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TPW Commission

Work Session, January 20, 2016

Transcript

TPW Commission Meetings

TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION

January 20, 2016

TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
COMMISSION HEARING ROOM
4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744

COMMISSION WORK SESSION & EXECUTIVE SESSION

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning, everyone. I got everyone settled in. Good morning and welcome. This meeting is called to order January 20th, 2016, at 9:12 a.m.

Before proceeding with any business, I'm going to turn it over to Carter in just a second; but I want to welcome our new Commissioners: Anna, Kelcy, and Jeanne. Welcome. We're excited to have you. It's a lot of fun. We're going to have a lot of fun, but we're also going to benefit greatly from your wisdom and your experience and the Commission is going to be better for it. So thank you. Excited to have you all.

COMMISSIONER GALO: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And I'm going to turn it over to Carter now to give us a little state of the union.

MR. SMITH: Right. Well, let me start off, Mr. Chairman, with the obligatory reading. And so public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Carter.

Okay. Next order of business is the approval of the minutes from the previous Work Session held on November 4th, 2015, which have already been distributed. Do we have a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER JONES: So moved.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Jones. Second, Commissioner Scott. All in favor?

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Before we proceed, I'm going to announce that Work Session Item 17, Grant of Utility Easement, Brazoria County, Approximately 37 acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, has been withdrawn from our agenda.

And Work Session Item No. 1 is an update on TPWD progress in implementing the Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan, and we're back to Mr. Smith.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. For the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. A happy belated New Year to everybody. Nice to see everybody on this January day.

Mr. Chairman, I do have a few things that I want to share with the Commission before we get going in earnest, not least of which is a quick report from Internal Affairs. Obviously, our Internal Affairs team -- Brad and Johnny and Patty and Jon -- have been very busy with respect to their various and sundry investigative and administrative and programmatic responsibilities.

Probably the biggest news is that we have just completed the search and selection process for the next Director of our Internal Affairs team and I want to let you know that we had some extraordinary candidates and it was an exceedingly difficult selection process, just because of the talented pool that we had and the caliber and experience of the officers that applied for this position. At the end of the day, somebody had to be selected. And I'm proud to let you know that the next Director of Internal Affairs is Mr. Jonathan Gray; and I think Jonathan will serve this Agency exceedingly well in that new capacity, leading a very highly motivated talented team of officers who work every day to help protect and defend our integrity and reputation, process, etcetera, inside this Agency. And so proud of Jonathan for this promotion.

All of you have had a chance to work with him as he's led the Executive Protection Detail and worked on Internal Affairs. He's been our acting director for the last several months, but we're excited about him taking over this position in earnest. So as you see Jon today, be sure and let him know a big congratulations from you.

So congratulations, Jon.

COMMISSIONER JONES: He just walked in.

MR. SMITH: He just -- his timing is impeccable.

You know, as we closed out 2015 and started 2016, we had some wonderful traditions inside our state parks, not the least of which was the celebration of Christmas. And in 40 parks across the state, our park staff put on these wonderfully festive holiday themed parties and events for families from all around the state. Many of which had a historical event to them, and so Christmas celebrated at Espiritu Santo Mission there at Goliad State Park, just like the Spanish priests would have seen that several hundred years ago. The celebration of the traditional Mexican posoles down at Fort Leaton on the border near Presido or at the Sauer-Beckmann Historical Farm at LBJ and Kreische Brewery and Monument Hill, they celebrated like the German immigrants would have when they came over So it's a wonderful time of year in our parks; and I'd particularly invite the new Commissioners next year as you're thinking about holiday plans with your family, to try to put one of those on your itinerary. Commissioner Scott and I, a year or two ago, had a chance to spend a Christmas together over at LBJ State Park and certainly he can attest it's great fun and very, very festive.

The next big tradition for us was first-day hikes. Opportunity for everybody to work off all of that extra fruitcake that we enjoyed over the Christmas holidays. Another great tradition. This year the weather was not all that conducive for getting out doors. We had snow out in the Franklin Mountains, ice out in the Davis mountains, flooding in North Texas, and high winds and tides there on the coast; but thousands of folks came out with their families to kickoff their New Year with a celebratory hike inside their state parks and there's a litany of very happy campers right there at Inks Lake State Park. And so, again, just another way that our State Park staff are trying to make those special places accessible and unique to all of the folks who care so much about them.

It seemed like 2015, we spent a lot of time talking about mother nature and catastrophic impacts to state parks. Regrettably, we ended and started the year on that same note. All of you are certainly familiar with the horrific tornadoes that affected the Garland and DFW area and unfortunately resulted in the deaths of a number of citizens up there. Our game wardens, again, did an extraordinary job as first responders under very difficult circumstances. Up in the Panhandle, tens of feet of drifting snow and ice resulted in the death of 20, 30 -- almost 40,000 dairy cattle up in the Panhandle and major flooding there in the eastern part of our state as our eastern rivers overflowed their banks.

Around the first of January, we had another two dozen of our state parks that were closed or partially closed because of weather-related impacts; and unfortunately, we had been to that dance several other times in 2015 with the flooding event starting there around Memorial Day and all through the summer and the fall. And so just when we think we're going to have a chance to lift up our heads and our Infrastructure and State Parks team to assess the damage from significant storms all across the system from the summer and fall, the system was hit again. And so I wanted to make sure that you know that. And as we are moving ahead with our capital repair program -- which is a hugely important effort for this Agency -- going forward, certainly dealing with the weather impacts is going to be a big part of that.

Our State Wildlife Management Areas were also significantly impacted, as well. These are shots from East Texas WMAs that, to this day, are still largely underwater there at Richland Creek southeast of Fort Worth, Wide Oak Creek up in Northeast Texas, and Keechi Creek over there near Palestine, and significant over-bank flooding along any of the tributaries for the Neches and the Sabine and the Trinity Rivers and so our Wildlife biologists having to contend with that. We ended up having to cancel a little over 20 public hunts because of the flooding related stuff, but we'll provide a more detailed update once we finish the assessment and are able to get back in there.

Proud to say that last week, we launched the 60th training class for the Game Warden Academy. This was also the second class in which we had an integrated force of cadets on both the Law Enforcement and State Park side; and so we're very proud of that, forty-six game warden cadets and six park police officers. You can see the earnest cadets there on their first day of class. I'm just noticing this picture, the young man third from the right is already checking his watch and you tell him he has seven more months to go. Good luck with that.

So, but if you have a chance over the next seven months, come out to the academy and meet the cadets. They love to meet you and hear from you and watch them in training. It's a impressive group of men and women, really diverse backgrounds and experiences that they're going to be bringing to their jobs with the State and awfully, awfully proud of them.

At the last Commission, we talked about the migration of the Texas Farm and Ranch Land Conservation Program over to the Parks and Wildlife Department. Just as a quick reminder, that's the State's purchase of development rights program. It's designed to keep working lands working, productive open space, actively continuing in working farms and ranches through the voluntary purchase of conservation easements on those properties; but we also get all the other byproducts of that in terms of conservation of wildlife habitat and open space and scenic vistas that Texans care about and enhanced water quality and quantity.

That program on the 1st of January officially landed at Parks and Wildlife. It's overseen by a 12-member board that is chaired by the Chairman of the Parks and Wildlife Commission or his designee and I wanted to let you know Chairman Friedkin has asked Commissioner Morian to serve as the Commissioner and the Chairman of that board, of which he has graciously agreed to do that and his experience in land conservation and real estate and agriculture and knowledge of the state and the many stakeholders in this program, will serve this Agency well as we launch it under the umbrella of the Department. So we're excited about that, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Chairman of the Farm and Ranch Land Council, for your leadership.

So thank you, Commissioner Morian, on that front.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: You're welcome to it.

MR. SMITH: So one of the things that we talk a lot about with the Commission is making sure that we're providing access for Texans who want to get out and enjoy the outdoors and whether that's hunting or fishing or camping or kayaking or hiking, whatever the activity on land and water may be. Certainly one of the major impediments to recruiting and retaining new shooters and hunters is being able to find appropriate places where they can learn to shoot their guns safely and responsibly. And so in this day and time, it's harder and harder to find target ranges for folks to be able to go to and not surprisingly because oftentimes neighbors and so forth aren't excited necessarily about having target ranges next door to them.

And so we have a target range grant program in which we partner with municipalities and other nonprofit interest to invest in the acquisition and development of new target ranges. It's funded from Pittman-Robertson funds, which are the federal excise taxes that we pay when we acquire shooting arms and ammunition. This year, we have almost $6 million available in grants.

Josh and his team have gone through an application process, and are currently in the throes of working with about 12 different applicants that are looking at establishing or expanding ranges around the state. Those aren't finalized yet, but we look forward to coming back and reporting on those once we work through some details with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Particularly excited about a project up in the Grapevine area that's going to be a whole new outdoor skills learning area, including a really interesting archery range and a bunch of other stuff that we're excited about right there in the Metroplex, where -- candidly -- we don't have a huge presence. And so look forward to visiting more with the Commission or -- Commission on that front.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Are Commissioners' backyards excluded from these grants?

MR. SMITH: You know, Commissioner, it's -- I'll leave that to your discretion as to --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Just curious.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, yeah. I don't ask any questions.

Big Time Texas Hunt, this is a -- these are great program in which we provide some very high quality hunt experiences for folks that put in for drawn hunts. We have trophy White-tail hunts, hog hunts, alligator hunts. People can submit applications for a $10 fee or $9 if they do it online. This is the first time, Commissioners, that we had a Big Time Texas Mule deer hunt; and so that's significant in and of itself. It's also significant that we held that on the new wildlife management area that this Commission authorized up in Yoakum County, the Yoakum Dunes area just west of Brownfield on the New Mexico border.

And this very lucky hunter from Georgetown, killed a whopper of a Mule deer buck that netted 228 on Boone-Crockett score and so a pretty happy Georgetown hunter who got awfully fortunate there in the Sandhills there on the New Mexico border and so we're awfully excited about it.

The other couple things I'll say about the Big Time Texas Hunts, when we added the Mule deer hunt, you know, we saw about a 5, 6, 7 percent increase -- 6 percent increase in revenue, that goes to support public hunting and other wildlife management programs. The other things -- and I know that the Commission has been very emphatic about this -- is really pushing us to do more of our business online with our customers.

And, Josh, you may need to jump in here. But my understanding is that about 60 percent of the applications came in online that we sold; and that was a 15, 16, 17 percent increase from -- 20 percent increase from last year. So we continue to push that; and I want to make sure that the Commission knows that, that we're doing everything we can for ease of access for our customers in terms of the online service.

So with that, Mr. Chairman, I think that's about all of the report that I have to share with you this morning, at least for now; and I'm happy to entertain any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Carter?

Appreciate it, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Item No. 2 is Financial Overview and Mike Jensen and Julie. Good morning.

MR. JENSEN: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Mike Jensen. I'm the Administrative Resources Division Director. To my right is Julie Horsley. I usually refer to her as the person behind the curtain of Oz and Parks and Wildlife. She's the Planning and Analysis and Reporting Director in the Administrative Resources Division.

What we have planned for you today, I have a higher level summary of the revenue streams for the Department and the adjusted budget, a short presentation. And then I'll -- we'll have Julie dive into one of the important funds for the Department, Fund 9. We have over 35 funds for the Department, and the Comptroller breaks that down into more than 90 appropriations that we track; but the two that you'll probably hear the most about is Fund 9, Game, Fish, and Water Safety. That funds every division in this Department, with the exception of State Parks because the second fund is the State Parks Account, Fund 64.

I want to give you a high-level perspective of the revenue that the Legislature expects the Department to collect for Fund 64. Fund 64, we have the state park receipts. Fund 9, we primarily have boat revenue and we have revenue from hunting and fishing license sales. So this would give you perspective from fiscal year '15 and '14 compared. It's 46.29 percent million dollars for '15 and 46.6 in '14. In '13, it was 44.6 million. That's not on the slide. In '12, it was 39.2 million. '11 was 37 million. The reason those years were a little lower, the Department was -- we had had budget cuts. When you cut staff, you have to limit the hours that some of the parks are open and that has an adverse impact on the revenues.

I mean, you can see they've done a pretty good job in the last three years and the Legislature is going to expect us -- when they do the BRE -- probably to be at a $46 million revenue level. And this would be Fund 64, the State Park Account. The State Park Division is also partially funded with the sporting goods sales tax. You'll probably hear a lot about that, the new Commissioners, in the upcoming Legislative session. So about half their budget is from the fees they collect at the parks, and the other half is from sporting goods sales tax.

This slide shows you the boat revenue, and it trends pretty consistently. '15 was 21.7 million. '14 was 21.5 million. Not reflected on this slide is '13, 21.3 million. Fiscal year '12 was 21.7 million, and '11 was 21.3. So our budget is supported by about 21 and a half million of boat fees per year. The majority of this goes to water safety. We have game wardens who do compliance out there on the water. They keep the public safe. A lot of that goes to fund those types of activities.

One of the larger sources of revenue for the Department is from the sale of hunting and fishing license and other permits related to wildlife. And you can see from this slide, we've had a growth up to about 100.9 million last -- the end of last fiscal year. This slide actually represents a license year, which goes -- it almost coincides with the fiscal year; but the license year starts August 15th, and it goes through the end of the fiscal year. The prior year in '14, it was 98.8 million. '13, was 96.26. '12 was 93.8 million. So it's approximately a 2.6 percent growth each year roughly.

And as I mentioned before, all these revenues support -- all the functions support game, fish, water safety, the biologists, every division with the exception of the State Parks Division. And it's interesting to me -- and I'll just point out that about two-thirds of the revenue from the license sales is from the combination licenses, the super combos and the combos, and the fishing licenses. And when you look at that by volume, the super combos account for almost 35 percent of the revenue; but they're only about 22 percent of the volume. Fishing licenses -- residential fishing licenses are the opposite of that, and they account for about 32 percent of the revenue; but they're about 34 percent of the volume.

I want to give you a quick report for the performance of the first quarter for this fiscal year that started on September 1st. You can see from this slide, the state park receipts are up 2 percent, which is approximately 213, $214,000 above last year. September was a great month. It was ahead almost 25 percent, about 755,000. October and November fell behind. If you recall, we had some flooding events at the end of October throughout the state. It's not reflected in this slide. Next time we report back, December was a good month. So we had an increase in December.

You can see facilities of 4.3 million; entrance fees, 3.2 million; concessions, 1.2 million, ahead of the last -- the same period for last year. This slide doesn't reflect visitation, but visitations are holding even. They're slightly up maybe seven-tenths of a percent higher paid visitations over the same period last year. The boat revenue, most revenues come in in the late spring/early summer when people want to get out on the water bodies with their boats, jet skis. Total revenue was up 11.7 percent or 374,000. Sales tax is up 17.6 percent. Titles are up 14.7 percent. Registrations are up about 9 percent.

And if we look at the counts of these different types of things, cumulatively registrations are up about 12 percent. New registrations are up 17.4 percent. Transfers are up 17.6 percent. Renewals are up 8.3 percent, and titles are up by 16.4 percent. You'll note the first line up there on the top where it says "Type Sales Tax," when a boat is sold, the entire amount of the sales tax is collected. 95 percent is deposited with the State Treasury, and it is not appropriated to Parks and Wildlife Department. The amount you're seeing up here for 2016 of 582,000, that's the 5 percent that is appropriated for use by the Department. So the remainder, the 11.06 million, is non-appropriated. It's in the State Treasury.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Do you have a sense from where the transfers are coming from? Are they all other states?

MR. JENSEN: I would have to -- I really don't know. I could get that for you.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Don't worry.

MR. JENSEN: Okay.

This slide shows you the revenue. It's up about 1.84 percent, 1.19 million. Fishing, resident/nonresident combined, is up about 17 and a quarter percent, 1 million. Hunting, resident and nonresident combined, is down about 6 percent, 477 point 2,000. Some of this is shifting to the combos. And I've looked at the results from December. So don't read too much into the nonresident because through December, the nonresident is actually ahead of the same period. So I think on the resident side, December is still down; but it's not down by as much. Some of those folks have switched to the combo and the super combo licenses.

Through this period, the combos account for about 51 percent of the total revenue. By the end of the fiscal year, we expect that to drop to 34 percent with license sales. Super combos and combos, it's like the cannon shot. You get the majority of your revenue from those at dove season and when deer season comes around, you've probably sold probably 90 to 95 percent of your combo licenses. And the fishing licenses really take off in the spring and the summer, and you can see the shift in the percentages. Most of this is very cyclical, just like the boat sales. And the state park revenue is very cyclical, too. The majority of that revenue comes in in the summertime.

This slide represents the adjusted budget of 556.19 million. Back in August, the Commission approved a budget of 436.72, that tied to the General Appropriations Act. The first three adjustments here are actually adjustments that took place prior to August 31st. They were fiscal year '15 yearend adjustments. When we prepared the Commission presentation in August, we prepared it with about a month left in the fiscal year. So we had some estimates and this trues those estimates up to a net amount of 813,361.

The first item was 571,000 of appropriated receipts and federal grants, that's a budget adjustment. And Rider 20, which is the DMV rider that allows the public to donate to state parks when they register their vehicles, another 305,000 above what the estimates were is being trued up. And our estimate for fringe was high. So we pulled 63,000 out. The fourth line item on there, federal grants and UB, 57.26 million. It has 26 primary sources. The top five account for about 84 percent of that. Wildlife restoration funding, 26.6 million; sport fish restoration funds, 8 million; outdoor recreation of federal funds, 6 million; cooperative endangered species, about 4.9 million; and state wildlife grants of 2 million.

The fifth line up there are the appropriated receipt, contracts, and UB. That's an adjustment of 19.12 million from about 20 different sources or categories. The top five account for about 93 percent of it. We have artificial reef donations, almost $8 million, 7.97 million. We have Fund 9 donations that come to the Department; and Fund 9 is Game, Fish, Water Safety. That's 4.75 million. Fund 64 donations of about 3 million, and Fund 9 appropriated receipts of about 1.43 million.

The sixth item on there, Construction UB, we started with the UB amount in the appropriations bill of 19.35 million. Since that time, we've had an appropriated receipt of money outside the Treasury, the British -- BP money, about 19.3 million that came into the Department for various approved projects. We have a UB of bond funding of about 18.8 million and some federal funds of about 5 million. So that gives us an adjusted budget of 556.19. We sent to you a monthly financial report. You'll see that the original budget there starts at 437.53. That 437.53 is the 436 plus the first three adjustments here, starting September 1st.

And that's the very high level that I wanted to present to you; and I will turn it over to Julie Horsley to give you a briefing on the Game, Fish, and Water Safety Account.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins has a question.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Mike, remind me why we have three line items for UB instead of one with seven line items.

MR. JENSEN: We could group them together.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But just why do we -- why do we break it out in three different lines for unexpended, for UB?

MR. JENSEN: We just did it for this report. We don't have to. It's just so that we don't have one line that's a really big number. I'm not -- I guess I'm not understanding your question. You're talking -- which line -- are you talking about the construction UB or are you --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, you've got federal grants in UB -- you've got a UB number for three line items. I'm just saying should -- why do we have that instead of one UB line item number?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: With detail under it.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: With detail under it.

MR. JENSEN: We could have one line item. I just -- I had asked the budget director to break it up --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'm not being critical. I'm just asking the question.

MR. JENSEN: No, I understand. I just wanted to break it out so that if you had specific questions. It becomes a really large number. If I had one big, lump sum number -- it helps me to explain to you, for example -- it's kind of logical groupings. Federal grants come in. So we talk about a block of those because we have about 26 sources of those. And the other appropriated receipts, we had about 20 sources of those. And when you dive into one of those sources, it could be another five or 20 deposits that came in. I just did it so that I could break -- give you a little bit more detail as we walk through it.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Thank you.

MR. JENSEN: Sure.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Mike, one other question. Remind us again how we dealt with recoupment of the surge cost, the surge --

MR. JENSEN: Oh, the surge cost?

COMMISSIONER LEE: Right. Where would we find that?

MR. SMITH: So, you know, he's asking about Operation Strong Safety --

MR. JENSEN: Operation Strong Safety.

MR. SMITH: -- and how we were able to recoup those costs and get the funding granted back to the Agency through the supplemental.

MR. JENSEN: Yeah. The Governor's Office did budget execution and provided those funds to us up front, and we spent them down to the level that they provided to us.

COMMISSIONER LEE: So it was a special funding source, not part of the general budget?

MR. JENSEN: Yes, sir. It was a special funding source. The Governor's Office did budget execution across a diverse --

COMMISSIONER LEE: Were we --

MR. JENSEN: -- array of different agencies -- excuse me?

COMMISSIONER LEE: Were we fully reimbursed?

MR. SMITH: We were.

COMMISSIONER LEE: We were.

MR. SMITH: So really, you know, there were two means, Commissioner, by which that happened with Operation Strong Safety. There was the budget execution that Mike was referring to a year ago from last November that basically covered our carry-forward cost from December of 2014 through the end of August 2015. The cost that we had incurred in advance of December 1st, 2014 -- basically that June 1 to December block -- funds were appropriated to the Agency through the supplemental budget, which is, you know, part of appropriation's process; but separate and apart from the formal appropriation bill. Yes, sir.

MR. JENSEN: In our current appropriation, they did not appropriate to Parks and Wildlife Department any additional funds for that type of work; but there is an effort that started up from the Governor this January. We do have an interagency contract with DPS that provided 933,000 to get the game wardens back on the border. But if -- when that money runs out, that becomes an issue for our executive management and Commission to work with the Governor's Office and see what they want to do to keep the game wardens there. It will require additional funding when that money runs out or it's exhausted.

