TPW Commission

Regional Public Hearing, November 7, 2018


TPW Commission Meetings


November 7, 2018



CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Good afternoon, everyone. It's a real pleasure to call the Regional Public Meeting in Brownsville to order at 2:04 p.m. on November 7th.

Before we proceed with any business, Carter Smith has to read the required Open Meetings Act cautions.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll make this as perfunctory as I can.

The 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 Commission, I just want to join all of you in welcoming everybody to our Public Hearing in Brownsville. We are deeply honored to be here in South Texas and particularly Brownsville, where our roots are very deep. We've invested a lot of time -- decades, in fact -- of working with the community here to help all of you steward your fish and wildlife and the wonderful lands and waters that make this part of South Texas so special. We're honored to be your partner from a Law Enforcement, a Wildlife, a Fisheries, and a Parks perspective and proud to work with all of you each and every day. Our folks that live here are part of your community and we're honored, again, to be with you.

A little bit about the hearing today in terms of how that's going to unfold. We've got a number of elected officials that are going to share a few opening remarks and after that, Brent Leisure, our Chief Operating Officer, is going to give an update of some of our activities in South Texas and then it's going to be our chance to hear from all of you and that's what we're here for is to hear from all of you. If you haven't had a chance to sign up and speak, I'd ask you to do so outside.

At the appropriate time, the Chairman will call you and ask you to come forward to the podium. Everybody is going to have two minutes to share whatever feedback or input or perspectives on whatever topic you want to talk about with the Department to the Commission. I just ask that you share your name and if you represent an entity beside yourself, please let us know that. And, again, we look forward to hearing from you today. Thank you for your warm and gracious South Texas hospitality.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you, Carter. We've got a number of elected officials here who are going to address the crowd, and we're very privileged that they took time out of their day to be here. I want to start with your County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.

What a fabulous, fabulous courtroom. This is so neat for us to be able to use it. I want to start by thanking you for allowing us the opportunity to use it, but welcome.

JUDGE EDDIE TREVINO, JR.: Thank you, Chairman Duggins, members of the Commission, Executive Director Carter Smith, and staff. I want to apologize for everybody that I saw as I got here today. I kept saying "good morning." That ought to tell you what kind of an evening it was. But I want to thank you for taking time from your busy schedule and having your Regional Public Hearing here in Cameron County at our historic Dancy Courthouse in Brownsville. We're honored to have each and every one of you here, and we're hopeful. I've told your staff that you can come back as often as you'd like.

We strive to maintain and improve the quality of life for our county residents and visitors by offering quality recreational opportunities here in Cameron County by promoting our cultural natural resources and park system. Cameron County maintains and operates 17 park facilities here in Cameron County through our park system. We operate three coastal parks on South Padre Island and one on the Arroyo Colorado, one on San Martin Lake, nine community parks in the unincorporated area of the county, and two social service buildings, along with several public beach access areas on South Padre Island.

Many of the amenities and improvements located at these parks have been funded with partnership through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant programs. With these grants, we've been able to develop parks in the unincorporated and underserved areas of the county, where children just don't have the resources or opportunity to visit parks located in our nearby cities. Parks such as Laureles Recreational Park, the Pedro Benavides Park, El Ranchito Recreational Park located on the Rio Grande River on Highway 281, and the Bejarano McFarland Park.

Recently, we constructed a new boat ramp in the Arroyo Colorado at Adolph Thomae Junior County Park and made improvements to the Jaime Zapata memorial boat ramp with the assistance of the Boating Access Program. We have just received exciting news that Phase 2 of the boat ramp of project at Adolph Thomae Park has been recommended for funding, and we thank you for that. We would like to extend our gratitude and thanks for the tremendous partnership and support that you have provided. Without your partnership, it would be impossible for Cameron County to develop these recreational opportunities to better serve our residents and visitors.

Our county is currently investing approximately $31 million in public beach access improvements on two coastal parks on South Padre Island, which include E.K. Atwood and the Isla Blanca County Park. Improvements include new pavilions, restrooms, rinse stations, dune walkovers, beachfront boardwalks, additional parking and an amphitheater and event center.

