Committee Meetings, May 23, 2012
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION
MAY 23, 2012
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
COMMISSION HEARING ROOM
4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744
REPORTED BY: PAIGE SLOAN WATTS
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Now that we can begin, good morning everyone. This meeting is called to order at 9:18 a.m., May 23, 2012. Before we proceed with any business, I think Mr. Smith has a statement to read.
MR. SMITH: I do, Mr. Chairman. Thank you. Public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you. Before we start regulations, let me inform everybody that Chairman Friedkin was unable to make this meeting or tomorrow's meeting. He is out of the country on business, but regrets not being here. So you're stuck with me.
Go to Regulations Committee — Conservation Committee — Finance Committee — Conservation Committee Executive Session
Okay, we'll call the Regulations Committee to order. And the first order of business is to approve the minutes from the March 28th meeting, which have been previously distributed. Is there a motion for approval from a -- Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Second Commissioner Jones. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any opposed? Hearing none, the motion carries.
Okay, No. 1, Committee Item No. 1, Request Permission to Review Rules. Ann Bright, please make your presentation.
MS. BRIGHT: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Ann Bright, general counsel, here what's -- okay. The Government Code Administrative Procedure Act requires that every agency go through a rule review process every four years. All regulations have to be reviewed. During this review, we have to assess whether the initial reasons for adopting them continue to be in effect. We publish notice that we're going to review the rules in the Texas Register and then once we complete that process, the regulations are either readopted, adopted with changes, or repealed based upon the review.
We normally do these rule reviews in three meetings when we -- the first one is we notify the Commission that we're going to start the rule review process and then we'll publish notice of the review in the Texas Register. Then we will seek permission to publish any proposed changes that come out of the review. Then the third meeting we will seek adoption of any proposed rule changes. This slide is kind of busy, but it sort of shows you our schedule; so the three meeting process for each chapter of the Administrative Code in which TPWD's rules are.
So unless there's an objection, staff will begin the process of reviewing Chapters 51, 52, 55, 60, and 61. And I'm happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anyone have any questions? I'm just curious why you picked this particular order? Is there any...
MS. BRIGHT: Frankly, I kind of inherited this order. I'm not sure. We've -- you mean like why we're reviewing these rules at this time?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, just instead of taking them in order, you're skipping from 52 to 55, for example. I'm just -- is there any particular reason other than that's the way it's been done?
MS. BRIGHT: Yeah, I think it's -- that's exactly right. That's how it -- the rule review process started like in the early 2000s when the State agencies were required to do this and I think when that was initially -- that initially happened, in order to spread them out, there was a decision made at some point to just start with these various chapters and we've just -- because it has to be reviewed every four years, we've just continued on that. The only one that we've really changed in terms of the schedule are shrimp. At one point, they kind of got out of sequence and we've sort of moved those back in. But there's no real reason.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay, thank you. No further action is required.
Committee Item No. 2, Boater Education Deferral Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register, Mr. Tim Spice.
MR. SPICE: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Tim Spice. I am the Boater Education Manager, and with me is Jeff Parrish. He's the Boating Law Administrator, and he's the person that started the deferral process before I became the Boating Education Coordinator.
A brief history on boater education. In 1997, a law was passed that required people of a certain age to take boater education and that was between the ages of 13 and 17. Prior to 1997, it was a voluntary program. In the last Legislative session, they passed the "born after date" of September 1st, 1993. So all persons born after have to take boater education to operate a vessel alone.
Annually, we certify around 10,000 people a year in boater education. Currently, the fees are for online programs, they're $20. Volunteer led is $20. We have ex-science teachers and other volunteers that are certified to teach and if Jeff or I want to teach the course, it's $5. The proposed deferral fee would be $10, and that is similar to the hunter education fee.
The deferral requirement under the provisions of House Bill 1395 enacted by the 82nd Texas Legislature in the regular session, Parks and Wildlife Code was amended to require the Department to establish a boater education deferral program by rule. That's why I'm here. The proposed regulation is a one-time three consecutive day deferral of boater education requirements for persons over the age 18 years and older. It also it proposes that we prohibit a person who purchases a boater education deferral from supervising the operation of a vessel of another. Currently right now 18-year-olds can supervise people under age on personal watercraft or another boat. And again, a $10 fee similar to the hunter education deferral and issued also through the point of sale.
This only affects boaters born on or after September 1st, 1993. That also means that a person that's born before September 1st, 1993, can still operate a boat, can still supervise another person who does not have boater education. It increases once a -- in one-year increments. So we have gradual growth, so we have knowledge of the program just like boater education and the deferral, which means people that are 35 years old, our target demographic, won't be required to take it for 16 years. 31.109 also states, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, that the Court shall defer proceedings and allow a person 90 days to present written evidence that they've taken a course and have completed it and they shall dismiss the charges. This is just like hunter education.
And I thank you very much, and I'll answer any questions if you have them.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I have a question. In reading through the material, it seemed like it was set up with the idea that a customer who wants to buy a new boat can get this three-day deferral where he can go out and demo a boat. Is that right or can anybody go that doesn't have a boater's registration, anybody go?
MR. SPICE: Commissioner, it's for anyone. Anyone that falls in that age group that wants to go operate a boat. Let's say your family is out on vacation and the cousin or niece that's -- 17-year-old wants to go ride a jet ski, they can get the deferral and still operate a jet ski or the adults, any one of us in this room can be in the boat and operate with them and supervise.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any other comments? Discussion?
COMMISSIONER JONES: And there's no limit to the three-day deferral? You can get several of those over a period of months? Years? Weeks?
MR. SPICE: Commissioner Jones, it was a one-time deferral. The idea is that we want them to take boater education. It makes it safer and a better recreational activity.
COMMISSIONER JONES: One time meaning once in your lifetime?
MR. SPICE: One time in your lifetime, yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Now for out-of-state people who are here, does that -- and I should probably know how that works. But just for instance if somebody was cited and they were out of state, what would happen?
MR. SPICE: If they were cited, ma'am, they would have 90 days and the -- to take a boater education course even in their own state because we have reciprocity.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Okay.
MR. SPICE: And then the Judge can dismiss it.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Just last question on that one time issue. So I suppose that what they do is they have to buy the $10 -- pay the $10 to get the deferral. Do we then have a database of some sort where we know who has done that deferral, who has that deferral so that if they come back next month and say I want to try this boat out, this other boat out or whatever, that it pops up?
MR. SPICE: Commissioner Jones, we ask that question with the point-of-sale database and that is supposed to be handled through that point of sale. So if you get it one time and then you go back to a point of sale and try to get it again, it's supposed to restrict you from being able to purchase another one.
COMMISSIONER JONES: But you can go to another point of sale?
MR. SPICE: It's all the same database.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Oh, it's all the same database.
MR. SPICE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Run by the State?
MR. SPICE: It's a contract, and I don't know who has the contract.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay, okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And maybe it would be good for one of you to tell everybody about how long -- this course sounds like days. Tell them how long it should take somebody to take it online.
MR. SPICE: The boater education program is mandated through the Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. The classroom course is a 6-hour requirement. The online course has a timed 3-hour requirement.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But how long does it take to actually complete? Is it just three hours?
MR. SPICE: It's a 3-hour minimum, sir.
COMMISSIONER JONES: And what is the minimum age -- no -- minimum age a person can be to take the course?
MR. SPICE: Parks and Wildlife Code says 12.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any other comments? Questions? Okay. Thank you, Tim and Jeff. I'll authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item No. 3, Quail Management, Regulatory Recommendation, Mr. Robert Perez. Good morning, Robert.
MR. PEREZ: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Robert Perez, Upland Game Bird Program Leader Wildlife Division. And I'll be giving the Quail Management presentation.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Better keep your distance from Commissioner Scott. He may steal your tie.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Boy, Ralph is on a roll this morning.
COMMISSIONER JONES: When is Dan coming back?
MR. PEREZ: Okay. I'll address the following four points, which include the outcome of the recent meeting of the Resident Game Bird Technical Committee in regard to quail harvest regulations. That particular Committee is made up of staff biologists. I will also address current and proposed quail harvest data collection, current and proposed quail population index data collection, and lastly a description of the focus area approach to quail conservation and restoration in Texas.
First point, at the Commission's request, the Resident Game Bird Technical Committee recently met to discuss quail harvest regulations as they relate to conservation and population management. Based on the best available science, the recommendations of the March 7th quail science meeting and the guidance provided by this Commission, the Technical Committee recommends no proposed changes be made to the current quail hunting regulations. And the Committee also recommends that no subdivision of the current statewide season into regulatory zones, while staff will continue with and expand upon population harvest monitoring at the ecoregion level.
Although quail population trends and for that matter, the challenges facing quail differ among ecological regions, the current regulatory framework is appropriate for all regions. However, there is biological justification for different approaches to quail conservation in different regions of the state. For example, staff are currently developing focus areas for quail in the eastern third of the state and third of the state where populations persist at a low level. While continuing traditional approaches to conservation in the western two-thirds of the state, including technical guidance in habitat and harvest recommendations.
Next is the second point in regard to harvest data collection. The Parks and Wildlife small game harvest survey is appropriate for tracking statewide quail harvest trends, but currently does not clearly instruct hunters to report only wild quail harvest. As quail populations have declined, the use of pen-reared quail to supplement or replace wild quail hunts has become more common. Since hunter success likely differs between wild and pen-reared hunts, small game harvest survey will now instruct hunters to only report wild quail harvest.
