Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Hide Alert Show Alert

Stay up-to-date on operations adjustments and temporary closure of TPWD offices, state parks, recreation facilities and water access points due to COVID-19. Please follow guidance from local authorities, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

 

TPW Commission

Work Session, May 24, 2017

Transcript

TPW Commission Meetings

TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION

May 24, 2017

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

AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744

COMMISSION WORK SESSION & EXECUTIVE SESSION

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning, everyone. This meeting is called to order May 24th, 2017, at 9:20 a.m.

Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has 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 as been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State, as required by Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.

And next order of business is approval of the minutes from the previous Work Session held March 22nd, 2017, which have been distributed. Motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So moved.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Latimer. Second?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Jones. All in favor?

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Work Session Item No. 1 is Update on TPWD Progress in Implementing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan, Carter Smith.

All right, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Carter Smith. Thank you for the chance to share a few words. I guess I want to spend this time really, Chairman, just giving an update on, again, just kind of the plurality of things that we're working on at the Department. It's impressive, to say the least.

As a point of departure, let me just say a few words about Internal Affairs. As y'all recall last meeting, we announced that Captain Brad Chappell will be retiring after I think it's close to 30 years of service; and so we're absolutely going to miss Brad. I think that Jon and Patty have got a big soirée planned for his departure. I understand they've rented out Memorial Stadium so that all the crooks that he caught over the years will have a seat to make sure that he retires. So join us for that in June, if you can. It will be a special send-off.

I did want to let you know that as we replace that position in Internal Affairs, Major Gray has decided that we are going to have that position located in Fort Worth and our Law Enforcement division has agreed to provide an office for our captain up there and I think that will be important and that way we can keep an eye on the Vice-Chairman.

So I beat you to the microphone. I saw it coming, Mr. Vice-Chairman.

We'll keep you -- we'll keep you posted seriously on that -- on that hire --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Just remember paybacks.

MR. SMITH: I want to brag a little bit on Todd Driscoll. I don't know if y'all have had the chance to meet Todd. He's a District biologist for us with our Inland Fisheries team and he manages our fisheries related projects down in the southeastern part of the state -- Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn and Sabine Neches estuaries, part of those rivers -- just done a fabulous job. He was honored with this very prestigious national fisheries award from B.A.S.S. and the Ken Cook Friend of B.A.S.S. Friend of Fisheries Award and couldn't have gone to really a more qualified individual. That award recognizes a fisheries biologist across the nation really for their extraordinary contributions to fishing and fisheries and fishing. And Todd has just done an exemplary job with respect to his work on studying the economic benefits of tournament-related fisheries in lakes and reservoirs across the state. Also in fish handling practices at tournaments, he's been a real pioneer in terms of helping to make sure that fish that are handled a certain way and weighed and measured and so forth like at the Toyota Bass Classic and others are done so to maximize fish survival.

He was very instrumental in leading the study, Commissioner Scott, that we did on bass down at the Lower Sabine and Neches and looking at those size limits and so very proud of Todd and just wanted to publically recognize him. He's not with us today, but just wanted to share a few words of congratulations to him for this prestigious national award.

I also want to compliment our Law Enforcement team on the culmination of what we believe to have been the largest commercial prosecution on a commercial fisheries case that we've ever seen. This was a very interesting case. It involved a very prominent Houston restaurateur that was illegally contracting with fishermen to catch and purchase fish that were then sold off the menu in that individual's restaurants. Our game wardens had an operation going on looking at commercial fishermen that they thought were selling fish illegally to that restaurant. Interestingly concurrently, the Coast Guard and our game wardens caught a boat coming in there at the jetties there in Freeport with 682 Red snapper aboard; and as it turned out, those three fishermen were involved in the illegal sale of fish from mackerel to shark to grouper to trout to redfish to snapper to this restaurant or these restaurants in Houston that, again, were selling them off the menu.

We were able to prove up to upwards of 28,000 pounds of illegally caught fish that were being sold. You can see here the citations that have been brought against individuals involved: 150 state violations or charges against the restaurant owner and two affiliated companies; two federal felony charges against two of the fishermen for making false statements to law enforcement officers; and then conviction on 54 state violations for one of the fishermen for having fish over the limit. So very, very proud of this operation by our Law Enforcement team and really did a magnificent job and we want to highlight instances like this in which there is really an egregious, egregious violation of the public trust and the protection of our resources. Vice-Chairman.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: The question is have -- can we bring a restitution claim against the conspirators for the value of 14 tons of State fish that they took for civil restitution for the value of the fish?

MR. SMITH: Yeah, I think the answer to that is no; and there is a reason for that. Maybe we come back and address that with you and it has to do with the joint State/Federal investigation -- Craig, do you want -- and prosecution. So maybe we could come back and talk about that.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I would like to explore pursing anything we could do to get restitution for the value of the State property that these people stole.

MR. SMITH: Understood, understood. Serious offenses, yeah.

COMMISSIONER JONES: What was the restaurant?

MR. SMITH: The restaurant was Ruggles.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Wow.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Ruggles Black.

MR. SMITH: Ruggles Black.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: You're home spot, Reed.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: No answer.

MR. SMITH: Okay. Moving on to Lufkin.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: What do you mean by "off the menu"?

MR. SMITH: Meaning that as we understood it, those -- that fish was sold to folks that was not listed on the menu, per se; and so it was something that if you knew was there, you could order that separate and apart from what was listed on the menu.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So those people were -- customers were in on the --

MR. SMITH: You know, I think that's -- we're starting to get to places that I'm not sure that we can -- we could possibly prove, you know, yeah.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I'm not saying prove it. That's interesting to know.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, that they -- and that's not uncommon for restaurants to have certain dishes that are not listed on the menu that frequent visitors know about.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Not to this extent.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. Well, this is a highly unusual one obviously and a very egregious one.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I have another question.

MR. SMITH: Yep.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Do you know the owner of this Ruggles Black restaurant?

MR. SMITH: Do I know him personally?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: No. Do you know the name? I just want the name out in the public if it's --

MR. SMITH: I do know the --

CAPTAIN HUNTER: We can look it up. We do know the --

MR. SMITH: I'm sorry. It's -- I'm going to have to get that to you. Yep.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: It's well-known.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: I think it was in -- there was an article in the San Antonio paper. So I think --

MR. SMITH: It's been published in a number of stories about this incident.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I would still like it on the record here.

MR. SMITH: Understood. Okay. We'll come back and report on that. Anymore questions on that?

Okay. I do want to let y'all know and I, Chairman, want to thank the Vice-Chairman for this suggestion about looking at moving the Commission meeting in November over to Lufkin. And so this is an opportunity for the Commission to get out in another part of the state -- particularly, East Texas -- a place that I know would very much welcome having a Commission meeting and so we've scheduled that for Lufkin, November 1st and 2nd. We've got a lot of activities planned, including on the Wednesday after the Commission Work Session of having kind of a regional open town hall meeting where individuals can come and speak to the Commission about any item of interest to them that relates to Commission activities. And so that will give y'all a great chance to hear from folks in East Texas about, you know, fisheries and wildlife and hunting and fishing and state parks and land and other related topics that will be of interest to them. A lot of excitement there by Senator Nichols and Representative Ashby, who represent Lufkin, about the Commission coming to East Texas and we'll look forward to also having a reception in which we can invite, you know, local and community leaders to be able to join the Commission so y'all have a chance to meet them; but folks are very excited about y'all coming over to East Texas. So Vice-Chairman and Commissioner Morian worked on that, in particular; and so I want to acknowledge them for that. I think it's a great idea. Thank y'all.

Just wanted to say a few words about another project our Inland Fisheries team has been working on really for the last 25 years and they've just wrapped up this kind of first-quarter century of management on Guadalupe bass in the state. Y'all know that's our State fish found in those spring-fed Hill Country rivers. Had been very concerned about, you know, either the extirpation of Guadalupe bass in certain streams because of habitat loss and deterioration or just as likely, hybridization with Smallmouth bass in those streams. So from the Pedernales and the Blanco and the James and Llano Rivers and other related streams and tributaries to those waterways.

Our Inland Fisheries biologists have done a tremendous job over the last 25 years of going back in and doing a lot of research on the genetics of Guadalupe bass, growing out pure strain Guadalupe bass seedlings and restocking them in Hill Country streams and rivers, engaging private landowners on a watershed basis to look at habitat restoration along those stream corridors, and the results are simply extraordinary and there have been some interesting economic studies that our Inland Fisheries team have also done to just look at the contributions of that fishery to small communities in the Hill Country.

So excited to wrap that up. They are in the throes of completing what the next ten years of Guadalupe bass management looks like in Hill Country. So stay tuned for that. I think we're going to see a lot of very positive results. So congratulations, Craig and Tim and all the others that have been working on this. Good -- good --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That was a nice deal on the Sunday morning show two Sundays ago.

MR. SMITH: Two Sundays ago on the Guadalupe bass? Yep, yep.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It was a good show.

MR. SMITH: Yep, yep.

If I could, Mr. Chairman, I'll come back to the Vice-Chairman's question about the owner of Ruggles Black that was charged in the matter that we discussed previously. His name is Bruce Molzan .

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Sorry?

MR. SMITH: His name is Bruce Molzan. And I may not be pronouncing that correctly, but Bruce Molzan.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Want to talk about a really wonderful series of projects that our Coastal Fisheries and specifically, our Artificial Reef team led by Dale Shively has been involved in with respect to artificial reef enhancement in Gulf waters. Y'all know the Gulf of Mexico is a relatively featureless -- has a relatively featureless bottom and so adding any kind of structure really helps with creating various food webs and food chains and opportunities for habitat enhancement in the Gulf. Some of you are familiar with our very successful Rigs to Reef related program that we've implemented in partnership with the oil and gas community.

These projects are really celebrating the placement of these artificial pyramid-style reefs in a series of complexes of Port O'Connor. And one of those reefs, the "Keeping it Wild Reef," which was a great partnership between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and the Coastal Conservation Association and the Department, resulted in the placement of 500 of these artificial reefs over a 61-acre reef complex off Port O'Connor. The Parks and Wildlife Foundation then partnered with Shell Oil to do another 200 artificial reefs also in that vicinity. So, again, great opportunity to create habitat for species all up and down the food web and food chain and creating great fishing and diving opportunities off the coast. So kudos to our Artificial Reef Program, the Parks and Wildlife Foundation, CCA, and Shell for their support of this really, really good stuff. Positively making a difference for anglers and divers and coastal communities. So wanted to share that with y'all.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great.

COMMISSIONER JONES: What is that material? What is --

MR. SMITH: That's a limestone-based material. Is it a concrete material? Limestone and concrete? Yeah. Kind of an aggregation there, yep.

Any other questions on any of that, Mr. Chairman or Commissioners? Okay.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Carter. Is that it? Okay. I think you're up for No. 2, Legislative Update, Permission to Publish Rules Needed to Implement Legislation Passed During the 85th Texas Legislature.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. Again, for the record, my name is Carter Smith. I want to provide an update on kind of where we stand legislatively with respect to our various fiscal and statutory related priorities. So this is really going to be a follow-up presentation to what we talked about in March and kind of let you know where we stand as we head into what we hope is the final days of this session.

Let me start off with what we have learned from the published decisions of the Budget Conference Committee and just as kind of prefatory remark before that, I mean let me say or state the obvious. I mean, we knew this was going to be a very fiscally constrained session going into it and that opportunities for growth in many places was going to be an uphill challenge at best. And so I think all of us had very clear-eyed reality on that front.

The Conference Committee has published their decision document, and this is what we know about it to date. This is a list of our kind of eight priority exceptional items that we had asked for above and beyond the base budget. And as we look at these things, you can quickly ascertain, you know, of our priorities, what the Legislature felt was really a priority. And so as you can see here on the left column, the list of items that we asked for, what was suggested or what was recommended in the House version of the budget; what was then recommended in the Senate version of the budget; and then what the Conference Committee recommendations were. And one of the things that we ascertained is that in the Conference deliberations, they clearly didn't get outside the bounds much -- if at all -- of what either the House or Senate had recommended. So, again, opportunity for flexibility there was very constrained. But clearly what they told us, priorities for funding from the Legislature's perspective were border security funding; also emergency, one-time weather-related repairs; and then this mandatory transition to the centralized accounting and payroll system. All three of those things they funded essentially in full.

Let me start with the border security funding, that $11 million in funding. That will come directly to the Department and our Law Enforcement Division. Y'all will recall in past sessions, funding that we've had to conduct border enforcement has gone through the Department of Public Safety and then we've had to go through an interagency agreement to be able to secure those funds. So these dollars will come directly to the Department, which is I think a very positive step forward. It will also allow us to replace certain boats and trucks that have been damaged in the context of conducting these border operations. We haven't had funding to replace capital equipment. So that will be a help in this regard. It will also allow us to replace a 65-foot Gulf patrol vessel that we have in Brownsville that's upwards of 35 years old that our Law Enforcement team uses for patrolling there along the Gulf Intercoastal waterway, the lower bays; but also out to the Gulf 200 miles. So having a boat that is safe and functional and new to be able to deal with a wide range of illegal activities that occur in that part of the state is important from commercial fishing related things to human and drug smuggling. So that border security funding will certainly help us in that regard.

The 800,000, as I mentioned, you know, this helps in terms of it's a mandate that we transition to this centralized accounting and payroll and personnel system and so having some funding to facilitate that is very helpful. The other request that they elected to fund in full was the $49.2 million for one-time weather-related repairs; and obviously, we've talked a lot about the need for capital construction and repairs across the entirety of our system. From a big picture perspective -- and I'll come back to the weather-related repairs in just a minute -- the funding that we are getting here, plus the bit of deferred maintenance funding that we have in that first line item, plus some other federal and mitigation dollars, certainly provides a sizable capital construction project for the -- or sizable capital construction funding for the Department, which is helpful. The weather-related repairs, this will go to help fund, you know, projects at places like Cedar Hill and Lake Ray Roberts and Bastrop and Lake Whitney and so forth. So that will help with addressing, again, damages from those floods in 2016.

The deferred maintenance item, which is -- was our first exceptional item, certainly this body knows that, you know, we have, you know, well over three-quarters of a billion dollars in deferred maintenance across the system and so we have very aging and antiquated and in many cases, failing infrastructure in places. And so we spent a lot of time working with the Legislature on what we hoped would be basically a ten-year funding plan to address priority needs, particularly for our state park system, getting ready for the centennial of the system in 2023.

The Conference Committee is recommending $17 million over the biennium. Roughly half of that will go towards important Fund 9 projects, and that will allow us to do some new things. It will allow us to work on some hatchery-related projects there at Electra at Dundee and also at Possum Kingdom. It will also allow us to fund some important wildlife-related projects on WMAs. So those will be new projects that will help move things forward.

The roughly 8.8 million that is left for state park funding, in our estimation really will not fund anything new; and so I want to elaborate a little bit on that. Right now, we have roughly 65, $70 million or so of capital construction projects for state parks that are under contract. Those construction projects are obviously going to span years of the biennia. So they will -- the construction will continue on into the next biennium. And so we're going to have to have some measure of funding to obviously pay for our staff time in overseeing and managing the contracts; doing the inspection; making sure those projects are delivered, you know, on time, on budget, in accordance with those contracts. We're going to have to pay for staff time with that.

We're also going to have to have some of that funding set aside for the inevitable scope changes that happen when we get in these projects around the state. No doubt that, in some cases, there may be cost overruns that we're going to have to deal with. We may have contract -- contractor failures. And certainly, our experience tells us without a doubt that we will have some semblance of catastrophic events that we will have to deal with across the state for which that funding will be really the only reservoir we have to deal with if we've got flooding or fires or tornadoes or hurricanes. So that $8 million for state parks is going to have to try to cover all of that. So as you can see, it's not going to go very far.

So what does that mean in terms of kind of the ten-year plan that we have been working on? So what's not going to happen? And so I want to make sure that the Commission is clear about that.

In the short-term, projects that we had hoped to secure funding for in the next biennium and that we had planned for through conducting various engineering and planning and design-related studies that we will not be going forward with will include, you know, critical utility projects -- water, wastewater-related projects, facilities, or infrastructure that we have to replace or repair at places like Caddo Lake or Garner State Park and Pedernales Falls and Colorado Bend and Goliad State Park and Fort Richardson and other sites across the state. So we'll have water and wastewater projects that will have to be deferred, obviously, until hopefully funding can come sometime in the future.

We also will not be going forward with planned reconstruction of, you know, these various undersized visitor center facilities that we have at many of our parks across the system. And so we had planned for replacing centers at places like Tyler State Park and Inks Lake and also do planning to replace the Palo Duro Canyon Visitor Center, which is woefully undersized for the visitation that occurs there. So those projects are not going to be going forward.

