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TPW Commission

Annual Public Hearing - May 22, 2018

Transcript

TPW Commission Meetings

TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION

May 22, 2018

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

ANNUAL PUBLIC HEARING

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Which then takes

us to our annual Public Hearing, which I will formally call to order on August 22, at 2:20 p.m.

May I ask everyone to please rise for the posting of the colors by the Game Warden Honor Guard.

(Posting/Presentation of Colors)

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right. Thank you, everyone. Please be seated. For those of you in the audience who may be unfamiliar with the Game Warden Honor Guard, for the past 20 years or so, it has been tasked with providing respect and dignity to the families of our Texas game wardens and other peace officers who have passed away. Each year, its 17 members attend funerals on behalf of families who've reached out with the desire to have the Honor Guard present during their time of grief and loss.

In addition, the Honor Guard participates in numerous peace officer memorials that occur during the month of May, include once held -- one that's held at the Texas State Capitol. The teamwork, dedication, and respect for their fellow men and women that is displayed by this team is exceptional. So it's with the -- I'm a little bit behind here. Do I ask the Game Warden Honor Guard to post the colors?

MR. SMITH: No. We've --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: We've already done that.

MR. SMITH: -- done that, yeah, Chairman. Yeah, check.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So, sorry.

Dee, you're fired.

That's the problem when I read scripts instead of just -- my apologies. So before we proceed with the business of the annual Public Meeting, I think Carter needs to make a statement and some comments about how the meeting will be conducted.

Carter?

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

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

Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, I just want to join all of you in welcoming everybody to our annual Public Hearing. This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us and particularly the Commission to hear from you and I know that many of you have traveled from far away to have a chance to share your sentiments and thoughts and perspectives on various and sundry issues of importance to this Department and our state and we're grateful that you've taken time to do so.

Just as a matter of protocol, for anybody who wants to speak who has not already signed up, please do so outside. At the appropriate time, the Chairman will call you by name up to the microphone. Please state your name and who you represent, in anybody other than yourself, and then you're going to have two minutes to share your perspective, again, on any issue relating to the Department that's on your mind.

We're going to use a green/yellow/red light system to kind of monitor time and help show respect for the other folks that have come behind you to speak. And so green means go and yellow means please start to wind it down and red means let's go ahead and stop so we can make time for the person behind you. Again, thanks for joining us this afternoon. Appreciate you being here.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you, Carter.

All right. We will -- those who have -- if -- well, let me say this: If anyone wishes to speak, but has not filled out one of the forms, would you please do so and take it over to Ms. Halliburton?

So we'll start with Mr. Nick Moss with Texas Ducks Unlimited; to be followed by James Nau, also with Ducks Unlimited; followed by Kirby Brown with Ducks Unlimited. So we'll take up waterfowl topics first. Welcome.

MR. NICK MOSS: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, I'm Nick Moss from Whitehouse, Texas; and I'm the current State Chairman for Texas Ducks Unlimited. On behalf of Ducks Unlimited and our more than 1 million members and supporters, including more than 50,000 Texans, we wanted to thank Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and their staff for the efforts and long-term partnership provided habitat and waterfowl.

By far, DU's partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife is the strongest in the country. This Commission has long recognized that waterfowl are a shared resource and that waterfowl habitat conservation has to take place not only here in Texas, but also the breeding grounds of Canada, where most of our waterfowl are produced and Mexico, where most of our waterfowl overwinter. And because of your vision and efforts, we expect to see very good duck numbers coming down the flyway again this year.

Albeit a 13 percent decline of last year's near record numbers. With the dryer conditions in the northern prairies in this past spring, it was to be expected. Most species are still well above the long-term average and it is the 12th highest number of the record since the surveys began in 1955. So we will, again, be in good shape and look forward to a good season. I would like to thank you and your staff for all that you do for the ducks. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you, sir.

All right, Mr. Nau; again, followed by Kirby Brown.

MR. JAMES NAU: Good afternoon. Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, thank you for having us. I'm James Nau of San Antonio, Texas; current Texas State Public Policy Chair. This year's breeding population decline is a reminder of the need to sustain Prairie Pothole breeding habitat in Canada and the northern great plains as we go through natural variation in wetland conditions.

