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TPW Commission

Work Session, March 25, 2015

Transcript

TPW Commission Meetings

March 25, 2015
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
COMMISSION HEARING ROOM
4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744
WORK SESSION

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Good morning, everyone. This meeting is called to order March 25th, 2015, at 9:10 a.m. Before proceeding with business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.

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. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right. Next order of business is approval of minutes from the previous Work Session held January 21st, 2015, which have been distributed. Do I have a motion? Commissioner Scott.

COMMISSIONER DE HOYOS: Second.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Second Commissioner De Hoyos. All in favor?

(Chorus of ayes)

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.

Good morning, Commissioner Jones.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Good morning. Do we have a quorum now?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: We have a quorum now.

COMMISSIONER DE HOYOS: You're 15 minutes late.

COMMISSIONER JONES: I said aye.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We heard you.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Let the record reflect I said aye.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right. Before proceeding, I want to announce that Work Session Item No. 18, Oyster Lease Legal Issues, has been withdrawn from the agenda at this time and Work Session Item No. 19, Red Snapper, Discuss Recent Action by the Gulf of Mexico Management Council Relating to the Red Snapper Stock within the EEZ off of Texas, has also been withdrawn from the agenda at this time.

Work Session Item No. 1, Update on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Progress in Implementing the TPWD Land and Water Resource Conservation and Recreation Plan, Mr. Smith, please make your presentation.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Good morning. I'm going to take a few minutes to give an overview of a few things vis-à-vis the Land and Water Plan and items of interest to the Commission, where I hope we'll spend really the most — the majority of our time this morning on this presentation, just relates to an update on what's happening in the Legislature regarding key issues affecting the Department.

Just as a point of departure, as you know is required by law, we are mandated to provide an update on Internal Affairs. Let me just say our investigators continue to do an extraordinary job. They have taken in 25 formal — 26 formal complaints that they have ongoing right now, and we'll make sure that we report out the results of those investigations once they are completed; but rest assured, they continue to do an exemplary job in their purview.

With respect to the Land and Water Plan, we had a pretty extensive discussion about the plan at the last meeting. We provided an update of the updated plan. Again, staff did a great job of updating that five-year plan. As you will recall, there are 30 formal measures that the Commission asked us to report back on. We reported on those measures in January. We will not be having a formal report at this meeting. This slide just simply provides a table that shows when we'll be providing those quarterly updates. The next one that you will see will be in May.

Managed Lands Deer Permit, obviously this Commission knows what a critically important program that is with respect to the work of our Wildlife Division with private landowners around the state. That program has literally grown by leaps and bounds. Enormously popular. The last presentation that we had for the Commission was back in November in which we had a proposed set of changes to the Managed Lands Deer Permit. Since that time, we received a lot of feedback with respect to the proposal that we had put forth.

In response to that feedback, we charged a small group of Parks and Wildlife staff working with representatives from the Private Lands Advisory Committee and the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee to take a hard look at the recommendations that we had brought forward and make any suggestions that they might have on how we might enhance or strengthen that so that we could come back to the Commission in May with a revised proposal that hopefully will have support from all of the important stakeholders that have a real interest in this. And I think everybody is well-aligned around the goals of taking a fresh look at this perspective, given its history and tenure and growth. Also, making sure that we continue to do everything we can to put an emphasis on protecting the resources — namely, the habitat and the deer that we're charged of stewarding — providing the best, high quality service we can to landowner partners; but also freeing up our limited staff capacity to really focus on the highest priority, things that they should be working on, and that is providing technical guidance assistance to landowners that are interested in habitat and wildlife related management.

So we'll be back with a proposal we believe in May for y'all to consider. But we wouldn't look at — if you instructed us to go forward, we wouldn't look at an adoption until August. And, again, this is not something, if adopted by the Commission in August, that would be approved for the upcoming deer season. It would be something that we'd be looking for in '16 and '17. So I want to be clear about that.

Yeah, Commissioner Scott.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: On that issue, I've had a lot of phone calls and people very curious about it. So I would appreciate getting as much advanced knowledge and as much in writing to be reviewing as possible —

MR. SMITH: You bet.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: — because — and I think all the other Commissioners would, too, because it's going to be a well-looked at issue.

MR. SMITH: You bet, yeah. Yeah, and it has been, Commissioner. You're absolutely right. There's some — like I said, I think everybody is well-aligned on the goals. The pathways to get there are the source of a lot of interest, Commissioner, by a lot of different groups and —

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Nature of the beast.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, yeah. So we'll make sure you have ample opportunity to look at it. One thing I might just presage in advance of it, I think that we're hearing a lot of interest from our constituent partners about concerns about the lack of capacity inside our Wildlife Division to really service all of our outreach to private landowners.

You know, that Division has been relatively flat and we've just seen those responsibilities grow and grow and grow. And so one thing that is being batted around by the groups working on this is a potential fee-based program that would help fund — assuming the cash were appropriated and we had FTEs to add some additional capacity to Wildlife Division to help, again, do this important outreach with private landowners. So that's a significant issue and just want to make sure that that kind of gets on your radar screen early.

You know, other issues that have come up and have been the subject of considerable interest, relate to buck harvest in October. So, again, a lot of important issues to talk about and we absolutely will follow up and make sure the Commission is kind of seeing things as it evolves. Is that fair enough?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah, thank you.

MR. SMITH: You bet. Good discussion.

Tomorrow, y'all are going to have a chance to hear Kevin Malonson provide a report on the great partnership with the Boy Scouts and the Explorer Program. And, Commissioner Scott, I think we're hoping that you might provide a quick, little introduction to help kick that off, given your involvement with that project.

But Law Enforcement Team continues to do an excellent job on working to help build the pipeline of future recruits. We've got ten internship positions that are open right now that will soon be filled for the summer months. Want to particularly thank the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo for their funding to support internships inside the Law Enforcement Division, but as well as others inside the Agency as well as the Parks and Wildlife Foundation.

While we're on the subject of law enforcement, I do want to just remind the Commission that the Academy is ongoing. Again, first of its kind with respect to the integration of State Park police cadets and Game Warden cadets; and I believe that is going very well. We'd invite any of the Commissioners to come out to the Academy before it concludes in August to see that for yourself.

Also, just to make sure that you're aware of this, the application process for the next Academy is open now. So we are accepting those applications and — when does it close, Craig?

COLONEL HUNTER: End of April.

MR. SMITH: End of April, okay.

COLONEL HUNTER: We open for 60 days.

MR. SMITH: Okay. All right. So end of April we'll be accepting applications. I think we're getting a bountiful interest as always. So we'll have some great cadets to choose from.

State park public hunting, you know, I wanted a chance just to highlight this. I mean, y'all are aware that your 95 state parks — our 95 state parks provide, you know, an abundance of very diverse recreational opportunities on them. Probably not as well-known that we offer public hunting opportunities on roughly half of the state parks and Brent and his team work very closely with Clayton and his team in Wildlife to help develop biologically based recommendations on hunt opportunities of everything for — to deer to exotics to alligators on certain state parks. And so it's certainly a management process in terms of having to close areas and make sure that the hunters can do it safely and other park users are able to enjoy the parks at other times, but a really important program for our State Parks Team and I appreciate their effort to help promote our public hunting goals.

Obviously, we just concluded last year's hunting cycle. We had 43 parks open, 1500 opportunities. The real success is not in those kind of metrics. It's the qualitative feedback that you get from the 9-year-old kids that go on their first waterfowl hunt up at Lake Arrowhead near Wichita Falls. Fabulous hunt up there that our superintendent has put in place. That little boy said, "I had to shoot a shotgun for the first time. It hurt a little, but I was fine. I can't wait until I go hunting." And so success and, again, a great duck hunt there on Lake Arrowhead and I know our friends at D.U. were happy to hear about the recruitment of a little 9-year-old new duck hunter. So kudos to our State Parks Team in that, and we're excited about that program.

Staff recognition, just want to take a few words because we kind of have a chance to recognize everybody tomorrow like we normally do and so if you'll indulge me, I want to say a few words about some recent recognitions. First, you know the quality of science that comes out of our Inland Fisheries Team and Craig Bonds reminded us that we had three of our biologists that were recently awarded the best scientific paper at the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society Meeting and it's the John Dequine Best Paper Award. Mr. Dequine — I'm not sure I'm pronouncing that right. I don't know where Craig is.

MR. BONDS: Dequine.

MR. SMITH: Dequine. He was a founder of that organization, as I understand that.

MR. BONDS: He was the original president.

MR. SMITH: Original president. So our colleagues here — Greg Binion and Dan Daugherty and Kristopher Bodine — they engaged in a fabulous research project looking at population dynamics of Alligator Gar there at Choke Canyon and put together an exemplary paper and were awarded this. So we're proud of those Inland Fisheries biologists. Another testament to the great science going on in that Division.

Also, consistent with the conversation we had in August with the Commission about making sure that we're maximizing professional development opportunities for our colleagues, we had five superintendents that participated in the National Association of State Park Division Leadership Program. This is a very prestigious program across the country where park superintendents go through a two-year program with their colleagues across the country just to help give them the best possible tools to make sure that they are leading and stewarding state parks as well as they can.

And we had five participants in that — Shannon Blalock, Barrett Durst, Derin DePalermo, Kelley Morris, and Ben Herman — and proud to say that no surprise to this Commission, but a Texan — Shannon Blalock — was named valedictorian of the class. So kudos to Shannon.

I'll keep up the adulation here for Shannon. You know, she manages Palo Duro Canyon. One of our most iconic parks. Before that, she was at Dinosaur Valley, another well-known state park. Shannon was just recognized by the Amarillo Women's Business Association, what they call the Women's Network up there, for the Career Achievement Award. And they recognized Shannon for her leadership and just what an incredible role model that she is for women in leadership positions. And if you'll indulge me, I want to read what they said about Shannon because it's very complimentary.

What they said in giving her this award: She has a great vision for the park and feels a great responsibility to keep the park alive with tourism and outdoor activities for years to come. Shannon will be a wonderful role model for young women who are interested in a career with Parks and Wildlife. She demonstrates achievement in a career field with more and more opportunities for women. She's also a great ambassador, and we're lucky to have her taking care of our precious Palo Duro Canyon.

So pretty high praise for Shannon and as a steward of that park, she's got a big weight on her shoulders and we're proud of the work that she's doing up there. So kudos to all the team for that recognition.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Does Shannon have any suggestions on how to keep horses from pitching off riders in Palo Duro Canyon?

MR. SMITH: Do you want to name any names?

COMMISSIONER JONES: We'll give her an extra reward if she can come up with a way to keep riders on their horses during a ride in the Palo Duro Canyon. Not mentioning any names.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, duly noted. Duly noted.

COMMISSIONER DE HOYOS: It wasn't me this time.

MR. SMITH: It wasn't me this time. The quick denial. I like it. All right. Thanks, Commissioner.

Let me jump into a Legislative update, and we'll start off with kind of where we stand on the appropriations process. And I guess first thing, let me just ask you to ignore the text on this first slide because the appropriations process is ever evolving and the numbers here reflect what was in the introduced versions in the House Appropriation Bill and the Senate Finance Bill and so that has changed markedly. So let's ignore the numbers, I guess, is what I'm suggesting.

Things have been moving fast and furiously down there. The House Budget Bill was voted out of House Appropriations Committee yesterday. It's gone to calendars, and we understand it will be taken up by the full House on Tuesday. And so while we've seen the bill itself, we haven't been given access yet — just because it's not ready — to all of the relevant details inside the House Bill. But as soon as we have that, you know, we'll make sure that we provide that to the Commission so you know where we stand budgetary in the House and what is likely to go forward into Conference Committee and particularly how it relates to our specific exceptional items and what was proposed to be funded, what was not, and what was put on the Article 11 maybe list. So we'll provide an update on that as soon as we have it.

On the Senate side, they are wrapping up their work in their budget workgroups. I think the Commission knows that Robert Nichols out of Jacksonville is chairing our budget workgroup. It's our understanding that those recommendations will be presented to the full Senate Finance Committee in total tomorrow and, I guess, look at being voted out tomorrow, the whole bill. I'm looking at Mike and Dawn. Yeah, okay.

So we know what some of those recommendations are as they've been kind of taking them up in pieces; but, again, we don't have the full package yet. Once we do, we'll certainly let everybody know that. I want to compliment all of our team that are working over at the Legislature. It's been a daily grind, but it's been working diligently with the members and their staff on helping to articulate the important needs here. So we'll keep you posted on that.

So, Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just out of curiosity, after the meetings that we had Monday — what, a week ago I guess — where do we stand in the this budget cycle on the Battleship Texas? Are both sides looking at separating it out from our normal business?

MR. SMITH: You know, that's a great question, Commissioner. I think that — well, I think — what we're hearing from both sides is a real interest and an understanding that funding needs to be provided to address the structural integrity of the ship. I think everybody understands the scope and gravity of the problem. I think they also understand the consequences of not doing it.

How that is proposed to be funded, with what kind of method of finance, where would the money come from, and how it would be treated in our bill pattern, we may have — and I think we'll see it looked at differently between the House and Senate. And so I guess what I would say, Commissioner, I think this is going to be one of those important items in Conference Committee that's going to get worked out there. Yeah, good question.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Obviously, if we need to go back, I know everybody would be more than willing to —

MR. SMITH: You bet.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: — try to fix — try to fix that issue for sure.

MR. SMITH: You bet, yeah. Yes, sir. Yeah, yeah. And I think what we'll see is there's a lot of items that, I think, are going to be delegated to Conference Committee not surprisingly to be worked out and I think the Battleship will be one of those to figure out exactly how they want to proceed on that front. Yeah, good question.

Anything else on the appropriation stuff before I move into kind of the statutory —

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Carter, let me ask a question. We know that our Game Wardens, they spend a lot of time down on the border, Operation Strong Safety, too. Has there been any appropriation bill to — for us to recoup the expenses we had last year? As you and I know, we talked to the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor. Has that happened yet?

MR. SMITH: Yeah, great question, Chairman. And you're right. We've had extensive discussions with the leadership and members about that. You know, just as a reminder, you know, we've incurred about $416,000 a month in expenses to help support that.

You know, what we have been told is that the reimbursement for all or some period of the timeframe starting in June 1st when the operation started up through the end of November, which is the period in which we have not had funding for, would be covered in the supplemental budget.

You know, what I can tell you at this juncture is that reimbursement funding for the border security costs incurred by Parks and Wildlife and other agencies are not included in the proposed supplemental bill in the House and we're not sure exactly why that is; but we're trying to get to the bottom of that. We have been told that it will be addressed in the Senate. But, obviously, this is of great importance to us. You know, there's about $2.2 million or so, maybe a little more, that we incurred during that timeframe and our team was really compelled to then go out and seek grants or re-purpose grants or use other funds for other purposes to help cover those costs. So making sure that we get some kind of reimbursement is a very, very high priority for us.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Well, please keep us informed because as you know, we've been told directly from the guys at the top that we are going to get reimbursed and it's pretty important. I mean, it goes right to the bottom line of our Law Enforcement budget and getting those guys out where we need them, so.

MR. SMITH: Chairman, I think that's a great point and you hit the nail on the head with it going to the bottom line because, you know, what's going to happen is pretty soon we'll get into water safety season and that becomes a big expense for the Law Enforcement Team and making sure that we've got requisite funding to deal with fuel budgets when we need our wardens out on the lakes and rivers and bays keeping folks safe is essential.

Also, as we start to move into the summer and we get into hurricane season, making sure that we've got some modicum of reserve funding to help cover, you know, emergency related response is importance. So the "bottom line" analogy is an appropriate one. So, yeah, thank you. We'll keep you posted on that.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Thank you, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Okay. I'm going to move forward into a discussion on some of the statutory related impacts. I guess — and I see Commissioner De Hoyos looking at it. We had passed out a — oh, a two-pager, a little table with various bills. I want to make sure everybody has got a copy of that so that you can kind of follow along or take that home to look at.