MR. SMITH: Commissioner, maybe one other level of detail that I'll know you'll be interested in particular. I mean, one thing that really didn't get addressed is part of that making us whole again and the Legislature, you know, was focused on that. It was just the depreciation costs, you know, on our capital assets and the impacts to, you know, boats and trucks, etcetera; and that is a big issue that we'll need to talk to the Commission about as we prepare for the next session and dealing with those very real costs. So I do want to make sure you had that detail.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Well, the surge that's been ordered.

MR. SMITH: And the new surge that's been ordered. And as Mike said, you know, through the interagency contract with DPS, we're getting a lot of our costs reimbursed; but there are going to be other ones that we're going to have to deal with and we ought to talk more detail on that.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And, Mike, one of the things that, I think, that I've found particularly helpful is the trending graphs that you've shown when we're in the middle of a -- when we're currently in a fiscal year. You know, I certainly understand the discreet measures at the end of a fiscal year; but while we're still trending through a year, it's helpful to see receipts and revenues compared to previous years sort of as a trending graph so we kind of know where we are in the middle of the year and how we're trending for that particular month. So it's kind of a seasonally adjusted trend. It would be nice to see --

MR. JENSEN: Would you prefer to see it as a stack like we did the summary?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well --

MR. JENSEN: In the past -- I have -- I actually have the slides; but to try to make the slide shorter, we give you the table and then we kind of walk you through it. But I can put that back in in the future if you'd like that if it --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think it's helpful. I think if you can get with Carter and just kind of go through something that's meaningful and not too detailed, but gives us a decent sense of how we're trending on receipts. I think whatever you guys come up with will be -- certainly would be good, but maybe not quite that level of detail throughout -- you know, through the year.

MR. JENSEN: In the past --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And something at the end of the year certainly.

MR. JENSEN: -- we've given you the stacked bar graph, and then we just do the table. That way you can visually see --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yeah. I mean, the discreet measurements are fine; but I just want to see something that shows how we're trending through the year.

MR. JENSEN: Okay.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, we can put that together very easily, Chairman.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great.

MR. SMITH: And let me just, you know, invite all the Commissioners, you know, anything with respect to style and presentation on how we present trend and data and numbers, etcetera, that you want to see more broken out or more stratified or less, just that kind of feedback is very helpful for us. We can present it however you'd like to see it, and how it will be most helpful for you.

So why don't we look at that together, Mike; and then have something for you to look at, Chairman, and see if --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great.

MR. SMITH: -- that fits that.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Terrific, thank you.

MS. HORSLEY: Okay. Good morning. For the record, my name is Julie Horsley. I'm the Director of Planning, Analysis, and Reporting in the Administrative Resources Division; and I'm here today to talk to you about cash balance projections in the Game, Fish, and Water Safety Account.

As many of you are aware, the Game, Fish, and Water Safety Account -- which is also designated as Fund 9 -- is the largest source of general revenue dedicated funding for the Department. The primary sources of revenue into the fund include revenue from the sales of hunting and fishing licenses, commercial licenses, and boat registration and titling related revenues, as well as boat sales and use tax.

As a statutorily dedicated account Fund 9 can only be used for purposes that are outlined in the Parks and Wildlife Code; and very generally, these include the protection, regulation, management, and conservation of the State's fish, wildlife, and habitats, as well as enforcement of the fish, game, and water safety laws of the State.

So that's the real high-level description of the Game, Fish, and Water Safety Account. In actuality, the account is made up of a number of different subaccounts, each of which reflects unique revenue and expenditure activity. Some of these accounts are considered general, in that they reflect amounts that can only be used for general fish and wildlife purposes, as authorized in statute.

And then we have another grouping that we consider to be dedicated, and they're considered dedicated because they're subject to further statutory sub-dedications within the fund. An example of this would be the freshwater fish stamp. The revenue from the sale of that stamp is dedicated only for construction and renovation to the State's freshwater fish hatcheries or purchase of game fish. And I've also listed the other main categories of dedicated there. We have the saltwater fish stamp, migratory bird stamp, and upland bird stamp. There are some other smaller ones. I just haven't listed them on this slide.

And then the final category is "Other" and that consists of revenue and expenses associated with donations, appropriated receipts, and interagency contract funding that we receive. So all together, these subaccounts make up what we know as the Game, Fish and Water Safety Account. And what I want to point out before going to the next slide is the majority of this presentation will be focused on cash balance issues and General Fund 9 category subaccounts.

Because total Fund 9 consists of a number different subaccounts, we monitor fund cash to ensure that we have enough balances on hand to support expected expenses. Particularly, in general, Fund 9. The trend we tend to see is that the dedicated funds, because they're more restricted in use, tend to accumulate balances. While the general accounts, because they can be spent on more broader purposes, are spent more rapidly and the fund balances are depleted more quickly.

For example, this slide shows you the ending FY '15 unencumbered balance in the Game, Fish, and Water Safety Account. And as you can see of a total balance of 74.4 million, about 65 percent is associated with the dedicated accounts, while only 29 percent is tied to the general accounts. This can pose some concerns, especially if costs in the general categories continue to increase.

On this next slide, I'm showing some historical trends in General Fund 9 cash balances, really to give you a sense of where we've been with those cash balances and the kinds of factors that impact balances. We start the graph in FY 2008, when the ending cash balance was about 5 million. It was around this time, if not a little bit earlier, that we identified initial concerns with General Fund 9 cash balances being depleted and concerns that there wouldn't be enough there to sustain appropriation levels over time. So at that time, we took some actions and we band to shift expenses off onto stamp funds and took other steps to improve the balance outlook, which you can see in the FY '09 and '10 balance trends.

In 2010, we implemented a small fee increase of about 5 percent. At the time, it was understood that because that fee increase was not really very large, that it was not a long-term fix and that we would need to come back and take further action. However, at the end of FY '11 and then also in the '12/'13 biennium, the Legislature did mandate some budget reductions. In '11, it was about 5 percent; and then there was another 2 and a half percent on top of that. And in '12/'13, it was pretty significant across-the-board reductions to all State agencies; and we see that reflected in the cash balances for those years.

And then for the '14/'15 biennium, the Legislature approved restoration of some of the budget reductions that were taken in prior years. With that restoration, as well as approval of other increases in that biennium, the balances began to decline again, which you can see in the trend line leading into FY '05. So the table on this slide shows the trends in General Fund 9 revenue and expenditures over the last biennium and into the future.

As you can see, the historical information is pretty much reflective of the trends and balances we saw on the previous page. In the '12/'13 biennium, overall expenses were less than revenues, which is what we would expect given that mandatory budget reductions were in place. For the '14/'15 biennium, we see that as appropriation authority was reinstated, expenditures began to outpace revenues.

What I would like to draw your attention to on this slide, however is the FY '16 and '17 estimated amounts. You'll see that the projections are for a slight increase in revenue and the expense information for '16/'17 is based on the amount of General Fund 9 appropriation authority that was provided for those years that's from the General Appropriations Act. And when we incorporate those, you can see that projected expenses are continuing to outpace revenues at pretty significant levels. In fact, when we ran the numbers, the expended appropriated amounts reflect a 12.3 percent growth since FY '14, while revenues reflect only a 3.5 percent growth. And on average, we expect expenditures to exceed revenues by about 12 million per year moving forward.

So if you recall in the '16/'17 biennium, to minimize the cash balance concerns in General Fund 9, we didn't request any additional General Fund 9 authority in the LAR. So the question is: What's caused this projected growth in General Fund 9 costs?

And this slide in front of you identifies some of the major items that have contributed to that growth. You can see in the '14/'15 biennium, the Legislature appropriated 5.2 million to us for an Agency helicopter. We also received additional amounts for a Schedule C salary increase, as well as Legislative salary increases which were across the board for all State employees. And then we also have an increase that's reflected in that item "ERS shared cash." That's really -- that's transfers that we have to make to the Employee's Retirement System to cover insurance benefits for current retirees.

And then in the '16/'17 biennium, there was another Schedule C increase, as well as another across-the-board salary increase for all State employees. The Legislature also approved an increase to the state contribution rate of 2.5 percent for benefits, which impacts Agency's GR dedicated funds; and then there were further increases in the ERS shared cash transfer amounts. So those are pretty significant increases in '14/'15 that totaled to 20.2 million. In '16/'17, 10.8 million. With the exception of the helicopter, I just want to point out these are all ongoing costs and they're cumulative.

The amounts that I'm showing in '14/'15, we continue to pay in '16/'17, in addition to the new amounts that we got for '16/'17. And as you can see, the majority of these costs -- excuse me -- were legislatively mandated. While we're happy to have received salary increases, it was not something specifically that we had requested as an Agency in our Legislative Appropriations Request. So this slide builds out the General Fund 9 cash balance projections to reflect the '16/'17 appropriation levels and estimated revenues.

With that information incorporated, we expect to see a steady and pretty dramatic decline in General Fund 9 cash balances. In FY '16, the balance is projected to drop to 9.3 million. And assuming nothing is done to reverse the trends, we're also expecting that we won't have any balances in General Fund 9 at the end of '17. And, in fact, based on the current assumptions and the methodology that we used, we're projecting that it will go negative. This trend is obviously concerning, and we need to take action of some sort to improve the General Fund 9 cash balance outlook and stabilize the fund over the long term so that we have enough cash and revenues to support our appropriation levels.

We have done some preliminary analysis to -- and identify that in order to address the cash balance issues and improve our position moving forward into the next LAR, we project that we'll need about 9 to 10 million per year to support existing appropriation levels in the '18/'19 biennium and avoid going negative further. Ultimately, even with that, we would need to come back with additional actions in order to stabilize General Fund 9 over the long term.

So we've initiated discussions internally to develop a plan to address these cash concerns, and we do have several options that I'm going to go over with you right now. This list is not in any particular order. Oops. There we go. One option would be to manage our budget internally in ways that could help the cash balance situation. We could, for example, look for more opportunities to shift expenses off of General Fund 9 and on to stamps in cases where those shifts would be legitimate or we could change the way we manage our budget lapse.

Another route we're evaluating is requesting changes in our Legislative Appropriations Request. We could, for example, scale back the Fund 9 general request when we submit our LAR to eliminate one-time items or just scale it back in general. One option that we're looking at under this category is the possibility of requesting more unclaimed refunds of motor boat fuel taxes. This is a general revenue source of funding that has been appropriated to us in the past; but when we looked at the amounts that we received last biennium -- or for the '16/'17 biennium, there was some that was left on the table. We're statutorily -- statute specifies that 75 percent can only be appropriated to TPWD and we -- that full amount was not appropriated to us. So we do have the option, moving forward, to request those additional amounts.

COMMISSIONER JONES: How much was that?

MS. HORSLEY: We looked at it, and it was 1.9 million per year that was left.

COMMISSIONER JONES: That's damn near your -- that's pretty much what you need or close.

MS. HORSLEY: It would help significantly.

COMMISSIONER JONES: I didn't mean to use the word "damn." I'm sorry.

MS. HORSLEY: We're also evaluating the possibility of implementing targeted fee increases. We currently have a team that's looking on -- at this and focusing on possible increases that would yield the most revenue with least impact to constituents. My understanding is that the results of this analysis will be presented to you at a future Commission meeting.

And then finally, we're examining the possibility of looking at statutory changes in the next Legislative session that would increase revenue into General 9 or expand allowable uses of other funds. Some examples of things we could do that would be statutory in nature, currently under statute, we're required to transfer 15 percent of boat registration and titling revenues from Fund 9 into Fund 64 and if we could go in and request changes to that language to make it permissive, it would allow us to retain more of that revenue in Fund 9 and help the balance situation.

Another example of a statutory change we could look at would be accessing more of the Lifetime License Endowment Fund. That fund currently receives revenues from the sale of the Lifetime license. It's deposited into the account; but we are only authorized to spend the interest earnings on that, and then it's only for very specific purposes. So if we could examine possibly opening up the allowable uses of that and accessing the annual revenue stream, that would also help the fund situation. There are a number of other statutory fixes that we could pursue. That's just a couple of the examples I wanted to provide to you.

So ultimately, our plan will need to be a multipronged approach that will draw from each of these options that have been presented; and we'll be keeping you updated on the status of our efforts as we move into development of the Agency's strategic plan and the Legislative Appropriations Request this spring and into the summer.

One thing I do want to close on, is that concludes what I need to say about Fund 9 on the state park's side of the shop, the Game, Fish -- or excuse me, the State Parks Account, the cash balance outlook is much more positive; and we do have balances to sustain appropriation authority and possibly request additional exceptional items in the next LAR. That concludes my presentation, and I'd be happy to answer any questions that you might have.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Julie.

Any questions?

I think it's -- so basically, our expense load is going up about 10 million a year, right? Is that it roughly?

MS. HORSLEY: It's -- we were calculating moving out about 12 million actually.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. And --

MR. SMITH: 12 million above and beyond what the revenue is coming in from that particular stream. Yeah.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But also about 10 million -- 10 million or about a 10 percent increase per year, also, right, or per biennium?

MR. JENSEN: If you go back to this slide.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Uh-huh.

MR. JENSEN: Oops, I passed it.

MS. HORSLEY: There.

MR. JENSEN: If you look at this slide here, these are all recurring costs. So you can see if you take the helicopter out there, it's roughly 26 million over biennium that has -- we've been appropriated additional opportunity to spend. And all of these costs were geared by the Legislature for staff, for basically salary and labor costs; and the shared cash is a calculation that's based upon your labor costs. So you divide that by two, it's about 12, 12 and a half million a year of expense; and we have not adjusted our revenue stream since 2009.

And Julie did elude to that 2009 fee increase. That was -- I believe it was Carter's probably second year with the Commission and the objective of that fee increase was to do an equity -- a salary pay for as widespread as the Department could do it and that was executed and so when we had the budget reductions, our fee stream was fixed; but we were not able to spend at that level. So it built up cash balances.

After those budget reductions, the Legislature restored. So we're able to spend at the level that we're coming in, but then they said you can spend above that for these other salary increases. So we've reached the point where we've exhausted the balances that were built up during that two-and-a-half, three-year period of reductions because we were restored and then we were appropriated above that restoration level, but we have not adjusted our revenue streams since 2009.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Okay.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Roughly, how much would you be in -- and I know you haven't yet come forward with a recommendation; but what kind of fee increase are we talking about, if that's part of the multifaceted approach?

MR. SMITH: We don't know that, Commissioner. I think -- you know, again, I think as Mike and Julie indicated, we're going to have to look at some kind of a hybrid plan. You know, the things that we can control on our end are obviously we can manage expenses. We certainly know that. That will be part of it. You know, there is perhaps -- and I say perhaps because these issues also get more complicated; but in terms of shifting certain costs to other revenue streams and then looking at our pricing structure.

You know, I think it's premature right now to suggest what that might be because clearly we also need to look at this in the context of what we may go to the Legislature and ask for relief for help on with respect to perhaps getting some more flexibility with some of those fixed and not very fungible funding streams that could help address some of these problems. So I'm certainly not willing to speculate right now.

I think that, you know, we've got a team that's looking at this very holistically; and I think also that if we come back with recommendations with respect to pricing adjustments, you're going to see them very targeted on specific licenses. But at this juncture, I don't know what that will look like.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

MR. SMITH: And to be fair, I think, you know, as we come back -- and we're going to do this in March, by the way, with the Commission -- is really look at a holistic plan. Again, what can we control and then what do we need to work with the Legislature to try to address?

COMMISSIONER LEE: What are you assuming as the target cash balance for Fund 9? Are you trying to build it back up or just cover this annual loss?

MR. SMITH: That's a great -- that's a great question, Commissioner. I -- Julie or Mike, do you want to answer that in terms of how we cover that delta, plus that we have some reserves in there for spending obviously?

MS. HORSLEY: We typically recommend that we retain about -- I think it's 10 to 12 percent of annual revenue stream as cash balance; and in General Fund 9, that would be about 13 million.

COMMISSIONER LEE: So it's a bigger issue.

COMMISSIONER JONES: It's a bigger issue.

MS. HORSLEY: Depending on how big of a balance we want to retain, yes.

MR. JENSEN: And going back to Commissioner Jones' question, there's -- that was just one bullet, targeted fee increases; but there's some other opportunities. And one of the things Julie mentioned, there is about a $3 million a year transfer from boat revenue into the State Parks System. State Parks System, that account is relatively healthy. If we could make that statue permissive and retain that in Fund 9, that would be an additional 3 million per year -- 6 million over the biennium swing -- in favor of cash balances for Fund 9. Although, it would have an adverse impact of 6 million to State Parks; but their cash balances are healthier. And if the Legislature is going to continue at a high level of sporting goods sales tax, then we will have great opportunities for the State Park System without jeopardizing them if we retain that in Fund 9.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Is Brent okay with that?

MR. JENSEN: As long as the Legislature gives him the sporting goods sales tax that they need.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Mike, can you go back to the slide that said "General Fund 9 Cost Impacts in Millions"? Where you reflect in the line -- second in -- third line items, the Schedule C and fringe and then the salary increases, that is departmentwide, isn't it?

MR. JENSEN: The third line is Department -- well, they have Schedules A, B, and C. We probably should have been clearer on that third line. Legislative salary increases is for A and B. So every employee had some sort of increase. The Schedule C was targeted. That was an initiative led by DPS; but our game wardens perform the same functions as DPS, and they're part of Schedule C. That was something that's important for Law Enforcement. It's important for the Department, but it is not something that we had as an exceptional request item. It is something that the Legislature felt that we need to pay our game wardens at that level. They saw our balances, and we're spending them down is what happened on that one.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And when you say "game wardens," does that include the park police?

MR. JENSEN: No. They're on Schedule A and B.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right. So at least on the third line item, that includes benefits to the parks?

MR. JENSEN: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That would seem to me to support this flexibility you're talking about on the allocation of funds to Fund 64 because this is a Departmentwide --

MS. HORSLEY: Well, the actual amount that you see there is reflective only of the impact to General Fund 9.

MR. JENSEN: This slide is just Fund 9.

MS. HORSLEY: So while the -- while the salary increase did impact Agencywide all funds and employees paid from all funds, this is just the portion that impacted the fund that we're speaking of.

MR. JENSEN: If we had a slide for 64, you would see a large amount in salary increases because we have so many employees. You have all the State Park staff. Then you have the support divisions, like Administrative Resources. We're split between Fund 9 and 64 because we support both functions.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So you're saying all these entries that are listed in this slide are Fund 9 entries and do not include Fund 64?

MR. JENSEN: That is correct.

MR. SMITH: And, Mike, just for clarity for the Commission. The Legislative salary increases that are highlighted in the third item, that was the statewide, all agency employees 1 and 2 percent a year?

MR. JENSEN: Yes, sir. It was all --

MR. SMITH: Just wanted to make sure that folks have the understanding of what we're talking about there.

MR. JENSEN: And just like Schedule C was all State agencies. It had a State police component.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Mike or Julie?

Thank you very much. Thanks. Thanks for your presentation.

Item No. 3 is an Internal Audit Update, Ms. Cindy Hancock.

MS. HANCOCK: Good morning. For the record, I'm Cindy Hancock, Director of Internal Audit; and I'm here today to update you on the completion status of the Fiscal Year '15 and '16 Internal Audit Plan and any ongoing or completed external audits. But before I get to the update, I'd like to take a few -- just a few minutes to go over what our internal audit function is and explain to you a little bit about our work.

An internal audit function is required by law for certain large State agencies. Commission appoints the internal auditor and that person must be Certified Public Accountant or a Certified Internal Auditor and have at least three years of audit experience. Duties include reporting to the Commission, developing an audit plan, conducting audits, and preparing reports relative to that audit plan, participating in audits of other State audit groups, and organizing an audit or peer review of our audit shop.

Each year, the Commission will approve the annual internal audit plan, usually in November, and the internal audit report, which is usually due at the end of October. Audits that are performed and completed as specified in the audit plan, are normally issued to internal TPWD staff, to each Commissioner, and to our external oversight agencies, the Legislative Budget Board, the State Auditor's Office, the Governor's Office, and the Sunset Commission.

Our audit reports are meant to provide the reader with an independent assessment of risk management, controls, or governance processes for the organization program or function. When our report cite findings, we also provide recommendations or suggested solutions. Our reports require management responses to the findings. It also mentions responsible parties to get the problem solved and a tentative date for when the problem will be resolved.

Our internal audit function will conduct follow-up audits to determine if the recommendation has been implemented. We perform this monthly throughout the year and report the results to my Audit Committee, Commissioner Jones; and a final report goes out to each Commissioner at the end of the fiscal year, usually in August. Each Commission meeting, I'll provide you with an update as we progress through our audit plan and our audit staff, including -- our audit staff, including me, entails six other auditors. Four are located here in Austin, and two in the field.

This is a summary of the internal audit projects approved for fiscal year '15. The projects marked with a "C" have been completed and the reports have been issued. The projects marked with an "R" are in various stages of the reporting stage. We've been holding several reports back until the new Commissioners have gone through their orientation and training, and we'll begin issuing those reports slowly and steadily so we don't inundate you with a lot of reports.

The only audit remaining to be completed is the Fuel Card Audit, as indicated with an "F", as we're still in fieldwork in that audit. Once all the fiscal year '15 reports have been issued, this will essentially close out our audit plan for fiscal year '15.

