the complex, the State Natural Area out there.
There was a lot of debate during the original public hearings and here within the Agency about whether we should -- whether this should be a State Park or a State Natural Area. I think there is some confusion. I thought I would take just a moment here to share with you the rules or the parameters around which those definitions are defined. As you can see there, a State Natural Area is primarily for the protection and stewarding of unique natural and cultural resources that could be used over the long haul for science and education, as well as public enjoyment. And the public use of that should not be detrimental to the primary purpose, which is the preservation of the natural and cultural resources. So the difference between a State Park and and a State Natural Area is pretty fine, but the difference is the focus and the focus on a State Natural Area is first preservation and then recreation that's compatible; as opposed to a State Park, which has both of those missions also, but a little bit of a distinction.
We then decided that this would be a State Natural Area. The Devils River Ranch, the new addition, would be a State Natural Area and that we would complex it with the existing State Natural Area and we do this around the state at many of our facilities where they're in reasonably close proximity. These two are 13 miles apart. Some would argue that's not reasonably close proximity; but most of you that have been out in West Texas, that's pretty darn close in West Texas. It's also connected by a body of water, which really became the focus of this working group and we'll talk a little bit about that in a minute.
So we have ended up with essentially two 18- to 20,000-acre State Natural Areas that we're operating as a complex or will operate when we open the south unit, that are connected by the Devils River. And just for purposes of clarity, the larger map, the portion of the Devils River that we are mostly concerned with in this exercise begins at the -- what's called the Baker's Crossing at Highway 163, which is kind of on the northern end of this map. The Devils River winds south from there, past both the State Natural Areas down to Amistad Lake, a natural recreation area. That's about 26 or -- no, it's more than that. That's about 40 miles, 42 miles I believe.
After coming back to the Commission relative to the public process and giving the Commission the concerns of the public and the concerns of our constituents which really had to do with how we were going to protect or try to protect this incredible, unique river resource when we put in this new State Natural Area out there, the Commission asked us or told us to create a working group and we developed a charter. The group was appointed by the Chairman, then Chairman Holt, and asked us to come back in a year with some recommendations and some thoughts about how in the light of this new addition, we could protect the river, we could protect the rights of landowners along the river to the best of our ability, and we could provide increased reasonable managed use of the river for the public of Texas.
To that end, we appointed members of the working group. There were 25 members appointed. There were -- I think the angling community is represented, and we have some representatives here today. I'm going to introduce them in a minute. There were conservationists. We had paddlers there and we had private landowners there, as well as our own staff. So we had a good group, a good robust group that was appointed to go out, spend a year looking at the issues along the river, and come back to this Commission with some recommendations.
The charges were threefold and that is to identify issues of concern to the river users and the landowners along the river, to identify opportunities and obstacles to achieving the goals of the Agency's mission to protect the natural resources and increase recreational opportunities, and to provide some recommendations to the Agency about how we might go about that. Before I go much farther, I would like to say it was a genuine honor for me to get to work with this group. There was I think a little trepidation early on given the varying interests of the people that came together in this exercise.
Before I go on, I would like -- we have a lot of members of this group here. If you folks would stand up if you are a member of the Devils Working Group. We had good participation. I will be introducing several of these people, but -- well, I guess I'll start with a familiar face here. Mr. Walt Dabney, former Director of State Parks, was on the committee. Rusty Wallace, a landowner along the river. Kevin Stubbs, an angling professional that takes professional guided fishing tours down the river. Mark Boyden, who's a professional paddler or an avid paddler. Jeff Stewart and y'all may know Jeff Stewart as one of our board members on the State Parks Advisory Board. Rich Grayson, who's with the Dallas Downriver Club and was representing the paddling community. Scott McWilliams, who's the director or the regional -- what's your title out there Scott? He takes care of the Nature Conservancy's Devils River Preserve out there.
MR. MCWILLIAMS: Project Director.
MR. BORUFF: There you go, Devils River Project Director. Oh, you made it. JR McBee, who's the landowner adjacent or across the river from the new acquisition. These are some of the folks I came to be friends with over the last year. I will say I was very impressed with the dedication of this group. Not everybody thought this was the best idea in the first place. Not everybody thought we were necessarily on their side when we started the exercise; but over the last year, I think this group has come together and is going to present us with some good recommendations about how to move forward and not let the Devils River become Garner.
And Garner is one of our most popular parks and I don't mean to cast dispersions on Garner; but if you've ever been out to Garner on a holiday weekend and you've see the literally thousands of people that are -- line that river, it really does not have the kind of wilderness experience or anything close to it that the Devils River affords us at this point. And so one of the things this group wanted to do was try to figure out a way we could get ahead of this and not let it become overloved as we move down the road.
We had four meetings, official meetings. The first one we had here in Austin back in February of last year. About a year ago now. It was kind of the kick off meeting and got to know each other a little bit, kind of described our goals and objectives. We had some subject matter experts, including Dr. Garrett who received his 30-year award this morning in the fisheries -- in the Inland Fisheries Division. So we kind of laid the baseline for where we were and where we were trying to go. Then we had subsequent meetings, roughly quarterly -- April, September, and December -- that were held out at the Devils River Ranch. And I have to apologize to my peers on that working group. I don't think they've seen me in a coat and tie yet, so I was afraid they might not recognize me up here this morning.
In the interim or these four particular meetings, we had a lot of activity. We broke into some subcommittees that were looking at things like access and permitting system, outreach and education and fund-raising. Some of the things that we were discussing in the formal meetings, we had subgroups working on in the interim. We had at least two or three subgroups of this larger body that actually took kayaking trips down the river at different times for different purposes.
We looked at some possibility for campsites along the river in cooperation with some of the private landowners. Some of the groups went down the river and GPS'd and looked at what were they considered to be legal campsites in the -- within the gradient boundary of the riverbed there. So we did a lot of work. It wasn't just four meetings. Although I will say these meetings, except for the first one, were essentially two-day meetings. So we stayed out at the Devils River Ranch and we worked all day on a Thursday, we got up and did it again on a Friday. A lot of work went into this and my hat's off to the folks that participated in this.
There were several things that we spent a lot of time talking about. I think the first was, as I said earlier, how do we get out in front of what could be potential growth that would negatively impact the Devils River corridor that stretches from Baker's Crossing up at Highway 163, down to the lake. We don't have any authority over that river in terms of managing access or any water quality or quantity issues and the authority for different aspects of the river is scattered amongst different agencies. Water quality is with TCEQ. There's an International Boundary Commission down there that works on water issues as well. This became a pretty complex issue.
We don't have clean control. We certainly have control of our properties, but if you suggest that we have some -- that you or the staff have some regulatory capacity over the river would be inappropriate. We do not. And so we looked at lots of things like access, geography. It's hard to get to this river. Not only is it a long way from urban centers, but once you get out there, there aren't any roads that get to the river. It was one of the reasons that compelled us in the first place to look at the new acquisition. To get into the old property -- oops, wrong instrument. To get into the old piece of property is very difficult. You're off road. You're crossing a creek 35 times or so. When it's wet weather, you're either trapped inside or you can't get inside. Better access to the Devils River Ranch was one of the original reasons we were interested in acquiring it so that we could have better access for the public to the Devils River. But that did precipitate, particularly among some of the landowners right next to us and right across the river, what did that mean for them. Were we going to suddenly have another Garner? And so there was a lot of discussion about access and how to get people on the river appropriately.
There was the whole issue of the matrix of landownership up and down the river. This river is characterized, other than the three public polygons that we showed you there, by fairly large private landholdings and so there are mostly private landowners along the Devils River that have pretty large ranches and so there's a lot of concern out there given the fact that getting on the river and finding a safe, legal place to camp is pretty hard to do. It does, at times, precipitate trespass and other landowner issues, which we're very respectful of. So we spent a lot of time in this group talking about how do you balance landowner rights, the right of public to go down the river, how could we as a team come up with a model that would disincentivize trespass, but at the same time would offer reasonable managed recreational opportunities for the public?
We talked a lot -- well, I won't say that. The guys will disagree if I said that. We didn't talk a lot about gradient boundary because we didn't think -- I didn't think and the leadership didn't think it was a productive exercise. So what we really spent time talking about is how can we identify legal and safe spots to camp as you go down this river. There are no doubt many places in the riverbed, aside from the gradient boundary argument issue, that are legal places you could camp. They're, in many cases, not good places. They're susceptible, almost all of them, to flooding in rain events, which could put the public at risk. Many of them are not very comfortable. There are gravel bars in the middle of the river or rock slabs to the edge of the river; but they're there, and they certainly are legal. They are not private land. But getting to them isn't easy and so this discussion took up a lot of our time.
We clearly talked and had good consensus on the need for increased outreach and education to try to educate the public about the challenges that they're going to find. There is -- it is obvious that some of the problems that are experienced by paddlers along the river have to do with them not knowing what to expect when they get there. When you get in at Baker's Crossing up here and you want to paddle down to the existing state or the old State Natural Area, it's about a -- well, I did it and it took me about 10 hours and I'm not going to do it again. There needs to be some place to stop in between and take a break and we didn't stop much. I mean we paddled all day long and and we were tired -- I'll speak for myself -- I was tired when we got to the State Natural Area.