I guess the first words I'd say is, you know, we're tracking literally hundreds of bills that have some impact on the Agency and so you can imagine the scope of that job. Harold and Lacie are doing yeoman's work down at the Capitol each and every day. So the Intergovernmental Affairs Team is really firing on all cylinders, getting a lot of support from the Divisions. I want to acknowledge that. So please know you're very well-represented by the staff.

We picked a number of bills that we thought we would just highlight for the Commission. Again, because I think they've got important implications in a number of ways. These first four bills are ones that we had brought to your attention early on. The Intellectual Property Bill sponsored by Chairman Perry in the Senate. You know, this gets at intellectual property issue associated with the development of the toxicant to help control feral hogs and making sure that we're able to strengthen our authority to patent and commercialize that intellectual property. Chairman Perry has carried that, and that was voted out of his committee earlier this week. So we're pleased that that's moving.

The Agency Volunteer Liability Bill, again, another one we've talked a lot about. As you will recall, that would extend that liability protection to our volunteers who are driving State-owned motor vehicles and you know how important those volunteers are and so where we could provide some additional liability protection for them, that will help us a lot from a volunteer workforce perspective. The good news on that, that is already passed out of the Senate thanks to Senator Uresti's leadership. And in the House, Chairman Guillen has that and voted out of his committee and that's gone to calendar. So, you know, all appendages crossed; but it looks like that one is moving forward.

Constitutional Dedication of the State Park Funding, this has been a high, high priority for the Commission. Obviously, the hope here is that the Legislature would pass a bill sponsored by Chairman Guillen and Senator Uresti that would take to the voters a proposed constitutional amendment to dedicate those funds collected from that part of the sales tax known as the sporting goods sales tax to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission. A hearing on this bill was heard in the House Ways and Means yesterday in Chairman Bonnen's committee. A lot of rich discussion about this and the recognition of the needs inside state parks. A lot of questions about deferred maintenance. Jessica and her team have provided updated figures to the Legislature through a number of presentations about just the — how extensive that is across the Agency and particularly state parks. And so we will keep you posted as this one moves forward.

The last one — and by the way, that got pended in committee. So there will be further discussion in the House. It hasn't been scheduled for a hearing in Senate Finance. Senate Finance, obviously, has been singularly focused on the budget right now, not on the bills.

Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish, sponsored by Representative Ashby and Senator Creighton, this, too, would take a proposed constitutional amendment to the voters asking them to ratify the rights of Texans to hunt and fish, you know, subject to a number of qualifiers. In fact, the language — and I'll read it for your as proposed: The people have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to laws or regulations to conserve and manage wildlife and preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Hunting and fishing are preferred means — or methods of managing and controlling wildlife. This section does not affect any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, or eminent domain.

A lot of discussion on this bill among sportsmen's groups, as you might imagine. And also a lot of discussion about if this were to pass the Legislature — which it certainly looks at this time like it is going forward given that it's passed out of Senate Committee and in on the Senate intent calendars and will go to the Senate for a full vote, discussion this week, and the House Culture, Recreation, and Tourism. It's pended, but we expect it to come back up next week. If this goes to the voters, obviously, want to make sure that there is a well-orchestrated campaign that ensure that sportsmen and others get out and support this amendment. That's going to be critical.

What we don't want to see happen is a failure of something like this, which transpired in Arizona a number of years ago. So well-orchestrated campaign going to be very important to that one going forward.

Moving forward, a couple of other bills of interest that we'll highlight related to funding and administration. The first one I'll talk about, HB 82 and SB 248. Basically, these bills would propose to amend the Tax Code to take away the qualifier "subject to appropriation" the sporting goods sales tax. And so this would essentially then require the Legislature to appropriate the funding provided through the sporting goods portion of the sales tax. Chairman Guillen — and also provided a committee substitute that would restrict the use of that funding for the acquisition, operations, development, and maintenance of parks.

So that would be an effort to make sure that, again, the funding would go to state and local parks as determined by the Legislature. But this is, obviously, another very important bill as we're looking at park related funding across state and local parks.

HB 300 and SB 1366, also relating to sporting good portion of sales tax and this gets a little complicated and so Mike or Dawn can jump in if they feel I've misstated something. But going back to HB 12 in 2007, which purported to dedicate the 94 percent of the sporting goods sales tax to Parks and Wildlife and 6 percent to the Historical Commission, also within our code they created subaccounts, dedicated subaccounts in which sporting goods sales tax could be allocated. And there were formulas assigned to each of those four dedicated subaccounts and it was contemplated that 74 percent of the sporting goods sales tax would go to State Park Operations Fund 64; 1 percent of the funding would go to the State Park Capital Account; 15 percent would go to the Texas Recreation and Parks Account, which is, again, part of that Local Park Grant Program; and then 10 percent would go to the Grant Program for large counties and municipalities.

We've never seen that formula really applied because the sporting goods portion of the sales tax has never been appropriated in full in the past. And just, again, to put that in perspective, the Comptroller estimates this year it's generating about 135 million a year, growing at about a 3.8 percent clip a year; but we've never seen that formula come into place.

As the House and Senate begin working on trying to appropriate all of the sporting goods portion of the sales tax, that formula kicked in and as they were looking at various priorities among state and local parks, there was a feeling of some Legislators that they weren't able to prioritize necessarily where they wanted to appropriate funds. And so I'll give you an example. As you will recall in statute, 1 percent of the sporting goods sales tax would go to the Capital Account. You know, we have $587 million of deferred maintenance across the State Park System and if you apply that formula, only 2.6 to 2.7 million dollars over the biennium would go to address that problem. Obviously, that creates some concern.

So our goal in working with the Legislature on this is to try to realize both full funding historically for the Local Park Grant Program, but also that we get sufficient funding for the operations and the capital repair program inside state parks to take care of these critical needs. And so that's where we are from a strategic perspective. How we get there with these various bills, again, remains to be seen. So a fair amount of complexity on that front; but we'll keep you posted.

Mike and Dawn, are y'all okay with that explanation? Okay.

Moving on into some more resource related bills that we'll highlight. HB 1189, this is working to build on the successful license buy-back program that our Coastal Fisheries Team has managed vis-à-vis purchase of shrimp license and crab licenses. This would propose to add oyster licenses to that program. This is something there was an interim charge on last session.

The oyster industry as a whole is very supportive of this bill. It would give the Commission, as I understand it, the authority to modify the commercial oyster license fee to help create funding, then to create a buy-back program. And I think there's strong support from the oyster industry on that. Robin? Where's Robin? Good with that? Yeah.

Next bill has generated a lot of interest. HB 3335 by Chairman Deshotel, this is sometimes referred to as the STORM Bill and I think we've provided updates to all of the — all the Commission on this issue. A bill was filed by Chairman Deshotel on the next-to-the-last day of the session related to commercial oyster management and this bill, in short — and I'll be in short — would do a couple of things. One, it would seek to validate a lease that was entered into by STORM, Sustainable Texas Oyster Texas Resource Management and the Chambers-Liberty Navigation District relating to roughly 23, 24,000 acres of bay bottom that had been patented to the Navigation District from the GLO and give STORM the exclusive authority over the planning and production and development of oysters within that area covered by the lease. Then it would also give authority to Navigation Districts and other municipalities that had similar submerged lands to enter into leases for the planting and development and harvesting of oysters on that bay bottom. And so very significant issue. We've had a lot of discussion. A lot of interested parties in this one, and we've tried to keep the Commissioners informed of this as it goes forward and trying to find some kind of a solution here in which all of the interested parties in this debate could come out of.

One of the things I guess I will take this as an opportunity to point out is, you know, this may be an opportunity for the Commission to look at in the future some kind of a mariculture program in which the Commission and the Department partners with commercial interests through a new regulatory framework that is fair and equitable, science based; but really incentivizes commercial interests to engage in helping on restoring oyster reefs, which are critically important inside the bays. But provide some incentives for them to do that through some kind of a reasonable harvest related scheme. And so I think we'll see some movement in that direction however this bill or others end up going.

Next bill, point out 1979 by Phelan, Representative Phelan. This is a proposed bag limit change. It would reduce the size limit for youth participants in high school or collegiate fishing tournaments in water bodies in the counties that are outlined below.

Craig, as I understand that, it would, I guess, reduce the size limit by two inches; is that correct?

MR. BONDS: That's correct.

MR. SMITH: So, you know, that's obviously something that's already in the Commission purview; but we'll keep you posted on that.

HB 215 by Representative Harless is a proposed waiver of fishing license fees for state residents that are 65 years of age or older. We see a lot of very well-intentioned bills like this during the session that propose to help grant waivers or discounts to certain demographic groups with respect to eliminating fees or discounting fees. You know, the important thing to note for the Commission is that there's a fiscal impact to those fees given that a large bit of the funding to support the Agency comes through the fees collected off licenses. And so oftentimes, that creates some real issues for us from a financial perspective and this would be a fairly significant one if it were to go forward.

A couple of things that you can always count on during the Legislature, there will be a start and there will be an end and there will be budget and there will be deer bills and this session is no different and so there have been a few bills filed relating to deer. One would purport to create kind of a deer management study commission with various appointees to look at a wide variety of issues — everything from Id'ing breeder deer to timing of releases to the MLD Program with Mule deer and then a couple of other bills that relate to the identification of breeder deer and the timing in which breeder deer must be released. So I wanted to make sure that you were apprised of those.

Next set of bills, there's a couple ones here that I want to spend a minute or two talking about. The first one is by — House Bill 801 — Representative King from Canadian, representing the liability in prescribed fires. And I think some context is in order to understand this one because there's some pretty important policy related implications here.

The Commission knows full well how critically important it is for our Wildlife Division and State Park Division to be able to use prescribed fire to manage habitat on wildlife management areas and parks. Increasingly, what we are seeing is burning that we need to do in areas that are getting, you know, more and more urbanized. And so, you know, we're seeing development in and around these wildlife management areas and state parks and so it's critical that we do these burns, obviously, as safely and responsibly as we can. So we spent a lot of time elevating the training for our staff. We adhere to the highest level of standards, call the National Wildfire Coordinating Groups; and so extensive training.

So we want the public and we want the communities and we want neighboring landowners in which we burn to have confidence in the Department that we're going to do that safely and that we're going to be able to keep those burns on Department property. We have had a couple of instances in which prescribed fires have got off of Department property. Obviously, that was a huge concern to our staff. We had one up in 2008, I believe, up near Canadian in the Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area in which a fair amount of exterior fence, anterior cross fence, and pasture was burned when a fire got out inadvertently.

You know, the State has sovereign immunity and so there's no recourse then for a neighbor if a fire were to get out from a Parks and Wildlife burn then to seek some kind of recourse. Now, in that instance, we actually did go to the Parks and Wildlife Foundation and sought successfully a grant to help cover some of the expenses that the neighbor incurred by that; but that's not a sustainable solution, obviously, to go to the Parks and Wildlife Foundation for that kind of a reprieve.

What this bill would do would be a couple of things. One, it would actually waive sovereign immunity for the Department when engaging in prescribed fires. It would require the Department to purchase insurance that then we could use should a fire to get out, which obviously none of us want to happen, so that we would have some insurance to be able to cover any kind of damages. It would require the Commission to approve an overarching prescribed fire plan that would serve as the template for all the site specific burn plans that we have for every unit that we burn on a WMA and a state park. Also, require that overarching template to be approved by the State Burn Board, as well as some notices in advance to the community where the burns were going to happen and the Texas Commission on Environmental Equality.

So this is a really important burn — or a bill. We would like to have some recourse and insurance. You know, as we go forward, I think it's going to be harder for us to burn in the state, not easier. Again, just because of urban encroachment, suburban encroachment. And making sure that we give our team all the tools they can to safely and successfully burn and have the confidence in the neighbors and communities in which we're burning is really important.

So we're working closely with the author on this to try to make sure it goes forward in a way that can work well.

Yeah, Commissioner.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Can you quantify the issue?

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER LEE: I mean, in the last ten years, what kind of damages would we have sustained under this bill? Do you have any idea of the context?

MR. SMITH: Yeah, good question. I have to maybe — Ann —

COMMISSIONER LEE: Not absolute numbers.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. No, but just — you know, so we burn several thousand acres a year. Yeah. I'm not aware of any escaped fire since 2008 and so that was the last one that I'm aware of in which we had an issue and we haven't had any expenses associated with purchasing insurance. What we have learned is we think we can do that pretty reasonably. So we see this as a safeguard.

Ann or Clayton or Brent, do you want to add anything to that?

Is that enough, Commissioner? Okay.

COMMISSIONER LEE: It hasn't happened.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, yeah. That's a — you're right. Yeah, that's a better answer.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Ann, is it possible to purchase insurance without waiving sovereign immunity?

COMMISSIONER LEE: That's the question.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Good question.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Exactly.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Magic question.

MS. BRIGHT: For the record, I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. Well, the idea behind liability insurance is to cover liability. So if there's no liability, then there's really nothing to cover and so that's always kind of been our quandary, which is, you know, I don't know if an insurance company would sell us a policy; but it would probably be very cheap because there's nothing to cover if there's no liability. Does that make sense?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yes. Except that — so I guess on — I don't want to get into too in-depth legal argument, although it's hard not to when you're talking about this; but I suppose we have to have Legislative authority to waive sovereign immunity. We can't just do it on our own.

MS. BRIGHT: We — that's true.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So does the bill give us the right to waive sovereign immunity; or does the bill, in fact, waive the sovereign immunity?

MS. BRIGHT: It, in fact, waives sovereign immunity.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Is there a distinction between giving us the right to waive it and actually waiving it?

MS. BRIGHT: I mean, I suppose that the Legislature — I mean, that's going to be a — that's a very good legal question as to whether or not the Legislature can delegate the authority to waive sovereign immunity. There have been some cases that talk about waiving sovereign immunity by conduct, you know, when you're — but usually you're talking about things like contracts.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Right.

MS. BRIGHT: In terms of liability, I suspect that — I just don't know. I mean, I just don't know if they could actually delegate that to the Department. One other thing I can mention about this bill as well is that there's a pending House, I guess, amendment that would make sure to limit the Department's liability to the amount of the insurance.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Got it.

MS. BRIGHT: So there would be no liability on the Department over and above what is insured.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. And does it waive the sovereign immunity as to tort and property damage — I mean, tort and contract?

MS. BRIGHT: Personal injury?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah, personal injury.

MS. BRIGHT: Personal injury and property damage and that's the — really where the gap is right now is really property damage because, I mean, the tort claims, as you'll recall, the sovereign immunity is waived for personal injury involving the use of tangible personal property and so that — right now, we could probably pay for personal injury; but hopefully we never have that. Usually the damage is property damage and property damage is only covered if it involves a motor driven vehicle or motor operated equipment.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

MS. BRIGHT: Does that help?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Is this the first time this — I'm not aware of anybody else that's ever done this.

MS. BRIGHT: I'm not either. I mean, you know what? That's a really good question and one of the things I can do is reach out to some of my colleagues in other states and see if they've had these kinds of issues.

COMMISSIONER JONES: No, no. I'm talking about in Texas. I mean —

COMMISSIONER LEE: Other agencies.

COMMISSIONER JONES: — other agencies in Texas.

MS. BRIGHT: I'm thinking. I don't know. I mean, I can —

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah, I don't think they have.

MS. BRIGHT: I've — yeah, I'm not — I don't recall anything else like this, but I need to — I can go back and look.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. Well, I'm — it's not that important except that I — I'm all in favor of the concept and we've just got to be careful about how we wade into and that's — I guess that's —

MS. BRIGHT: The language, the waiver of sovereign immunity language, it tracks almost verbatim the language in the Tort Claims Act.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

MS. BRIGHT: In that except for damage to utilities, that would almost be a strict liability standard.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So we at least have some precedent for —

MS. BRIGHT: There would be some --

COMMISSIONER JONES: — interpreting what we're doing?

MS. BRIGHT: I think we'd — I mean, I think — I suspect what a court would do is look to the cases under the Tort Claims Act.