For fiscal year '16 audits, we've completed two of the Law Enforcement audits and two State Park audits, with the reports written. We're in the planning phase for the Data Integrity audit, where we will auditing the boat registration, information, and titling system. State Park and LE audits will be ongoing throughout this month and February; and they're in various audit phases, indicated by an "F" for fieldwork and a "P" for planning.

The follow-up audit, of course, is ongoing throughout the fiscal year. To report on the follow-up audit since my last update, we've had a couple of setbacks, which has delayed implementation of recommendations for several issues. Implementing the new contract regulations has taken priority over other issues at this time, and as it should. A key grant employee has left the Agency and restructuring the functions of the grant staff and delayed -- has delayed implementation of several issues. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken longer than expected to approve some of our grants, which has affected the new reconciliation process for wildlife grants that was to begin last month.

Therefore, for November and December, out of 15 internal audit findings due for follow up, ten were not able to be closed. However, four were implemented and one was withdrawn. This leaves 12 external, as well as 29 internal issues remaining in progress as of the end of December. We've not had any newly opened or recently closed external audits since my update to you in December -- in November. However, the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General is conducting a U.S. Fish and Wildlife federal grant audit. The federal auditors, we're expecting this -- their -- them to have their draft report issued sometime in December or January, but we have not received that report as of yet.

So this concludes my presentation, and I'll be glad to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions for Cindy?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Mr. Chairman, if I might just make a couple of comments. One, particularly for the new members of the board. The old members have heard me say this probably more times than they care to hear. But the audit function of this organization is not a policing function or, you know, an internal review type function for finding bad things, coming in with a hammer. It's really a function of making sure the Department is using State funds in the most efficient manner possible. And so when an auditor comes in to a division to check the cash outlay or the cash input for parks or for vehicles or maintenance or whatever, they're doing it not to catch you and say, "I got you." They're doing it to suggest perhaps there's a better way or a more efficient way to do what we're doing in this department in this area.

And we've tried to send the message to the division leaders that -- don't cringe when the auditors show up. This is a good time to operate more efficiently so that when Carter goes to the Legislature and asks for more money and he's asked, "Well, what did you do with the last money we gave you," he can say, "We're operating efficiently and let me show you why and let me show you how."

And so we have some very detailed monitoring systems once the division goes through an audit, to make sure that whatever it is they find is recorded and their response is recorded that, "Yes, we'll do these things differently," and then they're given a deadline to do those things. If they haven't done it by that deadline, then they need to come and talk to the Commission about why they didn't do that or if there's something that has come up that needs to extend the deadline, then give us the reason why that deadline needs to be extended.

So I will be getting with Cindy this afternoon to go over some of the details of the ten items that are -- that did not -- that didn't meet a deadline. And I just need to make sure I understand that. If there's not a real good reason for meeting that deadline, I'm going to ask those division leaders to come to the next board meeting and explain to the board why the thing that they agreed needed to be done in their division wasn't done by the deadline. And if there's a good reason for it, great. If there's not, well, then we hold them accountable.

But that's how we do the audit function here, and just by way of -- just brief background. When I was on the A&M board, whenever anyone mentioned the audit committee, I would throw up inside my mouth because I didn't want anything to do with audit until the Chairman asked me to be the audit committee Chairman and then I realized how important it was and that was really the essence of the Agency in terms of how you use the State funds that are given to you and put under the taxpayers -- responsibility the taxpayer gives us for the money that we get.

So it's an important function and my time on this board is limited and I just hope someone else picks up the mantle and continues to carry it because it is very important for what we do.

MS. HANCOCK: We certainly appreciate your support.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, happy to do it.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Very good points. And I did appoint you to help you personally get over this phobia.

Cindy, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

COMMISSIONER JONES: I'm progressing nicely.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: He's doing well. He's doing well. Item 4 -- but very good points. Thank you.

Item 4, Implementation of Legislation during the 84th Texas Legislative Session, Senate Bill 20, State Agency Contracting, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Rule Changes in the Texas Register, Ms. Ann Bright and Ms. Tammy Dunham. Good morning.

MS. BRIGHT: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel; and with me is Tammy Dunham. Tammy is the Director of our Purchasing and Contracting Program within the Administrative Resources Division, within Mike's division. And we're going to talk a little bit today about State agency contracting, which follows nicely upon the audit discussion.

As many of you are aware, prior to the last Legislative session, there was a -- there were a number of newspaper articles about State agency contracting, primarily focusing on not us, but a different agency and just some issues. As a result, there were several pieces of legislation that were passed. The most significant of which was Senate Bill 20, and there were a number of requirements in there intended to enhance oversight and management and monitoring of State agency contracts.

Among the requirements was a requirement that each State establish by rule a procedure to identify a contract that requires enhanced contract monitoring and then report to the oversight -- the Agency's oversight body, the governing board or in our case, the Commission. And also in the event that the Agency's contract management office or Procurement Director, which would be Tammy, identifies a risk with the contract that has been identified for enhanced management, that the board -- the commission -- be notified.

Senate Bill 20 also required that a State agency's governing board approve any contract with a value of over a million dollars and that the board Chair sign those contracts; but it authorized the delegation of that to the Agency -- to the Agency's Executive Director.

So the proposed rules are intended to implement Senate Bill 20. They were developed with the mindset of we have -- we're a large and diverse agency. We have many, many, many contracts from small purchases for office supplies to big construction, technology projects. And the -- right now, the Executive Director already has authority to enter contracts. And what we're going to propose is that that be modified to make it clear that it includes contracts of over a million dollars, just to ensure that it's clear that we're implementing this piece of Senate Bill 20.

So one of the things that Tammy and her group have done is they have developed a tool for identifying contracts that require enhanced monitoring. The proposed rules would really just, in general terms, specify the criteria that will be evaluated in making those determinations; and I'm going to go through those real quickly. Contract price, obviously a bigger contract is going to require more management. The duration, how long a contract is. A short-term contract may not be as troublesome as a longer term contract. The funding source, sometimes we have contracts where the funding source will go away if the contract is not implemented within a certain period of time. There may be other restrictions on the funds. The user impacts or user involvement. You know, how many end users are there going to be? For example, our license sales system, we have many, many end users.

How important is the deliverable timing? Obviously, something that is on a short timeframe is going to require more monitoring. What happens if the contract fails? Of course, it's always bad; but sometimes it can be worse or have bigger impacts than other times. How many locations are impacted? Is this something that's going to be agencywide or statewide, or is it only going to impact a small division? Do we have resources to manage the contract, or would we need to hire consultants or temporary staff? How complex is the project? Are there health and safety risks associated with the project? What's the business process impact? Are we going to have to modify one or more business processes? What are the risks for payment methodology? Sometimes these payments, if it's a cost-plus or percentage of sales, those kinds of contracts can be a little by more complex. Do we have to train end users?

And these last three items are really just for technology contracts. Our -- is it a customization contract where we're buying an off-the-shelf project that's going to require customization. How is it going to impact and integrate with our existing technology, or is it going to have an impact on an existing technology? For example, are we going to need more servers? How is it going to interface with our other work?

The proposals would provide that for each class -- there may be a class of contracts where the risk is just so low that those -- that whole class would be identified as not needing enhanced contract monitoring, without having to go through the whole analysis. And I'm thinking, for example, purchase of office supplies. It's easy, one-time shot, not terribly complex. And then it would also provide that the Procurement Manager would notify the Executive Director who will notify the Parks and Wildlife Commission if there are any issues with these contracts that are identified for enhanced contract monitoring. And I highlighted this because this is a little bit different than what's in your materials.

Your material actually say, "The division -- the appropriate division director." But in going back and looking at the statute again, it was pretty clear that it needs to be the Procurement Manager. So we're requesting permission to publish an amendment to Section 51.60 and then a new 51.61 regarding enhanced contract monitoring, and then we would come back in March if this request is approved and request adoption of the rules. Happy to answer any questions, and Tammy knows all about contracting if you have any questions for her.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I've got one.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins -- or Scott.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Regarding on the request part, the enhanced contract monitoring, you know, going to the Texas Register. I guess my concern when I first got on here, you know, we had a few outstanding issues. And so I've kind of -- and pretty much understanding contracting myself having done it all my life, I'm concerned -- and Carter and I have had this discussion and Dan, you know. I mean, it's going to be a huge issue in '17 with all the money we've got. So I'm glad to see what y'all are doing on this because it's critical that we get this money spent properly.

What concerns me is where we get into the time lags and I do understand the frustration of dealing with the policy that we have to deal with as a State procurement agency and that's frustrating unto itself, just the time lag you have. But somewhere in here, I think the Commission would like -- we need to come up with timelines on where Brent is going to spend the money and what parks are -- we've got to come up with some kind of order of magnitude and some kind of system. This is, of course, very important to make sure we do it and spend the public's money properly; but I think somewhere in here we -- internally, we need to be able to monitor and to understand where we are because I truly believe this year is very critical going into next year. So that's my concern and, you know --

MS. BRIGHT: And I believe -- I'm assuming you're talking about the additional funds we got for some of the maintenance and construction in the parks?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yes.

MS. BRIGHT: Yes, okay.

MR. SMITH: You know what, Commissioner, I might suggest is that Jessica and her team are required several times a year to provide a report to the joint Senate and House Oversight Committee, that oversees really all of the major facility expenditures for an agency like ours and we're required to provide a project list, estimates, and timelines with respect to when we're going to meet certain deliverables and I think that would be a great report that we could provide, you know, to the Commission when we're submitting that to the oversight body to make sure that y'all are well apprised of, again, here are the timelines, here's how we're doing with respect to meeting them. Is that kind of what you're envisioning, Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah, because it ties back into what Bill brought up on the audit deal. You know, if you're not going to hit a schedule, you're not going to hit something, we're much better served to be given notification in advance of why we're not or what the issue is and not waiting to get our hand slapped.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, absolutely.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We don't want to do that in my estimation for sure.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, you're 100 percent right. And we just, so you know, I think in late November -- Jessica -- we submitted really kind of the defining list for here are the projects that we're going to be going forward and here's our estimated costs and timeline and that really is the barometer for then how the oversight body is going to judge and evaluate our work. And, you know, there's no doubt that they are going to be times -- hopefully for reasons that are outside of our control -- that there may be slippage on those and we need to have appropriate explanations and the Commission needs to be apprised of them.

So let us just plan on distributing those reports to the Commission; and we can even have periodic updates to the Commission about where we stand with Jessica sharing those, if that would work for you.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah, and that gives us an opportunity -- whomever -- whoever might know somebody. I mean, we give a heads up. You know, we had good success last session because there was a lot of good communication.

MR. SMITH: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: And I think that's going to be as critical in '17.

MR. SMITH: I agree. Great point.

MS. BRIGHT: And with regard to the factors that are going to be considered for -- or the tool that's going to be used to identify contracts for enhanced contract monitoring, we've been working very closely with Jessica's staff to make sure that this process does not slow down the contracting process.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Good.

MS. BRIGHT: I mean, obviously, it's going to take a little bit more time; but...

COMMISSIONER JONES: So just to make sure I understand. The Procurement Manager will determine if the contract has enhanced contract monitoring or --

MS. DUNHAM: We've actually --

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- needs enhanced contracts monitoring.

MS. BRIGHT: Actually, what will happen is there is a tool that the contract managers will use that has all of these criteria and they're going to rank them really from one to five and a certain score will result in a contract being identified for enhanced contract managing. So it's intended to just be like kind of a metric. Does that answer your question?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yes. So that's step one. Then step two is if there is a serious risk or issue identified, who identifies that? The Procurement Manager?

MS. DUNHAM: Well, the -- in connection with the Procurement Manager, the program staff will work together to identify risk. If a contract or a solicitation is determined to be a high-risk contract, then we'll do a formal process and develop a risk management plan, which identifies the risk, assigns a risk owner, and how the process is going to be to monitor it to make sure that we minimize the risk as much as possible. So that will be a combination between, again, the procurement staff -- when -- AR/Infrastructure, the actual project division team, and the contract manager assigned to it.

MS. BRIGHT: For example, let's use the license sales system. When we were developing that, it would probably be someone from Tammy's shop, someone from IT, that would work together to identify, you know, whether the progress -- the contract was significant enough to require the enhanced contract monitoring.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, and I guess -- here's what I'm trying to get. I just want to make sure I have it in my head, the steps. The first determination is enhanced contract monitoring. The second determination is --

MS. BRIGHT: Doing it.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- serious risk or issue that needs to kick up to Carter --

MS. DUNHAM: Oh, yes.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- right?

MS. DUNHAM: Well, we'll first assess it where a risk assessment tool will identify the contracts are high risk and then we'll actually establish a risk management plan where we identify it and in that process doing the actual contract management process -- which could be, you know, a long term, the entire term of the contract -- as issues come up, then, yes, it will be my job to go -- and if there's major issues, to go straight to Carter and let him know so the right people can be notified. Is that what you're asking?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, not exactly. I guess what I'm asking about is before the contract is -- as I understand Senate Bill 20, the purpose was to obviously monitor the contract initiation first and foremost. That is before you issue a contract to someone, some entity, you need to go through a process.

MS. DUNHAM: Right.

COMMISSIONER JONES: All right. And all I'm asking is if in that process you've identified that it is an enhanced -- it needs enhanced contract monitoring, within that enhanced contract monitoring, if there is some serious risk or issue that's identified, then you notify the Executive Director? When does Carter -- I'm trying to figure out when does Carter get a notice, and when do we get a notice at that stage?

MS. DUNHAM: Well, we actually have a couple of different processes outside of Senate Bill 20, just internal procedures that we have. Senate Bill 20 requires us to notify Carter if after execution, if there's major issues. Internal --

COMMISSIONER JONES: After -- wait, wait. After execution of the contract?

MS. DUNHAM: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Not during the contract process.

MS. DUNHAM: Correct, but --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

MS. DUNHAM: But internally and by the Senate Bill 353 rules that went into place or they implemented in February, I believe. In every contract over $5 million, we have to identify the risk during this -- before solicitation goes out, we actually put together all the risks and then we notify Carter and he distributes that to y'all and that's for everything over 5 million.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

MS. DUNHAM: Does that answer your question?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yes.

MS. DUNHAM: Okay.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: This -- and I've expressed this to Carter. And to further what Bill is talking about, at the RFP and the RFQ level, who is monitoring the documents that will be submitted to the public to bid on these projects? That is where the problems originate, in my estimation, is the RFP and the RFQ. I mean, you know, if you don't have a good bid document to start with, that's where you get yourself in a mess. So that's where I'm concerned how we're monitoring the very first level of the proposals and the bids. So that's where I have a big concern.

MS. DUNHAM: Well, we also -- I mean, we have standards. As my group and Jessica's group and her contracting section, we monitor those forms. A lot of ours are templates. We go through legal review to ensure that, you know, we have all the legal terms. Everything -- also, major contracts go through the Comptroller's Office, the CAT-RAD team. Their legal team reviews and sends recommendations in. If it's an IT project, it has to go through a QAT process through DIR. We have lots of steps to review and during this risk assessment tool, whenever we identify a high-risk solicitation, we'll go through those solicitation documents to make sure if there's a way that we can minimize those risks during the solicitation process or ensure there's additional terms and conditions that need to be added to make sure that, you know, we can minimize as much as possible, we'll do that in advance. And we --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I keep kicking a dead horse, but I think y'all see what my concerns are in --

MS. DUNHAM: Absolutely.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: -- looking to 2017. I mean, that's where I'm at.

MS. BRIGHT: And one of the things -- and Tammy kind of alluded to this, but I really want to emphasize is that a lot of the process is not Parks and Wildlife process. I mean, these are not -- the process -- much of the process is dictated by statute and by regulations of other agencies. And so there's a lot of this contracting process that we have no control over. You know, we try to assert as much control as possible; but there are some things -- for example, when we send something to another agency to review, we've had -- I think we've had good luck recently with them turning those around quickly, but we don't -- you know, it's in another agency. We don't really have that authority.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: And that's a big piece of my concern, as well.

MS. DUNHAM: And they actually have 30 days to respond to us.

MS. BRIGHT: We share your concern.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: At the very least, if we see a problem occurring that is beyond our control, that's another issue that needs to be pointed out and well documented at that moment, not wait until it gets in the grease and now we're trying to go back and regroup. I mean, that's just the way I look at it.

MR. SMITH: Sure.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We need to try to head off any of these and particularly things that are out of our control.

MS. DUNHAM: We agree. We also establish committees, governance committees or project leads for major contracts where some of division directors and key players come in. We give them regular updates from the beginning of project solicitation process to execution or implementation of the project.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Good.

MS. DUNHAM: So we keep the executive management updated.

MS. BRIGHT: For example, when we were implementing the -- for example, when we were implementing the license sales contract, we had weekly meetings, went through exactly where they were, whether there were any issues, what the delays were. I was in those meetings. George was in those meetings. Mike Jensen was in those meetings. Dawn was in those meetings. And then if it -- and this was even before Senate Bill 20. If issues were identified that needed to be bumped up, we took those to Carter so that he was aware of the progress and any issues that we were running into.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Real quickly, did SB 20 or some other statutory language or internal procedures define what a contract is? I mean, we're talking about it as if it's a known entity. I mean, then we reference every procurement, every purchase. How are we defining what is triggered by these requirements?

MS. BRIGHT: That's a good question.

MS. DUNHAM: Well --

MS. BRIGHT: I don't -- I'm not aware of it being defined. If it is, I suspect it's very broad; but that's a very good question.

COMMISSIONER LEE: How are we going to deal with it?

MS. BRIGHT: How we are going to deal with it, I think is that if we took the broadest approach, it would be every procurement. Any time we go buy anything, that was a contract. However, in terms of this enhanced monitoring, one of the provisions that we're requesting approval of will allow the Department to designate certain categories or classes that are of such low risk that we don't go through that enhancement tool. So we're trying to sort of deal with that ambiguity in-house by -- for example, there are some basic procurements that really there's -- there's -- you get it or you don't. I mean, there's not a lot of risk there. And so we would probably just as a class say you don't have to go through this assessment tool for those kinds of contracts. Does that help at all?

COMMISSIONER LEE: It sounds like all purchases over a million dollars are covered.

MS. DUNHAM: The only thing that we put in to exempt is there are State term contracts where the Comptroller's Office has solicited and awarded contracts statewide. The risk for those are pretty minimal because the Comptroller's Office monitors those. So we're exempting those and like some grants, some recreation grant contracts we're exempting; but we are not -- interagency contracts, you know, inter-locals, all of those will go through this process if it's over a million.

And I'd like to say this is a formal process. We've been doing -- this is basic contract management that we've been monitoring. Now, we actually formalize the documents and actually show assigned people; but as an Agency, we've been doing these steps all along or in recent years, I can say.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Do we require two signatures on a contract over a certain amount?

MS. BRIGHT: You mean two signatures by the contractor?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: By someone here at the Department.

MS. BRIGHT: We have a routing process -- and this may or may not answer your question. We have routing process for contracts over a certain amount and we have various levels. There are some contracts that can be signed by the a Deputy Executive Director. There are some contracts that can be signed by a Division Director. Contracts over a million dollars are all signed by Carter. Before he will sign a contract, there's going to be -- there's a sign-off by really pretty much everybody in that chain.

MR. SMITH: Including legal. I mean, I --

MS. BRIGHT: Including legal.

MR. SMITH: -- don't sign anything that hasn't undergone legal review.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: The second question I have was does your department review each contract over a certain amount because I think it should and --

MS. BRIGHT: Yes, we do.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- sign off on -- like Kelcy's company, I'm sure you've got a law department that initials this contract is okay.

I think we ought to do that over a certain amount; and I personally think in terms of just risk management, we ought to require two signatures over a certain amount. And maybe the rule is that if it's over a million, it's got to be signed by the Executive Director. But for something in between that -- and I believe below a certain number, back to Jim's point, it's impractical to spend the kind of time we're talking about on a contract below a certain amount and surely people out in the field ought to be able to go spend $200 if they've got to spend it without this cumbersome -- I realize it's a valuable and needed process, but you've got to manage the risks here. So I would like to suggest that we look at two signatures by Department personnel over a certain amount and up to the number where it's got to be signed by either a Deputy Executive Director or the Executive Director.

MS. BRIGHT: Okay.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Just consider that.

MS. BRIGHT: Yeah, I'd love to discuss that with you. Absolutely. I mean, I think the question I have is, is that -- is that something that you'd like to see in the rule? Are you -- would you rather we just implement that in terms of an internal policy?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'd like to see it as a rule so that the public knows that Mary Jones can't sign a contract and bind this Department. It's got to the cosigned or countersigned, if you will, by somebody else and it gives to sets of eyes to make sure this process that Bill and Dick have been talking about shouldn't be triggered or is triggered.

MR. SMITH: So I think the challenge for us going forward and something we'd have to come back and talk to you about is what are those threshold parameters in between.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Exactly.

MR. SMITH: And I'm certainly not in a position to --

MS. BRIGHT: We've got a signature authority policy that is a delegation policy, and it is based on all of the thresholds that you're talking about. One of the things that, you know, we can talk about is how much of those thresholds do you want to see established in a regulation and how much of that do you want to delegate to the Executive Director to establish in a policy or a delegation from him.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I leave it up -- leave it to you to propose what the thresholds or levels should be.

MS. BRIGHT: Okay.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I just think based on what I heard from the Legislature, it's managing risk where we don't have a rogue employee go off and sign some contract that shouldn't have been signed and skirts this process and if you have two employees that have to sign off on it, it seems to me you minimize the risk of that happening.