Although the small game harvest survey provides valuable statewide harvest statistics, ecoregion estimates are less informative due to a small sample size. So in order to increase our knowledge and understanding of quail hunter behavior and success, staff have developed a quail hunter score card to provide additional information, including the distribution of harvest through time and quail harvested per day. A sample of previous small game harvest survey respondents who identified themselves as quail hunters, will receive this hunter score card in the coming fall just prior to hunting season.
And third point in regard to population data collection. The Parks and Wildlife August quail roadside surveys are highly predictive of hunter harvest at the ecoregion scale and provide a valuable index to populations. Surveys have been conducted since 1978; but over time some of the survey routes may no longer meet the original criteria, which is that the routes be on an all-weather road, have low vehicular traffic, and low human habitation. If too many routes no longer meet these criteria, the power of the survey can be possibly reduced. For this reason, staff will reevaluate all routes this coming August and take steps to ensure the survey continues to provide a valuable index.
In 1988, quail roadside counts were discontinued in the Blackland Prairies, Post Oak Savannah, and Piney Woods. The roadside technique is no longer or never was appropriate for collecting quail population data in these regions. Staff are developing monitoring protocols for use in focus areas to provide insight to population dynamics in regions with low level quail populations. And here you can see the current distribution of the hunters in 63 quail roadside counts and also the three ecoregions previously mentioned where quail are not currently surveyed shown there highlighted in gray.
And the final point in regard to focus area development, previously define a focus area as being an area generally larger than a county, but smaller than an ecoregion with a boundary determined by opportunity, habitat potential, and landowner and partner interest in participation. There are excellent examples of ongoing habitat restoration projects in Texas, including the Wildlife Habitat Federation, the Western Navarro Bobwhite Restoration Initiative; but monitoring has been a lacking component. Staff are interested in enhancing population monitoring efforts at the focus area scale to measure the impacts of habitat manipulation and develop models that can be reproduced in other areas for the restoration potential.
A grant proposal has been submitted for federal funding to support intense monitoring in three key areas of the state, which is shown here. As I mentioned, they're ongoing supported quail projects or initiatives in the red and yellow areas and initiative is under development in the green area, which is part of the Eastern Rolling Plains where staff are ramping up efforts and where UNT-Quail has begun a program to restore the Bobwhite. The Western Navarro Bobwhite Restoration Initiative is shaded in red, and the Wildlife Habitat Federation is shaded in yellow.
The development of a monitoring program is essential to evaluate the effects of these initiatives on quail and grassland bird populations. Of course, staff and partners continue to work outside of these shaded areas; but the purpose of this project is to intensively monitor within a smaller area. I would also like to mention that the Department will be hosting a joint meeting of the Quail Roundtable and the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee in early June to discuss the future direction and needs of quail conservation in Texas. That concludes my presentation.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anybody have any comments? Question?
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I've got just --
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yeah, sure.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Just walk me through again why the suggestion to have multiple regions didn't get any traction. It seemed like it made sense to give you flexibility in the future with very little effort, but...
MR. PEREZ: Harvest is not the first choice of a tool to impact populations at that level and some of the information that was previously presented to this Commission indicated that it would have the most impact when it needed it least. So a reduction in bag limits or a season length would affect the numbers of quail harvested most where there was a great quail year and it would affect quail numbers the least when they needed help in a drought type year. There are differences between ecological reasons. Obviously, populations have responded differently for different reasons. But the best way to get a response in our populations we think and according to the National model is to go on the ground with a focused approach and get a response from populations on the ground through habitat manipulation.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So you don't see the need anytime in the future to have flexibility between the Panhandle and South Texas?
MR. PEREZ: The data that we've --
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Either in bag limits or season lengths?
MR. PEREZ: According to our population index, there really were no significant differences between those two regions of the state, the High Plains and South Texas.
MR. SMITH: Commissioner, if I could, I think that was a good biological basis for that recommendation. But another issue was just hunter confusion and we were a little concerned that if we set up zones that didn't have any differences between zones, that we might unnecessarily confuse hunters and so we felt like that option would still be there for the Commission in the future if the biological data suggested that we ought to have bag and season limits changes between zones. So that was another reason we considered it.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: It's very interesting, thank you.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Karen.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I know that every -- I mean, obviously, you've talked to all the other groups and exchanged information; but I'm thinking specifically of like Caesar Kleberg. Can you -- do you have to do your own research or can you take their data and then put it into the mix or how does that work?
MR. PEREZ: We have taken all the data into consideration and it was a project that was funded by Parks and Wildlife through Caesar Kleberg, the sustained yield project as it has become to be referred to as, which indicated that to sustain populations on any given property, you need to stay below a 20 percent harvest of that population and the data went on to further suggest that most people don't, even when they try, surpass a 20 percent harvest.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: How was the -- on the focus areas, how -- for example, the Eastern Rolling Plains, which it looks to me like that may be Callahan, Shackelford, and Stephens at the bottom; is that right?
MR. PEREZ: And Clay and Shackelford, yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: How did you select there? How that was that selected?
MR. PEREZ: The intent of this particular study is to go in places of the state where there are still remanent populations, low level, but they have been gone for a long period of time and to see if we can go in and manipulate smaller -- within these areas, it will be certain treatment sites and within those treatment sites that would be intensively manipulated. We would be counting birds within and outside of those treatment areas to measure an effect on quail and certain grassland birds.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, those are certainly three -- those three counties used to have vibrant quail populations.
MR. PEREZ: Not that long ago, yes, sir. Right.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: One other question. You said the roadside counts, you're going to, in August, look at redoing -- let me find that -- reevaluation of the routes this August. Are you going to reevaluate them before you actually conduct them in August?
MR. PEREZ: The observer or the biologist will be given a form and while he conducts the survey, he'll be taking extra data and when he's completed, he'll go back and count the number of houses. He'll be recording the number of ecos he passes on the road and any other structures that might interfere with that being a viable route. So we'll ask him to run it twice. Once at a higher speed than the other. Right.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Then the other thing I wanted to ask Carter to mention was a recent I guess a report or what you call Lenny Brennan's -- Would you tell everybody about that because I thought it was important and significant.
MR. SMITH: Sure, yeah. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I hope that all of you had a chance to see a report that Dr. Lenny Brennan, one of the foremost quail scientists in the state who works at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute prepared and published in their notes on quail management, quail conservation, and quail hunting. Really talking about the long history of science that has guided the Commission's and Department's decision with respect to quail management. And so if you haven't had a chance to take a look at it, we would certainly encourage you to do so. Caesar Kleberg was essentially expressing the strong support for the Commission's longstanding interest in the science and making sure that the decisions were predicated on that and I just encourage y'all to take a strong look at it. It was an excellent article.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any other comments? Questions?
COMMISSIONER JONES: And I don't want to get into all the details of this, but have you heard anything about research out there that indicated -- I'm not sure what the condition is called, but it's essentially worms in the eyes of the quail.
MR. PEREZ: Eye worms, right. A parasitic --
COMMISSIONER JONES: Is that what it's called? Eye worms?
MR. PEREZ: Eye worms would be --
COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, that's original. That's...
MR. PEREZ: There's a species name for it, but we don't -- it's actually a parasite, a parasitic -- part of a life cycle of parasites within the eye of a quail and as the eye -- as that individual gets older, the number of worms can increase within the eye. And data in the Rolling Plains showed that about 50 percent of all the birds collected had some number of eye worms in their eye. Now the number of worms it takes to start interfering with a quail's sight or ability to avoid their predator is unknown and how long it takes them to build up a parasite load is unknown.
The only information that we really have is between now and historic density of the worms within the eye, was that there was work done back in the 60s that showed a very similar prevalence rate of about 50 percent of the birds had eye worms. So it's a natural parasite of the bird. It's just whether or not for various reasons in certain years, maybe that parasite load is higher. So it's pretty early in the research to find, you know, that that could be a potential cause for the population to be having problems.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. So the parasite presence in the eyes of the quail isn't of itself killing the quail?
MR. PEREZ: Correct.
COMMISSIONER JONES: What the effect may be is that if the population of the parasites in the eye increases to the level that the bird can't see or evade predators, then it could possibly cause the population to decrease.
MR. PEREZ: Or at least for that individual. The population level would have to be looked at close. Quail normally don't live that long, so I don't know how long it takes to get hundreds of worms in the eye.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Right, right.
MR. PEREZ: So it's a question that still remains unanswered, but there is at least one researcher that's looking into it.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Thank you, Robert. No further action is required.
Committee Item 4, Floating Cabins Permit Rules, Cody Jones. We have recommended adoption of proposed changes.
MR. JONES: Excuse me, I have to get in the chair. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Committee Members. For the record, my name is Cody Jones. I am the Lieutenant Game Warden in the Marine Enforcement Section and the Administrator of the Coastal Floating Cabin Program. I'm here this morning to present the proposed changes to the regulations governing the permitting of floating cabins.
As you may recall in 2001, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1573, which sought to regulate the number of floating cabins on the coast. The regulatory authority was granted to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at that time. A floating cabin is defined as a structure securely moored in the coastal waters of this state which is used for habitation or shelter and is not routinely used for transportation. In 2001, a total of 151 permits were issued for coastal floating cabins. Currently, only 145 permits remain. All six of the permits that have expired are due to the permittee's noninterest in renewal.
Under current regulations, all floating cabin permits expire August 31st of each year and the renewal materials must be submitted before this date. However, I should point out that the language also allows an additional 90 days after expiration of the renewal. This causes some confusion. If a permit is not renewed by the end of the 90 days, then the permit becomes ineligible for renewal and the cabin must be removed at the owner's expense.