Texas annual contributions to the state grant program, spends state migratory game bird stamp funds -- specifically, wetlands conservation in Canada. Last year, Texas spent $725,000, more than any other state in the nation; and Texas is the first and only state to provide $50,000 to DU Mexico. Texas hunter stamp dollars are leveraged by DU a minimum of four times and as much as seven times, multiplying your waterfowl habitat conservation impact in the nesting grounds.

We clearly understand and support your decision to redirect significant funding this year as you concentrated efforts on marsh restoration and repairs after Hurricane Harvey. I'm originally from Houston. I understand it and thank you. We look forward in future years to increased international impact. After all, long-term breeding data shows us 48 percent of ducks harvesting -- harvested in Texas come from the Saskatchewan and Alberta area; thus, investing through DU in this region of Canada, continues to provide the greatest return on investment for Texas waterfowl hunters. Thank you very much for having us.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you, sir.

All right, Kirby, your turn.

MR. KIRBY BROWN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members. My name is Kirby Brown. I'm a Conservation Outreach Biologist for Ducks Unlimited here in Austin, Texas; and I wanted to kind of concentrate on Texas real quick from a Ducks Unlimited standpoint because here in Texas, DU wants to recognize this Department for its work and support through the years with the Texas Prairie Wetlands Program. A program that's been in place 27 years working with private landowners on the Texas coast restoring waterfowl habitat.

The unique partnership that we have with Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA, Natural Resource Conservation Service, with Ducks Unlimited has worked cooperatively with these interested private landowners to deliver wetlands habitat on the Texas coast. We are now approaching 85,000 acres of prairie wetland habitat that has been restored or developed on these areas. The Texas Prairie Wetlands Program is, as far as we know, the longest running, most successful private landowner/multiple agency/NGO partnership in the country. It's amazing what it's done and how well it's been received by landowners in the state.

DU has also assisted Texas Parks and Wildlife on their wildlife management areas, their state parks, coastal fisheries projects, and has enhanced Texas and national wildlife refuges and NGO lands with our wetland's expertise and engineering experience. Importantly, these projects not only provide waterfowl habitat; but they also provide opportunities for hunting, for fishing, birdwatching, outdoor education across the Lone Star state.

And we would like to say a special thanks to Robin Riechers and his excellent coastal fisheries staff. We have developed a great partnership with them on projects at Dagger, Ransom Island; and Robin and crew have continued to be very supportive with us and our efforts of obtaining National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funding through the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.

We also want to say thanks again to Carter Smith, Clayton Wolf, Dave Morrison, Shaun Oldenburger, and the migratory bird staff and WMA staff. Been great partners through the years.

And then working across this continent -- including the Parks and Wildlife Commission and staff -- DU and their staff -- we've now conserved over 14 million acres of wetlands in North America. Truly a landmark process and period. So we appreciate it. The waterfowlers appreciate your unwavering support through these programs; and if we look back across survey records over 63 years, these are the best years of waterfowl and waterfowl hunting we've had. So thank you very much. We appreciate your partnership; and we're all here to answer any questions you might have, so.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, first let me say thanks to the three of you for taking time to come and address the Commission today. I actually do have a question.

When we were in the Panhandle in May, we heard a presentation about playa lakes and how that's -- misuse, I'll put it, of what were playa lakes has created -- at least in the view of a couple of the presenters -- a real problem there. When you do -- DU does habitat restoration, does any of it ever deal with playa lake challenges? It's not a criticism. It's just a --

MR. KIRBY BROWN: No.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- straight out question.

MR. KIRBY BROWN: Yes, sir. Playa lakes are important ecological components of the Texas Panhandle that hold shallow ephemeral wetlands when we get water. And when you go in and pit those wetlands and pool all the water into one spot, it tends to drain it from other spots. So in that perspective, we're just trying to go back to those landowners who no longer use those pits for those purposes and say, "Here's an opportunity to restore these playa wetlands by coming back and actually putting soil back into those spots," and then that restores that playa wetland so it can hold water when it does rain up there.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good. Because as I remember, thinking back on this, there were agreements I think negotiated with some landowners where they would move the clay back into the playa and agree to keep it that way for a certain period of time and it sounded like it was very necessary and great work. I was just curious. But anyway, thank you for the great work that you-all do for waterfowl. It's fantastic. Appreciate your time today.