So one of the challenges here is how can we create a model that would actually make this available to the average paddler who doesn't want to paddle 10 hours straight and do nothing else because that's -- it's a challenge right now. So out of that series of meetings came a dozen recommendations and I'll go through those real quickly and then I'm going to ask some of the members of the group that worked on this to come talk to you for a couple of minutes each.
The first recommendation is that TPWD should consider what we're calling a successor group. There was a lot of good work done here. We talked a lot about things like a permitting system that would try to help monitor and educate people to make sure that they get on the river well prepared, but we didn't get a chance to completely work through that. We did build a good consensus out there that involved landowners and paddlers and anglers and State and Federal Agency personnel. So this recommendation was one of the primary recommendations is let's don't let this work go to waste. Let's keep this going. So we will see this as a significant recommendation.
The other one -- and I apologize for the acronym here. I should have spelled this out. But they recommended a Devils River Use Management Plan. We are currently engaged in general management planning for the Devils River Ranch and that's the exercise that our State Parks team goes through for State Parks and State Natural Areas to determine how the public can use that and how we can protect the natural and cultural resources at the same time, as well as respecting the adjacent landowner's rights relative to trespassing and those things. That's exercise is a parallel exercise. That is not what we were doing here. This exercise was focused on how do we help take care of the entirety of the river. The general management of that plan is focused on how do we manage and roll out the new State Natural Area. So this group recommended a riverwide plan: How would we continue to try to take care of this river and manage it in a way so that it doesn't get overloved?
The third recommendation, as I referenced before, is permit system. There was a lot of discussion about having some kind of permit system that would require people to have some education online and at the point of them getting down to the Devils River, so that we would know who's on the river. We would have some opportunity to tell them the right things to do and the wrong things not to do. So we need to do some more work on the permitting system and that's Recommendation No. 3.
The fourth recommendation is for us to explore the feasibility of acquiring access at Baker's Crossing. That really is, other than public sites you see there, the only other place the public can on their own get into the river. And it is at this point controlled by TxDOT. We are in conversations with TxDOT about getting control of that crossing point through an MOU, which would allow us then to permit people that were getting in the river there. So that they could come into the Devils River Ranch, they could get their orientation, they'd be shuttled up -- and by the way, it's not a short shuttle trip. It's -- what is it, Joe? Two hours? Hour and a half?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yes, minimum.
MR. BORUFF: So it's two hours if you want to go from Devils River Ranch all the way up to Baker's to get to the crossing, shuttled. But these are the kind of challenges we have out there. There's few roads, there's long distances, and the working group wanted us to try to get control of this because it dovetails with the permitting system that we've been talking about.
The fifth recommendation is -- and this is a strong recommendation -- is outreach and education. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this. I think it's pretty apparent what -- we're looking at a website. We're looking at signage along the river that would be consistent from landowner to landowner about trespassing. We're looking at national programs like "Leave No Trace," so we would be working closely with Lydia and her shop as we move forward with an outreach and education campaign to try to help take care of this river.
The sixth recommendation was to try to enhance and leverage the law enforcement presence along the river. We have, just for your information, I think six or seven years ago we had two game wardens out there. Is that about the right time --
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yes, sir.
MR. BORUFF: We now have eight assigned to Val Verde County. So there's been a fourfold increase in our game wardens in that county. In addition, State Parks has a full-time park police officer assigned to the Devils River Ranch and anticipates at least one more, if not further park police officers to be assigned as we develop that ranch.
Having said that, you know, these kinds of remote places in Texas are always a challenge for law enforcement. Many times landowners will call law enforcement, complain about trespass, and by the time a game warden or a park police officer can even get there, those people are long gone. So long distances do create challenges, but the recommendation of the working group is to try to leverage -- and by the way, those aren't the only law enforcement resources in that county. There are, of course, sheriff's office and border patrol and other law enforcement type agencies that do respond and have a good cooperative relationship with both our law enforcement outfits.
Their seventh recommendation is to extend a heartfelt welcome for any of you to come out to Devils River Ranch. It's a pretty magical place and they think it would be nice if you came out and took a look at it. So any who would like to do that, we would be glad to help coordinate that trip.
Their eighth recommendation had to do with a River Patrol Program. And this has more to do with a presence on the river of visibility. It doesn't necessarily imply that this river patrol would be licensed law enforcement, but there may be some opportunity for volunteers. And I will say the paddling community has stepped up and vocalized their willingness to participate in these kinds of activities to try to help us get better visibility along the river and to help monitor and educate those that are on the river.
Science is important. Many of the discussions we had were about the current state of science relative to the Devils River. There is a lot of science, I will say; but there is not all the science that we need. The science tends to be localized on certain segments of the river. So there was a recognition by the working group that we should continue to do more science and we should put that science in a place where it is easily accessible by the policy makers. Some of this science is scattered around in different organizations and different places, so their recommendation is to consolidate that data and continue to gather more.
Their tenth recommendation was continue to work with partners to minimize land fragmentation. As you might imagine, this is probably one of the primary threats to the wilderness experience along that river. There is one subdivision there now called Blue Sage. It's kind of located right there in that little blue circle. But other than that particular development, there is not much in terms of infrastructure along the river.
The Nature Conservancy has been involved in that protection for decades along the river there and has been very instrumental in helping acquire conversation easements on many of those large private properties. And so the committee saw the value in continuing to try to minimize land fragmentation.
Their eleventh, next to last recommendation, was to consider a broad effort to work with the appropriate entities to increase penalties for vandalism, particularly of cultural resources. This area is laced with some incredible rock art and other cultural assets. There are penalties, but the committee recommended us exploring the opportunity of increasing those penalties with appropriate entities.
The last recommendation is that they strongly recommend that we implement policies that prioritize the sustainable endemic population of fish and aquatic wildlife along the Devils River. Lots of debate about the difference of trophy fisheries and natural endemic fisheries. They didn't really want to get into that level of conversation, but they do have a strong bias towards maintaining the historic natural sustainable biodiversity out there. This is one of the endangered species that's talked about often along the Devils River and Dr. Garrett, who you saw earlier get an award and very involved with the endangered Devils River minnow.
So these are the names. I'm not going to read them off. But a great group of folks that represented landowners, paddlers, anglers, and the Agency. I will say I was very impressed. I've done these kinds of things in the past where attendance was not great. I think we had 90 percent or better at every meeting of these folks show up; so they took time out of their own personal and professional lives to come participate in trying to get the right answers for this exercise. And with that, I'm going to introduce one at a time four or five folks that are going to tell you what they think went on. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Just ask a couple questions. Thanks, Scott. Can you point out -- and you may have done this early on, but can you point out all the access points basically to the two in the complex?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir. Well, Baker's Crossing is the most commonly known and it's just a bridge that goes over the Devils River on Highway 163. It's out in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing there. You can kind of pull off to the side of the road. Right next to the Baker's Crossing is the Baker's property, and the reason it's called Baker's Crossing. The Bakers for years allowed people to come onto their property and camp. I don't know if they charged 10 or $20 -- I don't remember what -- and allowed people to get in the river there.
They still have apparently a contract with a local canoe livery vendor to allow that to continue to happen. So that is where most people get in this river. Unless they get in at our old State Natural Area. That was the second public place to get into this river until we acquired what was called the Devils River Ranch. So there really are three public access points. Now, obviously, private landowners can get in the river anywhere they want on their land. But if I was going to go out to Devils River, I would either get in at the Baker's Crossing, I would get in at the old State Natural Area, or now I could get in at the Devils River Ranch. Particularly one of the things that was so attractive to us, if you've got a Boy Scout group or, you know, a family with two young children, you could now come into the Devils River Ranch and do a 2-mile trip, which might take you an hour, whereas before you were looking at an 8-hour brutal jaunt. So there really are three.
And then, of course, there's Lake Amistad, which if you're pretty tough you can come upstream against the prevailing winds and try to get into the river that way.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. And then just refresh my memory on this. We -- as we've spoken about this. There was some difficulty getting around some portion of it. I think it was -- was it south of the Devils River Ranch?
MR. BORUFF: Getting around...
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, navigating on the water. Getting -- and actually being able to continue south.
MR. BORUFF: Well, and I said that wrong a minute ago. The wind typically blows off the lake and it's blowing upriver.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Got it, right.
MR. BORUFF: And so if you get -- if you get down around this bend or even along this part of this with a kayak, it's not the same day I kayaked the other portion, you will hit a pretty stiff headwind most of the time.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's it, yeah.
MR. BORUFF: The other thing that's important to remember about this river is, well, right now in particular, it's hard to kayak. There's a lot of places you're dragging your kayak or you're getting out and pulling it along. In normal -- in normal times, there are some spots like that. When the water level is normal, you're still going to have low spots occasionally unless you really know the river. The river is not wide open and easy to navigate. There's a lot of vegetation in the river. There are a lot of islands, gravel bars, and those kinds of things in the island -- in the river, sorry.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. And then ingress/egress, is that 277 to the east?