MS. DUNHAM: There's no -- I'm just saying there's nobody in the field that's allowed to sign anything over 25,000 and there's only a few in the field that can sign over 10,000. So anything internally would be done by my shop or Infrastructure from 25,000 up. I actually have authority up to 500,000; and then it goes up to our Deputy Executive Director and Carter.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I still think you ought to have two signatures --

MS. DUNHAM: Okay.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- and the public ought to know that so that some unscrupulous third party can't come in here and get a deal done behind your back or Carter's back or Legal's back.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So if you can come back with threshold recommendations and --

MS. BRIGHT: We will do that. And then, of course, we're going to -- you know, one of the things is I'll also -- you know, we'll come back with some recommendations to make sure that we balance that with the concerns that Commissioner Scott mentioned in terms of efficiencies. So --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That would be -- that would be a follow-up rule rules request, right?

MS. BRIGHT: Okay.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Is that --

MS. BRIGHT: We can -- you know, we can do that. We can -- I mean, if you want, we could work with the Vice-Chair to come up with a proposal to amend the -- what goes to the Texas Register. I mean this is really the first reading. We wouldn't be asking for adoption until March, and then we can work with the Vice-Chair or whoever you designate in terms of coming up with some thresholds if you --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Do you want to do it -- do you want to do something that takes this broader language and make it a little bit more specific for tomorrow?

MS. BRIGHT: Actually, it's not on the agenda tomorrow. It's not going to be adopted until March. So we've got time.

COMMISSIONER JONES: It sounds like you may already have the process in place. I think maybe what Ralph is saying is let's just put it -- let's put it in writing and make it a rule.

MS. BRIGHT: We're happy to do that. It's very extensive.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So the public can understand how we do business; and it may be fine the way you're doing it now --

MS. BRIGHT: Okay.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- two signatures, you and Carter or you and Ann or Ann and Carter or whatever; but there's some --

MS. BRIGHT: We can take that -- it's very extensive. I mean, it's several pages. It has a number of categories of different kinds of contracts from land sale proceed -- land sale contract, surveying contract. I mean, it's very specific and we can take that and put it in statutes, you know, and then we'll just come back to the Commission periodically as it needs to be updated. Is that what I'm hearing?

COMMISSIONER LEE: Has it been modified? Is it real fluid?

MS. BRIGHT: It tends to be somewhat fluid. I mean, as new things happen or as -- or as audit issues come up -- you know, for example, there were -- a few years ago, we made significant changes to that because there were certain contracts over a certain amount that needed some additional review. So we can manage that in whatever way you ask.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Is the routing process -- and I don't -- I'm not arguing. I agree with you on the dual signature. But is the routing process currently documented or retained so we have record that it's been effectively routed and signed off --

MS. DUNHAM: Yes.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- or initialed by each of those individuals?

MS. DUNHAM: We actually have, like, forms where it describes the project, signed off by all the Division Directors, Legal Department, if there's revenue or budget people that need to sign. Yes, it's documented in hard copy and kept in the contracting file.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.

MS. BRIGHT: In addition, for a lot of these contracts, we have to -- those of us that are involved sign conflict of interest statements, which is another requirement of the statute.

COMMISSIONER JONES: What's the downside -- before we leave this topic, what's the downside to making our policy a regulation?

MS. BRIGHT: The only downside at all is really just that we would need to come back to the Commission before we modify that, and we might be able to do something -- because, I mean, I think the only thing is that normally contracting is delegated to the Executive Director. If it turns out that there is a new class of contract -- and I don't know that there would be -- we would -- it would have to be signed by Carter. But I don't know that there's a huge -- I mean, it's just coming back to the Commission; and that's completely fine. I don't think any of us have any objection to that.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Would it be possible to say we have these policies in the regulation request and delineate it that there are signatures required and Department policy, without delineating everything we do in the rule?

MS. BRIGHT: We could do that. I mean, we could say the Executive Director shall establish by policy signature authority for contracts, shall -- if there's something specific that you want, you know, that shall include proper routing through, you know, whatever or through Legal. I mean, we could do something that generally describes the policy.

COMMISSIONER LEE: And require it to be published?

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Right, that's what I mean. That lets the public know we are doing it, but without going through something they're all not going to want to read.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Effectively, how we -- how we -- that process functions.

COMMISSIONER LEE: Yeah, because otherwise, you're setting up procedural challenges to every contract that gets signed if you have modified your procedures and you haven't gone through the rulemaking process. I mean, it doesn't sound like it's all that fluid. The last time was a couple of years ago.

MS. BRIGHT: It's been a while since we've updated the signature policy, but -- and it also has to be updated whenever you have a reorganization. For example, you may say the -- you know, for example, we have -- we no longer have a Deputy Executive Director for Operations. But, yeah, we can...

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, I would certainly not want to make it more cumbersome --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Right.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- in an effort to show the world that we're being -- that we have checks and balances in place. So maybe --

MS. BRIGHT: If I could --

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- there is a middle ground.

MS. BRIGHT: I think we can go back and if there's somebody that you want to designate for us to work with, I think we can go back based on this feedback and come up with something that provides significant or sufficient information to the public about the process and also makes sure that we've got appropriate internal reviews and signature authority.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. So, Ann, if you would work with our Vice-Chair to come up with a proposed amendment to that --

MS. BRIGHT: Happy to do that.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- and bring it to the Commission, that would be great.

MS. BRIGHT: Happy to do that. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. And, yeah, whatever is efficient because we don't want to create process and work for the sake of creating work; but that certainly covers the concerns that have been raised.

MS. BRIGHT: Absolutely. And we've already got that policy in place. So it just -- some of that is not going to be too difficult, so.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much.

MS. BRIGHT: Okay. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it. So are we -- are we publishing?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes.

MS. BRIGHT: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. I'll authorize staff to publish proposed rules regarding Senate Bill 20, State agency contracting, in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Item No. 5 is the Final Report of the Snake Harvest Working Group, Mr. John Davis -- or Mr. Clayton Wolf.

MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the record, I'm Clayton Wolf, Wildlife Division Director. John Davis, our Wildlife Diversity Director, was -- had prepared this presentation and was eager to give it this morning; but in the wee hours, fell ill. So I'll be giving his presentation for him.

The Snake Harvest Working Group, there's -- this presentation will be given in three parts, give you a very brief background. Then, I'll talk more about the working group process and then the results or the points of consideration. I believe this Commission has been provided an executive summary; and at the conclusion of this presentation, you'll be provided a rather lengthy report that has a lot of the details on background. Some of the Commissioners have been -- are privy to this information from presentations that John gave at previous meetings, just on the impacts on gassing and kind of the history of this issue.

But just briefly, you know, gasoline -- many decades ago -- was discovered to be probably the most efficient means to flush Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes out of their dens and out of their crevices or the more scientific terms in Texas and in limestone features are karst features. And so through the years, concern has arisen about the use of gasoline and particularly not as much about the impacts on snakes, but of the associated species. And some of that background information that you'll see will show that herps and birds and vertebrates and other species that occur in these karst features associated with rattlesnakes are actually more vulnerable to snake fumes -- I mean, gas fumes then Western Diamond Rattlesnakes. They're actually probably the most resilient when exposed to gasoline fumes.

So anyhow, as a result in March of 2013, we received a petition for rulemaking to ban the use of gasoline for taking Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. We briefed this Commission, I believe, a couple of times on that. And on January of 2014, after taking comment on a proposed rule, the Commission directed us to work to establish a working group, if you will, to come up with some recommendations. And so as a result, Carter Smith signed a charter establishing the Snake Harvest Working Group.

The members on that group are on this slide right here. There's -- actually, two of the members of the working group are members of our advisory committees. Dr. Bill Eikenhorst, who is the Chairman of our Private Lands Advisory Committee, was asked to Chair this group. Also, about halfway down the list, you'll see Rob Denkhaus' name. He is the Chairman of our Wildlife Diversity Advisory Committee. Obviously, we were looking for group think and so we reached out for a diverse group of individuals out there that would be herpers and snake enthusiasts, wildlife professionals, landowner organizations; and then we specifically also reached out to the community of Sweetwater and got several individuals from Sweetwater, obviously, because of the notoriety of their -- the world -- as they call it, the world’s largest rattlesnake roundup.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: By the way, James Wright who is on this committee is a member of the Private Lands Advisory Committee.

MR. WOLF: Point taken. And I believe also we have some of these other members, like Don Roeber, also on other advisory committees.

So the charges, if you don't mind, I will read those. There were seven charges as a part of the charter that this working group was asked to evaluate and consider. One of those, No. 1, was to evaluate snake harvest data, the cultural impact, and economic trends of snake festivals and roundups because Sweetwater and other places in Texas are not the only places that these snake roundups and snake festivals take place. We wanted to identify measures of success for snake festivals and roundups, obviously, because folks were concerned of the impact that a -- any kind of a regulation might have on a festival or on a roundup.

We are -- we're asked to review the scientific data related to the take of snakes. Some of that, this Commission has seen as associated with noxious substances like fumes and also the impacts on the ecology and the habitat of introducing these fumes into these karst features. We wanted to identify any systematic obstacles to alternative ecologically sound capture methods. Or, in other words, is there a more ecologically sound way of getting Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes to come out of the den for capture and for collection.

We wanted to go through some of the history, review the historic recommendations or the history of this issue. Discuss potential implications to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species listing process; and at the time, this was -- really had come onto the screen because of multi-district litigation and Fish and Wildlife proposing the listing of numerous species, obviously, and that comes with a lot of onerous regulations and we obviously wanted to try to divert that.

And then Charge No. 7 was to provide practical solutions and preferred recommendations in a written report to the Executive Director. Now, what I will say as I go through the results is as we -- I attended three of these, three of the four meetings before we discovered CWD. I was able to attend several of these meetings. And what became obvious is that, you know, coming up with recommendations that had a unanimous vote was going to be difficult and also might not necessarily represent the strong opinions, divergent opinions or dissenting opinions.

And so in the latter stages of the process, we came up with points of recommend -- points of consideration and I'll go over those here shortly. The way the meetings were structured is Charge No. 3, 5, and 6 were really part of the first meeting and that was to just establish a baseline, give everybody the information that this Commission had seen, lay the science out there, and talk about the history of the issue so that everyone had the same starting point launching into the next meetings.

Then Meeting No. 2 and 3, we looked at Charges 1, 2, and 4. So what we wanted to look at was really the snake harvest festivals, get reports from folks. John Davis did a lot of interviews with the organizers of other snake festivals just to kind of -- to get an idea of the economic impact in the community and what a regulation change might have on their festivals. We also wanted to -- as a part of that -- identify measures of success. How do snake harvest festivals and roundups measure success in their communities?

And then also talk, finally, about Charge 4 there, identifying any systematic obstacles to alternative means, ecologically sound alternative capture methods. And then finally at the last meeting was the culmination of all of this, was taking those points of consideration and formulating some responses that we hope this Commission could use to get an idea of the input from this working group and this diverse group of stakeholders.

So I'll go over those points of consideration. The way these are organized, each one has a number associated with it; but Mr. Davis organized these starting with those where we had really unanimity in our responses and then as I progress through, you'll see that the opinions on these statements diverge quite a bit. So a point -- No. 1, the first point of consideration was that -- stated snake themed events are a longstanding tradition in some communities and provide social and economic benefits. And really nobody challenged that. Everyone realized that, you know, just like any other small community has some kind of festival and then, obviously, sometimes has cultural meaning; but it also has economic impact. Everyone realized that snake harvest festivals -- not just in Texas, but in other places -- are important.

Another point of consideration, No. 12, where we got unanimity in agreement was the statement flexibility and/or streamlining should be considered in nongame permit process as it pertains to Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. So in Texas, there are nongame regulations; and if you collect nongame animals at a certain volume -- certain species, certain volume, or if you introduce those into commercial trade -- there are permit requirements. And the general sense was that the Department could re-evaluate those and streamline those permit requirements, particularly in light of if there were some other prohibitions, some things that would help offset or mitigate the collection of snakes through a more streamlined and easier to understand permitting process.

Point of Consideration No. 14 read that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and relevant partners will assist with potential future research and provide support for alternative methods of collection of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. And essentially what this meant was is if we were going to look at encouraging alternative methods, it was suggested that the Agency should be part of that process to help people learn about alternative methods. The one point -- the one individual that disagreed, basically felt like that folks that collect rattlesnakes ought to do this on their own and the Department shouldn't expend resources to help inform people of alternative methods.

Point of Consideration No. 2 read that snake themed events and festivals have declined in numbers across the nation; but events that remain, reported that they are diversified and that they are stable or thriving. And so nine agreed. A couple disagreed. Essentially, they -- it was kind of a hard detail for me to decipher. I think Mr. Davis probably could articulate this a little bit better. But some felt like that as opposed to these events being diverse, they were having to be more diverse if they didn't have the snake volume. And what you'll see as we get -- as I go further, the point of snake volume at a snake festival, it was a point of discussion where particularly representatives from Sweetwater felt like snake volume was very important to the success of their festival.

Point of Consideration No. 11 stated that proactive efforts by State and/or private landowners to reduce the potential threats to populations of nontarget species are preferred to having the potential threats addressed through official policy implemented by the Fish and Wildlife Service. So essentially, the sum and substance of this statement was that Fish and Wildlife Service sometimes list species if they feel like there's a threat and that a State agency is not doing enough to mitigate that threat. And so there was a notion that if regulations were put in place that would reduce, limit, or prohibit the use of gasoline, this might avert the chance that Fish and Wildlife Service would come in and propose to list some species that coexist with Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes in these dens. We had a couple folks that disagreed. They essentially felt like we were trying to create more of a fear than necessary and essentially felt like Fish and Wildlife Service would not -- you know, would not be doing that.

Point of Consideration No. 13, if any regulatory action relative to gassing Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes is considered, there should be no restriction on the methods of taking rattlesnakes near or around manmade structures or similar areas of human activity to ensure human safety. Some Commissioners may remember in that proposal we rolled out over a year ago, we talked about exemptions so people could protect their livestock and their family, their children around human habitation, etcetera. And so we wanted to make sure that a proposal didn't have any unintended consequences. And so most folks agreed with that. There were a couple of individuals that did not agree and felt like that allowing this even around human habitation, still really encouraged some practices that were not safe and ecologically sound.

Point of Consideration No. 5, 11 of the 12 individual companies in the venom industry reported that a prohibition of the use of gasoline to collect rattlesnakes in Texas would have a limited impact on the supply of Western Diamondback Rattlesnake venom for the pet vaccine, antivenom, and medical research markets. We had seven individuals agree, two disagree, and two undecided. The sum and substance of those that disagree, they felt like maybe that the people that John interviewed and that we interviewed in the antivenom and the research field weren't necessarily being forthcoming with all of their comments.

No. 6, introducing gasoline and its associated vapors into a naturally occurring Western Diamondback Rattlesnake dens, poses potential threats to populations of nontarget species that might occupy those dens alongside rattlesnakes. Seven agreed, two undecided, two disagreed. There were a few -- there were -- the ones that disagreed felt like there was not enough research or in some cases, we heard the comments that they did not believe that there were any other associated species with Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes in those dens.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Clayton, before you move on.

MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Do you happen to know whether -- when the group in its report used "associated vapors," whether they would include diesel and kerosene, for example?

MR. WOLF: I would have to say for the vast majority, it was gasoline. It was -- it was -- it was gasoline. You know, my recollection is that prior to the 50s, a lot of other chemicals and petrochemicals were used; but gasoline turned out to be the best. But I would have to say for the purposes of this point of consideration, I'm fairly comfortable in saying the mindset was really gasoline vapors.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right. Thank you.

MR. WOLF: The potential threats -- this is Point of Consideration No. 10, the potential threats to populations of nontarget species may be best addressed by a statewide prohibition on gassing Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. And so you can see, we're getting more divergence in the opinions. A simple majority agreed with this statement. We had four disagree, and one was undecided. And essentially, you know, there's still concern about the impacts of prohibition on snake harvest festivals and felt like that this was just essentially Agency overreach.

No. 7, the potential threats to populations of nontarget species may be sufficiently addressed by placing restrictions on volume of gasoline used per den when collecting Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. And so what we did was we talked about options. You know, obviously, the petition for rulemaking was a complete prohibition; but we tried to look at different ideas or different modifications that might not be viewed -- or maybe viewed in a different light. And as you can see, we had six disagree with this comment, a couple agree, and three undecided. Essentially, those that disagreed believe that if -- and it seems to make sense -- if you're going to introduce gasoline vapors to the extent that it is an irritant for Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes to flush them out of these dens, then it is very likely toxic to those other organisms that are in these karst features.

So another option, the statement read the potential threats to populations of nontarget species may be sufficiently addressed by establishing a defined season for gassing Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. Two agreed, six disagreed, and then we had three undecided; and the general nature of the disagreement was that irrespective of the season of year, introducing gasoline vapors into karst features really is -- it was not a good idea, at least in the opinion of those six that disagreed.

Point of Consideration No. 3, based on an analysis of reports from 21 out of 25 snake-themed events across the nation, there does not appear to be a direct correlation between snake numbers and weights at those events and reported festival attendance or revenue. So we had five agree, three disagree, and three undecided. As I said, some of the reports and some of these events, you know, where they may have started off as snake roundups and volume was the idea, they have diversified. They now have concerts and races and all kinds of other things going on and, of course, the snakes are there; but the volume -- at least in some of these -- of snakes, did not seem to be as important.

The one exception, you know, in the dialogue was our individuals from Sweetwater; and clearly, you know, they bill themselves as the world's largest rattlesnake roundup. In recent years, you're looking at somewhere between 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of snakes; but they, in good years, they might bring in as many as 10,000 pounds of snakes.

So that's -- so that brings us to this next statement where Sweetwater reports that there is an expectation -- and that's an expectation of those that come to the festival -- of higher numbers of snakes based on historical take and that drives attendance and economic impact. And so four agreed with that, three -- five disagreed, and two were undecided.

No. 9, the potential threats to populations of nontarget species may be sufficiently addressed by limiting gassing of Western Diamondback Rattlesnake dens to specific geographic areas. So, again, this is a point of consideration. It was another option for modification of a regulation, restricting it to certain geographic areas. We had four agree, four disagree, and three undecided. Those that disagreed with this statement felt like, you know, if -- anywhere you're introducing a vapor into a den, burrow, or karst feature, there could be associated species. So the -- so -- and obviously, the practice occurs where there are dens and burrows and karst features. So they felt like the practice was still detrimental, irrespective of the geographic region.

And so in summary, if I go back through and just cover the highlights here and I want to make sure that I do not forget those, you know, dissenting opinions because we -- you know, out of respect for everyone on that group and the fact that we'd picked a diverse group with divergent viewpoints, we wanted to make sure we don't overlook or overgeneralize or simplify these statements. But if we look at majority -- and I recognize the minority opinions, as well -- snake events are enduring, valued traditions. Not much debate over that. Remaining events are stable and thriving.

When we talk about gassing posing a threat to nontarget species, we realize that there are a couple that do not believe that the science is there to support that statement or in the particular areas where they practice snake gassing, those other associated species do not exist. Proactive measures to address threats are preferred, and that's in relationship to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service involvement; but, of course, we have a couple of folks that feel like this is really overreaction in trying to anticipate something that they do not believe is really going to happen.

No. 5 of the four potential regulatory options debated that I just covered, six of eleven members supported the statewide prohibition; but you'll recall we talked about a geographic prohibition, a temporal prohibition. In other words, a season. And then also one the volume of gas introduced -- and did I skip over that one?

MR. SMITH: No, you covered it.

MR. WOLF: Okay, okay. I wanted to make sure.

And then No. 6, prohibiting gassing would have limited impact on venom supply. Most agreed with this; but as we know, some folks did not feel like the information that John was able to garner from representatives within the industry was necessarily the whole truth.

And then No. 7, it prohibited -- most folks ensured -- wanted to ensure that safety around manmade structures was a part of any kind of a recommendation. And then also if prohibited, we recognized that we could do some things within our permitting system to streamline it and make it easier for folks to understand permitted processes, get a permit, or possibly even exempt certain classes of individuals from getting a permit to collect Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes.

And with that, that concludes the presentation; and I'll be happy to entertain questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Clayton, thank you.

Commissioner Scott.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I just have a statement. They go around the country and they're getting this data and stuff. I really don't care much about any of that personally, you know. I mean, to me, the only thing that is important is I'm very familiar with that Sweetwater deal and I know how big it is. I personally do not support something that's going to have an impact on Sweetwater. I mean, I just don't think that once a year, that that's going to be enough to hurt anything. And that's where I stand on that issue.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins, did you --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I would like to have some time to digest the report and appreciate the -- your summary of it today.

And like to request, Mr. Chairman, that the issue be put on the March agenda for further discussion.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Morian.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I've got a question. Do you have a feel or does anybody have any data on Sweetwater, what percent of the snakes are brought in gassed and what are brought in the old fashioned way?

MR. WOLF: So that's -- we did -- my recollection is we did a survey of our nongame permit holders and that was presented to this Commission and a very small percentage of the individuals that are permit holders reported the use of gas. However, it seems -- my impression is, it still seems to be a very important tool or at least perceived to be a very important tool for folks in Sweetwater because clearly there is a feeling among some that if gasoline is not used, that they will not be able to bring in the number of snakes necessary to maintain the economic vitality of the event.