Under the proposed regulation, first a reference to the original regulatory deadline is eliminated since it's no longer necessary. Second, the language is clarified to state that the deadline for submission of renewal materials would be 90 days from the date the permit expires, rather than before the expiration date. Third, the proposed language would state that upon the expiration of a permit, all permittees would be mailed a notice from the Department and would be given an opportunity to request a review of the expired permit within ten days after the Department's mailing. In addition, it creates a review panel made up of senior Department managers, including the Deputy Executive Director or his or her designees, the Director of Law Enforcement or his or her designee, and the Director of Coastal Fisheries or his or her designee.
This panel would be able to review the late renewal application and make finding on its review, which is consistent with the Wildlife permit review process which is already in place. And finally to eliminate any confusion, the term owner will be changed to permittee to remain consistent within the rule.
As of 9:00 a.m. this morning, we have received public comment from two people. One in favor, and one opposed. The negative comment primarily focused on deregulating floating cabins to save State money for use in State parks. With that, if you have any questions, I would be happy to entertain them at this time.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Questions? Comments? Cody, I have one. Do we -- when the expiration occurs and we send out the notice to all the permittees --
MR. JONES: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- do we propose that there be a fee associated with that expired permit to recover the cost of us handling all that?
MR. JONES: When looking at the rule, the regulatory didn't allow for that fee to be in place; so there's no avenue to put a fee in place at this time. It was statutory only.
COMMISSIONER JONES: How many -- I know -- I think this was asked last time. I can't remember what the number was. How many of these permits are currently issued?
MR. JONES: At the inception of the program, there was 151. Currently, there is 145 permits.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Ralph. Cody, a little bit off the subject; but --
MR. JONES: Certainly.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: -- the cabins, the fishing cabins you see on islands all up and down the coast, are those -- do we permit those, or are those permitted by another source?
MR. JONES: We do not. The General Land Office permits those cabins, those structures that are on the swell banks. They have about 450 of those permits out there for that program, and it's run quite differently in respect.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good question.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I just didn't know.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Me either. Anybody else comments? Questions? Okay, Cody. Thank you. I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
This committee has now completed it's business, so we'll move to Conservation Commission -- or Conservation Committee. Chairman Morian, would you begin that meeting.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The first order of business is the approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes from the March 28th, 2012, meeting, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Motion for approval.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Second, thank you. Committee Item No. 1 is an update on the TPWD progress in implementing Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan. Mr. Smith, will you please make your recommendation?
MR. SMITH: I will. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. For the record, my name is Carter Smith. First and foremost, let me just say I was disappointed obviously that we had to cancel the Commission retreat. Obviously the weather was very bad and precluded us from getting in. One of the key items of business that we hoped to accomplish with you was for Scott to present the recommended action items for the Commission to consider and to consider approving as we track the progress on the Land and Water plan.
One of the things we want to do when Chairman Friedkin is back, is get with him about how he wants to get with all of the Commission to discuss those proposed items, get your input and feedback, and then make sure we have a list of action items and deliverables that the Commission will be tracking at every meeting. So we look forward to those discussions with all of you.
A couple of things I do want to update the Commission on. First, just as a follow up to the March briefing that our Wildlife team gave with respect to proposed migratory game bird seasons and bag limits. The decision for the early season bag limits affecting the Teal and Dove and Woodcock and Gallinules and Snipe, those are going to be made by the Fish and Wildlife Service at their annual regulation's meeting in June. As is customary after we hear from the Service Regulations Committee, we will come back and I'll report that to the Chairman and make sure he concurs with that so we can adopt it and, again, letting hunters know what's going to be expected come September, particularly again with Doves and Teal. We're not expecting any changes, but just wanted to remind everybody of the process.
And then in addition, as is customary in August, we'll come back to the Commission and Dave Morrison will report on what the proposals are for the late season regulations. So I just wanted to remind everybody about that. Let's see. We've talked a lot with the Commission about the status of the Lesser Prairie chicken and our concerns about the precipitous declines that we've seen throughout its range. But we've also talked a lot about just some of the extraordinary conservation work that's going on with private landowners up in the Panhandle and throughout other states.
This issue has taken on more urgency as of late. Wendy Connally briefed y'all on the lawsuit that the WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity had brought against Fish and Wildlife Service compelling them to consider making a determination as to whether the listing of literally hundreds of species throughout the country was warranted. One of those species is the Lesser Prairie chicken. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has let us know that by the first of September, they expect to render a decision or a proposal as to whether or not such a listing is warranted.
If it is, they will then make a recommendation as to whether or not that bird should be listed as either federally threatened or federally endangered and then at which point there will be a year to provide additional public comments and feedback on that proposal. We have been working very diligently with the other four states in which the Prairie chicken exists on coming up with a multistate conservation plan that we will be submitting to the Fish and Wildlife Service in June. It will lay out all of the science, all of the monitoring, all of the conservation that we have been doing.
Our goal obviously is to make a case that the bird should not be listed and that the State should continue to retain authority to be able to manage this species. Obviously, formally a game bird species in this state. Still is in Nebraska. So we're going to be working on that, and we'll certainly apprise the Commission of that front. I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the work of our Wildlife biologists up in the Panhandle. They have engaged private landowners through what are called voluntary candidate conservation agreements with assurances with ranchers on now almost 300,000 acres of Lesser Prairie chicken habitat. So just extraordinary partnerships. We've got the ranching community really working well with the Department on this front and showing voluntary conservation. So wanted to let you know the status of that.
Also, wanted to give a brief update as to where we stand with Bastrop State Park. Could not be more proud of our State Parks team. The park fully opened on April 13th. That's due in no small part to our park staff who have just done an extraordinary job. You had a chance to hear from our volunteer group at the last Commission meeting when they made a very sizable donation to the Department. They've just been extraordinary. Also, the American Youth Works, which is a nonprofit organization that has teenagers out of high school and in college that are spending their time working on rebuilding trails and bridges and roads and engaging in restoration and they've just been phenomenal partners. But as of the 13th, all of the roads were open, the campsites. The YMCA has taken on the pool there and it's open for seven days. Very, very active restoration program going on; but also I know will be of interest to the Commission, a very active research program looking at what's the vegetative response following the fire, what are the wildlife doing in response, what's the status of the erosion. We've got some Ph.D. students from the University of Texas involved as well.
We always get asked the question: When are we going to start planting trees back in the park? We are looking at next winter, 2013. The Apache Foundation, Apache Oil Company, has graciously agreed to provide all of the trees for the first year of planting. We have another donor that will announce on Labor Day that we believe is going to commit to providing all of the trees for reforestation for subsequent years after the first year. So we've had a great response there from the private sector that has stepped forward to help the Department and we're awfully, awfully proud of that.
The last thing I want to announce about Bastrop State Park is a partnership with Coca-Cola. Each year, they have a national contest that's called "America Is Your Park" and they encourage people to vote for their favorite park -- national, state, or local park across the country. The park getting the most votes is awarded a very significant gift and they have chosen Bastrop State Park to launch this national contest and so we're looking forward to that. Lydia and her team have been working very closely with Coca-Cola and we're excited for the park to get that kind of recognition.
I now want to move on to an update on a situation that is rapidly developing out in the Trans-Pecos having to do with Chronic Wasting Disease and some proposed rules that we want to put out for the public's consideration and then come back to the Commission for consideration in August. Just as a point of departure for those of you who are not familiar with Chronic Wasting Disease, it's in the -- it's a fatal neurological disease. It's analogs in cattle, bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE is what you often hear it referred to in the press. In sheep, it's Scrapies. It's always fatal for animals that get it.
In terms of wildlife that are susceptible to CWD, White-tailed deer, Mule deer, elk, moose, Sika deer. We don't have any evidence at this time to suggest that it can be transmitted through natural means to livestock or humans. The CWD has a long kind of latency or dormancy period, incubation period, of anywhere between two to four years. In terms of how unaffected animals get it, it can be transmitted laterally from animal to animal through saliva or fluids and then also through environmental exposure from contaminated sites where an animal that eats vegetation and soils that have been contaminated with the prions, which is the affected protein which is the vector for transmitting the disease.
The signs of an animal once they contract the disease and once it begins to manifest itself and you see it in this picture of this deer, emaciation, listlessness, fatigue, chronic walking around, droopy ears. It's not a pretty picture and after an animal contracts the disease, death is imminent within a couple of months. Obviously, this causes us as wildlife managers grave concerns in terms of how we manage deer throughout the state. You know, one of the things we have seen in Colorado and Wyoming where you have areas that are impacted from CWD is where you have high prevalence rates in a population. And by that, 20, 30, 40, or 50 percent, then you will see a corresponding population decline even in areas that aren't being hunted or otherwise affected.
Also, once CWD is detected in the population at a relatively high prevalence, not surprisingly you see hunters start to alter their behavior and shying away from areas that have high rates of Chronic Wasting Disease to the population. So from a wildlife management perspective, obviously this is something that gives us great pause.
This map shows CWD distribution throughout North America. It's found in 19 states and provinces. You see it up there in the Prairie provinces. This map depicts areas where CWD has been detected, both in free-ranging and in captive facilities. The captive facilities are shown in a yellow circle there and then the gray shaded areas are in free-ranging populations. One of the things I want to make sure that the Commission is aware of, our Wildlife Division has been actively monitoring and looking for CWD, both in the wild and in breeder pens.