Also, I want to be clear that funding that we had hoped for for the development of new parks to help keep up with this burgeoning demand on state parks -- for instance, the development of the new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park or the development of the Dan A. Hughes Unit of the Devils River State Natural Area or the planning and design, which is a necessary predecessor to ultimate development of places like the Kronkosky State Natural Area outside San Antonio or the Powderhorn site there on the coast, that planning will not occur. So short term, those are kind of the immediate ramifications of these funding decisions; and we're going to have to plan accordingly and focus our infrastructure investments, obviously, and team on these critically important Fund 9 projects, which we need, these weather-related emergency repairs, and also, again, trying to manage for the inevitable scope change and catastrophic events and emergency things that happen. And, again, remember that the Department manages the second-most number of facilities in the State behind the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. So it's a very large, diverse, and eclectic portfolio of infrastructure that we have responsibility for stewarding; and, obviously, y'all know there are a lot of issues there.

Those are the short-term impacts. Longer-term, you know, obviously what we were looking for was, you know, kind of a more predictable and sustained plan that would help us prepare for the centennial in 2023. And so we're now going to have to look at pushing those projects back with respect to what we might be able to accomplish in anticipation of that, given the typical four- to five-year life span of any capital project that the Department has.

So ramifications of this are important. We still have a very large capital repair program that will help us address needs. It's just going to look different than what we had planned and kind of contemplated for. So I wanted to make sure the Commission understood that.

The next item that -- next two items that I want to talk about have to do with operational support for both our Law Enforcement teams and our State Park teams and so let's start with this second item, our Law Enforcement Operations and Equipment. We had asked for 31 and a half million dollars over the biennium. The Conference Committee is recommending a million dollars to help go to those needs and that was essentially, you know, a recognition on our part and, of course, we've asked for this in multiple sessions that the fuel and maintenance and operations and travel budgets that we have for our field game wardens who have large areas of responsibilities, are responsible for not just a car on a highway, but for a truck, a boat, a four-wheeler, and a trailer, that the operational budgets that we have for those game wardens are woefully inadequate to perform the kind of law enforcement and public safety and emergency response related needs that we have.

Also, we've talked to the Commission a lot about, we have major issues with the age of our boat fleet; and, in fact, have reduced that boat fleet for our Law Enforcement team about 40 percent and taking it, you know, from roughly almost 600 boats down to, you know, a little under 400. And so the average boat is upwards of 19 years of age and, you know, the motors are -- have enough hours on them where it's, you know, equivalent to, you know, 100 to 150,000, 200,000 miles on a car. So this is becoming a real public safety and officer safety issue as we've acknowledge. So funding to address those needs are critical. The million dollars that we've got, certainly we'll use that to replace some of our most critical boats in the inland waterways across the state; but I've asked Craig and his team to look at other ways within our existing funds that we can re-prioritize and reallocate funds and decisions and priorities so that we can try to address in some small part these operational funding deficiencies that we have in Law Enforcement and so we'll come back and share that, Chairman and Vice-Chairman and other members of the Commission, once we have that plan developed; but it's needed. You know, clearly we have asked for this funding. We're now going to have to just look internally and see what we can do.

The next item is state park operations. We had asked for 23.9 million over the biennium to help, again, address this explosive growth inside state parks. No additional funding was recommended for that, and that funding was important to us for a lot of reasons. You know, if we look at park visitation going back from 2011 to the present, you know, please understand that across the same suite of parks, we now have a million more visitors a year coming to those parks. Each one of those visitors, you know, has an incremental cost associated with that in terms of consumables, utility, trash, minor repair, public safety, credit card processing fees, and so forth. And so those million visitors, we can't simply absorb within existing operational budgets. We're long past the economies of scale of being able to accommodate that; and clearly, what we want to do within the state park system is provide an affordable and safe and quality experience for families that come to visit our parks. That's what we aspire to: Safe, affordable, and a quality and memorable experience. And so we've got to have the resources to be able to do that.

You're also aware of the fact that we're now having to impose visitor capacity limits on certain parks because they're simply getting loved to death by the number of visitors that are coming to parks and so that is in place at places like Balmorhea and Garner State Park and Pedernales Falls and I think for the first time, Brent, we've had to close Lake Livingston in East Texas because of the number of visitors that were coming. So the demand is high. We're on track for a third straight record year in park-related visitation. So important issues for us.

Meanwhile -- and, you know, this is, you know, inarguably good news -- our State Park team is generating about, you know, $12 million a year in revenue above and beyond what we were generating in 2011 as a function of that visitation. In the past, we've had this Rider 27 that some of y'all will remember -- often known as the Entrepreneur Rider -- that as our State Park earned revenue has exceeded the Comptroller's biannual revenue estimate, we've been able to use that additional revenue to go back in to address critical needs in the parks and we don't have that anymore and actually haven't for some time. That would certainly be a help with respect to addressing this issue.

We're also in a state in which we're essentially having to budget 2 to $3 million of lapsed salaries, essentially assuming that we're going to have attrition of staff to be able to generate funds to cover the operating costs of the, again, 95 state parks and all the supporting programs that we need from public safety and law enforcement and interpretation and natural resource and cultural resource protection, etcetera. So we have some real challenges going ahead; and I want to be very explicit about that in terms of how we adequately fund our state park system in light of these decisions to make sure that we are able to provide, again, a safe and affordable and a quality experience for visitors to the state park system in light of this explosive growth.

And so I have asked Brent and his team to go through a similar exercise in which we look at what are our options for trying to deal with this, given the funding realities that we are now facing and need to confront head on. So we'll look forward to coming back and talking to the Commission about what those options will be.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Carter --

MR. SMITH: Go ahead, Commissioner. Yeah.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- couple of questions. I know you've got some other points to cover; but so the law enforcement operations and equipment, remind me why those items that -- I know those were not the only items that are out there; but the items that you mentioned, why those aren't included in regular budget items that you would have to purchase for law enforcement -- boats, increased stress on trucks and pickups and whatnot and why that's an exceptional item as opposed to a regular --

MR. SMITH: Sure.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- normal item that you would have to budget for --

MR. SMITH: You bet.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- in any respect and is any part of that covered by the border security funding or is that border security funding something sort of special just for what we need at the border?

MR. SMITH: Yeah. So let me answer the last question first. That border security funding is intended by the Legislature to fund border enforcement related activities. So there's certain capital items that we will have to use that funding for -- replacement of boats and trucks that have been damaged in past operations; the purchase of the 65-foot boat that we talked about; the purchase of radios, which are critical for interoperability and safety of our officers to be able to communicate with other law enforcement agents and first responders down there. The additional funding has to be used for operations of our law enforcement related to border enforcement related activities. So there has to be a nexus; and so within that construct, Craig and his team have some flexibility as long as it's within that construct.

With respect to your first question, we do have funding for operations and capital equipment inside our Law Enforcement budget. The reason we asked for additional funding was because the funding that we have now, we don't believe to be sufficient to cover the very real costs of the things that our Law Enforcement officers do each and every day across the state; and that was certainly driven home in the last two years with respect to all of the emergency response and disaster relief and providing literally dozens of game wardens to provide emergency response and rescue in communities from Garland to Deweyville to Fort Bend, County, to Blanco to Austin to you name it. And so as those demands on our Law Enforcement team have grown, the kind of budgets that we're able to provide with respect to an average fuel budget, an average travel budget, an average maintenance budget, the capital equipment budget that we have which we've been using to replace trucks because that's been our priority, we now know that is not sufficient to cover the real costs that we have to do the public safety and enforcement work that our game wardens do.

We've asked for funding to address this the last two sessions and, obviously, you know, we've gotten the border security funding and so the Legislature has said that is a priority for the Department to do that. I have no doubt that the Legislature heard us loudly and clearly about that need and that came from a lot of different places, including Commissioners around this table. You know, the million dollars in extra funding that is provided to that, again, will replace -- you know, Craig, maybe 15, 16 --

CAPTAIN HUNTER: Eighteen.

MR. SMITH: -- 18 boats or so of, you know, our highest priority ones; but really what we were hoping was to replace about a third of the fleet, again, given the age and the amount of use, the hours on the motors, etcetera. But long answer to your question, we do have funds in our base budget; but they're simply not sufficient. That's why we asked for additional funding. In light of these decisions, we now need to go back and look internally and see what we might be able to do to address these issues in part.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And our base funding was cut significantly. It was -- it would had to come in the form -- we are compelled to do it in the form of an exceptional item request.

MR. SMITH: Yes. I mean, I -- like all other agencies, we were asked to reduce our base budget by 4 percent and so, you know, we made those reductions; but to be fair, Law Enforcement was not part of those diminutions. Other parts of the Agency were. But what it did do, Chairman, is it reduced flexibility for funding that might have been able to be used to help address some of those needs.

Mike, is that a fair representation of that?

MR. JENSEN: Yes.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Maybe next time, it might be -- I don't know if it does any good because I think you're right. I think there were some -- there may have been some issues where people were going to cut no matter what. But if a lot of this law enforcement operations and equipment comes as a result of the increased pressure from emergency response services, maybe we call it that. Give it a different name so that they know specifically what they're cutting because some people may view this and go, "Well, look, we -- you know, we didn't reduce the Law Enforcement budget on the regular budget. So we're going to cut you on the exceptional items." But maybe if it's characterized emergency response law enforcement operations and equipment.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. No. It's a great point, Commissioner; and we definitely can look at that. I mean, what I'll tell you is we talked ad nauseam about emergency response and disaster relief in hearings and meetings all throughout the session. I don't disagree that sometimes the caption can make a difference, and we definitely can think about that next time in terms of how that's labeled. I also just want to clarify these aren't cuts. They're simply decisions by the Legislature to not be able to fund those additional items.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Right.

MR. SMITH: And, again, to be fair, we knew this was going to be a very fiscally constrained session. I mean, we were told that over and over and over again and the leadership was very clear about priorities related to border security and if they were going to expend funds from the ESF or Rainy Day Fund, it was going to be on one-time, emergency related items. You know, we felt like our -- both our Law Enforcement and State Park related needs fell within those categories, and to some extent they did. There are other areas here that we wish could have been addressed differently.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, are there any other questions about that or do you want me to --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Scott.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I just have one question. Carter, back under the park stuff and all that where we're not going to have the money to do stuff, do we have any issues develop -- like, Powderhorn or anything -- where we got a lot of money from a lot of places, do we have any requirements to accomplish things on a certain schedule that this is going to give us some heartburn over?

MR. SMITH: Well, it's a great question. You know, so let's think about the four new parks that the Commission has approved really have all come about as a function of private philanthropy. And so the Palo Pinto Mountains State Park west of Fort Worth was a function of the community of Fort Worth investing in that new park. The Dan A. Hughes Unit on the Devils River was a function of a huge philanthropic effort led by then Commissioner Hughes and other philanthropists to support that. The Kronkosky State Natural Area west of San Antonio was a bequest of Mr. and Ms. Kronkosky their foundation, which are, you know, huge philanthropists in San Antonio. And Powderhorn, too, came about as a function of a major public/private partnership that relied largely on fundraising from the Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the National and Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and contributions from many donors and NGOs to make happen.

With respect to expectations about development, yes, there are very hopeful expectations by community leaders in all of those places that those parks will be brought online to address very real needs and, of course, they see those as part of their regional economic development plans, quality of life, and bringing tourists from out of the county to those areas. No doubt the communities at Palo Pinto Mountains State Park will be very disappointed to see a deferral of the development of that park, and we'll certainly hear similar things from other communities. I say Palo Pinto Mountain is the one that is at the top of the list because it was our first one for development, and there's been high hopes for that very special place.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And Vice-Chairman Duggins has --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: On the Law Enforcement number, the 31.5 million, wasn't there an expectation that the funds were available because of the existence of the unclaimed motor fuel --

MR. SMITH: Refund of motorboat fuel tax? You know, certainly, you know, the -- again, the Legislature makes their decisions and figures out what an appropriate method of finance is to fund their priorities. There is, as I understand it -- and Mike can weigh in -- roughly 15 and a half million dollars of unclaimed refunds of motorboat fuel tax that if appropriated, have to be appropriated for use by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. And so it was our hope that that would be a potential viable revenue stream, if appropriated, that could go to address that priority.

Mike, is that number -- 15 and a half million -- is that --

MR. JENSEN: That's correct.

MR. SMITH: -- roughly accurate?

MR. JENSEN: We have 23.9 in our base side of it.

MR. SMITH: So Mr. Jensen says we have 23.9 million of unclaimed refund of motorboat fuel tax in our base right now, but there's an additional 15 and a half million over the biennium that we hoped might be appropriated to help address this priority and we saw that as a logical nexus because it's boat fuel and the work that our Law Enforcement officers do on the public waterways.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But the point is, is it's 15 plus million dollars that can only be appropriated to Parks and Wildlife.

MR. SMITH: If appropriated.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And so the Legislature chose to use that to balance the budget?

MR. JENSEN: They chose not to appropriate it.

MR. SMITH: They chose not to appropriate it.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So what happens to those funds?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: They just --

MR. SMITH: Those funds are there, again, to use with the overall accounting of the State budget.

COMMISSIONER JONES: It's kind of like Social Security.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Is the public aware of this?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Now they are. Same thing as Social Security.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Okay.

COMMISSIONER JONES: If they paid it, it would increase -- it would decrease the amount of funds available for the State to use for other things. So I know how that goes. That's what that means.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Uh-huh.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Thank you for the clarification. That was what I thought.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That gets back to what Ralph said. So, okay, fiscal bills. Let's move on.

MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, moving on, let me share a few words about where we stand with various statutory related measures and y'all have heard about all of these pieces of legislation. A couple of priority fiscal bills that we've talked a lot about -- and let me just go through them by bill number -- HB 78, which really sought to help remedy the technical problem that would fix the true dedication of the sporting good sales tax to fund state and local parks and historic sites. That bill received a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee, but did not pass out of committee. So we are left without the dedication of the sporting good sales tax that obviously we had hoped had been accomplished last session.

HB 448, which has to do with the compulsory 15 percent transfer of boat registration and titling fees from Fund 9 to Fund 64, that bill has passed both the House and Senate and is on the way to the Governor. That simply makes that permissive. So the Department can use up to that amount to fund needs in Fund 9 or Fund 64. So that's very helpful.

HB 550 is a very important bill to this Department. We receive $3.8 million a year from the Coast Guard for recreational boating safety. This essentially pays for the work of your game wardens on State waterways to do search and rescue, boat accident investigations, BWI, drownings, body recovery, any kind of enforcement on public waterways. We've had this funding since 1971. One of the requirements that comes with that is that State statute must comport with Coast Guard laws with respect to boater safety. We have been informed we're out of compliance with that with respect to a requirement that paddle craft -- which, obviously, are just growing exponentially on public waterways -- that paddle craft be equipped with some kind of sound-producing device on those vessels. There's a bill that's been proposed to address that that's garnered a lot of attention, to say the least. It's passed the House and passed the Senate last night and we await its future.

What the Coast Guard has done for states that are found not to be in compliance with the Federal regulations is they have taken those funds away from the states and put those in abeyance for the state to remedy the problem. I mean, so that's happened in Indiana and Puerto Rico recently; and so, obviously, we want to make sure that doesn't happen because that's $3.8 million in our operating budget for Law Enforcement right now. So that would be a big loss; and, obviously, we would not want to see that risked.

HB 3537 by Chairman Geren is also on its way to the Governor's Office. That has to do with any of our Fund 9 dollars that are placed in the State's Deferred Maintenance Account. It just stipulates that they have to be used for fish and wildlife related purposes and so that helps also ensure that we're in compliance with federal regulations.

HB 3781 by Phelan in the House and Hinojosa in the Senate had to do with this bigger Fund 9 strategy that we talked to with the Commission about being able to access part of the corpus and the Lifetime License Endowment Fund to be able to fund critical priorities for the Department, including things such as boats for our Law Enforcement officers. It's passed the House. It's slated for a vote on the Senate floor today; and so we're hopeful that that bill will pass, provide some more flexibility. You know, if there was a contingency rider that went with that, that allowed us to access funds this session, that would be enormously beneficial.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And what's the level of that corpus or that principal?

MR. SMITH: That -- the -- that endowment is pushing $28 million now. This bill would set a floor on that endowment of not being -- allowing it to be drawn down below 20 million. Right now, that is managed basically for cash and cash equivalence. That's the investment strategy for it by the State, and we can only expend the interest off that for a very narrow range of activities. And our position is that with the fact that it's growing at about a million to a million 200,000 a year clip, that expanding the use of those funds for purposes that relate to the management of fisheries and wildlife and hunting and fishing, fisheries work, wildlife work, law enforcement work, would be very consistent with the expectation of hunters and anglers that buy those lifetime licenses and that's the genesis for the bill.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.

MR. SMITH: Chairman, moving on to kind of priority natural resource related bills that originated in the House, we're going to have a significant discussion about oyster related management a little later on today. HB 51 also addresses that in no small part. That bill has passed the House and it was amended in the Senate. If signed into law, that does a couple of things. One, it creates an oyster license buyback program, like our very successful bay shrimp and bait shrimp license buyback related program. It also requires commercial oyster boats to be equipped with a vessel monitoring system so that they can monitor and we can monitor that to make sure that fishermen are not going into restricted waters where there's a public health hazard with harvesting oysters in those areas. The bill also provides for enhanced penalties for commercial fishermen and dealers that repeatedly or egregiously violate laws relating to the protection of undersized oysters. That's the recruitment, that's the future of the fishery; and it also provides a requirement where dealers have to put back into the bay 30 percent of the cultch that is -- comes to them as a function of the oysters that are harvested. So getting material back in the bays to grow more oyster reefs is absolutely critical given the state of the oyster fishery. So HB 51 would go a long way.