MR. KIRBY BROWN: Thank you, sir.

MR. JAMES NAU: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right. Next topic will be -- let's hear about -- from people about turtles, starting with Viviana Ricardez. I hope I'm not butchering you name, and we'll be followed by Carl Franklin. Welcome.

MS. VIVIANA RICARDEZ: Good afternoon. I was not expecting to go first. I'm Viviana Ricardez, and I'm representing TexasTurtles.org. I wanted to re-enforce statements that are going to be made throughout this presentation on why the collection of Texas turtles is no longer sustainable.

Turtles and tortoises are now the most endangered vertebrates in the world, with over half facing extinction. Turtles are priceless indicators of the health of our river systems and are beneficial in helping even with invasive plants. Turtles are not sustainable because their reproductive ecology in many turtles take years to sexually reproduce, nor could many people ID a Smooth softshell from a Spiny softshell, which both are allowed for commercial collection.

Smooth softshells have a limited range with virtually nothing known about them from the State of Texas. Texas has a great diversity of turtles. Why would we commit our captivating and beneficial Texas turtles to spend a few moments through a person's GI system?

Also, please remember this makes the approach from Law Enforcement much easier with one less thing for our Texas game wardens to worry about and would also keep Texas from becoming a laundering state. As stated, there will be no fiscal implications to state or local governments as a result of administering or enforcing these rules. It will not result in the loss of sales greater than 5,000 to any permittee and will not otherwise directly affect small or micro businesses, nor impact local economies. It will not create new regulation and will not positively or adversely affect the state's economy.

On that note, there is simply not a good reason left for allowing the commercial collection of our Texas turtles. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you, ma'am.

All right. Mr. Carl Franklin; followed by Andrew Brinker, please.

MR. CARL FRANKLIN: Good afternoon, y'all. I'm proud to be here to be able to talk about the topic regarding the ending of commercialization of our turtles native here in Texas. We have approximately -- I'm a herpetologist at the University of Texas at Arlington and I specialize in studying turtles.

We hold here in Texas approximately just over one-half the diversity of turtles in the entire United States. The Texas Parks and Wildlife moved to have legislation that banned the sale and the commercial trade of turtles here 11 years ago, and that took care of all but four types of turtles -- two species of softshell, the common snapping turtle, and Red-eared slider. We feel that from a scientific perspective, that it is unsustainable to allow the commercial take of these animals due to many factors, not limited to the longevity that they live and that's required because just about every egg -- almost every egg that mama turtle puts in the ground -- winds up getting eaten and then out of all them babies, very few of them even make it long enough to reproduce.

This is a moment here in Texas that I think we can look back on and be proud of the decision to stop that commercial trade. Right now, our understanding of the export coming out of this state to be sold is just a pittance of an amount and any continuing of that would allow nothing more than a capricious take of our special state resources.

And I want to thank y'all for your time and letting me come up here and feel free to have any questions for us that you might.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right, sir. Thank you, Mr. Franklin.

Mr. Andrew Brinker, followed by Chris Jones.

MR. ANDREW BRINKER: Thank you, Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Andrew Brinker. I'm a high school science teacher in Fort Worth; and, yes, I'm playing hooky today so I can come talk to y'all because I really like turtles.

I received a grant from Texas Christian University to take my students out and do a turtle survey. So once a month, I'm out in the field with my students catching turtles. I wanted to point out a couple of things. The reasons I think turtles are so important and we should protect them, first of all, the legislation passed in 2007 is protecting most of them and did the majority of the commercial trade and it's exciting that we can finish it off, you know, tomorrow hopefully.

But turtles are really important for keeping our rivers, stock ponds, lakes clean. Without the turtles, you can have algae blooms. You know, fish die off, stuff like that. Also, they're unsafe to eat and some of the turtles that are exported out of Texas end up in food markets. One of the studies I'm doing with my students is looking at mercury concentrations using toenail clippings, and we've discovered that -- as we expected -- you don't want to eat turtles. It's not good for your health.

And lastly, I wanted to mention when I was out at the river a couple of weeks ago, I met a commercial exporter. He's actually based out of Louisiana, but he kind of gave the impression that maybe some Texas turtles get in with his; but he was exporting, at one point, he said 300,000 turtles a year. A single individual. A female for 65 cents and then males were three for 65 cents. Anyways, that's unsustainable and although he's doesn't work in Texas, the surrounding states have folks like that and, you know, if they can get Texas turtles, they'll take them. Thank you for your time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you, sir.