COMMISSIONER LEE: It seems to me that the issue becomes if you have a waiver of sovereign immunity for this limited purpose and then you have an insurance contract covering what was that limited purpose that was expected that was implied by it, then you've got the issue of the administration in between with the Department and these different steps of the Board and the Fire Board, this Commission and the Fire Board then have to maintain. And it would be a real need on this Department to be very careful that we don't create a gap where we've accepted, you know, a waiver of sovereign immunity and somehow were violative of the insurance contract and terms and that becomes very important.

MS. BRIGHT: That is very, very important.

COMMISSIONER LEE: And, Carter, if you had this tool — which it sounds likes you're supportive of — what would it allow you to do today that you — or tomorrow — that can't do today.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. Great, great, great question. And I say the "supportive" is within qualifiers. I think what —

COMMISSIONER LEE: It's happening around you.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. Well, it is and it's — and I think Commissioner Jones hit the nail on the head. The concept is important because I think it gives us one other tool that we don't have now to be able to go to neighbors and the communities in which we're burning to say we will have insurance to cover damages in the highly unlikely event that a fire would escape from one of our prescribed fires and we don't have that now. And so — and so, you know, we are getting concerned and push-back by some neighbors in places about the sovereign immunity question and the fact that the Department is immune from any kind of liability, unlike what they would be saddled with were they to burn and have a fire get out.

So I think how to answer that question is it would be one other tool to provide more assurances to neighbors and communities in which we're burning that, again, in the unlikely event that a fire were to escape, that there's some recourse.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Let's be careful.

MR. SMITH: Well, you know, again --

COMMISSIONER JONES: You don't want to get burned.

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER LEE: But, you know, think about it. Okay. So let's say we've got a waiver of sovereign immunity. That's a big step. And at the same time, we've got insurance placed in there. We're all tight on numbers and let's say the number is $20 million of coverage, 50 million, who knows.

MS. BRIGHT: There's a limit. The limit — there's a statutory limit on the amount of coverage that we're going to be required to get, which is I think it's a million per incident and I think it may be 3 million per year.

COMMISSIONER LEE: And did you say earlier that the waiver only applied up to the cap?

MS. BRIGHT: The damages --

COMMISSIONER LEE: The damages of the waiver.

MS. BRIGHT: — only apply up to the cap of the insurance.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Well, the concern is a breakaway fire. You know, something that you can't contain that's not a million dollars of damage, it's —

MS. BRIGHT: Absolutely. There is going to be a limit.

COMMISSIONER LEE: — something much beyond.

MS. BRIGHT: In some ways just to — you know, as a point of clarification, we deal with that already in some instances because under the Tort Claims Act there's a limit of — for example, for personal injury or death of $250,000 per person, 500,000 per incident. So we already are dealing with — had to deal with caps and if there was something big, you know, the various parties would — well, what we've done in the past is ask them to — we'll pay the max. You tell us how you want to split it up, if we have to.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Right, right.

MS. BRIGHT: But you do make an excellent point about how we're going to have to make sure that the insurance contract is coordinated with the liability, and we have to go through the State Office of Risk Management to purchase that insurance. So we've been in discussions with them already about possibilities.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Is the AG's Office eyeballing this legislation as well?

MS. BRIGHT: They are and I had a discussion with the people in the Tort Litigation Division that handle most of our claims and we've — the House language includes one provision that they had mentioned to — I think to try to protect our employees, so.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just as a point of reference, thinking we've kind of ascertained that the big Bastrop fire was, to some extent, so bad because there was so much underbrush that hadn't been burned. Just looking, that's probably the most catastrophic that I can think of in 50 years, you know. How would that have applied if we had what — if we gave this up and we had this insurance, how in the world would that have played in if we were doing controlled burns during that — and it got away like that one did, how would that be covered?

MS. BRIGHT: It would only be covered up to the maximum of the insurance, if it had been the Department — if the Department had been found to the negligent, basically.

MR. SMITH: But I want to be real clear. The Bastrop fire was not started by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Texas Parks and Wildlife had nothing to do with that fire.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: True. And that's a very relevant point, I agree.

COMMISSIONER JONES: On the record.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I was trying to land a plane not far from there and couldn't hardly get in.

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: No, that's — not that it's relevant, but I'm just sitting here —

COMMISSIONER JONES: It does raise an interesting point though. The interesting point being what about the reverse? In other words, you didn't do prescribed burns and thus created a tinderbox of fire, since once the fire started — which we didn't start — it spread around and so here, we're going to hold you guys liable for the damage of —

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Failure to burn.

COMMISSIONER JONES: — the failure to burn.

MS. BRIGHT: I think we would be immune.

COMMISSIONER JONES: We would be immune still.

MS. BRIGHT: I think we'd probably be immune.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah, because the immunity is if we do an act that gets out of hand, rather than if we fail to do an act. Okay. All right.

COMMISSIONER LEE: The issue on this won't be the administration of it one year out, three years out, five years out. It will be 20 years from now there will be a new Commission here and the possibility of a gap where you've waived immunity and somebody smart will pick up on this and we just need safeguards internally at the Department to make sure that gap doesn't immerge down the line. We're all thinking about it today.

MR. SMITH: That's a great point.

MS. BRIGHT: And I think the — it is an excellent, excellent point. And the way that it's — the way that, again, the House committee language — or the House proposed language is structured, it — just by the way it's referenced, I would think that if for some reason the Department did not have the insurance, the liability would still be capped in the amounts of the required insurance. Does that make any sense?

COMMISSIONER LEE: Right. Unless you have the cap and then the insurance contract —

COMMISSIONER JONES: Doesn't cover it.

COMMISSIONER LEE: — is not covered and you've assumed the liability.

MS. BRIGHT: Right. Exactly, but the liability would still be capped; but we would, of course, want to get the insurance.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Well, I wonder if it's meaningful for your purposes, Carter, I would have thought a million seems very low and maybe it gets you over the negotiating hump that you need to have more support for some of these controlled burns and maybe that level makes sense. I don't have a way of quantifying it.

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Just I'm concerned about the recourse liability of back to — waiving sovereign immunity is a big step.

MR. SMITH: Oh, it's huge. It's huge.

MS. BRIGHT: It is a very big step.

MR. SMITH: And clearly you know we did not initiate that discussion. I mean that's —

COMMISSIONER LEE: It's happening around you.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, yeah.

MS. BRIGHT: One of the things I could point out about the caps is that, as you probably know, there is already a mechanism set up for private individuals to manage prescribed fire through this burn-born process and they're required to have insurance and the insurance amounts in this statute or in this proposed bill are the same as those for folks in the private sector who are doing this, just as a point of clarification.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It also — how do you quantify that for budgetary purposes? I mean, you know, it just says we're going to get insurance. How do we — how do you plan for a budget item —

MR. SMITH: Sure.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: — you know, for --

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: — how do you do that?

MR. SMITH: Well, and that's why we'd pay the premium and our Wildlife Division would have an annual projection on here's what we're looking at burning and so here's the number of burns that we're planning on the number of acres and then making sure that we've got insurance coverage for each one of those.

COMMISSIONER LEE: You haven't had one since '08 or —

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER LEE: — even before. The magnitude doesn't seem — it's insignificant, right?

MR. SMITH: It's — yeah. What would — the premiums that y'all were looking at, they were — they were pretty nominal.

MS. BRIGHT: 30,000. We've had some discussions with the State Office of Risk Management and then we've been contacted by other folks and I know Clayton had a discussion with an agent and then there was another one that contacted us, so.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: All it takes is one, and then where does it go?

COMMISSIONER LEE: You get a gap.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We all know what happens when you get one wreck, you know. So, anyway.

MR. SMITH: Well, great feedback and this is — I'm really glad we had this discussion and I love this point about very strong safeguards to make sure that there's no lapse in coverage so that, you know, if this bill were to go forward and were it to be passed by the Legislature, given the gravity of it and the precedence of it and the potential exposure, that we've got clear safeguards in place that we can report back to the Commission, you know, on an annual basis I think, if not more frequency. But I think probably an annual basis would suffice just to make sure, what you said, future Commissions, future staff are talking about this regularly, so.

COMMISSIONER LEE: You — and I'm sorry to go back to this.

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER LEE: But you can see it happening now, what constitutes a controlled fire. It will be up to the plaintiff's attorney to decide that when he brings the challenge and we'll be endlessly defending these every time there's a brush fire somewhere, Texas Parks and Wildlife caused it. What — I mean, it's — definitely, how do you trigger the insurance —

MR. SMITH: Sure.

COMMISSIONER LEE: — safeguards and steps you put in place.

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER LEE: But when it's challenged, it'll — you'll get challenges on this quarterly, I would think.

MR. SMITH: Well, no. I'm not sure. I don't think we'll see that, but —

COMMISSIONER LEE: Try waiving sovereign immunity and see what happens.

MR. SMITH: Well, I'm — listen, you're not — you're not looking at an advocate of that here.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Right.

MR. SMITH: I mean, I get the precedent of that is huge. One thing I do think that would behoove us is to talk about the steps and precautions and training that our staff put in place before they light a group torch and do prescribed fire. There is a huge amount of advanced preparation and training and making sure that it is carried out under the safest possible parameters.

COMMISSIONER LEE: It's a defined term.

MR. SMITH: You bet. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Good discussion, though. This is good. Good feedback, obviously. So I thank y'all for that. Look forward to more of this as we go forward and we also see what happens on this front. That bill just sort of closed the gap on it —

COMMISSIONER LEE: It may not pass.

MR. SMITH: It may not, yeah. I mean, it was voted out of committee. We understand there are some amendments that have been proposed that the author has proposed for the bill that they take up on the House floor and so then it would — obviously, if it passes the full House — need to be picked up by a Senate sponsor. So we'll keep you apprised as this goes forward.

Next one I'll mention is HB 1925 and SB 1597, regarding the Farm and Ranch Protection Program. This is an existing — basically, it's a purchase of development rights, a purchase of conservation easement program that exists right now at the General Land Office. It was established back in 2007. The goal of that program was to have a — have resources to be able to purchase conservation easements from farmers and ranchers to protect high quality agricultural lands, wildlife habitat, open space, water quality related lands.

That program, you know, has been operated under the General Land Office. Commissioner Bush, as he has come into office there, has indicated that this program is not a priority for his administration and so the parts of the ag. community and the land trust community have worked with several sponsors about proposing to transfer that program to Parks and Wildlife Department. You know, I think a recognition that we've got a strong land conservation program here, a lot of experience on the Commission and staff with respect to, you know, farming and ranching and agricultural lands and also a private lands advisory committee. So I wanted to make you aware of this possible program transfer.

Last two bills real quickly, HB 1919 from Chairman Phillips. This bill is undergoing further language review, I guess would be the way to couch that. It was presented in committee yesterday. It would seek to exempt municipalities and certain water utilities from the Department's invasive and exotic species related regulations and so we're still trying to get a good handle on intent here. Just — and, obviously, a lot of concern from this Commission and the Legislature about the spread of invasive and exotic species and the costs on that.

Similarly, folks are appropriately thinking about how do we get water to where we need it and so this bill, we're having a lot of conversations about, again, trying to best understand the intent, so maybe that language can be crafted to help best address that. So we'll keep you posted on that.

The last — go ahead.

COMMISSIONER JONES: And I know — I know I'm turning around and preaching to the choir. But why would we want to exempt municipalities from invasive species issues that we fight?

COMMISSIONER DE HOYOS: What's the logic behind it, I guess?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. And I think we're still trying to understand that, Commissioner. We're having dialogue with the bill sponsor and also a number of the river authorities that are interested in this and understanding are they talking about kind of a limited circumstance in which they are, say, moving water through a pipeline to a water treatment plant like they did up at Lake Texoma to address the Zebra mussel problem or is it looking for an exemption for this when they're moving, you know, water — raw water from one part of a basin to another or across basins? There's some question about that intent.

Ann, do you want to add any thoughts on that?

MS. BRIGHT: It's our understanding that the North Texas Municipal Water District is sort of the — helped get this to Chairman Phillips. And I've just had — you know, we're going to try to talk later today in terms of the intent. Last session, there was a bill that was passed that added a provision that exempted certain water transfers to, for example, a water treatment facility to be treated and then transferred, which I think our biologists are comfortable with that, you know, once you move that into the new water body, it's not going to have Zebra mussel veligers. The — and so I think what we're trying to do is get a handle on exactly what was intended by this.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. So we've got our eyeballs on it, but we're not exactly sure what they're trying to do with this bill.

MS. BRIGHT: There are — that's exactly right, yeah.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, if it's not going well, somebody needs to say something so we can —

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Say something.

COMMISSIONER JONES: — say something.

MR. SMITH: I think we understand that direction, Commissioner.

Last bill I'll mention is just a proposed reclassification of elk. I'm not sure where this is headed. This issue just has to do with the characterization and statute of elk, which right now are labeled as an exotic. There's been a concern by some entities or maybe an entity about the labeling of that. A lot of discussion here on this front. I don't think I'm going to get into the minutia of — Clayton's eyes got big.

Back to prescribed fire — on that note, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, I think I'm going to wrap this presentation up and see if y'all have any more questions of me.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I've got one, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: The — transferring the Conservation Program too TPW, does that — does that require additional staff? Is it —

MR. SMITH: Yes.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: — a big staff? Is there funding?

MR. SMITH: That's a great question. We did put an official note on these bills and, you know, obviously the transfer of any program from one agency to another is significant and we've made it clear that, you know, it would be our belief and our perspective that the Commission would expect that, you know, there would be some kind of foundational support for this. And so, you know, we believe with an additional programmatic staff and probably an administrative assistant, that we could administer this program and I think that we — and, no, I know we had put a certain fiscal note as to what that would cost per year going forward. But we've made that clear to the bill authors that, you know, should they be successful and this program transfer over here, it's important that we have administrative funding and staffing funding so we can do this right.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Okay. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah. To follow up on Reed, it's very relevant as we well know from an existing situation, right?

MR. SMITH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We don't need any unfunded mandates.

MR. SMITH: That's right, Commissioner. And I — that's exactly right. And I — we presume that, from the Commission, we'll carry that forward even stronger based on this conversation.

Commissioners, unless there's any other questions, I'll conclude this. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Okay. The Chairman had to step out for a minute and asked me to continue on. The next item is the Financial Overview and after that is the Internal Audit and after that is the Migratory Game Bird Proclamation and I think if we get that far along and he's not back, we'll skip over that or take a break, so.

Mike, if you want to make your presentation?

MR. JENSEN: Yes, sir. I'm Mike Jensen, Division Director of Administrative Resources. I have a relatively short briefing item for you. I think we've mailed this material to you about a month ago, the updated operating budget through the end of January.

But, first, I want to give you the status of what the revenue streams are for the Department for state park receipts, the boat receipts, and license receipts. This first slide that you see up here, it kind of summarizes how we're doing. So far this year, we're 8.3 percent ahead of last year or that's 1.17 million. Every month with the exception of January has exceeded the month from the prior year. So we're doing pretty good.

I know for a fact that this slump we had in January got rectified in February. So that when we come back to the next meeting, February was a strong month. We actually performed better than last year, as well. You can see facilities are up 7 and a half percent, almost 400,000. Entrance fees are up 8.8 percent, 348,000. Concessions are up 12 and a half percent, 197,000. Park passes are up almost 6 percent, 181,000. And miscellaneous fees and revenues are up about 45,000, about 29 percent. And the slide doesn't have this, but the visitation is up as well. State parks is doing great this year. Paid visits are up, approximately 7 percent; and the total visits are up about 9 and a half percent.

The next slide I have for you shows you the boat revenue comparison at this point in time through January 31st. Total revenue is up 3 percent, which is 141.9 thousand dollars. Revenues are up for sales tax, about 8.7 percent. Titles are up 1.7 percent, and registrations are up 2.3 percent. If you look at the second part of the slide, you can see that the registration counts — new registrations are up 4.4 percent, transfers are down 1.2 percent, and renewals are up 4 percent, for a total increase of 3.3 percent and the titles are up by 2.6 percent. We expect these to continue to be strong through the next couple of months as we get warmer and people renew their boat.