For the last ten years in the wild, our Wildlife biologists and technicians have collected 26,556 samples. You can see this stratified by ecoregion in terms of the wild deer that have been tested. I'll call your attention to two of those ecoregions. The Trans-Pecos and the High Plains, the two areas where we have Mule deer in the state and the relatively low sample sizes in those areas. We've also worked very cooperatively with the breeder community on testing animals in breeder facilities and pens, so captive deer. So in the ten years that we've been involved in the testing, we've tested a little over 7,400 animals. And again, this depicts it by ecoregion. And to date, I want to make this abundantly clear, we have not detected CWD through any of our tests.
Let's see if we can switch it, here we go. What has caused us recent alarm was the fact that we were notified this year by our colleagues in New Mexico that they had found three instances of Mule deer that tested positive for CWD right on the Texas border in the Waco and Sacramento Mountains. They had tested four hunter killed deer there at Game Management Unit No. 28 on the Texas/New Mexico border. Three out of the four tested positive and those deer were found within 1 to 2 miles of the Texas border in the Waco and Sacramento Mountains. Obviously, for those of you that are familiar with that area, there are no barriers to movement for wild deer in that area and so obviously the concern is that infected deer could have crossed into Texas and it's caused the Wildlife conservation community great concern.
So as a response to that, we immediately began the work and reached out to our partners at the Animal Health Commission, who by the way have just been extraordinary in working with the Department on disease related issues. You want state agencies to work very, very well together and build on each other's strengths. We're very fortunate to have great partners at the Animal Health Commission. In fact, here today we've got the Executive Director of the Animal Health Commission, Dr. Dee Ellis and Dr. Terry Hensley and then their general counsel, Gene Snelson. I just wanted to acknowledge these professionals for their -- so just raise your hands, guys. Thank y'all for being here.
Once we were notified about the presence of CWD, we did a couple of things. One, we reopened the State's CWD state plan that was published back in 2003 to see how it needed to be updated and also along with the Animal Health Commission, we reactivated the CWD task force, which is comprised of veterinarians and landowners and biologists and representatives from various associations to talk about what kind of actions were necessary given this very, very significant finding.
The task force met and were resolute in their recommendations back, that we needed to take very aggressive action to try to do everything we could to contain this disease and make sure that we did everything possible to keep it from spreading into the state or spreading throughout the state. And they had a number of recommendations that I want to share with the Commission.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Carter, before you go to the recommendations. Around what city is -- are these two areas? Is that near Ruidoso?
MR. SMITH: So that area that you see on the map is east of El Paso. The closest little community on the Texas side would be a little town of Cornudas or Salt Flat, which are between the Guadalupe Mountains and El Paso, about halfway through there.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. SMITH: Those areas I think were on part of the Fort Bliss Range is where they were killed.
COMMISSIONER JONES: And that upper area of New Mexico, where is that? Is that -- do you know?
MR. SMITH: You know, I'm going to show my geographic illiteracy like I'm afraid most all Americans in not being able to name any towns in close proximity to that.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay, that's fine.
MR. SMITH: There are not any, is that what I heard from back there? Good save whoever said that. Thank you.
The task force recommended that both the Animal Health Commission and Parks and Wildlife and it is something that we are going hand-in-hand with the Animal Health Commission to make sure that we have consistency of proposed rules by our respective Commissions, that we set up essentially two zones -- a containment zone and a high risk zone. And the containment zone you can see here in the red hatching, basically would be abound to the east on a state highway near the border of Culberson and Hudspeth County. Would extend west to El Paso north of I-20 and then up to the New Mexico border. And then right now the proposed border for the high risk zone would essentially be east of that highway going to the Pecos River and then again bound on the southeast and south by I-20.
Inside the containment zone, the recommendations that the task force are bringing forward, you know, first that we immediately proceed with additional sampling in that area. And our biologists are already reaching out to private landowners to conduct additional sampling here in the next month, just so see if there's any animals that test positive in the area or not, we want to increase our sampling. But within the containment zone, what we're proposing are, you know, first mandatory deer hunter check stations that we would set up there in Cornudas and Van Horn and so all Mule deer killed within that area would be required to come to those check stations and be tested.
We're also thinking about how we work cooperatively and effectively with landowners that have MLDP permits and so try to figure out how we work with them to check deer and make sure those are tested as well. Because of concerns about moving deer around in that area, our recommendation would be not to issue any TTT or DMP permits within that area. We've not had any TTT permits in that area. And also our proposal would be -- I'm sorry, I should have switched that slide -- that we would not authorize any deer to be possessed in any new deer breeder facilities in that area. And as of now, there are no deer breeder facilities within that area.
I will say that depending upon the sampling and the dynamics of this issue and whether or not we do detect any positive animals, that these zones are a little fluid and could be moved. And so in the event that there were existing breeder facilities within that containment zone, we would recommend that no movement of those deer be allowed until they reach what we call five-year status. Meaning that in a five-year period, they've tested all mortality of all animals in there and that there was no detection of CWD.
Within the high risk zone, what we are proposing in that area would be that there's voluntary checking of animals for CWD. We'd probably look at trying to set up some check stations in that area; so again, so we could heighten or sampling effort. For those landowners that were interested in pursuing a TTT for sites within the high risk zone, we would propose to require them to test at least 300 White-tailed deer or Mule deer for CWD. There's a statistical basis for that. For a sampling level at that scale, that would give us a 95 percent confidence that we could detect CWD at a 1 percent prevalence throughout a population. So that's what the vets and others are recommending. That could be done over a multiyear period, so I want to make sure that that's clear.
And then again not unlike what we mentioned in the containment zone, that for deer breeder facilities within the high risk zone, we would look at allowing them to move deer on either a three-year or a five-year basis in terms of the testing and making sure that no deer were tested positive for CWD. Right now at least in the high risk zone as we've identified it now, there's one deer breeder in that area. Mitch Lockwood has reached out to that individual and is talking to him about this issue. He's been obviously keeping up with all his testing, and we're going to make sure that we have a lot of input from him as we go forward.
So what we're looking at now is to request permission to publish rules in the Texas Register to get public comment. Obviously, we'll be going out for extensive public comment on this issue. Particularly in the Trans-Pecos. But we would request permission to publish rules to accomplish the following: That we be allowed to establish rules for both the containment zone and a high risk zone and that it would authorize the Executive Director to define the boundaries of the containment zone and the high risk zone as the Chronic Wasting Disease distribution is better defined in New Mexico and/or Texas, which again is determined by the sampling that we will be increasing our efforts on.
So with that, let me stop there and see if anybody has any questions. Yeah, Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: A couple of them. So the strain of that stuff is the same for White-tail as Mule deer?
MR. SMITH: Uh-huh, yes.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That's the same thing, okay. So you answered one question. We don't have any breeders out there, so -- except for the one guy. So you really don't have any data on the -- how are our biologists checking the Mule deer out there?
MR. SMITH: So that's a great question. I should have mentioned that. In terms of the sampling, we've been doing that through hunter harvested deer and also picking up road-killed deer and collecting brain samples to have them tested. Again, in the next month or so, we plan to go out in some very systematic targeted harvesting of additional Mule deer in specific locals near the New Mexico border just to help give us a better confidence that our sampling protocol is being able to test animals adequately in and around the New Mexico border.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, and in that same vein, having hunted in Colorado for elk, you know, and stuff, I've had to have, you know, the brain tested and everything to get the meat and everything. How long will it take for our people, however we're proposing to do these test stations, you know, people are -- they're harvesting Mule deer, you know, how long does it take? In other words, you need to get the meat processed pretty quick. So if you're going to sit there and take a week to get the head checked, you know, obviously then you've got another issue.
MR. SMITH: So, yeah. I think we'll be very, very sensitive to that. And what we hope to do is process it very efficiently. So for as I understand kind of the proposal right now and we're still working on the details, so the deer brought into a check station, our biologist would go ahead and collect a sample immediately and then that sample is going to be sent off to a lab. We then provide a tag to those individuals so that if they were stopped by a game warden in another part of the state, you know, they had clear evidence that that animal had been tested, then they're free to go ahead and take that animal on to get it processed. And then we would certainly notify them of the results of that test once it came back from the lab and I can't answer how long it would take for that test to get back from the lab, but I could certainly get somebody up here to answer that.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, I was just looking down the road. If we go through all this and do these containments and the high risk zones and it goes out for public comment, real quick you know that's going to be one of the top questions because everybody is going to be thinking the same thing. You know, well, I killed a deer, you know, I can't process. Why pay the money to go kill a deer, you know, or why even just kill your own deer as far as that goes.
MR. SMITH: Well, there's certainly -- we certainly wouldn't be looking at any rules to preclude anybody from going ahead with processing deer. So we would certainly encourage them to go forward with that. Again, no evidence to suggest that CWD can be transferred from eating the meat and so I think folks would just continue on down the highway and going back to wherever they were going, process it themselves, or take it to a processer.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Okay, yeah.
MR. SMITH: Good questions.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Carter, I have a question. If we find some samples, say we go to the Waco Mountains and find three deer that test, what then? What's the next step?
MR. SMITH: So I think one of the things we'll look at is what's the geographic distribution of those findings, would that in any way have an impact on the proposed containment zone versus the high risk zone. You know, we would ask the CWD task force whether or not there was sufficient basis to look at moving those lines and let them come back with some recommendations that we would certainly share with the Commission on that front. You know, right now we're a CWD free state. I want to make that abundantly clear. We have not detected CWD in Texas. Again, obviously we believe this is a potential game changer with the detection of CWD within a mile or two of our borders and so we have got to be more vigilante and it certainly speaks to us getting out there and testing for it.