Recently, we have submitted two grant applications to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Program Department. One to the nonurban outdoor recreational grant program and the other to the nonurban indoor recreational grant program for the development of the South Texas Ecotourism Center in Laguna Vista, a project headed by our County Commissioner David Garza. The South Texas Ecotourism Center will act as an outdoor experience venue that will also direct visitors to the myriad of other outstanding nature destinations in the Valley, including state parks, county parks, federal parks, and others. More than that though, it will provide environmental educational opportunities and enhance 10 acres of coastal prairie habitat that border the Bahia Grande Unit of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. We hope you will be proud to partner with Cameron County in this collaborative effort.

In closing, I would like to recognize the staff of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for their support that they've provided to Cameron County. We've established a wonderful relationship with the grants division and look forward to continue our partnership as we strive to improve the quality of life for Cameron County and the great State of Texas.

I also wanted to take a moment to thank the Law Enforcement Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife. I'm sure they don't get enough credit. Down here on the border, there's been a lot of attention on border security; and I want to commend them for their efforts to make sure that our parks and the properties of the State of Texas are well taken care of and protected. Thank you for being here, and we appreciate your time for joining us here in Cameron County. God bless you.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you, Judge.

(Round of applause)

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: As an aside to your comment about the importance of local parks, we've been visiting before we came in with Commissioner Garza and we love the local park grant funding program and --

JUDGE EDDIE TREVINO, JR.: We love it, too.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Well, we are very hopeful that the Legislature will consider increasing that pool of funds because it is so important to small communities/large communities to have the matching grant opportunity to enhance park facilities for families and kids. So thank you for emphasizing --

JUDGE EDDIE TREVINO, JR.: We appreciate it very much. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you. And thank you again for allowing us to use the courtroom.

JUDGE EDDIE TREVINO, JR.: We're honored.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: All right. Next up is a great partner of ours, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., who's been a steadfast help to us in the past. We're really happy that he's here today. Welcome, Senator.

SENATOR LUCIO, JR.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission. Welcome all and also our distinguished guests that have come here from throughout the Valley and around our great state. We welcome you all. And I would be remiss if I didn't congratulate our County Judge. He will be our County Judge for the next four years and we, too, have formed a great partnership with him and other entities in this county. And, of course, I represent five counties -- Hidalgo County, most of Hidalgo County or at least half of it -- I know Senator Hinojosa doesn't want me to claim not even 50 percent, but I do represent that much there -- Willacy County, Kenedy County, and Kleberg County where you find the King Ranch. So I'm very proud of this area of the state.

It's beautiful, but so is each part of our great state. But what's important here today is that you're showing us all that you care about every sector of the state. You traveled here. You make yourself accessible. You are going to be, obviously, taking up and considering issues that are important not only for us, but for the whole state for that matter.

I think one of the slogans that I would like to restate is discover Texas before you go elsewhere on a vacation. Thanks to your Agency, we have incredible destinations in our state for fishing, hunting, our park system. And the last thing I want to see, obviously, is the closing of any parks. So today, I give you my total support when it comes to funding, any fund within your Agency; but your Agency as a whole. The manpower or women-power that you need to make sure that you have adequate funding to be the Agency that we want you to be. One that is very productive for the people of our state.

You know, one of the greatest things that my father taught us -- all ten of us, six boys and four girls -- was to fish and we used to do that often. The family stayed together. It was a time for us to spend quality time talking about, you know, issues within our families and that still exists today, obviously. So we want to make it affordable. We want to make it whereby, you know, everyone has an opportunity to fish, to hunt, and to enjoy, you know, this great state and what it has to offer.

I couldn't be happier, Mr. Chairman and members, to be here to welcome you because our region is one that is very rich in natural resources from the Laguna Madre to our World Birding Center to the ranch lands that I described through the King Ranch and others. There's so much to celebrate and so much to appreciate and actually so much to be thankful for, especially in this time of the year when we approach Thanksgiving. We reflect on how blessed we are as a state to be able to come together as one state, one family; and I'll leave you with that thought because that's who we are. We're one country. One family, as well. And we -- my intention is to continue to work with those that care to sit at the Texas table where we all belong and try to find solutions to the issues that are important to all of us and for the future of our great state.