Chris Jones, please; followed by Lee Fitzgerald.

MR. CHRIS JONES: Good afternoon, Commissioners, Director, Chairman. I'm Chris Jones. I'm a pet turtle advocate in Houston. I'm also a Federal Wildlife Law Specialist. I'm asking you to oppose this proposal that bans and criminalizes the sale and commercial breeding of the most widespread turtles in America. This proposal is unnecessary as current law prohibits commercial harvest from all public waters.

This proposed rule frustrates the ability to easily acquire and have hands on contact with farmed turtles from aquaculture. It destroys aquaculture of these turtles. The proposed rule does not address how these species may mature in as little as five years in the hot Texas climate as in aquaculture and lay 10 -- 10 to 30 eggs per year. It admits populations are abundant in Texas, with little to no harvest in the last decade.

It has no data showing depletions in the wild anywhere in the U.S. If passed, it will definitely be used by Law Enforcement to criminally charge citizens, children, adults who wish to sell their pets or collect nuisance turtles from private lands to breed as pets, subjecting them to jail, subjecting them to Lacey Act violations. This was petitioned by litigious anti-pet turtle animal rights extremists using outdated, yet sensational Asian turtle consumption crises of the 1990s to trick agencies to end America's sale of pet turtles. They misinform export data as wild-caught sent to Asia to be consumed, when numbers are truly Louisiana farmed hatchlings that foreign countries enjoy as pets.

In the last 20 years, China has farmed global species by the millions. These groups cry the sky is falling and profiteer from donations and is sponsored by those who cry black market, but are unforthcoming with their own observations of abundant populations in Texas, having even traveled to China to witness limitless farms. They also encourage wardens to seize people's pet turtles, erroneously comparing them to drug trafficking to justify prosecutions.

I ask that you please strike this proposal and continue protecting the ability for people to breed and enjoy these common pet turtles. Thank you for your time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you for your comments, sir.

Lee Fitzgerald, please; followed by Toby Hibbits -- Toby Hibbits. Sorry, beg your pardon.

MR. LEE FITZGERALD: Good afternoon, Commissioners. My name is Lee Fitzgerald. I have some formal comments that I wrote for you that I would like to share with you. I'm a professor of wildlife science at Texas A&M. I'm a herpetologist, and I've studied turtles in the international trade and wildlife for over 30 years.

I led studies to address the unregulated commercial trade in turtles in Texas with my graduate student Claudia Ceballos and we published a research paper that I think was influential in leading to the policies in 2007.

The science that you've heard about, whether or not turtles can be easily harvested sustainably, is settled science. For example, one study showed that if one-half of the adult female Snapping turtles are removed from a pond, it will take 30 years for that population of Snapping turtles to recover. How would a ban on commercial trade in turtles affect Texas naturalists and hunters?

To the best of my knowledge, banning commercial trade in turtles would have no effect on any Texan who wants to catch and keep a pet turtle, to teach kids how to catch, see, use, and appreciate turtles. A ban on commercial trade of turtles would not prohibit anyone from hunting and eating turtles. A ban on commercial turtle collecting would only impact a few profiteers who make money by selling our Texas wildlife.

Our research show that during this alarming boom in turtle trade during which 377,000 turtles were exported from Texas, 78 percent of the 16,000 turtles collected from Texas waters came from three counties in the Rio Grande Valley. Believe it or not, two hunters accounted for 76 percent of all of those wild-caught turtles. The number one hunter caught and sold 9,500; and the number two hunter sold 2,775. So banning commercial trade in turtles does not affect the hunting public.

It does help prevent overexploitation of wildlife that's hard to manage sustainably, and it protects wildlife for all Texans. I also think -- and, you know, you have great biologists and law enforcement professionals here -- and throughout the world and international wildlife trafficking problems, when they're split systems -- you know, public versus private, in this case -- it creates loopholes that traffickers can take advantage of and I think it's really worth considering how the split system can actually lead to poaching and trafficking of our Texas turtles.

So in summary, I support. I've studied and reviewed the regulations, the proposed regulations in their entirety and I support them 100 percent and I'm happy to answer any questions you have for me and to be a valuable resource for you, Commissioners. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you, sir. Appreciate your time today.