MR. BORUFF: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. So --
MR. BORUFF: This is 277, which you --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And that's how you access the ranch, right?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. BORUFF: Come right off here and then straight across. So you've got Senora up at the top and Del Rio down here in between the two.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And if you get in at Baker's, you can't get out until what point?
MR. BORUFF: Well, and this was part of the debate. The next place outside the river that's legal for you to get out is going to be the State Natural Area.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yeah.
MR. BORUFF: Now, the fact is there are places in the riverbed which is public property that people can stop and camp. There's not many, and they're not very good; but they can. And, of course, our concern there is, you know, do we really want to promote people camping in the riverbed when you're in a river that is prone to flooding. So there are all kinds of issues out there. We certainly think there are multiple spaces all up and down this river. I think you may hear testimony or comments from one of the speakers later that they went down and identified, I don't know, 40 or so sites that they thought were within the gradient boundary and were legal places to camp and that's probably true. Now, we haven't really vetted all of that. I think Walt was on that trip? Were you not, Walt?
So we do think that there are sites that people could camp. They're just not the most ideal sites. One of the things we've been trying to do is work with private landowners to identify a small footprint on some of their lands as you go down the river that would give paddlers a safer and more controlled area to be able to camp. And we actually have had some landowners that have been willing to step up and at least signal a willingness to work with us.
So that's what we want to do with this permitting system probably, at the end of the day, is have a string of pearls up and down the river that might be a combination of publically owned sites in the riverbed or along the side, might also include some privately owned sites that have been carved out specifically for camping and then, of course, our public sites.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. And then if you could just speak to the schedule a little bit, your final recommendations, and -- you've got the recommendations, but how -- where do we go from here, and when can we anticipate being able to increase our outdoor recreational opportunity with these assets?
MR. BORUFF: Well, first of all, this is the culmination of this exercise unless we get further direction from the Commission to do something different. I do think that Recommendation No. 1 is one that we're going to take very seriously and we see it as a -- as something that is very time sensitive. We don't want to lose the momentum we've got here.
We've already moved towards asking the regional leadership. This exercise has been driven for the most part out of Austin, myself, and Brent Leisure, Dan Sholly, along with the regional staff. But at this point, we think it's appropriate for the regional staff to begin to put together -- put together this successor group, which would include landowners and paddlers and many of the same people probably so that they can continue to work out how to do that.
The general management planning for the old Devils River Ranch is well under way. We have a draft that's near ready for us to start going out to the public. We hope to go out to the public with that General Management Plan late in February or early in March. We've been waiting for a review by the Nature Conservancy for compliance with the conservation easement, which is going very well. We wanted to make sure we didn't step out with some plan that didn't comport with the conservation easement, which we wouldn't do. So our hope is to go out to the public with the General Management Plan in March, to give them a month or two to be able to give us feedback, to incorporate that feedback in, and hopefully in mid to late summer have the General Management Plan complete.
Now, once the plan is complete doesn't mean we implement it yet. We have other challenges. Not the least of which are financial challenges relative to hiring staff and how we balance the opening of this property with the financial challenges that we're experiencing around the system. But we would hope that late this year or early next year, we could see some kind of phased in opening of the Devils River Ranch property or what we are now calling the State Natural Area South Unit.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. That's great work. We appreciate all your efforts and the team's efforts. It's super.
MR. BORUFF: There's a lot of folks that deserve a lot of kudos here. I can't mention them all, but Jeannie Munoz out of the Project Management Office, Lana Marbach out of the Land Conservation Office, Marian Edwards out of State Parks. We've got lots of field staff. Joe Ranzau who's the superintendent now over both of these huge pieces of properties is here today. He's in the back of the room. A lot of folks have put in a lot of time, and I appreciate all the work that's been done.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great, thank you.
MR. BORUFF: At this point, I think I would like to introduce you to a few folks. I'm going to start off with JR McBee. JR, I saw you. JR is a newfound friend for me, at least in my opinion. And JR and his family own the piece of property immediately across the river from the Devils River Ranch and have been there for quite a long time. I guess I'll preface his -- he may tell you the same -- where did you go? Get on up here. I'm not sure JR was real happy to see us coming, but he's been a great parter in helping us figure out the right way to do this. So, JR.
MR. MCBEE: Thank you, Scott. Good morning. My name is JR McBee and Scott, he kind of stole my thunder on a lot of his comments he's made already. But anyway, we're in our sixth generation of ownership of the property right across from the newly acquired Devils River Ranch. As you can imagine, it caught us quite by surprise in October, I guess, of 2010 when we heard about this.
Carter and staff immediately got with us and really tried to allay a lot of our fears and concerns that we had. There's still quite a new unknowns; but as y'all can see today, there's been some tremendous efforts thanks to y'all putting the group together to hopefully allow everybody to meet their different concerns and stuff. I'm here today really just as the landowner representative for our working group members, really just to tell y'all that I truly feel that it was a meaningful undertaking.
It is obviously a very unique part of the world out there and keeping it that way is of upmost importance to us. The acquisition of the ranch itself, Mr. Hughes and his efforts and Carter in getting the money together to do that, that was obviously a very unique process, as was putting together the working group, too, that we're here today about. I met some great people throughout the process. That was probably one of my most memorable moments. The Parks and Wildlife staff is awesome. From Nora, the caretaker out at the ranch, to Joe Ranzau, all the way up to Scott, Carter, law enforcement, park police, all those guys were good.
Kudos to our working group members, and it's just been a very good process. Obviously, we all have different agendas and interests in the Devils River. Mine are probably different than the majority of our fellow landowners just because of our location relative to the new park. But we all have one commonality. Keeping the river as pristine as possible. And I feel that y'all are all on board with that or we wouldn't be here today. So we relied on that commonality to meet in the middle on most of our points and I think the results, the recommendations that our committee came out with are very beneficial and will be meaningful.
I want to echo Scott's sentiment. I think that you guys need to get out there and see it on the ground. I know you won't regret it. Mr. Hughes, I think you have been out there; so I think you could vouch for what I'm saying. And I think it would give you a true understanding of how unique a part of the world this is. So I just want to thank you again for allowing us to participate in the process. I hope that the Parks and Wildlife remains committed to -- as committed as they've been to this point.
Carter, I hope you don't move on down the road one of these days because you've made some good points, too. Not that he's leaving or anything.
MR. SMITH: Are you firing me, JR?
MR. MCBEE: Not yet. We'll see how it goes next year.
MR. SMITH: Duly noted.
MR. MCBEE: I certainly appreciate your time. I know I'm just kind of preaching to the choir and repeating a lot that's already been said, but I appreciate y'all's time today and throughout this whole process, appreciate your service on the Commission, and I hope that y'all remain committed down the road and your successors do as well. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. I can assure you we're very committed. This is a great thing for the State, and we appreciate your partnership and all of your efforts.
MR. MCBEE: Well, I can say that I'm personally still not as fired up about the park as some people are; but I recognize your mission and your goals and I think y'all have gone above and beyond to try to work with us and everybody else up and down the river and just need to keep focused on it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks.
MR. MCBEE: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it.
MR. BORUFF: Thanks, JR. Next, I would like to introduce Rich Grayson, who was one of the paddling representatives. He's from the Dallas Downriver Club and spent a lot of time working with us and kind of pulling together the paddling communities to help reflect their sentiments in this whole exercise.
MR. GRAYSON: Thank you, Scott. Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Richard Grayson. I'm very honored to have had the opportunity to serve on the Devils River Working Group representing recreational paddlers and anglers and Texas Rivers Protection Association.
For the responsible paddlers and anglers in Texas, let me say thank you for including us in the process. Park's staff and all members of the working group have worked together cooperatively, earnestly, and honestly to develop the recommendations in the report before you today. On behalf of responsible anglers and paddlers of Texas rivers, our stakeholder focus has been to preserve Texan's constitutional right for access to enjoy the Devils River, while simultaneously protecting it and the rights of adjacent landowners.
Make no mistake in interpreting my comments. We certainly support the rights of landowners and their right to protect their land from trespassers. While serving on the working group, I paddled and fished on the Devils River twice in 2011, in March and October. The October trip was an official fact finding trip with working group members, Joe -- the superintendent Joe Ranzau and former State Parks Director Walt Dabney. On the October trip, I took it upon myself to document and GPS locations along the river that met three exclusive requirements. One, the sites appeared to be obviously legal, that is within the gradient boundary. The sometimes nebulous point that delineates where private property ends and thus begins the public property of the river. And, two, out of the view of resident cabins and homes. And, three, useful as campsite and convenient for six to eight campers.
Between Baker's Crossing and Devils River Ranch, a distance of 33 miles, I recorded more than 40 locations that met these requirements. It is my sincere belief that each of these 40 sites, if surveyed, would be deemed legal for public use and within the gradient boundary. Therefore, we ask the Commission as it moves forward with the implementation of this plan, to help responsible users to better identify these legal spots and to help ensure that we balance the enjoyment of responsible users with the protection of landowner rights. Together we will protect the river and keep the Devils River experience one that all may responsibly enjoy now and into the future. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
MR. BORUFF: Next, I'm going to invite Kevin Stubbs to come up. Kevin Stubbs is a professional fishing guide that does trips along Devils River. He has a great, great knowledge out there and he's spent a lot of time on Devils River.