And as a sidenote, Commissioner Scott, Sweetwater actually did an economic study that was going on at the same time and that -- you'll see a link to that in your report. You can go to their website and see that. However, it didn't necessarily link the snake volume issue and gassing to the -- it clearly showed that the rattlesnake roundup is very important in the community and draws in folks from a wide area.

I think that the two really salient points are: The use of gas and will that impact the volume of snakes and at what point does the volume of snakes have an impact on the attendance at the festival? But, you know, we've clearly got two different -- two different kinds of feedback. Our permittees indicated no. But I'll tell you when -- you know, when you're discussing it at least in the Sweetwater community, folks feel like if there was a ban of some kind, it would have an impact on the way people collect snakes right now.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: The bottom line is even though it may not be prevalent, anything perceived reducing the volume is perceived as a problem by Sweetwater.

MR. WOLF: Yes. You know, I mean, obviously there's tradition and culture, as well, you know, in the way folks and these teams collect snakes. So I don't know that I would -- you know, it's probably not as simple as I've previously stated. I will tell you as we look at the snake harvest volume, you know, Sweetwater reports to us that their popularity and attendance continues to grow, even when snake volume drops down, you know, into some of those lower -- lower, you know, couple of thousand pounds on the lower end. And so at least those -- that level, you know, does not seem to be impacting things; but then there's always the big question: You know, what's the snake volume going to be if means and methods for taking snakes are changed?

So, you know, it obviously -- and when you look at those, the responses -- I'll generalize, but I think it's a safe generalization. When you looked at some of the -- you know, the four that disagree on some of those methods like prohibition, generally speaking, that would be folks from Sweetwater. Although there was one gentleman, Mr. Billy Wright, also that felt like some of those restrictions were really too much, as well, or talking about them or the consideration of proposing them was -- might have an impact and might not be necessary to protect other species.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Educate me a little bit on the -- when you refer to thousands of pounds of the volume of snakes, what do they do with the snakes from year to year? Do they kill them and eat them at the --

MR. WOLF: So I've never been, but I've -- but I have asked them these same questions, and so I -- at Sweetwater, they use just about every part of the rattlesnake and they'll get vendors to bid on parts of the rattlesnake. So they bring the snakes in and they have a viewing area and they'll have some public exhibitions like the snake -- the milking part where they're milking the venom. And so they'll have someone bid on the venom. Then, they will butcher some number of snakes and they'll fry rattlesnake and they'll sell rattlesnake and so they'll eat rattlesnake and then people will bid on the skins. They'll bid on the rattles. They'll bid on the heads. And so they'll make these, you know, novelty items out of those rattlesnake parts from the roundup.

I -- and I'm going to say I'm speculating right now, but I think there's even -- there's even possibility that live snakes are bought if there's an excess number and they can be, you know, taken to other roundups or they could go into private colonies for snake milking and folks that, you know, maintain those snakes for milking. Although what we are told and what some of the snake milkers tell us is that the impacts of gas -- if you have a snake collected with gasoline, its lifespan is much shorter than a snake that's not collected with gasoline because of the impacts of petrochemicals on the snake and the snake's lungs.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Please.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Do we know what percentage for the antivenom is that comes from snakes from roundups or from captive bred snakes?

MR. WOLF: That's a very good question. That was really a point -- highly discussed. And over the course of probably a couple of years, we've been in dialogue with individuals that have said it's going to have a huge impact to others that say not. What we know and as far as the one approved human antivenom producer, which is BTG, at some point they were buying snake venom and stockpiling snake venom, wild-caught snake venom, for harvest at their facility.

In the recent 12 months as we've asked them, they had corresponded to us and changed their contracting procedures and essentially said that they are no longer going to accept any snakes that come from these -- that come from gassed populations or these -- any areas that are potential -- you know, potentially gassed in these -- from these roundups. What -- and you'll see a lot more detail in your report, but the -- you know, the specific geographic origin of these snakes and the production of the antivenom is important to treating patients because of the chemical composition varies and so, you know, you can't just, you know, make a cocktail of a bunch of snake venom and have it be as effective and so knowing the geographic origin of those snakes is important.

But I also understand that now researchers are also producing a synthetic antivenom and they're using venom from captive colonies of known origin really as their basis for trying to figure out how to create that, the synthetic antivenom, and other compounds that are used in research. So the sum and substance for most researchers and antivenom producers was, you know, what we're getting, we're getting from the captive-bred colonies that folks have on hand.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions? Okay. So I think what we've -- Clayton, thank you.

MR. WOLF: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think what we've talked about is deliberating a little bit and thinking about this and placing it on the March agenda. I think that --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: For further discussion.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Second.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: There we go. Okay. So Item No. 6 -- thanks, Clayton, appreciate it -- is 2016-17 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Ken has struck again.

MR. KURZAWSKI: It won't be that bad, I hope. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski in the Inland Fisheries Division, and I'm here today to go over the proposed changes to the Freshwater Fishing Regulations. Since I'm the first staff person going over our proposed changes to the hunting and fishing regulations, I just wanted to take a few minutes to update you on the process for these process of our hunting and fishing regulations.

Back in November, staff from all the divisions came before the Commission and updated them on some of the potential changes to hunting and fishing regulations that we were working on. At this meeting, we will bring those proposals to you and those are the ones that we're looking for your consideration for at the Chairman's direction to be published in the Texas Register for public comment. We're not expecting most of our hunters and anglers to go looking in the Texas Register. So we do have a number of other options for the public to give comment on these.

So we -- in the past years, we've been posting all those proposed changes online for people to comment; and that's become our most popular way for people to give us public input on the changes. We also have conducted public hearings. In the past, we've done 20 or 25 of those around the state. And what we've seen over the years, that attendance at those has decreased substantially. We typically devote four or five staff members to those public hearings; and many times, we're having hearings where one or two or no people show up. So that didn't seem like it was a good process to get much input. It wasn't efficient use of staff time.

So last year, we changed that model a little bit; and what we did, we just had site of public hearings in areas where we thought there was public interest. We did two of those last year. We also had narrated versions of our presentations, the presentations that staff will be giving today. We posted those online; and also we did online webinar, once again, going over the presentations and allowing people to come give us their comments on those and ask questions. So that process seemed to be well received last year. We still got most of our comments online as we usually do, and it was a little more efficient use of staff time. We didn't have staff going out to areas around the state where no one was showing up. So we're going to continue that model this year.

Proposals will be posted for public comment on our website later in February. This year, we're -- right now, we're planning to conduct five public hearings. One in the Beaumont area and one in Emory for freshwater changes and hearings in Cameron, Ennis, and Groesbeck for the hunting -- proposed hunting regulation changes. These will occur in the first two weeks of March; and we'll also have a webinar scheduled for March, March 3rd. Staff will take all those public comments. We'll relay those to you in March; and any of the proposals at that time that are approved will go into effect September 1st, the new license year. So that's the process that we undertake for that. If there -- if you have any questions or comments on that, I'd be happy to answer those. If not, I'll go ahead with my presentation.

Our first proposed change is on Meredith Reservoir. Meredith had an excellent Smallmouth bass population, but Golden Algae decimated -- exacerbated by the low water levels, decimated that population. We were managing that population with a 12- to 15-inch slot limit. And 12- to 15-inch slot really means that fish between 12 and 15 inches, you would have to return. Those couldn't be retained. You could harvest fish below 12 inches or over 15 inches.

Since that population has been decimated, we no longer need that special regulation. So we're going to revert back to the Statewide limits for Largemouth -- for Black bass, which are 14 inches and five fish. If we do -- if the conditions improve there and we decide to reintroduce the Smallmouth bass, that would be a good -- that 14-inch, five-fish limit will be a good regulation to start that population out with.

Next, Saugeye. Saugeye are a Walleye/Sauger hybrid. We started stocking those in the 1990s. Some states that had some success stocking Saugeye in the reservoirs where there were -- where there -- some had Crappie populations. The Saugeye preyed on those Crappie populations and improved the structure of those populations. We tried that in about ten reservoirs around the state and really didn't have much success with that. We did develop one descent population in Kirby Lake near Abilene; but even there, the anglers weren't -- didn't have much success catching the fish.

We last stocked Saugeye in 2011. We've discontinued that program and we had -- we did have a special regulation protecting those populations, which was an 18-inch minimum length limit. We're going to remove that and combine the Saugeye regulations with the Walleye regulations, which is five-fish bag and only two fish over 16 inches could be harvested.

Next on Lake Naconiche was -- this was a reservoir that was opened in 2012. We had an 18-inch minimum length limit, five-fish bag, which is a typical regulation we put on new reservoirs. The goal there was to protect those 14- to 18-inch bass and establish a quality population. The bass population there is still developing in that reservoir. Our district staff believes that it has the trophy potential there. Many times in new lakes, you have some excellent growth due to the new lake effect; and we think we see -- still seeming some strong year classes and good growth and we think we could maybe enhance that population.

Fishing effort there was high. We did -- after the reservoir opened, we did a creel survey to assess that angling effort. We did see both angling effort and catch rate are high. We did not -- didn't see much harvest rate, but we did see some of those larger fish over 18 inches that were harvested.

With some of information that we have there, staff thinks that the trophy potential could be further enhanced by limiting the harvest of those large bass. We did survey anglers that fished that reservoir and asked their opinions on possible regulation changes. The 16-inch maximum -- which where you would not be able to harvest fish over 16 inches, you would be able to harvest fish under 16 inches -- seemed to be the one that was preferred by the anglers in that area.

Therefore, we're going to propose that particular regulation for implementation there. It'd be a 16-inch maximum, five-fish daily bag. We do -- in this regulation, we do have a provision that allow if you catch a fish over 24 inches, you can temporarily retain that to weigh it and if it's over 13 pounds, you can donate it to the ShareLunker program when that is operating, which is operating in this time of year. Otherwise, the fish must be immediately released. We had this same regulation on Lake Nacogdoches and Kurth near Lufkin. A lot of the anglers in that area fish these lakes. So they're familiar with this regulation and it seems to have be well received on those reservoirs.

What our goal there is for that regulation is to, once again, maximize the trophy bass production by protecting those bass over 16 inches and we do want to allow some harvest of bass under 16 inches. That will satisfy some of the harvest-oriented anglers and also hopefully decrease some of the interest -- interest specific competition and maintain those good growth rates that we see there.

Next, looking at the coastal estuaries in Southeast Texas. Historically, bass fishing there was local and limited. There have been -- over time, there were a few small bass tournaments. Mostly just small groups of weeknight or weekend jackpot tournaments. Recently, there's been some increased tournament interest in this area. Bassmaster Elite Series had a few tournaments there, and there have been a number of high school and college bass fishing events.

What the anglers found in that area is a low abundance of bass over 14 inches. We've always known that the bass populations in those coastal areas were different than or inland populations. So that wasn't a big surprise to us; but there is a local desire there to recruit more tournaments to the area, and the anglers there felt that the lack of fish over 14 inches to weigh in there was a detriment to that.

In the last Legislative session, there was a bill introduced in the House that would allow participants -- and specifically in high school or college fishing tournaments -- to weigh in bass two inches below the 14-inch minimum length limit, which is a statewide limit; and it covered the Sabine and Neches River, the Intracoastal Waterway, Gulf of Mexico, and those counties. We did have some discussion with the bill author on this. The bill did not advance, but we did make a commitment to examine the population dynamics in that area and get some more angler opinion relative to any potential regulation changes if those were warranted.

Our staff did extensive work there to look at the status of those populations and what -- we did find numerous bass, 12 and 13 inches, a few over 14 inches. We did find mortality, natural mortality there was high. Growth was slow; but condition was good, which was a little contradictory. And this is somewhat similar to what we had seen previous -- previously in that area. The growth was -- the growth was slow. The bass were typically taking about four years to reach 14 inches. In the other reservoirs near by -- for instance, Sam Rayburn, it takes two years and Toledo Bend about 2.9 years. We did look around the Gulf at population structures in similar systems. In the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, they looked at populations there. They find -- found similar -- similar situations in the populations, slow growth, high natural mortality; and they decided to -- in Louisiana -- to remove the length limit on that population.

Another population in Alabama. They looked at that and, once again, saw a similar -- similar conditions to what we've seen and what was seen in Louisiana and they didn't have a length limit at that time and they decided not -- to maintain that. They did do a little -- look at the bioenergetics of the populations there and they feel that the salinity in those areas is probably contributing to that slow growth.

So the change we are proposing there for Largemouth bass, we're going to reduce the minimum length limit from 14 to 12 inches and we're going to retain that -- retain the five-fish bag. We don't feel that this regulation will have much impact on the population whatsoever; but it would allow some fish, if there were tournaments, to be weighed in those tournaments. And this is the regulation option that was favored in a recent angler survey that we conducted and concluded in November. And these are the -- this is the areas that will be covered by that regulation. It would be the Sabine River from the Toledo Bend down -- Toledo Bend Dam downstream to Sabine Pass and then it would be those -- the counties in yellow and any public waters that form boundaries with adjacent counties. For instance, the Neches River where it borders Hardin County and Pine Island Bayou and Hardin County would also be included in that regulation.

And finally --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Hey, Ken.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Yes.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Are you going to another subject?

MR. KURZAWSKI: Yes.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I've got a quick question on this one.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Sure.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Carter, it may be for you. Has anybody talked to the bill sponsor on this? Obviously, y'all know I'm from this part of the world and I'm just curious whether or not they are okay with this. I understand and agree and understand the salinity deal. I mean, that's pretty much given, you know; but I'm just curious if we have at least let the sponsor know that we are making some changes and --

MR. SMITH: Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, Commissioner. We've had extensive dialogue. His chief of staff has been very involved in this. Inland Fisheries has kept him regularly apprised.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Good.

MR. SMITH: You know, and really for all the Commission, I want to thank Representative Phelan because this was a wonderful collaboration and in lieu of a bill, you know, we had -- as Ken said, we had a lot of discussion with him and said let our Inland Fisheries do some science and see what the biological monitoring tells us. Let us do some extensive angler attitudinal surveys and see what that data shows and then let's bring that data back to you and share that with you and ultimately bring it to the Commission and in that case, that data is clearly driving us to make a recommendation in terms of what, you know, he felt the constituents wanted. So I think we're getting to a real common place; but I very much want to acknowledge Representative Phelan and his staff for their active involvement throughout this, and Ken and Craig have talked regularly with them in the process.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, he's a great supporter of ours. So we certainly -- and I'm glad to hear y'all are spending plenty of time with him because he loves -- he likes our deal, too, so --

MR. SMITH: Yes, sir. Yep.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: -- kill a lot of birds with one stone.

MR. SMITH: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Thank you.

MR. KURZAWSKI: And I'll also note that we've been in contact with Louisiana. We've been managing our border waters, trying to get uniform regulations and we have apprised them of this and we're going to meet with them to, you know, discuss possibly changing the regulation so it's uniform on the -- you know, on our border waters there at Sabine to make that easier for everybody.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Good luck.

MR. KURZAWSKI: And finally, our last proposed change is on Lake Tawakoni for Blue and Channel catfish. The current limit there, it's a 12-inch minimum length limit and a 25-fish daily bag limit. And as part of our recently completed catfish management plan, we've talked to catfish anglers around the state and it confirmed to us that catfish anglers are harvest oriented; but there has been an increasing desire to catch some larger trophy catfish. And when we're looking at these populations, we're taking that input into consideration.

Anglers there at Tawakoni were concerned about the number of large catfish -- even up 40, 50 inches -- that were being caught and there was some concern about that those -- that number might be -- need to be reduced and they were also looking for some additional harvest of fish below 20 inches. As I said, that's been an excellent fishery; and it developed from one stocking in 1989. That's typical of what we see in some catfish -- Blue catfish populations. One or two -- one or two stockings will produce over time an excellent fishery.

Harvest of -- as I said, harvest of some of those large fish did concern some of the anglers and, you know, our concern and our staff concern was could that fishery -- that trophy fishery -- be sustained at that level. So we -- our staff initiated some special sampling in 2013 to assess that population. One of the things we did, we looked at the size distribution of the Blue catfish harvested by anglers over a couple of periods, from 2008 and '09 and 2013 and '14; and as you can see, there was a large increase not only in the number of fish harvested, but we also saw a large increase in the fish over 20 inches. Just for reference, a 20-inch catfish weighs about three pounds and typically it takes about nine years to get to there. A 30-inch fish weighs about ten pounds, and those are typically about 15 years old.

So we went to do some -- looked at some regulation options for that population and our goals there were to maintain or increase the catch, not harvest. You know, catch would be just fish that they are catching and could possible turn back over 30 inches and we were looking to try and have minimal impacts on the overall harvest. We did some population modeling used in age growth and mortality data and what we found there that under -- estimated impacts on those 20-, 30-inch fish under various regulation scenarios and we also talked to the public and gathered input by survey and a scoping meeting.

What we -- we looked at that information. What we have determined to propose there is to remove the 12-inch minimum. We're retaining the 25-fish daily bag for both Blues and Channel. Those are a combined regulation. But the -- what we've come up with to help protect some of those larger fish is within that 25-fish bag, only seven fish can exceed 20 inches in your bag and of those seven fish, only two can exceed 30 inches. You know, we realize this is sort of a new composition of a daily bag and when we had -- we went back out to the anglers in a November public meeting and discussed this with them and this seemed to be fairly well received at that time. So Blue catfish are the focus of this regulation. Channel catfish will be minimally impacted.

Once again, our rational there is to -- we're looking to address the concerns about the harvest of those big Blue catfish and we want to redirect some of that harvest of fish under 20 inches and we're hoping to do that. We will be able to increase -- you know, over time, continue to increase those fish over 30 inches by 14 percent. Our overriding concern there is to, you know, maintain the good fishing of that population into the future.

With that, those are all our proposals for freshwater at this time; and if you have any questions or comments, I'd be happy to take those.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Got any questions?

I do. Are you confident that allowing everybody to take two fish over 30 inches a day every day is consistent with the overall goal of trying to manage the Blue catfish there and to increase the likelihood of catching these big fish? That just seems excessive if your goal is to try to improve it.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, it's a combination of -- some of the -- when we look at how many people actually catch a 25-fish bag, it's a small percentage of the population and now, a lot of -- when those two people do -- those people do catch a lot of fish there, you know, there could be 20 fish over 30 inches. So there will be a reduction and we're also -- also what we're looking to is reduce -- to harvest some of those fish 20 or 30 inches. To leave more fish in those -- that -- the population to grow into the 30-inch pop, the over 30-size group. So our modeling, you know, and what we've looked at with the population dynamics, suggests that this would reach those goals.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And I assume that most of these are caught by hooks that are swallowed. Is that wrong or...

MR. KURZAWSKI: Yes, we -- you know, we do -- we've done mortality -- hooking mortalities on most of our fishes and there's a certain percentage that do suffer mortality; but we do -- we do, you know, see a good -- over -- you know, a good percentage that do survive. So we're -- we factor that into these.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You have taken that account --

MR. KURZAWSKI: Yes.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- in recommending two --

MR. KURZAWSKI: Yes, all our catch-and-release regulations are regulations where you have to release a certain size class of fish.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Anybody have any other questions or comments?

Okay. Thank you, Ken.

We'll call on Jeremy and Brandi for their presentations.

MR. LEITZ: Good morning, Commissioners and Mr. Smith. For the record, my name is Jeremy Leitz with the Coastal Fisheries Division; and I'm here today to talk about our 2016-2017 statewide items for our division. Really what we have before you is two items. One is to clarify the recreational maximum length limit for Black drum, and the other deals with increasing the minimum size limit for Greater Amberjack.

Starting first with Black drum, just to give you a summary of the current regulations. On the recreational side right now, there's a five-fish daily bag limit. There's a 14-inch minimum length limit, and one over 52 inches may be retained per day; but does count as part of a daily bag limit. And up until this current year, there's also been a 30-inch maximum length limit. However, that was accidentally omitted when we reformatted Administrative Code from a table format to text format. That verbiage was just left out. And so right now, it currently says there's no maximum length limit for Black drum, and we're just proposing to reinsert that 30 inches back into it.

Moving to Greater Amberjack, just again a little history of the regulations. Prior to 1990, there were no regulations for this fishery in Texas or in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1990, a 32-inch minimum size limit and a three-fish bag were put in place. And then in 2008, that was increased to 34 inches for the minimum size; but the bag was reduced to one fish. We also eliminated the captain and bag -- captain and mate bag limits, as well, excuse me.

However, just this month, NOAA raised the minimum size limit to 34 inches and it's important to note here that they use the fork length measurement. We use total length. The difference being fork length is measured from the tip of the snout, the tip of the mouth to where that fork begins on that tail. We use total length. We go from the tip of the mouth all the way to the furthest point of that tail. So to mirror that 34-inch regulation, we're proposing to increase the minimum size to 38 inches in total length here in Texas.

And just to let you know kind of what that means for people, we don't see a lot of Great Amberjack landed in Texas; but of those trips that do, about a third or 37 percent land fish under 38 inches, while the vast majority still land fish above that size, as well. You can see there the mean size is closer to 44 inches. So well above that proposed minimum size limit.

And that's what we have before you today, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Do we -- have we -- when do we plan to revisit focus on the trout and the --

MR. LEITZ: Flounder.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- flounder?

MR. LEITZ: Trout, if I -- those regulations were -- the most recent regulations were passed for both of those starting in September of '14. So we're about a year and a half into those when you're talking about the expansion of the five-fish bag limit up the coast and the two-week extension of the two-fish bag for flounder. Trout has a five-year sunset on it. So we'd be coming back -- I think we said about three years after that regulation went into effect. And flounder doesn't have that sunset on it; but, I mean, we're more than happy to provide an update at some time for you prior to that, as well, if you'd like.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'd like to suggest we have an update at a -- whatever time the Chairman determines, but sometime in the next couple of meetings.