HB 1724 is on its way to the Governor. It creates a consolidated commercial license buyback account that we can use to, again, buy back a wide variety of licenses.

HB 1891, this would -- and it's passed both the House and the Senate with an amendment. It would allow certain members of Kickapoo Tribe of Texas -- of which, I understand, there are roughly 500 to 600 -- it would allow certain members that were registered with the Department prior to September 1st, that upon a 24-hour notice to a State game warden, would allow them to harvest an antlerless deer in, I believe, three counties in Southwest Texas -- Maverick, Kinney, and Uvalde?

MR. WOLF: Maverick and Kinney are the only ones.

MR. SMITH: Maverick and Kinney Counties only on lands that were owned or owned and managed by the Kickapoo Tribes. The Kickapoos utilize the harvest of antlerless deer for religious and ritual and ceremonial rites, when babies are born, when child are named, when weddings are performed, at funeral ceremonies, and a wide variety of other cultural related things associated with the tribe and so this would give them the ability to harvest antlerless deer year-round under these parameters; but also consistent with county bag limits within those two areas. So that's what that bill would do if passed.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Morian.

MR. SMITH: I'm sorry, Commissioner.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I've got a question. That's not reservation land. That's privately owned by the Kickapoo Tribe?

MR. SMITH: It could be reservation land or other land that was acquired our leased by the tribe. So it would be limited to those parameters.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Because their reservation is out in El Paso?

MR. SMITH: Eagle Pass.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Eagle Pass.

MR. SMITH: Uh-huh. And then they've got one in Mexico.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Okay. Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Yep. So it's that area, again, around Kinney and Maverick County. It's limited to those two counties.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Okay, thank you.

MR. SMITH: You bet.

Natural resource related bills that originated in the Senate, our freshwater fish stamp bill is going to the Governor. This is really a very positive thing. It would allow us to be able to expend resources from that stamp on other capital and habitat related activities. So Inland Fisheries team is very pleased about that.

SB 720 by Chairman Perry or what's known as the Carcass Bill, this would allow deer that were harvested to be reduced beyond quarters for transport -- Clayton, across state lines or within the state as well?

MR. WOLF: Within the state as well.

MR. SMITH: Within the state as well and this gets at issues, for instance, like hunters from out of state that aren't allowed to bring carcasses or certain kinds of body parts across state lines because of concerns of bringing deer from a CWD state into their state. We've heard, you know, a lot of issues, for instance, from Louisiana hunters now that have this regulation if they come into Texas now. We have a similar requirement in terms of carcass restrictions. So this would help relax that a bit.

Clayton, is there anything else you want to add to that? Did I misstate that in a way that needs to be corrected?

MR. WOLF: It essentially just gives the Commission the authority to adopt exceptions for quartering. So we still would have to go through --

MR. SMITH: The rulemaking process, yeah. Did y'all hear that? Yeah.

SB 722 by Chairman Perry, this was our Managed Lands Deer Permit related bill. This was, you know, brought forward and strongly supported by the private landowner community that felt like given all the services that Parks and Wildlife biologists were providing to landowners in exchange for the Managed Lands Deer Permit, that some kind of a reasonable fee is set by the Commission that could then be utilized to hire more biologists to address real capacity deficiencies that we have in our Wildlife Division across the state could be contemplated. So it would have given the Commission the fee-making authority over that program. That bill passed the Senate. It passed out of House Committee, and then it was held up in Conference Committee. So unfortunately, that bill will not be going through this session.

Additional bills of interest that I simply want to call your attention to, the House and Senate concurrent resolutions, the two bottom bullets. One was necessary for us to be able to move our game warden memorial statue that we currently have in Athens at our Freshwater Fisheries Center Complex to move that to the State Capitol grounds there in front of the Sam Houston Building. And so we certainly think that is going to provide a lot for public visibility to that important memorial for our fallen game wardens and so that's headed to the Governor. The last bullet from Chairman Bonnen and Chairman Hinojosa is simply a resolution from the State and Senate strongly supporting State management of the Red Snapper Fishery out to 200 miles into the Gulf of Mexico and certainly that's a subject that this body knows well.

HB 2009, which is still in the Senate going through its process, would provide a complete hunter ed exemption for active duty military members, veterans, and some peace officers. So it would completely absolve them of that hunter ed related requirement. So I want to make sure that you're aware of that.

Number of kind of topical areas of bills that did not pass that we briefed the Commission on in the past that want to make you aware of. You remember that there were a whole suite of bills that would provide free or discounted licenses or entrance-related passes to various constituencies and demographic groups. None of those bills passed this session. There were a gaggle of deer bills that were filed that addressed, you know, things -- everything from making, you know, captive deer private property to bills that would circumvent certain elements of rules that were passed by the Commission or things like the Managed Lands Deer Permit bill. None of those bills passed.

One bill that got a lot of attention and I want to make sure that the Commission is aware of the follow-up to this, had to do with the use of electronic identification devices, oftentimes called the Microchip Bill, which would essentially sanction the use of microchips as an identification tool for captive deer within pen facilities. There was a lot of discussion about that bill in both the House and the Senate and essentially where Chairman Perry left it in the Senate was direction to the Department that we need to look at our -- we need to have a comprehensive look at all of our deer identification related tools. So how deer are identified inside captive breeding facilities and how they're identified outside those facilities upon release. There's a lot of issues there, from the dangle tags to the tattoos, how we integrate electronic identification devices and technology into this, the many stakeholders involved in this, really expect changes to be made and we're going to need to be working on that during the interim. So I just wanted to make sure that you're aware of it.

There are a number of state park bills that we talked a fair amount with the Commission about. For instance, there's a proposal to transfer the Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin from the University of Texas to the Parks and Wildlife Department. That bill did not get out of the House. There were a number of bills proposed relating to Washington-on-the-Brazos and the museum there, the Star of Texas Museum, and different ownership concepts there and those bills did not go forward as well. So just wanted to report on that.

Last but not least, Mr. Chairman, you know, at this stage of the session, there are a number of pieces of the legislation that, if signed into law, will require rulemaking by the Commission and will also require that rulemaking to go into effect by the start of the next fiscal year. I've provided some example of bills that would require Commission rulemaking, assuming that they are signed into law by the Governor. And consistent with what we have done in past sessions, we're simply requesting permission to publish rules in the Texas Register as necessary to implement legislation passed by the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Carter.

Any other discussion by the Commission? Question? Commissioner Duggins.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: First, I want to thank Representatives Guillen and Bonnen for their leadership on the oyster issues and their tireless efforts to try to improve our ability to protect and manage this critical resource. So I just think we all owe a significant debt of gratitude to those two Representatives for taking that -- the challenges on and showing significant leadership in moving the ball forward.

On the Red snapper, it seems to me that with the changes that have occurred in Washington, after we get through our work with the session, that it might be good for us to think about this fall trying to make an effort with the Department of Interior -- changes at the Department of Interior to try to move forward on the regional management of that Red snapper. It's long overdue; but we all know it's been blocked by some of the employees, and so I would encourage us to kind of put that on our radar screen for later this summer after -- as I say, after we get through the legislative process. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great.

MR. SMITH: Well, I think that's very, very, very timely in that regard. A lot of discussion is going on right now in Washington. There have been hearings over the Red snapper related issue. To no surprise to anyone around this table, there was a huge amount of outrage along the Gulf coast with the establishment of a three-day recreational Red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico at the start of June. That's really brought to light the failure of the management of this fishery and that changes have to happen and so certainly discussions among the stakeholders, Congressmen, the Commerce Department, and others about this are certainly ongoing and we're involved in those and that's very much a priority for us to see if something can be done to improve the management of the fishery.

We know certainly in the western part of the Gulf and the stocks on the Texas part of the coast are at record highs and so having a three-day season for our recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico is simply beyond any kind of reasonable explanation and, obviously, we'd like to see that remedied.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: It can't be scientifically supported, that's for sure.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other discussion, legislative issues? Commissioner Scott.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: A follow up to that, it's pretty obscene what the commercial fishermen are getting and what they're selling their permits and everything for. So hopefully we can wake up Washington to how bad Texas and Louisiana is getting tattooed by the commercial fishermen that aren't even fishing anymore. They just sell the permit for 100, $150,000, and stay at home and drink beer.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Where do we sign up for that?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Bill said it. Okay.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That sums it up.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: On that note, Carter, thank you for the presentation. Appreciate it. I'll authorize staff to publish rules to implement Legislation passed during the 85th Texas Legislature in the Texas Register for the required public comment period. Thank you.

MR. SMITH: You bet. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Item 3 is a Financial Overview, Mr. Mike Jensen.

MR. JENSEN: Good morning, Commissioners, Mr. Chairman. I'm Mike Jensen, Division Director for Financial Resources Division. I think you're familiar with this information. I sent it out earlier in May, the revenue data through March. I also have -- but I'm not going to present it today -- the revenue data through April. You'll get that later this week at your offices in the mail. I think you're familiar with this format. First, we're going to go over the state park revenue, then the boat revenue, then the hunting and fishing license revenue.

And just to give you cyclicality in a full cycle, for state parks, it's backloaded. About 40 percent of the revenue comes in the first six months; 60 percent comes in the last six months. The best months are typically July, March, and June. If we look at where we're at year-to-date, month-to-month through March, pretty much almost every month has exceeded the month from the prior fiscal year with the exception of January and I can let you know that April was also a very good, good month. The first quarter was very, very good. So given that fiscal year 2016 is the benchmark year, we're actually ahead of the benchmark again. We're doing well.

If you look and compare the five years, the trend over the last four or five years is a growth of about 6.6 percent a year, which is about 2.8 million. The general trend continues, the first four months out of this fiscal year were excellent. The last three months are about even, and April is very good; but it's not presented in these slides. And if you'll remember last year, we mentioned that the spring break month of March was very good. We slightly surpassed it this year in March. It was about half a percent ahead.

So the state park revenue is 28.11 million in '17 through the end of March, compared to 25.94 compared to '16. It's up 8.4 percent or 2.17 million. Although I don't have a slide on here, we're actually up 3 million through April. So we're ahead through April quite a bit.

This table kind of gives you the variance breakdown. You can see every category we have is doing well. The entrance fees are 3.2 percent ahead; facilities about 12 percent; concessions, 7.6; park passes almost 11 percent; miscellaneous revenue about 7 and a half percent. And if you look at the visitation down there on the bottom of this slide, visitation is up; total visits about 6.3 percent and paid visits are up about 7.3 percent.

The boat revenue is also backloaded, but it's even more backloaded than the state park revenue. The first six months account for about 30 percent of the revenue. The last six months account for about 70 percent of the revenue. And '16 was the benchmark year at 22.616 million, and so we are actually tracking behind 2016. If we look at this month-to-month comparison, almost every month with the exception of November and January, we're tracking behind month-to-month 2016. November was about 10 percent ahead. January is about 4 percent ahead. The peak months are still ahead of us, April through June. So hopefully we can get some ground and get some momentum with registrations since those account for most of the revenue.

If you do a five-year comparison, this is pretty stagnant. There's not much growth year to year; but if you map it out over the past four or five years, the growth, on average, is maybe 1 percent, about 200,000 a year. Again, '16 being the banner year. You can see from the graphic that we're behind that. If you compare us though to '15, '14, and '13, we are ahead of those prior years by approximately 9 to 13 percent.

Through March, we're at 9,037,000. Last year, it was 9,405,000. The variances are on the next slide. You can see we're behind on each one of these. The most significant one would be the registrations because those account for about two-thirds of our total boat revenue. So the total revenue is down about 3.9 percent. That's about 369,000 behind our prior year. However, as I mentioned, '17 is better than '15 by 9 percent. When compared to '14, we're better ahead 13 percent. When compared to '13, again, it's another 9 percent. Because of the way the registrations come in, you get two years, we didn't believe that we were going to be able to match last year, the banner year; but we're hoping that we'll see some improvement in May and June.

License revenue is very much front-loaded as you're aware because most of our licenses -- with the exception of the year-from-purchase fishing license -- start with a new license year. So September is always the peak month. It accounts for anywhere from 42 to 44 percent of the revenue that's collected for the full license year. Combo and hunting license peak periods are September through December. Fishing is September and then the spring and summer months.

Year-to-date license year, every October and November and March tracked fairly well ahead -- 6 percent, 11 percent, and 9 percent respectively. April is also another pretty good month. It's about 7 and a half percent ahead. The best months for fishing are right now through the end of the year. If you do a five-year trend comparison, we're growing about almost 3 percent, about 2.8 percent per year. In money, that's about 2.7 million per year growth that you see; and we're still following that trend. Again, '16 was the banner year; and we're happy that things are trending well so far through March, as well as through April. We're at about two -- 1.9 percent ahead through March, which is about 1.64 million. And if we compare it to the prior years, we're actually ahead of '15 by 8 percent; ahead of '14 by 10 percent; ahead of '13 by 12 percent through March.

Through March, we've collected 86.7 million in revenue. Last year, there was 85 million. So we're up 1.9 percent. Through April, we're actually up 2.2 percent, almost 2 million. This slide gives you the variance by the different groupings. You can see that we're doing well on most of these groupings. Through March, we're ahead by almost 2 percent, 1.6 million. Fishing, nonresident and resident combined, we're ahead 4.6 percent. Hunting, resident and nonresident combined, we're ahead by about half a percentage point. Combination licenses are ahead about 1.1 percent. And hopefully, fishing will finish strong for this fiscal year. If so, we will have another banner year for license revenue.

The budget adjustments, at the last Commission meeting, the adjusted budget through January was approved at 610.32 million. We have five categories of adjustments here. The first one is federal and UB. That's 12.29 million, primarily from wildlife restoration, sport fish restoration, and state wildlife grant funding. The second adjustment category is appropriated receipts and UB from reimbursements and donations of 2.1 million. Capital and capital construction, that's the $295,000 adjustment. The fourth operating UB is a 789,000 adjustment. And the fifth item is employee fringe, about 175,000 adjustment. The subtotal of the adjustments is 15.64 million, which results in an adjusted budget of 625.96 million.

And that is the briefing materials I prepared for you today. I wanted to get through it quickly so that you could hear some of the other items on the agenda, have more time. If you have any questions, I'll be happy to try to answer them.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Are there any questions or discussion?

Thank you, Mike.

Work Session Item No. 4, Internal Audit Update, Cindy Hancock. Welcome.

MS. HANCOCK: Thank you. For the record, I'm Cindy Hancock; and I'm going to give you just a very brief update on all the current audit activities. So here is a list that -- of all our audit projects that are in progress currently.

For the state park fiscal control audits, we've completed and issued 23 of the 32 scheduled reports; and in addition, we've completed and issued 8 of 12 law enforcement audits. So we still have nine state park and four law enforcement audits left to perform this year. For the follow-up audit, it's ongoing; however, during March and April, we followed up on the implementation status of two recommendations and both had been implemented. This leaves 18 internal and four external audit recommendations that remain in progress. The license agent requirement audit is in the quality assurance review stage. The IT audit has just entered into the fieldwork stage, and the federal grant audit is in the planning stage.

So our fiscal year '17 internal audit plan looks a little bit like this: Four audits are in the fieldwork stage, one is in the planning stage, one is in the Q/A or review phase, and the contract audit has been completed.

When it rains it pours. We have a lot of external audits going on right now. So for the external audits, the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General conducted their U.S. Fish and Wildlife federal grant audit and management has provided responses to the draft report. The State Auditor's Office has conducted an entrance conference and are in the planning phase for infrastructure division contracting process audit. KPMG Firm -- it's an audit firm -- has been hired by Microsoft to conduct a Microsoft Office licensing audit. The Texas Workforce Commission has just announced that they will be conducting an EEO compliance audit. And finally, it's time for our internal audit Department's peer review; and this will start during the week of June 5th. So that's what's going on in the audit world. I'll be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I have a question. Do you know why the State Auditor's Office is spending State resources and time coming in here for this infrastructure audit?

MS. HANCOCK: We asked if it was on their audit plan for this year and they did say it is and, of course, their audit plan is based on risk. So that was their answer.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Based on their perception of risk or its perception. All right, thank you.

Any other questions?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Can you get me a -- I kind of have a general knowledge of how many showed up clean, but can you just provide me with a number of the 8 of 12 completed Law Enforcement offices audit and the 23 of the 32 selected state park audits that came out clean?

MS. HANCOCK: Yes. In fact, there were only -- of the state park, there were only two that had findings out of the ones that we've issued so far; and out of the Law Enforcement, there was only one with a finding. So all the rest of them were clean.

COMMISSIONER JONES: I don't know how everybody else feels about that --

MS. HANCOCK: It's really good.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- but that's outstanding.

MS. HANCOCK: It's very good.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah, that's outstanding.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: And those findings have already been addressed, as well?

MS. HANCOCK: Or we're following up on them as we speak.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah. That's worth noting. So next time put that in the report so the public can see and hear that.