Okay. I hope I'm pronouncing this right. Toby Hibbits?

MR. TOBY HIBBITS: That's right.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Welcome, Mr. Hibbits.

MR. TOBY HIBBITS: Thank you for your time, Commissioners. I'm coming kind of last in the party or late in the party. I'm going to kind of reiterate some of the points that have been made about turtles. I'm supported the proposed changes for the rules of the trade of Texas turtles. The Texas turtle -- the life history of turtles, in general, is not conducive to commercial harvesting and commercial collection of turtles, in general, is obviously a bad thing.

True, some turtle species -- like, Red-eared sliders -- may have a quick life cycle compared to other turtles, but it's still slow compared to most vertebrates you're talking about. But things like common Snapping turtles and softshells have a much slower life cycle than Red-eared sliders.

Another point that has been made already, but is also important to think about, is similarity of the Texas turtle -- of our turtles that can be collected to ones that can't be collected. So our Red-eared sliders are one of our most commonly misidentified turtles. We're asked by people all the time, you know, "What's this species?" But, you know, and 99 percent of time, it's a Red-eared slider that's an adult male, it's melanistic. So you're asking citizens to make those identifications; but you're also asking enforcement to make those identifications, which can be difficult.

Like Dr. Fitzgerald just mentioned, having mixed regulations -- so having a different set of rules for private properties versus public waterways -- is going to be confusing and hard to enforce. So you're asking Law Enforcement to be able to, you know, make some sort of determination about where somebody collected something without having any way to kind of verify that without actually seeing them. So it's causing a loophole that makes turtles susceptible to harvest still.

And just then finally, turtles are part of our national heritage and have been enjoyed by many generations of Texans. And with this change in regulations, hopefully they can be enjoyed by many more generations of Texans in the future.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you, Mr. Hibbits.

All right. Next up, we'll call on Todd Basile or Basile; followed by Hope Parkerson.

Todd, I'm sorry if I mispronounced your name.

MR. TODD BASILE: You know what? You actually got it on the second try there and that's -- so that's better than most folks can say. So thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.

MR. TODD BASILE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the Commission. My name is Todd Basile; and I am pleased to offer comments on behalf of the Texas Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, for which I serve as the Policy Chairman and a Board member.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers -- or BHA for short -- is a sportsmen's voice for our wild public lands, waters, and wildlife. We're a nonprofit organization with about 20,000 members nationwide and about a thousand members so far right here in the Lone Star State since our chapter's inception about three years ago.

We understand that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is currently involved in litigation concerning captive-bred deer and Texas BHA would like to express its support of the Department's management authority over the State's wildlife, which does include captive-bred deer. Efforts to privatize White-tailed deer by reclassifying them from wildlife to livestock, run directly afoul of two longstanding and judicially recognized doctrines that have guided State wildlife agencies for over 150 years: The Public Trust Doctrine and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

Under these doctrines, wild animals are collected -- are collectively owned by all citizens, rather than individuals. This tenet lies at the very core of our nation's approach to hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation and serves the public good far better than privatized models characteristic of some nations. Simply stated, our deer are the not the king's deer, nor are they anyone's individual deer to own. They are the people's deer and the people through Texas -- through the Texas Constitution and subsequent legislation, have vested Texas Parks and Wildlife Division with the authority to regulate them, along with fish and other wildlife.

Members of the Commission, thank you on behalf of Texas BHA for your consideration and, again, for your stewardship of Texas' wildlife and habitat.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you very much for your comments. And I would note, just by way of information, that the Austin Court of Appeals will be hearing oral argument in that case on -- I think it's September 5 at 1:30 for anyone who's interested in listening to the argument on the appeal filed by the plaintiffs. But anyway, thank you very much for your time today and for your comments.

MR. TODD BASILE: Thank you, sir, and Commissioners.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. We'd like to next call on Hope Parkerson, followed by Betty Perez. Welcome, Hope.

MS. HOPE PARKERSON: Hi. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. We appreciate your time. My name is Hope Parkerson, and I represent Garrison Brothers Distillery. You may be aware that we have spent much of this year raising funds for the improvement, preservation, and beautification of Balmorhea State Park.