MR. STUBBS: Thanks, Scott. Thank you, Commissioners, Mr. Chairman. Carter, good to see you. Gene McCarty, I saw you here a little while ago. I've had the pleasure of fly-fishing with some of you. Mr. Hughes, good to see you again, sir.
The Devils river is pretty special. I've been in the fly-fishing business a little over 20 years as a guide, outfitter, and even in a corporate capacity as a marketing manager for 3M Scientific Anglers. While I was with the corporate group, we traveled all over the western United States, British Columbia, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Montana in a professional capacity and during that period of time, my measure for river systems and/or clarity and beauty has always been the Devils River.
I have a 28-year history having worked on the old Blue Sage Ranch, which is now a subdivision. Actually, it belongs to Rusty Wallace here as the Turkey Bluff Ranch. It formally belonged to the Ford-Smith family from here in Austin. At that time, there was virtually no access 28 years ago, other than private ranches and Baker's Crossing. So nobody even attempted to run that river. And once again, you know, Scott mentioned briefly it's not an easily navigable river. It's a push, pull, and drag river. There are sections you can float easily with big rafts, but more akin to single person boats -- canoes, kayaks.
One of the things that I saw Scott Boruff do with this process is bring together people that literally almost fist fought in the same room together. A pretty amazing feat that we could come together in agreement, so pushing forward and working more in this working group capacity with some of the same members I think is imperative to the protection of the river system.
Throughout my professional fly-fishing career, I've trained a lot of guides. I'm in the process of training several guides right now that work as whitewater guides in Colorado, Utah, and the western West Virginia and I've spoken with some of them recently and asked them about their travels in the rivers of Texas and they say, well, we really don't mess around with the rivers in the state of Texas because there's no permitting system. You know, people trash the rivers; so we just go out of state and do our trade. And I thought to myself, I said, well, you know -- and I told them about the working group I guess objectives and goals to try to manage this system. It is a first for the state of Texas and I think it's important that we continue on this course.
And one of the measurable parts of this working group came -- at the same time I was working as an outfitter, I also managed Russell property, which is adjacent to the existing State Natural Area. We have 8,700 acres with 3 miles of river and we are the view. This ranch is the view as you drive into the State Natural Area to the river. As a direct result of this working group and my communication with the Russell family, they've decided to put that ranch under conservation easement and it cannot ever be divided more than one time. The smallest section 2,000 acres. All of our building envelopes are out of site of the river view, as well as out of site of State Natural Area. You will never see a windmill farm generating electricity there. It's a great movement that was spurred on by this process and thanks again to the Russell family from San Antonio for setting up the conservation easement and look forward to working with hopefully the new working group moving forward and thanks for the opportunity and look forward to protecting the Devils River. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Kevin, thank you. Appreciate it.
MR. STUBBS: Thank you, sir.
MR. BORUFF: Up next we've got Jeff Stewart. Jeff is a member of our State Parks Advisory Board. He advises us on all kinds of State Park issues, but today he's here to talk about the Devils River Working Group.
MR. STEWART: Good morning. I'm Jeff Stewart. I'm kind of y'alls unpaid person on the panel. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Chair and Executive Office for allowing me to serve on the State Parks Advisory Committee and the Devils River Working Group. My role was primarily to serve as representative for the State Parks Advisory Committee.
Obviously, our group was one of a very diversified design. We had paddlers and we had waterfront owners and we had ranchers and we had, you know, fishermen and park enthusiasts and conservationists. Since I've lived my life with one foot in each one of those camps, I told Carter I thought that maybe I could offer something there to help find common ground with these various stakeholders because we really expected it to be pretty contentious, to be honest about it.
As it turns out, finding common ground was ultimately much easier than any of us expected. Well, I won't say that. It was easy. I won't much easier. The stakeholders came from very diverse backgrounds and view points, but the common ground was a love for the river and an understanding that life is actually better outdoors.
By holding overnight meetings at the Devils River with Scott's fair, but firm leadership -- and I can't emphasize that enough. I was quite amazed that he kept everything at the level of civility that he did sometimes. He did a good job. The members came to know and respect each other and I've got to say we had a lot of great people and they really do respect each other. I really appreciate everybody. The Commission appointed some really good people to work on this.
As a State Park Advisory Committee member, I can report to this Commission that the working group members fully recognized the challenges of keeping this Devil River wild. We hope our work serves as a template, not only for the Devils River, but perhaps other rivers in the future to come. Eventually, other Texas rivers -- well, you know what's happening to a lot of our Texas rivers. We talked about what happens on the Frio. This is going to require some trial and error. I strongly support the idea of continued stakeholder groups. We're going to have to have that. It can't be overemphasized, but I think all of y'all recognize communication on this is going to be critical.
Active communication amongst the different groups is going to -- the communication is going to have be the key for a long time because obviously the river use is going to increase whether we like it or not. Ultimately, the group came to realize that the permit system is the best and perhaps the only hope really for educating and policing people for paddling and camping on the river. However, in order for the permitting to achieve even the slightest amount of success, it's imperative that we control public access at Baker's Crossing. This is -- I don't know exactly how this is going to play out. I don't know even if anybody does at this point. But it is imperative that we get control of Baker's Crossing.
To some, that goes against the wide open public access that Texans have always known. Especially for me being from West Texas and the land is a right to God; but I've got to tell you if you look at how our other rivers have faired, if we're going to keep this thing like it is, we're going to have to do something different. Our Texans, all of us Texans tend to love our rivers to death. We must take an aggressive stance in establishing policies regarding this very rare jewel of a river. It's going to really to take something different. And the Department's dedication and oversight, with some fine tuning, I'm sure that we can allow Texans access, reasonable access to the river and keep it wild and pristine for many generations to come. I urge you to go see it. It will really impress you. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
MR. BORUFF: And then is John Herron here? John. John Herron is with the Nature Conservancy. He's one of our former employees who went to the dark side and -- tongue in cheek -- John has been a great partner for us. He was an employee for many years at Texas Parks and Wildlife. I asked John to come talk up about the relationship with the Nature Conservancy because it's been very important to us as we move forward, not only with this working group, but in trying to open up the Devils River Ranch in an appropriate way that's consistent with the conservation easement, which the Nature Conservancy holds. So I appreciate you coming today.
MR. HERRON: Thanks, Scott. Yeah, again, my name is John Herron. I'm our Director of Conservation and Science for the Nature Conservancy in Texas. Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Carter, it's a pleasure to be here. I don't really have a lot to add. As Scott said, our interest in the Devils River is we're a nonprofit conservation group, international group. We're a land owner in the Devils River basin. We own easements or in fees some hundred and six-seven thousand acres and we've been working in the Devils River basin for nearly 20 years. And you already met Scott McWilliams, who's been serving on the working group as our Project Director there in the area.
And I think the big thing I wanted to say was just how appreciative we are. This is a big task the Department has taken on in terms of taking on a new ranch and developing it as a State Natural Area. We're pleased to see the public being involved. We really appreciate the professionalism of the staff here at Parks and Wildlife and their collaboration and communication with us, the Nature Conservancy.
As Scott said, you know, a big part of our role here is owning easements on both State Natural Areas and the easement on the Devils River Ranch was really written with ranching in mind, not phrased in terms of the State Natural Area. It's been very important for us to sit down with Parks and Wildlife staff and make sure that each of us is interpreting that language in the same way. And looking at the initial plans, Scott -- our Scott -- was just out with Parks and Wildlife staff last week taking a look at some of the new campgrounds that are being proposed. We're pleased. We enjoy being involved, and so far everything we're seeing proposed has been something we can support.
So mostly here just to give thanks and note our appreciation for the good lines of communication that we've had with Parks and Wildlife on this and answer any questions y'all might have.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What is your policy with respect to access to the tract that you own there to the north? I'm just curious about that.
MR. HERRON: For the most part, you know, we do have some facilities there. We have a cabin. We have several screen shelters. It's not open to the public. You know, we are a private landowner as other landowners up and down the river. So even though we're nonprofit, we're still a private landowner. And basically access to our property is by appointment only. So we do sometimes allow people to use our facilities -- donors, guests, special events, and that sort of stuff. But it's not generally open to the public on a walk-in basis. We do very strictly control and limit access to that property.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And what would you say is the principal focus of your ownership there and your use of the property?
MR. HERRON: Well, you know --
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And I'm not being critical. I'm just inquiring.
MR. HERRON: No, no, no. I absolutely understand and I appreciate the questions, Commissioner. That -- you know, our primary purpose is protecting lands and waters on the earth and to the benefit of all living things. So our interest in our Dolan Falls Preserve is really ecological. It's a unique site. Of course, it does have Dolan Falls; but we're also protecting part of a drainage as well as several critical springs and other aspects of the ecology there. So primarily our interest there is one of a conservation, ecological conservation.