MS. HANCOCK: Okay, I sure will.

COMMISSIONER JONES: All right.

MS. HANCOCK: All right.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Do you share those -- to Bill's point, do you share the results of the internal audits when the State Auditor's Office comes in?

MS. HANCOCK: Yes, sir, we share all our reports with the State Auditor's Office.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: As they're issued?

MS. HANCOCK: Yes.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER JONES: And by the way, I met with the State Auditors when they came out and gave them a good overview of what we do and how we do our audit oversight with this Commission.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good. And you particularly deserve appreciation and thanks from us for the close oversight that you provided to the audit function and your careful work with Cindy and her team. Thank you for that.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, no. The thanks goes to staff and the people who are out there doing the day-to-day because I can sit up here in the comfort of this meeting and criticize all day; but the folks who are at the parks and the folks who are out in the Law Enforcement offices and the folks who are internal doing what they do every day, they are the ones who make this audit work and shine and so we appreciate what they do and we appreciate Cindy's team and what they do with follow-up and whatnot. So appreciate everything.

MS. HANCOCK: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anybody else comments or questions?

All right. Thank you, Cindy.

MS. HANCOCK: All righty.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Work Session Item 5, Disease Detection and Response Rules, Chronic Wasting Disease Zone Rules, Movement of Deer, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Mitch Lockwood. Welcome, Mitch.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood. I'm the Big Game Program Director; and tomorrow, I will seek adoption of proposed amendments to our rules pertaining to the CWD zones or Chronic Wasting Disease zones in the state, as well as proposed amendments to the comprehensive CWD rules that this Commission adopted last June.

And, Mr. Vice-Chair, we certainly appreciate some of the input that we've received from you for suggestions for some clarification for some of the amendments to the rules. And so as I proceed through this presentation this morning, either during the presentation or in some cases maybe at the end of the presentation, I will attempt to clarify or present to you some recommended changes to the proposed text that will simply be some attempts to clarify what our intent is with these rule amendments.

The slide before you illustrates the CWD zones that were in effect during the past this last hunting season. To refresh your memories, the containment zones are those areas that are shaded in red; and those are the areas with the highest relative risk for having CWD. In fact, those are the areas in which the disease has actually been detected. And then our surveillance zones are those areas that are shaded in yellow on this map.

You may recall that this Commission did not establish a containment zone in that area of concern that encompasses portions of southern Bandera, eastern Uvalde, and western Medina Counties; and the reason for this is that the disease had only been detected in permitted deer breeding facilities or their associated release sites, all of which had been issued quarantine orders by Texas Animal Health Commission, which for all practical purposes served the function of a containment zone. But this Commission did establish a surveillance zone for this area and we worked very closely with elected officials in that area, as well as landowners and other interested parties, to coordinate an aggressive voluntary surveillance effort during the past hunting season and that effort produced 774 samples, which was less than half of the goal that we had established for that area. We actually had established some check stations in this particular area during the previous hunting season -- during the 2015-16 hunting season -- but that effort wasn't has nearly as coordinated as it was during the 2016-17 season and we collected 123 samples during that first season.

This map before you illustrates all 897 samples that were collected by the Department during the last two hunting seasons, and not all these samples came from hunter-harvested deer. You may notice along the boundaries of this map, which are made up of farm-to-market roads or major highways, you see a lot of samples that were collected right there along those boundaries, which indicates a lot of road kill samples that were collected. I should state that this map does not include the samples that were collected from Class III release sites within this zone and I'm sure you recall that Class III release sites are required to test 100 percent of the harvest that occurs on those sites. And during the 2015-16 season, there were about 216 samples that were collected on two Class III release sites; and during the past hunting season, about 163 samples from those same two sites.

It's this effort that resulted in the detection -- and hopefully the early detection -- of Chronic Wasting Disease in a free-ranging White-tail deer, which happens to be in very close proximity to three of those permitted deer breeding facilities or their associated release sites where the disease has been detected. It's actually close to the index facility, which is not one of the three facilities that I just referenced. It was that detection of Chronic Wasting Disease that resulted by emergency rulemaking and surveillance zone becoming a containment zone, and that emergency rulemaking took effect last January.

And at that time, the voluntary surveillance effort and carcass movement restrictions became mandatory for the remainder of the MLDP season. These immediate and necessary temporary rules were put into place to protect the public resource until we could come to you with a proposal for formal rulemaking, which we're doing at this time. And for the benefit of relatively new Commissioners, the Executive Director does have the authority to engage in emergency rulemaking when it is determined that a species that falls within the regulatory authority of this Commission is in immediate danger; but those emergency rules are temporary. They have a limited life span, and staff must initiate formal rulemaking to replace those temporary rules.

Now, the proposal that I'm presenting today includes amendments to the delineations of CWD zones in this state, as well as to the rules that are associated with those CWD zones; and we'll begin by discussing the latter. Now, I'm going to use a table to help summarize what our current rules are and to explain these proposed amendments to these current rules; and this table has three columns, with the first column showing an activity and the second -- an activity or perhaps even a requirement and the second and third columns indicating whether or not that activity is authorized or maybe even required or prohibited in containment zones and surveillance zones respectively. And I'll also bring to your attention that, as you see on these first three rows, this table will expand as I progress through this presentation and as you see on these first three rows, they have a white background which denotes that staff do not recommend any amendments to the current rules in these cases. Later on, in fact, in the final two rows of this table, you will notice some yellow shading which indicates those are the rules that we're proposing amendments to.

So our current rules do require mandatory sampling of hunter-harvested deer and carcass movement restrictions for any deer harvested within either a containment zone or a surveillance zone. Of course, we did have that exception last year with voluntary surveillance in that Medina County area. Of course, that voluntary surveillance ceased to exist. It became mandatory under the current rule, and staff do not propose to reinstate the voluntary surveillance there at this time.

Our current rules also do not allow for Triple T activity within a surveillance -- excuse me, within a containment zone and very limited Triple T activity within a surveillance zone. Just to clarify, the Triple T, that's our Trap, Transport, and Transplant Permit. Simply put, that's a permit that authorizes individuals to trap free-ranging White-tail deer and Mule deer and move them from one location in the state to another location within the state. For obvious reasons, our current rules do not allow for any trapping and removal of deer from a containment zone and also do not allow any introduction of deer into a containment zone or a surveillance -- excuse me, into a containment zone at this time.

And let me explain that just for a minute. It's probably very obvious of why we would not allow for any movement of deer outside of a containment zone, but the reason for the prohibition of introducing deer into a containment zone is so that we do not artificially increase the number of disease hosts in that containment zone. That would greatly compromise a disease containment strategy. This is something that our CWD Task Force has felt very strongly about ever since we rewrote our statewide CWD management plan with Texas Animal Health Commission back in 2012 when the disease was detected in the Hueco Mountains. And you'll see some more elements of this concern as I proceed through these slides, the concern for artificially increasing the number of hosts; and for that same reason, our current rules do not allow for the establishment of any new deer breeding facilities within a containment zone.

We also do not allow for any -- or authorize any DMP activities within a containment zone for similar reasons. The DMP again, that's the Deer Management Permit. It authorizes one to detain up to one buck and up to 20 does within a pen. They may be free-range deer that were caught and placed in a pen. They may be breeder deer that are used in a pen. Maybe a combination of free-range and breeder deer; but ultimately, those deer are released out onto that ranch in most cases. Well, in this case where we do authorize DMP activities in a surveillance zone, we do so with the understanding that any deer and all deer that are used within this DMP facility, must be released onto that same site where the DMP pen exists.

And now finally with these last three rows of the table, you'll see where we begin to get into some of the proposed amendments to the existing rules. Our current rules do not allow for any movement of breeder deer outside of a containment zone I think for fairly obvious reasons. We do allow for the transfer of some breeder deer outside of a surveillance zone. That would be limited only to facilities that have that TC 1 status, which again is the status of facilities that have the lowest relative risk among deer breeding facilities.

Our current rules do not allow for any movement of breeder deer into either a containment zone or a surveillance zone; and, again, that would be for the same reason I've already shared with you, which is to not artificially increase the number of disease hosts in those areas.

And then finally, our existing rules allow for very limited movement of breeder deer within a containment zone. Basically, only facilities with a TC 1 status are currently allowed to release onto their own adjacent release sites; but within a surveillance zone, deer breeders with TC 1 or TC 2 status can move deer within a surveillance zone.

As I move to this next slide, you will see with the red font there, some of our proposed amendments. We're proposing to go from not allowing for any introduction of breeder deer in a containment or surveillance zone, to allowing breeder deer to be introduced into both zones; but for the containment zone, we do still have the concern with artificially increasing the number of disease hosts.

So with this allowance of the introduction of breeder deer in a containment zone, we have proposed that the harvest on that release site must be equal to or exceed the number of breeder deer that are introduced that year. And this same -- that same requirement would apply for breeder deer movement within the zone. As I advance to this slide on slide -- for this part of my presentation, we do propose to allow more movement of deer from TC 1 facilities. Instead of limiting that movement to only their on adjacent release site, we propose that a facility with TC 1 status located within a containment zone would be able to transfer deer to any permitted or registered facility within that same containment zone and that TC 2 facilities would be able to release deer onto their own adjacent release sites within that same -- within the zone. But in both cases, since they would be adding deer to that population within a containment zone, we also recommend in these cases that the harvest on those sites be equal to or greater to the number of deer that were introduced to that site.

And I should also point out that we propose for the TC 2 facilities that would be releasing onto their own adjacent release site, that would only be following their submission to the Department not detected tonsil biopsy CWD test results for all deer that are to be released. I know that's a lot to go through in those last three slides. And so certainly at any point that y'all would like to ask questions for clarification, please feel free to do so.

At this time, I would like to begin discussing the delineations to the CWD zones that we have proposed. First, we've proposed to reduce the extent of this containment zone from this area that's on the slide before you now, to an area within -- to only the area that is within five miles of where CWD has been detected in free-ranging deer and within two miles from the boundaries of any property where a deer breeding facility exists or a release site exists where the disease has been detected.

As you have seen in the published proposal, legally describing these boundaries can be quite complex; and I'll address that particular issue here in a few minutes. But for the surveillance zone that we've proposed, would be the remainder of that area that lies between FM 470 that -- if I may turn to the screen behind me and point up here in the northwest corner, you've got Utopia and as you start -- make that our starting point and travel east along 470 to Tarpley, making up the northwest corner of this surveillance zone; we then take FM 462 in a southerly direction to Hondo, Texas, which would make up the southeast corner of this zone; and then follow U.S. Highway 90 to the west to Sabinal, making up the southwest corner of this zone; and then follow FM 187 up from Sabinal in a northerly direction to Utopia to enclose this proposed surveillance zone.

However, you may notice here that the proposed containment zone extends beyond the boundaries of our proposed surveillance zone, which is a concern. And so as I advance to this aerial imagery and then overlay this graphic, you can see that's the Sabinal River there, which is in close proximity, just a little bit west of our originally proposed surveillance zone, and we believe that that would make a very, very good western boundary of this surveillance zone and we propose to -- for that western boundary to be just that. It would -- basically, if we start in that northwest corner at Utopia, Texas, we would take FM 187 south towards Sabinal until that road intersects with the Sabinal River and then follow the Sabinal River all the way down to U.S. Highway 90 for that western boundary.

We did, you know, throughout this process, we have engaged stakeholders. We have solicited input from many different individuals and organizations. We did receive some concern, some opposition to any extension of our surveillance zone. However, staff do believe that it's critical that our hunters have very easily defined recognizable boundaries so that they know whether or not they are hunting in a CWD zone where there are requirements for hunter-harvest testing -- excuse me, for CWD testing of hunter-harvested deer or carcass movement restrictions. And this proposal does provide, we believe, those very easy, well-defined, easily recognized boundaries.

And you may ask: Well, what about the containment zone? That's got more of an invisible boundary. They are five miles from the known positive of a free-range deer, two miles from fence lines where CWD has been detected. How are hunters supposed to know whether or not they fall within a containment zone?

Well, the short, simple answer is: Is the hunters don't really need to know that. The hunters -- rules that apply to the hunters apply for any land within a surveillance zone and that containment zone obviously falls within that surveillance zone. So as long as they know they're south of 470 or west of 462 or north of 90 or east of the Sabinal River, 187, they know that they fall within this zone and they have these restrictions that apply to them or any deer that's harvested.

The rules that are unique to the containment zone apply only to permitted movement of live deer. Okay. Basically, in this case, it applies to six different individuals who have a permit that authorizes them to possess deer and those individuals -- basically, we know who they are. We would contact those individuals -- we already have, I think, in all cases; if not, we soon would -- and make sure that they understand that they do fall within this proposed zone and what that means to them, what rules may change in those cases.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to suggest a change to the proposed amendment in an attempt to make this rule clearer to try and make it as simple as possible because as I said earlier, describing these boundaries of this containment zone can be quite complex. I mean, using lat/long coordinates for this area could take up several pages of text to legally describe those boundaries. And so we'd like to suggest an amendment to that proposed text to draw the attention to focus to a map with the coordinates being background information, if you will, that will specifically describe this area; but we believe the map will be quite clear.

So if I may read on the record what we would recommend as changing -- the changes we would recommend to what was published in the Texas Register and that would be Containment Zone 3 is that portion of the state lying within an area designated as Containment Zone 3 as depicted on Image 1, which would be attached to the proposed and hopefully adopted language, and we would also post that map on our website and then follow that statement by saying more specifically described by the following latitude/longitudinal coordinate pairs and then those coordinates that are in the proposed text at this time would follow that. And then we would also like to add a sentence that states -- a new subsection that states: The Department shall also provide individualized notice to property and facility owners within Containment Zone 3 regarding the inclusion of their property and/or facility within Containment Zone 3, which would codify our existing practice.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: How are TC holders or breeders, how are they currently notified of their status and their position within this -- especially in this -- in either zone?

MR. LOCKWOOD: We -- I, personally, have visited with deer breeders with this status who may be affected by this rule by phone conversation. As we move forward, we certainly would be open to suggestions. We could follow-up a phone conversation with formal mailings. We have different ways that we do communicate with them, whether it be through e-blast notifications through TWIMS or through personal e-mails or through phone calls or letters and we'd certainly be open to any suggestions that you may have, Mr. Chairman.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And how many breeders do we have in the containment zone and by type, if you have it?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I believe we have, within the proposed containment zone, six different deer breeding facilities.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And in the broader surveillance zone?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I won't have that number exact, but there are -- I'm visualizing this right now in my head. I'm going to say approximately the same number within that surveillance zone. I was just advised that there's four more within the surveillance -- four in the surveillance zone.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And TC 1s, how many?

MR. LOCKWOOD: That's the total number of breeders. For the record, I was just advised that of those four breeders in the proposed surveillance zone, two of them have a TC 1 status and two of them have a TC 2 status. Thank you.

This map is -- that I'm using to address this question, is -- it was produced a few weeks ago. It's possible that some of those TC 2 facilities have since upgraded to TC 1 status through antemortem texting.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Now, I would like to draw our attention to the northwest part of the state up in the northwest Panhandle where we also have a surveillance zone and containment zone established --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Mitch, before you go forward with that, could I ask how many -- on your proposed amendment, how many pairs are you talking about for the coordinates?

MR. LOCKWOOD: The coordinates to describe the proposed zone, Mr. Vice-Chair, they take up four to five pages of text at the font that was printed. I don't know the number of pairs.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Are we not able to reduce that to six or eight pairs?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, staff would -- staff do have some concerns with that approach. The primary concern would be taking some of the objectivity out of the equation, having to make some subjective decisions because some of these deer breeding facilities are right on the edge. Some are just inside the zone. Some are just outside the zone. And if we take this to more of an angular approach, it would be quite subjective of where we place those eight or so coordinates and we're a bit concerned that staff may be perceived as making biased decisions as where they -- which may place breeders inside or outside of that zone.

We believe if we can -- if we can use the proposed approach and try and draw the focus to the map and try and make -- use that approach to really make this as clear as we intend it to be and try and take the focus away from the coordinate pairs, that would be a much more objective approach that -- well, we think would just be more defensible.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And the only criteria were the five and two rules in determining this containment zone; is that right?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir. Would you like for me to proceed?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other thoughts on that?

MR. LOCKWOOD: So as I proceed to the northwest part of the Panhandle, we do propose a slight extension of our surveillance zone to the east to cover the entire cities of Dumas and Amarillo. This would allow hunters to get the whole carcasses of their harvested deer all the way to processing facilities or taxidermists.

We also propose to extend the period of time by which hunters have to submit heads to a check station or deer to check stations for CWD testing. The current rule allows only a 24-hour period for them to present those deer for testing purposes, and staff realize that we could extend that to at least 48 hours without compromising the integrity of the sample. In fact, we have proposed to allow for even more extension of that with written authorization by the Department on a case-by-case basis. There are times that we realize that there's walk-in coolers at ranches or other means to keep samples in good condition without compromising the integrity of those samples.

This should provide a whole lot more convenience to hunters because some of these -- some cases, they're having to travel long distances and sometimes multiple days during their short hunting trip; and so we'd like to try and provide a much more convenience to them and maybe consolidate their efforts and visit a check station on their way back home.

