TPW Commission

Annual Public Hearing, August 24, 2016


TPW Commission Meetings


August 24, 2016



COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Good afternoon, everyone. The annual public hearing is called to order August 24th, 2016, at 2:08 p.m. Now, I'll everybody to rise for the posting of the colors by the Texas Buffalo Soldiers.

(Texas Buffalo Soldier Presentation)

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Everybody be seated, thank you. For those of you in our audience who may not be familiar with the Buffalo Soldier's Program, the Buffalo Soldier name was given to the African-American troops of the United States Army as they served on the western frontier in the late 1800s. Since 1995, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Buffalo Soldier's Program has served as an outreach program at the State Parks Division, dedicated to sharing a unique and often overlooked piece of African-American history and other untold stories of our multi-ethnic past. The program provides educational and interpretive experience that cannot -- that connects under-represented populations with the Texas state parks through heritage interpretation. If anybody would like to read more about the Buffalo Soldiers, the August/September issue of the Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine has a very nice article about the Buffalo Soldiers and the TPWD Buffalo Soldier Program.

This is our annual public meeting; and before proceeding with any further business, Mr. Smith, do you have a statement to make?

MR. SMITH: I do, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. Thank you.

Public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I'd like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting.

Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, I just want to join all of you in welcoming everybody to the public meeting today. I know that people have come literally from all corners of the state to have a chance to address the Commission, and we appreciate you making the effort to be here. A little bit about the protocol. Hopefully, all of you who would like to speak in front of the Commission have signed up outside to do so. If you haven't, please go ahead and do so.

At the appropriate time, the Chairman will call you by name and he'll ask you to come to the podium in the front of the room to address the Commission. Please state your name and where you're from and a little descriptor of what you're here to talk about. We're going to give everybody three minutes to address the Commission on any topic about the Department that you'd like to share with the Commission. In the interest of time though, we are going to ask that you keep your comments to three minutes. And so we've got a little green light/red light system. Green light means go, yellow means start to wind it up, and red means eject. So y'all help us with that to make sure those that are following you have a chance to speak to the Commission. And again, thank you for making the effort to be with us today. Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners.


I'd like to just add my thanks, also. This is a very important piece of feedback for us, and I know many of you have taken a lot of extra time to be here and to speak. So thank you for your effort.

And I'll start with Mark Steinbach, and Bob Filbert is on deck.

MR. MARK STEINBACH: I didn't expect to be first. My name is Mark Steinbach. I'm the Executive Director of the Texas Land Conservancy. Commissioners, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. And, Chairman Smith, thank you so much.

I want to comment on the Farm and Ranch Protection Program that is now housed within the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, to offer my gratitude for your taking op of this program from the GLO Office and to offer my support for the increased funding that you're soliciting for the program.

In my ten years in this position as the Executive Director of a statewide land trust, there is a need now more than ever for this type of program. I have not been the recipient of funds through the Parks and Wildlife program; but I have been through the GLO program, and it's been a great asset for us. So thank you very much for this opportunity and please keep up this program for us. Thank you.


Bob Filbert and on deck is Brian Tickle.

MR. BOB FILBERT: Good afternoon. My name is Bob Filbert. I'm from Fairview, Texas. I'm the State Chairman for Texas Ducks Unlimited. Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, on behalf of Ducks Unlimited and over 1 million members and supporters, including nearly 50,000 in Texas, we want to thank Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and staff for your efforts and partnership to provide habitat for waterfowl.

We appreciate the Commission's long-term recognition waterfowl are a shared resource and that waterfowl habitat conservation has to take place not only here in Texas on our continentally significant coastal watering and grounds, but also the breeding grounds in Canada where most of our waterfowl are produced.

Texas' annual contribution of the state migratory game bird stamp funds to conservation in Canada through the State grant's program is leveraged by DU a minimum of four times, multiplying your waterfowl habitat conservation impact in the nesting grounds. Long-term banding data shows us that 35 percent of the ducks harvested in Texas come from Saskatchewan. So you have chosen to invest your dollars there, and that clearly provides the greatest return for Texas waterfowls.

Since 1985, Texas Parks and Wildlife has contributed more than 3.24 million to the State grant's program. After leveraging through DU and our partners, Texas has provided somewhere between 12.3 and $15 million for wetland habitat conservation. And again this year, you will see record numbers of ducks coming down the flyaway. That's a direct result of your long-term commitment. In Texas this year, it marks the 25th anniversary of the Texas Prairie Wetlands Program, a unique wetland conservation partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, private landowners, and Ducks Unlimited working cooperatively to deliver wetland's habitat on the Gulf coast. It may be the longest running, most successful private landowner, multiple agency, NGO partnership in the country.

The Department has provided up to $150,000 annually to the Texas Prairie Wetlands Project, which provides cost-share assistance to help private landowners restore/enhance wetlands. Again, the Department's contribution is leveraged with our partner funding to secure an additional $1 million to provide over 3,000 acres of wetland conservation annually to the Texas Gulf coast. Since 1991, this has helped landowners restore over 70,000 acres of wetlands.

Working with this Commission and other partners, DU has conserved now over 13.6 million acres of wetlands in North America and our special thanks go to you and the Texas waterfowl hunters for your parts in this impressive accomplishment. We specifically want to thank Carter Smith, Ross Melinchuk, Clayton Wolf, Dave Morrison, Kevin Kraai, and Mr. Jeff Raasch. On behalf of Texas Ducks Unlimited and waterfowlers, thank you for your unwavering support.


Brian Tickle, Maya Madere, and Bill Horton.

MR. BRIAN TICKLE: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, members. My name is Brian Tickle, and I'm from Austin. I'm speaking today as a rock climber of 16 years, a lifelong Texan, and a beneficiary of state parks. I'm going to give a few remarks today about the value of rock climbing in Texas.

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of data specific to the economic value of climbing in Texas. However, studies conducted in other states have shown that climbers spend up to $1,400 a year, spend about $45 per activity day, and contribute millions of dollars to state economies. In Washington state, rock climbers mountaineers spend over $250 million a year. In addition, a recent study of a six-county area in Kentucky that's internationally known for rock climbing, concluded that rock climbers spend an estimated $3.6 million a year, which equates to 2.7 in local revenues and the creation of 39 full-time jobs.

One way to approximate the economic impact of rock climbing in Texas is to look at the data collected from state parks that have a significant rock climbing constituency. Hueco Tanks, for example, had an operating budget of $473,000 for fiscal year '14. However, every state dollar invested in Hueco Tanks generated $8.62 in income for local residents. That works out to just over $4 million. Hueco Tanks is known around the world for its climbing and climbers provide a reliable return on investment to the citizens and businesses of El Paso. That's remarkable given that little, if any, publicity or promotion of the park's climbing resources need to be made.

But climbers are not just users of public lands. In many ways, we share in the stewardship of those lands. Organizations like the Central Texas Climbing Committee, the Central Texas Mountaineers, and the Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition regularly organize trail building, trash collection, general fundraising, and other types of projects to assist public lands administrators like TPWD. Climbers also recognize the constraints placed on TPWD staff in monitoring and enforcing park rules.

I can speak from experience that the climbing community is proactive in bringing all climbers in line with the rules of any particular park, and we hugely appreciate the opportunities to submit comment where climbing rules are concerned. I've been involved in government relations for a number of years; and I welcome the opportunity to serve as a resource or an advocate for TPWD in the upcoming Legislative session, especially at the appropriations level.

In closing, I'd like to make one final remark concerning the summer games in Rio. I think we've probably all noticed the dominance that Texas athletes have in the summer games, and we have a speaker here today who may very well be part of that one of day. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.


Maya Madere.

MS. MAYA MADERE: Hello. My name is Maya Madere. I'm 17 years old, and I'm currently ranked second in my class at L.C. Anderson High School here in Austin. I'm also an avid rock climber and I have competed in numerous climbing competitions around the country. Last February, I won first place in the National Youth Bouldering Championships and accepted an invitation to compete at the Youth World Championships in China this fall.

I have also competed in several professional level competitions, including Bouldering Open Nationals, the annual Psicobloc Masters Series, and a Bouldering World Cup in Vail. Climbing has recently been added to the 2020 Olympics, and I'm hoping to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic climbing team in four years.

Rock climbing in Texas state parks, such as Hueco Tanks and Enchanted Rock, has been essential -- an essential part of my training and an invaluable asset to my growth and improvement as a climber and competitor. I do train indoors at all of Austin's four indoor climbing facilities, but no gym can compare to the experience of climbing on real rock. I hope that you will continue to support rock climbing in Texas state parks. Thank you for all you've done to preserve Texas wilderness and natural areas.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Are you the future Olympian?



COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Bill Horton and on deck, we have Lori Olson.

MR. BILL HORTON: Hello. My name is Bill Horton. I live here in Austin. I'm a native Texan, a retired chemical engineer, and a rock climber. Some of the most memorable events of my childhood were family trips tent camping in state parks in East Texas. I started climbing in 1976 at Enchanted Rock when it was still privately owned.