You can see that the sales tax looked fairly well, but I pointed this out in the prior meeting. This Department is charged to collect the sales tax on boat transactions, but only 5 percent of that is retained. So on this slide when you see that 642,000 '14, 680,000 '15, that only represents 5 percent of the sales tax that has been collected. Through January, we've actually collected 1.12 million and we get to retain the 5 percent. That means 1.06 million is remaining with the State Treasury for other general revenue purposes.

License revenue, we're up 2.25 percent or 1.62 million through the end of January. And the slide that you have up here, you can see that resident fishing is up about 5.7 percent; nonresidents, about .43 percent. Resident hunting is behind about .8 percent. Nonresident hunting is up 1.6 percent. Combination licenses are up 3.74 percent, and other licenses up 3.2 percent. Fishing is up approximately 67,000 if you combine resident and nonresident and that's about half a percent. Hunting is up about $69,000, which is about point four-tenths of a percent. Resident is down, most likely shifting to the combination licenses.

As you can see from the slide, combination licenses are up 3.74 percent, 1.23 million. It's important to know that combo revenues are approximately — right now, at this point in time — 46 percent of all license revenue, but they only account for about 30 percent of the quantity of the licenses. As we finish out this year, you're going to see more and more expenditures for fishing licenses. You can see these figures up here: 10.5 and 10.6 for these two years. We expect to end this year closer to 31 and a half million, 32 million.

So you can see that we rely heavily at the beginning of the year on combination and hunting license sales and the rest of the year, we rely heavily upon fishing license fees. So that's important when we watch these bills like Carter was talking about where they waive a fee. It's very significant, particularly if it's a fishing fee or even a hunting fee. But I wanted to point that out for you because we really rely heavily upon the combination licenses and it will be interesting to see at the year's end if more people have shifted to the combination licenses from the hunting licenses or from the fishing licenses because it looks like that's what happened with the hunting licenses so far this year.

This slide shows the budget adjustments. Last time we presented back in November, the Commission approved a budget of 434.62 million. We have seven adjustments on this slide. The first one is federal grants and UB. It comes from about 15 sources. That's a 12.52 million adjustment. The top five of these account for about 10.85 million. Wildlife restoration is 4.5 million. Outdoor recreation is 3.6 million. Sport fish restoration about 1.3 million. Clean Vessel Act, 705,000. And state wildlife grants about 682,000.

The second item on there listed as "Other Appropriated Receipts, Contracts, and UB," an adjustment of 1.84 million. That was about 20 sources. The top two account for 1.4 million and 63 percent is from the artificial reef, 1.15 million; and Fund 9 donations account for 242,000.

The third item on there, Rider 31 UB, 9.3 million adjustment. It's a predominantly unexpended balance movement from the prior fiscal year to the current fiscal year from operational funds, about 9.31 million, and there's some noncapital construction for about 73,000.

Item No. 4, the House Bill 1025, that's the supplemental appropriation bill from last Legislative session to help restore Bastrop and we have about 45, 46,000 that's being UB'ed.

Item No. 5 on there, construction UB, is about $350,000 UB. The sixth item, employee fringe benefits, that's about 1.89 million. And the seventh item is border security, Operation Strong Safety. That was money that we recorded in December of $3.74 million and Commissioner Duggins had asked about that at the last meeting.

COMMISSIONER LEE: For what period is that? Is that the full reimbursement for what we requested?

MR. JENSEN: That is not the full reimbursement. That's for the earlier — during the summer.

COMMISSIONER LEE: What period?

MS. HEIKKILA: For the record, my name is Dawn Heikkila. That period, that was our budget execution amount and it covers the period December 1 through August 31st of this year.

COMMISSIONER LEE: So it — okay. So then in our 434 million, do we then pick up — do we have a step up for a continuation of the surge that kicks in on the fiscal year '16, '17 — or '16?

MS. HEIKKILA: We've requested funding for that. They're still working through that for '16 and '17.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Okay. So there's not a gap if this — if this passes, there's not a gap.

MS. HEIKKILA: I'm sorry. This is our budget. If what passes?

COMMISSIONER LEE: I — the 3.74 million, is that a makeup?

MS. HEIKKILA: It was a budget execution and what that did is that provided the funding based on the monthly burn rate, the 416,000 a month, for the period starting December 1st through the end of this fiscal year. So what Carter —

COMMISSIONER LEE: Of '15.

MS. HEIKKILA: Right.

COMMISSIONER LEE: December 1st through August 31st.

MS. HEIKKILA: August 31, for just fiscal '15. Any funds appropriated in '16 and '17 will be determined as we continue through the budget process.

COMMISSIONER LEE: So the 434 million that we submitted for the budget at the end of November, did not have any request for the continuation of the surge?

MS. HEIKKILA: Correct. What you're looking at is our operating budget for '15. This is not our LAR request.

COMMISSIONER LEE: All right. What's missing?

MS. HEIKKILA: I'm sorry?

COMMISSIONER LEE: What is — what is missing in the adjusted budget as of end of January that we've requested that's not in the current adjusted budget?

MS. HEIKKILA: The supplemental. That will be those three months from September, October, and November that Carter was talking about.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Okay.

MS. HEIKKILA: And then we have some unreimbursed expenses from fiscal '14, as well.

COMMISSIONER LEE: What's the magnitude of that in dollars, roughly?

MS. HEIKKILA: About two — about $2 million.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Two million.

MS. HEIKKILA: Uh-huh. And that covers both the unexpended for '14 and the unexpended for '15.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Do we have a view on where that is now? The prospects of that being picked up?

MS. HEIKKILA: We are diligently working. I think —

COMMISSIONER LEE: Diligently.

MS. HEIKKILA: — our chances are probably better in the Senate.

COMMISSIONER LEE: I might have missed an earlier discussion —

MS. HEIKKILA: Feverously working.

COMMISSIONER LEE: — and I'm sorry if I did.

MR. JENSEN: It's one of the topics of their current discussion on both on the House and the Senate side. Anything dealing with border security, they consider that a Conference Committee item. And so they talked about it on the House. They talked about it on the senate. But they really haven't made firm decisions indicating that this is something that they want to talk as a combined group in Conference Committee, both for supplemental appropriation as well as for the next biennium appropriation.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Sorry if I missed something when I was absent earlier.

MS. HEIKKILA: That's okay. It's confusing. We can cover it as many times as you need to.

MR. JENSEN: So the total adjustments are 29.77 million. The adjusted budget as of January 31st would be 464.39 million. And this concludes the summary that I have for you, the briefing for the budget adjustments as well as the revenue streams through January. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to try and answer them.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Okay. No more questions? Thank you.

MR. JENSEN: Thanks.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right. Work Session Item No. 3, Internal Audit Update. Cindy, please make your presentation.

MS. HANCOCK: Got some long legs in this chair. Good morning. My name is Cindy Hancock. I'm the Internal Audit Director, and I'm here today to update you on our — the completion of our fiscal year '14 and '15 audit plan and any ongoing or completed external audits.

For fiscal year '14, internal — the internal audit plan — and since my last update to the Commission in January — we've issued two reports on the BIS audit and the payment card audit. We're in the process of writing reports for the federal grant audit and the infrastructure audit and the data integrity audit is the only one left or remaining and it's in the fieldwork stage.

For fiscal year '15 internal audit plan, the checkmarks indicate that we've begun fieldwork with the following projects: Audit of the state on housing charges, audit of the travel advance account, and the follow-up audit. Since January on the follow-up audit, I'm pleased to announce that management has implemented four internal audit recommendations and we've also released two internal audit reports, as I mentioned earlier, which added five new findings.

This leaves 17 internal audit recommendations still in progress, and management has also implemented one external audit recommendation with 21 in progress. Of those 21, there are 18 that TPWD has submitted information and is currently waiting for further instructions from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I'll talk about that in just a minute.

We also budgeted 400 hours for special projects and investigations and to date, we've logged about 150 hours on ten different projects assisting staff. We have two projects pending completion at this point, with additional hours to be added to the total in the near future. In addition, we've begun the planning process for the audits of the selected local park grants and dedicated funds audit. So we're sitting pretty good at this point on our audit plan.

Currently, we have several external audits being conducted and I've previously mentioned or reported on these to you; but I wanted to give you a brief update. Ernst and Young has — was hired by Texas Department of Emergency Management to perform a statewide compliance audit looking at the documentation process for Hurricane Ike expenditures. The fieldwork for this audit should be winding down this month, and I expect the final report to be issued sometime this summer.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with our Land Conservation Team to reconcile records regarding lands purchased with federal funds. This, too, should be closing soon with a final sign-off and agreement to the records currently in the works. The Department of Interior Civil Rights Division has conducted a desk review assessing adherence to the Federal Civil Rights laws to ensure that programs and activities operated by the Department are provided fairly to various demographic groups covered by these laws.

The department has delivered responses to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and those are the — those are 17 of those 18 items that I was mentioning earlier and we're just waiting for a response back from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Department of Interior Office of Inspector General is conducting a federal grant audit. The federal auditors have conducted an thorough review, with fieldwork expected to continue through April.

The Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division completed an audit in late January of our recruitment, hiring, performance evaluations, disciplinary actions, workplace accommodations, and the EEO training; but we have not yet received a final report from that office. I will keep you posted as the results come out from these audits, and that concludes my presentation if there are any questions.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: An questions for Cindy? Thank you very much.

COMMISSIONER JONES: I have a — I have a couple —

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Commissioner Jones.

COMMISSIONER JONES: — comments. On the audit due dates for the completion of items — and this is not in every case. But, for instance, in one case the Executive Director asked for the date to be moved and I think it was probably a good request because there's Legislative session going on.

MS. HANCOCK: Yes, yes.

COMMISSIONER JONES: And, in fact, there's some legislation that actually relates to the audit item on other outside people using our vehicles and that sort of thing and I know there's some legislation that you went over just a —

MR. SMITH: Yep.

COMMISSIONER JONES: — second ago, Carter. That's a good move. Let's wait until we see what we've going through Legislative session before we start drafting manuals and —

MR. SMITH: You bet.

COMMISSIONER JONES: — whatnot on how people are to use our equipment. But on some of these, I see the due date moving three, four times; and I'm not entirely certain why the date was moved. So I guess what I'm getting at is we don't want the audit report to become a vehicle by which you move the dates because you can't get it done, as opposed to justifying why you can't get it done.

So at some point — I'm not sure we're there yet — I'm going to start asking why the due dates are moving because — and if there's — and we may have to start talking about a procedure to move your due date. I don't know that we're there yet, but we may be getting there quickly. So that's just sort of a heads up in terms of I want to make sure we understand why the dates are being moved if people can't — if people aren't getting it done. And in one of these instances, there was an outside vendor that was a problem. The outside vendor wasn't providing whatever update they needed. And if that's a problem, then let's not move the due date. Let's figure out what's going on with that vendor and if we need to get another vendor, well, let's get another vendor to get it done.

MS. HANCOCK: Yes. On the TexParks audit, that was one of the vendor delays. They are testing right now for the new delivery of the version that's coming out.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Right.

MS. HANCOCK: So we'll cross our fingers and hope that testing turns out well and that should be in April. I think their —

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

MS. HANCOCK: — due date was April.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

MS. HANCOCK: The only one that I agree that — and that's why we keep leaving those — the dates — you know, leave a list of the dates as they change was the Indian Lodge Restaurant and getting a software application to do their restaurant inventory themselves.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Right. And so --

MS. HANCOCK: And from what I understand there, there's been kind of a kink in things, too, is the manager of that site has been transferred. He's at another location. So we'll be having to work with a new manager, also.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, and my deal is if something has been identified as an issue, every time the date is moved address that issue, that issue is still outstanding. So there's a possibility of something slipping by us, even though we've identified this is an area we need improvement on, as long as the date keeps moving, that issue hasn't been identified — hasn't been fixed. So that's just a heads up that we've got a process in place. All right. Now, we're going to start honing in on making the process even better. We're not stopping with just creating a great tracking system. We're going to use the tracking system to make things better, so.

MS. HANCOCK: That's great.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. Great job.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: That's a good comment, Bill. And I agree we need to try to stick to our schedule, and I agree. Thank you.

MS. HANCOCK: All right. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right. Moving along, Work Session Item No. 4, 2015-16 Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, Request Permission to Propose — to Publish Proposed changes in the Texas Register. Shaun Oldenburger, please make your presentation.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Good morning Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. Wildlife Division's Migratory Shore and Upland Game Bird Program Leader. Today, we're going to be requesting permission to publish the 2015 — 2015-16 migratory game bird proposals.

Initially, these proposals were developed by the Migratory Game Bird Technical Committee and all of them were approved by the Advisory Committee with one exception, dove season, and we'll point that out as we go. So first, the dove, teal, rail, gallinule, snipe and woodcock, 2015-16 season staff proposals. Statewide regular dove seasons for the North Zone, September 1st to October 25th; starting again December 19th and running to January 2nd. The Central Zone, September 1st to October 25th, to December 19th opening again to January 2nd. Those would be the same as the North Zone.

The South Zone would open as early as possible with the federal framework on September 18th, run to October 25th; open again December 19th and run the rest the days to January 19th. Just to note, if you're actually looking at those season dates, we made sure that they had uniform closures and opening on the splits. So those are the same for all zones. This is a 70-day season with 15 birds and a daily bag limit and as all migratory game bird regulations are, three times the possession of the daily bag limit.

Special White-winged dove area, this is special season on September 5th, 6th, 12th, and 13th. The first two full weekends in September, afternoon only hunting. That would be 15 birds in the daily bag limit with no more than two White-tipped doves, no more than two Mourning doves. The regular season would open September 18th, along with the South Zone, and then run to October 25th; open again December 19th to January 15th.

To look at these staff proposals on a calendar, this is what the North Zone looks like in green. You also note in the following in the Central Zone would be the same on a calendar.

Going to the South Zone, this would open as early as possible as stated on September 18th, running to October 25th; and then opening again December 19th. As you will notice in January, this does run and does catch Martin Luther King weekend at the end of January. It would be the weekend of 16th, 17th, and 18th in January. With one exception we did have with the Advisory Committee members and that was for our North Zone, which we'll show here on our — oops, sorry. Got ahead of myself. This is Special White-winged dove are. This is the 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th. Those in yellow are those afternoon-only hunt days, and then the regular season in gray.

Now, to get the Advisory board recommendation that they had for the North Zone would be to open September 1st and to run to October 31st to allow more days in the first part of September for the dove season. And then that would allow the second part of the segment to open December 19th and run to the 27th, and so it would reduce the number of days on the back end of the season for the North Zone.

Historically, what we've seen with harvest here is about 98, 99 percent of the harvest occurs in that first segment in the North Zone compared to the latter part of the second segment, which we hardly see any harvest at all. At this time, I would be open to any discussion about dove seasons, if there are any.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I think there are. Any other commissioners want to —

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yeah, go ahead. You...

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Shaun, we keep — I've heard and I believe the other Commissioners have and maybe staff, some — in our South Zone, the Special White-wing area, a lot of the hunters and landowners are not real happy where they — a lot of them don't — you know, we expanded the Special White-wing season to Interstate 37, I believe —

MR. OLDENBURGER: That's correct.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: — west a couple years ago. It's been pointed out to us that a lot of South Texas don't have White-wings; but they have four-day White-wing season the first weekend of September, but they have no White-wings to shoot or very few and and they go and shoot two Mourning Dove or two White-tips. So basically, they're not using that season. They do have a lot of dove — or what I've reported — in the second season and they really would like to see that season, the second season, extend through that Martin Luther King weekend.

How can we accomplish that?

MR. OLDENBURGER: So for the Special White-wing dove area — is here in this calendar. And so what you would be recommending is to extend the January 2nd split and try to catch that 16th, 17th, and 18th of January?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Correct.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Staff probably would recommend taking days off the front end, and then putting those on the back end. Taking days off October would probably be the best bet and putting those at the end of January to catch the 16th, 17th, and 18th.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So October or September?