And finally, this final proposed amendment is actually an amendment to the comprehensive CWD rules that were adopted by this Commission back in June of 2016; and they're in regard to the TC status of a facility that has had CWD samples that were lost after having been received by an accredited testing laboratory. We are aware of one case in which this has occurred. There was an entire box of samples that were received by an accredited laboratory, 49 samples in that box that was subsequently lost; and this could affect that transfer category status of some of those breeders. And so we propose an amendment that would allow those deer breeders additional time to provide substitution samples to the laboratory so that they may maintain their TC 1 status.

We had proposed in the text that deer breeders be provided up until May 15th following the notification of samples being lost to present those samples -- I mean, to present substitute samples to that accredited testing laboratory. And we did this because, in our mind, that was providing 45 days after the expiration of a report year. Report year ends March 31st; and we wanted to give them the entire report year to decide whether or not they need substitute samples because if the samples are lost in October, they may still have enough mortalities and test enough mortalities during the remainder of that report year where this may be a moot point. So if we let them play out that entire report year and after March 31, give them 45 days to submit any substitution samples to the lab and not make them be at the mercy of the lab to turn around test results soon, just get the samples to the lab and their status would be maintained, provided that we don't subsequently receive test results that would affect their facility status down the road.

However, it has recently come to our attention after publishing this proposal that May 15th may not be adequate in some cases. It could -- that an extension to May 15th may not be adequate. There could be a mortality that occurs on that last day of the report year, on March 31st. The samples may be submitted to the lab within a few days. The labs may -- the lab have a very large workload, if you will, and not be able to turn around samples very quickly and it may be after May 15th before the deer breeder is even advised that samples were lost. And so we propose to modify the text that was published to state that a deer breeder could have until May 15th or 30 days following the notification of samples being lost, whichever day is later.

And so finally, as I conclude this presentation, Mr. Chairman, as I -- when I began this presentation, I did mention that we had received some very good feedback on some areas where our amendments could be -- our proposed amendments could be clarified, I did cover some of those during my presentation; but I'll wrap up my last few slides hopefully addressing the rest of those areas that need some clarification.

So on the rule we just discussed regarding lost samples, I would like to read to you what we propose as the rule moving forward and that is: If a breeding facility that has obtained TC 1 status is unable to satisfy the criteria of this subchapter necessary to maintain TC 1 status by March 31 of any year solely because tissue samples have been documented by an accredited testing facility as having been received and lost, the breeding facility status will be reduced to TC 2 unless antemortem substitution samples necessary to maintain TC 1 status are submitted to an approved diagnostic laboratory by the latter of the following, May 15th immediately following notification to the breeder by the accredited testing facility that the tissue samples have been lost or 30 days after the date on which the breeder is notified by the accredited testing facility that the tissue samples have been lost and the required number of not-detected test results are obtained from the antemortem substitute samples submitted to satisfy Paragraph 1 of this subsection.

We also recommend to clarify part of the rule that states that a TC deer breeding facility located within a CZ zone, a containment zone, may release breeder deer to the immediately adjoining acreage if the release site and the breeding facility share the same ownership. Upon advice from Vice-Chairman, we propose to modify the language in Subsection little i to state: And may those TC 2 deer breeding facilities located within a containment zone may release breeder deer to the immediately adjoining acreage if the title and the county deed records reflects that the surface of the release site and of the breeding facility is held by the same owner or owners.

We also suggest that we provide some clarification to the rule that addresses when one may commit an offense, and it's specifically in reference the rule -- let me reference my notes here -- this is for failure to comply with the requirements to harvest at least as many deer that are -- as the number of deer that are released on that site within a containment zone.

The proposed rule states that it's an offense if they fail to do this; and to clarify that, it's an offense as provided in the Parks and Wildlife Code 43.367 and 65.89 of this Division, which simply state that they're Class C misdemeanors.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mitch, I'm sorry, quick clarification.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Does that assume that the land is contiguous? The title land is contiguous to the release site or -- and would it trigger a Triple T if it's not contiguous?

MR. LOCKWOOD: This slide before you does -- does -- it authorizes the release -- what our proposal does for -- that this slide is referencing -- is it allows a facility with TC 2 status to release deer onto their immediately adjoining acreage that would be contiguous, basically adjacent to or surrounding that deer breeding facility.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Okay.

MR. LOCKWOOD: We also suggested clarification to the rule that states that breeder deer from a deer breeding facility located outside of the surveillance zone, may be released within the surveillance zone. Remember, our current rules do not allow for that; but we propose to allow deer to be introduced, including breeder deer to be introduced into a surveillance zone. But, of course, that's only if that would be authorized by Division 2 of this subchapter. We do not mean for these rules in any way to preempt the comprehensive CWD rules; and if the comprehensive CWD rules do not authorize that, then these rules would not either.

And so to date, we have only received seven comments in regard to this proposal. One comment in opposition, six in favor. The one in opposition was from the Medina County Judge who we have worked very closely with over the last many, many months. We've been very fortunate to develop a good relationship with him. We certainly appreciate all of his efforts, and he is -- certainly his effort to spearhead that voluntary surveillance effort that, as you-all noticed, brought us 774 samples last year. His main concern is he is opposed to the mandatory testing requirements, CWD testing requirements of hunter-harvested deer and the carcass movement restrictions. I think that -- that's the major concern that he had, and I will be sure to bring some of those comments with me tomorrow; but I do believe that he will be in attendance tomorrow to provide public comment. But in the event that he is absent, I will bring those comments with me and share them.

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

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Mitch?

Commissioner Jones?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Do we -- who regulates the testing facilities, the ones that lost or is losing or has lost samples?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I'm going to punt this one, Commissioner Jones, and I'm going to ask our Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Bob Dittmar with your permission, Mr. Chairman, if he could assist me with that on who regulates the --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Please.

MR. LOCKWOOD: -- accredited testing facilities.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I hope you tell us it's A&M.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Oh, Lord.

COMMISSIONER JONES: I hope he doesn't.

DR. DITTMAR: Commissioners, for the record, my name is Bob Dittmar. I'm the Wildlife Veterinarian with Texas Parks and Wildlife. Basically -- and you're partially right -- the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab is a branch of Texas A&M; but those labs are overseen by USDA and there's the acronym -- it's the National Association of Animal Disease Laboratories or something like that; but anyway, they're overseen by a branch of the USDA.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Are they -- how are they held accountable if they lose samples like that?

DR. DITTMAR: Most of the oversight from the USDA is basically in procedures and their technique and their protocols. So I don't think that there's anybody that really holds them responsible for loss of samples that I'm aware of.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, that's not good news. I mean, so I guess what I'm trying to get at is if a facility either unwill -- either on -- purposely or from lack of competence loses samples on a regular basis, are there any consequences? Is there something that can be done?

DR. DITTMAR: Yeah. Well, obviously, I think they would be liable for -- or there could be -- there could be some civil suit or some civil action brought against them just as a veterinarian could be charged malpractice or something like that, but I can't totally answer that question.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Can we do that with the AG's Office? Can we bring a proceeding against a facility if we -- I don't know that this facility is a problem. I have no idea. I'm just asking the questions. I'm trying to figure out if it becomes a problem, can we step in and say, "Okay, you can't use this facility anymore"?

DR. DITTMAR: Yeah. We're a little bit limited in that in -- well, not -- in Texas, they are -- our lab that is -- is certified to do CWD testing. Obviously, we could go out of state; but I will say in defense of the diagnostic lab, they're a very competent organization and they've been in business for many, many years and they provide a great service to the state and to the people of the state and personally, I've used them for a long time and they are very, very competent.

These kind of things happen. They handle lots of samples; and in this particular case, from what we understand, the diagnostic lab itself was not at fault. There was transfer of samples to another lab, and they were actually lost at another lab outside of the state and --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Outside of the state?

DR. DITTMAR: Uh-huh. Yes, sir.

MR. LOCKWOOD: The diagnostic lab had a large backlog, if you will, of samples. Thousands and thousands of samples came in and the customers needed a very short turnaround time in some cases, and so they -- with the permission of the USDA -- outsourced some of those samples to a laboratory in Wisconsin and another laboratory in Colorado, I believe.

DR. DITTMAR: Correct.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Colorado. And this particular shipment was lost after being received in -- at the laboratory in Wisconsin, is our understanding.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Aha.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Eight -- nine boxes were shipped, and eight were processed.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay.

MR. SMITH: Commissioner, I think you can take comfort that this is a real outlier situation. Obviously, we're trying to accommodate those exceptional outliers; but as Dr. Dittmar said and Mitch would reinforce and Clayton, the A&M lab has been a fabulous partner. We could not have been able to implement all of these necessary disease protection protocols and measures without their full and unequivocal cooperation. They have been very, very, very good. So I just want to reiterate that; and make sure that the Commission knows the level of cooperation and support that we've gotten from this lab has been very, very strong.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So the Aggies didn't mess it up. The badgers --

MR. SMITH: You know, it's a rare day when I come to the defense of A&M, Commissioner Jones; but I feel compelled to do so in this case, so.

COMMISSIONER JONES: All right.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Latimer.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: I got my question answered. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Got your question answered.

Commissioner Warren.

COMMISSIONER WARREN: Yeah, and this is pretty obvious; but the amendment proposed, it's obvious that they could have -- on releasing deer to adjoining acreage, it would have to be high fenced and yet the language does not say that. So it probably says it somewhere else in the --

MR. LOCKWOOD: That's a good point, Commissioner Warren. The comprehensive CWD rules that are within Division 2 of Chapter 65 Subchapter B, that's where we -- it clearly states that any release site must have a -- must be contained by a high fence or surrounded by a high fence. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER WARREN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: This is one other nit I found -- I think I found on 65.82 paren one, paren C, the word "restrictions" is there; and I think it's just a typo. Shouldn't it come out?

MR. LOCKWOOD: 65.82?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: One(c) surveillance zone three and then the word "restrictions," does that belong there?

MR. LOCKWOOD: No, sir. I believe you're right. That is a section that is delineating -- basically describing the boundaries of the zones. And so the restrictions would follow in subsection two. So I believe that word should be stricken.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Any other questions for Mitch on this discussion?

So if no further discussion, I'll place the Chronic Wasting Disease zone rules and movement of deer rules on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda with the proposed amendments for public comment and action. Thanks, Mitch.

No. 6, Aerial Wildlife Management Rule Amendments, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Mitch Lockwood.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Good morning again, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood. I'm the Big Game Program Director. Tomorrow, I'll seek adoption of proposed amendments to the rules governing the aerial wildlife management permit.

In 2015, the Commission adopted revisions to the rules governing the aerial wildlife management, including the elimination of provisions for emergency approval of new LOAs, which we had concluded was no longer necessary because of the transition to an electronic online permit administration process. We have since become aware that there may be some rare instances that are deemed emergency situations in which it is not practical for a permittee to access the Department's online system for approval of LOAs.

Therefore, the proposed amendment would provide a mechanism for expedited approval of a landowner authorization or LOA. That expedited LOA may be authorized following the submission of a completed application for expedited LOA and a map clearly indicating the location and the boundaries of the property. And I should state, Mr. Chairman, that the proposed text references that the -- it states that the map must clearly indicate the boundaries of the property. We would suggest after receiving some input on this matter that we also state that the map must clearly indicate the location of the boundary. So tomorrow when we recommend adoption of this, that would be with changes as we discuss today.

We also would propose that the permit holder must complete and submit an LOA application to the via the Department's online system within 72 hours of completion of the authorized activities. The text that was published in the Texas Register states that this authorization may be provided -- I mean, yeah, excuse me, may be provided only by the game warden assigned to the county where the perspective management of wildlife or exotic animals is to be performed. But after receiving some input on this, we would recommend the non-substantive change that would state that the game warden's immediate or second-line supervisor could provide this authorization as well, and we could provide any permittee a phone number to our Law Enforcement Communications Center in case that would help them locate their local game wardens.

We also have received a recommendation to define emergency or what would constitute an emergency, when would we authorize these expedited LOAs; and staff agree that this rule could be clarified with the following language to state that expedited LOA may be obtained solely for the purpose of preventing the depredation of livestock.

We have received three comments in response to the published proposal. One in favor, two in opposition. The two comments in opposition were opposed to any shooting of wildlife from aircraft. With that, Mr. Chairman, I conclude my presentation. I'll be glad to entertain any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Mitch.

Any questions, discussion on this item? Okay. I'll authorize staff to place the aerial wildlife management rule amendments on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. Thank you.

With regard to Work Session Item No. 7, Public Lands Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

Okay. I'll place the Public Lands Proclamation on Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Regarding Work Session Item No. 8, Public Hunting Program, Establishment of an Open Season on Public Hunting Lands and Approval of Public Hunting Activities, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

Okay. I'll place Public Hunting Program on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

With regard to Work Session Item No. 9, Alligator Farming Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, do we have any questions or comments from the Commission?

I'll also place this Item No. 9 on the Alligator -- regarding Alligator Farming Rules on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Item 10 is a briefing, Managed Lands Deer Program Update, Alan Cain.

MR. CAIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman --

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning.

MR. CAIN: -- Commissioners. For the record, my name is Alan Cain. I'm the White-tail Deer Program Leader. This morning, I'm going to provide a brief update on where we're at with the implementation of the new MLD program and the online system that will be used to administer the new MLD program.

As the Commission may recall in August of 2015, you-all adopted changes to the Managed Lands Deer Program, which essentially consolidated the Level 1, 2, and 3 MLD for White-tail deer, Mule deer MLD, and LAMPS into a new MLD Program that consists of two options. The harvest option is -- it's a self-serve, automated tag issuance. No assistance required from a biologist to receive tags. You just go online in the system, and you can get your tags that way. The conservation option, on the other hand, it's a more intensive deer management habitat-focused program that provides customized harvest recommendations based on site-specific data to that property enrolled and assistance from a Parks and Wildlife biologist. And these changes, obviously, as Carter mentioned earlier, are necessary to help address workload demands and the growth of the MLD program and also to streamline the MLD program and simplify where we could.

Speaking of growth, this slide before you is a chart of the MLD growth from 1998 through 2016. This past season, we had 10,350 sites enrolled in MLD. I'll draw your attention to the green line. That's Level 1 ranches or properties in MLD, and that number has declined a little bit in the last year or two. However, the purple line is Level 2 and 3 in Mule deer MLD. That number continues to increase at a rate of about 5 percent, which is what we've seen in the last four or five years as far as the rate of growth and we expect that trend to continue.

The decrease in Level 1 could be due to the expansion of doe days in a number of counties in the Post Oak Savannah Ecoregion in East Texas over there this past season and so some of those folks may have elected to drop out of MLD and just use the county's season's bag limits in those extended doe days.

So after the adoption in August of 2015 and the new rules, the Department went through an exhaustive bid process. It took almost a year. You know, from October of 2015, through August of 2016, to select a contractor to develop the new online system to administer the MLD Program, as well as general technical guidance requests. In August of 2016, we selected Applied Geographic or AppGeo as the contractor. They came onboard in August of 2016. Did some background research to find out about the program, what we needed, a little bit of in-depth analysis; and they began programming the system in October of 2016. And our intended goal to launch the system was May 15th of this year, just last week. However -- and the reason we were intending that goal was to make sure we could meet the enrollment deadline of June 15th for the conservation option participants that may want to enroll during that timeframe.

However, due to the compressed development window -- and we were expecting to have 14 months to develop this system. The bid process took a little longer than we'd expected. And so that got compressed down to eight months or about seven and a half and also some complexities with the programming itself caused us to delay the launch of the system until July 1 of this year. And as a result, those folks -- the conservation option enrollment deadline is extended to August 1 to allow folks to have time to be able to get into the -- enroll in the conservation option. And it's just during this transition year only that we've extended that deadline. In 2018, that deadline returns back to June 15th. The harvest option still remains with a September 1 deadline of this year.

And on the -- I don't think it's on your screen, but I should have a little video loop here, and I'll show you in just a second. We've been working on the system, testing, doing a lot of things with the contractor. And the new system, pretty excited about it. It allows landowners to self-register, create their own accounts. Once they have an account, they can draw their property boundaries. They can enter habitat harvest data. They can enroll in MLD. They can request assistance from a biologist. All those administrative functions that our staff are having to do, it's all in the system now. Even signing some things like electronic landowner agreement forms, things like that. So it will help try to reduce some of that administrative burden on our staff.

What's most impressive to me is this MLD harvest option tag estimator because this is the automated system. If you're a landowner, you can come to our webpage and you can click on the tag estimator -- and I'll play this, I think it will run, yeah -- and then you can draw your property boundary -- and you can -- you'll have to look at the big screen or up there on the TV -- but you'll -- you can start -- and this happens to be the Kerr Wildlife Management Area that I'm drawing. Anyway, you click, draw your boundary and then you zoom to wherever you're at. You can change to satellite view and it's a pretty similar process to the mapping functions that we have in our aerial wildlife management permits. It's the same process that those folks use to draw their property boundaries there, the same leaflet, the application. So a landowner can click along and once they get done, they'll finish the polygon, which will happen in just a minute, and then they can get an estimate of their tags to be issued for the property.