This is the September 1981 issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine with me on the cover climbing at Enchanted Rock. That was my 15 minutes of fame. In 1981, the State had recently acquired Enchanted Rock from Charles and Ruth Moss and the Nature Conservancy. So the Department wanted to showcase the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and to introduce readers to the relatively new sport of rock climbing.

Now in retirement, I'm climbing more, as well as representing climbers on the Central Texas Climbing Committee and on the board of the Friends of Enchanted Rock. Climbers are excited about Parks and Wildlife's current efforts at Hueco Tanks and at Enchanted Rock to finalize written documents to balance climbing activities with other recreational users and with the preservation of natural and cultural resources.

The Hueco Tanks public use plan is being revised now for the first time in 16 years. Hueco Tanks is a world class climbing destination. So climbers are hoping for a positive outcome. The Central Texas Climbing Committee and Parks and Wildlife have recently completed a draft climbing management plan for Enchanted Rock that is currently under public review. This will be the first written plan for Enchanted Rock, and we expect this document to be a model for similar climbing management plans at other state parks.

It doesn't take a huge mountain to attract climbers. In fact, you can look no further than the Barton Creek Greenbelt and Reimers County Park in western Travis County to see that short limestone cliffs can be popular for climbing. Probably most of the state parks west of I-35 have cliffs and boulders that would interest climbers if the parks were open to this activity. Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.


Lori Olson, Jaime Gray, and Joe Kendall.

Hi, Lori.

MS. LORI OLSON: Hi. Oh, whoa. That's loud. Sorry. Good afternoon. My name is Lori Olson and I'm the Executive Director of the Texas Land Trust Council, which is an association of the 32 or so land and water conservation organizations from across the state and I'm here today to talk about the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program, which we were very happy to have Parks and Wildlife take ownership of this last year and really get it off the ground. Your staff and Carter and everybody involved with this program has really done an amazing job with it, and I just want to applaud you for everything that you've done to really take it seriously and really get some meaningful conservation on the ground here in Texas, across the state.

With that $2 million, I know they've leveraged it to over $17 million in conservation projects on the ground. So it's just -- the program represents a really tremendous opportunity for landowners across our state who want to conserve their lands for the benefits of not only the public, but for wildlife and water and all those other good things that open lands provide us with. So -- excuse me. So anyway, thank you very much for your support of the program, and I know that all the land trusts across the state look forward to working in partnership with the Department and with private landowners to continue to do this good work hopefully for many years to come. So thank you.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thanks for your support.

Jaime Gray and Joe Kendall.

MS. JAIME GRAY: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners. My name's Jaime Gray. I reside in Round Rock, Texas; and I'm speaking on behalf of the Texas State Park Ambassador Program. The mission of the ambassador program is to connect conservation-minded young adults to volunteer and recreational opportunities in the parks to inspire a new generation of state park stewards. We do this through community outreach, social media, and service projects in the park and we reach out to a diverse group of millennials and it serves as an excellent recruitment tool for the Department for both volunteers and potential employees.

So when I came across the ambassador program on social media, I was immediately eager to apply. I moved to Austin about three years ago and have been exploring the state parks ever since and the opportunity to immerse more fully in the park system as part of a community and to be able to give back to the parks relying on my public history background was very exciting to me. I was thrilled to be accepted to the program and had the extreme privilege of attending the ambassador training this summer in the Davis Mountains State Park, which was not only a rich and engaging and fun experience in the Texas outdoors, but one of the most multifaceted learning opportunities I've ever been a part of.

We touched on outdoor recreation, safety, and basics. We learned about the Parks Department, Parks and Wildlife mission and the structure and we talked about what working with parks successfully as volunteers look like and what it means to be a successful ambassador. So I left that training excited to work with my park, which is the LBJ State Park and State Historic Site in Stonewall. And since then, I've been collaborating with them to engage a younger audience by creating an Instagram with the park, by doing interactive gaming components for one of their annual programs, the Seed Stomp, and by collaborating with a local classroom to host a service day.

One of biggest strengths of the program really lies in the fact that it generates a two-fold outcome. So not only does it grow young adults as individual stewards of the parks, but it also produces tangible results for specific parks. It allows my generation the opportunity and the resources to impact the parks, while also providing them with dedicated volunteers to help meet their specific needs. So the program has been a pleasure to be a part of and I'm excited to see where it can go in the future and the ways that it can continue to positively support the park system. Thank you for your time.


Joe Kendall.

MR. JOE KENDALL: Good afternoon and thank you for your giving me this opportunity to speak to you and thank you for your service to our community. My name's Joe Kendall and I started the Chautauqua Foundation in 1992, and it is currently doing business as the Texas River School. I'm here today for three reasons. One is to make sure that you know how important Texas Parks and Wildlife support has been to our foundation and probably something you already do know is how fabulous your staff is in supporting us and then just to thank you. This is very important, and I think it's important for us to communicate to you that we do appreciate it.

We -- with the support of Texas Parks and Wildlife, Travis County, the City of Austin, school districts, Save Barton Creek Association, we have taken over 6,000 of what you refer to as your nontraditional constituents, people that don't use the park system -- you identify those as minorities, economically disadvantaged, females, youth, and disabled -- we have taken all of those folks, all 6,000 of those, canoeing or kayaking. A lot of them have also camped. We've taken them to Barton Springs. They've gone fishing. They sat around a campfire and utilized the power of song, program that we have from you and also visited the website and learned about the paddling trail.

So we want to make sure that you know that the centerpiece of our program has been the Co-op Grant. The Community Outdoor Outreach Program has been very, very important to us. We've been working with Darlene Lewis ever since 2002 and I'm sorry to see her go and I'm sure you are, too; but she's obviously leaving it in the very capable hands of Cappy Smith. So we look forward to continuing with that program.

Also in 1998, we -- with the help of Travis County -- acquired land on the Colorado River and made a canoe camp out of what was an illegal dump site and with the help of your staff member Tim Birdsong, we received an access grant in 2012. And with the your help, we were able to upgrade our property to include solar collection panels; rainwater harvesting; waterless, environmentally friendly toilets; an organic garden. And almost every weekend, we have kayakers and people fishing on -- using that property as access. We also have taken hundreds of school district students from 183, canoeing down to our camp and they camp there overnight. So I'm here to thank you and then also encourage you to continue both the Co-op Program, as well as the River Access Program. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thanks for your feedback.

Francisco Guajardo and Janice Bezanson next.

MR. FRANCISCO GUAJARDO: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Francisco Guajardo. I'm from Austin. I'm here to talk to you about my family's experience with the Texas Outdoor Family Program. Please forgive me, I got a little creative with my writing here.

I'm the father of three boys, a 14-year-old and 8-year-old twins, believe it or not. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in the South Texas mesquite and resaca country just outside of Laredo. I was always looking, always exploring. What a great, exciting day I would have if I discovered an arrowhead or found a sun-bleached animal bone or an empty tortoise shell. Those found objects were my treasures.

I'm trying to raise, to the best I can, my boys to be respectful, good, kind, and lend a hand to other people whenever it is needed, to respect nature, to love the outdoors, and to have that sense of one discovery -- and discovery that I had as a boy. We were introduced to the Texas Outdoor Family because of our connection to the El Ranchito organization, which provides kids with low-income families with the opportunity to attend outdoor summer camp. El Ranchito invites families to go camping once in the fall and again in the spring. This could not happen without the help of the outdoor -- the Texas Outdoor Family Program. We are a family that cannot afford to take vacations. Our family budget does not allow us to purchase camping equipment.

I asked my twins, "What do you want me to say about the Texas Outdoor Family Program," when I told them that I was going to be speaking in front of you.

"Tell them about kayaking," said one.

"No. Tell them about fishing and the worms."

"No, Pappy. Tell them about the GPS devices to find treasures."

These are the memories -- excuse me. These are memories my boys are holding. Assume, I guess, we do not own a six-person tent, cots or kayaks or GPS devices; but yet this program provides these things and so much more. Texas Outdoor Family is a great program. It allows families to spend quality time with each other, but this wouldn't happen if it wasn't for the wonderful rangers that the program has. I can't say enough about these rangers. They're awesome. Their patience with the kids is something I really admire.

You know, I mentioned earlier what values I wanted to teach my kids. Well, I feel that Texas Outdoor Family Program is helping me with teaching these values because I believe Texas Outdoor Family Program has very similar values. Let me just end by saying that I don't know how long Texas Outdoor Family has been in existence, but it's never too late to say thank you to the person or people who brought this program to fruition. Thank you very much.


(Round of applause)

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Janice Bezanson, right?



MS. JANICE BEZANSON: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, I'm Janice Bezanson and I am the Executive Director of Texas Conservation Alliance. Texas Conservation Alliance has been working with Parks and Wildlife on habitat and wildlife issues for more than 40 years and as much as I hate to admit it, I've been working about 30 of those myself. So I've been to a lot of Commission meetings and I've heard a lot of people criticize and complain and I just basically came today to say that our members really appreciate Texas Parks and Wildlife.