I think we have a responsibility not only biologically, but also to our hunters and landowners to let folks know what we're dealing with. And so part of it would be a communication plan to make sure that folks in that area and people that hunt in that area were aware of the presence of it if we do find it.
COMMISSIONER JONES: What kind of budget impact is this going to have just for testing? I mean if you're talking about testing every deer harvested in the county, I would assume that's going to have a budgetary impact.
MR. SMITH: Let me ask -- well, I think there's a couple of issues in terms of the cost of that test and then, you know, secondly, staff time working on this.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Right.
MR. SMITH: And so no doubt we're going to have to figure out a way to staff these hunter check stations, and it's an opportunity cost. We can't have all of our biologists and technicians working exclusively for several months in those check stations, and so we're going to have to figure out creatively how to handle that.
Let me ask Mitch Lockwood to handle the issue associated with the cost of those tests. Mitch.
MR. LOCKWOOD: For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood. I'm the Big Game Program Director. We've -- for the last few years, we've received funding from USDA specifically for CWD testing and that has covered our costs for testing about 2,500 to 3,500 deer a year and then other expenses associated with that, equipment and whatnot. That funding will cease to exist after this fiscal year, but we do -- I have identified some other funds available to allow us to continue surveillance at least into the next year.
We also -- I've also been able -- we've saved back some of those USDA funds that again are good through August 31st. We still have sufficient funds at this time to do some of this active surveillance in the next month or so.
COMMISSIONER JONES: But most of your harvesting is going to be done this fall.
MR. LOCKWOOD: So the hunter harvest deer that we'll take in the fall, we do have source of funding to cover those costs for the next fiscal year. I'm just not -- I'm not able to look beyond next fiscal year at this time.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. LOCKWOOD: But the costs are, just FYI, they're about $40 a deer, a sample to run a test.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Not including staff time?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Not including staff time or other operating costs such as latex gloves and whatnot. But the actual lab expense is about $40 a deer.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I certainly don't advocate doing this; but I would just as a point of reference in Colorado, I know on the elk deer there is a -- you pay a fee. You know, it's usually included in processing. Of course, that would apply if they're being processed out there. I don't know how you handle that; but I wouldn't think we'd even address that issue until we ever see any of it in our state. But that is a...
MR. SMITH: Mechanism to pay for it.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: On your point, that is one option going forward. If we ever are unfortunate enough to find any of it, you know, we might address that testing fee, you know, as part of the harvest deal on the tag or whatever.
MR. LOCKWOOD: We have learned a lot from the other states here in the last few months, as you can imagine. We've been on the phone quite a bit and learning from them. And Colorado, as you said, is one that do charge a fee or they take the fee from the hunters that are submitting the samples. However, it's interesting to note I believe Colorado is the state that if the deer is detected -- if CWD is detected in the deer, then the hunter is actually refunded that amount.
But I do think at this time just looking into the next fiscal year, we're going to be able to cover the cost for this surveillance. And just to follow up to another question you had, Commissioner Scott. Typically, we get results back from TVMDL, the lab there at A&M, in about 30 days. Sometimes it's longer and we do have information and we'll collect information from hunters and in the event that we do detect CWD in any deer, we certainly would notify the hunters. We currently do that when another state -- when we have hunters come in from another state such as Colorado and Colorado contacts us about a deer that a Texas hunter harvested or an elk in which CWD was detected, we contact the hunter and Texas Animal Health Commission actually makes an offer to go to that hunter's residence and retrieve to take the venison if the hunter wishes and dispose of it. Sometimes the hunters take us up on that offer, and sometimes they don't.
COMMISSIONER JONES: But chances are -- and I'm not a biologist. But chances are if one has been found within a mile of our border, there's probably one within our border. And I don't want to be the one -- I don't want to jinx this.
MR. SMITH: Me either.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I certainly don't. But 1 mile is not that far.
MR. SMITH: It's not, Commissioner. And again, there's no deterrence that would preclude a deer from moving throughout those mountain ranges and so obviously, again, it speaks to the need for vigilance. It speaks to the need for acting very expeditiously to engage in more testing and to help setting up some boundaries to make sure we're doing everything we can to help contain the possible incursion and/or spread into the state. It's a very serious issue.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. SMITH: Thanks, Mitch.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Question, two questions actually. One is what are we doing to coordinate what you're proposing with New Mexico or what's New Mexico doing that's either consistent or inconsistent with what we're proposing? And the second question is: Is it true that it cannot be transmitted by eating contaminated venison? Because I thought it could be and I had a fishing guide in Montana that died of it and they said that that's how he got it was he ate some contaminated venison. So I don't know. I'm just asking.
MR. LOCKWOOD: I would like to be very clear in response to that last question. There is no person that has ever been detected -- CWD has not ever been detected in people. There's no evidence that humans can get CWD, be infected with CWD. We obviously can't say that humans can't get it, but there is no evidence that humans can.
There are several different species that have been infected with CWD through intercerebral inoculation and -- but, you know, there's a species of monkey that -- I don't remember the species offhand -- that I guess is closest to humans genetically speaking that they have not been able to infect with CWD. So we do not want to send the message that we think humans can get it. At the same time, we just need to be very careful in how we deliver that message.
As far as New Mexico's work, I'm not sure if regulations that New Mexico has with respect -- I do know that the hunters, those deer that were sampled this past year, seven out of ten hunter harvested Mule deer in Game Management Unit 28, those were all voluntary check stations, voluntary sampling. They've actually sampled 23 hunter harvested deer since 2007 and eight. Detected CWD in eight of those 23 deer. All of that has been voluntary. I'm not aware of anywhere in their state where they have mandatory sampling. I'm not aware of any captive deer facilities in their state or any program that allows them to trap and move deer in the state like we have. Quite frankly, I just don't know if they have tools like that.
What I can tell you as far as working with New Mexico is they have expressed interest in partnering with us and having a -- I'll just say cooperative plan on this. And we intend to visit Shawn Gray and I intend to go visit with our cohorts over in New Mexico here in the next several weeks.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: It seems like we ought to keep them posted and try to --
MR. SMITH: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Try to encourage them to engage in a similar program, don't you think?
MR. SMITH: Yeah, yeah.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I've got one question, if you know the answer. A contaminated site, once it's animal free, is that -- how long is it contaminated?
MR. LOCKWOOD: That's a very good question, and the answer is I don't know.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Could you -- I didn't hear it.
MR. LOCKWOOD: How long will a site remain contaminated? If there are deer at a site with CWD and then they're removed, how long will it remain contaminated? And there is still a lot unknown about Chronic Wasting Disease, and that is one of the unknown factors is how long environmental contamination will persist. It does -- it is in the period of years, I can tell you that; but we really don't know.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I have one more question, kind of along the same line. How do we think it's transmitted from animal to animal? Is this...
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, I hesitate because there's also still unknowns regarding modes of transmission, but certainly through nose-to-nose contact. There's also indirect transmission through urine, feces, saliva; but certainly through direct contact, nose-to-nose contact the disease can be spread. The one thing that makes this really challenging is the long incubation period that Carter mentioned. Even experimentally since we know sites can be contaminated, but you cannot detect the disease -- well, let me rephrase and say that two- that four-year incubation period, that's the length of time before an animal exhibits clinical symptoms.
An animal can -- the disease can be detected in tissue sample at an earlier date, but it's still a long period of time. Many months. And so the fact is since it is such a long period of time, we can't say with absolute certainty whether the animal contracted the disease through that direct nose-to-nose contact or through site contamination. There's still a lot of unknowns.
MR. SMITH: Thanks, Mitch. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. On that note, just obviously we will keep you very, very closely apprised of our efforts on this and we'll let you know what the plans are to get public comment and hold those public hearings out in West Texas, which we know are going to be very important.
Mr. Chairman, the last issue that I have is just I want to distribute a report from Major Grahame Jones. As you will recall in the Sunset bill, the Parks and Wildlife Department, we're required to provide an update on our internal affairs program. And so I have a written report from Major Jones that I want to submit to y'all. You can be assured that the Internal Affairs team continues its great work throughout the Agency.
If you have any questions about any of the incidents that are reported on this, please contact Grahame directly, some of which are still ongoing; so obviously confidential in nature. But certainly if you have any questions, don't hesitate to talk to Grahame. So I'll pass that out.
Mr. Chairman, with that, that concludesmy remarks unless anybody else has any questions on anything. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: With that, I'll move on to Committee Item No. 2, Acceptance of Land Donation in Harris County, two and a half acres adjacent to Sheldon Lake State Park, Corky Kuhlmann.
MR. KUHLMANN: Good morning, Commissioners. For the record, Corky Kuhlmann with the Land Conservation Program. This is a donation in Harris County at Sheldon Lake State Park Education Center. We have a church that's adjacent to us. They bought a 40-acre tract they plan to build a new church on and develop the rest of the tract. In order to do that, they have to meet County requirements to -- for their runoff. They have asked us to put a stilling basin adjacent to the property. This shows it a little bit better of where it is in relationship to our boundary.
We will take the runoff. Normally, we would have taken the runoff from this development. The lake can use it with drought and stuff and even the runoff from this coming from the stilling pond into the park property is something that we gladly accept just for the water. In addition to us getting the water that we do want, we have -- going to get a donation of around two and a half to three acres as a buffer between us and the development. I'll be glad to take any questions.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Any questions? If there's no further discussion, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
MR. KUHLMANN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Committee Item No. 3, Acceptance of Land Donation, Aransas County, 80 Acres at the Big Tree Area at Goose Island State Park, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. I'm Ted Hollingsworth with the Land Conservation Program. We're pretty excited about this item. We've been working with the Nature Conservancy for several years to try to find a means to acquire a tract of land that wraps around the Big Tree at Goose Island State Park, which is just north of Rockport.