Yes, we think that can be done in a way that's compatible with human use; but we're not in the recreation business. We're in the conservation business and tend to lean more towards a more conservative approach than -- whereas Parks and Wildlife I think does a very good job of striking that balance between both recreation and conservation.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And do you -- what's been your experience about the public's use of the spring, the area where the springs flows into the river?
MR. HERRON: Well, you know, I think from a recreational use standpoint there can be impacts from kayakers and floaters coming down the river. Particularly if they go through some of those sensitive springs. For the most part, I don't think the impact we see from recreation is really an ecological one. It's more an aesthetic one. How many people are we all willing to tolerate on what's really a very wild and beautiful river?
I applaud Parks and Wildlife's efforts to both increase the recreational use of the river, but at the same time control it. But, again, I think that's largely from a recreational aspect. You would have to have a lot, a lot, a lot of canoers and kayakers using that river to really see a significant ecological impact to the water quality or the length of the river as a whole. But those springs and some of these other little areas are very sensitive and we want to make sure that we're keeping people out of those smaller sites that can be more readily impacted.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you very much.
MR. HERRON: Thank you. Thanks.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
MR. BORUFF: Mr. Chairman, if I might close at the risk of dragging this out one more minute.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Sure.
MR. BORUFF: Because I would like to say that from the staff's perspective, we took a great deal of pride in being a part of this process and I'm speaking for the folks that I work with, as well as myself. You know, this really was an opportunity for us not only to promote the mission of Agency, but to do what we think is right in terms of going out and listening to the public, bringing that feedback to you so that you can make decisions informed about what the public thinks about what we do.
Because I think that was very important, and it was very important for the staff to feel engaged in that process. I think, you know, we did the right thing here. I don't want Texas Parks and Wildlife and I know you don't either to be seen as a bureaucracy that's blind to the feedback from the public and in this case, we certainly were not. Not that we generally are, but I think this kind of demonstrated that. That's my first point.
And then my second point is related and that is this may be a process we want to contemplate for future use in all different kinds of arenas around the state because it did bring together some diverse perspectives, some unique constituencies and gave us an opportunity not only to give you feedback, but to be able to build bridges between those different constituencies that ultimately as you've seen in this case do have common ground along which they can move forward. So I certainly hope we can consider this in the future. It's a great model both for us internally, and I think it was a great model for the people who care about the Devils River.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes, well said and I agree with you, Scott. It's obviously been a good process and a good approach. So we appreciate all your efforts and, you know, certainly applaud the progress and look forward to the next step. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Scott, I guess to follow up on the Chairman's -- one of his initial observations is what are our next steps so we don't lose this momentum? I mean does he need to re-appoint a group? I mean I just want -- would like some idea or suggestion. I think we would like a suggestion about next steps and when we act on some of these and I just picked one out as you think about that, the use plan, you said that you wanted this to take care of the entirety of the river; but in your remarks you said we didn't have authority over the river. So are we contemplating getting with TCEQ and the other agencies that may have control over the river as we formulate the use plan? I just want us -- I would like to know where we go next and when so we don't lose this momentum and don't lose the contributions and concerns of the many people who are here and those who aren't here because it sounds like you've got an outstanding and committed bunch of stewards there, but we don't want to lose that.
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir, I absolutely agree. I guess my recommendation is that we move forward with some of the key recommendations immediately and that is -- and I do think this is important to transition from an Austin driven process to a locally driven process. We have a Regional Director out there, Dierdre Hisler, who's very committed and has proven herself in other situations where there were multiple, multiple constituencies. We've got a really fine superintendent out there in Joe Ranzau, which we will continue to support from Austin; but I do believe this needs to transition from an Austin to a regional based focus.
So my recommendation is that we move forward and let that regional team re-appoint a -- I'm not sure we would call it a working group anymore, but re-appoint a group out there that will work with them to continue this effort that we've been on. So that would be the first thing, and I think we're poised to do that. I think many of these recommendations are going to be contemplated and rolled into the planning process that's ongoing out there for our facilities. And one thing I failed to mention is that as we go through this general management planning process, we're going to be re-thinking both of the State Natural Areas.
We don't think we had the right plan in place for the old State Natural Area. As we began to review it, we began to see some deficiencies in that plan. So we're essentially replanning now that we have two units out there, how we're going to manage those and that's called a General Management Plan. We will be going back out to the public, as I mentioned before, to get their feedback about that plan. That will then form the basis of the exercise around which we can do a general river plan. That's kind of the core piece of that.
We've already been working with law enforcement to increase law enforcement vigilance along the river. They've done a great job historically. We've asked them over the last year to do some focused exercises out there during peak usage times. So, for instance, in spring break Pete had a lot of his folks -- and by the way, I didn't mention Marco Alvizo, who's the captain out there. He's been very engaged with us. So I guess what I would say, Vice-chairman, is that we are very involved and engaged.
It's hard to put a start and stop to most of these activities. They're going to continue to move forward. I think without a doubt, almost every one of these recommendations we're in the process of continuing down the road to try to get them accomplished. We believe that the recommendations are appropriate. We believe that we will do our best to try to implement those recommendations at the right time and in the right place, so.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And at some point you would come back to the Commission with the General Management Plan, the --
MR. BORUFF: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- formal plan?
MR. BORUFF: We'll -- yes, we can come back and brief you on future progress. We just think the exercise has really not stopped. It's just that this was a one-year charter that we were asked to come back and tell you what we were doing. I think from the staff's perspective, it has given us good information about how to proceed. If there were any of the recommendations we didn't agree with, I would have articulated that. So we intend to move down the road with these recommendations.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay, one other comment. You mentioned one the five -- the fifth recommendation was education and outreach as to this river. And it seemed to me everything you talked about with respect to that recommendation should apply to our other rivers. Now, I know -- I'm not trying --
MR. BORUFF: We need more work.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But I'm just -- I'm saying as long as we're doing that, I wouldn't think we would want to limit it to the Devils River because we -- getting the public to understand the importance of not trashing our resources, I just hope we can somehow press that -- if you're making that effort, let's extend it to all of our streams.
MR. BORUFF: We agree. And there was a lot of conversation on this working group about just that, Commissioner. In fact, it's interesting. We're a little concerned about marketing the Devils River too much right now. Until we get some kind of protective measures in place, we're not sure we want to drive a lot of visitation there real quick. We want to be able to make sure that we have mechanisms in place that do educate people.
So one of the things we are working with and will continue to work with Lydia's shop, for example, is a website that talks about the importance of river etiquette. How do you stay safe and how do you respect landowner rights and at the same time, we're trying to make sure the landowner community understands the right of the public to be able to camp in public waterways. And so our commitment is to do just what you're suggesting.
This has been a model, and we do see it as a model. There were lots of comments during the process about how we wished we had done this on the Frio River 45 years ago when it first became popular and that maybe we wouldn't have ended up with kind of the chaotic weekends that we have there sometimes now. So we get the message. We are committed to doing this other places, and we do see this as a model for good public/private partnerships as we move forward to manage the waterways of Texas.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, it's great work by everybody. I'm really proud of this and so thankful that we were able to get this property and this -- we're this far along at this point. So I'm excited for the next report. I hope it's soon. Thanks.
MR. BORUFF: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Excuse me, Dan. Can I make a comment?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Hughes.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Yeah, I would just like to thank the working group and for your excellent recommendations you came back with. I was fortunate to spend a night at the Devils River. I know you guys weren't roughing it too much spending the three nights out there working. Actually, Scott cooked a steak for us and we sat out on the porch and overlooked the river and had dinner and just a magnificent time. Looking at this property, I could tell right off the bat it's a really unique piece of property, a beautiful river, and I think it's going to be a really nice asset for the people of the state of Texas. So I want to thank everybody for all your hard work and hope you'll continue to work with us. And thank you, Scott.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Anything else? Scott, thank you.
Okay, Action Item No. 7, Implementation of Legislation during the 82nd Texas Legislative Session, Senate Bill 498 Regarding Permits to Trap, Transport, and Process Surplus White-tailed deer, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Mr. Alan Cain. Good morning, Alan.
MR. CAIN: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Alan Cain, the White-tailed Deer Program Leader. And this morning I'll be presenting a proposal to be considered for adoption that would amend the Trap, Transport, and Process regulation to define the conditions under which a qualified individual may be issued a TTP permit.
Currently under -- under the current regulation, a TTP permit may be issued only to a properties owner's association or a political subdivision. Private landowners cannot apply for a TTP unless they're working through a property owner's association or a governmental subdivision, such as a County Commissioner's Court or County Judge. And during the 2011 Legislative session, Senate Bill 498 was enacted. And this bill defines a qualified individual as an individual who has a Wildlife Management Plan approved by the Department. In addition, the bill requires the Commission to adopt rules for determining the circumstances under which a TTP permit may be issued to a qualified individual.
Staff propose the following rule that would allow a TTP permit to be issued to a qualified individual if that individual has been in reasonable compliance as determined by the Department with the recommendations of the Wildlife Management Plan for two years immediately preceeding the TTP application in the year that it's sought. In addition, the Wildlife Management Plan must recommend a minimum harvest of 100 deer in the year that the permit is sought.