And a thing that we appreciate very, very deeply is the degree to which the Department bases its decision on good -- the very best possible science. And it shows up all over the place, whether it's setting hunting and fishing limits; it's assessing doing a management plan for a state park; rules for things like Chronic Wasting Disease, turtle capture, visitor access; funding, when you're making funding decisions about this wonderful new Farm and Ranch Program; or, you know, any of the many, many things that Parks and Wildlife does.

We have watched year after year, decade after decade, Parks and Wildlife improve on the science and use the best science; and this is something that's very important to us.

I will take just a moment to enthuse about a particular program Texas Parks and Wildlife has because my organization has just had tremendous benefit from it, and that's the State Paddling Trails Program. We have been working in East Texas doing the assessment on the ground to figure out what segments of the Neches River and the Sabine River and tributaries of these should be nominated as paddling trails and we're just getting tremendous enthusiasm from the people of East Texas. The County Commissioners and the Chambers of Commerce, they just get all excited when we talk about it. So we've been doing this for several years now, and it's been a tremendous addition to our work and for the people of the regions where we have helped to get some paddling trails established. So thank you for that, and thank you for a lot of other things as well.


Ed Ponikvar and Jerimiah Haughee.

MR. ED PONIKVAR: My name is Ed Ponikvar, and I'm the President of the Sam Houston Trails Coalition. As I came here today, I was not necessarily going to speak; but I thought we might as well get to know each other a little bit better. I was voted into this position by the collective recreational community in the Sam Houston National Forest area. Hikers, equestrian, cyclists, motorized, all vote on who is going to represent them to be able to sustain the trails. 275 miles of trails, 64 boardwalks and bridges is all sustained as a volunteer effort due in large part to the resources that you're also helping us to partner with. And I want to first start by opening by saying thank you because everyone really appreciates this.

Recently as I was visiting a family at one of our trailheads and one of my element members introduced me to the family and explained that I was the President, the child -- the 14-year-old child handed out a bag of garbage and handed it to me and it immediately humbled me and realized exactly, you know, what the general consensus is on how we're viewed in the community. And so we've started a campaign to really educate people on exactly the fact that the volunteers are maintaining the trail system over this 165,000 acres of ground, and we've done some amazing things. And in my recent board meeting, I was able to present that to the community and it's really starting to get noticed.

So I took it upon myself to come out here today, noticing the website and the format; and I wanted to be able to meet all you folks and simply say thank you. Thank you for the opportunity because what we realize is without your resources and the volunteerism, it would not happen. Thank you for the opportunity today. Again, my name is Ed Ponikvar from the Sam Houston Trails Coalition. Thank you.


Jerimiah Haughee? Is he not here?

All right. Dianne Wassenich and Jack Fairchild. Mike McClabb is on third.

MS. DIANNE WASSENICH: Hi. My name is Dianne Wassenich. I'm with the San Marcos River Foundation. I'm their staff person. That's an organization that's been around about 32 years; and we protect the flow, beauty, and purity of the San Marcos River and protect public access. I am here today mainly to thank you like so many people have already for your Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Grant Program. A project we've been working on to protect the head of the San Marcos River, Spring Lake and the springs that come out of the ground there that create the river, are being protected by a conservation easement on a large ranch that actually drains through its grasslands 2,000 acres of watershed of steep hills. And so it's an extremely important piece of land to preserve because it protects the overland runoff into creeks, as well as a recharge zone that protects the water in the aquifer that comes up in the bottom of Spring Lake.

So Spring Lake, the head of the San Marcos River, is being protected by this ranch being preserved both underground and on the surface. It's a critical piece of land to preserve. Your donation, your grant helped accomplish this. It should close in the next few weeks, and we just can't thank you enough. I hope this program will continue.

I also want to mention the tubing task force that Commissioner Bill Jones has been chairing this summer, that I have served on, and you will be receiving that report in October, I think, and it very much affects our San Marcos River and what's going on there. We're very concerned about the problems that are downstream of San Marcos in an area that's not able to be served very well with law enforcement because it's in a rather poor county that doesn't have a lot of law enforcement officers. We believe that a water-oriented recreation district like the Guadalupe River has, is the way for us to be able to pay for the law enforcement that we need and the litter clean up. And you'll read more about this in the report.

We are grateful for Commissioner Jones' leadership, and we hope that the report will be clearly pointing to the need for some additional help. Your game wardens are great, but they can't handle the volume of thousands of tubers. For instance, last month I think we had 10,000 in one day and another 2,000 tubes with ice chests. So we appreciate the tubing task force work. We look forward to working with you. Thank you.


Jack Fairchild.

Mike McClabb.

MR. JACK FAIRCHILD: Good afternoon, Commissioners. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. I am a landowner on the San Marcos River, just opposite the city of Martindale in Guadalupe County. I used to be President of the San Marcos River Foundation for nine years. I was -- I have been Secretary of the San Marcos Lion's Club for ten years. I am a member of the board of the Texas River Protection Association. I know the San Marcos River since the late 1930s.

I have been examining the Parks and Wildlife Code, and I wanted to remind you of a few things here. Section 1.011 states all the beds and -- all of the bed and bottoms of all the public rivers are property of the State. The State may permit the use of the waters and bottoms. Section 11.011 states that Parks and Wildlife is an agency of the State. It is under the policy direction of the Parks and Wildlife Commission, which is you ladies and gentlemen. Chapter 31 entitled "Water Safety" states -- section -- it is the duty of the State to provide safety in all recreational water facilities in the State.

Now, I want to shift. To a layman who's not an attorney, that tells me that you-all have a responsibility to solve our problems on the San Marcos River; and I want you to know what resources are available. The current tubing companies pay $6,000 a year to the County for county taxes. The landowners along that same stretch of the river pay $120,000 and the counties do not have the resources to do much with it. Fishermen do not try to find -- to fish the waters along here anymore. My wife's cardiologist is a Scottish person who thinks San Marcos River used to be the best fly fishing in the world. He no longer goes on the San Marcos River.

The river has become a training ground for falling down drunks. We have failed to pass a water-oriented recreation district for the last few Legislative sessions. We do not feel that the WORD is adequate. The solution: For Texas Parks and Wildlife to create a linear state parks on the upper San Marcos River. Thank you for your attention.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thank you and your comments are noted.

Mike McClabb, Josh Diaz de Leon, and Paula Goynes.

MR. MIKE MCCLABB: Yes, Commissioners. Thank you for having me out here. I am a riverfront landowner in Martindale, Texas. I am an avid canoer. I've been here since 1975. We need help, gentleman. It's out of control. Our precious river, spring fed, is being taken over not by tubers. We have no problem with tubers. Everybody has a right to use the river, but they don't have a right to trash and degrade our beautiful river.

We need help. People are dying. We had a young couple, their lives destroyed August 4th, head-on collision, a drunk tuber from Texas State Tubes, head-on collision. I live in Martindale. I take -- my life is at risk every day on a weekend when I drive down Highway 80. We're all at risk. You guys need to come to the bat and do a linear state park and ban alcohol consumption. Just take it out of the picture. Allow tubing. Allow people to do whatever they want to do, but we don't want our river to be a party pit.

You know, in Florida, for example, they have container -- disposal container bans. You know, everybody has the right; but to degrade such a beautiful source, is just -- it's embarrassing. You know, I've been all over the world. I've been all over this country with my work. It's embarrassing to be from Texas, and how we treat that precious river that's in my backyard. And I plead with you, gentlemen and ladies, please come to the bat. Help us do the right thing and do a linear state park.

Also, let's talk about trash. We've got video on Facebook. We've had some programs on KXAN showing the trash. Okay, it's four feet deep. Okay, Pristine Rivers who does the -- has the contract for the work in the New Braunfels, can only go three feet deep to the gravel bars. After that, it stays on the bottom of the river. If you look at those videos, those cans have been in there for months and months with silt. The only time it gets cleaned is when we have a flood. Guess where it goes? It goes in my backyard, all landowners' backyards, and the gravel bars. There's literally cans and aluminums through layers of gravel. This has got to stop.

If we don't save these rivers, every stretch of river, there will be a tubing company coming up -- and it's not about tubing. It's about drinking. And they're going to take our rivers and people that want to fish, canoe, kayak, or whatever, can't even enjoy their own backyard. Thank you very much, gentlemen.


Mr. de Leon.

MR. DIAZ DE LEON: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, good afternoon. My name is Josh Diaz de Leon; and my family and I, we live along the San Marcos River about a half mile downstream from a couple of polluters doing business as tubing operators. And I understand that they have proposed another memorandum of understanding wherein they promise to play nice and be wonderful stewards of the river and I know you've all seen photos and the videos that are available online and that we have presented before that demonstrate, you know, their wonderful stewardship.