You can see from this map that the Big Tree is connected to the main body of the park by a scenic drive. The actual area of the tree is only a 5-acre tract. The tree, in fact, spreads over much of that tract. We've been very concerned about protecting it and this particular ranch has been on the market several times over the years and is prime for development, so we've been working with the Nature Conservancy and in the last few months have identified the means to acquire this. It's actually the MOEX settlement from the Horizon, Deep Horizon well spell in the Gulf of Mexico. We've worked with the Department of Justice and the Attorney General's Office here to propose that this tract be acquired as part of their restitution for their damage.
One of the neat things about this tract is that is all critical habitat for the endangered Whooping crane. It is probably the most popular spot now for people to drive to to see that -- to see the crane without having to get in a boat and go up into the marshes. This would put that property into public ownership and make it a part of the state park and we'll begin work immediately on a plan to -- for a boardwalk trail and/or observation deck where people will be able to get a good look at the birds.
You can see the birds in the shallow water adjacent to the tract here. And the other neat thing about the property is that the western portion of the property does have a mature live oak gallery forest and those forests are getting pretty uncommon on the coast and they're extremely important for migratory birds, bird fall out as they arrived in Texas after crossing the Gulf of Mexico. And this is a nice mature forest that's part of this property as well.
Currently, the Nature Conservancy does have an option to buy on the property. We're waiting on the Court to issue its final consent decree. All those initial decrees have been issued, there's been no public opposition to the consent decree and we expect that to occur in June and then we would do a concurrent closing where the property would go to the Nature Conservancy and from there to Texas Parks and Wildlife at the same time.
We think it's a terrific addition at no cost to the Agency and staff does recommend you adopt the following motion: The Executive Director is authorized to accept the donation of approximately 80 acres of land adjacent to Goose Island State Park for addition to the State Park.
I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: It looks like there's some infrastructure on there. Is that -- are you going to maintain that?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir, that's correct. There are three or four old homes, all in disrepair. There is a small landing strip and a hanger. I believe the hanger is in reasonably good condition, and we may be able to use it for maintenance facilities. On the other hand, this is all critical habitat for the endangered Whooping crane and anything we do by way of development or by way of allowing public access, needs to be extremely sensitive to the birds. So we have not -- obviously, we haven't really begun the formal process of determining public use for the site. The homes do not contribute anything to the value of the land. Like I said, they are old and in disrepair.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Any questions? If no further discussion, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
The next item is Committee Item No. 4, Request for Easement in Harris County, Hydrocarbon Pipelines at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This is the second reading of an item that you heard in March. We've had a request from Chevron to enlarge an existing easement across the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. That current pipeline corridor contains five pipelines. They are -- as many of the industries are in that area, they are trying to accommodate product coming from the Eagle Ford Shale and other places in South Texas.
What they would -- what they propose to do is abandon one of those pipelines and add two more. There was the option of them operating within their existing easement, but it would have required open trench installation in a very narrow pipe field. The installation would have been risky and would have involved a lot of impact, visual impact, operations impact, and potentially resource impact. So we agreed to expand that easement as the minimum amount necessary in order to allow them to directionally drill those pipelines through the park.
There will be three bore pits in the park as a result; but the route and the engineering have avoided all the wetlands, all high quality habitats, all the areas where there actually is going to be soil disturbance, which is in those bore pits. It will be 100 percent tested for cultural resources. Here you can see a close-up of that route and where those bore pits are. Those natural and cultural resource surveys are under way. The Section 404 coordination is under way.
State Historic Preservation Office is reviewing the project. They have all of the plans. They have everything that we have regarding the project. The soil testing is under way. The surveys and existing easements have been reconciled and by that I mean nobody actually knew where those five pipelines were. Nobody actually knew where the boundary of the park was. And those easements go back to the 1920s and so Chevron has worked very hard to identify those pipelines, identify the boundaries and reconcile all of those records so that we know where those are in the future and we know that those pipelines are within the easements they should be in.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Mr. Chairman, may I ask a question?
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Of course.
COMMISSIONER JONES: So just to make sure I'm clear. The easement that we're discussing here is for a pipeline that already exists? There's a 10-inch pipeline in the ground that --
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: We'll discuss that in the next agenda item.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Oh, that's not on this one?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: No, sir. This is a proposal to add two pipelines and they'll be adjacent to the existing easement.
COMMISSIONER JONES: But isn't this the San Jacinto Battleground Historic Site issue?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. This is Item No. 4, Request for an Easement.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: There are two different items.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, maybe I don't have four. I've got five. And it was two -- maybe I'm misnumbered, but it says to add two pipelines to the existing corridor of the park.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir, to add two pipelines. That's correct. Okay. So...
MS. BRIGHT: That's an issue with the consent -- I'm sorry. I'm Ann Bright, general counsel. If I can understand the question, the question is there's an issue with the easement that's Item No. 5; but the -- in answer to your specific question, there is an existing pipeline that goes through the park and this is just going to be expanding that corridor, that current corridor.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: It does say it's going to abandon one.
MS. BRIGHT: Right, Ted?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yeah. The original easement allowed for an unlimited number of pipelines. There are currently five. They will abandon one and rather than -- rather than try to shoehorn two more pipelines in an open-trench situation into the existing easement, they have requested and we've agreed with your concurrence to expand the existing easement to give them room to install two new pipelines by directional drill.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. And all I'm asking is -- and if it's not time to ask this yet for Item 5 because I thought we were talking about this item since it had -- since it dealt with adding two pipelines to the existing corridor. I'm just trying -- I'm just wondering what -- why was there a mention of a 10-inch pipeline that has been installed since 1969 that lies partially outside the easement granted in 1969?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, that's a good question. That last bullet survey of existing easements reconciled, when we did that survey and it just so happened because I've spent so much time in the park that I knew that the road, the recorded road, had never been surveyed and that the easements corresponded to the road. And so one of the things we did early on is we had Chevron survey the park boundary, survey the boundaries of the road, and then survey -- identify and locate their existing pipelines.
And in the course of doing that, we discovered that one pipeline that they assumed was within the road right-of-way and within their corridor was not. It wanders out of that corridor and under a portion of the park by just a few feet.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. But is that pipeline active? Is that --
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: That is an active pipeline. That's a 10-inch pipeline installed in 1969 that still carries product.
COMMISSIONER JONES: And are you asking us to grant them an easement for that pipeline? Because if it veers outside, then that means they don't have an easement for it.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: That is correct. In Item No. 5 we will --
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. All right, that's what I'm -- that's what Item 5 is. Okay.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We got there.
COMMISSIONER JONES: All right. Okay, I'm with you.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: As for Item No. 4, Chevron would like to, again, add two pipelines. They could add those technically inside their existing easement. We felt like it was much safer and would do more -- do less long-term -- short-term and long-term impact to the park resources to directionally drill those. We've required directional drilling for all new pipelines for a number of years now.
In discussions with the State Historic Preservation Office, they also prefer directional drilling, even though it means expanding the easement. And so our recommendation to the Commission is that you adopt the resolution attached as Exhibit A, which would, in fact, allow the expansion of that easement to accommodate those two directionally drilled pipelines. And I'll be happy to answer any other questions.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Any other questions? If there's no further discussion, I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Move on to Committee Item No. 5, Definition of Existing Easement, Harris County, Pipeline Corridor at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Park Site, request permission to begin the public notice and input process, Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item is related to the item you just heard. In the course of surveying the existing pipelines and the easement for those pipelines which corresponds to the highway right-of-way, it was discovered that a -- one of the pipelines, a segment of one of the pipelines that traverses the park is, in fact, not in the right-of-way that was granted in the 1920s and a subsequent easement that was granted in the 1960s; but, in fact, wanders out of that easement onto the park.
That was not previously known because the road right-of-way, although it is recorded, had never been surveyed. We did require a survey of Chevron. They've been extremely cooperative. They were very candid about the fact that the pipeline wanders out of the easement and onto the park by just a few feet in a couple of locations. What we proposed to them is that we grant a new easement to cover that existing pipeline. That they pay full 2012 schedule rates for that pipeline and that in addition any time they have to work anywhere in their easement, even where it is -- any time they have to work in the State park even within their existing easements, that they pull a Surface Use agreement. That enables us to, again, in all future work on any of those pipelines minimize those impacts to the park.
Again, here is the recommendation. Chevron has agreed to all these terms and conditions. It would be -- it would be an easement for an existing pipeline. It would be an after-the-fact easement. We think that that's the best response. It will enable us, again, to have better control over any activities that Chevron has to do to any of those pipelines in the park in the future. And staff requests permission to begin the public notice and input process. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I've got one. This pipeline is a different pipeline than the red line in that previous slide; is that right?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: It's the same corridor.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: If you look back, if you look on the slide before that, that pipeline turns over at the road and goes east.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir, you're absolutely correct.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: This one goes --
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: The new pipelines will be doglegged out of the existing easement to avoid all this area of wetlands that's in that triangle formed by the two roads and water.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Well, does this existing pipeline, No. 69, does it continue north?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir, it sure does. It follows the road and actually just north of that location, it actually strikes right out across the marsh.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: East?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir, to the east across the marsh.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Do we know where -- do we actually know where that pipeline right-of-way is?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: We know where the pipeline -- yes and no. The pipeline -- the pipeline easement -- the pipeline easement, in fact, is not defined.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Right.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chevron has, in fact, just today updated the survey of where they would like us to agree the easement is. It's a 50-foot wide easement. They cannot locate those pipes without putting equipment in the marsh. They would prefer not to do that. We would prefer they not do that.