MR. LEITZ: Sure. We can certainly do that.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: It can be fit into the schedule.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Sure. All right.

MS. REEDER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Brandi Reeder. I'm the Fisheries Law -- Fisheries Law Administrator for the Law Enforcement Division. I'm here to bring you two brief items today. The first of the items is in regards to language clarification to the pole and line definition. It's actually under device, means, and methods. And the main thing that we're trying to accomplish is to make it clear that using a pole and line to snag or hook a fish is unlawful to foul hook a fish.

The second of those is recently, we were made aware that the Code of Federal Regulations has been restructured; and so in areas in which the CFR is cited, we now need to update those cites to make sure that we're consistent. And those are my two items, if I could answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions?

Okay. Thank you both very much. Appreciate it.

So I'll authorize staff to publish proposed rules regarding 2016-2017 statewide recreational and commercial fishing proclamation in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

And Item 7 is 2016-17 Statewide Hunting Proclamation, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Mr. Alan Cain, good morning.

MR. CAIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Alan Cain. I'm the White-tailed Deer Program Leader, and this morning I'm going to present White-tailed Deer regulation proposed changes. Before I do so, Ken provided a good update on the regulation process for hunting and fishing regulations; and I just wanted to expand just a little bit on the hunting regulations for our new Commissioners. We tend to try to stay on a four-year cycle in bringing proposals for specific species. For example, White-tailed deer is this year and then we wouldn't revisit that until 2020 and then next year would be Pronghorn and then Mule deer would be after that and so forth and so on. The reason we do that is to allow time for us to assess impacts of our harvest regulations on those populations out there and it also provides consistencies for hunters so they're not having to deal with changes every year.

The only exception to that is the migratory game bird regulations, which occur every year. You'll hear from Dave Morrison and the reason that's like that is because we have the Fish and Wildlife Service sets federal framework guidelines that influence our season dates and bag limits for the migratory species.

So with that said, I'll move into the White-tailed deer regulation proposals. The first proposal staff are bringing forward is to eliminate the antlerless deer control permit. For those not familiar with the ADCP permit, it allows the harvest of spiked bucks and antlerless deer from September 1 through the end of February; and it's been in place since 1993. As you can see from the chart, we saw a steady increase in use in that permit up into 2003. Then, in 2004, we saw a sharp decline on ADCP permits; and that coincided with changes to the Managed Lands Deer Program, which also extended the season for that program for the higher levels to the end of February and also did away with a bonus tag requirement and the tags were issued to the property there. And so consequently, folks moved to the MLD Program; and we've seen that decline continue through today. And, in fact, since 2012 to present, we've only issued four ADCP permits each year in those last several years.

Therefore, staff are recommending we discontinue this permit. Doing so would eliminate significant expense that would be necessary to incorporate the ADCP permit process into our online system through which we issue permits. We're going through -- this year, we'll be going through a redesign of the TWIMS system, which is the system we use to the permits from MLDP and ADCP, to incorporate changes to the Managed Lands Deer Program that are coming forward. And additionally, there's obviously no demand for the permit or very little; and those folks that are currently under ADCP have the option to move into the Managed Lands Deer Program, utilize the Triple T or TTP Program to manage their deer population. And, in fact, our biologists have spoke with the individuals, two of those individuals that use those permits on a regular basis; and they indicated they would likely move into the MLD Program if this permit was eliminated.

The next proposed change is to amend the definition of a legal buck during the special late season. Currently, there are 136 counties in the state that offer a late doe and spike season that falls at the end of the general season for approximately 14 days. The confusion comes in for hunters that are in -- hunting in antler restriction counties where one of the legal bucks they may harvest during the general season includes deer with at least one unbranched antler.

So you can see from the photo, there's obviously a spiked buck on the right. He's a legal buck for harvest. But in antler restriction counties, they can also harvest a deer with one unbranched antler -- at least one unbranched antler. So that three-point on the left would be eligible for harvest. However, in that same antler restriction county, when the special late season opens, only a spiked buck is eligible for harvest; and that's confusing to a lot of those hunters over there where that occurs.

Therefore, staff propose to amend the definition of a legal buck to include any buck with at least one unbranched antler during that special late season. Obviously, reduce confusion among hunters and also help reduce possible unintended consequences or unintended violations. So, for example, there could be a hunter out there in the late doe and spike season and accidently harvest a three-point, just like you saw in that picture, because he couldn't see that little point. This would help eliminate some of those unintended violations.

Additionally, we've had requests from hunters in those counties where this is an issue, as well as our game wardens and our own staff, to provide a consistent definition for legal buck. Obviously, it would provide consistent regulation with the definition of legal buck in antler restriction counties; but also our MLD Program that we're -- the changes that are coming into effect, the harvest option allows for the take of a buck with at least one unbranched antler during the early part of that harvest option season.

Staff will also be proposing to open a deer season in 14 counties in the Western Panhandle, which is those counties outlined in green on the map there. They fall within Resource Management Unit 33. That's kind of our -- what we term our deer population management units there. The White-tailed deer population is expanding through the Western Panhandle from east to west and moving towards that New Mexico border. We've had requests from a number of landowners in those areas to open a White-tailed deer season. Traditionally, that's mostly Mule deer country over there; but we're seeing those White-tailed populations creep in over there, and the landowners would like the opportunity to have some flexibility to manage those White-tailed deer populations as they expand westward.

Vice-Chairman, you'd mentioned at a briefing back in November about reaching out to some landowners in Lynn County, which has been a concern; and we did do that. We had -- our biologists spoke to 18 individuals and I spoke to an individual that was passed on to me and of that, 13 of those folks were in favor or support of opening a White-tailed deer season in that county. Three were not in support of opening a season, and three were undecided at this time. The number of folks out there that were in support, they did indicate they would like to see an increase in law enforcement presence if a season was opened and Kevin Davis, the Chief of our Wildlife Law Enforcement, indicated that, you know, typically when a new season opens up, wardens would spend some time out there appropriately to manage those expectations from the landowners over there.

So this is what staff are proposing. For the counties in blue, those are 13 counties, we would propose an archery and general season with a bag limit of one buck and two antlerless deer. And for Winkler County, which is that county in solid green, it would have a slightly different regulation. It would allow a general -- archery and general season, a bag limit of one buck and two does; but antlerless may only be taken during archery season. This would be consistent with the regulations that are in place in the counties surrounding Winkler, which is those counties in yellow with the green outline -- Loving, Ward, Crane, Ector, and Midland there. And so we'd keep those regulations consistent in that area.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Before you move on, I would like to suggest that before the next meeting, that you have an attempt to schedule a public meeting in Lynn County to allow for general comment on this and whether it should be expanded because as you know, last time when we proposed to create a Mule deer season, there was a significant outcry and a lot of opposition to it. And so I'd like to request that we schedule a public meeting to discuss it and whether perhaps if we have one, should it be an archery only. I'm not suggesting that's where I am. I'm just asking that we have a public meeting out there and allow landowners -- since it's 80 percent pasture, very small pockets of deer, let's let everybody be heard on that.

MR. CAIN: Yes, we can certainly do that.

Staff are also proposing an expansion of doe days in the Post Oak Savannah ecoregion, which is that area outlined in red on your map. In that area, staff noticed through our survey efforts, we've seen a 23 percent increase in the deer population over the last ten years and antlerless harvest comprises about 40 percent of the total harvest. So there's quite an excessive harvest on those buck populations out there, which is likely contributing to a skewed doe-to-buck ratio, which runs about three and a half does for every buck in that region there.

Additionally, our staff have seen a 50 percent increase in the Managed Lands Deer Permit Program. Primarily those folks under Level 1 that are seeking antlerless deer tags. And so we've seen that utilization or that participation rate increase as the deer population increased over there. So expanding doe days in those number of counties, which I'll show you a slide in just a minute to review that, would help us manage deer population to reduce impact on the habitat. Obviously, hope to improve the sex ratio out there, expand the hunting opportunity to provide some flexibility for landowners to manage deer populations through harvest in that particular region.

So what are staff proposing? On the map, the counties that are in orange with a dark brown outline, those currently have zero doe days. So you have to -- if you want to harvest antlerless deer, it has to be by permit only right now. We're proposing to open though -- open four doe days or expand that to four doe days in those counties. And then for the counties in green with the dark green outline, those counties currently have four doe days; and we're proposing to expand those to 16 doe days to address some of those issues I just mentioned.

Staff would also be proposing the opening of a muzzleloader season in 32 counties in that Post Oak Savannah region there, which is those counties in blue that are outlined on the map. The muzzleloader season would open the first Monday following the first Sunday in January and run for 14 consecutive days. It would also be concurrent with the opening doe and spike season that occurs in 136 counties in the remaining portion of the state there. Obviously, we don't expect much impact from muzzleloader season. They generally make up a small percentage of the hunters out there and based on our big game harvest survey estimates, I think they're about 1.9 percent of the hunting -- hunters that answered that survey use muzzleloader or hunt during that season.

Additionally, staff are proposing some change to the antlerless deer harvest requirements on U.S. Forest Service lands, primarily in the eastern part of the state is where it would be effected. Under the current rule, an antlerless permit is required to harvest antlerless deer on Forest Service properties. The Forest Service doesn't have the opportunity to utilize our Managed Lands Deer Program or LAMPS Program because of program requirements right now and the tag issuance hurdles they would have to jump through on public lands on Forest Service properties over there.

We've had requests from the Forest Service to allow for the take of antlerless deer on Forest Service lands without a permit during the youth only season. So just for youth to take antlerless deer without a permit on Forest Service lands during that youth only season. Staff, as well as the Forest Service, do want to see the opportunity expanded for youth on public lands during that youth only season. So we would recommend a proposal -- bring forward a proposal to allow us to take without a permit. And again, it would provide additional hunting opportunity; and it would also be consistent with our wildlife management areas in that part of the state that are on Forest Service lands where we do not require an antlerless permit to harvest deer, antlerless deer, during the youth only season.

And the last proposal is -- are a few housekeeping items. One is to clarify that White-tailed deer and antlerless deer harvest during the archery only season does not require a permit. Currently, the rule says just deer, which could be interpreted as Mule deer as well; but Mule deer do require an antlerless Mule deer permit if you're going to take one during the archery only season. We'll clarify that it's just White-tailed deer.

And the last clarification was that to harvest an antlerless deer during the youth season, is restricted to persons 16 years of age and younger, including properties that are issued Level 1 MLD. And we had some questions arise recently whether an adult could harvest a deer on a Level 1 MLD -- an antlerless deer on a Level 1 property during youth season. We're clarifying that it's just youth only.

That's all that I have for the presentation, and I'll be glad to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins. Oh, did you -- I thought I saw you raise your hand.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Oh. No, thank you. Sorry.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Alan?

Okay. Thank you.

MR. CAIN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it.

Mr. Dave Morrison.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Where are all the ducks you promised us?

MR. MORRISON: That way. They're there. They're just scattered all over.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: They're not in front of my shotgun either.

MR. MORRISON: Mr. Chairman, Commission members, my name is Dave Morrison; and I'm the Small Game Program Director for the Wildlife Division. And this morning, I'm here to present to you proposals for the 2016-17 migratory game bird hunting seasons. I forgot my little push button here.

Before I get started, I just want everybody to understand that migratory birds cross international boundaries; and as a result, they have to be managed a little bit different than resident game birds. To this end, we manage -- these birds are managed with the Migratory Bird Treaty Acts with various countries, including Canada, Mexico, former USSR, and Japan. The U.S. enters -- the United States entered into agreements to ensure that these birds are properly managed. Within these treaties, all migratory birds are covered; but there are special provisions for hunted species.

In essence, what that says is that the United States government has ultimate control. They'll issue frameworks to the states by which they can manage the species. Those frameworks include the outside dates, the season length, bag limit, and shooting hours. Now, the State takes that information, decides what best fits our state, and we can always be more restrictive; but we can never be more liberal when we set our hunting seasons.

This year represents the very first year that we're setting regulations under this process. This new process was established by the Fish and Wildlife Service trying to deal with some issues that they were dealing with. In the past, we've come before this Commission typically in March, presented an overview of the entire migratory bird package; but we come back in June to get final approval for species like dove because that was the early season, and we would not come back to this Commission until August to finalize the waterfowl side of it. And it kind of put us in two different timelines with publications of regulations.

So what we've done here now with this new process, it enables us as a Department and a Commission to set both migratory and resident game birds at one time; and we think this is really going to streamline our process and put us in a much better position to deal with our regulatory cycle.

The proposals that are being presented to you this morning were developed by program staff. Then working with the Migratory Game Bird Technical Committee, which are biologists across the state that deal with migratory bird issues, come up with what the staff recommendations are, what staff proposals will be. We then go before the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee, which is selected by this Commission. It kind of provides some insight from the outside looking in to make sure we all stay on the same page. And we took these proposals forward, and I'm happy to say that both the staff and the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee proposals are the same.

Along with the new process, there's a lot of changes that are coming forward this year. Probably the biggest that is being presented this year is the Fish and Wildlife Service has granted us 90 days for the dove season. That's an increase of 20 days. So we've got an additional 20 days of dove hunting that we've got to sprinkle around this. As a result of that additional days, we had to look at how we structure our zones.

This year we're coming forward with a proposal that's going to have different closing days for the North and Central dove zone. This is the first time this has been this way since we had a 60-bird bag limit option. We're also proposing a shorter split in the North duck zone, simply to provide maximum hunting opportunities during December and January where we feel the best harvest opportunity occurs. We're shifting the South -- we're proposing to shift the South Zone duck season one week later, essentially to provide better opportunity in November, as well as trying to reach the end of the framework. And the last big change that we're proposing is we're shifting the West goose zone one week later. There appears to be a perception -- or perception is reality -- is that those birds seem to be arriving later. So we're trying to address the hunting season to maximize the opportunity when those bird are here.

So with that preface, I'd like to present to you the proposals for the 2016-17 seasons for dove, teal, rail, gallinule, snipe, and woodcock. As I mentioned, we've been granted a 90-day season for teal -- for dove hunting, but we also maintain the 15-bird bag limit.

In the North Zone, we're proposing a season that would open on September 1, which is the earliest allowed by federal framework, run through November the 13th, reopen that season on December the 17th and run through January the 1st. As I mentioned, the Central and North are a little bit different this year with respect to our proposals. Would open on September 1, run through November the 6th, and reopen on December 17th and run through January the 8th.

In the South Zone, framework is a little bit different. We are proposing to open that as early as the federal framework will allow. This year the earliest we can open the South Zone is September the 23rd and run through November the 13th. We're proposing to reopen the second split concurrent with all the other zones, which is December the 17th, and run through January 23rd.

Special white-wing, again, the federal regulations get a little bit complicated. So this is a little bit different than everybody else. We are allowed in the Special White-winged dove area four days in September. So we're opting to propose to open the season the first full week -- first two full weekends of September, which would be the 3rd and 4th, 10th and 11th. Open the second split as early as possible concurrent with the South Zone, which would be September the 23rd, run it to November the 13th, which closes concurrent with the South Zone. Reopen the season on September the 17th and run through January 19th. The only difference here is in that Special White-wing area, the first four weekends the bag limit is a little bit different. We have a 15-bird bag limit; but during those four days, you're restricted to more than two Morning dove and a White-tailed dove.

Just so you can see what it looks like on a calendar. Here's the North Zone. That runs from September 1 through November the 13th, this is a lot longer than it has been in the past. We're getting into that youth deer season. We're getting into the opportunity to open a day of quail season. This gives us a lot of good options going into the future.

In the South Zone, again, September 1. We're closing on November -- proposing to close on November the 6th. Reopen December the 17th, and run through January the 8th. In the South Zone, again, federal frameworks do not allow us to open any earlier than September the 23rd. Proposing to run that to the 13th of November, reopen on the 17th, and run through January 23rd. Understand that the closing framework, we can close it no later than January 25th. So we're getting pretty close to that backend side.

Now, the Special White-winged, again, it's a little bit different because this is a special area. We're proposing those first two weekends in September, open it concurrent with the South Zone, run through the 13th, which is closed at the same time, reopen on the 17th, and close on the 19th. Understand we had to give up four days on the backside, put them on the front. Now, we did take the opportunity to talk to the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee about: What are your thoughts? What if we took those four days and just look at this calendar, the 10th, 11th, and -- 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th, and plug them on the backside of this area. So that now the second split would close at the same time, but the first split would disparate. Well, it was the opinion and the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee felt that this provide -- this proposal provides a better opportunity and maximizes hunting opportunity on the first split. So that was the reason why they supported moving forward with this one.

For early teal, this new process will base all season structure for migratory -- for waterfowl, prior year's information. Well, we have no new information since last summer. That means that we're still in excess of the level that provides us 16-day teal season. The Commission has established some -- the concept that we want to maximize weekends. So with a 16-day season, we can get the first -- the last three full weekends in September. So the proposed dates for September teal season would be September 10th through 25th, with a six-bird bag limit.

These lesser known things, that not a lot of people chase, but they're still important to some, for rail, gallinule, and moorhen. The September teal -- the first part of that season is concurrent with September teal season, September 10 through 25. We close that -- the proposal would close that out from November 5th through December the 28th, and that maximizes the 70 days that is allowed by framework. For snipe, we're offered 107 days as part of the framework with an eight-bird bag limit. So we're proposing October 29th through February 12th to take advantage of the maximum opportunity.

Woodcock, the framework closes on January the 31st. We're provided only 45 days. So to maximize the best time in Texas for woodcock hunting, we start on the backside and go forward -- yes, reverse order here. So it's December 18th through January the 31st, and that's pretty much consistent throughout the years.

Now, I'd like to move to ducks, mergansers, coots, geese, and Sandhill cranes. In the High Plains Mallard Management Unit, the season dates we're proposing is pretty much just a calendar adjustment from last year, with the youth hunt being October 22nd and 23rd, the regular season opening the full weekend on October 29th and 30th, have a four-day split, reopen that season on Friday, November the 4th, and run to the end of framework, which is January 29th.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is again requiring that we have a five-day closure on mottled ducks, dusky ducks. That's a mottled duck, black duck, Mexican-like and/or hybrids. So we have to not allow harvest the first five days in all these zones. So that season would take the first five days, then would be concurrent with the rest of the season. This is what it looks like on a calendar, with that lime green color being the September teal season, the kind of the flat blue being the two youth hunts, that neon blue being the regular season, and the red being the close time -- the split, sorry.

In the North Zone, again, I mentioned we're offering something a little bit different this year. We're proposing that youth season open on November 5th and 6th. We're pushing the season structure just a little bit later to opening on November the 12th and close on November the 27th, which is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Only going to have a five-day split this time, and propose to open on December 3rd through January 29th. The purpose behind this is we're trying to maximize weekends in December and January. In the North Zone, that's where it appears to be the best harvest. So we're trying to maximize days when hunters prefer. This is what it looks like on a calendar. Again, basically the same color scheme. Green, early September teal; the flat blue, youth; and the neon blue being the regular season.

In the South Zone, a little bit subtle change from the last year. We're proposing that the youth season be October 29th and 30th, the regular season would start on November 5th and run through the Sunday after Thanksgiving, maintaining the 12-day split in the South Zone with a December 10th through January the 29th and the dusky duck would be delayed opening until November the 10th. Part of the reason for doing this is people like to get as late as possible. So we're going to the end of the framework; but we're also provided some good opportunities in November when in the South Zone, that's when it appears to be the best hunting opportunity.

And this is what it looks like on a calendar. Again, the same color scheme. Notice the 12 days in red, which is the split. Because we're based on prior year's information, the bag limit will not change next year. Daily bag limit is six -- five mallards, only two can be hens, three wood ducks, three scaup, two redheads, two pintails. We were even able to convince them to leave the two canvasback for next year, which was a little bit difficult; but they agreed. Merganser is five per day with only two hooded mergansers, coots 15, and the limit is -- possession limit is three times the daily bag limit.

Moving to geese, as I mentioned earlier, that we're trying to shift this season a little bit later because it appears that migration in those birds is showing up in West Texas a little bit later. So we've moved it about a week later. So we're proposing November 5th through February the 5th for both dark and light geese. We're proposing a conservation order to open the very next day after the goose season closes, and that would run from February 6th to March 19th. Bag limit is five dark geese, with no more than two White-fronted geese per day, three times the daily bag limit. Twenty light geese, with no possession limit. This is what it looks like on the calendar. The gold being the regular season, and the blue being the conservation order.

In the East Zone, we do have the opportunity to have an early Canada goose season for what many call an overabundant Canada geese; and so that is September 10th through the 26th. The same as the September teal season we're proposing. Then, you have the Canada, the White-fronted and the light geese all open the same day on November the 5th and run through January the 29th. And the light goose conservation order for white geese starts on January the 30th and would run through March the 19th if these proposals are accepted. The bag limit is five dark geese, to include no more than that two White-fronted geese and 20 light geese with no possession limit. This is what it would look like on a calendar. Again, the same color scheme except on this one, the green is the early Canada goose season during that September teal season.