We have done events at many restaurants around the state, where they have donated revenues from these events that we hold at those restaurants. We have held Bourbon 101 classes and drink-like-an-adult classes at Total Wine and More stores throughout the state. We have done two excursions at -- to various hotels with the intention of raising money for Balmorhea State Park.

The founder of our business, Dan Garrison, he and his wife Nancy Garrison, have formed 501(c)(3) charity called "Good Bourbon for a Good Cause." All this funding is sitting in an account and will be transferred to Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation once we know that the money can be used in a good way for Balmorhea State Park. We encourage this Commission to consider acceptance of this change in the wording and language regarding alcohol in state parks.

We serve alcohol responsibly. We serve alcohol carefully. It is our business. It is our livelihood. So we must be responsible of -- we must be responsible of alcohol awareness, and we are. We strongly encourage the Commissioners ask for the language change. Businesses like ours are eager, motivated, and excited to raise the funding and capital necessary to start taking care of our state parks. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you very much for your comments.

Betty Perez, please.

MS. BETTY PEREZ: Howdy.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Howdy. Welcome.

MS. BETTY PEREZ: Greetings from the Lower Rio Grande Valley. My name is Betty Perez. I am from the Mission area, and I am here to read a letter from several -- I think you have it and you also have a map of this area that I'll be talking about.

"Dear Commissioners, we are writing to you on behalf of Bentsen Rio Grande State Park in Mission, Texas. As you know, Bentsen Rio Grande Park was donated to the State of Texas in 1944 for public use and enjoyment. Bentsen Rio Grande encompasses 797 acres of increasingly rare riparian forest along the lower Rio Grande. Bentsen Rio Grande is heavily visited (three -- 30,000 visitors a year) and is home to more bird species (358) and butterfly species (over 250) than any other state park in Texas. In every respect, Bentsen is a state treasure."

"Bentsen now faces an existential threat that cries out for the strong -- for your strong stewardship and intervention. The threat is a border wall, a continuous 16- to 20-foot vertical concrete levee-border wall, topped with an additional 18-foot steel bollard fence that could be built between Bentsen's visitor center and its trial system. There is no conceivable design that could be worse for wildlife. Where terrestrial wildlife can easily cross an earthen levee with a gentle slope on each side, none can climb such a tall sheer slab. Compounding the destruction will be a continuous 150-foot wide 'enforcement zone' cleared of all vegetation, with patrol road and 24/7 floodlights. Border security does not need or require this, and the harm to Bentsen's wildlife will be incalculable. Nearly the entire park will be walled off."

"It is unlikely that the birders and ecotourists who now come to Bentsen and in the process boost the local economy, will find passing through a towering concrete and steel wall to be an enticing nature experience. If the park closes due to reduced visitorship or questions regarding safety in the 'no-man's land' behind the wall, the land and buildings will be returned to the Bentsen family, per the terms of the original land donation. This would be a loss unprecedented in the history of Texas. Moreover, the immensely damaging and expensive levee-border wall threatens not only Bentsen, but the National Butterfly Center, the historic La Lomita Mission, the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, private farmland as well."

"Commissioners, we urge you to intervene on behalf of Bentsen State Park and the people of Texas. We ask that you publically urge Governor Greg Abbott, Senator John Cornyn, and Senator Ted Cruz to push back against plans to build a border wall at Bentsen Grande State Park, Rio Grande State Park. Santa National -- Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge was spared a wall because its environmental value to the nation was recognized. Bentsen is every bit as valuable and precious as Santa Ana. We are counting on you to stand up for and defend Rio Grande -- Bentsen Rio Grande State Park. Time is running out. What you do now will make all the difference."

This is from the Center for Biological Diversity; Defenders of Wildlife; Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, which is a local group down there; Frontera Audubon, also local; and the Sierra Club.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you very much.

MS. BETTY PEREZ: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I would say that we certainly understand your concerns. We're very aware of the challenges that a proposed wall presents. But I would say and urge that you and your colleagues there consider contacting your respective Congressmen, as well as Senators Cornyn and Cruz, to let them know how important the park and the enjoyment of the park is.

We share that with you, but this is largely a federal -- if not wholly a federal matter and --

MS. BETTY PEREZ: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anyway, I just would encourage you to communicate your concerns to your Congressmen and to the two Senators, if you haven't done so, as well to the --

MS. BETTY PEREZ: Oh, we have.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- Governor's Office, for what that's worth.