This marsh has the highest concentration of breeding mottled ducks anywhere in Southeast Texas, for example. It's a very sensitive habitat. We know approximately where the pipelines are. They know approximately where the pipelines are. We have reconciled all that information as best as we can without disturbing the marsh.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So, and we're not going to go in and have them survey?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: We could require that. Staff recommendation is that the damage to the marsh would not justify the...
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Okay, thank you.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Let me just explore that last point just a bit.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER JONES: How -- I'm trying to weigh the importance of knowing where pipelines are that's on our property, which I think is an important thing to know because if there is ever a time where you have to go out there and do something -- dig, whether there's an emergency or whatever, I don't know, I don't know why you would have to be out there digging around. But to me, it's important to know where the pipelines are. Now -- but let me finish. But I've heard you mention a couple of times damage to the marsh.
So I'm trying to weigh what damage to the marsh -- what is the extent of the damage to the marsh if we're merely trying to figure out where the pipeline is? And maybe I don't understand how they figure out where the pipeline is. Maybe I don't understand how they do that; but to me, you would want to know where your pipeline is on your property, always.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I agree, yes, sir. I believe we know where that pipeline is to within a few feet. Those pipelines are smart pigged every five years now. If there should be a need to get to the pipe to repair, to preemptively work on that pipe to prevent additional corrosion or future spill, there would be damage to the park -- to the marsh. But in that case, Chevron would have to pull a Section 404 Permit. They would have to pull a Surface Use Agreement for us. There would be considerable mitigation for impacts to those wetland resources at that time.
Staff recommendation is that we don't preemptively disturb the marsh. Now, if the Commission feels strongly about us undertaking the steps necessary to place those pipelines within a few centimeters on the ground, I'm sure Chevron would be willing to do that.
COMMISSIONER JONES: I guess what I'm asking is what -- I don't -- help me understand what they have to do to identify where the pipe is that would disturb the marsh. What is that thing they have to do? Do they go out with a backhoe and stick it down there until they hit a pipe? I mean what do they do?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: And I honestly don't know. I don't know if they -- I don't know if they can remote detect those from the surface.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Because that's what I thought they could do. I thought there was a way to remotely detect where the pipe was that didn't disturb the marsh, at least significantly.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: And as curious as I've been, I have not yet asked them how it was that they located the pipes in the park. They have located those now exactly where they're in the park where they can get to them from the road where they're not disturbing wetlands. And I don't no if they probe for them. I don't know if the metal detect for them. I don't know what that technology is.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Can you get that information to us?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I sure can. I should be able to get that to you tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Because I'll just tell you where I am on it and I'm not sure about anybody else, but my initial -- my number one preference would be to know where the pipeline is. That's number one, always know where the pipeline is that runs on your property. Number two, unless determining that is going to unnecessarily and unreasonably disturb the marsh, the marshlands, and then we might have to just make due if we know approximately where it is; but I wouldn't want to make due without knowing exactly what I'm costing in terms of the disturbance of the marsh. So, that's all.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I should be able to have that information for tomorrow's meeting.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I would be happy to answer any other questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Any other questions? I will authorize the staff to begin the public notice and input process.
Committee Item No. 6, Land Acquisition, Stephens County, 640 Acres at the Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, request permission to begin the public notice and input process, Mr. Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. We're real excited about this new state park, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park. At the time we acquired that 3,333 acres last year, there were some available tracts adjacent to the park that we had to leave on the table because, quite frankly, we didn't have the funds to -- we bought all the land, all the land we had funds to acquire.
In the meantime, y'all have authorized the sale, a portion of the Fortress Cliffs Ranch at Palo Duro Canyon; so we now have some land sale proceeds with which we can make some strategic additions to state parks. One of the state parks that we propose to do that is Mother Neff, and you'll see that proposal tomorrow for action. Another one is Palo Pinto Mountains State Park. The Nall Ranch, as you see on this map, it was our next priority for acquisition. We've worked very closely over the last couple of months with the heirs of that ranch. As it turns out, we have two willing sellers out of three at appraised value and we have one sibling that is not a willing seller at appraised value and so we have negotiated an option to buy two-thirds of that ranch in the configuration as you see in this map.
It would give us all of the high ground of some pretty spectacular vistas of the surrounding countryside, as well as a significant portion of North Palo Pinto Creek and a large flat area which, quite frankly, we don't currently have in the state park which we believe would make a very nice day-use area, picnic area. It's got some pretty pecan galleries in that flatland, flat floodplain of that creek. And again, we have negotiated an option to buy this acreage.
We would use the proceeds from the Fortress Cliffs Ranch sale and if you are in agreement, we are requesting permission to begin the public notice and input process for that acquisition. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Any questions or discussion? Being none, I'll authorize the staff to begin the public notice and input process.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Reed, before we -- can I ask a quick question?
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Ted, have we -- I know the third seller or the third owner is unwilling to sell at this time. Have we attempted to get any type of option or RFR from that person?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I am, in fact, working on that even as we speak.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: And actually, that property is on the market. It's posted at -- he's a willing seller. He's just not a willing seller at appraised value. And without wanting to go into much detail, we do have a potential donor who I'm taking out to see the property next Friday who may buy that and donate it. He's just not a willing seller. He just feels like the property ought to be worth a few hundred dollars more per acre than the appraisal says it's worth.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thank you, Commissioner. Any other questions? We'll begin the public notice and input process.
We'll go to Item No. 7, Lease Termination, Jackson County, Lake Texana State Park, request permission to begin the public notice and input process.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. I'm still Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Are you sure?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I am sure. I am sure. I checked before I came this morning because I knew you were going to ask. This is the first reading of an item. As you know under the terms of our Land and Water Plan, staff is directed to evaluate our state park holdings and where it might make sense to transfer a park to another responsible operator, to evaluate that and in some cases bring those to the Commission for consideration.
Lake Texana State Park is in Southeast Texas, Central Southeast Texas, just about 25 miles east of Victoria. It's not really close to anything except Lake Texana. 575 acres, it is healthy bottomland habitat. It's a pretty park. It has a lot of frontage on Lake Texana. Directly across the street, across Highway 111, is a park that's currently operated by the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority. We've been talking to them for several months about taking over operations of Lake Texana State Park.
In order for them to do that, we would simply need to terminate our lease. It's a 50-year lease. We're -- we've got about 15 years to go on that lease. We would simply need to terminate that lease and if we did so, the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority would take over operations of the park. As you can see here, the park attracts 40,000 visitors or so a year. The LNRA tells us that they would operate that as they are operating Brackenridge, the park across the street.
Brackenridge is a little more intensely developed park. We have had one comment already in opposition for fear that they would overdevelop what's now known as Lake Texana State Park. The experience is a little bit more of a -- it's not a wilderness experience, but it's a little more of a private experience at the state park. This is the proposal. Again, it simply would involve our termination of the lease that we hold.
Staff does request permission to begin the public notice and input process for that divestiture. And I would be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: In response to that one opposition letter, I did read that. I'm sure everybody got it. Do we have any provisions or would we want to have any provisions that keeps those people that we're talking about leasing it or giving it over to, to keep them from overdeveloping it? I'm a little familiar with that area down there --
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Sure. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: -- so I'm just curious as to what our mind-set is since it is not nearly as intense on our part as it is on theirs right now.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, the mind-set of staff is that the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority owns this real state and by divesting ourself of our lease in legal terms or -- I'm not an attorney, but we really have no property interest at all remaining. We have not contemplated, as far as I know, trying to tie any strings to that divestiture and I don't believe the staff would recommend that because it would require monitoring and potentially enforcement, which is something we avoid putting ourself in that position in the future where we can.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just curious from that letter.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I have one question, Ted. When you go back to the map, where is the Brackenridge Park? You said --
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: It's due south.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: -- it's adjacent. Is it just south?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Due south. You can see those facilities. They have a conference center, a large parking area. They can accommodate and do accommodate conventions and things like that. They have, again, just more highly developed or more intensely developed facilities than the state park.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: How large is that -- and I'm just asking.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, LNRA owns a large swath all the way around the lake. So I don't know that they actually put a boundary around that park and say the park is -- I don't know if they identify Brackenridge as being a specific number of acres.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Any other questions? If no further discussion, I'll authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process.
At this point, the Conservation Committee would like to recess, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. We'll recess. Thank you, Mr. Morian. Let's recess Conservation and go to Finance. The first order of business is the approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes from the March 28th, 2012, meeting, which have been previously distributed. Do I have a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Commissioner Martin.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Second.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Hixon. All those in favor?
(A chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any opposed? Hearing none, the motion carries.
Committee Item 1, Mike Jensen and Julie Horsley, would you present the financial review? Or Mike, solo.
MR. JENSEN: Good morning, Commissioners. I told Julie she could sit behind if she didn't want to sit up here and she's probably sitting behind to make sure I don't miss something important.
I'm Mike Jensen, Director of Administrative Resources. And today we're going to give you a high level summary of the revenue streams and the important items, strategic items, that we're considering for inclusion in the LAR. The first stream of revenue that we're going to give you a table to look at are the State Park receipts. We're currently 2.1 percent behind where we were this time last fiscal year. We're about 473,000 behind. But if you remember last time we met, at that time we were almost 5 percent behind. So performance is improving and it improved in January, March, and April and we're expecting May to be a very good month. So hopefully at the end of May, end of this month, we'll be in the black again.