The nice thing about this is you don't have to have an account to be able to do this. You can just get on the system and start clicking around and drawing your boundary anywhere in the state of Texas and then when you're done, it's -- click, get estimate, you'll see the little button pop up, and it estimates 32 -- 32 buck tags, 21 of those are -- and then 21 tags can be used on unbranched antler bucks. So that's a total of 53 buck tags, 106 antlerless tags on that area. And then the system would -- you know, if they like that, they can go ahead and register an account and be able to, you know, complete the process and then they can be able to print their tags.

And so hopefully that gives you a little bit of a flavor of where we're at with the system. We're still in testing phases right now, finishing up the final development. AppGeo has been working tirelessly to get this done by our deadline, July 1. They've completed Phase 1 of development and most of Phase 2 and so we've got a few things -- bugs to work out, but we're in the process of doing that. So that's where we're at with the MLD implementation and the new online system. And with that, I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Alan, actually, this -- you and Mitch weren't privy to it. Clayton, I visited with the other night at the Land Steward deal. So under these two options, the harvest and conservation, that will take effect in those counties that I mentioned to you -- Fayette and Colorado and all them -- is that -- now they're going to be rolled into the same situation that the rest of the state is as far as MLDP?

MR. CAIN: It's -- it's state --

MR. WOLF: He's talking about co-ops.

MR. CAIN: Oh, the co-ops. So it --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah. Like I said, sorry, I just happened to run into Mitch and I had some people asking me about changes, they couldn't harvest does enough to speak of or anything; and so they were asking me, you know, what would be -- what could be done to alleviate that problem and the basket case, bucks and everything. And so as Clayton was saying, this kind of led into what we're doing now is my understanding.

MR. CAIN: Yeah. There's lots of questions in there. First of all, the MLD Program applies statewide. So even in Fayette County or some of those counties over there in the Post Oak Savannah District, they would be subject to MLD rules if they chose to enroll. For those folks that are under a wildlife management association or cooperative, they fit under the conservation option; and under that option, a co-op as a whole has to select whether they want antlerless only tags or does the co-op want buck and antlerless. And in talking to our District Leader David Forrester over there, where that's co-op heavy in his district, the vast majority that I know of -- and, in fact, all of them have selected -- they will be selecting antlerless only tags for the co-op. And so they will be free to harvest bucks under the county regulations and bag limits; but folks that are part of those co-ops would still receive their tags just like they function right now and then --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: But will that -- and my understanding is, is that it's very difficult -- it has been very difficult to get any doe tags up to this point whenever we change these rules. So now, will they go back under just a regular -- say it's a three-doe county or whatever. Is -- will the co-op get that many tags, and that's what they will give to the landowners? Is that how it'll work?

MR. CAIN: So how -- the harvest recommendation or the conservation option, that's the customized recommendation that our biologist provides the co-op based on survey data they collect. So if you have 300 members, they have an idea where the co-op lays in the county. They know what the estimated deer density is in that area based on survey data and then they'll figure out a harvest rate or a tag issuance calculation for every member of that co-op and so a small acreage place may only get one tag; but somebody with larger acreage may get, you know, 20 or 30 tags. But they may -- they take into consideration folks that -- I know these guys don't hunt, are not going to harvest many does. So we may issue this individual a few extra tags. And so there's some flexibility; but ultimately, the recommendation is customized to the co-op and our biologists work with those members to determine tag issuance rates.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So is that going to make it -- or is that going to make doe tags and whatever they want, is that going to make them more available now than they have been in the past?

MR. CAIN: I don't know that's going to make doe tags any more available. If somebody chose the harvest option, that might be -- yes, that would be -- provide more flexibility because in those counties, you had to have an MLD tag to harvest antlerless deer. Under the new system, you can automatically enroll, self-enroll, in the harvest option; and that's going to provide a lot more flexibility for those folks that didn't want to be in a co-op or weren't in a co-op previously. So I'm sorry, I just misunderstand your question.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: No. I'm just trying to understand because I'm going to have to relay it. What I would ask y'all to do is since it appears there's going to be some changes -- for the betterment it sounds like -- make sure those counties that are under the co-op deal and everything, make sure they understand these new rules before the next season so that, you know, they understand that now they have more flexibility.

MR. CAIN: Yes, that's a good point, Commissioner; and we'll be sure to do that.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Thank you.

MR. WOLF: Right. And for the record, Clayton Wolf, Wildlife Division Director. And actually, that -- you know, that would really apply -- that added flexibility would apply for any of those counties that don't have doe days or, in fact, maybe have limited doe days. You know, in East Texas we had the LAMPS Program that Alan spoke of, which was a -- kind of separate and apart of doe permit issuance program; but this harvest option now is going to take -- move that into areas of the state that didn't necessarily have the full season of either sex and they had some limited options and maybe those limits were just through a wildlife management plan and a co-op. Now this harvest option will be an added opportunity for them; and as Alan showed, you know, you don't have to enroll to be able to see what you can get. You can just go online and use that tag estimator and see if that will work, work for your needs. If it doesn't, we still have other options for them. So it will be more options for antlerless harvest, particularly in those areas that had limited opportunities in the past.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah, just try to educate them a little bit and make --

MR. WOLF: You bet.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: -- sure they understand. This is new.

MR. CAIN: And we're -- our biologists in those districts are already sending out letters to many, many of their cooperators to let them know the changes.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I know this is just an estimator; but ultimately, will this be part of the LOA application process where you can enter coordinate pairs for your boundary definitions?

MR. CAIN: It's my understanding, Clayton, that it's -- they're going to be separate.

MR. WOLF: They're separate, but the same application is already there. So for folks applying or signing up LOAs right now, that tool, if you will -- maybe not the exact same tool, but there is a mapping tool already on there so that the permittee can get online and draw that map and then that sends an e-mail to the landowner and the landowner has to verify that that is their property and so that kind of put -- or reinforces that handshake and everyone knows the particular property and affirms that that's the property where the permitted activities are going to take place.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Latimer.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Is this accessible through the main website or through the TWIMS website?

MR. CAIN: The new -- we'll actually have a new landing page on our website. It's in the process of being developed, and it will have a link to -- it won't be called TWIMS anymore. It's the Land Management Assistance, as you saw on the slide there; and there will be a link directly to that where you can -- it's going to kind of funnel you into where you need to go.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: It looks similar -- it'll look similar to this page you have up there, that you log in or click on it once you got to that link?

MR. CAIN: Yes, there will be a log-in page that will be similar; and we'll have information to direct customers where they need to go.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Any other questions on this presentation from Alan?

Thank you. Appreciate it.

MR. CAIN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Item 11 is a Briefing, White-nose Syndrome, Mr. John Davis.

MR. DAVIS: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, my name is John Davis. I'm the Wildlife Diversity Program Director, and I'm here today to brief you on the arrival of White-nose Syndrome or the fungus that causes that syndrome to Texas. And over the course of my brief presentation, I'll cover three things: First of all, what is White-nose Syndrome; what was the path; and when did we find it in Texas; and then kind of where do we go from here?

First of all, White-nose Syndrome is a condition caused by an exotic fungus -- I'm going to try to pronounce this correctly -- Pseudogymnoascus destructans, from here on out I will refer to that as P.D. That exotic fungus has its origins in Europe. It was found in New York in the winter of 2006. White-nose Syndrome was documented in the winter of 2007. Since -- and what happens is when that fungus infects bats, it causes them to have a physiological response to fight that infection and as a result, they deplete their fat reserves during hibernation. They then arouse during the middle of the hibernation season and are forced to then to leave the hibernaculum and go out and find food and oftentimes then they're exposed to extreme conditions and so, therefore, they succumb to secondary effects.

P.D. thrives at temperatures of 41 to 57 degrees. It is a cold-loving fungus. It can survive at higher temperatures than that. The very unfortunate news is that once the fungus enters a cave, they're seeing 95 to 100 percent mortality in bats that you are susceptible to that fungus. As a result, there have been an estimated 5.7 million bats that have died since the fungus made it to the United States.

You'll notice this map is 2010. So this is four years after the discovery. The blue arrow in the upper right-hand corner of your screen is where the fungus was originally found; and you can see that the fungus then spread from that location both southward and northward, as well as westward. And in 2010 -- the reason I started with this map -- if you will notice in Oklahoma, there is a suspected positive finding of this fungus; and you might imagine, that made us panic.

So we began to survey in the border area between Texas and Oklahoma in the winter of 2011 and I want you to keep your eye on as I move through these maps as we move forward is watch that suspected positive in Oklahoma and what I'll do is just kind of tick through some of these. You see in 2012, there are our surveys located there on the map trying to pick up any evidence of this fungus entering Texas. 2013, you see the disease is continuing to spread, heading toward our doorstep, 2014.

And in 2015, we did two things. Well, two things were significant. First of all, we added additional surveys using a team from A&M to spread out -- so not only using BCI originally, but now we're using BCI and A&M -- and we spread the surveys across that northern border, kind of just to make sure we can detect the fungus as it enters into -- excuse me -- enters into our state; but in 2015, you'll notice that suspected positive in Oklahoma disappears. And so what happened was there were repeated examples or efforts to go back and find that fungus and through repeated testing, they found it was a similar fungus, but it turned out to not be P.D. So it was removed from the map.

So that gave us a little bit of breathing room, but not for long. One of the things I want to explain about the significance of this slide, two things. You'll notice, first of all, the positive up in the state of Washington. Up until this point, all the models showed that White-nose Syndrome was going to pass from the eastern bat populations to the western bat populations through the Panhandle of Texas. So Texas had all along been considered a bridge; and so we were implementing plans to try to, quote, blow up that bridge whenever the disease surprised us all and made its way over to west coast with a giant leap. No one knows how that happened. We suspect probably a human vector.

To explain that, this fungus can -- when someone enters a cave that is infected with a fungus, it can deposit spores on your shoes or cameras or backpacks or anything like that and then, therefore, after a person leaves that cave, they can travel somewhere else, go into a cave using the same shoes, they've inoculated that cave. And so that's how we believe it arrived in the United States. That's how we believe it probably made its way over to Washington, though no one actually knows for sure.

So the other thing I think is important about this map is you notice there's kind of a piling up that's happening there on the eastern border of Oklahoma, and so we were watching that and still thinking this doesn't kind of look right. The disease kind of spreads further out than that. So we continued our surveillance and our surveillance unfortunately or fortunately -- however you might view that -- paid off. We did discover -- we were prepared when it entered into Texas in 2017.

We found ten positives in six counties. We'll go through that in just a minute; but you'll notice it kind of jump over Oklahoma, and I'll have a little bit more information about that when we get to some of the testing efficacies I'll discuss a little bit later. If you got to the map where the State of Texas is blown up, these are the counties that we have surveyed for P.D. You notice the ones in red are where we've detected it. The counties in gray we have not detected it. The positive counties are Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Hardeman, King, and Scurry.

The species upon which we have found the fungus include Tri-colored bat, Cave myotis, Townsend's big-eared bat. There are two species that are critical in this particular finding -- the Cave myotis and Townsend's big-eared bat -- because these are the first -- this is the first time that this fungus has been found on those species and those species are largely western-ranging species. And so that discussion about this, Texas is where the eastern populations co-mingle with the western -- the eastern species co-mingle with western species. This is exactly what has now happened. So we've got the fungus now found in a western-ranging species.

So here's what we know. First of all, it's critical to note only P.D. has been detected. There has been no White-nose Syndrome now detected in Texas. We anticipate it probably will show up. What typically happens is once the fungus reaches a cave, within the first two to three years is when you see the massive mortality event. So we are not to that stage yet. We just detected it in February of this year. So we're kind of in that grace period and what we're hoping to do -- is you'll see in a minute -- is we're hoping to avoid that mortality event, but I'll get there. So we've seen no mortality yet.

What we have learned through our efforts is that there are two labs that are conducting tests for P.D. and the testing efficacy differs between those two labs. The surveillance that we were doing and the test kits that we were using came from those two labs; and so wherever the test was taken and whatever kit was used, that kit was sent back to that corresponding lab that provided the kit. So we had samples that were going from the same cave to two different labs, which ended up being beneficial for us because we've determined now that the lab in New Hampshire's test is much more sensitive and the tests that were being done in the Milwaukee lab, didn't pick up any P.D., whereas all the samples that went through the New Hampshire lab picked up P.D. So we've been following up on that, and it does turn out that that testing procedure is more sensitive.

The unfortunate part of that is after -- now that we've realized that, the leading edge of this disease may actually be -- or the leading edge of this fungus may actually be unknown because that fungus may exist in the environment at levels that are below current testing capacity to detect.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: John, before you move on I'm confused.

MR. DAVIS: Yes.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I thought at the start, you defined White-nose Syndrome as P.D.?

MR. DAVIS: P.D. is the fungus that causes the syndrome. Now, there are some bats that will carry the fungus on their system; but they appear to not be vulnerable to the full-blown syndrome. And the full-blown syndrome is that physiological response that causes the fat depletions, leading to them not being able to survive and -- the hibernation through the winter. And so there's -- they are very closely tied together, but some can apparently deal with that fungus infection and be okay.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So let me just ask: So the lab that's not able to detect it is in Milwaukee?

MR. DAVIS: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Which is in what state?

MR. DAVIS: It's in Wisconsin. Did I say the state of Milwaukee?

COMMISSIONER JONES: There we go. The badgers.

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, sir, for pointing that out.

MR. SMITH: You're a little defensive, aren't you, Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Pretty soon, $40,000 you can't be out of step.

MR. DAVIS: And just in their defense, they can detect it. They just detect it at higher environmental concentrations.

So where do we go from here with White-nose Syndrome? The impact to Texas bats is currently unknown. As mentioned, we do know that some bats are carriers; but are not susceptible to the actual syndrome. Everyone asks about the Mexican free-tail bat. We believe they'll probably be a carrier, but probably will not be vulnerable to White-nose Syndrome. We do believe some of the bats in the Panhandle will probably be vulnerable; and because of the conditions in the wintertime up there, we might see mortality, though no one really knows yet. The hope is that our cave conditions and such are different than the states that have -- that are more north of our borders and so we hope that we won't see that mortality, though we actually don't know.

So I mentioned earlier Texas is a bridge to other species. That's an even larger concern to us. This is map of the diversity of hibernating bat species across the United States, and you can see that area of the Panhandle is where that -- those hibernating bats provide that bridge to the western populations and western species. So you can see that there are more of the hibernating species in the western part of the U.S. than the east.

Our plan, we do have a White-nose response plan. We've been implementing that plan. We've been notifying partners and notifying media, etcetera. The good thing for us is that suspected positive in Oklahoma back in 2010 scared us, and we went ahead and implemented cave restrictions on our properties. So TPWD has already taken measures to control the spread of this fungus, but we are now working with partners to educate folks and help them understand what it's going to take to try to reduce the threat of spreading this fungus elsewhere.

We are going to be doing additional surveillance. We are very interested in invertebrate surveys because many of the treatment options could have impacts on rare karst invertebrates. So we want to make sure we're not crashing a cave ecosystem to simply treat a fungus. So we want to be very careful about that.

And to go into some of the treatment options, the main goal of treatment options at this point is to simply reduce that initial mortality. We believe if we can keep that from happening, we'll be ahead of the game. And then maybe also provide some safe haven -- safe havens in different hibernacula that are possible manmade -- culverts, things like that -- so that we can help these populations survive the exposure to this fungus.

There also are a couple native bacteria that produce gas and release it into the atmosphere and that gas inhibits the growth of the fungus and there has been some work being done on that. Trials have been successful in Missouri and Kentucky. Tennessee, they have built -- the T and C has built an artificial bat cave in Tennessee to test some of these things and they're also testing other bat treatments like cleansing agents for substrates and things such as that.

And then finally last week, staff met with Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation to provide them -- or to provide them with a briefing and then develop a five-year plan to see if there is a role for any philanthropic community involvement. So I guess the bottom line is, with this White-nose Syndrome and the discovery of P.D. in Texas, are we nearing a turning point? Do we know if treatment options are going to be able to get ahead of this, or are we just at the edge of the worst being yet to come? And the fact is, we don't really don't know at this time. We do hope it's more of being close to the turning point, rather than the worst is yet to come. At that point, I'll entertain any questions that you might have.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's great. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I have one question.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Morian.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: You said this entered through Europe. What's been the effect on the European bat population?

MR. DAVIS: There has been -- there has been a lot of work over in Europe and Asia looking for this and it is all over the place and the bats are carrying it over there and the bats are not dying like they are here in the United States. So there are two theories. The most prominent one is that probably those bats either co-evolved with this fungus and so have always been able to handle it. Another theory is that perhaps they went through this initial mortality event and recovered and what we see now is some 10,000 years later, we see the remnants of bats that went through that mortality event a long time ago. We don't know.

There is some evidence right now that's encouraging that bats up in the northeast who have had to deal with this now for several years, they're actually starting to show up to the hibernaculum with more fat reserves so that they're able to handle the drain on their fat reserves. So there is some hope that if we can just -- if we can just avoid these initial massive mortality events to give our bats a chance to figure out how to deal with this, that we might be able to come out on the other side a little bit better.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Any other questions?