MR. OLDENBURGER: October, yeah. September — in September — September 18th, that's the earliest day we can start and then we run it through the end of — catch that last week in October is what the staff proposal was to allow more public opportunity. But we do hear those comments as well, Chairman, and so if you want to take the — basically the 23rd — excuse me — the 23rd, 24th, and 25th and put those to the 16th, 17th, and 18th to catch that weekend.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Okay. Wait a second. I'm you're moving too fast here for me. Slow it down.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Sorry. So to just --

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I'm an Aggie. You've got to kind of point these things out to me.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Okay. For October right now, what you'd be requesting is to take three days from some part of the season and move it to January 16th, 17th, and 18th, correct? And to do that, you could take days from the first segment — the end of that, which would be the 23rd, 24th, and 25th — and move those to the 16th, 17th, and 18th of January to catch that weekend that you would be suggesting.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I think that's acceptable to me. Would you want to do the same thing in the rest of South Zone? Close it and have a consistent closing?

MR. OLDENBURGER: We would have some concerns with the confusion from hunters during that weekend and so, more than likely, we would probably recommend the same thing. To have those concurrent and uniform closures at the end of the first split and so, therefore, you would take the 23rd, 24th, and 25th and add that to the 20th of January — 21st and 22nd of January. So kind of the same process there to make sure that those things — basically, the first split would end the same in the South zone in the Special White-winged area and then they would begin again on the same date in December because we find that less harvest occurs towards the end of January.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Now, you're moving too quickly for me.

MR. OLDENBURGER: What's that?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: You look at this every day. You're going to have to slow down.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Sorry. I've been looking at too many calendars.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: You talk about the South Zone — okay. This calendar — well, I have a separate question there. Can you take the 19th off and move it back to the 18th of December?

MR. OLDENBURGER: So what you're discussing, take January 19th and move that to December 18th?

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yeah, I think there will be more activity on — in December and before the weekend than there will be on the Tuesday after MLK in January.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I can remember the 18th. It's my birthday.

MR. OLDENBURGER: So in the South Zone, just for clarification, take January 19th and move that to December 18th —

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. OLDENBURGER: — for the South Zone?

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Okay.

MR. SMITH: And in the Special White-wing area, you would want to have consistency. Wouldn't you recommend that, Shaun?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yes. It would be — staff would recommend consistency with Special Whited-wing dove area as well and so, therefore, you would want to move another day from the end of October and put that December 18th?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I think so.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Is that correct?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: So what I'm hearing — okay. The South Zone will open on the 18th and would close on October — September 18th would open and close on last — October 21st and we would have four days to work with there. The second season would open up on December the 18th except for the Special White-wing zone, which would open up on December the 22nd, is that — the 22nd and go to the 18th? I'm kind of getting a little confused. Is this something that we could —

MR. OLDENBURGER: So basically --

MR. SMITH: Just to be clear, Shaun, if I could. He asked a question. So this is a proposal. What we're looking for is guidance from the Commission that we go out and get input on. So this would be direction. You're not taking action on it. But, obviously, these dates are important. So the more guidance we can get from you, the better, so.

COMMISSIONER JONES: It seems to me you that you want your start date to be the 18th of December for both Special White-wing dove and South Zone and then whatever days you have left over from what you've taken from October, you just stick them on the back of January, right?

MR. SMITH: That's right.

MR. OLDENBURGER: That would be correct.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. The consistency is important on the ending of the first split in the South Zone and the Special White-wing area and the commencement of the second split in the South Zone and the Special White-wing.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Right.

MR. SMITH: Less important on the back end of those two zones at the end of the second split, but the other consistency is very important from a Law Enforcement perspective.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Is everybody — are we done with the dates? I have a more — I don't know if either one of y'all are the person or you where, Carter; but where do we stand? You know, we've had this discussion accumulating data with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, I guess, to try to make the seasons all synonymous. Where does all that stand? Who's the right person to answer that question?

MR. SMITH: Probably Dave Morrison. I'm happy to weigh in; but, Dave, why don't you start.

MR. MORRISON: Can I take one step back, please sir?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Probably better.

MR. MORRISON: And that — the South and Special White-wing area, we can do that by what you've already discussed. But one thing that I would urge and just from what we hear, that having that uniform date is certainly very important in the South in the Special White-wing area. But to minimize any potential confusion with the North and Central, I would also suggest that you open the North and the Central concurrent with the South. So if you're going to make that move on the South and Special White-wing, I would also suggest adding that Friday to the North and the Central as well and taking that — one of those days either from the back end — you could take it off the second there, that way you maintain integrity of the front end closing on a weekend. You've only got half a weekend now and it might be simpler for people to understand that they don't go Saturday and hunt Sunday. But I would just make the — offer that suggestion to ensure that we have all four — all three zones in the Special area open the same time in that second split as well.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I agree. Can — is this something — I know it's not on the agenda for tomorrow, but can we just see these calendars? Can we re-open this tomorrow? We could spend all daylong sitting here looking at — trying to look at days. Let's see these calendars again tomorrow for us to approve.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Is this an action item tomorrow?

MR. SMITH: It's not. What we'll do is we'll — you know, we'll get you — we'll get you calendars on this, and you'll be able to see it. I think the direction that you're giving us, once you see the calendar, you're going to say this reaffirms what you're wanting us to do from a consistency perspective in providing more opportunities, so.

MR. MORRISON: We can — we can get those out here probably in the next 45 minutes or so.

MR. SMITH: Could we do that, Dave?

MR. MORRISON: It's real simple.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: That way we can look at it today.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, actually that would be better.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: We can even look at it today if you can bring that out. Other — we could talk about this for a long time.

MR. MORRISON: Okay. Let us get you some calendars because I do see a real simple — it's hard to express in words; but I think when you look at it on a piece of paper, it will be very clear how we want — what we believe you're giving us guidance to do, so.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Okay.

MR. MORRISON: Mr. Scott, with respect to your question on the uniformity of opening dates. I have fought long and hard trying to move this thing forward, but understand that it is a process with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Uh-huh.

MR. MORRISON: And because that particular part of this process is tied to the next regulatory process, which will be the '16, '17; so that's when we're going to make this attempt to make some modification because there is an open season, if you will, within the Fish and Wildlife Service about when you can make adjustments.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That would be next year?

MR. MORRISON: So it'd be next year.

MR. OLDENBURGER: But that — technically, it will be this year and we'll have a slide that —

MR. MORRISON: We're going to discuss that.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We have the data for — I thought we started this process. Next year will be the third year.

MR. MORRISON: Well --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Or, no. The data would be — this will be the third year of data; is that accurate?

MR. OLDENBURGER: So, yes, Commissioner. So every five years, we are allowed to open zones and splits on migratory and game bird seasons and so this next regulation cycle will be the fifth year.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I remember that now, yeah. Thanks.

MR. MORRISON: And we're going to further confuse you here in a few minutes because the whole process is changing and not through any fault of ours. That is part of his presentation and — but just rest assured that the September 1 statewide opening is on our discussion. We have laid the groundwork with a lot of people at the Fish and Wildlife Service.

I'm going to be very honest with you. It is going to be a very uphill battle, but we have gained some ground with some people. I think that, you know, from — all this stuff has to go through the Flyaway and then to the Service. Well, we have been able to get some support within the Flyaway. So that was the first hurdle we had to cover. So we believe that we've got the Flyaway's concurrence, that they will support us on this move; and then the next step, we'll be taking it to the Fish and Wildlife Service and getting their support.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: But you see, what you accomplish by getting it to the third year, now they're changing the rules on you. So we've got to start over, right?

MR. MORRISON: No, sir. No, sir. That is just —

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We're not starting over. Okay. All right.

MR. MORRISON: No, sir. That is just the process by which we set regulations.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Okay.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. And actually, you're going to like that process change when they get to it. It's going to streamline things and it's going to give the Commission a chance to look at this thing much earlier. Hunters are going to be able to plan earlier.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Great.

MR. SMITH: Basically, we're going to integrate that with the whole statewide.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: You mentioned that last year —

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: — if we ever got around — if they ever get around to doing it, it's going to be better.

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Okay.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Just for clarification, do we need any Commission input on the Advisory Committee's proposal for the North Zone?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: No. Let's move forward.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Okay.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Thank you.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. Moving on from doves, next we will talk about teal seasons. This — it's usually the last three full weekends in September with a 16-day season. Proposed dates would be September 12th through 27th. Basically, the birding population survey has to be above 4.7 million birds to have a 16-day season and last year we were at 8.5 million birds. So it's safe to say we'll probably have a 16-day season again this year.

Moving on to rails, gallinules, moorhens, snipe, and woodcock. The rail, gallinule, and moorhen season proposals are September 12th to 27th. Teal would concur with September teal season, starting again October 31st and running out the rest of the days to December 23rd. Snipe would begin — proposals are October 31st to February 14th. And the woodcock, there's no change from last year — December 18th to January 31st, a 45-day season with three birds in the daily bag.

The proposed falconry seasons for doves are November 7th to December 13th; and for woodcock, moorhen, gallinule, quail, and ducks in the North and South Zone are February 1st to February 14th are staff proposals.

Next, we will go on to staff proposals for the 2015 seasons for ducks, mergansers, coots, geese in Southwest Plains. For the High Plains Mallard Management Unit, the staff proposal is for youth season to occur October 24th and 25th; the regular season to begin October 31st and November 1st, the weekend, and then have a five-day split and then reopening November 6th and running out to the end of federal framework's January 31st. Once again, we are required to have a five-day delay for dusky ducks due to concerns about mottled duck populations from the Fish and Wildlife Service; and then that would open November 9th and run out to January 31st for the High Plains Mallard Management Unit. To look at this on a calendar, you look at September — this is yellow, those would the teal seasons; the blue would be the youth seasons; and the regular season would occur in green.

For ducks, mergansers, and coots in the North Zone, the youth season would occur October 31st and November 1st. The regular season, staff proposal is November 7th to November 29th, with a split occurring starting December 12th, running to the end of federal frameworks to January 31st. Dusky ducks would, again, have the same five-day delay, opening November 12th and having the same closures and opener as regular season dates. To look at these staff proposals on a calendar, the North Zone here, yellow would teal season once again; the blue, youth seasons; and green, the regular duck season.

Moving on to the South Zone for ducks, mergansers, and coots. The youth season would October 24th to 25th. The regular season would — staff proposal is October 31st to November 29th, opening again December 12th and running out to January 24th. Just to point out, this does not occur toward the end of federal frameworks. The reason is for this change is because we harvest more ducks in the south early compared to the north, which you would think would be vice versa; but somewhere in the neighborhood of most of our harvest occurs in November, instead of January. So the staff and advisory committees felt that it was necessary not to go to the end federal frameworks for the regular duck season in the South Zone.

Dusky ducks would occur the same as previous, with a five-day delay. Opening November 5th, running to November 29th. Then opening again December 12th and running to January 24th. This is what the South Zone proposals would look like on a calendar with the teal season, once again, in yellow; the youth in blue; and the regular season in green. As far as bag limits go, they would be — this is what was last year's bag limits. Some of these are subject to change based on breeding population surveys this next year by Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Scaup, pintails, and canvasbacks are subject to change depending on the status of those waterfowl species.

As far as West Zone geese, we will highlight some changes here that are in yellow for staff proposals. Dark geese would open October 31st to January 31st. Light geese is October 31st to January 31st, as well. And then the conservation order would begin February 1st, running to March 20th. The bag limit would be five dark geese with no more than two White-fronted geese, with 20 light geese and no possession limit. As you see here, the two for White-fronted geese is a change. Currently, the Flyaway's are working with the Fish and Wildlife Service on a new White-fronted goose management plan, which allow a little bit more hunter opportunity out there for extended days and more bags in certain zones in the Central Flyaway, including Texas. To look at the West Zone dates on a calendar, here you can see in green is the regular season and then in blue is the conservation order.

In the East Zone goose — staff — staff proposals are White-fronted geese with November 7th to January 31st. This is a pretty clean calendar this year because under the current proposal to Fish and Wildlife Service, we would extend our White-fronted goose season and get additional days which would be concurrent with the light goose season, regular light goose season. Canada geese, we have an early season in September to run currently with our September teal season to take advantage of some breeding birds in Northeastern Texas. So that would occur September 12th to 27th and then, once again, the regular seasons start November 7th and run out the rest of days to January 21st.

Light geese would open the same, November 7th to January 31st as the closure; and the conservation order would start February 1st. The bag limit is five dark geese to include not more than two White-fronted geese and 20 light geese and no possession limit. Just to note that five dark geese is a change because previously, it was only a bag limit of three Canada geese and that would be an increase this year under staff proposal.

This is what the East Zone looks like on a calendar. This is a lot simpler than last year's calendar. If you look here in yellow, that would be the Canada goose only season and then green would be the regular season and then with the conservation order occurring in blue.

Moving on to Sandhill crane seasons. If you look here in blue, that would Zone A. That's a 93-day season opening October 31st and running out to January 31st, bag limit of three. If you look here in green, that is Zone B. That opening would be November 20th to January — ending January 31st with a bag limit of three. We do delay that season to allow Whooping crane migration in that part of Texas. In Zone C, if you look at that, it's December 19th to January 24th, to close the same time as the South Zone duck season proposal and that has a bag limit of two.

Before I move forward, on this slide are there any questions or suggestions regarding waterfowl seasons?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions?

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. Moving on. As Dave mentioned earlier, there are some proposed changes from Fish and Wildlife Service on how we are going to set seasons in the future. This is going to be a different way of thinking. As of right now, we know it's March. Seasons are closed, and we're talking about next year's waterfowl seasons and dove seasons.

The way the Fish and Wildlife Service has modified season setting in the future is, basically, we are going to start the process when season opens this year. So that's a little bit different way of thinking. So in November, at that time we will actually have — basically, the Service's federal frameworks will be given to us in October for the '16, '17 season. And so, therefore, in November we will have a briefing of proposed season dates and bag limits to the Commission and then that corresponds with all the statewide hunting regulation process in November. And so that's a little bit different way of thinking.

So what Commissioner Scott said is, you know, well, that's next year. Well, actually it's this year when we have to start thinking about these proposals and how we're going to move forward in discussion with Fish and Wildlife Service.

So this would allow for Commission meetings in January. We would come to you in the January Commission meeting for permission to publish for the statewide hunting regulations and then in March, we would ask for final adoption of season dates and bag limits. In June, the migratory game bird regulations would be included in the Outdoor Annual. So that is different from previous. That does allow us to have all the regulations in the Outdoor Annual. So that will be a lot easier for our hunters out there as far as communication and being able to plan hunts. So the process does change, but it does allow a little bit better communication to our constituents.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I really like this change. It gives our hunters and outdoors's men a whole lot more lead time to know when the seasons are going to start and there won't be that waiting until, I guess, May to really know. So I think it's a good plan.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yes, that's correct. So basically, you know, as of right now, we come to you in two commission meetings and this will be wrapped up into one. So it will make it a lot easier process with both doves and waterfowl in the future.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Right.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. Well, that concludes my presentation for staff proposals the '15, '16 migratory game bird seasons. Are there any additional questions or comments?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any question? And you will get back to us?

MR. OLDENBURGER: We will have the calendars for you by lunchtime.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Okay, great. Thank you.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Work session Item No. 5, Waterfowl Habitat Conservation Activities, Canada and Texas. Dave Morrison, please make your presentation. And I want to also welcome all of the Board members and all the members of Ducks Unlimited here with us today. Would y'all stand up? And I'm — we all know Kirby, but met all the gentlemen today. Some are from Canada. A lot of them from Texas. We appreciate what you do. Waterfowl are at an all time high this year and it's your hard work and the hard work of Texas Parks and Wildlife and all the rest of the United States and Canada to have the fowl where they are right now. So thank you.

MR. MORRISON: Thank you, sir. Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Dave Morrison. I am the Small Game Program Director for the Wildlife Division, and it's my pleasure today to have with me Dave Kostersky with Ducks Unlimited of Canada. Dave is a waterfowl biologist and has been working with Ducks Unlimited in Canada for the last 45 years, primarily on the Prairie Pothole Region of Canada.