I think it's simply another attempt by them to appease the landowners along the river and other folks that use the San Marcos River in a responsible and respectful manner. You know, my neighbors and I were recently admonished by TCEQ for improperly and unknowingly impounding water on a very small stream that feeds into the San Marcos River at one end of our neighborhood. Now, we weren't polluting the river and we certainly weren't dumping our trash into the river; but the watchdog that's charged with protecting the river and protecting the environment was there to slap us on the wrist.

We need a watchdog with teeth to protect the river, not another memorandum which is simply the fox guarding the hen house. Now, Mr. Goynes, who will speak later, proposes the creation of a linear park. I'm a proponent of that. I think it's probably the best way to protect the river. However, if the creation of a water-oriented recreation district will accomplish our goals of protecting the river, keeping it clean, protecting the landowners and the environment, then I would be in favor of that. So I ask that you please consider his ideas and please don't allow the operators, the tubing operators, to be the watchdogs over the river and the environment because we all know that they've failed in that miserably to even police their own clients. That's all I have. Thank you for your time.


We have Paula Goynes and then Tom Goynes.


COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Bruce Jennings is third.

MS. PAULA GOYNES: I'm Paula Goynes. We own a camp on the San Marcos River. This is the third Commissioner's meeting I've been to. Always a little intimidated; but, again, I have a list of things. I'm not going to suffer through them. You know what they are.

Now, I am very concerned that we have been seeing more and more drugs on the river, marijuana and specifically cocaine. I didn't understand that, but someone explained to me that the cocaine wakes you up if you've been -- if you've drank too much and you're going to pass out, then you do a little cocaine. It will perk you up, and you can keep going. So that's at our place. That's on our gravel bar.

Now, I want to tell you that the tubing operators are hiring, I believe, eight law enforcement -- off-duty law enforcement officers. They are renting Caldwell County's vehicles and wearing uniforms and they sit on our -- two of them sit on our property inside the car with the motor running, with the air-conditioner on. They are in -- there's people on the gravel bar using drugs, drinking, binge drinking. That is not working.

Now, if we have a WORD and the officers actually work for the WORD district, then maybe we can get them to write some citations. They have been doing this for two years and have written -- I don't know -- I would say none of the citations. County Judge Cyrier just gave the county constables -- the constables some money to come to the river and in one weekend, I think one day on a Saturday they gave out four tickets; but on Sunday, they had a total of the weekend for 68 tickets and these were mostly for underage drinking and littering.

And so what the off-duty cops -- I call them scarecrows -- are doing is nothing and Caldwell County doesn't have the money to hire policemen. Just to say -- I'm going to give you a little handout. I want to invite y'all to come. You can't really understand the magnitude of the problem unless you're there. We have been suffering through this for years and years. The other thing that's so important is we're losing young kids. We are telling them that it's okay to drink alcohol on the river, it's okay to use drugs on the river. We're the adults. I thought it was our charge to get them to be good citizens, and we're not. We're failing. So thank you.



MR. TOM GOYNES: Hi. My name is Tom Goynes. I'm the President of the Texas Rivers Protection Association and my wife Paula and I own a campground on the San Marcos River. Two years ago, 2014, we had a drunk tuber girl passed out on our gravel bar and a drunk guy -- he wasn't so drunk he was passed out -- he picks her up, carries her up to the campground, and proceeds to rape her right in front of this group of Christians that was unfortunate enough to be camping there. And I warned them. I said, "Y'all really don't want to be camping here in the summer," but they didn't listen.

And it was that August we finally had had enough. We said, "We're going to New Mexico. We're out of here." So we closed the place down because we didn't have any business anyway. And we try to serve youth groups and church groups and just can't do that in this environment. But on our way out of Texas, we stopped at Llano State Park. I've always loved state parks, and they're nice and quiet. Great places to bring your family. I really appreciate our state parks system.

And we were camping there at Llano and I noticed how quiet it was and how the river was clean and then it dawned -- I started seeing the "no public consumption," but the superintendent there was really strict. He had signs like "no cerveza." I mean, he made it very clear no beer, you know; and I thought -- I think was a God thing. You know, it was like God said, "There you go, state park."

I mean, the State owns the river. Why don't we make a linear state park? Other states have done it. And so we came to you guys that August and asked, "You know, hey, can you make the river into a state park?"

And we had a meeting with Parks and Wildlife lawyers and they said, "No, because the State owns the land, but Parks and Wildlife doesn't. It can't be done."

So we kept saying, "Well, what would we have to change?" And we ran out of time. We couldn't do anything that session. So last year, some friends said, "Well, don't ask for a state park. Ask for a task force."

So we did. And the very first day of the task force, Mr. Jones said, "Has anybody got any ideas? Anything we can do?"

And I said, "State park."

And I think you said something to the effect, "Well, that's not absolutely impossible and it's as close as we're going to get to impossible. Ain't going to happen."

And it was Andy Sansom who actually said, "Wait a minute. We can go to the Legislature and ask them to do it."

So that's what I'm asking this time. Help us to put something together for the Legislature and let's do a state park. Thanks. And put Andy Sansom in charge of it. He's got nothing better to do.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Good idea. Thank you.

Bruce Jennings and then Duane TeGrotenhaus and Lynn Williams.

MR. BRUCE JENNINGS: Hi. I am Bruce Jennings. I have lived on the San Marcos River for 32 years, right outside Martindale. I happen to be just downstream from three tubing entities. My property overlooks one of the parking areas where we get to see and hear approximately 4,000 tubers gather every Saturday of the summer.

I wanted to tell you about a couple of experiences just this summer and just to let you know, you know, what it looks like. Having lived there this long, you know, our original 20 years was nothing but church groups and scouting groups coming downstream. That has changed dramatically the last few years.

This summer, say starting off about mid July, I was working on my back porch and started hearing some screaming and I looked down on the gravel bar below my house, between the house and river, about a 7-acre gravel bar down there and obviously this young man had no shoes on because with every step that he took, he was screaming his head off with all kinds of colorful language and then he fell down and passed out. Now, I wouldn't have paid any attention, but the two ladies next door, daughter and mother, are both registered nurses. They hopped in their little gator and went down there and they had to revive this young man because it was about 106 outside, I think, with the temperature that day. So they managed to basically save his life.

Now, that was kind of an interesting little point in the summer and I thought, "Well, okay, that's the highlight of the summer, I guess." Then the very next weekend, I'm eating lunch on Saturday afternoon and my next door neighbor -- same lady -- comes knocking at my back door and she's visibly shaken and I ask her what's wrong and she's got 20 drunk college kids sitting under a tree in her backyard and she's home alone and she really didn't know what to do with them.

So I came over to help supervise them, and kind of cater them towards the property line. They were so drunk, they could not tell me what -- which of the three tubing entities had dropped them off. So they didn't even know which direction to go in. You know, basically it's a half mile to the gate to leave our land or it's a half mile down this way back to the tubing entities and when I refused to give them a ride, I was insulted with a great deal of vulgarity and belligerence. So that was kind of an interesting little tidbit.

The third one though, as Mike spoke of earlier, was back -- I believe it was the 2nd of August when the newlywed couple was injured by a customer of the tubing entities. We see these accidents on a regular basis. We just can't always prove it that they come right from the tubing companies. But the husband of the newlywed couple was killed. The new -- the unborn baby died within two days, and it's just horrible. I wanted to cry. It was just absolutely horrible; but these are the kinds of things that we're experiencing, and I'm here to ask for help.

We need legal help to monitor what's going on. The silt and filth in the river, it's just not -- it's so different. It's so dramatically different. We really, really beg you for help out there. Okay? Caldwell County can't do it. We have two cops for the whole county. Please, you know, pay attention to what's going on when the recommendations come back from the committee, whatever they're saying there about law enforcement. My wife and I will go for a WORD, we'll go for a linear state park; but we want law enforcement. Thank you.


Duane TeGrotenhaus and Lynn Williams is next.

MR. DUANE TEGROTENHAUS: Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Duane TeGrotenhaus. My wife Evelyn and I own and operate TG Canoes and Kayaks on the San Marcos River and have done so for well over 30 years. I do believe this may be our last year. If not our last, we're getting close. There's no way that we can operate on that river, putting Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church groups like we have for well over three decades in all good conscience and allow them to run into the Armageddon that goes on on the last three-quarter of a mile above our place to our takeout at the San Marcos River Retreat. It's a travesty, folks. It's a travesty.

And so, basically, that pretty much is going to shoot that opportunity for all those Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and church groups; but, folks, that's what you guys do. You put people outside on purpose because we know it's a whole lot better than sitting in the back room playing Nintendo or a PS4 or anything else. Would you rather them playing Halo; or would you rather have them outside, enjoying God's creation?

So the bottom line is we're probably done. Mr. Goyens is probably done. I don't know if the Spencers are done or not, but all the people that actually benefited this river -- and we've done the -- we've done two river cleanups every year for the past 31 years. We're leaving. Who's going to clean the place up? Who's going to take care of that beautiful piece of creation? Who's going to allow every man, woman, and child in the state of Texas the opportunity to be on the San Marcos River? As far as I'm concerned, the prettiest piece of creation in the state of Texas. Who's going to allow that if we don't do something to stop what's going on and get rid of the party?