John, thank you.

Item 12, 2017-18 Oyster Rules, Request Permission to Publish Propose Changes, Lance Robinson. Good morning.

MR. ROBINSON: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Lance Robinson; and I'm here today to present to you some -- several proposals dealing with oyster management and, you know, that we're looking at and would like to present to you. What I'd first like to do though is take a moment and kind of bring you up to speed a little bit on why we're here and why we think these measures are warranted.

We didn't get here overnight. Texas -- the Texas oyster industry and the fishing effort that goes along with it, has been very high since about the mid 90s. It's at the point that Texas has provided about 20 percent of the eastern oysters throughout the U.S. And so it's a pretty significant -- has been a pretty significant contribution and that's driven by a lot of -- that high harvest pressure. But everything changed pretty much overnight September 13th, 2008.

Hurricane Ike came through and made landfall across Galveston Bay. And when that happened, we lost about 50 percent of the oyster habitat in that system. Prior to that time, Galveston Bay was the main producer of the oysters in the state of Texas, accounting for upwards of 90 percent of the oysters coming out of the state. When Hurricane Ike came through and we lost all of that oyster habitat, naturally the industry adapted. It's a very mobile fleet and so they started looking around to where they could find oysters and we'll talk about that as we go through this presentation.

On top of Hurricane Ike, in 2010, we had the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; and although we didn't have any direct oil impacts to the state, there were certainly, we believe, some secondary impacts directed specifically at our oyster fishery. At the time of that spill, every other Gulf state was required to close down their oyster producing beds for several months, several months throughout the season. Texas, that didn't happen. And so there was a high demand for that product on the market and so our industry tried to respond to that demand and continued to fish very hard on the resources that we had here in Texas, kind of exacerbating some of that harvest pressure that we were already seeing and it coupled with that loss from Hurricane Ike.

Then in 2011 up through 2015, we experienced the drought of record here in Texas, or a drought of record. And although oysters are very resilient and they've adapted over the millennia to survive in a very hostile environment -- these bays and estuaries, salinities will fluctuate up and down, temperatures fluctuate widely -- so the oysters have adapted to thrive in those kind of conditions. However, when you start seeing the effects of these cumulative impacts, it begins to take a toil.

In the case of the drought, the salinities we saw in Texas in the Texas bay systems, reached levels that we had never seen before. For example, in Galveston Bay, we saw salinities in excess of 40 parts per 1,000. Open Gulf of Mexico is about 35. And so it was hypersaline in Galveston, which is the lion producing bay system for oysters; and although the oysters did okay through that, it also promotes a couple of diseases and predators that thrive in that high salinity. There's a snail that lives in higher salinity environments referred to as an "oyster drill," which literally drills a hole into the shell and will consume the meat of the oyster living on that reef. When this drought and the salinities went up, we saw the expansion of "oyster drills" onto reefs that we had never documented them before. We believe in the case of Galveston Bay, that they were using the ship channel as kind of that conduit to kind of get up higher into the bay system where they could come out onto the flats onto these reefs. And so we documented these "drills" in these areas. They are certainly very veracious predators of oysters, and they certainly had an impact on that population coastwide.

There's also a parasite of oysters referred to as "dermo." It's harmless to humans, but it is a parasite that thrives in warm, highly saline environments. And certainly in a drought condition, those are perfect conditions for this parasite. And that parasite expanded and just -- and it will kill the oyster really before it reaches a legal size of 3 inches. And so we saw a lot of mortality occurring because of the combination of the predator and also that disease and that occurred coastwide.

Typically, when you look at -- talk with meteorologists or look at some of the work they do, when they -- you have a high drought condition, it's typically followed by a flood event. When you come out of a drought, you typically see a flood event that will occur. Certainly, we saw that in the spring of 2015 and again in 2016 with all the rainfall event. Again, as I said, oysters are very resilient; but they cannot live in freshwater; and so during this flood's event in the spring of 2015, in many bay systems we documented zero salinity on top of the reefs. And although the oyster will survey for a few days -- will quit pumping and filtering water -- if it's subjected to that low salinity for a week or so, they'll start dying; and certainly we saw that in many of our bay systems in 2015 and then certainly in the Galveston Bay system again in 2016.

Another impact of that flood, that was the timing of it. Oysters spawn in the spring. That's their main spawning season is in April. These floods came in April and May. So it's right at the peak of spawning and so in addition to that killing the adults, a lot of that larvae were either flushed out of the system or they were also killed. We did see in the fall of 2015 in most of our bay systems, an uptick in Galveston in recruitment. There's a secondary spawning peak in the fall and because of all that dead shell that was in the water from the spring flood, it provided additional substrate that some of these oysters could settle on in that secondary peak spawn in the fall of 2015 and so that was a positive that we saw.

However, come back around to 2016, we had another flood event. So all of that newly recruited oysters in Galveston were pretty much decimated from that spring flood of 2016. So we have a series of cumulative impacts that have occurred since really about 2008. Harvest pressure really hasn't changed and part of the challenge that we face is that as the oyster resources become less and more depleted and we have a high harvest pressure, what we're seeing here is that the price -- the X vessel price, the price per pound of that oyster meat keeps climbing. And this graph kind of shows that since 2000, the red line depicts the annual landings of oysters in Texas; the yellow line shows that price per pound. And so it's kind of diverging there and so that's driving, incentivizing fishermen to fish harder because they're getting a higher price for their product.

Now, the decline you see, that steep decline you see from about 2013 down to 2015 and '16, we believe a lot of that decline was a result of regulations or rules that we started implementing or management measures we started implementing in 2014, really in 2015, where we were stepping in and closing areas down, closing complete bay systems down when we detected that the abundance of legal oysters were dropping below certain levels or that the abundance of undersized oysters were also being depleted. So that decline there may also be driven by our actual closures, and so we're suppressing some of the landings that are occurring.

Some of you may have seen this image before. This kind of, again, kind of exemplifies some of the challenges that we are facing right now with this fisheries. The naturally occurring deepwater reefs that we have, have become depleted through overharvest, as well as all of these cumulative environmental impacts that have occurred. This is actually a restoration site in Galveston Bay. It was a 30-acre site. We received some funding to try to help restore some of these reefs that were lost from Hurricane Ike. That area was closed. The Commission closed that area for two years to allow that resource to kind of build back up to marketable levels. And when that reef was scheduled to open in November of 2016; but at the request of industry, they voiced some concerns. We had a red tide event that shut down a lot of the bays on the lower coast and I think some of the industry certainly recognizes some of the challenges that are before them right now and they came to us and asked that we delay opening that -- this that site in November, hoping that some of the red tide areas would reopen and, therefore, the fleet would better dispersed. It's a mobile fleet. They'll go wherever the oysters are. And we did that, opening in January of 17th of 2016; but as you see from this image, the concentration of effort, it was directed straight at this particular 30-acre tract -- even though there were other reefs in the area, natural, that had not had the restoration effort conducted on it.

So as we've -- as I mentioned, we've started some of these closures to kind of help protect the market-size oysters and also some of those juvenile oysters in the area. The industry has responded. I mentioned they're very mobile. They've also responded by going to smaller vessels and actually targeting oysters in areas that we really haven't ever seen them harvest at any large capacity in the past and using techniques that are typically not seen or haven't been seen for many, many years. This is a photo -- some photographs taken from Christmas Bay in February of this year. It kind of gives you an idea of the boats are moving into these shallow-water areas; shallow, wadeable oyster reefs. They're harvesting oysters by hand now. On one day that our staff were out there, we counted about two dozen of these small boats and 40 to 50 fishermen out wading on the reefs harvesting by hand. So it's just kind of a changed dynamic in the way this fishery is trying to harvest the resource, again, driven by some of these high prices that are being paid for the product right now.

And I'll mention as well, I mean, Texas is not unique in some respects here. Other Gulf states are also having some very serious challenges with their oysters resources. Some problems with overfishing, as well. And I think that helps also drive that demand for product and is contributing to this higher price structure.

So that kind of gives you a little bit of a flavor of why we're before you today. One of the things that we're looking at doing in presenting some of these proposals to you is to try to make some efforts in protecting and leaving some of these resources in the water a little bit longer and I'll try to go through some of the rational here as I move through these proposals; but just as a reminder, these are the current regulations that apply to the oyster industry as of today. I'll draw your attention to the first one, 40 sacks per day and also the third one, the legal fishing day of Monday through Saturday. Last year, the Commission approved the lowering of the sack limit from 50 sacks a day to 40 and also the removal of Sunday as a legal fishing day for oyster harvest. So we've had one year where that's regulation has been in effect, and I'll have some data to kind of show what we've seen since then; but again, a 3-inch minimum size limit. Another factor here is that no more than 15 percent of the cargo can be made up of dead shell or live oysters less than 3 inches.

The reason that particular regulation is there is that -- and the way that oysters grow, they attach to each other and they will grow and so the idea is that as a fisherman harvest that oyster, he is only allowed to keep the 3-inch oyster and he's supposed to be cleaning that oyster up by knocking off those undersized oysters that may be cemented to that legal oyster and putting that undersized oyster back into the water. That oyster can then continue to live. These oysters are all sexed and mature; so by leaving them in the water, even these undersized, they are contributing spawning potential for next generations. So the idea is to provide -- but there are going to be some of these oysters that are attached that are attached in such a way that you really -- there's no way to knock it off without killing the small oyster. And so there has always been some tolerance allowed for keep -- allowing some of these small oysters that are just attached in such a way that you can't knock them off, to allow some ability to retain those on those shells. And so it's been at 15 percent for many years, and that's what I just kind of wanted to walk through that because that's going to be one of our proposals that I bring before you.

The first proposal that we would bring would be that the sack, daily sack limit of 40 sacks per day be reduced to 25 sacks and that an additional day be removed from harvest, Monday in this case, so that -- and in doing so, these two changes -- 25 sacks per day and five days a week -- would bring the harvest regulations closer to what we're actually seeing taking place in the fishery today. When we look at over the last three seasons and look at the average number of sacks that are harvested per vessel, it's averaging about 25 sacks per day; and if you look at the number of vessel days per season, the number of days that a vessel is actually fishing through the season, it's been about 106 days. So the industry is not fully optimizing the number of available days. Total days would be about 154 days available from November the 1st through the end of April and with a six-day harvest season, you're looking at about 154 days. What this proposal would do, would be to bring that down to about 126 days; but as you see, the fleet is already fishing only about 106 days of the season.

Now, the highlighted part on the bottom is something I think is worth noting is that because the industry has not fully optimized the available opportunity that's available to them -- i.e. the number of days in a season, they're not fishing that full compliment -- the expectation here is that the total number of landings pound-wise, number of sacks harvest over the course of a year is not going to change. The overall reduction of harvest is going to be -- will remain the same. That we're just matching what the fishery is actually -- the level they're participating at right now.

The next proposal speaks to the 15 percent tolerance of undersize oyster. As I mentioned before, we are implementing some closures when we identify that these areas have been overworked, market-size oyster abundance has been depleted or that -- and/or the percentage of undersize oysters in these areas have dropped. One of the things that we're finding when we go in and we implement one of these closures is that the population of these undersize oysters has been so depleted in there, that when we -- it takes about three years for an oyster that is newly settled -- just, you know, millimeters in size to grow to 3 inches in size -- about two years to get to that point. What's happening here is when we go in and close the areas, the abundance of those small oysters, which would normally be next year's harvestable size oysters, they've already been depleted, taken out of the population; and so when we close, those closures are now lasting for two years in order to get the population back up to a level that we believe can support some harvest.

And some of this information, the data that we see, is certainly supported by what our Law Enforcement staff witness on the water. This is just a summary of the citations issued for undersize oysters over the last six years. And you'll see that there's been an increase up through 2014, up to a little over 200 citations issued for that -- exceeding that 15 percent of the cargo being undersized. We had a drop in 2015 and '16 and as you recall -- may recall -- that's when we started implementing these closures in these systems and so we believe that that certainly helped. When we start seeing these undersize oysters and lower abundance of legal oysters, we close it so the industry is not continually fishing on that undersize product. But in 2017, we've seen an uptick in those citations. Law Enforcement saw an uptick in that. Basically, the enforcement effort, as they tell me, has been fairly uniform across those years; and in 2017, that uptick even occurred even though over almost 60 percent of the available areas in Texas were closed to commercial harvest by Parks and Wildlife.

This is an example of just from some citations from the month of February; and I would draw your attention to the fact that, you know, this was done in a very limited area, kind of the middle coast, Aransas, San Antonio Bay area. There were 37 cases for undersize oysters made in this one month. Of those 37 cases, 68 percent would be what we would consider fairly egregious. More than 30 percent of the cargo contained oysters less than 3 inches in size. And just for the sake of comparison -- I'll take that first line across the page there -- when they made that particular boarding, there were 17 sacks of oysters found on that boat. When they checked the cargo, they found in that sack 585 oysters that were undersized. You know, the total oysters in this sack were 615, bringing a percentage of undersize oysters in this particular case, 95 percent of that cargo was undersize. And so as you look at that, you know, when we look at a legal sack of oysters, we're talking a sack that's going to contain about 260 to 300 oysters, depending on the bay system from where that sack comes from. If you look, scan down that list of total oysters, you'll see sacks that were found with over 1,200 oysters in one sack. So clearly there were some challenges and some problems here with industry continuing to harvest these undersize, and part of the problem is that people -- the dealers, some of the dealers are buying this product and that's incentivizing these fishermen to continue to fish, even on undersize product.

The violation -- I want to point out, too, that the violation currently for an undersize cargo of oysters is a Class C Parks and Wildlife misdemeanor and that ticket is issued to the captain only. That is a 25 to $200 -- or $500 fine that would be issued to the captain and we believe what is certainly happening is that at this point, that fine going to the captain has become a cost of doing business. And certainly House Bill 51 that Carter alluded to, certainly strengthens some of the regulations that would now carry that penalty to cover everybody on board the boat. So if a violation occurs going forward for undersize, every participant on the boat -- the crew, as well as the captain -- would be issued that violation. House Bill 51 further escalates some of those penalties as a higher deterrent value.

The next and final proposal I have before you, it would be the closure of certain areas along the coast to all commercial harvest in these particular zones or areas. First, there are seven minor bay systems or tertiary bays that we bring before you for consideration of closing to oyster harvest. They spread -- they're located all along the coast. They're all very similar in their composition and makeup. They're relatively small bay systems. Minor bays in the bigger scheme of things. They typically will have a small compliment of acreage of oysters. Usually, they're going to be associated with seagrass beds, infringing marsh habitat; and so these areas are all very similar.

I'll point you specifically to Christmas Bay and South Bay in Cameron County. Those are also designated as coastal preserves. And you may recall that this year in Christmas Bay, we received a petition for rulemaking from a group requesting that Christmas Bay be closed to all harvest of oysters. It was signed by several NGO groups -- Galveston Bay Foundation, Matagorda Bay Foundation, and some others -- as well as six commercial oysters dealers, they signed on to that petition asking that Christmas Bay be closed to harvest.

The other closure area that we are proposing is the closure of a zone or a buffer, if your will. Create a buffer zone within 300 feet of the mean low waterline along all shorelines that are currently open for harvest, and I'll kind of walk through some of this in just a minute on why those areas are so important. This kind of gives you a visual depiction of those minor bays that we were proposing. Christmas Bay is a part of the Galveston Bay Complex. Carancahua, Keller, and Powderhorn are all part of the Matagorda System. Hynes Bay is part of San Antonio. Saint Charles, part of the Aransas Bay System; and then, of course, South Bay is a part of -- a small part of the Lower Laguna.

So this picture, it kind of sets the stage -- and I have to turn and thank Shannon Tompkins for this, give him credit. This is a photo that Shannon took. This is taken off of Powderhorn -- the property off Powderhorn in -- off Matagorda Bay and really depicts what we're talking in this zone, this 300-foot buffer zone that we're talking about. And I think part of the rational for looking at this is that there's been lot of new research, a lot of research really looking at what this particular oyster habitat brings to the table as it relates to the ecosystem services and the value that these habitats provide. A lot of work has been done on these deepwater reefs and over multiple states and bay systems; but these fringing and shallow-water reefs, there's just not as much done, looked at and we're seeing and finding out more and more about them.

Certainly, based on new research and research that's ongoing, these areas contain a high density and diversity of species. We've had documents -- documentation of over 300 species of organisms associated with these intertidal oyster habitat. Decapods or crabs, the diversity and abundance of crabs are orders of magnitude higher in these habitats as opposed to maybe even adjacent seagrass and even fringing marsh areas. One interesting side note, too, is that in our -- in our -- looking at all of the data that we collect, we have also depicted some downward trends in our Blue crab population and we're looking at it more closely; but some of the analysis that we've done with Blue crabs and looking at some of the modeling that goes along with that, has predicted that there is a positive correlation in the abundance of Blue crabs with the reduction of oyster harvest. So there's certainly a linkage here, oyster habitat providing some of that nursery zone or habitat for juvenile Blue crabs as they come in. It's always been known that they utilize seagrass as that nursery zone for Blue crabs; but now new research is showing that even these intertidal reefs are serving that function at the same level even in some cases as seagrass habitat.