MS. BETTY PEREZ: Yes.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But anyway, thank you very much for your time.

MS. BETTY PEREZ: You're welcome. Thank you for your time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right. Next, I would like to call on Evelyn Merz and followed by Craig Nazor or Nazor. I'm butchering your name, I sure. I apologize. Welcome, Evelyn.

MS. EVELYN MERZ: Hello. Nice to see y'all again. Do you-all have copies of the -- of this that was handed out?

Okay. All right, I'm going to -- Craig is going to also talk about the general wildlife. I was going to talk about some general state public land's issues. Okay? But everything is together in this one written sheet.

Thank you for having us here today. I'd like to talk about three different topics relating to the state public lands. The first is the impacts of constructing a border wall upon Bentsen Rio Grande. We're deeply concerned, as you can imagine, just as we know that you are. There are multiple threats to the integrity of Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park and the World Birding Center. This physical presence of the wall divides the 764 acres, fragmenting habitat, and forming a barrier to the movement of wildlife. The 150-foot enforcement zone would be cleared of vegetation and constitute a no-man's land for food or shelter for wildlife, which would be exacerbated by nighttime illumination.

Both the economic and ecological value would be decreased. The World Birding Center represents a $20 million investment in the nine units of the facility, and that is a result of a partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife. We are asking for a strong response from Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission because we think of you as guardians of some of our state public lands.

Parks and Wildlife recently issued a very strongly worded statement to the Federal Communications Commission regarding an application to construct two lighted cell towers in the vicinity of Big Bend Ranch State park, which would impact the quality of the dark night sky at that state park and Bentsen Rio Grande State Park deserves equal consideration.

Second topic is the Sunset Commission recommendation to transfer eight Parks and Wildlife sites to the Texas Historical Commission. This transfer makes no more sense than the transfer of 18 sites in 2007. It's an exercise in empire building by the Texas Historic Commission, using the word "historic" as a reason for a land grab. Some of the proposed site transfers represent substantial investment of revenue and expertise by Parks and Wildlife and restoration and management of natural resources that are attached to the historic aspects of these sites. For example, of the 1,200-acre San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, Parks and Wildlife has invested significant natural resource expertise in restoring coastal prairie and wetlands at that site.

Its tremendous habitat on wildlife value

inherent in this restoration work, which is irrelevant to the Texas Historic Commission. The Historic Commission has no mission, expertise, or interest in environmental restoration or education. That would be -- not benefit the State's natural resources. We urge the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission to vigorously present -- vigorously present the case for continued management of the eight sites by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Lastly, is the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area. We do have some questions about that, which we hope will be answered. This is about the exchange of 120 acres of J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area. What is the size of this larger property, and why is it superior to the 120 acres which was also called Round Lake?

If Port Arthur LNG acquires the Round Lake property, what will be done with it? Is the intent to obtain a Section 404 permit under the Clean Water Act to fill it?

We hope these questions can be answered because we did have some questions when a proposed six-pipeline corridor was proposed to go through the management area, but those questions were never answered. And I thank you for your time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you for your comments today.

All right. Craig Nazor, followed by Monica Morrison.

DR. CRAIG NAZOR: Hello, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners. My name is Dr. Craig Nazor. I'm the Vice-Chair of the Conservation Committee of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and a strong supporter of Texas wildlife and wild places. Here is a quote from Dr. John Waldman, professor of biology at Queens College: "Every generation takes the natural environment it encounters" -- oh, hang on -- "during childhood as the norm against which it measures environmental decline later in life. With each ensuing generation, environmental degradation generally increases; but each generation takes the degraded condition as the new normal. Scientists call this phenomenal shifting baselines or intergenerational amnesia and it is a part of a larger and more nebulous reality, the insidious ebbing of the ecological and social relevancy of declining and disappearing species."

Texas has changed a lot since man has been here, and now science is telling us that we live in the anthropocene which marks the beginning of a new mass extinction event due to the activities of man. Keeping this background in mind, the Lone Star Chapter specifically urges the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to complete its overdue conservation management plan for East Texas Black bears, which expired in 2015. We ask that you seriously analyze a proactive instead of a reactive approach to Black bear reintroduction. It's the only bear left in East Texas.