Honestly, it's only good for about a few thousand people and two guys that own the place. That's it. For the rest of the population in Texas, this dog don't hunt. And so my deal is, is let's make it an opportunity for everybody to enjoy that beautiful piece of creation because it's a life changer. It sincerely is a life changer. The only opportunity you're going to have at doing that, folks -- instead of putting Band-Aids on everything, the only opportunity to take care of it is a linear state park. You already have it. You've already done it. You've already proven it works. Put a linear state park down the San Marcos River with linear state park rules and all of a sudden, everybody in the state of Texas gets an opportunity to utilize the San Marcos River. Thank you for your time.


Lynn Williams and Randy Bunker is on deck.

MS. LYNN WILLIAMS: Hi. My name is Lynn Williams, and I live on the stretch of the San Marcos River that people have been talking about. I picked up one of these guides that y'all left for us very nicely outside and it says here, "What is there to do in state parks?" And three of the things listed are fish, boat or paddle, and swim; and those are things that we could do all the time on this stretch of the San Marcos before these tubing companies came in.

A linear state park would make that possible again. Right now, it's -- time's questionable whether I should be swimming in the river behind my house and I cannot paddle that stretch that the tubing companies serve during the middle of the day on -- during the summer. And fishing, I don't know exactly what the impact is on fishing. I just know you couldn't get a fishing boat through there if you wanted to when it's busy in the summer. Thank you.


Randy Bunker and Elizabeth Cumberland.

MR. RANDY BUNKER: Gentleman, thank you for the opportunity. My name's Randy Bunker. I'm the Mayor of Martindale, Texas. A little tiny community downriver from San Marcos. You've heard the last row of folks speak of the abuse the river is taking. I'm also on a task force. We're trying to figure out how to work out recreation and conserve the river at the same -- but when does recreation turn to -- recreational use turn to recreational abuse? And that's what's happening on the San Marcos River.

One of the first things that Mr. Jones stated when we came to the first task force meeting was we're here before something bad happens. He misspoke. We had two deaths and a paralyzation prior to that first meeting. We had a drowning. We had a drunken college kid -- they get on private property. They climb a tree. They jump out, fall down, break their neck on the way down, and they're left by their tubing cohorts because they're already drunk and going "Oh, that must of hurt," and they continue tubing downriver.

The county spends enormous amounts of money every year policing -- not so much policing, but servicing ambulances and helicopters. And we only have two ambulances for the county, Caldwell County. This river runes between Guadalupe County, Caldwell County, and then begins in Hays County. I have to thank Bill West with GBRA pulling the first meeting together at GBRA's headquarters to state that there is a problem with the abuse of the San Marcos River and that's what it is.

The city of San Marcos -- city of Martindale has annexed the other half of the river outside of our city limits because being as the county line or our city limits only went to the middle of the river. A general lawsuit like us in a small population, we could legally annex that because nobody lives on it because we are crossing our fingers and praying that New Braunfels can win their can ban. I'd like to see a disposable container ban. It's not just cans. It's everything.

There's a small hydroelectric plant that's not operating in Martindale, and I maintain that. I've taken dam safety maintenance and management for owners and operators. I manage that for the owner of the property. We are constantly pulling out cans, Jell-O shot containers by the thousands every year. Jell-O shots, that's the big thing on the river. You have shotgun point, shotgun rock, shotgun tree. That's where the shotgun the beer or beer bong their alcohol, sink the can.

You need to get on YouTube and see some of these videos that we have taken. They don't clean the river. The only thing that cleans the river is the flood when it flushes it out, and y'all know that we experienced two last year. After May, after the first one in 2015, I thought we were ranching cans up and down the property because the river, as you know in a flood, doesn't follow the curve. It jumps over the land and continues on. And when that river went down, we had nothing but cans. Thank you, gentlemen, for your time.


Elizabeth Cumberland and Ande Rasmussen.

Is Elizabeth Cumberland -- is she here? Oh. She's not going to speak? Okay.

Ande Rasmussen.

MR. ANDE RASMUSSEN: Hello. I'm Ande Rasmussen. I live on the San Marcos River just downstream from 1979 in Martindale. The picture I want to paint for you, we don't have commercial tubing where we live; but we have their trash. And the big concern that nobody's really said is that let's say that you had a party of 10,000 people or 5,000 people on the land and if there's a party, there's a potty; and all these people are going to the bathroom. If they're drinking, they're going to the bathroom in the river and it's polluting the river and that's a problem.

You know, I mean, if there was a landowner that had a big party thing and all their septic was flowing directly in the river, you guys -- somebody would slap them down and say, "We can't have this." You know, and it's not just peeing. I mean, there's landowners here that can say, you know, what they've observed and it's a serious problem and we need resources. We need help to do something. So thank you for your consideration.


Did Jerimiah Haughee -- did he return? No. Okay.

Next, we'll move to Travis LaDuc, with Jeff Adams and Toby Hibbitts on -- in line.

MR. TRAVIS LADUC: Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission. My name is Travis LaDuc and I have been resident of Texas for 24 years, a hunter in the state for 24 years, and more recently a father to two girls born here in Texas. It is to this latter point that I appear before you today.

I am concerned about maintaining the integrity of our state's natural heritage for the appreciation and enjoyment of not only my daughters, but for their children and for future generations of this state. My comments today are specifically aimed at the creation of legislation to prohibit the gassing of wildlife, in particular as it has been focused on rattlesnakes.

First, the potential for indiscriminate killing of wildlife by gassing has been well-documented in research going back to the 1970s. Many other species live in the same burrows utilized by rattlesnakes, including invertebrates, birds, mammals, amphibians, and other reptiles. Studies done in the 1980s demonstrated immediate catastrophic effects of exposure to gasoline fumes to both target species, the rattlesnake, and nontarget species. Many species are simply incapacitated and die in the burrows and those animals that are able to surface show neurological impairments.

These poisonous gas fumes linger in the non-ventilated animal burrows, likely rendering them inhospitable for some time. Because this all occurs underground, we don't immediately see how this form of habitat destruction affects a wide variety of animal species, including species that may be afforded state or federal protection.

Second, just as the detrimental effects of gasoline fumes have been documented in native wildlife species, there are multiple sources indicating the hazards of gasoline exposure for humans. There is no disagreement that gasoline exposure is bad for humans and precautions for such exposure are placarded everywhere gasoline is sold. The process of gasoline -- of gassing, deliberately forces gasoline into underground burrows, cracks, and crevices, where the potential spread of hazardous chemicals into our wells and groundwater is accelerated. Gasoline and its associated contaminates don't magically disappear from the soil within these burrows. Instead they linger, increasing the potential for entering another precious Texas commodity, water.

And then finally, as a long-term hunter, the sporting aspect of this type of hunting bothers me. My three decades of experience with rattlesnakes have shown me that most species are not particularly difficult to find and catch, but that finding large numbers can certainly take time. I should note at this point that I do have a Ph.D. in zoology from a major Texas state university, and I am the curator of herpetology at a major Texas state university natural history collection.

Finding the appropriate habitats and knowing the right time of year can have a huge impact on hunting success. Many types of take are prohibited in this state. There are methods of fishing and hunting that are prohibited either because the wildlife susceptibility to capture or the danger of the method to both humans and wildlife. Spotlighting at night is a perfect example. Shooting wildlife at night is dangerous because of the hunter's inability to verify a safe shot, both for the quick kill of the target, as well as the safety of potential down range targets. Without confirming a clear background when making a shot, a bullet fired at night may have a one- to two-second potential for grave harm.

To me, gasoline sprayed underground is no different than a bullet fired at night. However, the harm caused by these gasoline bullets don't disappear once they hit the ground. They persist for decades. These rounds have the potential to have long-term impacts not only to wildlife, but to Texans, myself and my daughters included. Thank you for your time.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Travis, thank you.

Jeff Adams and Toby Hibbitts.

MR. JEFF ADAMS: I would like to thank the Commissioners for the opportunity to speak to the Commission on gassing issues and offer some insight into some things that have been stated in years past. My name is Jeff Adams. I am the Director of Snake Days, a 501(C)(3) scientific educational fundraiser that raises money for Texas Parks and Wildlife's Wildlife Diversity Department. I am also a small business owner in Texas, to include a pest control company and a construction consulting firm.

I am prevented by government agencies from dispersing chemicals and what have you by law back into the ground and so forth that's not properly labeled as such. It has been suggested that gasoline is permitted for pesticide use, which is completely incorrect. I have documentation here from the Texas Department of Agriculture that should have been presented to y'all. If you didn't get a copy, I have several in my possession. It shows that not only is it in violation of the FDA standards because it's not labeled as a 25(b) product, it is also in violation of Texas Department of Agriculture, as well as the pesticide label. Any product labeling must be followed in order to comply with state and federal guidelines.

I'm really kind of dumbfounded how this issue has still been ongoing. It's been a topic for 13 years at least, but it's been a topic bounced around the Texas Parks and Wildlife for five years now. An agency that has been charged with protection of the wildlife, as well as the resources, seems to be failing in this. This should have been taken care of many years ago and not to this point.