His current role is managing the states' partnership and support of D.U.'s — D.U. Canada's conservation work on the breeding grounds. Dave is located in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, which is in the heart of the breeding grounds and D.U. will claim to be the waterfowl breadbasket of North America. Dave and I will be presenting a high-level overview of the connections between Saskatchewan and Texas and how our migratory game bird stamp funds are supporting ducks at both ends of this flyaway. So with that, I'll turn it over to Dave for his presentation.

MR. KOSTERSKY: Thank you, Dave. And thanks, Commission, Chairman Hughes, and Director Smith. My pleasure to be here. The partnership between D.U. the state agencies is a long one. Basically, this state funding of programs in Canada started 50 years ago and this Agency started 30 years ago. This partnership really goes back a long ways, and a number of agencies have done it every year. That's a long time to send money up to the breeding grounds.

So why do you do it? We've got 40 states — over 40 states that do it and it adds up to a little over $3 million a year between all the states. It's a great success. Well, you do it because of this. Here's a map of North America. In Prairie Canada in Western Boreal, that's where we band ducks. That's where all those ducks are harvested across this continent and that's where Texas falls. So it's pretty clear that the waterfowl raised up in the breeding grounds in Prairie Canada and the Western Boreal Forest is critical to waterfowl across this continent.

It's all about the waterfowl — the Gadwall, Blue-winged teal, Green-winged teal, Pintail, and Mallards. It's really about these ducks. Whether they're upland nesting ducks or over-water nesting ducks, it's about the birds. And these birds that go up and down the flyaway, they need this effort that we all put together to make sure that they've got somewhere to live both on the breeding grounds and the wintering grounds.

This pie chart indicates just what portion of waterfowl recruitment happens on the breeding grounds. Their life cycle includes a whole bunch of things — whether they have a successful nest, duckling survival, hen survival. But as you can see, about 80 percent of the factors that contribute to waterfowl production occurs on the breeding grounds of Canada. A critical part is up there on the breeding grounds. So this shared resource of tremendous waterfowl benefit that our hunters get to see up and down the flyaway's does come with shared responsibility.

This is about 160 acres or a quarter section of land seen from the air up in the breeding grounds of Canada. All those wetlands you would see are what waterfowl are looking for to nest in and around, to breed on, to raise their broods; but we have to work on an agricultural landscape. As you have here in Texas, in Prairie Canada, most of the land is privately owned. So we have to work with agriculture.

Working with agriculture is absolutely critical anywhere you go on the flyaway. Waterfowl, for the most part, are raised and live their life on private lands. So working with agriculture is a big challenge that we have in the Canadian prairies.

Well, one thing that really caused a big change in how we do business in waterfowl was the advent of something called the North America Waterfowl Management Plan. In 1986, this plan was signed and it's a plan between Canada, U.S., and Mexico. It said we are all going to work collectively on a continental effort to make sure that waterfowl are taken care of. Ducks Unlimited is a part of that, but so are all the state and federal agencies, both in U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Well, this plan was tremendous. 1986 it started.

I would like to just step back and mention Texas Parks and Wildlife gave their first dollars to Canada in 1985, 30 years ago. So even before this plan came to be, this Agency saw a need and a purpose to support that work up in the breeding grounds so this plan was a great plan, signed and endorsed by all governments and partners; but without dollars, you can't make it happen. So what happened was the first real dollars to support this plan came from state agencies. A dozen state agencies, including Texas Parks and Wildlife, gave those first million dollars that went up to Canada.

They did something called the First Step Project. How that works is the state put up a dollar and then the state agencies came to D.U. and said, "Will you match what we put up?" And D.U. has said that and done that ever since this program started. So every dollar the state puts forward, D.U. matches it and then we go to a source of funds called NAWCA, or the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. This is a U.S. federal program that's there to match dollars to go to breeding grounds and wintering ground's work across this continent. Those dollars, those NAWCA dollars, are spent here in your state; but they're also spent on the breeding grounds.

So that takes your dollar and turns it into four and then with currency exchange and Canadian partner support, at least $5 ends up on the ground and often many more. At times with Canadian partnership, both the Canadian government and provinces, that turns into, you know, six, seven, eight, even up to $10. So a one-to-ten leverage. It's a tremendous opportunity where partnership through joint ventures make a real difference on this program.

So over 50 percent of North America's mid continent ducks breed in the Prairie Pothole Regions, specifically a chunk of it in Canada. And of these birds, they feed all the flyaway season — you saw from those band returns — across the U.S. and Canada. The focus of our partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife is in the Prairie Pothole Region, specifically in Saskatchewan. Ducks Unlimited uses some pretty extensive research following, for example, 2,500 regularly checked mallard hens across the prairies of Canada over a period of ten years, year after year putting these transmitters on them to find out where birds are most productive, what are the best areas for waterfowl in the prairies and we pick these target areas across the prairies and focus our dollars and your dollars into those areas.

The reason Saskatchewan is so important to Texas is, for example, 42 percent of your mallards harvested in Texas come from Saskatchewan. Recent band return information analysis has demonstrated that, as current, is 2010. And what are we doing up there, we're trying to protect this — an abundance of wetlands across this landscape. We have densities as high as a hundred wetlands per square mile. Very high wetland densities in some of these most productive areas.

But the challenge, as I mentioned earlier, are about working with agricultural within an agricultural landscape. So our challenges really are to find ways to work with them, whether it be programs to work directly with them influencing land or taking on practices or whether it's actually taking pieces of land out of agricultural production and setting them aside for waterfowl, ones that are probably better used for the highest and best use might be waterfowl production.

This is a series slides as you look west of the plain flying across Prairie Saskatchewan. All those lines you see are drainage ditches through the wetlands. Well, as we move left, you can see we're entering an area where it looks like some intact habitat. That particular piece of habitat is three three-quarter sections of land that we purchased with funds from Texas Parks and Wildlife and other state partners and other Canadian partners and is protected perpetuity to ensure that that's still there and it doesn't look like this last slide. It's really about protecting what we have there to make sure that we don't continue to lose some of these critical areas, and then also working to restore some of the stuff that we've lost.

The conservation needs is that really we see a continued wetland loss. We have very poor wetland legislation across Canada. Wetland protection is up to the province — provincial agencies, not federally protected. And so we have to work at every province level to ensure that we protect those wetlands so that wetland loss decreases carrying capacity of waterfowl across the prairies. We have to work within an agricultural economy landscape and ag. economy is driven by commodity prices. High commodity prices have really challenged much of our work in it pushes land values up, it pushes up a lot of the work that we have to do in the prairies.

And lastly, we certainly need to work with the cattle industry. The demand for grass on the prairies is critical to ensuring that there's nesting cover across the prairies. We can put some down through purchase or easements; but really, we need to have a strong cattle industry to ensure the demand for grass on the Canadian prairies. Within Saskatchewan specifically, it is a primary focus for Ducks Unlimited resources. Within the prairies, it is the number one place to be if you're a duck. It raises a big chunk of our ducks and we put — of our prairie resources, we put about 50 to 60 percent of our resources in the prairies directly into Saskatchewan.

We need to protect existing habitats and restore what we've lost, as I've mentioned; and we need to do it through working with agriculture. We have three primary efforts. Habitat programs, whether it be land purchase, conservation easements, long-term agreements. These are all designed to protect, enhance, and restore habitat. But we do what we call extension services. Something called a Winter Wheat Program, where we pay a landowner or have paid a landowner to plant winter wheat, which is planted in the fall, comes up in the spring. They don't disturb it in the spring. It actually acts as nesting cover, not food. It's kind of a surrogate for nesting cover, surrogate for grass.

We also provide off-site watering and other programs there. And the third major effort that we do is we do work on public policy, that wetland protection policy. One of the things I want to definitely make clear is that none of your dollars go to public policy work in Prairie Canada. Your dollars all go to the habitat programs and extension services. We, in Canada, have to do our policy work and make those changes on our own.

So to give you just a quick picture of what we can accomplish with your support and the support of other partners. In 2014, we secured 418 new segments across Saskatchewan, impacting over 600,000 acres. A lot of those that Winter Wheat Program. But over 16,000 acres of those are at least ten years and a lot of them are perpetuity, whether they be purchase or easements. So we have a big impact on the landscape with your support.

So in summary, what does this program do and what does it accomplish for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department? Well, it leverages your dollars. This is a great leveraging program. The North American Plan has placed one of the most successful continental efforts in this — on the globe. It really does take care of the breeding grounds. Without your dollars, we cannot access the NAWCA dollars. It actually requires a U.S. nonfederal dollar to get access to a NAWCA dollar. So that really helps us on the breeding grounds. It really maximizes that cumulative effort all working together, putting our resources together. And lastly, it helps me, the commitment that state agencies have made through the association of Fish and Wildlife agencies on a continental conservation effort. Every state has signed off at the AFLA to be a part of this program. There's a $10 million goal to try to get to that and every state has a goal that they're trying to get to and Texas Parks and Wildlife is doing a great job moving towards that goal.

But one thing we certainly want to make sure that is clear, is hunters are at the core of what we do. Whether it's Ducks Unlimited, Texas Parks and Wildlife, or conservation in general across this continent, if it's not for the passion of waterfowl hunter, we don't achieve a whole lot. Whether they buy a license or donate to an organization like D.U., we rely heavily on this group of people. I had the privilege of hosting a couple of folks from down here in Texas this past fall. Commissioner De Hoyos and Deputy Director Melinchuk came up to Canada — along with Kirby, a former employee of this Agency — and we dedicated a project to Texas Parks and Wildlife for all your contributions up on the breeding grounds.

This is what the plaque reads out on that site and it really makes recognition not only of the Agency, but of the waterfowl hunters that are dedicated supporting those resources up on the breeding grounds and in the state. This is a tremendous opportunity to thank this Agency for your long-term support of over $2.8 million over the last 30 years and hopefully for continued support. Certainly for my part, this is a great image of the dedication up there. We have partners from the province of Saskatchewan there, D.U. in Saskatchewan, and Environment Canada, as well as the Texas Parks and Wildlife folks. It's really about working together.

We want to thank you for your ongoing support. We believe this a tremendously successful and valuable program, and it is really held up as the model for continental conservation. Waterfowl leads the way across this continent, and we're proud to be a part of it. Thank you for your time, and I'm going to pass it over to Dave to give you some real insight on what you do here in Texas as well.

MR. MORRISON: Thank you, Dave.

Again, my name is Dave Morrison and Dave has just outlined how important Saskatchewan is to waterfowl/waterfowl hunters in Texas and so what I want to do is I want to illustrate that point even a little bit finer. This is a map of band returns from waterfowl that were recorded in Texas and it shows the connection between Saskatchewan and Texas and how those birds move back and forth.

Here in Texas — and to continue with Dave's comments on habitat, Texas is a significant partner with D.U. Canada; but TPWD is also supportive of work here in our own state. The primary source of the funding is migratory game bird stamp funds to support activities of the Gulf Coast Joint Ventures Reform that's part of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan to bring a bunch of partners to achieve the greater good for habitat across this country. With our strong partnership with D.U. and federal NAWCA funds — that's the North American Wetland Conservation Act funds — we are able to stretch our state dollars not only in Canada, but also here in Texas. And with those funds, we're able to do a lot of work on private and public lands.

One of the things I want to talk to you about a little bit about this morning is the Texas Prairie Wetlands Program. This project — this program is funded by Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Resource Conservation service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and participating landowners. D.U. staff delivers this program and it's a cost-share program with the landowners and the partners. Each — usually the landowner, puts up some — up to — upwards of 35 percent max for what work is going to be done. And this program was developed in 1991 to conserve winter habitat in 28 Texas Gulf counties. Typical Texas Prairie Wetland Project is about 50 acres in size, about 60 geese are delivered on an annual basis. Over 30,000 acres of wetland habit put on the ground.

Since the program's in session, we've put about 60,000 acres of habitat on the coastal counties of Texas. If you want to take a look at what it looks like on any given year, there you see that the partners — Parks and Wildlife, NRCS, Fish and Wildlife Service, and D.U.L. — put up about $100,000. The landowners provide about a $400,000 max and then you've got that $1 million in North American Wetland Conservation Act funds. This really shows the importance of NAWCA and why it needs to be re-authorized every year in the federal budget because without that, we'd be — we'd be hurting for money on these projects.

But since 2009, you can see there that $745,000 of Texas migratory game bird stamp funds have been leveraged with $7 million in NAWCA funding to put good stuff on the ground. So that's — just like Dave was talking about, it's a pretty good return on our investment.

All right. These next few slides are examples of what goes on in the Texas Prairie Wetlands Project. This first slide, first of all, you've got to put water where water may not want to be. And so you go out there, you scope the landscape, you implement some sort of water delivery system. Then when everything starts working, this is when the duck sees it when he flies south. Here's a good wetland. Hey, this is where I'm going to spend the winter.

And this is the end result — a wetland that's full of ducks, full of growth, that puts in the best shape possible when they leave Texas to go back to the breeding grounds. Over the last 20 years, this project has been developed from Orange County all the way to Cameron. Now, certainly, those colors are varying degrees of participation; but I'd like to focus that most of the work has been on the mid coast and upper coast, with the four counties of Wharton Matagorda, Jefferson, and Chambers having the highest number of projects in them.

Even with our aggressive approach to the Texas Prairie Wetlands Project, we continue to fall short of goals. That white bar represents what the objective is of the Gulf Coast Joint Venture with regards to wintering forage habitat. The yellow bars are what we have accomplished on annual basis. So you can see we're falling far short — far short — of our foraging needs and we continue to strive to try to get that up there, but it is a difficult task.

I've been talking about private lands up to this point. Rest assured that there's also a lot of work going on on public lands. We have public land scattered all four corners of this state and some of our money is working with D.U. We're delivering projects on our own public lands and as you can see, a lot of those dollars are being spent where people actually participate in hunting. Now, I'd be remiss — you know, I've been focusing on the coast. But I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you about the rest of Texas as well.

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan was put in place in 1986. Texas was able — was recognized for its importance for wintering waterfowl. When you consider that each winter — first week in January — mid winter surveys are conducted across this country as a snapshot in time to find out where the ducks are. Well, we're part of Central Flyaway. When you put the numbers together of the Central Flyaway, over 70 percent of those birds counted on that mid winter survey, right here in Texas. So Texas has got 70 percent of the ten states. So it is a very important place.

And as you can see, as I mentioned, Gulf Coast Joint Venture — I've already talked about — the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, mainly up in the Panhandle, and the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture were original joint ventures in the North American Plan. So people early on recognized that Texas was an important place for waterfowl. Since that time, Texas has become wall-to-wall joint ventures and now we've added the Oaks and Prairie Joint Venture and we've also added the Rio Grande Joint Venture.

Now, all of these are important. Mostly important for waterfowl, as well as wintering birds. So we're taking advantage of our migratory game bird stamp funds to go see what's going on out there. For example, we're doing research on waterfowl in the Oaks and Prairie Joint Venture, frankly, because people may not know it; but at times, the Oaks and Prairie Joint Venture rivals numbers of ducks. When we're — when we're doing our surveys, the Oaks and Prairie will rival the coast for total number of ducks counted and it's pretty impressive what those stock tanks can do and we're trying to figure out how do we capture that.

We're looking at to the Playa Lakes Joint Venture trying to help direct funding up there because anybody that's been up there when it's wet, you know what it looks like with respect to waterfowl. We've had and will continue to put money into East Texas wetland projects. And so as we move forward, I return back to this slide. The connection between Saskatchewan and Texas is very strong and TPWD is thankful that we have partners like D.U., D.U. Canada, our federal partners and our private landowners that recognize the importance of waterfowl.

We're also very fortunate that our duck hunters in this state, our migratory bird hunters in this state, saw fit that, "Hey, we need a tax for sales. We need a stable funding source," and we had a Legislature that supported this concept. As a result, Texas will continue to be one of the most important wintering areas for North America's waterfowl. With that, I'll take any questions.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions for Dave or Dave?

COMMISSIONER DE HOYOS: Comment, Chairman.

I had the opportunity to visit Canada last year, as Dave mentioned earlier. And I just want to thank you, Dave and Dave, and all the partners of Ducks Unlimited for the excellent work they are doing out there. To see those nesting grounds in person, to see the easements that they have done and the partnerships that they have been able to accomplish with agriculture people — ranchers, farmers — it is phenomenal. Great use of our dollars, I may add. It's phenomenal to see — very seldom do I get to see $1 becoming five. It typically goes the other way around in my wallet, at least.