Proposed dates for Sandhill crane is pretty much calendar adjustments from last year. In Zone A, we're proposing October 29th to January 29th, with a bag limit of three. In Zone B, we've delayed that opening a little bit simply because Whooping cranes, this is a corridor for Whooping cranes to pass through. So we want those birds to get through there and down to their winter home along the coast. So we delay that opening until November the 18th and run through January 29th, with a bag limit of three. And in Zone C, we maximize the number of days according to the federal processes with 37 and that would be December the 17th through January 22nd, with a bag limit of two.

Proposed falconry seasons, again, because we have a change in dove season, we -- this is a change in the falconry season for Morning, White-winged, and White-tipped dove. You're only allowed 107 exposure days, which is the maximum days that you could actually pursue these birds and because of the additional 20 days of dove hunting added, we had to reduce that special falconry season by that same amount. So the proposal is November 19th through December the 5th. For other species -- woodcock, moorhen, gallinule, rail, and ducks -- in the North and South Zone, the falconry season would be January 30th through February the 12th. The High Plains does not have a falconry season because they lose -- use their full 107 days between the regular season, September teal, and the youth hunts.

And now that I've gone through all that, I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Scott.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: One question. This may be for you more so than him, Carter, because you're going to have to refresh my memory. We've been working down there in Southeast Texas on picking up those other couple of counties in regular dove season. The line is still Interstate 10. We were waiting on U.S. Fish and Wildlife for information. Is that accurate? Whoever knows the answer to this one, I'm just --

MR. SMITH: You bet. Dave -- Dave has been working that very actively with Shawn and trying to address that.

A lot going on there; but say what you can, Dave.

MR. MORRISON: There is a lot going on there, and we recognize that what we're trying to do is we're trying to address a great big problem.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Right.

MR. MORRISON: And understand that that boundary, the Special White-wing area, have to delay it until this year September the 23rd because of the framework. So there's a lot of things out there that are causing concerns to people.

We've been talking to Fish and Wildlife Service trying to figure out a way to come to an agreement, how do we deal with this; and I think we have found a path forward, but it's still early in the game. But that path forward would create the opportunity to have early in September and try to establish a new fixed date. What that fixed date is, we're still not certain; but we're trying to find a way so that that Special White-wing dove area and the South Zone get some earlier opportunity for everybody, have no jeopardy on the resource. And so we have a -- we are working on that. It will not be for this '16-'17. We're looking at more of a '17-'18 because of just the process and the time that we're going to have to work through this.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, I just needed to know that --

MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: -- because I'll be asked that question.

MR. MORRISON: We think we may have found something that they'll agree to.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Good. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Dave?

Thank you, Dave. Appreciate it.

MR. MORRISON: Thank you very much.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'll authorize staff to publish propose rules regarding 2016-2017 statewide hunting proclamation in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

We're now going to hear our Item No. 8, Chronic Wasting Disease Response, Clayton; and then we're going to break for lunch and also to have our Executive Session.

MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the record, I'm Clayton Wolf, Director of the Wildlife Division; and this morning, I'm going to give you -- my presentation has two parts to it. First, just a brief update, high-level update on where we stand with our Chronic Wasting Disease response here since this summer. And then I'm going to present to you a proposal, proposed changes to our deer management permit regulations related to CWD and ask you to consider those tomorrow at tomorrow's Commission meeting for adoption.

First, of course, I think most know that on June 30th, 2015, Chronic Wasting Disease was confirmed at a deer breeding facility in Medina County in a two-year-old White-tailed deer. So this was the first time CWD was found in a White-tailed deer in Texas, and it was the first time that it was found in a deer breeding facility. The only other discovery, of course, was in 2012 in West Texas in the Hueco Mountains in Mule deer.

Upon discovery, one of the things that the Agency realized was necessary was to temporarily halt all deer movement; and the reason for halting all deer movement temporarily was as we dove into the data, we identified 177 facilities that were directly linked to this index herd. And when I use the term "index" herd, that's the herd in Medina County that is CWD positive. Also, on some other slides, I'll use the term "Tier 1" facilities and those Tier 1s are those facilities that are directly linked to the index herd.

In fact, when we dove deeper into the data and we looked at, say, Tier 2 and Tier 3 facilities, what we saw was that the vast majority of deer breeders in Texas were connected to this facility by two or three levels and so, obviously, with that reach throughout Texas, it was important to temporarily halt deer movement until we could do a risk assessment and identify some -- and implement some measures to mitigate that risk.

One of the activities our sister agency Texas Animal Health Commission engaged in was to utilize their authority to place hold orders on these 177 Tier 1 facilities. And so it's essentially equivalent to a quarantine. It's a little bit different. They place a quarantine on the CWD positive facility, hold orders on any CWD exposed facility or a Tier 1 facility; and that hold order is put in place so the deer are not moved. These susceptible species are not moved until there can be a risk assessment that might clear them or they're given a herd plan and agree to comply with that herd plan. While they have that herd plan in place, they still have a hold order. And so I am happy to report that since June, 128 of those 177 facilities have been cleared by Texas Animal Health Commission. Forty-nine still have herd plans. So they still have hold orders.

It was September 19th that we discovered CWD in a Lavaca County deer breeding facility. Unfortunate, but not necessarily a big surprise. This particular facility had also received two-year-old deer from this facility in Medina County. And so the Texas Animal Health Commission and the animal disease experts were clearly watching these animals since all of the deer in the index facility were two-year-old deer that were CWD positive, as well, two-year-old males. And so this animal that died, tested positive and the facility still has -- I think it's on the order of about 11 other two-year-old deer in that facility that Animal Health Commission is working with to sample here and us and the USDA to do some sampling shortly.

That particular facility had not been open near as long as the Medina County facility. It had only been open since October of 2014. And so only nine Tier 1 facilities associated with it, and five of those have been cleared. So four other facilities still have hold orders and herd plans, not near as complex as the first discovery obviously. This slide here I've shown several times. It depicts the CWD sampling that our staff has done in the years since 2002 and up to this current year, collecting samples on approximately or just shy of 30,000 hunter-harvested deer and road-kill deer.

Of course, we realize with the discovery of CWD in a deer breeding network and that extensive network throughout Texas, that we had to up our game in sampling, as well. You may recall me showing this slide of our resource management units; but essentially, we refined the scale, the populations of inference at which we were going to sample. And you have basically 33 White-tailed deer RMUs; and then you have another unit, that area out west, which actually would be the 34th unit out in West Texas that principally has Mule deer. Our sampling scheme changed significantly. Previously, we were targeting about 2,400 samples a year. With the new sampling scheme, our goal was to collect 8,000 samples this year across the state of Texas, stratified within these RMUs by a risk score. And I'm happy to report that we are over 10,000 samples now, and staff is still going. I think it's 10,165.

This particular slide you have before you here is a RGIS application our staff has, whereas they collect data and they sync that data, we can get realtime updates. And so Alan Cain provides a weekly update on where we stand with our CWD sampling; and as I said, we still have more to go.

If we looks at some stats on RMUs, we are over 100 percent on 23 of our RMUs. We have six RMUs where we're between 50 and 99 percent, and we have five RMUs where we're less than 50 percent. If you look at that RMU map, generally speaking, our -- we are below target there in the Western Panhandle and the Eastern Trans-Pecos. So if you look at RMUs 1, 2, 3, 33, and 32, for the most part, those are low deer densities, not in all areas. So we'll keep targeting road kills, MLD properties. And, of course, South Texas still has two weekends of antlerless and spike season left. So we'll still -- we'll still be striving for our goals; and then we'll do an assessment at the end of the year and see if those goals were appropriate, if we need to adjust them or not. But I do have to say for the vast majority of Texas, our staff has done -- staff and landowners and hunters and everyone that contributed samples, has just done an outstanding job of getting CWD samples in our hands.

It has created challenge for the diagnostic lab. They -- I think it was as of last week, were at about 2,700 samples processed. They actually had -- started outsourcing some samples to try to catch up. When we had our CWD symposium last week, we talked with Dr. Akey, the Director of the lab, and we'll be in discussions. They're considering using a different testing methodology, the ELISA method, next year. It will allow them to process the samples more quickly, but my understanding is they're fresh tissue samples. So we'll have to sit down with them and talk about logistics; but clearly there's a recognition among all that we need to get those samples processed more quickly.

So just a little bit about the regulations process because I get a lot of questions and even for myself, it's hard to keep my mind straight on emergency rules, interim rules, new rules coming. As a reminder, on August 18th, Director Smith by executive order adopted emergency deer breeder rules and they became effective that day. We had been working with our stakeholders for -- working on this comprehensive regulation package, took all our effort -- put all our effort into that. Once that was done, we turned our attention to Triple T, TTP, and DMP regulations. And on October 5th, those emergency regulations became effective.

Emergency rules are effective initially for 120 days, and they can be extended up to 60 days. And so for both these rule packages, they would expire before we are -- we have time to bring a new comprehensive rule package back to this Commission this coming spring. So you may recall, that was the reason in November that this Commission adopted our interim deer breeder rules so that we could span that gap between the expiration of the emergency rules and the time when this Commission adopts a new set of CWD rules this spring.

In November, I also briefed the Commission and let you know that we needed to go through the same activity for DMPs because our DMP rules will expire before we have a set of replacement rules in place. So tomorrow, that's why we are seeking adoption of the interim DMP rules. So and then, of course, March 21 is the Work Session where we plan to come to you with a comprehensive set of rules. We'll be prioritizing deer breeder first, DMP second. It's my hope that we can get Triple T, TTP, carcass transport rules, and the whole package; but clearly we -- because of the effective date of these permits, we will have to prioritize our deer breeder and DMP first.

Deer breeder -- I mean, a Deer Management Permit was authorized by the Texas Legislature in 1997. So just a little bit about what that permit entails. An individual, a property owner that has a high-fenced property in Texas -- and you have to have a high fence to qualify for a DMP -- you can get a permit to trap deer on that property and temporarily detain those deer in a breeding enclosure for natural breeding purposes and then sometime prior to the next permit season, you have to release those animals or those animals and their offspring.

Initially, this was targeted just at free ranging deer. The regulations were changed in subsequent years to allow the use of deer breeders -- of breeder deer within these facilities. So breeder deer may be transferred to these facilities and ultimately released on the ranch. There's one exception is that a breeder buck can go back to a deer breeding facility, but any breeder does that go into these pens must be released. So essentially, everything that goes into that pen must be released on that property, with the exception of a breeder buck and that one may be released and come back.

And so want I want to do is just a quick point of departure. These -- our DMP rules that we're asking you to adopt tomorrow, were really based -- based -- or have their basis in our deer breeder rules. And so as a quick reminder, the rules that we're adopting in November, if you'll recall a TC 1 facility -- that is the highest testing performance in a deer breeding facility -- when they release deer to a site, that becomes a Class I release site and because of the low risk, there's no testing requirements. The moderate level of testing at a deer breeding facility is a TC 2 and if TC 2 deer are released on a release site, there's a Class II -- it becomes a Class II site and so some testing is required at that site, essentially 50 percent of the hunter-harvested animals on that site. And then TC 3 being the lowest, becomes a Class III site and 100 percent of the hunter-harvested deer have to be harvested -- have to be tested on that site. And as a reminder, if a site is a Class II, for example, and they receive Class III deer, they must be downgraded.

So we superimpose a DMP facility on to this same tract of land and someone chooses to use a breeder deer to put into a DMP on site -- a TC 2, for example -- those deer could ultimately be released. So essentially, it's to release a breeder deer on site. So the simple -- the summary of what the rules we're asking you to adopt would be very similar to our deer breeder rules. In this case, this would be a Class II release site the following season. And so the -- what we're asking you to adopt tomorrow, basically the DMP release site shall be treated as Class I, II, or III release sites based upon the numeric classification of originating site of the breeder deer.

Of course, if a breeder deer comes back and it does not have to come back from the originating facility. It can go somewhere else. But if it's a TC 3 buck and it goes back to a TC 2 deer breeding facility, that facility would be downgraded. And just as the release sites for our deer breeder rules, all breeder deer placed in a DMP facility on a Class III release site must be ear tagged with an RFID tag or a National Uniform Ear Tag -- Ear Tagging System tag.

As far as public comment, it's been pretty light. We've had three comments agreeing with the proposal, and three that oppose the proposal. And the reasons for disagreement, a couple have indicated they essentially just oppose captive deer breeding and confinement of wildlife in general and then one specific comment was -- from the commenter was that these regulations would be detrimental to release site property value and it would be an extra burden on the deer hunting operation on that site.

And so with that, I'll be happy to take any questions. Yes.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: All DMP properties are high fenced?

MR. WOLF: Yes, by statute they must be high fenced.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER JONES: With all of the testing that you've done since the second -- I don't know if you call it index facility, but the second facility where results came back positive. Have you had any positive results so far?

MR. WOLF: Just those two facilities. You know, we had the one -- postmortem was the first in the second facility, the Lavaca County facility; and then there's been some live animal testing in that facility and through those -- the collection of the live animal tissue, two more positives were detected in that facility. So, of course, we're working with Texas Animal Health Commission and, in this case, USDA on a plan very similar to the Medina County facility to be able to get samples off the rest of those animals. But no other positives so far.

I'm also just -- as a matter -- we're also informed by the lab, in addition to our 10,000 samples we're sending in, there's several thousand samples that have been submitted by -- you know, by deer breeders as a result of these new regulations. So they're -- so in addition to what we're providing, there's also an increased flow of samples to the lab from -- as a result of these changes and regulations.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I've got a question.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Morian.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: What are we paying? What does it cost now to test a sample?

MR. WOLF: So for us, we get a volume discount with our sister agency; and we are paying $30 to the lab per sample.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: For the brain -- for the stem?

MR. WOLF: For the brain stem and also we submit the retropharyngeal lymph nodes. Now, a private -- a private individual, someone that has a vet collect it, obviously, the vet may charge. And then if you send the whole heads in, there's a disposal fee. So the fees for others -- particularly if it's whole -- if you submit a whole head to the lab, it may be 100 to $180 per sample are the estimates that I've heard.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: And is that -- this 10,000 we're going to test, is that -- where is that come out of the budget?

MR. WOLF: Out of our budget. So that's a very good question. We do have -- we do have a federal aid grant, disease management grant. And so for 75 percent of the cost, we are able to use some of that. The Pittman-Robertson funds, some of the funds that Mike Jensen was referring to this morning. And fortunately, you know, those funds have increased here recently; and so we have some extra. Obviously, we still have to come up with a State match; and so we've been using things, you know, basically scratching around. The Executive Office helped us some. License plate funds, we even a have a -- we've looked to the Foundation in a couple places for match. And so it's stretching us, but I'd have to say because of the -- because we have a PR grant for CWD monitoring and management, we've been able to deal with it so far; but it is a significant sum.

And that's, you know -- and to be honest with you, that's -- it's the folks -- you know, we hired six extra seasonals to put on this, as well; and it's been all hands on deck. So all of our staff are charging that same grant, as well.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Clayton, just for clarification on the release site, DMP release site. So not only the facility, but the surrounding release site is high fenced?

MR. WOLF: That is correct.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And how do we -- do we have situations or how do we treat situations where a portion of a contiguous ranch or commonly owned land mass, contiguous land mass, is -- has some low-fence area and some high-fence area? How do we define the DMP release site?

MR. WOLF: That is a very good question. I remember us wrestling with that in the past. You know, particularly if the DMP is in one pasture, high fenced and there's another high-fence pasture. I will have to check; but I believe the way we have dealt with that is to require that if animals came out of the pasture, they need to go back into the pasture that they came from. But I'll have to check. I'll have to follow up on that or maybe, you know, Mitch or someone can help supplement that answer.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And could they come into the release site from a low fence contiguous to a release site? You know, can they come into the breeding facility from that low-fence area?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Mitch Lockwood, Big Game Program Director. The deer could not be trapped from a low-fence site. The intent of the statute is for the deer to be -- to come from a high-fenced pasture. I think some of the reasoning behind that was so that the neighboring properties may not be adversely impacted by that activity.

And as Clayton noted, the deer are to be released directly back to the pasture from which they were trapped. They may not go through another pasture or another pen to get there. They must be released directly to that pasture. And so to your original question, the property may have multiple pastures, some high fenced, some low fenced; but that DMP pen, that DMP facility must be within a high-fenced pasture that the deer would be released back in to.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.

MR. WOLF: And the one exception -- and I hate to complicate things too much. But so under the authority of a DMP, deer cannot be trapped from low-fenced pastures; but deer can be trapped Triple T and moved into a DMP operation.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: Pardon me. To further clarify, the DMP facility is kind of the hole in the doughnut. The doughnut being the high-fenced pasture from which the captured deer must come. If there's an adjacent high-fenced pasture, can deer come -- be captured in that pasture and then brought into the DMP, or do they have to kind of come from what I described as the doughnut?

MR. LOCKWOOD: The intent is more of the doughnut scenario you provided, Chairman Bass, because of the release provision that they must be released directly back into the pasture from which they were captured.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: If they came from elsewhere, it would be deemed a TT -- a Triple T.

MR. LOCKWOOD: That is correct. Now, there is a model out there that is used -- I think maybe it's a somewhat common model -- in which there's a DMP pasture that -- a DMP pen, excuse me, that is on a fenceline to where two different pastures can access that pen. And in that case, that would be permitted. There would be two different trap sites, if you will, and potentially two different release sites.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So it has to be contiguous to --

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: And the release sites are required to be high fenced, as well, or no?

MR. WOLF: Yes. So the deer must be released back on to the ranch that's permitted, which is required to have a high fence around it completely, yes.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions or discussion?

COMMISSIONER WARREN: How large was the Lavaca County high-fenced area?

MR. WOLF: The Lavaca County facility -- I think Mitch was more involved in that one. I believe that's just a deer breeding facility.

MR. LOCKWOOD: That is correct. It is just a deer breeding facility. There is not a release site associated with that, and so it's not much acreage.

COMMISSIONER WARREN: So I presume the deer were eradicated from that facility?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Those deer are still in that facility today.

COMMISSIONER WARREN: Okay.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Let me follow up on that. What is the -- do we have a timetable for depopulating the --

MR. WOLF: So we -- our CWD working group met last week and we were -- just like with the Medina County facility, they're engaging USDA. But the information we got last week sounded like a deal was struck, and the facility owner has to provide some information for the USDA to complete the paperwork; but it sounds like that's coming to fruition. So we believe there's going to be a depopulation in the near future, but the paperwork has to be signed first and the herd plan has to be developed before that would take place.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You say "the paperwork." Are the owners applying for taxpayer dollars to reimburse them?

MR. WOLF: That's my understanding, yes.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Have we set any deadline on depopulation?

MR. WOLF: We have not set a deadline. We're allowing that process to work, to go forward; and so it appears that -- well, at least we're informed that things are going well and that it should happen soon; but we have not set a deadline.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

Thanks, Mitch.

Clayton, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

I'll place the interim deer management permit proposed rules on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

I'm now going to -- we'll come back to the other work sessions; but I'm going to skip ahead to Work Session Item No. 18, which is an Update on Regulatory Litigation for Red Snapper, Oysters, and Chronic Wasting Disease, and this item will be heard in Executive Session.

And Item No. 19, Chronic Wasting Diesel -- Disease Legal Strategy, this item will be heard in Executive Session as well.

So at this time, I would like announce that pursuant to requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 the Open Meetings Act, including active advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation and we'll now recess for Executive Session and lunch.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Mr. Chairman, just to be clear, are we going to discuss the aerial wildlife?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We are when we return.

COMMISSIONER JONES: We're going to come back. Okay.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: When we return, we're going to pick back up there --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And then go into the land sessions.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks. Thank you. We will now reconvene the regular session of the Work Session on January 20th, 2016, at 2:28 p.m.

With regard to Work Session Item No. 18, Update on Regulatory Litigation, no further action is required at this time.

And Work Session Item No. 19, Chronic Wasting Disease Legal Strategy, no further action is required at this time.

We'll now move back to where we left off for Item No. 9, Aerial Wildlife Management, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Rules, Mr. Mitch Lockwood.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Mitch Lockwood. I'm the Big Game Program Director. Tomorrow, I'll seek adoption of proposed amendments to our rules governing the aerial wildlife management permit, which is the permit that authorizes aerial wildlife management activities, such as conducting aerial deer surveys, net gunning native and exotic wildlife for research or translocation purposes, or for shooting feral hogs.

Most of the amendments are intended to streamline or clarify existing rules. For example, staff propose to clarify that a hunting license requirement applies to anyone who intends to take wildlife from aircraft, except for those who are taking depredating feral hogs or coyotes. We also propose to allow the renewal of expired permits.

The current rules require that an application for renewal be submitted at least ten days prior to the expiration of an existing permit. Well, this creates some administrative burdens, not only for the Department; but also for staff. Burdens that we think are unnecessary. Therefore, we propose to strike that requirement and simply allow for the renewal of an expired permit.

A landowner, obviously, must consent to these aerial wildlife management activities before one flies his or her property to conduct his wildlife management activities; and this consent is provided in the form of a formal landowner authorization document. This -- that document extends -- or the duration of validity of that document extends for the period that is described on that LOA, which could be for the lifetime of the permit.

The Parks and Wildlife code requires the Department to make that period of validity at least one year. However, there are times when the landowner requires that the Department revoke that LOA immediately upon the conclusion of those permitted activities or those authorized activities, which could be a two- or three- or four-day period. Therefore, we propose to clarify in the rule that the Department may -- that an LOA may expire upon the landowner's request.

Additionally, staff proposed to require maps showing the exact boundaries of the property to accompany the LOA; and this requirement is intended to reduce the incidences in which these aerial wildlife management -- these wildlife management activities are conducted over the wrong property. Additionally, if adopted, the rule would require the landowner to verify the accuracy of the LOA and the map.