I am an avid hunter. I've been hunting for many, many years; and I operated hunting ranches down in South Texas for many years. The idea of protecting our resources and preventing gasoline from the entering the groundwater is something that we should be doing. You don't have to look very far to see all the issues and studies/reports showing the amount of gasolines with the benzine into our drinking water supply. Anytime you inject a noxious chemical -- cracks, crevices, or a den -- you run a great risk of that product entering the groundwater system eventually, which we all have to use. Water here has become a huge resource that, in this case, is not being properly protected.

The idea that this would possibly hurt the rattlesnake the roundups is just absurd. The -- this doesn't stop the rattlesnake roundups from happening. It doesn't stop anybody from collecting the rattlesnakes in any means. It's just merely to protect our resources. The roundups, as well the as collections, will continue to go on. The biggest part of this is just to completely prevent the way we were gathering these rattlesnakes. I am a big deer hunter. I can't use a rocket launcher to get deer. We need to have a safe measure to obtain these animals. Thank you. If y'all need a copy, I do have it.


Mr. Hibbitts.

MR. TOBY HIBBITTS: I'll start off by thanking y'all for the opportunity to speak in front of y'all here. My name is Toby Hibbitts, from College Station, Texas. I've been an avid herpetologist for basically my whole life, and lived most of that life in the state. So, of course, I'm going to speak about gassing of rattlesnakes.

One of the things that -- you know, rattlesnakes have been persecuted throughout the history of anything -- and understandably, to some degree, that they're dangerous animals. And these animals are also something that is looked at as part of our Texas state heritage and a lot of people view Texas and they think of things like rattlesnakes and they think of toughness and think of, you know, people that stand their ground. You know, you see tons of people -- I was on the beach the other day and there's people running around with "Don't tread on me" flags all over their cars.

So it's currently viewed as something as a tough animal, and part of that resiliency of the rattlesnake is part of the reasons that they are able to be gassed in the first place. So the collection of rattlesnakes through gassing is only possible because of the toughness of the rattlesnakes and there's a lot of other species that live in those same crevices, cracks, and that sort of thing that don't have that same resiliency. So, you know, bats, mice, rats, all sorts of invertebrates especially are very susceptible to even low levels of gasoline that's inside of -- that's, you know, pumped into their crevices and cracks and burrows.

And so when they do the collection technique of using gasoline, the only thing that really comes out, for the most part, is the rattlesnakes. The rest of what's down in those burrows stays in those burrows. You never know what the effect is on those other species. But like Travis state before, there's a lot of studies that show that all these things have very bad effects on the other species that may be present in those burrows. So just to simply state that rattlesnakes are a part of our culture, they're part of our heritage as a Texan, and they're part of our wildlife diversity in Texas that the Texas Parks and Wildlife is responsible for taking care of. And so with that, I'll just end it there. Thank you.


Dan Appling, Kevin McConnell, and Tim Franke.

Mr. Appling, thank you.

MR. DAN APPLING: Thank you, Commissioners, for the opportunity to address you today. My name is Dan Appling, and I'm from Austin. I'm an avid angler, and I live for my time fishing on the Texas coast with friends and family. I want to take a few minutes today to come here to tell you thank you for the job that you and Texas Parks and Wildlife are doing on the Texas -- for Texas saltwater anglers. I'm sure you don't hear it often enough, but it's important that you know how much we appreciate what you've done for the Texas coastal resources and continue to do.

I believe we have so much to be thankful for in this state. We have world class fishing -- state fisheries thanks to the work of Texas Parks and Wildlife and folks like Robin Riechers who have been -- and those before him. There have been incredible accomplishments in artificial reefing, marsh, and seagrass creation. There is cutting edge science in stocking results that the hatcheries have produced -- Redfish, Speckled trout, and flounder. I'm grateful that our state takes care of the resources like this and with the growth of the Texas population, I think it is very important that you know how much we appreciate it and we want you and Robin and Texas Parks and Wildlife to keep up the good work so that we can continue to enjoy fishing with our kids and grandkids. Thank you.


Mr. McConnell.

MR. KEVIN MCCONNELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for this chance to address you today. My name is Kevin McConnell. I'm a recreational angler with a 22-foot boat out of Austin, Texas. I've fished the Texas coast for over 25 years and have seen many things in our coastal waters get a lot better thanks to the management and efforts of the Commission and the Texas Parks and Wildlife staff.

Our Redfish and Speckled trout populations are tremendously strong; and with the new flounder regulations, I'm seeing a lot more flounder in the last couple flounder gigging trips that I've been on the last two years. An average angler and his family can go fishing in Texas now and actually catch some quality fish and bring them home or release them if they want to. I know that the fisheries like this are not the norm across all states, nor in the federal waters; and I think a lot of the credit goes to all of you.

I used to fish a lot more offshore in the fall when the seas allowed me to get out there. But with the federal rules on snapper, they've blocked us recreational fishermen from accessing that public resource. During the past two years, I've not been able to make it into federal waters during the eight-day snapper season, as my son graduated from high school around the first of June, work commitments, and 4-foot seas and my boat don't get along. I did manage to get out one day this year, and four of us brought home ten snapper from state waters. Thank you for making this resource available, your work on artificial reefs in the state waters, and all your efforts to manage and provide fair access to the fish off the Texas coast. It's really making a difference for me, my family, and for future generations of Texans. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thanks for your comments.

Mr. Franke.

MR. TIM FRANKE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Tim Franke, and I am from Austin. Although, I consider myself to be most at home along the Texas coast. I've been a recreational angler and conservationist for almost 50 years and privileged to say that these passions were passed down to me and to my sons with each practice -- each of us practicing the art of fishing, sportsmanship, and the science of conservation.

I want to thank each of you for your service and especially those in positions of management and out in the field who so ably protect and manage our resources day in and day out. In particular, I want to thank each of you and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for taking a stand against the Federal Fisheries Management Council's Red snapper mismanagement system, which is quickly extending to other species as well.

When I hear crony capitalism, the definition that always pops into my mind is that of the way in which the federal waters are, quote, managed off of our coast. I'm not an expert in fisheries; but it doesn't take an expert to realize that above all else, money interests guide the Gulf Council and NOAA as they continue to increasingly restrict true sport anglers as a way to abdicate the failures of their past mismanagement of Gulf snapper and other species.

For those of us who grew up as witnesses to the history and natural resource conservation and restoration in Texas, some of the greatest accomplishments like gillnet bans and game fish status for important species like Redfish and trout, have come from state-based management models. They certainly have not come from the Federal Council that appears to ignore the very science and common sense that Texas has embraced to replenish our or commercially overfished stocks. Surely Texas Parks and Wildlife could do a better job than the feds in managing all waters out to the 200-mile limit. That should be your goal, and that should be all Texans' goals.

I appreciate what you and the staff have done to support a Texas based model for managing Red snapper in our state waters. You've been wildly successful, and we appreciate that very much. I know the issue is contentious and imagine you get a lot of pressure and negative input from all kinds of folks behind the scenes, but I wanted to thank you specifically for supporting recreational anglers like me. Please keep up the fight to allow Texas Parks and Wildlife to manage our federal water's fisheries in the future and implement common sense management by Texans and for Texans. Thank you very much.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Mr. Franke, thank you for your comments.

John Gosdin and then Brad Boney, Clifford Hillman, and Lisa Halili.

MR. JOHN GOSDIN: Good afternoon, Chairman and members of the Commission. Thank you for this opportunity to speak briefly today. My name is John Gosdin, and I'm now serving as the President of the Texans for State Parks Organization. This is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization of citizens and volunteer organizations, particularly organized in and around each of our state parks.

Texans for State Parks works to preserve and enhance state parks for the benefit of the people of Texas and their guests. And currently, there are about half of our state parks that have a friends group organized and associated with them. These friends groups are the source of numerous volunteers who provide cost-effective contributions of talent, skills and surfaces -- services for Parks and Wildlife properties, along the lines of tree planting work, kid fish day, the master naturalist programs, pioneer craft demonstrations at state parks. They do trail building. They do electrical and plumbing work, fence repair and construction and registration and visitor welcoming services at the entrance booths as people come to the state park.

It's estimated that the total range of services that are needed to provide a good experience for a state park visitor, about 25 percent of them may be contributed voluntarily by volunteer groups and individuals. So they are a hands on multiplier for the staff that provide those customer services for our state parks.

Our goals for next year are to support the creation of additional state park friends groups, to provide training and technical assistance to better equip them and help them with their ability to do the job better at each of their locations, and also we are starting this past year actually, with a new program to recognize and publicize outstanding service by individuals and organizations around the state, just recognize that contribution that they're making. So we look forward to continuing to work with you as a value-added partner in the years ahead and thank you for the good work that you're doing for our state parks. Thank you.


Mr. Boney.