And in this particular case, it is phenomenal to see how $1 dollar becomes five and the benefit that it provides and also the great enhancement of opportunities for hunters in Texas. So I think that Texas waterfowl hunters should be very proud of the partnership that we have Ducks Unlimited in Canada and through the United States and I just want to thank you for your work.

MR. KOSTERSKY: Thank you very much. Thank you for the partnership. And, again, thanks for the time. We know how busy your schedules are and your agenda, obviously, is packed and to take the time to provide us this opportunity to fill you in on what we do and what we accomplish together is much appreciated.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Thank you, Dave.

And, Roberto, thank you for making that trip up there last year and representing the Commission and reporting back to us.

COMMISSIONER DE HOYOS: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Thank you.

MR. MORRISON: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Good morning, Margaret.

All right. Next item, Work Session Item No. 6, 2015-16 Statewide Hunting Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Jason and Kevin, please make your presentation.

MR. HARDIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Jason Hardin, Upland Game Bird Specialist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Joining me is Assistant Commander Kevin Davis with the Law Enforcement Division and we're here to present proposed changes to the statewide hunting proclamation. These proposed changes were recommended by TPWD's Resident Game Bird Technical Committee and have been reviewed by our Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee.

Texas offers two fall turkey zones for Rio Grande wild turkey hunting. The fall season runs concurrently with the White-tail deer seasons. However, as you can see in the calendar, the late youth season in the North Zone is only offered the third weekend in January. Staff has proposed to extend the current youth-only season to run concurrently with the youth-only White-tail deer season, providing a total of 14 consecutive days of youth hunting opportunities following the close of the general fall season.

The Department estimates a population of 88,000 turkey hunters in Texas, with 10,000 of them being youth hunters under the age of 18. Staff provided multiple venues for public comments this winter, including two public hearings, a live webinar, and the TPWD website. 91 percent of respondents agreed completely with the recommendation. Comments were overwhelmingly positive. 7 percent of respondents disagreed completely with the recommendation. Comments related to the proposal generally expressed concern over perceived declines in turkey numbers.

Texas offers four spring turkey zones — three Rio Grande wild turkey zones and a an Eastern wild turkey zone. In total, spring turkey hunting is available in 191 counties statewide. Staff have proposed closing the 11 Eastern wild turkey counties shown here in the green and white striped areas. These 11 counties meet TPWD's decision variable county closure, which states that an Eastern wild turkey county will be proposed for closure if the three-year average harvest reported at TPWD's mandatory Eastern wild turkey check stations is equal to or less than one bird per season and the biologist with the district consider the county unsuited to provide adequate harvest potential.

In addition to closing Angelina County, one of the 11 counties currently proposed for county closure, and in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service, staff have proposed closing the Angelina National Forest Service lands falling within Jasper County. No harvest has been reported on the Angelina National Forest in recent years. Closing Angelina National Forest will support forthcoming turkey research and an associated super-stocking scheduled to take place in 2016 on this specific site.

89 percent of respondents agreed completely with the recommendation. Comments were primarily positive. 9 percent of the internet respondents disagreed completely with the recommendation. The folks disagreeing with the recommendation generally cited lack of quality turkey habitat, poor compliance at our mandatory check stations, and there was some specific disagreement expressed with closing Hopkins County.

Staff also proposes modifying Wharton and Matagorda Counties shown here in the orange and black striped areas to conform to the adjacent special one-gobbler only zone located to the north and west. Staff believe the birds in these two counties, as well as the habitat and climate, to be more representative of the special one-gobbler only zone. This modification will maintain the one-gobbler only, 30-day spring only season; but will remove the mandatory harvest reporting requirements and alter the opening date of the season from April 15th to April 1st. 96 percent of respondents agreed completely with the recommendation, with primarily positive comments. 3 percent of our respondents disagreed completely with the recommendation.

Now, I'll pass it on to Assistant Commander Davis.

MR. DAVIS: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Smith. For the record, my name is Kevin Davis with the Law Enforcement Division.

Staff is also proposing some non-substantive changes to just better clarify some things that already exist in our current regulations. The first of those deals with archery-only Mule deer season and whether or not a permit is required for the take of doe deer during the Mule deer archery-only season. A simple word change would clarify that in certain counties, a doe permit is not required and in other counties it is. We did go out for public comment on this change, with 91 — or 92 total comments, 91 of those in favor and one in disagreement.

Secondly, what you're seeing on the screen now is an example of how the public receives information relating to White-tailed deer season in Texas. All of our publications that go to the public stipulate northern counties versus southern counties on dates of the deer seasons out there now. It has been that way for many years, and this is a — this particular picture you're seeing is a picture of our new Outdoor Annual app.; but it is also delineated this way in the online version of our information and in our printed Outdoor Annual that way and, again, has been done that way for years.

All we're simply doing is providing the language in the Administrative Code to mirror the way we already present the information to the public. With that, I'll ask for any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions by the Commission? All right. Thank you, gentlemen. If no further discussion, I'll place this item on Thursday's Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 7, 2015-16 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Good morning, Ken.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski of Inland Fisheries Division and I'm here today to, once again, summarize our proposed changes to the freshwater fishing regulations and to update you on the public comment that we received on those proposals.

First one on Braunig and Calaveras, a couple cooling reservoirs near San Antonio that have some unique environments with elevated water temperatures, high chlorine content, and abundant Tilapia. We have been managing the Largemouth bass population there with an 18-inch minimum length limit since 1995. We encountered some problems in the population based on the competition with Tilapia, heated water, and other habitat issues. We did undertake some measures to try and counter those stocking and habitat improvement; but the activities weren't successful in making any improvements in that population. So we are proposing to remove that 18-inch minimum and revert back to the statewide limits, which is 14 inches and the five-fish bag.

Next on O.H. Ivie Reservoir near San — out near San — east of San Angelo. It was initially stocked with Smallmouth bass and to — as we do, many times, an initial introduction of Smallmouth bass, we put an 18-inch minimum on that to try and improve the quality of that population. Unfortunately, the Smallmouth bass haven't done well there. Few are caught by anglers, and we see very few in our recent surveys. So that 18 inches isn't having any impact on that population. So we're proposing to move that back to the statewide limits, that 14-inch and five-fish.

In Lake Nasworthy near San Angelo it's a constant level reservoir. It has abundant habitat and good shoreline access and the bass are currently managed under a 14 — the statewide limit, the 14 inches and five fish. Growth size and size structure in abundance of the bass over 14 inches are unsatisfactory. We have a buildup of — had good reproduction and a buildup of fish under 14 inches. So our proposal is there to put a 14- to 18-inch slot limit, keep the bag at five. We want to increase the harvest of some of those overabundant bass under 14 inches, maybe get some turnover in the population, and improve the size structure and growth.

Lastly on Lake Falcon on the Rio Grande. It's a — fluctuates — the level there, water level there fluctuates frequently. It's currently 24 feet low. This is a lake that has always produced excellent bass fishing when the water levels are up and at that time, it frequently gets listed as one of the top bass lakes in the U.S. Over the last few years, we've received reports of wounds on bass and a very abundant physical Alligator gar population. Over time, coinciding with the water level going down, angler concerns about that bass population have escalated.

Because of that, we instituted a survey of the Alligator gar population and gar anglers in 2014. When we looked at the fishing for gar on the reservoir, most of the gar anglers are local, coming within 1.5 hours of the reservoir. Looking at the harvest — the harvest rate over the study period and previously observed information, harvest was judged to be at a low level, probably around 1 percent.

While some anglers did come to pursue trophy gar, many anglers were looking to catch gar to harvest. When surveyed, most of the anglers did express the desire to be allowed to harvest more gar. We evaluated the gar population there. We did find we have a very unique population there. It has some of the fastest growth documented, they mature at early ages and, we had more frequent strong year classes. Predation of bass by gar was at low levels and it was similar to what we've seen in most other populations and the primary prey there is — or for the gar was carp and Tilapia. What we see there, we have a good, stable population and that leads to many characteristics that makes it less vulnerable to overharvest.

We did take that life history data and use it in a fishery simulation model and that model is used to determine potential impacts of highest — higher harvest rates on the population. The bottom axis is a population harvest rate, and the vertical axis is an index of overfishing. Overfishing could lead to a decrease in fish abundance in the population. The threshold value for overfishing is 0.35, which is represented by that dashed line. The current harvest rate is estimated at — at Falcon is estimated at about 1 percent, which would correspond to approximately 0.8 and 0.9 on the overfishing index, which would mean overfishing is not occurring.

The harvest rate would need to increase close to 7 percent or higher for overfishing index to fall below the 0.35 level and for the population abundance to turn and decline. So we think we — at the current level, we have a sufficient buffer there in the population to impact — medi — myriad any possible impacts of harvest.

So looking at that information, we are proposing to increase the bag there from one to five fish per day. We believe looking at the information, this has minimal risk to the population and it can support the angler's desire there for a bag limit increase. As part of that, we need to set a reservoir definition for the five-fish bag and that will be the impounded waters of the Rio Grande upstream to the Zapata/Webb County line. And as we discussed last time, you requested that we take a look to put this on a sunset and we've put that on a five-year review. So this would expire on September 1, 2020.

And one sort of related gar note, also from the last meeting. There was a request to take a look at some of our language wording on the harvest, closure of gar on Lake Texoma. We slightly modified that regulation. It previously said, "Just taking Alligator gar," and we added some additional language, "Fishing for or seeking to take," to expand that a little bit for that closure on Lake Texoma.

Summarizing the comment, almost all the comments we received on this were in support of these proposals. We did receive a few comments in opposition on Falcon Lake. Five persons did make comment on that. One of the comments wanted to have a higher bag. Another suggested we put that bag, five-fish bag, on immediately; and a couple others suggested a three-fish bag. There were also a couple comments made agreeing — in the agree-and-support column that said they wanted to see this put on immediately or higher.

And as you know, we did attempt to do a few different things with our public input process this year. We did have just two public hearings. We had one in Lufkin and one down at Zapata. We had seven people so up in Lufkin and four in Zapata and we also implemented the narrated of the PowerPoint presentations on our website and we also did a live webinar. At the — when we did the live webinar, we had 17 people register and listen in online and we did receive a couple comments from that and a couple positive comments, that they appreciated this opportunity to have an opportunity to listen to the proposals. So it was sort of a learning experience for us. You know, we — mostly positive comments on it at this stage and it would be a — it was a good opportunity for us to work — we worked with Wildlife and Coastal and then worked with Communications and our Law Enforcement to put that on and, as I said, I think we'll take what we learned this year and improve on it for the next go-around. So with that, if you have any comments. I'd be happy to —

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any question for Ken? Thank you, Ken. If no further discussion, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 8, Commercial Shrimping Regulations, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Request Permission to Publish Additional Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Good morning, Mark.

MR. LINGO: Good morning. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Mark Lingo. I'm with Coastal Fisheries. I'm the new Science and Policy Branch Chief there.

Back in the August Commission meeting of last year, staff were directed to look at the feasibility of liberalizing some of the commercial shrimp regulations for bay and bait shrimpers and that's what we did. We looked at the data and what we found was that since the introduction shrimp license buy-back program in 1995, that there had been about a 75 percent of the bait and bay commercial shrimp license have been retired since then. And correspondingly, we've seen a decline in the landings that have occurred and at this time, we're looking at about 2 million pounds per year landing, which is at about a 15 percent of the high that we had.

We also looked at the bag distribution of what was landed per day and about 73 percent of the landings fall below — at or below the 200 pounds per day type thing and only 1 percent — well, it's actually less than 1 percent of the landings are at the current 600-pound mark. So very few people are landing what's a — the current regulations are. So after examining the data, staff concluded that changing the closing time for both commercial and recreational shrimping from 2:00 p.m. to 30 minutes after sunset and increasing the daily bag limit by 200 pounds per day, would not negatively impact the shrimp stocks nor the bycatch species.

And at the Commission meeting back in January, we had asked to publish the — for public comment in the Texas Register and we did. We also held some in-person public hearings. We went to six locations up the coast. We had 117 attendees. You see that we had six people that spoke in support of the extension of the closure, with 11 opposing; and 16 people speaking in support of the increased bag limit, and one person opposing.

On the online comments that we received, we've got 24 people in support and 77 that are opposed. And I'm just going to stop right there for a moment and let you know kind of what some of the comments that we heard. And the two biggest ones are is that they were afraid of the shrimp populations not being able to handle the increased take, and the other one is that the bycatch percentage would go ask up and affect the bycatch species as well. And what we found — I showed you before in our data was that we don't believe that would be the case. That the fish population — the shrimp population and the bycatch species would be minimally impacted, if at all, by doing this increase.

We received a letter of support by the Coastal Resource Advisory Committee. We received a letter from Matagorda County Seafood Representative in support, but we also received a letter in opposition to extend the closure from the Texas Shrimp Association. And that concludes that part of my presentation, if y'all have any questions our comments.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions or comments? All right. Do you want to continue? You have another part of the presentation, don't you?

MR. LINGO: Yes, sir.

So we have coming up asking to propose for publish for public comment three items. The first one is to eliminate the size count requirement for the commercial bay shrimping, and the next two are just clarifications. We want to update a citation of the effective date of the federal regulations governing turtle excluder devices and update the rules to clarify that turtle excluder devices are required in all waters.

Currently, bay shrimpers may not exceed the legal count of 50 heads on shrimp per pound and what happens with the ones that are below that, they get just shoved overboard and this may be construed as a waste of the resource. And this was also a recommendation from the industry with continued dialogue with the industry since last August and this is one of the recommendations that the industry had.

Current turtle excluder device definition cites a 2005 reference in the Federal Code and this proposal would update the definition to reflect the current CFR citation date of August 31st of 2012. And also, currently the rule states that all the shrimp boats fishing in Texas outside waters must have turtle excluder devices installed on all trawls and we would like to update that to where shrimp boats fishing in all Texas waters have to have TEDs installed. So all Texas waters instead of outside waters. And that concludes that part of the presentation. Any comments or questions?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions? All right. Mark, thank you.

MR. LINGO: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: If no more questions, I'll place the proposed amendment 58.62 — .162-58.165 on Thursday's Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. We'll also propose the amendment 58.102 and 58.160 and 58.166 in the Texas Register for public comment period. Thank you. A lot of numbers there.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: They're trying to trick you.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Yeah.

All right, just moving on. Work Session Item No. 9, Commercial Oyster Regulations, Request Permission to Publishing Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Jeremy, good morning.

MR. LEITZ: Good morning, Mr. Commissioner — Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, and Mr. Smith. For the record, my name is Jeremy Leitz with the Coastal Fisheries Division and I'm here to talk about a couple of proposed changes we have for the oyster fishery and those really are granting the Department the authority to count dead oyster shell at least three-quarter of an inch in the 15 percent allotment of undersize oysters per sack. And in doing so, we need to go back and amend the definition of a sack oysters to include dead shell greater than three-quarters of an inch.

Right now, only oysters counted at undersized allotment of 15 percent and usually those oysters that are less than 3 inches in size. And, again, not more than any sack can be — can contain 15 percent of these undersized oysters. Right now, shell is not included in that 15 percent and these undersized oysters must be returned to the reef from which they were taken. So certainly, this is having some affect that any time these oysters are harvested, certainly shell is brought up with it. The shell or, in this case, cultch material is what those larval oysters use to attach and grow and mature into legal size oysters. And so we're seeing the substrate of these reefs are being depleted of this necessary material because it's often not recovered and sent away for other purposes, such as construction material and roadbeds or feed additive in poultry operations. And, of course, this continued depletion certainly poses a risk to the fishery for these juvenile oysters.

So what we're proposing is to require that each dead oyster shell greater than three-quarters of an inch be counted as an undersized oyster and included in that 15 percent allotment and that this shell measuring greater three-quarters of an inch must be returned to the reef at that time of harvest. And in doing so, we need to amend the definition of a sack of oysters to include shell greater than three-quarters of an inch.