Almost all of the LOAs that we receive are processed by permitting staff here at headquarters. The current rules do allow for field staff to approve an LOA on occasion. It's an uncommon practice. It's one -- it's a practice that staff believes is unnecessary. Especially since almost in every case, an LOA is processed within a day of our permitting staff receiving that request. The problem or the challenge this created with approving an LOA in the field is that field staff, the game warden in these instances, is not a permit administrator and doesn't have the means to issue a valid permit number or LOA number that's necessary to track that LOA and any report associated with an LOA and if we can't track those reports, then we're not able to comply with the federal reporting requirements. Therefore, we propose to just strike the language that allowed the approval of the LOAs in the field.

We also propose to require that the quarterly reports be submitted electronically in order to improve the efficiency of data entry and reporting. And this rule also includes permit denial language that is consistent with the permit denial rules of our various deer management permits that we have. That is the proposal reads that the Department may refuse to issue to or renew or revoke a permit for any person who has been found and convicted of, pleaded nolo contendere to, received deferred adjudication, or assessed an administrative penalty for a violation of Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 43, Subchapter C, E, L, R, or R1, any other Parks and Wildlife conviction that is Class A or Class B misdemeanor or felony, a Parks and Wildlife -- a violation of the Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 63.002, or a violation of the Lacey Act. We also propose to prohibit someone to contract to act as a gunner or observer if that person has been convicted of or pleaded nolo contendere to or received deferred adjudication or assessed an administrative penalty for an offense that's listed in this section. Additionally, if adopted, this rule would authorize staff to refuse permit issuance to someone acting on behalf of or as a surrogate for a person who is prohibited in engaging in these activities.

Similar to our deer permitting rules, this proposal creates a permit denial review process providing the applicant an opportunity to request a review of the Department's decision to deny a permit. An applicant seeking such a review, must request a review within ten working days of being notified by the Department that the application has been denied; and then within ten days of the Department receiving that request, we shall establish a date and time for the review, which must occur within 30 days of us receiving that request, unless both the Department and the applicant agree on a later date. And then the request for the review shall be presented to a review panel, which shall consist of three Department managers that are appointed by or approved by the Executive Director; and then the final -- the decision of the review panel is final.

We received ten comments in regard to this proposal. Four in agreement. Six in opposition. Those who opposed, they made the following comments. One was that there's no justification for aerial shooting. The revision should be to prohibit all aerial take. Another commented that there should be no commercialization of taking by an aerial management permit. Taking should be by traditional hunting methods. And then another one or two commented that there should be no permit requirement for photography on one's property or removing feral hogs from one's own property. There was a couple of different commenters that made that -- those comments.

And there was one final comment that was a bit confusing to me. It stated that that clarification that we proposed, the one that clarifies that anyone is required to -- anyone engaging in these activities, especially to take wildlife from the air, is required to have a hunting license unless they're taking depredating feral hogs or coyotes. This commenter said that that clarification implied that it would be legal to hunt animals outside of the aerial management permit during aerial management permit activities, as long as that person possessed a license. I don't understand that comment. I think it is pretty clear that one must have an aerial wildlife management permit in order to engage in these activities.

And that concludes my presentation. I'll be glad to entertain any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mitch, is the appeal process consistent with other permits?

MR. LOCKWOOD: It is consistent with our deer management permit's process, yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Reed.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I have one question. Definition of an aircraft, I just didn't see it in here.

MS. BRIGHT: Aircraft is actually -- oh, I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. Aircraft is defined in the statute as a mechanical or other device used for flight in the air. So it is a statutory definition. We can add it here just for clarity if you'd like, but we're kind of stuck with that definition.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Put it in -- put it in with the other definitions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Latimer.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So what is a drone?

MS. BRIGHT: You know -- okay.

MR. LOCKWOOD: A drone is an aircraft that would be -- anybody who plans to use a drone for wildlife management activities, including conducting deer surveys, is required to have an aerial wildlife management permit.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: And a hunting license?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, the drone wouldn't be used for taking wildlife, to my knowledge; but --

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Oh, so only if they were surveying --

MR. LOCKWOOD: Surveying.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: -- or photographing. That might need some clarification.

MS. BRIGHT: There's actually -- oh, I'm sorry. There's actually a separate prohibition on remote control hunting, which would take care of the hunting issue.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, the point you've got to think about -- I'm assuming y'all have heard this; but, you know, now to get a drone, you have to apply for an FAA application. So I'm not sure that we're superseded by federal law on that deal. I mean, that's a legal question. I don't know.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But I think it's -- the limiting factor is the issuance of the permit. So how do we actually define a permit -- I mean, a vehicle, an aircraft on the permit? Do we have --

MS. BRIGHT: I think the way that aircraft is defined in the statute would probably include a drone.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: How about a hot air balloon?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: A lawn chair would --

MS. BRIGHT: I guess if it's a mechanical -- I'm afraid I don't know a lot about hot air balloons. So I would probably want to do a little bit of research.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So when we receive -- but when we receive an application, the permitted -- my recollection is it's permitted licensed individuals.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: Permitted is the pilot, correct?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And also the aircraft. Both, I believe. Our permits --

MR. LOCKWOOD: The aircraft must be named, you know, described on the permit application.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: As well as the pilots.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: And the permit is issued to the operator of the aircraft.

MR. LOCKWOOD: I want to say that's true in every case. I'd ask Kevin Davis, who's standing by, to verify that.

MR. DAVIS: Good afternoon, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Kevin Davis. I want to, if I could, go back to the definition of aircraft right quick and tackle that issue first. And just let you know that the Federal Airborne Hunting Act is -- governs all aircraft activity regarding the take of animals from the air. It clearly prohibits sport hunting. It clearly issues the States the right to issue a permit for management practices and only for certain management practices. Requires reporting quarterly to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department on those practices; and furthers our stance that because the definition of aircraft in both state law and federal law is any device to fly in the air, that sport hunting would never be allowed from a drone, from an unmanned aircraft.

It could, however, be allowed for certain management activities under a permit, as long as they were able to meet those requirements that are required both in our permitting process -- meaning, description of the aircraft and the pilot information, if you will. But again, clearly would never authorize -- the Federal Airborne Hunting Act would never authorize us to issue a permit for sport hunting purposes, so.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But the current permits are defined in terms of aircraft, I think, specific aircraft and also listed pilots, as I --

MR. DAVIS: And we've gone into the new -- this proposed regulation and actually added language to cover any person who operates an aircraft, rather than pilots an aircraft, to cover -- specifically to cover a drone issue.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Uh-huh.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: A permit holder could be the gunner. It could be the pilot. It could be the subagent.

MR. DAVIS: The permit holder is sometimes the pilot, sometimes the company. The LOA -- the permit itself is not valid unless there is an accompanying LOA that authorizes the activity and who can engage in those activities. So it's kind of a combination of the permit and the LOA that makes it effective and workable.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: Mitch, did I understand you to say that a person with certain criminal or law enforcement history, convictions, is prohibited from not only from being an operator or a gunner, but also from being an observer?

MR. LOCKWOOD: That is correct.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: So they can't -- so...

MR. LOCKWOOD: Under this proposed rule change.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: So that would be -- that would be the first instance of us regulating a third -- a third individual in the helicopter, somebody who's just along for the ride, right? I mean, that's -- an observer is -- you're either the pilot, the gunner, or observer, right? I'm just wondering what the rational behind that is, where that came from. I'm not saying it's a bad idea. I'm just trying to figure it out.

MS. BRIGHT: I can also clarify that the way the rule is structured is that the Department is permitted to deny a permit based on that. Not that -- it's not going to be automatic. Just...

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It's a good point, and it's one that would have unintended consequences potentially. Although, probably pretty slim; but -- because you're in that situation, and you have -- you're licensed to do it and then somebody's, you know, working in that environment and as the pilot of that aircraft -- particularly helicopter in that situation -- extra set of eyes is pretty good when you're flying and someone's gunning and just from a safety standpoint, looking for power lines, looking for --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yep.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- anything that you can hit. So I -- so we turn that individual down who's just another set of eyes in the front of the helicopter when someone's doing aerial management. I mean, I can see a situation where a safety issue could ensue. And then you also -- it's incumbent upon you to actually verify that whoever rides with you doesn't have that and there's a lot of people who might just be there and so it would be incumbent upon the operator and the permittee to verify that that individual -- otherwise, it would be their responsibility, right? And I think that might be a little cumbersome.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: And I could see the landowner maybe putting somebody on board --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: -- to be an observer or an extra set of eyes, be sure where we're supposed to be.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: And as a pilot, you know, how do I know the guy didn't have, you know, some conviction when he was 18, 40 years ago or something. I don't --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: You raise a good one.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: And if there's a valid reason that it keeps something bad from happening, I can understand why you wouldn't want somebody having the permit, you know, owning the helicopter or the gunner maybe with game convictions; but I'm just trying to figure out what we're trying to accomplish with that and understand it.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That is a good point.

MS. BRIGHT: I also need to clarify, I misspoke. It does prohibit the issuance of a permit to someone with those convictions.

MR. LOCKWOOD: It's not a -- just to clarify, that part is not a permit. It just saying it prohibits someone from engaging in that activity. It won't allow someone to act as an observer under a permit. So -- so if we were --

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: So it makes the permittee responsible for --

MR. LOCKWOOD: It's not discretionary. I mean, if there is concern about this language, then that would need to be stricken from the proposal.

MS. BRIGHT: We could take out "observer."

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: For the reasons that we've just discussed, I would suggest that.

Reed, do you have any thoughts or observations on that? I think --

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: No, I'm trying to find where that is. Which --

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: Yeah. Can you direct us to what page that's on?

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yeah, I'm sorry.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Page 152. This would be -- on page 152, it would be Subsection F.

COMMISSIONER JONES: What's the -- I mean, while we're talking about that, I have a similar question.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Go to page 153. It's Subsection H on 153. I'm sorry, Commissioner.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: H?

MS. BRIGHT: A fix would just be to take out "or observer."

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Take out "observer."

COMMISSIONER JONES: So what --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Oh, yeah. I got it.

COMMISSIONER JONES: What's the theory behind the gunner, also? I'm just -- I get it for the pilot; but I'm trying to figure out the gunner, and I'm trying to cover all of the -- I'm trying to think of all of the possibilities for who the gunner could be -- ranch hand, you know, whatever.

I guess, on the one hand, if someone can take a hog walking around on the ground because they're depredating and tearing up the land and eating crops and doing whatever, we don't really ask that question of them, whether they have a conviction. They can take a hog because we want them to. What's the difference in that and going up in a helicopter and being the gunner for a pilot?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, the former doesn't -- isn't a permitted activity, where the latter is. And so I think the logic behind that is, is that this a privileged activity involving a wildlife -- well, not in the case of feral hogs; but it is a privileged activity that's permitted and one who's shown little regard for wildlife resources previously and has been convicted of such, may be denied such a privilege; but -- and that's kind of been the standard when it's coming to, sure enough, regulated game species, wildlife resources. And so that same thought was extended over into this subject, as well, in the case of taking feral hogs.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, Commissioner, I do think the guidance that we have received from the Commission in the past regarding the issuances of these permits or licenses, which, you know, are privileges, there has been concern expressed by the Commission about granting those privileges to somebody who has been convicted of something at a certain level for an offense, you know, particularly involving the taking of game illegally.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: But if the permit follows the pilot or the owner of the helicopter --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah, my question is to the gunner.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: -- what he's saying is exactly the same as a passenger, in my mind. I mean, I know he's shooting a gun; but still, the person that's got to ask that question is the pilot or the owner of the helicopter company. So how do we not put somebody in a pretty tough spot?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Just --

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: If they are required if they are gunners, except in the case of depredating coyotes and hogs, they have to have a valid hunting license; or are these people precluded from getting a hunting license by that same --

MR. LOCKWOOD: No. No, ma'am.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Well, then that may be the issue.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah.

MR. LOCKWOOD: And so just to be clear, there's -- we're talking about two different provisions here. So one would be allow the Department the ability to refuse permit issuance to an applicant. The other would be to prevent or prohibit someone from acting as a gunner under someone else's permit. And so one individual may be denied a permit, which could affect a gunner who could continue to operate as a gunner under other people's permits. And so the idea is that gunner, that individual who's been convicted of egregious violations pertaining to wildlife resources, would be prevented from engaging in that activity under anybody's permit.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So we get back to the same deal. If it ain't some friends, you know -- if the guy that's got the helicopter and has the permit, he's meeting this gunner for the first time and he's going to ask the gunner, "Have you been" -- well, you know the guy's going to say no. So we're putting the owner and the pilot in a pretty tough spot because now he's on the hook for somebody he doesn't even know.

MS. BRIGHT: Actually, I believe that -- I think we're kind of conflating two provisions. If you go to page 152 and you look at E and that has to do with getting the permit. And so the person who would be the permittee, the Department may refuse issuance if they've got certain convictions; and so that's sort of one piece. So that really has to do with the permit.

The other one is just saying you can't be a gunner if you've got these convictions, and that's something definitely that can be changed; but that's just the way it's structured right now. It's not -- it doesn't necessarily go against the permittee. It's specific to the person.

MR. LOCKWOOD: And also I think to Commissioner Scott's point, though, if I understand it correctly, it doesn't implicate -- there's no liability on the permit holder if he ends up having a gunner operate under his permit without his knowledge of his prior convictions. That's not the permit holder's responsibility.

CHAIRMAN-EMERITUS BASS: It's not a violation of the permit.

MR. LOCKWOOD: That's correct.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That's the point. That is what this is saying.

MS. BRIGHT: That is what that's saying. That's why I'm saying that I was worried that we were conflating two pieces because, I mean, I suppose it could be a violation if somebody acted as a gunner in violation of this; but it would be the gunner, not the permit holder.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, that's just what I'm trying to protect. You know, obviously, you don't want to put somebody at risk that doesn't control his own destiny.

MS. BRIGHT: Right. You want responsibility to follow control, yeah.

MR. LOCKWOOD: For clarification, Mr. Chairman. Have you made a recommendation to perhaps strike the words "or observer" from that Subsection H?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes. My recommendation is that we would strike the two words "or observer" from H.

MR. SMITH: And for clarification, the Commission -- at least the guidance now -- is you're comfortable with the gunner and the accountability there? Okay. All right.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That was a helpful clarification. Thank you. Good.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other discussion on that? Nope. All right.

So I will place the aerial wildlife management permit proposed rules on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

With regard to Work Session Item No. 10, State Park Rules, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

If not, I will place this on Thursday's agenda for comment and action.

Session Item No. 11 is Land Sale, Brown County, Approximately 19 Acres at Muse Wildlife Management Area, Mr. Corky Kuhlmann.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: This will be the first time Corky has outnumbered Ted.

MR. KUHLMANN: Good afternoon. For the record, Corky Kuhlmann with the Land Conservation Program, Parks and Wildlife. This was an item that we brought to you at the last meeting as a Work Session item, Muse Wildlife Management Area. It was a wildlife management area that was donated to Parks and Wildlife. Wildlife -- the area consists of around 1,972 acres and is usual activities of a WMA: Develop and manage wildlife habitats and populations of resident and migratory species, provide areas of demonstration to local landowners and other interest groups, and develop technologies for wildlife enhancement and habitat through research and design for the local conditions of that management area and provide public hunting.

As you can see on this map, the area that we were given has a small part separated from the main body of the park by a county road. This small tract is not very feasible for the area staff to manage. We've got a lot of trouble with trespass issues. We've had a lot of trouble with littering. Kids using it for what kids use abandoned property for. I understand we can put up a gate, and next week it's gone. Lock the gate, steal the chain, steal the lock, and the gate's on the ground. So it has become more of a liability than an asset to the WMA.

Those are all the issues I just spoke about. Plus, the waste of staff time dealing with these issues -- the litter pick up, trying to run people off to keep track of it.

Having said that, we propose that we are granted the ability to sell this tract; and how we would like to do this to begin with, is there are two adjacent landowners. We think that this tract would be better managed and taken care of if it was part of one of the larger two ranches that it's adjacent to, rather than to an individual seller -- or an individual buyer, excuse me. If we can't make a deal with one of the adjacent two landowners, we do plan to open it up to the public.

What we will do with this tract, it will be managed in perpetuity by a wildlife management plan provided by Parks and Wildlife and overseen by staff from the Muse across the county road. We wouldn't allow a building of any kind, and we will reserve all the mineral rights associated with the property.

Comments, we had two requests as to how the sale will take place. One comment stating that the sale should be open to the public from the start, and one comment in favor of the sale. I'd be glad to take any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Corky?

Thank you, Corky.

I'll place the land sale, Brown County, Approximately 19 acres at Muse Wildlife Management Area on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

MR. KUHLMANN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.

With regard to Work Session Item No. 12, Acceptance of Land Donation, Bexar County, Approximately 230 Acres at Government Canyon State Natural Area, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

If not, I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Carter is making sure I'm not skipping one here. With regard to Work Session Item No. 13, Land Acquisition, Reeves County, Approximately 50 Acres at Balmorhea State Park, does any Commissioner have any questionings or comments?

If not, I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

For Item No. 14, Land Acquisition, Freestone County, Approximately 33 Acres at Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

I will place this item on Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

And with regard to Work Session Item No. 15, Recreational Trail Easement in Tarrant County, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

If not, I will authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process.

Where did 15 go? That was it. All right. Item No. 16 is Boundary Agreement Including Exchange of Real Estate, Presido County, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth. Good afternoon, Ted.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Good afternoon. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This is a second reading of an item. You saw this -- or some of you saw it back in November. It pertains to our largest state park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, immediately west of Big Bend National Park in Presido County. It's our largest state park at 310,000 acres.

I apologize for the quality of this slide, but I did want to make it clear that the park is part of a trans-boundary international 3- to 4-million acre conservation effort that we've been working closely on with Mexico for a number of years and Big Bend Ranch is a critical component of that. Bighorn sheep restoration, black bear restoration, and a number of other species that are found that are unique to that Big Bend region of Northern Mexico and West Texas.

We've been working on this park since 1988. It consists of a number of parcels now. Approximately 100 acres -- 100 acres -- excuse me, 100 miles of boundary in common with adjacent private property owners. We've gotten to know a lot of those owners over the years, and we have boundary agreements in place with several of them. Presidio County is an open-ranch county, which means that it's not the responsibility of a cattle owner to keep their cattle fenced in. It's the responsibility of somebody who doesn't want cattle on their property to keep cattle fenced out.

With 100 miles plus of boundary, it has not been possible for us to keep the entire park fenced; and so we do have fence agreements and management agreements in place with several of our neighbors. The other complicating factor is in a lot of that country, it's just not possible to punch a post hole in a conventional sense or drive a T-post; and so a lot of the fences that are out there are not on boundary lines, but are on lines of convenience. And, again, we do have boundary agreements in place with several of our neighbors.

One of our larger neighbors -- many of our neighbors have large ranches; but one of the larger ranches is the LaMota Ranch. And the owners of that ranch donated over 13,000 acres of that ranch to the state park back in 2000. We entered into an agreement at that time to recognize the existing fences as management units; but acknowledging that those fences were not on the boundary -- on the park boundary/private property boundary proper.

The current owners or the heirs of the LaMota Ranch have been working hard to restore that property; and in so doing, have recently acquired some adjacent ranch lands, have done a boundary survey, and have acquired some of the equipment necessary to actually do fencing in some of that county and put fences on boundaries that have not had fences before and we've been working closely with that landowner. The boundary between our properties is about 18 miles long; and we have found that by straightening that, we can reduce that length by about 5 miles.

In the process, some odd tract -- an odd tract would go to that adjacent property owner. And odd tracts -- I say odd tract, but tracts outside that line would end up coming to Texas Parks and Wildlife. The net response of that would be -- and I do want to point out, if you'll look at this map, you'll just see that there are many places around that park where we have jagged boundaries or boundaries that are just the result of adding parcels and adding parcels; but the net result of that would be the addition of almost 600 acres to the state park.

The property that we would convey to the private property owner, doesn't have any unique or really outstanding natural or cultural resources on it. The property we would gain is actually high ground. It does have a nice esthetic value to it. More importantly, from my perspective, is that we would gain the ownership of a road. In fact, the best road down into what we call the Cienega portion of the ranch -- of the state park that includes the Cienega Creek corridor.

Currently, we do not have good access. The previous owner of that tract that has been acquired by the LaMota Ranch, did not allow us access on that road. We would now own the road, which would improve our access. So there are a variety of reasons why this transaction would profit the state park from a land-based standpoint, from a management standpoint, from our operation standpoint. Again, would shorten that boundary by almost five miles. Would add almost a square mile of property to the state park, and would give us that good access into the Cienega portion of the park.

We've received one public comment rather enthusiastically in support of the transaction, and staff does recommend that the Commission adopt the resolution that you have attached as Exhibit A. I'd be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions for Ted? Please.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Will you be building -- will TPW have to build that fence to straighten it out?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: No, ma'am. The -- that adjacent landowner has agreed to take the entire cost of that fence upon themselves. Yes, ma'am.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Ted?

Okay. Ted, thank you very much.

I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Item 17 was withdrawn.

And, Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its Work Session business; and I declare us adjourned.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(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 ________________, ________.

___________________________________
Paige S. Watts, CSR
CSR No.: 8311
Expiration: December 31, 2016
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Round Rock, Texas 78681
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