MR. W. BRAD BONEY: Thank y'all. Thank y'all for your service and I appreciate it and your attention today this afternoon. I'm sure there are plenty of other things y'all would be rather doing than listening right now, but I do thank you very much for being here. My name is Brad Boney. I'm here on behalf of Texas Outdoor Coastal Council. We're about a year old. We started with a group basically working with commercial and recreational oystermen, fishermen, and shrimpers. That was the goal, and I think there's a good tie-in.

What I'm here today to specifically talk about is the oyster business and oyster reefs. I live in Galveston. Moved there full time in 2009, on there -- owned a property there for 13 years. After Ike, y'all are familiar with what happened to what happened to our reefs. We got hit pretty hard. A couple years of drought, a couple years of flood, it hasn't been pretty. The state is facing real challenges in getting our reefs rebuilt.

I want to call out Lance and Robin. Great Americans, great people to work with by the way in talking to them. There's a lot of discussion about how the state goes about it. One of the concerns and one of the items being proffered is business and conservation can work well together, but we've got to be realistic. We compete against Louisiana. Louisiana has got the bulk of it. If you take a look at their oyster fields, it's pretty overwhelming. The oyster business provides jobs in my community and a nice little table refreshment that goes exceptionally well with beer at a time.

We've got to be cognizant of the fact that we are competing against other states. One of the programs, one of the suggestions was $60 an acre a lease. Louisiana right now pays about $3. I know that puts the challenge on Texas Parks and Wildlife and what you guys have to do in a looming Legislative session that we're looking very -- most likely at budget cuts. But there's got to be other ways of working around it. I know that the folks that I've talked to in the business, in the oyster business, are happy with the replenishment or are solidly behind it, which is fantastic. Louisiana doesn't even go that far.

The GLO has added another fee on top of the acreage. What we'll end up doing is pricing the oystermen out of business and what we do is give a leg up, an advantage to Louisiana. That's just from a business standpoint. From a personal standpoint, I'm a recreational fisherman. I enjoy fishing, and I like to work it out so I have a little bit of an edge. We've got great opportunities to fish on top of the reef if we have the reef there. So we're all behind it. One of the other suggestions is the harvest tag fee. I think right now it states -- it's about 20 cents a -- 20 cents a bag. The state has said that that is down. The reason it's down is because of the volume. Consider raising the fee, and we thank you very much for your time. Y'all have a great day. Thank you.


Mr. Hillman.

MR. CLIFFORD HILLMAN: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, thank you for your time today. My name is Clifford Hillman, Hillman Shrimp and Oyster Company, lifelong member of the commercial fishing industry, as well as past Chairman of the Parks and Wildlife Oyster Advisory Committee, current member of the Oyster Advisory Workgroup. I come here with a couple of concerns today, secondary of which is that Carter may hit his eject button. Primary of which is my concern in the development of our new oyster lease program, expansion of the lease program, and the creation of an aquaculture program, which I know was some directive from the Legislature last year because I was involved in that effort.

I want to make sure that this gets done right, and I'm not so sure that it's not being rushed to the point to where it can be accomplished prior to this upcoming Legislative session. But regardless of what the group does as a result of public hearings across the state, which will have to take place I assume shortly and y'all's actions, please consider this -- whatever that ultimate result is -- please consider this as a moving target and a work in progress because we're not going to get it right the first time and we have to be cognizant of the fact that industry is already on its jowls now because of any number of environmental conditions that have taken place in the course of the last ten years -- hurricane, extended drought, two killing floods in the year -- in the past two years.

And I think Lance would agree and we've enjoyed working with Lance in our workgroups and Robin. I believe coastal fisheries would agree that out of any given ten-year cycle, you will see normally two or three decent years, two or three mediocre years, and two or three bad years. In the last ten-year cycle, they've pretty much all been bad.

So the importance of the oyster to our bays, the health of our bays, the whole ecological system is imperative that we continue to do our effort to grow, but without creating a disincentive for that growth. Thank you.


Lisa Halili, Johnny Halili, and Francis Jurisich.

MS. LISA HALILI: Hi. I'm Lisa Halili with Prestige Oysters. I want to thank all of you here today, having this opportunity to be able to talk to you guys. I want to thank Robin and Lance and everybody at Texas Parks and Wildlife for their service.

We are oyster producers, private harvesters, and we grow oyster and we obtained the private oyster reefs from previous owners that started their reefs from the substrate of mud, building many, many, many years. Some of ours are one of the most historical reefs, probably the oldest leases in Galveston Bay. This is a beautiful, beautiful process. It's a beautiful resource, and I consider myself a partnership with the state of Texas. I feel like what we're doing, we're working together. We're working together for everybody, for the environment alone.

One oyster drinks up to 50 gallons a day. Our oysters are free rangers. So when we plant -- when you throw a rock, you grow an oyster. When you put shell, you grow oysters. Our shell is 100 percent recycled that we put back into the lease program. Oyster spat, in their first two weeks of life they swim. Because they're free range, there's no guarantee that by me putting rocks and shell at my place, you're never going to see sports fishermen not fishing over a healthy reef. The one thing you're going to find that these good stewards of the bay -- and I feel like all the lease program has been good stewards of the bay and we've tried very, very hard to do everything that we can.

We do something on a daily basis the state can only do when they get funding from droughts, when they get funding from -- not droughts, from hurricanes and floods. It's hard to get funding to restore the reefs. We're praying that, you know, with some of the restoration funds, that it will go to the state to restore reefs and we want to work together; but we can't work to a point that our business partner puts us at a point that we're not able to stay in business. You've got to understand that this starts -- I was my husband's deckhand for many, many years. I don't know how many of you guys have ever been out on the bay, ever been out oystering. We'd love to take anybody that wants to come out and see the beauty of the nature.

An oyster is a really amazing creature. Everybody benefits from the oyster. When you don't have an oyster, you don't have a clean bay system. I mean, just think about it. That poor little guy is just sitting there constantly working and working and working. It is probably the best tool the bay can have to keeping an ecosystem clean. Man cannot create what an oyster does. And I just want to thank you and please reconsider and, you know, understand that we've got to stay in business, too. Thank you.


Johnny Halili.

MR. JOHNNY HALILI: No. My wife said it all. Thank you.


Francis Jurisich.

MS. FRANCIS JURISICH: Hi. I'm Francis Jurisich. I'm kind of nervous. I don't speak publically too much.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Don't be, don't be.

MS. FRANCIS JURISICH: So I am the third generation of oyster family. My dad is Misho from Misho's Oyster Company, and I married competition. So my in-laws also have an oyster company. But so we have oyster leases. My in-laws have had them since 1994. My dad's had them since the 70s. And it's, you know, as of -- up until a few months ago, we assumed that it was just going to be renewed again and last -- this morning, we were aware that they put a price of $60 per acre on top of wanting to put cultch back into the bay and it's just with all of these regulations, I just don't know if it's something we'll be able to continue and we won't be able to continue for the generations to come and that's just something that worries me and I would just like you to take that into consideration. Thank you.


Misho Ivic, Ivic -- correct me if I'm -- for the record --

MR. MISHO IVIC: Misho Ivic.


MR. MISHO IVIC: Misho Ivic.


MR. MISHO IVIC: I'm Croatian-American. I came here in 1972. You need to know that Croatians, we're one of the three nationalities that started coming over 200 years ago and they were fishermen in America, together with the Norwegians and the Portuguese and Croatians are still involved in fishing very much.

StarKist was a company founded and owned by Mardesich's company from Island of Vis in Croatia. That's why my accent is like that. Thank you for opportunity to talk in front of you and I'm going to start thanking to Mr. Carter, Mr. Lance, and Mr. Riechers for their efforts last 15 years into building artificial reefs. All of them turn out to be really profitable. Some of them are about the location. I thought it was too salty; but even those turn out to be really good, and I appreciate it very much.

Besides that, they did everything they could to make us increase our production. We experimented with a semi-force. We experimented with closures. And I hope that you're going to find some way to succeed, especially with God's help. Out of these two years of planting, we're going to have a lot of baby oysters and these baby oysters are going to grow up one day I hope.

I am owner of company that employees in the summer months about 40. Employees, all of them are like children to me. Their children are like grandchildren to me. This year I was on four college graduations for kids of my kids -- my employees. I am very much concerned how to provide for them. I need about $30,000 every Friday so all of them will have something to take home.

And when we talk about increase in a fee per acre, I would really like to see us being self-sufficient, covering all expense that involves our engagement with oyster leases. On the other hand, it's quite the big burden. I'm really worried that I'm going to have a problem taking care of my people if we're going to go from $6 an acre to $60. This is ten-times jump. So I would like to see smaller numbers, and I'm still hoping that we're going to cooperate like we did all the way up until now. Thank you for your time.


And I skipped over Johnny Jurisich. Please.

On deck is Eric Opiela and Tracy Woody.

MR. JOHNNY JURISICH: Good afternoon. My name is John Jurisich of Jurisich and Sons, and I'm a third-generation oyster fisherman. I'm speaking for myself and my family. We were a wholesale oyster company located in Texas City, Texas.