The intent of these requirements is to encourage traditional methods to remove deer population, such as hunting, before going to more drastic measures. In addition, the intent is to limit the applicability of this rule to landowners who do not have the option of obtaining a TTP permit through their property owner's association or political subdivision under the current rule. So, for example, it might be a person in Hollywood Park in San Antonio where there is nuisance deer issues. In situations like that, an individual may perceive there to be a deer issue, would like to apply for a TTP, and even though he's in a property owner's association or a political subdivision, this would limit his applicability to do so when that property owner's association or those officials, elected officials, don't see there as being a problem there. In addition, the 100 deer minimum also limits the applicability of this rule to individuals in those particular situations.
It's Department's practice to offer tools to these elected officials in these property owner's associations or political subdivisions and let them make choices about which tools they want to use to manage their deer, you know, populations or concerns about deer in those particular areas. I would like to point out that in 2010, last year, we issued 23 TTP permits. Average number of deer requested to be removed was 192 animals. This year, so far we've issued 20 TTP permits. The average deer requested to be removed is 203. There's very few folks that are requesting to move less than 100 deer. In fact, this year I think we've had three individuals requesting to remove less than 100 animals.
In summary, this proposed amendment would create a mechanism for individual landowners to obtain a TTP permit, but only after a bona fide attempt to implement the recommendations of the Wildlife Management Plan has occurred and that defines clear goals and the steps for achieving those goals in the plan. So we want folks to focus on the Management Plan, the goals, the direction where they're going. Not just the tool to get there. In addition, this proposed amendment would stress the use of general traditional hunting methods. We want folks out in the field hunting before they go to those more drastic measures. And to date -- well, the proposed amendment would not limit landowners from pursuing a TTP permit through current regulatory structures.
So if they don't meet the requirements of a qualified individual, they still have an opportunity to work through a property owner's association or political subdivision to receive a TTP permit as they can currently do right now. To date, we've received 21 public comments; 15 in favor and 6 opposed. Several of the commenters that were opposed to the regulation wanted the Agency to move deer in these areas that were perceived to be nuisance deer overpopulation to other areas of the state where they thought that there was low deer populations or trade -- one example or request was to trade our animals for bear and elk and some other things and put those out in West Texas. There was also a comment or a suggestion that the rules not be so exclusive as to limit the applicability to those landowners that may need to remove less than 100 deer or don't meet the two-year minimum requirement. In addition, Texas Deer Association has provided a letter of support; but encourages the Department to closely monitor the program to ensure the requirements do not hinder small or large acreage landowners to effectively manage their deer heards to support quality deer management practices.
And other than that, those are the comments that we've had to date. Staff recommends that Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts amendments to Title 31 of the Texas Administrative Code Section 65.101 and 65.104 concerning permits to trap, transport, and process surplus White-tailed deer, with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the December 23rd, 2011, Texas Register. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Alan. Any questions? Okay, motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Duggins. Second by Commissioner Scott. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you.
MR. CAIN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Action Item 8 is Threatened and Endangered Nongame Species, Delisting of the Brown Pelican and Clean-up of the Threatened Species List, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Ms. Wendy Connally. Good morning.
MS. CONNALLY: Good morning. How are you, Chairman and Commissioners?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. How are you?
MS. CONNALLY: Good, thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good.
MS. CONNALLY: As you may recall, I was before you at the November Commission meeting to present proposed amendments to the Department's list of state threatened and federally endangered animals. I'm here before you today to request adoption of those proposed amendments.
The threatened species amendments updates subspecies names for two listed snakes and amendments to the endangered list updates scientific names for the Houston toad and Golden-cheeked warbler, add two aquatic beetles to administratively correspond with the federal list, and delist the Brown pelican. We received 16 public comments on this item. Eleven were in favor, and five were documented as opposed. Four of those that were documented as opposed came with comments. One of which was germane and directly related to the decision and that was that the Brown pelican should remain endangered.
The breeding area surveys indicate that Brown pelican is doing well throughout its range and delisting has been supported at the federal level and at the state level. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services post delisting monitoring tracks the status of Brown pelican over time to verify that the pelican remains secure from the risk of extinction after it has been removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
Therefore, staff makes the following recommendation. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts amendments to Title 31 Section 65.175 and 65.176 concerning threatened and endangered nongame species, with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the November 25th, 2011, issue of the Texas Register.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Wendy? Okay, we do have one person signed up to speak on this, Marjorie Farabee.
MS. FARABEE: Good morning. How are you?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Good.
MS. FARABEE: This is actually not about the Brown pelican, but it is about a species that you are declaring as being invasive; but actually is a big help to the park, and that's the wild burro. I don't know if you're familiar, but we just turned in 103,000 signatures from people that want this -- want the wild burro to remain. And there was a counter petition that went around, and they only got 200 signatures; so, you know, they're clearly a very popular and wonderful animal that would be a huge draw.
If you build it, people will come. They will come and see this animal. They love them. So anyway, the way this relates to the invasive species and why we need a long-term independent environmental study, the results of which shall be shared with but not controlled by Texas Parks and Wildlife, the resulting data collected should be made available for review before all stakeholders in its entirety. The case of the wild burro is an extremely interesting one because it involves failures in science, policy, transparency, and --
COMMISSIONER JONES: Ma'am?
MS. FARABEE: -- inclusion of the public in land use decisions.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Ma'am, may I ask you a question?
MS. FARABEE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER JONES: What do you have to comment on the threatened and endangered species --
MS. FARABEE: I'm getting to that.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- that have been -- that have been --
MS. FARABEE: I'm getting there.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Excuse me, excuse me.
MS. FARABEE: That's part of the comments, I assure you.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Excuse me. Which threatened or endangered species are you referring to in your comments? I just want to follow along with you, make sure I don't miss anything.
MS. FARABEE: Okay. Well, we're going to be talking about frogs. We're going to be talking about --
COMMISSIONER JONES: Which one?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But specifically to this item.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Which species are you referring to?
MS. FARABEE: Okay. We're going to talk about the facilitation -- the actual -- the species that we're talking about, you're calling the burro an invasive species; so we're talking about the wild burro.
COMMISSIONER JONES: No, ma'am. The thing that we're discussing is the threatened and endangered species rules and there were very specific species that were addressed to this Board and I just want to make sure that as I follow you, I'm hearing which species you are referring to so I can make sure that I'm not misguided --
MS. FARABEE: Okay.
COMMISSIONER JONES: -- in your comments.
MS. FARABEE: Well, we are talking about the endangered leopard frog for one and we are talking about the endangered -- the endangered Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Are they both on the -- are they on the threatened species list or --
MS. FARABEE: The owl is endangered.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Wendy, are they -- are they contemplated in this item, those species?
MS. CONNALLY: No, sir, they're not.
MS. FARABEE: So --
COMMISSIONER JONES: They're not before us.
MS. FARABEE: So am I to follow that you're going to not allow me to make my statements when you've had 103,000 people ask you to please hear me out?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I would submit that we absolutely want to hear your statements --
MS. FARABEE: I hope so.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- but at the appropriate time and we're discuss Action Item No. 8 on our agenda. So at this time, we really just can't. With all due respect, we need to make sure that that's discussed --
MS. FARABEE: Nobody ever heard my statements. You don't know --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- at the appropriate time.
MS. FARABEE: -- how I'm relating to this. You don't know how I'm going to talk about how the vegetation, how it facilities the other animals and species, how many animals and birds require the facilitation that the burro makes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It has to be related to Action Item No. 8, so --
MS. FARABEE: Which is invasive species, is it not?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, specifically --
MR. SMITH: Ms. Farabee. Ms Farabee, this relates to threatened and endangered species and a number of species --
MS. FARABEE: Well, I consider the wild burro to be threatened. This is the last herd of wild burros in the state of Texas and they are about to be extirpated for no good reason.
MR. SMITH: This has to do with a very specific definition by the federal government of what constitutes a threatened and endangered species. And certainly everybody here respects your opinion. I would be happy to visit with you outside if you want to talk about this and if there's some materials that you want to share with the Commission, I'll make sure that every member gets a copy of it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And we would like to hear your thoughts at the appropriate time, but we have to respect the schedule and the process that we're following and --
MS. FARABEE: I'm trying to help you to save an ecosystem from complete destruction. I really am. You're about to remove at least six species from this park when any scientist will tell you removing one without a single study is dangerous.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Okay. So before Action 8, do we have any other questions or discussion? Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Approved.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Motion for approval by commissioner Morian. Second by Commissioner Falcon. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.
Action Item No. 9, Nuisance Alligator Control Permit and Fee Rules, Recommended Adoption of New Rules and Proposed Changes, Mitch Lockwood. How are you, Mitch?
MR. LOCKWOOD: I'm doing well, thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. This morning staff is seeking adoption of our proposed changes to our nuisance alligator control rules. As we discussed yesterday, the nuisance -- the American alligator rather is doing very, very well in the state of Texas. So well that there have been quite a few human-alligator conflicts over the past several years. In fact, we've -- our staff have been inundated with nuisance alligator complaints, receiving about 1,100 calls each year for the past few years and addressing those has become very costly.