The Lone Star Chapter is also concerned about the lack of attention shown by Texas Parks and Wildlife to the growing issue of predator hunts, both competitive timed hunts and private noncompetitive hunts. These hunts have a no-limit, all-season approach to hunting, all targeted to predator species. For the preservation of many species, both predator and prey and for other good scientific reasons too plentiful to enumerate here, this virtually uncontrolled and unmonitored hunting is very likely to be bad for the environment as it unbalances ecosystems that evolved with predators as an essential control on prey populations.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department should immediately implement a program of fact-finding and data-gathering on predator hunts with the intent of determining what steps are needed to protect the State's natural resources, including predators. This, in reality, is the conservative position. Thank you very much.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you, sir, for your comments.

Monica Morrison. Welcome, Monica.

MS. MONICA MORRISON: Good afternoon. My name is Monica Morrison, and I am the founder of a Dallas-based organization called Texas Native Cats. The purpose of our organization is to provide education, outreach, and advocacy regarding our native wildcat species, current or past: The Mountain lion, Bobcat, Ocelot, Jaguar, and Jaguarundi.

Mountain lions are the reason I'm here before you today. A few key points about our Texas Mountain lions, also commonly called cougars or pumas, among other names. There are two populations of these cats in Texas, West Texas and South Texas. The West Texas population is thought to be stable, while the South Texas population is unstable. The Texas Conservation Action Plan, written by TPWD, classifies this cat as S-2, imperiled. They are nongame and can be hunted year round. There's no management plan for these cats. No true census has been undertaken.

Reporting a Mountain lion that has been killed to TPWD is voluntary. Voluntary reporting does little to help determine the status or the census of these cats. The primary cause of mortality in the West Texas population is trapping. Hunting is the primary cause in South Texas. There's no requirement for trappers to check their Mountain lion traps every 24 hours.

An ongoing study in the Davis Mountains reveals that 200 Mountain lion kill sites reflect no livestock depredation. Mountain lions kill feral hogs and invasive species that cost this state $52 million annually. The existence of predators signals a healthy ecosystem, and these cats are a Texas icon. These cats are under threat in Texas. We've lost one cat species, the Jaguar, and likely another, the Jaguarundi.

I've made Mountain lion presentations to hundreds of people and they are mostly unaware of the cat's nongame status. They are shocked and dismayed. I ask you to consider carefully and thoughtfully the comments I've made to you today. You have the power to make a positive change for this cat. Thank you for your time and attention.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you very much your comments and support of Mountain lions.

Is there anyone else in the audience who has not spoken; but who would like to, regardless of whether you made it through the gauntlet? Okay.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Can I ask the last speaker just a quick question?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Sure. Ms. Morrison.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Ms. Morrison, I don't -- I've been told that -- and let me -- before I tell you this, this is unscientific. But I've been told that it is extremely difficult to get an accurate count --

MS. MONICA MORRISON: Uh-huh.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- of the Mountain lion or cat predator species, really of all of them, because they are so elusive.

MS. MONICA MORRISON: True.

COMMISSIONER JONES: And have you heard of or -- and I'm literally asking for information purposes only. Have you heard of effective methods of counting our accounting for a population, even in other places or in other countries?

MS. MONICA MORRISON: Well, in other places -- particularly in the mountain states -- it is easier because those places have snowfall and --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Right.

MS. MONICA MORRISON: -- so, of course, there it's much easier to capture footprints. And I understand now it is possible to determine a specific cat from one another from their footprints. In places like Texas, it's more of a challenge because, of course, we get very little snow here. Read an article just the other day about possibly using satellite data to record where Mountain lions might be and this was not specific to Texas. Camera trapping is another method, noninvasive estimates like that using traps in certain areas throughout the state to try to capture these cats. That is one of the reasons that a census would be helpful. I mean, reporting of any Mountain lion that's killed would be helpful because then it would help give some basis to how many cats are truly being killed in the state, as opposed to anecdotal information.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. Thank you.

MS. MONICA MORRISON: Uh-huh.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you again, Ms. Morrison.

All right. Confirming that no one else wishes to speak, the Commission has completed its business. So I declare us adjourned at 3:06 p.m. Thank you, everyone.

(Public Hearing 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

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