The third bullet is an interesting study that's been done looking at, you know, the value of oyster habitat and these intertidal reefs, as well, to the whole ecosystem and to the community and certainly this range is wide, but it -- and it kind of speaks to the different -- it's looked at across the U.S. So they're looking at different habitat types, oyster habitat types; but the magnitude of this value here in these ecosystem services, which include water quality, shoreline, protecting shorelines from erosion control, erosion, you know, things like nitrogen uptake and carbon sequestration, things like that that these oysters will provide, are of incredible value to that whole ecosystem habitat and those values there and the studies that were done that came up with these figures, don't include the value that's associated with these habitats for recreational fishing and other uses, bird habitat and things like that for oyster catchers, feeding areas and stuff.

And so certainly I think these zones provide a lot of value to the State and to the ecosystems in which they are found; and thus, that's part of the rational for proposing some protection of these zones to this newly developing harvest in these areas. To give -- to put it in some context of how much area we're talking about, this is the acreage of oyster habitat found in each of these seven minor bay systems and I'll kind of walk you through what the slide -- using Christmas Bay as our example.

So in Christmas Bay, there's about 660 acres of oyster habitat in that system. That acreage of oysters represents about 2 and a half percent of all the oyster habitat in Galveston Bay. That's the major complex in which that system resides. So it represents about 2 and a half percent of the Galveston Bay oyster habitat. The number in parentheses represents the -- what that acreage represents to the total acres of oysters in the State of Texas, the fishable oyster reefs in the State of Texas. So Christmas Bay, that 660 acres, is about 1 and a half percent of all the coastal oyster habitat in Texas.

The information is lacking for Powderhorn. This is a system that we haven't typically sampled. It's not part of our routine sampling frame. We certainly have started looking at this more closely and are going to look at mapping and trying to get more information on Powderhorn; but at this time, we just have no good maps and no imagery to be able to discern how many acres of oyster reef are in that system. But it's a very shallow system. Some of our routine sampling methods that we use won't work in these shallow areas. So we have to develop new sampling techniques and methodologies.

So overall, you're looking at about 19 -- a little over 1,900 acres in these seven areas and about 4 percent of the coastwide total of oyster habitat. Oh, okay. And so let me also mention, too, you'll see a pretty high percentage in South Bay; but South Bay is fairly unique. That's a -- that's a small bay. That's really the only place down there where oysters are grown. The other areas are really just too salty to support any real thriving population. There's been no oyster harvest. It's open for commercial harvest today, but we haven't seen any commercial oyster harvest in South Bay since the mid 1990s, I believe, is the last time we saw harvest there. And one I thing I need to --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Why is the number so -- I don't understand the South Bay number.

MR. ROBINSON: The South Bay number is represent -- that number -- out of all of South Bay, 49 percent of the area is oyster habitat; but there's some that extend a little bit outside of the actual area that we would be proposing for closure. And so that's the difference between the 49 percent and the 31 and a half percent.

Let me back up a minute. If you look at South Bay, there's 49 percent of --

COMMISSIONER JONES: 49 acres.

MR. ROBINSON: I'm sorry, 49 acres. I apologize. 49 acres of oyster habitat in South Bay. If you look at the percentage, that 31 and a half percent, that represents the total contribution of that 49 acres to the whole Lower Laguna Madre.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Then why is the -- why is it only .0 --

MR. ROBINSON: It's less -- yeah. And it's less than .1 percent of the total contribution of the 40 plus thousand acres of oyster reef in the State. 48,000 -- there's a little over 48,000 acres of oyster reef in Texas. The 49 acres represents less than 1 percent of that 48,000.

One other point I need to make sure I emphasize here, is the closures that we're proposing here -- both for the seven minor bay areas, as well as the buffer zone -- would be a total closer. That would be for both commercial and recreational harvest at this time is what we're proposing.

So if we look at the -- that intertidal area, that buffer zone, we looked at three different options: 150-foot buffer, 300, and a 450-foot buffer. We've settled on the 300-foot buffer, and it's highlighted there to kind of give you some indication of the number of acres again that would -- this would affect based on our mapping and assessment. So total would be a little over 1,200 acres, almost 1,300 acres of the shoreline habitat under that 300-foot buffer. If you combine that 300-foot buffer with the seven minor bays that we're talking about, it would result in about 3,189 acres that would be removed from commercial and recreational harvest or about a little over six and a half percent of the total coastwide oyster population.

And so with that, I believe that's my last slide; and I'd be happy to try to entertain any questions you may have.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I've got a couple.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Morian.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: What's a bag weigh?

MR. ROBINSON: A bag weighs about 110 pounds.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: And when you say it's $6 or $5.50 a pound, that's in the shell?

MR. ROBINSON: $5 a pound is actually the meat weight because that's the product. They're not -- they're not -- they're selling the whole product, but we calculate it based on a meat weight.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: How do you calculate the meat weight out of a sack?

MR. ROBINSON: Out of a sack, we know that a volume of oysters contains -- a legal sack of oysters contains a certain volume, and then we have conversion factors that we can apply based on that sack to give us that a meat weight.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I'm just trying to do the math on what a bag of oysters is worth in today's --

MR. ROBINSON: Oh, I can tell you a sack -- going -- the going rate right now for a sack of oysters to the boat is just over $40 a sack to the captain or to the boat.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Okay. And the other comment is you say this has no affect on harvest, but is that really what we're trying to accomplish in protecting these very critical --

MR. ROBINSON: The two proposals, the reduction in the sack limit and the closure of Monday to oyster harvest, we don't believe over the course of a season it's going to have -- reduce landings of total sacks harvested. What we do expect to happen is those oysters because we're dropping it down to really what they're harvesting now, but it will also allow some of those oysters to stay in the water longer because they're still every though they're averaging 25 sacks now, there are some boats that are hitting 35, 40 sacks. So anything that we're leaving in the water, is also able to continue to grow and continue to spawn, so they're going to provide additional larvae into the system to kind of help perpetuate that population and so because they're not fully utilizing the full season right now, based on the analysis that we've done, the majority of the boats have stopped fishing by February and March, even though the season runs through April, and when we look at on a per vessel basis, they're fishing for about 109 days within that season.

MR. RIECHERS: Commissioners, my name is Robin Riechers. I'm Director of Coastal Fisheries; and I'm going to try to take a stab at your question, as well, because I think I may have heard a little different question that you were asking than Lance might have heard. I think you were asking since we are in such a critical place with this resource, do we think the rules that we're putting in place -- even though we don't believe that portion of it will impact harvest -- do we think the other sets of rules in combination will do some of the things we want to do and we believe so.

We believe that the closed areas will help support those reserves that will make sure that we have spat settle and that we continue to be able to basically have spat set along those reefs and create those next generations.

The other real critical part here is what's going on in combination with House Bill 51, assuming it gets signed by the Governor or passes into law, is that a lot of this effort and even what you see here is by reducing the tolerance limit on the undersize and then having -- basically, creating more disincentives like House Bill 51 does to harvest those undersize, we believe we can turn this fishery around fairly quickly. Those things in combination with the in-season closures that are still a tool that we will continue to use, we think we can protect the resource if we can do all those things, without even further restricting them with sack limits at the moment. But certainly we'll be looking, assuming you-all go forward with this and we enact some of these changes into next season starting in November, we would certainly be back here next year or doing the reviews of how well all of this worked next year.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: With the goal of protecting this very unique asset of the State and also helping keep the bays healthier by healthy oyster beds?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes, sir. I mean, that's certainly our goal and as well as protecting an industry that's, you know, been with us a long time and does provide a service to the State of Texas, jobs and the economy and so forth, trying to find that balance.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER JONES: What is the increase in the penalty that Representative Bonnen was seeking on oyster harvest? Wasn't there an increase in penalty, criminal penalty?

MR. RIECHERS: Go ahead.

MR. ROBINSON: The way the language is currently worded is for a violation of undersize cargo, that on the -- I have it here -- the third offense, it would be a suspension of the license and an escalation to a Class B violation for that and then -- oh, then an egregious violation if exceeding 30 percent undersize would be an automatic Class B with a suspension of the license for one month.

MR. RIECHERS: And that's at the producer level and there's also some of those escalating clauses, at least for the 30 percent greater at the dealer level.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Right, okay. Because I thought he was going further than just fisher -- the people out in the water.

MR. RIECHERS: Yes.

MR. ROBINSON: It does.

MR. RIECHERS: It does.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Any other questions? Discussions?

Okay. I'll authorize staff to publish the proposed changes to the 2017-2018 oyster rules in the Texas Register. Lance, thank you.

With regard to Work Session No. 13, Texas Statewide Recreational Trail Grants Funding, Recommended Approval of Trail Construction, Renovation, and Acquisition Projects, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments on 13?

Okay. I'll place the Texas Statewide Recreational Trail Grants Funding on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Fourteen is Acquisition of Land, Aransas County, Approximately 1 Acre at Goose Island State Park, Mr. Trey Vick.

MR. VICK: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Trey Vick; and today, I will present possible acquisition of 1 acre at Goose Island State Park. Goose island is in Aransas County. It's about 9 miles northeast of Rockport. Goose Island State Park consist of 409 acres on the Saint Charles and Aransas Bays. It was acquired back in the early 30s. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the earliest park facilities. Today, the park's known for its bird watching, fishing, and coastal live oaks. It's extremely popular with the winter Texans.

It's always been a goal to protect the scenic Park Road 13. At one point along Park Road 13, the road right-of-way narrows from 200 feet to 150 feet and it actually encroaches on some private property. We are in negotiations now for a 1-acre tract along Park Road 13. It's actually a 50-foot strip that would protect us against any future development.

As you can see in the map, the tract outlined in yellow is what we're in negotiations for. Per your direction last meeting, we published a public notice that stated this acquisition is intended to benefit the park, especially by protecting the view corridor of Park Road 13. The sellers are State employees. One is an employee of the State University System. The other is a TPWD employee, whose job duties do not include participation in state park land acquisitions.

We have received no comments on the proposed transition -- or transaction. I would ask that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorize the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire approximately 1 acre in Aransas County for addition to Goose Island State Park. And I'd be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Trey? Commissioner Duggins.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Since we are purchase -- sorry. Since we are proposing to acquire this tract from a State employee -- in particular, a Parks and Wildlife employee -- are we getting a third-party appraisal or propose to do that?

MR. VICK: Yes, sir. Once we identify where the funds will come from to acquire the property, we will, per y'all's direction last meeting, seek an outside appraisal, independent appraisal.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Thank you.

MR. VICK: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Trey, thank you. Okay. I'll place the acquisition of land, Aransas County, on Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Item 15, Acquisition of Land, Blanco County, 200 Acres at Pedernales Falls State Park, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This is an item that you've seen a couple times already. As you know, we've been working actually with several landowners; but with a landowner particular at Pedernales Falls State Park, which is about 40 miles west of here.

The park was established in 1970 and the primary feature of the park is some pretty spectacular series of waterfalls along the Pedernales River and actually for much of the park, we actually own both sides of that river; but on the north end of the park where those namesake falls are, we only own the southern bank of the river. And we've always worked -- always stayed in touch, always worked with our neighbors to try and ensure that those falls stayed protected. Nonetheless, we don't have control over what happens overlooking those falls. And on the subject property in particular, those bluffs overlooking the fall are visible for much of the park and we've always been concerned about somebody in the future desiring to build a home. It's spectacular, spectacular views from those bluffs and been concerned about somebody building a home or other construction that might really impact the viewshed from the park and aesthetic quality of the walk down to the falls and the view of the falls.

So the landowner that actually owns most of that bluff overlooking the falls is now a willing seller of about 200 acres of that property. He actually owns a little more of that overlook and would retain some of that to keep the value of his ranch up with the river frontage; but would place a conservation easement on that frontage, again, achieving that goal we have of ensuring that there would be no facilities or any other visual intrusions constructed on that bluff overlooking at falls.

This map shows you clearly where the 200 acres is that he would sell to us. The property just in this map to the right to the east overlooking the falls and outlined in the -- between the white and the blue, he also owns and would be placed under that conservation easement. We did -- we did publish public notice. Have received no comments regarding this proposed transaction and with that, the staff recommends that the TPWD -- the TPW Commission authorize the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire approximately 200 acres in Blanco County for addition to Pedernales Falls State Park.

I would like to add that the acquisition would be with Land and Water Conservation funds, that the match would come from the landowner, and that we would be able to pay no more than half of what that 200 acres appraised for. Be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any -- Commissioner Latimer.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So the only -- the park goes on both sides to the east of the Pedernales and so there's just that one little piece on that northeast side that is still a private border?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, ma'am.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Between -- acquired -- to be acquired property and the easement, and the conservation easement?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, ma'am.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: If anybody has got any questions, I went out there and rode over the whole site and it's a pretty unique piece of property. It would be a sin to let that thing get away and expose our whole side of our park for future development because I can tell you, it wouldn't be just one home built on that point. I mean, it's a spectacular piece of property. It really is, and the deal is pretty outstanding.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Good. Any other questions? Discussion?

Ted, thanks.

I'll place the acquisition of land, Blanco County, on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Item 16, Grant of Easement, Somervell County, Approximately 9 Acres of High Voltage Transmission Line Right-of-Way at Dinosaur Valley State Park, Permission to Begin the Public Notice and Input Process, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman Commissioners, for the record, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item is really in large -- in large measure, a housekeeping item. When we acquired Dinosaur Valley State Park back in 1968, there was already 138-kilovolt transmission line that runs north and south along the western portion of that park. Floods a couple years ago compromised one of the monopoles that holds up those transmission lines. There was an urgent need to reroute that, to get those mono -- a couple of the monopoles out of the riverbed itself.

Staff has been working with BEC, the Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc., to find a route that really does reduce the visibility of those lines reduces the potential impacts, and really is a win-win for the park.

BEC has been very cooperative in that regard. We found a route that works well for them, that works well for the park and the park aesthetics and they have agreed to, you know, the conditions we would like to place on the construction and the coloration of those monopoles and so forth.

But in the course of negotiating this reroute, nobody could find an easement. BEC couldn't produce one and there's not one in the county records and we don't have a record of one and so there's actually a need for an easement to cover that entire reach of line where it goes through the park.

This is, again, just an effort to paper a right-of-way that clearly already exists and in so doing, we would authorize the rerouting of the right-of-way and the section of right-of-way that was no longer needed would be abandoned, would be abandoned of record so that that property reverted back to the park and we could restore that, restore that to the habitat that should be there.

Again, that reach of right-of-way that's abandoned, we would be able to restore that as part of the park; and all we're doing today is requesting permission to begin the public notice and input process. I'll be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Ted? Commissioner Duggins.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What would the term of the proposed easement say with respect to whether or not Brazos Electric could expand, put in larger lines? One, that's the first question. The second question: If the line is abandoned, does it expire?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: In answer to your first question, the terms and conditions that we have verbally agreed upon are that any expansion, the number of lines or increase in the voltage, would require a new easement.

That we're only easing the existing facilities. And in answer to your second question, yes, if the line were abandoned or rerouted to go around the park at some point in the future, the right-of-way would be abandoned and whatever impacts, whatever damage was done in the park in the process would be restored.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Would we have the option to leave the poles in place? I mean they're great for raptors. I'm not making a judgment call, but I'm just saying we ought to try to get the option to have them removed or at our --

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: You know, that's an excellent point. We always do that with pipelines. We reserve the option to require that the pipeline be left in the ground so that there's not that disturbance. I'll recommend to those -- I will certainly be happy to recommend that we reserve that option in this easement, as well.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions?

Ted, thank you.

I'll place the grant of easement, Somervell County, to begin public notice and input process.

Item No. 17, Commission Meeting Policy Regarding Meeting Procedures; Item No. 18, San Jac Battleground State Historic Site Improvements; and Item 19, Update on Regulatory Litigation, Related to Red Snapper, Oysters, and CWD Deer Breeder Litigation will all be heard in Executive Session.

At this time, I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation, deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meetings Act. We will now recess for Executive Session. Thank you.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. We will now reconvene the regular session of the Work Session on May 24th, 2017, at 3:41 p.m.

Work Session Item No. 17, Commission Meeting Policy Regarding Meeting Procedures, no further action required at this time.

And Item No. 18, the San Jac Battleground State Historic Site Improvements, no further action required at this time.

Item 19, Update on Regulatory Litigation Related to Red Snapper, Oysters, Chronic Wasting Disease Deer Breeder Litigation, no further action required at this time.

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

(Commission Work Session Adjourns)


C E R T I F I C A T E

STATE OF TEXAS ) COUNTY OF TRAVIS )

I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand Reporter in and for the State of Texas, do hereby certify that the above-mentioned matter occurred as hereinbefore set out.

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such were reported by me or under my supervision, later reduced to typewritten form under my supervision and control and that the foregoing pages are a full, true, and correct transcription of the original notes.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Turn in date _____ day of ________________, ________.

___________________________________

Paige S. Watts, CSR, RPR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: December 31, 2018

7010 Cool Canyon Cove

Round Rock, Texas 78681

(512)779-8320

TPW Commission Meetings