Just in staff time alone, it cost the Department about $121,000 a year to respond to those 1,100 complaints. We have proposed what we believe is a much more efficient process. We've proposed -- we have proposed a market driven approach that would allow nuisance control hunters to contract directly with the landowners where there are nuisance alligator issues and we propose to continue to allow a nuisance control hunter to retain an alligator and sell the alligator to alligator farms or to have them processed and we believe this proposal will incentivize more people to engage in these activities.
We would -- the Department would continue to respond in emergency situations. But since we propose that the Department is not as involved in case-by-case basis, we do think it would be prudent to ensure that anyone permitted to conduct these activities is skilled at doing so and that they have a good understanding of what we consider to be a nuisance alligator because this proposal would limit the take to only what we define as nuisance alligators, which are those that are a depredating or causing threat to human health or safety. So we propose that any perspective permittees take a Department administered course where we would make sure there's a clear understanding of that for one and also to make sure they have a clear understanding of what are the safest and most humane methods and techniques of removing alligators. We also propose that they pass an exam to show that -- their knowledge of that and we would not issue a permit until we have confidence that they are skilled and have experience in conducting these activities.
We haven't received many comments at all. In fact, seven comments on this proposal with five of them being in favor and two in opposition and those that were in opposition had concern for potential abuse, as we discussed yesterday. You know, any time that someone is allowed to profit from an activity like this, some fear that every complaint would turn out to be a nuisance alligator. If they're going to take the time to respond, then they're going to take the alligator and profit from it. And so with that, there would be a resource concern. Staff believes though that we've put some good safeguards in this proposal to prevent that from happening. For one, there are some notification and recordkeeping requirements.
First of all, this sort of activity would not be allowed without the authorization of the landowner where the nuisance alligator occurs. The nuisance alligator control -- nuisance control hunter would also have to maintain a daily log and that log would include a case number that is issued by our law enforcement office and so we would be aware of every situation, every complaint. We could perform spot checks to ensure that everything is on the up and up so to speak and if there was a violation, we would respond accordingly.
Additionally, we would require that any time a nuisance control hunter sells or otherwise transfers an alligator to another individual, that they retain a receipt or an invoice. And we also recommend and propose to continue the requirement for the Hide Tag Report, which must be completed immediately upon take and submitted to the Department within seven days of take of an alligator and to continue with the quarterly reports that are required that simply report the nuisance alligator control activities on a quarterly basis.
We also propose to -- that any time we're considering issuing a permit for a nuisance control hunter, that we do take into consideration an applicant's history of convictions involving the capture or possession of live animals or other major violations of the Parks and Wildlife code. This is similar to the process we use with some of our other permitting programs and any time that we do -- are aware of such convictions, the permit denial would not be automatic. Staff would still take into consideration several factors, such as the seriousness of the offense, a pattern of offenses, etcetera.
And any time that a permit is denied, we propose that that applicant have the ability to request a review of that decision by Department managers, managers within this Agency just to make sure that that decision to deny that privilege was well founded. And that panel, that review panel, would consist of these three people or their designees: The Deputy Executive Director for Natural Resource, the Director of the Wildlife Division, and the Deputy Director of the Wildlife Division.
And finally, we proposed a fee, an annual fee of $252, which is identical to the fee for alligator farmer's permit. We have, as I discussed yesterday, there's 28 nuisance control hunters in the state currently under our current rules and our annual revenue is about $9,800. Well, with only 28 people operating under a $252 permit, our annual revenue would only be about $7,000. However, we would no longer have $121,000 invested in staff time invested in this program. And because of some of the additional incentives that this proposal allows, we think that -- and some of the additional benefits, we think it will incentivize more people to engage in these activities, which would result in a revenue gain.
So with that, staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts amendments to Title 31 of the Texas Administrative Code Section 53.8, concerning an alligator licenses, permits, stamps and tags. The repeal of Section 65.363 and new Section 65.363 concerning a nuisance alligator control with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the December 23rd, 2011, issue of the Texas Register. And that concludes my presentation. I'll be glad to entertain any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Mitch. Any questions? Discussion? Appreciate it. Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Scott. Second Commissioner Hughes. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you.
Item 10 is Implementation of Legislation During the 82nd Texas Legislative Session, House Bill 1300 Relating to the Proposed Rules for Official Corporate Partners and Outsourcing of State Park Pass Sales, Recommended adoption of Proposed Changes, Darcy Bontempo. How are you?
MS. BONTEMPO: I'm doing well. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great.
MS. BONTEMPO: Good morning -- or good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, I'm Darcy Bontempo. I'm the Marketing Director at Texas Parks and Wildlife and I'm here to -- on behalf of the Department to seek adoption of the proposed rules regarding the implementation of House Bill 1300, addressing official corporate partners as well as the sale of State Park passes by commercial entities.
These rules allow the Department to offer two levels of official corporate partners, both at departmentwide as well as a local. The rules specify the selection criteria and the process for the official corporate partners and the rules also establish benefits that the Department would be offering these official corporate partners, while protecting the Department brand and also preserving the visitor -- the enjoyment of the visitor experience at State Parks and other TPWD sites.
The rules allow the Department discretion to outsource the sale of the Texas State Park pass to commercial entities, as long as it's in the best interest of the Department to do so. The rules were published in the Texas Register and we received very minimal comment. We had five in favor, and we had one opposed. The comment in opposition focused on a concern that nonprofits also be allowed the opportunity to sell the Texas State Park passes and expressed a concern that gun or ammunition manufacturers not be allowed to become official corporate partners of the Department.
So I'm here this morning to -- or this afternoon to recommend that the Commission adopts the proposed rules and as follows, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts new Sections 51.700 through 51.704 concerning official corporate partners and Section 59.8 regarding outsourcing the sale of Texas State Park passes, with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the December 23, 2011, issue of the Texas Register. And that concludes my presentation. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Darcy. Any questions? Okay, motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER JONES: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Jones. Second by Commissioner Martin. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thanks.
MS. BONTEMPO: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: A briefing item is next, Interpretive Services, Mr. Chris Holmes.
MR. HOLMES: Good morning.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: How are you?
MR. HOLMES: My name for the record is Chris Holmes. I'm the Director of Interpretation for Texas State Parks and I'm here today to give you a briefing on our Interpretive Program in Texas State Parks. I want to just for two seconds just talk about this word interpretation. There are some people in this room that think that I speak a foreign language, but that's not what we mean by interpretation in our parks.
We interpret to our park visitors to allow them to connect to the resources that our park visitors come to see. We interpret to our park visitors so that they can become stewards and they can understand for the park. That's what we mean by interpretation. How do we do it? We do it in a number of ways. We do it through delivering programs, face-to-face programs, campfire programs, guided hike programs, school programs. We do it through waysides. We do it through brochures. We do it through visit centers and on exhibits and we're starting to do it online, too, using technology to interpret to our visitors.
Why do we do it? It enhances the visitor experience, it generates public support, and it protects the fragile resources. Our visitors expect us to do interpretive programs in our parks, whether it be face to face or whether it be actual waysides or brochures. In parks, we all interpret. Whether we're a park ranger, at the office, we're all considered interpreters. But I actually have 80 dedicated positions in State Parks that deliver interpretive programs.
Last year we did 92,000 programs serving over 800,000 people. Nearly half of our programs delivered are through volunteers, and I manage here in Austin four programs that I would like to just talk to you briefly. I have Regional Interpretive Specialists, and our Regional Interpretive Specialists are based in the field. They work daily with our park interpreters. They're the experts. They coach our interpreters. They evaluate our interpreters. They train our interpreters. They work on small exhibits and waysides. They work on interpretive master plans, which are guiding documents for the superintendents and the interpreters, how to interpret to the park. Our Regional Interpretive Specialists cultivate what are called partnerships where they go out into the community and we work on partners to get people into our parks and to help us tell our story.
Since I got this new job, one of the things that really important to me is providing orientation to our park visitors, too. The number one reason why people come to parks is to go on trails and so I'm working really hard on implementing some easy to do quick signage that helps orientate people to the parks, that has good trails, and so hopefully over time you'll see -- you'll see -- you'll start to see a lot more of these orientation panels, these trail maps in our parks.
I also have an exhibit shop and planners and it's really fun to work with these guys. They do amazing work. I mean they are so creative. I have Nola Davis that's a fine artist. She's just finished some work at Indian Lodge. I have Mike O'Brien who is a sculptor that did this piece. It's down in Brazos Bend, but actually has a sign out of the alligator's mouth that's telling people to be careful on the trails. Really creative people. We do full-scale visitor centers and our interpretive planners do the research, they do the writing, and I'm really proud of some of the visitor centers that we work on. This is one at Caddo Lake.
They do lot's of signage, too. We're always looking for opportunities to interpret to help park operations. This is -- you know, this is an example of the trash can at Lake Casa Blanca State Park where we have some issues with trash and so we're really trying to tell a story to our park visitors why we should not -- to look after the park and not trash the park.