This is something that's been supported by industry and the Oyster Advisory Workgroup and it's something they've been asking for for the past couple of years. So with that, I'm happy to address any questions or comments anyone has.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions? Thank you, Jeremy.

MR. LEITZ: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I'll ask staff to propose the rule — to publish the rule to the Texas Registry for the required public comment period.

Work Session Item No. 10, Rules Governing Buoy Standards, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Does any Commissioner have a question on this? If not, I'll place this item on Thursday's — I'll place this item on Thursday's Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: He skated.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Sorry, Cody.

No. 11, Land Acquisition Matagorda County, approximately 267 Acres on Matagorda Peninsula. Ted, please make your presentation.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. Good morning. I'm with the Land Conservation Program.

This is a second reading of an item that you saw in January. We've been offered an undivided interest in a tract of land out on Matagorda peninsula, which is in Matagorda County. It's a really unique area. Probably the last spot on the upper coast I would consider to be wilderness. It's very difficult to get to; but it has extremely, extremely high biological values. We know turtles nest on those beaches and use that bay and that a variety of migratory birds — shore-wading birds consider that to be very important habitat.

The General Land Office owns most of that peninsula, and we are working on several proposals that that might result in that property ending up in conservation. So when these private in holdings become available, we may come to you and recommend that we acquire those to minimize the number of in holdings in that conservation tract and this is one of those in holdings. In this case, we're talking about 267 acres of interest in this tract. The Parks and Wildlife Foundation has agreed to pick up the cost of acquisition for that.

You can see from the maps that this particular interest is right on that very end of the peninsula, adjacent to Brown Cedar Cut. And you can see in this map that the rest of that tract — or most of the rest of that tract and much of the adjacent peninsula is owned by the General Land Office and is party of that property that we hope to see in conservation before long. This is a close-up of the area. Again, you can see that there's grasslands. There's a lot of flats. There's wash-over channels. There's beach front. Just a lot of high quality wetland habitat, coastal habitat, that we think is extremely important to see protected.

We've received no comments on this item and staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorize the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire approximately 267 acres in Matagorda County for the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat. I'd be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions for Ted?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Ted, this is — I'm a little confused. This is an undivided interest?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: That's correct. Yes, sir, it's an undivided interest. Within those two tracts, the General Land Office owns approximately half. There are — there are several other private owners of that tract.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So we have — we will have an undivided interest in both of those tracts combined?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Correct, yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. And so we will have access and whatever right an undivided interest owner would have?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Exactly, yes, sir. And —

COMMISSIONER JONES: But we have other owners that we'll have to contend with?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. Ideally, you know, we'll clear those up over time. As you'll here in another item, an owner of one of those others has contacted us. The County has increased the tax valuation on those tracts severalfold this year. Those tracts are inaccessible and I think people are going to probably — based on previous experience, we'll probably get contacted by folks who just simply don't want to continue paying on taxes on tracts they can't get to and have no use for.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just a point of reference, Ted. I just was looking at some of this and I noticed you've got a couple of issues on this. How does the deal work between TPW and the GLO? If we were to — I notice in here you're — you know, you're alluding that we, at some point in time, would like to get some of the GLO land back. Do we have to pay them fair market value, or how does that work?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. The land is actually owned — actually held in the Permanent — Permanent School Fund, which means that it's managed for its fiduciary values. The Permanent School Fund relies on the GLO to determine what a fair market value is and in case — in this case, we've been discussing with the General Land Office. There's no comps. It's very difficult to come up with a fair market value for that. But we would agree on a value that's defensible, and then the property would be purchased at that value.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: If it's in the Permanent School Fund now and it's down there and it's not accessible or anything, who's actually paying tax on it?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: There are no taxes being paid on it.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Which is the crux of not — we don't end paying tax. So eventually — so actually, there's never any tax paid on any of that. It's just on the minerals?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: The only taxes being paid — the only ad valorem taxes being paid are by those specific individual private in holders. Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Right. But the stuff that's in GLO or us, no — there are no taxes on any of that?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Correct. There would be no net change in the tax base except for those few private tracts that come out of private ownership.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any other question for Ted? All right. If there's no more discussion, I'll place this item on Thursday's Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 12, Acceptance of Land Donation, Matagorda County, Approximately 22 Acres on the Matagorda peninsula. Any Commissioners have any questions or comments? If not, I'll place this item on Thursday's Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 12 — oh, excuse me. That's the one we just passed up. Work Session Item No. 13, Land Acquisition Bastrop County, Five Tracts Totaling 220 Acres at Bastrop State Park, Request Permission to Begin Public Notice and Input. Corky, please make your presentation.

MR. KUHLMANN: Good morning. For the record, Corky Kuhlmann with Land Conservation Program. This is a request for approval to pursue some tracts at Bastrop State Park.

Bastrop State Park staff as identified five adjacent tracts all list as, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, as known Houston toad habitat. If we move forward with this, we'll partner with Bastrop County as part of their Lost Pines Habitat Conservation Plan. They will provide approximately — with over probably half the funding and then that — their half will be our 50 percent match for the grant if we pursue these tracts.

They range in size from 9 to 77 acres. This is the location of the tracts, you know, scattered around. We have willing sellers for two of the tracts we've already visited with that are ready to sign contracts. So with that, staff would like to begin the process of providing public notice and obtaining public input regarding the acquisition of adjacent tracts of land as an addition to Bastrop State Park and I'd be glad to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Anybody have any question for Corky?

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I've got — you've identified five tracts. You have two willing sellers?

MR. KUHLMANN: We have — we have two willing sellers. One of the tracts that we've identified, we visit with quite a bit and it has a nice pond on it and his grandkids started fishing a few weeks ago. So he's not willing he's a willing seller anymore. And one of them is — one of the tracts, the very northern tract is a delinquent tax tract that we're working with the County to try and identify the owner who they can't find in hopes of securing that tract from the County at some future date.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: All but one are willing sellers —

MR. KUHLMANN: Yes.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: — or I guess --

MR. KUHLMANN: Well, the one — the last remaining tract, we have not contacted the owner yet.

MS. BRIGHT: If I could, I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. I just want to make clear that we're only going to seek to purchase property from willing sellers. I think this is just to get that authorization so that he can begin contacting folks to determine whether or not all of them are willing sellers.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I'm just trying to understand what we're approving here because —

MS. BRIGHT: Absolutely. No, no. It's really just to begin the public notice and input process and come back either in — just in the event we're able to basically work a deal with these folks, I think we want to be able to come back to the Commission and get approval; but those would require notice and comments, so.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So you may come back with four deals.

MS. BRIGHT: It could be four. It could be three. It could be one. Right, yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Hopefully, it's two because you've got two willing sellers.

MS. BRIGHT: Okay, yeah. So two. Good plus.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: All right. Thank you. That's all I had.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Thank you.

MR. KUHLMANN: Well, and something to add to that is when we do these deals and when we use federal money, each landowner we ever do a deal with has to sign a document that says he knows that he was justly compensated for the land. And like Ann said, the two people we have that are — actually, we have contracts pending on — notified us. They came to us, even as we had their tracts identified. And so, yeah.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Great. I just wanted a little clarification. Thank you, Corky.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Thank you. If no discussion, I'll authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process.

With regard to Work Session Item No. 14, Land Acquisition Nacogdoches County, 133 Acres Adjacent to Alazan Bayou Wildlife Management Area, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments? If not, I'll place this item on Thursday's Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

With regard to Work Session Item No. 15, Land Acquisition Brazoria County, Easement for Pump Station and Pipeline, Approximately 1.7 acres at Sea Center Texas, does any Commissioner have any comments or questions? I'll place this item on Thursday's Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 16, Pipeline Easement Expansion, Armstrong County, Approximately .24 acres at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Request Permission to Begin the Public Input Process.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. At Palo Duro Canyon, which I'm sure you're all familiar with up in the Panhandle, there are some — there are two existing pipelines that cross a tract that we bought six or seven years ago called the Home Camp tract. Those are — those lines were installed in 1960 and 1972. They're older style steel pipelines. The company that now manages those lines, Mid-America, is in the process of installing cathodic protection systems every few miles along the length of those pipelines and because of the reach of that pipeline that's in the park, it is pretty much necessary for them to install a cathodic protection system inside the park.

Staff is very much in favor of these systems. They extend the life of the pipelines. They increase pipeline safety. In this case because of the configuration required for the cathodes, it's going to be necessary for us to increase the size of that easement by a few thousand square feet. What staff is proposing to do is rewrite the existing pipeline easements out of the cathodic protection system and rather than gather a few thousand dollars for that footprint, require that all future work to those pipelines require that the owners/operators come to us for surface use agreement. We think that will provide greater long-term protection for the park and park resources than collecting a couple thousand dollars for that expanded easement.

The company is in agreement with that. We think that's good for the pipelines. We think it's good for the company. We think that's good for Texas Parks and Wildlife, and we're requesting permission to begin the public notice and input process. I'd be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any question for Ted? If not, I'll authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process.

Action Item No. 17, Land Acquisition Palo Pinto County, Approximately 5500 Acres of Land in the Cross Timbers Region to Create a New Wildlife Management Area. Corky.

MR. KUHLMANN: Good morning. For the record, Corky Kuhlmann with the Land Conservation Program. This is an acquisition in Palo Pinto County. This piece of land is located approximately 45 miles, just about due west, of Fort Worth. The tract does have some frontage on I-20.

This tract will represent the completion of a long-term goal for the Wildlife Division to get a Cross Timbers WMA. We have been in contact with this owner for some time, and staff have been working with him for a while to purchase this tract. We're getting close to a deal. As you can see the tract there, it's west of Fort Worth. Approximately 5,000 acres, a little over — between five and 5500 acres. It has good access from a farm-to-market road and, like I said, secondary access from I-20.

The tract has 12 — in the neighborhood of 12 ponds. All the water on the tract comes from the ponds, including from one pond that feeds all the water that use — that the houses use. The hunter's cabin, the main residence, the ranch manager's house all comes from ground water — I mean from surface water. It has good examples of old growth timber, two to 300 years old; native grasses, savanna. This place would benefit from our management. A good turkey and deer population and some spectacular views. Here's one of the lakes. This lake is approximately 22 acres, 60-foot deep; and it is excellent bass fishing.

The proposed transaction, the Foundation is helping us with this with closing and closing costs. The seller has agreed to a bargain sale. Wildlife Division has identified some $10 million in PR funds as our 75 percent match — I mean as our 75 percent to — for our 25 percent match. If approved, the transaction would close within 90 days of Commission approval, which hopefully will come tomorrow. Owner is going to have a long-term lease of the house area and about three and a half acres. This — that long-term lease will not affect our management of the property once we take over management and he's going to have about two and a half years to get all of his personal property and livestock off of the ranch.

He owns about 1555 mineral acres and the deed will read as much as we can — he can prevent it and/or we can prevent it, no surface use. There was a drill welled on the ranch about two years ago, and it was dry. They didn't get anything. So that's kind of a good thing for us in our quest for no surface use.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Thus, the bargain basement price?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Has Peggy Hughes seen this property yet?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: No, she hasn't seen it yet. I'm not sure she'll get up to this one or not. We did hear about this last meeting in Executive Session. This is the same property, isn't it?

MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir. This is the same property that we saw. This is one of the views and actually for this picture, I wanted to put a "long" road to a new WMA because it has been a long road.

And with that, this is the recommendation that you'll see before you tomorrow if you approve it to go that far: The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to require approximately 5500 acres in Palo Pinto County to create the new Cross Timbers Wildlife Management Area. And I'd be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Carter, there was some discussion one of your trips up to the Capitol. What is the definition — how far from a major city does it have to be to qualify as being in the radius of a major city, or is there such an established goal?

MR. SMITH: Yeah, that's a great question. It's kind of in the eye of the beholder. And you're right, there was a lot of discussion primarily around parkland and a goal for, you know, this Commission and the Agency to support the more acquisition and development of parkland closer to large cities or any cities. And, you know, we had defined that anywhere from, you know, within an hour to an hour and a half of a major city I think would qualify. Of course in this case, we're talking about a wildlife management area. That discussion really was focused around parks.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So there's a — I guess I have a little bit of an issue. What's the difference a WMA and parkland, I mean, realistically?

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Somebody can go out to a WMA and just look around and do stuff, too, can't they?

MR. SMITH: They can, and it just kind of depends upon the site specific rules and prescriptions of the WMA. I mean, the wildlife managements area are really managed primarily for research and development, public hunting, and compatible wildlife related use. So wildlife watching and, again, public use. So you've got that R and D component and the public use perspective and the demonstration related aspect. So highlighting specific management practices that we can then export to private lands and so forth.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: But you understand where I'm coming from?

MR. SMITH: I do. I do, yeah.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So I'm just wondering how we play that. You know, is that a relevant point, you know, going forward? Perhaps the point can be made that it's not just a huge discrepancy between one and the other.

MR. SMITH: Well, there is in the sense that public visitation on state parks greatly exceeds that of the use on wildlife management areas and that's where there's a real difference is. You know, parks are there, I mean, obviously to protect unique ecological and cultural sites; but also to provide public recreation. And we've got some distinctions between a state park and natural area and historic sites. We won't go into that. But, in general, parks also have that twin goal of public recreation. A lot of different multiple use. Our wildlife management areas are more focused on the public hunting and kind of wildlife watching related things.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We can visit on that. I'm just —

MR. SMITH: Okay. Yeah, I understand where you're coming from.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Okay.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any for questions? If no further discussion, I'll place this item on Thursday's Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

And as we mentioned earlier, Item No. 18 and 19 have been withdrawn.

Can we reopen the migratory bird discussion, Carter?

MR. SMITH: Yes, if we could. And I'm going to pass out some handouts here, per the discussion and, Shaun.

Dave, do you want to come forward, too? Why don't you just join us up here.

If you don't mind, Mr. Chairman, if Dave and Shaun could be here.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Sure.

MR. MORRISON: What you have before you is some modifications that you have suggested, and we think we may have captured what you guys asked us to do. If you begin with the very first one, the North and Central, that basically is the exact same proposal that we showed earlier with one exception. We took the one day, January the 2nd, and moved it to the front end so it would open on the 18th. So all of them would open concurrent. We did not modify the first split. That's pretty much as the staff proposal was. We just took that January 2nd and moved it so the season would open on a Friday. That's, again, trying to maintain the consistency of opening dates.

The next calendar is the South Zone. The South Zone looked — as I think you guys requested, was to — well, to maintain the consistency of the closing date. We took — we added some dates to the backside because if you turn the page to the Special White-wing area, that the request — if I understood correctly — was to try to get to Martin Luther King and in order to do that, we had to change it by four days on that backside. And so those four days had to come from somewhere and so what we did is we took them off the front end of the first split. All right. So that would mean that the first split would close on the 21st of October.

Now, you consistently keep those dates the same for the South and the Central. We had to make that match up. So those days had to be put someplace and so they were put to the tail end of the second split. I know — I'm not sure I explained that the best, but it gets a little confusing. Essentially, we just shifted the days around to do what you asked us to do and they do all — now, the statewide, the second split, all zones and Special White-winged area will open on the same date, Friday, December the 18th.

The North and Central Zones will close, as staff proposed, on the 25th. The South and Special White-wing areas will close a few days earlier. So there is a little bit of disconnect there, but that's okay. That disconnect is not as big of a problem as it would have been had we had it in the South and the Central. All of them will reopen the same day on December the 18th, which is a Friday, and how they close on the backside — we see hunter participation fall off very dramatically on the back end. So the difference on that backside is not that important. But in the South and Special White-wing, they all reach Martin Luther King holiday.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Any questions?

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: It looks like that solves the issue.

MR. SMITH: I think it's consistent with what we thought we heard you say. So that's the direction we want to look for before we go forward.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: All right. Thank you. If no further discussion, I'll authorize staff to publish this proposal in the Texas Register for required public comment period.

MR. MORRISON: Thank you, folks. Appreciate it.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: And with that, Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its business today.

(Work Session Adjourns)

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 ________________, ________.

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