In 2015, after conversations and oyster leaseholder meetings with Texas Parks and Wildlife, we were under the impression that the Galveston Bay leases would be automatically renewed. We deployed about $276,000 of crushed concrete and limestone to our three leases. It takes two to three years for an oyster to mature. These freshly seeded grounds will not be ready for harvest until 2017 or maybe 2018.

An oyster lease is not a one-time investment. It has to be continuously replenished and rotated to keep a healthy crop of oyster growing and reproducing. It also prevents the reef from sinking and being silted over. Due to the current uncertainty of the renewing of existing leases, we have been reluctant to deploy cultch material in 2016. It's devastating our harvest for the next two or three years. This also affects the biomass and comes along -- that comes along with an active oyster reef.

We are in favor of renewing the existing oyster leases based on a similar rule from a 2002 agreement. We cannot support the requirement of 33 percent of cultch deployment in years six through 15 on public grounds. We do not have the access to the shell and very limited access to rocks. In 2015, it costs us $51 a ton to purchase and deploy limestone. This would be an expensive financial burden and limit future development on our existing private leases.

My family has sacrificed countless hours and a considerable amount of hard-earned money into our leases. My entire family and our employees currently rely heavily on these leases. 50 percent of our income is from Galveston Bay leases. My father came to America at 17 years of age with a few belongings in his uncle's suitcase. He instilled in us that with hard work and dedication, you could achieve the American dream. He taught us that leases are our way to give back to the environment and secure our future in the oyster industry for our generations to come. In order to preserve our American dream, please fairly renew our oyster leases. Thank you.


Eric Opiela.

MR. ERIC OPIELA: Commission members, Eric Opiela here. I'm representing Tony Jurisich who couldn't be here today. While some of the other speakers have mentioned the tenfold increase in the lease cost under the proposal that was presented to you this morning in the workshop, I want to speak about the financial impact on the oyster industry and the decreased yields and environmental harm that is sure to result from the Department's proposal to require 33 percent of the volume of the prior year's oyster harvest in cultch material in years six through 15 in the lease term to be placed on public reefs by lessees.

By the Department's own figures, the financial burden will eliminate that value of some of the least productive leases in the system by requiring expenditures in excess of the projected revenue from those leases over the lease term. The public cultch requirement will also lead to decreased production due to a diversion of cultch placement from leased areas where it's being placed and developed, as many speakers have talked about, for many years they've been developing a public resource that's owned by the state of Texas and has continued to grow those into the most productive oyster regions in the -- in Texas waters and will divert those to public areas and areas that are not proven producers of oysters and will decrease the production on leased areas due to the basis of those new requirements being on the prior years.

So the leaseholders will decrease the production in order to decrease their expenses under the lease terms that are being proposed, and it will hurt production all around. We feel that a better solution for the state and lessees will be an increase of the bag tag fees, which allow the state to spread the cost among all oyster harvesters fairly and allow the Department to place cultch effectively in areas where it's needed.

If the Parks and Wildlife Department requires the cultch requirement in the final lease proposal, instead of requiring the lessees to have to place it themselves -- in many cases, they don't have the appropriate equipment and the expertise to do it -- they wanted to have an option where they can pay a fee equivalent to the amount of the cultch requirement to the state and allow the state to integrate that into the program, which would be good all around. It will reduce the liability of the lessees and make this oyster industry be able to survive for another 15 years. Thank you.


Tracy Woody.

MR. TRACY WOODY: Yes, sir. Thank you, Commissioners. Tracy Woody with Jeri's Seafood, Smith Point, Texas. We have oyster leases in Galveston Bay and have for many decades. She's passing out right now -- kind of outdated as of 8:00 o'clock this morning once we heard the new proposal -- an executive summary from Justice Enoch.

Anyway, the first problem with the oyster lease renewal proposal today by the Department, is the cultch plant requirement that requires the private leaseholder to pay a disproportionate amount to rebuild public reefs fished by public reef fishermen or everyone, should I say. This requirement alone will not allow my company to compete in a local market in Texas with the Louisiana product coming in. It's surely not going to allow me to compete on a national level. I buy oysters from Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, all over. I'm not going to be able to compete with their product from Texas -- with my product in Texas against theirs.

In 2011, we passed a shell recovery fee. The shell recovery fee is the appropriate fee to fund and rebuild public reefs. This fee is paid by everyone harvesting public reefs, which is appropriate. If you take from a public reef, you should also put back or at least pay your way. But the shell recovery fee is also paid by private leaseholders. It's harvesting oysters that we grow ourselves. This is a reef we've built. We replant every year. This is a resource that we're growing ourself. It's not a public resource.

I've heard that spat is a public resource. Well, our leases provide spat for the rest of the bay, too, just -- they swim around. The oysters we harvest would not be there if we didn't build the reefs and maintain them in the manner that we do. Someone has to be there to put those oysters back and build those reefs. Lance said this morning the cultch plant requirement on the leaseholders is because the leaseholder has an advantage over public reef fishermen. This is exactly why I have pushed for more private leases on the Texas coast for everyone, for all fishermen to be able to grow their own oysters.

Our leases expire February 2017. Time is of the essence I would ask the Commission to encourage the staff to meet with the leaseholders this evening to work on an agreed proposal that will not put us out of business in Texas and have to move our sustainable cultivating practices to Louisiana. Our rate is going from $6 an acre to $4,100 an acre. This morning it was said it was from $3,800 an acre to 4,100. That extra money above the $6 is what we're planting in cultch.

The Department is not considering all the ecosystem services that are provided by oysters. Oysters provide over 2,500 pounds of fish per acre of reef. They filter over 77,000 gallons of water per acre. If you want to find an oyster reef, one of my reefs, you go look for the fishermen, the recreational fishermen. They always say go -- you want to find the fish? Go look for the fishermen. Well, you find the fishermen on my reef. Thank you.


Evelyn Merz, you were the last ticket. So you're the last speaker.

MS. EVELYN MERZ: Thank you. My name is Evelyn Merz. I'm here representing the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. I have a few comments to make. I do appreciate being here. In the -- with the forthcoming 85th Legislative Session upon us, we'd like to urge Texas Parks and Wildlife to include appropriate funding either in the base and/or exceptional items request for some very important programs.

One of them, the initiation of a control program for terrestrial invasive species at its state parks and wildlife management areas, while expanding the aquatic invasive species control program that was really wonderfully rejuvenated in the 84th Legislative Session. That was a great accomplishment; but there is also truly a need for terrestrial control, as well.

We also urge you to expand the boundaries of existing state parks through fee acquisition via the establishment of a minimal acquisition budget, which is sorely needed. Parks and Wildlife has not had an acquisition budget through appropriation from the Texas -- through the Texas Legislature in many moons now unfortunately. These requests for acquisition funding have been rejected in the past, but a minimal amount could surely be justified on the basis of missed opportunities.

We would also suggest that to expand the natural resource assets of state parks and wildlife management areas through the purchase of conservation easements when appropriate. Also, we'd like to urge to expand the state park development program so that state parks that have never opened to the public, can at last be appreciated. We know that you've done wonderful work on the Palo Pinto State Park, which is certainly going ahead gangbusters; but Davis Hill, for example, has not been open to the public in more than 30 years and that's a terrible shame. That's northeast of Houston. It's a beautiful state park, over 1,700 acres that's never been open to the public in over 30 years.

We'd also recommend improving revenue for the Wildlife Diversity Program through perhaps a provision in the Transportation Code that allows a 50-cent credit to the county assessor/collector for each specialty license plate issued. Some initial work has been done on this, but some more work could be done and this would make it much easier to purchase specialty license plates, which would benefit wildlife diversity and the other programs of the state parks.

Okay. We'd also advise educating the public on the benefits of the sporting goods sales tax. There were two bills that came to the Legislature last session, but fortunately did not go to the Governor and they would have actually cut the amount of sporting goods sales tax going to Texas Parks and Wildlife. And this was even supported by people who support state parks. So I think a little proactive work on the part of Parks and Wildlife would be great on this issue.

My final note is about advocacy on meaningful alternatives for the Gulf with respect to the Texas coastal protection and restoration study that is being undertaken by the Corps of Engineers, the General Land Office, and others. It's particularly concerned about the Galveston Bay and Houston Ship Channel. There are two major alternatives being discussed for armoring the coast that would have terrible impacts on natural resources. Other alternatives that would be more focused on protecting pollution coming from the coastal surge on our petrochemical industries and I think would be very important for Texas Parks and Wildlife to request that alternatives that would protect both the natural resources and the public should be considered in this study and the feasibility study and also an environmental impact statement. Thank you all very much for your time. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Well, thank you, always.

Is there anyone who we've overlooked that would like to speak?

If not, again, I want to personally thank everybody for taking their time. Your input is incredibly valuable and important and it makes a difference.

Okay. This Commission has completed its business, and I declare it adjourned at 3:56.

(Public Hearing Adjourns)



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, RPR
CSR No.: 8311
Expiration: December 31, 2016
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