I have a curatorial service that work on furnishings, and they work -- we've got some examples outside actually of some CCC furniture that we built and we put into our parks. Garner State Park, we've just furnished those parks. Our curatorial service work on creating moments in time and one of the most effective ways to interpret is by stepping back into a room that's been refurnished and goes back into the 18th century. It's really phenomenal what they do. It's really fun to work with them. They also work on restoring furniture. This is a piece that we did at Washington on the Brazos.
I created the Outdoor Education and Outreach Program a few years back and one of the flagship programs of that program -- of that is the Texas Outdoor Family. For those of you who that aren't aware, this is a program that we deliver at least two times every weekend in a State Park and we teach people how to camp. No experience is necessary. No equipment is necessary. And we go out to the park. We have 16 families per program, and we teach them basically outdoor skills. It's been a real success and by the end of the weekend, these families that for the most part have never been camping before or been in a park, are ready to go down to Academy and buy the equipment and become lifelong campers. We over the past few years have grown the program. We're now up to -- we're predicting 670 families that go through this program.
We have very measurable objectives so that we can track these families. Like I said, at least 60 percent of the people haven't been to a park before, 68 percent have never been camping before, and we now with our Texas Parks system, we can track these people and we're seeing that they're coming back. They're coming back and camping on their own. It's a success. One reason we know it's a success is seven of the State Park entities have followed us and so you'll see that in some of the other states, too. Another success about that program is its ethnicity, and it really reflects the population of Texas. We're really proud of -- we're bringing -- we've reached out and people are coming back and delivering our program.
Geocaching is using a GPS unit or a smart phone and going, finding treasure literally. And we did this in the Texas Outdoor Family Program. It was so popular, I decided let's do it statewide. I have two 7-year-old kids and a 5-year-old kid and if I tell them let's go hiking at our local park, I hear the moaning and groaning. If I say let's go Geocaching, they are running to the car and they are down that trail and it really is, in my mind, the culmination of nature and technology is a good thing and these kids are running, they're down the trail, they're healthy. We have an official Geocache at every one of our State Parks now and there is a site specific stewardship message in that cache the kids can take away and we've turned it into a regional challenge. We've had about 5,000 people go through this program.
We have a Buffalo Soldiers and Heritage Program where these guys are connecting under represented populations to Texas State Parks through heritage interpretation, living history programs. These guys go out to schools and they're encouraging people to come out to our parks.
We do have some challenges. The average age of a State Park visitor is 47 years old. Now, I'm not saying 47 years is old; but I would like to see that number go down. We have less than a third of our park visitors have kids. That's concerning to me. That's very concerning to me. I would like to see that number go up. Children and parents are becoming more sedentary. They're becoming disconnected to the outdoors. You know, dare I say have we really lost a generation of families that used to go camping? I used to hear all the time, oh, yeah, we used to go camping as a kid at Garner State Park. I don't hear that as much anymore.
So I'm here today just to tell you as the Director of Interpretation my primary goal is to get new users into our parks. We've got to create relevant programs that get people back into our parks. Parks as Classrooms is a major initiative that we're doing where we're trying to get schools through the week to attend field visits in our parks. We want to be the leader in the children in nature network and working with Nancy and communications folks. I think having arts in the parks, reaching out to the art community and getting these kinds of programs into our parks is going to be really good. I want to see a junior ranger program; so if there's no interpretive programs that are offered at that park, we can at least give them something at the park that they can do themselves.
You know, the TOF is a good success; but some people aren't willing to go camping. They're just not willing to do that. So we're looking to do a smaller scale program where we're just getting people to come out to the park just for the day. These initiatives need to be where the people live. The people live in the cities, and so these initiatives need to be in these parks that are close to the cities. People aren't willing to go -- and we learned this with Outdoor Family. People aren't willing to drive three hours out of the way to do something new. So we need to start doing some of these programs and working with under represented populations to get new users.
I really think the value of parks in building healthy communities is something we really need to work on. Having a good, healthy park system improves our physical health. It enhances our mental well being and it brings people together. So we're going to be working with the health community and talking about how it's just healthy to be outside and we're working on programs with them. We can't do it alone. For those people in this room, they know that I'm a real collaborator. We're going to be working not just with the Division, but with other Divisions and outside, too.
We need to work more with the outdoor industry. You know, it's in their best interest, too. If we get new users, the new users are going out to the stores and buying things from the outdoor industry; so we're working on that. We had a good partnership this year with REI. And this picture kind of denotes every one of these certificates that customers at REI donated money to the Texas Outdoor Family Program and we raised over 11,000 people and had really good in-store presence in our parks for over the holiday season.
Really excited about working with Darcy and her team and the HB 1300. We've got a lot potential opportunities for sponsorship in our interpretive programs and our exhibits and our waysides. We've got to get people outside. If we get people outside to experience our parks, they become aware of those parks, they understand our parks. This is what we do with our interpretive program. We push people up the stair-step and ultimately we're pushing people up to become stewards and advocates of our parks and the outdoors in general because parks are the gateways to the outdoors. Our parks can become the next fisherman, the next hunter, the next wildlife viewer; but I really think that parks are these gateways to the outdoors. So thank you for your time and if you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's terrific, thanks, Chris. Commissioner Martin.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I don't have a question. I just have a comment. Mr. Holmes, I want to thank you for your enthusiasm and your dedication. I've really seen these programs take off with a lot of excitement. The Outdoor Family, Outdoor Woman, great experiences. Have not done the Geocaching. I'll sign up and do that here during the springtime. Children in nature, Lydia and with a tremendous team, just some amazing opportunities are coming up and great opportunities for not only children, but we as adults to get out in nature and fun projects and some of the -- you know, just different. So I really do appreciate you've brought a tremendous amount of interest and enthusiasm to the -- to this interpretive area. I really do appreciate your efforts.
MR. HOLMES: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: And I think that your second language that you speak here that we don't always understand adds to the flavor of it.
MR. HOLMES: My East Texas accent.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's right.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Thank you, Mr. Holmes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Chris, in addition to echoing Margaret's comments, I do though want to say that the statistic that you provided us about the average age of park users, highlights a real issue I think that I know -- I think all of us are dedicated to trying to get more urban families to experience the beauty of our parks and that's one of the great things about this new park west of Fort Worth. It's an hour away, and we're hopeful that we'll get the people out there. But to my point, when you put up the statistic or the chart about the number of families who participated in Outdoor Families, it was huge increases until really until this year and we're not -- you're not projecting as big an increase. But I do think isn't that a result of the fact that our funding was reduced in the current biennium for this particular program?
MR. HOLMES: Yeah, absolutely. We -- you know, we can't expand without additional FTEs and so...
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I really hope that in our LAR for the next session that we make a run at convincing the legislature to restore more funding to this because it is -- from everybody, every person I've ever talked to, it's just been an amazing, remarkable experience for families in urban settings who are intimidated by the camping process to have the ability to go out and not bring much -- and I think isn't it $50 or something --
MR. HOLMES: Yeah, $65 now. Yeah.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So anyway, I hope we can get the word out to the legislature just how important this program is and how important it is to continue to get our citizens out to our parks. So anyway, thank you. And I echo what Margaret said on the other issues, too.
MR. LEISURE: Commissioner Duggins, if I could, I would like to add one thing to that in response to your comment and it's a great comment and we'll support it absolutely -- by the way, Brent Leisure, Director of State Parks. In this time when we were facing eight and a half million dollar reductions in park operations for each of the two years in this biennium, we did not cut this program 1 dollar. And it was important that we kept that staff intact and that we kept the operating funds. So we stepped up our game and tried to increase our efforts to generate funds from the private sector and different fundraisers and we'll be exploring opportunities for corporate partnerships for this program. But I just wanted you to know we also recognize the need for this program and we didn't cut it.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, no, I'm being critical at all of you.
MR. LEISURE: No.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'm just saying that this -- I view this and I think others do as a very important program and I believe we were constrained by the number of people and we need people to take these families out there.
MR. LEISURE: Absolutely. And I -- my only point to be made was that we agree with you 100 percent, and we're going to put our resources there.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just a quick comment. I certainly agree with my fellow Commissioners. It's all very relevant. But I would comment that your comment about 47 as not very old is certainly very accurate.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great, Chris. Thank you. Appreciate all your hard work. That's great.
Okay, Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its business and I declare us adjourned.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Chairman.
In official recognition of the adoption of this resolution in a lawfully called public meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, we hereby affix our signatures this _____ day of ______________, 2012.
T. Dan Friedkin, Chairman
Ralph H. Duggins, Vice-Chairman
Antonio Falcon, M.D., Member
Karen J. Hixon, Member
Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., Member
Bill Jones, Member
Margaret Martin, Member
S. Reed Morian, Member
Dick Scott, Member
C E R T I F I C A T E
STATE OF TEXAS )
COUNTY OF TRAVIS )
I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand Reporter in and for the State of Texas, do hereby certify that the above-mentioned matter occurred as hereinbefore set out.
I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such were reported by me or under my supervision, later reduced to typewritten form under my supervision and control and that the foregoing pages are a full, true, and correct transcription of the original notes.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Turn in date _____ day of ________________, 2012.
Paige S. Watts, CSR, RPR
CSR No.: 8311
Expiration: December 31, 2012
Firm Registration Number: 87
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