And just for a point of reference, the Rider 27 amount for additional certified authority, we would have to at least hit 5.6 percent better than last fiscal year. That's the break-even point. And at that point if we get better than 5.6, that becomes certifiable from the Comptroller for additional authority for Fund 64. So there is a possibility if we have a banner summer that we could actually have something certified from Rider 27. Certainly not the full 3-million dollar amount, but hopefully something that could then be UBed into the next fiscal year for use by the State Parks Division.
You can see that we're doing great on the entrance fees and hopefully as people visit, they will start staying overnight and they'll start using the concessions. Those are some areas for improvement. If you look at the boat revenue, we're currently in the black; 4.9 percent, 511,000 better than this same period last year. And if you look at the bottom, the bottom table kind of shows you count of the registrations that we're at. Most of this is related to registrations. Titles is actually behind, and sales tax is almost even.
We look at the license revenue, back in February we were almost 4 percent behind. So you can see we've made some gains, primarily because of the fishing license sales; but we're probably going to be falling short of meeting what we did last year, primarily because of hunting license sales were so far behind, nonresident license sales we're so far behind. You can see the variances on this table, and we're not going to make up the differences on the hunting licenses at this point in time; but the fishing licenses have been tracking very well. Hopefully, we'll continue to have some more rain. They'll continue to do well throughout the summer.
Summary of budget adjustments at the last Commission meeting, we had an adjusted budget of 414.34 million. We have an additional adjustments of federal grants at 2.37 million and other appropriated receipts and interagency contracts at 1.35 million. We have some Rider for construction in UB of almost half a million and fringe benefits of about 41,000. So our adjusted budget as of April 30th is 418.58 million.
We're currently working on a draft of the five-year rolling strategic plan. The Department calls that the Natural Agenda. It works in concert with the Land and Water Plan, but it's more of a Legislative strategic plan that we have to prepare in advance of preparing the Legislative Appropriation's Request. We have a draft that management is reviewing. The due date back to staff is the 25th of May, and we're supposed to turn that in to Oversight by July 6th. And we're still awaiting instructions for the Legislative Appropriation's Request development, although staff are actively engaged in preparing that.
Some of the funding needs that had you had an opportunity to meet at the Commission retreat, I think Carter was prepared to go over some of these with you. It would be -- if you look at the first bullet, to replace the contingent funding for State Park operations. This relates to what we've talked to in past meetings of the Rider 27, contingent authority for Fund 64. It also relates to Rider 25, the 1.6 million related to donations when people register their vehicles. So that is a funding need because it didn't materialize for Rider 27 and we're anticipating about 500,000 actually coming in from donations through the DMV Rider 25 log in.
The second bullet you see on here is funding for capital budget and vehicles and equipment. Unfortunately during Legislative reductions, the capital authority for not just our agency, but most agencies the first to be attacked. Right now, we're at about 25 percent the authority by any authority that we had compared to last biennium. So this is an area where we need to get some authority restored.
The third bullet you see up here is provides sustainable funding for statewide capital repairs and new development programs. This relates to our need for continued bonds. We're presently in about a 32 million per biennium level. That's probably about the level we need to continue to try to sustain so that we can maintain the infrastructure across the state of our facilities.
MR. SMITH: Mike. Mike, if I could, just if I could clarify. We had a legislatively directed study that we looked at a couple of years ago in which the outside consultants had looked at really the state of our infrastructure across our system. Recommended that really at a bare minimum, we ought to be investing 30- to 35- million dollars a year in terms of addressing capital repair and equipment need or capital repair and construction across the system. So we've been getting about half of what I think the consultants recommended is really necessary just to keep us where we ought to be. So I just wanted to clarify that.
MR. JENSEN: If we come down to the fourth bullet on the slide, you can see it says: Replace contingent funding for Fish and Wildlife functions. Again, this is the Rider 27 Fund 9 piece that we need to seek restoration. There were some changes to the appropriation bill that moved Fund 9 to keep law enforcement whole, which we need that to be restored so that all the other program areas can be restored to a better functioning level.
And the final bullet would be -- on this slide -- is appropriation authority for stamps. Given where we are right now, the estimate for balances by the end of fiscal year 12 is 30.6 million in stamp funds. If things don't change by fiscal year 2015, we would have 57.7 million in fund balances for stamps. So we need some authority, specific legislative authority, to utilize these stamp funds so that we can keep growing the balance -- stop growing the balances.
This is a continuation of a list in funding for local park grants. As y'all recall, that was zeroed out this biennium. We don't have any funding for it. Funding for land acquisition and park facility development, likewise, that was zeroed out. The third bullet on this slide is funding for expanded public access to outdoor recreational opportunities. What this means is most of our recreational programs for the Department did have budget reductions and they need to be restored to the levels prior to the cuts.
The next bullet we have on here is funding for control of invasive, harmful, and aquatic species. As you recall, we had a reduction of 1.5 million dollars for invasive species funding for the biennium. There was also a 50 percent reduction for Golden algae funding. If we can get that restored, that would be -- that's a need. And the final bullet we have on this slide is the purchase of water rights to ensure instream flows and this ties primarily to the Land and Water long-term goal of sustaining habitat.
So when you look at all these funding needs all together, a high level bulleted list for potential exceptional items would be these following bullets: State parks funding to address the Fund 64 issues; capital equipment needs, capital authority, capital construction and repair, which relate to the bond needs that Carter alluded to; Fish and Wildlife funding to restore the contingent funding from Rider 27, to also address the recreational needs; and local park funding, an opportunity to again administer grants to local units of the state for their local parks; and information technology.
And as I said, I was just going to give you a summary. I was hopefully going to keep this brief for you. That's what I have to present today. If you have any questions, I would be happy to try and answer them.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I don't know. This may be a question for you, Carter. I'm just curious on under the funding needs, that last one where you have purchase of water rights to ensure instream flows. What kind of water rights are you referring to?
MR. SMITH: So we're referring to surface water rights that are held by water right's owners who have permits from TCEQ to be able to use water. And so that's a strategy that's been identified for a long time that, you know, if you want to try to secure a certain amount of water for the health of rivers and inflows into the bays and estuaries, maybe there's a means to create a kind of a free market situation in which you have a willing seller of a water right who would prefer to sell that in exchange for money. And then acquire those rights, put them in the State water trust so that they were dedicated for instream flows to help support the health of the rivers and bays and estuaries.
You know, there's already an active water right in terms of people buying and selling water rights. The concept would simply be that if there was a fund available, then to again go purchase water rights from willing sellers.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: You would basically be looking statewide. You would be looking at all the River Authorities, I guess, is that -- or joining River Authorities, I guess?
MR. SMITH: I think this is just a concept that has been brought up many times over the last few years as the State tries very hard to balance the critically important needs for people, municipal, agriculture, industrial, and environmental needs. And that maybe one mechanism that hasn't been explored as fully would be the idea of trying to purchase water rights, again, from willing sellers. Still very much in its formative stages. A number of entities have talked about that, but there just hasn't been a pool of funds to help facilitate that. Does that make sense?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah. I'm kind of familiar just from the LCRA standpoint.
MR. SMITH: Yeah, yeah.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That's why I'm assuming we're referring to all the River Authorities that feed into any of the bay system.
MR. SMITH: Yeah, and I think -- I think realistically we would try to strategically target maybe a couple of basins, in particular, to focus on where there was the highest need.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Right, okay. Thanks.
MR. JENSEN: Could I add two points? We also inserted in your binder, you have a monthly financial report that goes through April. Hopefully, that's there. We also discussed this week with the Division directors and executive office staff the HUB program, so there's a HUB report. Hopefully, it's in your binder. If not, it will be in your binder tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I just wanted to say that looking at the report that was handed out, the trend at the bottom shows that the Agency is making -- has made and continues to make definite improvement in the HUB area and that's good and I'm glad we're going to continue to get these regular reports.
MR. SMITH: Yeah, it's definitely a focus of ours, Chairman. And so all the Division directors have been looking at opportunities to help improve our compliance and so -- in fact, our HUB coordinator, Tammy Dunham, recently attended a summit that Senator West sponsored. It was a great place for us to do more strategic outreach to vendors that might qualify for various and sundry contracts that we -- that are available, and so we're going to continue to push on this.
MR. JENSEN: Carter, can I add --
MR. SMITH: Please.
MR. JENSEN: -- just a little there? That Senator West nabbed Tammy and wants her to be on a committee now.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good, good work. Okay, that concludes the Finance Committee. So let's turn it back over to Chairman Morian to resume Conservation --
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: We'll reconvene the Conservation Committee.
At this time, I would like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Texas Open Meetings Act and seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, deliberation regarding personnel under Section 551.074 of the Open Meetings Act. We will now recess for Executive Session.
(Recess taken for Executive Session)
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: We will now reconvene the regular session of the Conservation Committee on May 23, 2012, at 2:37 p.m.
Regarding Committee Item No. 8, Request for Surface Use Agreement, Dimmit and LaSalle Counties, Oil and Gas Development on the Chaparral Wildlife Management Area, no further action is required at this time.
Committee Item No. 9, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Contested Case Rules, no action is required at this time.
Regarding Item No. 10, Personnel Matters, Selection of New Internal Auditor, this item will be placed on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Mr. Chairman, this Committee has completed it's business.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you. And, Mr. Smith, ladies and gentlemen, this Commission has completed it's business and I declare us adjourned.
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
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