So I'm very thankful to have this opportunity to brief you, meet with you. In a few minutes, I go talk to the Chancellor at the University of Texas. I wore maroon in case anyone's an Aggie here today, and my wife told me to wear these shoes. She bought them for me specially. I know they're pinkish, but they're the softest shoes I've ever worn. I feel like I'm walking on a cloud. So I don't think I'll wear leather shoes anymore.

But the young man I think that's going to follow me is one that used to run around this courthouse when I was the County Treasurer here and the County Commissioner. I used to do the same thing he used to do here when my dad was the Chief Office Deputy for the Sheriff's Office for 30 years. So this is a very important building to us. It's very historic; but also one that touches our hearts when we see it because we grew up here, quite frankly. And, again, God bless you-all. God bless our great state.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you, Senator.

(Round of applause)

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you so much. Appreciate your kind remarks and share the -- we share your views on those.

Next up is State Representative Eddie Lucio, III. We're happy that he, too, could join us today. Welcome.

REPRESENTATIVE EDDIE LUCIO, III: Thank you. I forgot my sport coat and my shirt and my tie and dress shoes.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: It's all right. Commissioner Jones forgot his tie, too.

REPRESENTATIVE EDDIE LUCIO, III: But I brought gratitude. I brought lots of gratitude for you coming to Brownsville, Texas. I spoke to a few of you on the dais before the start of today's meeting and Texas is big and it takes some effort and expense to get across our state and there are many, many Texans who will never get to go to Austin to see one of your hearings if it were to take place in Austin. So I'm truly grateful for your efforts, like some of the committees in the Legislature, to go to every point in this state and bring Austin to the people. So first of all, thank you.

Also, I want to congratulate our County Judge. It's lucky to be named Eddie in Cameron County. So my son is the fourth. So we'll see what happens with him in the future. And like my dad said, we're grateful to this Commission specifically. There was some zoo funding that you helped us secure for the expansion of our zoo while I've been in office. It wasn't too long ago. That's such a precious resource for us in South Texas and to have those dollars available for the expansion to take place and it be a place not only my kids frequent, but so many in Brownsville and across the Rio Grande Valley thank you.

We work closely on border security issues, as has been mentioned; and you've been a great partner. We think of border security as a positive thing here. Right? We raise our children in this area. We want it to be as safe as possible. We work closely on the Shark Fin Bill. That was something near and dear to my heart and something your Commission has really taken and created a better, more protective environment for our marine life.

So with all that, let me just say welcome to Brownsville, Texas. Shop in our stores, eat some food while you're here, spend some money I. know my school district would appreciate that, and thank you so much. Take care.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you very much.

(Round of applause)

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Are we supposed to now have the photograph?

MS. HALLIBURTON: We're going to call up County Commissioner David Garza.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: All right. Sorry. I've got to follow my script.

Next up, we're very pleased that County Commissioner David Garza is here and we'd like to call on him now to share some remarks. Welcome, Commissioner.

COUNTY COMMISSIONER GARZA: Glad to be here. Welcome again and excuse my voice. It's a little raspy because -- which one changes forward? Okay, forward and backward, I can handle that.

Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, glad to have you in Brownsville, Texas. And I want to showcase to you some of the things that we've done with the partnership that we've had with Texas Parks and Wildlife. I think it's important that you understand the impact you make where the rubber meets the road, and it's where our citizens are recreating at. So I will show you some projects of some of the impacts that we've been able to make locally with your help and partnership.

I know you have your screens in front of you, and I know that County Judge Treviño mentioned some of these parks; but this is a welcoming sign to Pedro Benavides County Park. You know, the park initially we invested a million dollars. The Commission -- you-all came with $500,000 in an outdoor recreational grant. We matched it with 500,000 and we have a facility out there that has been serving an underprivileged area of this county in a big, big way and it has grown since this occurred. There's been more amenities that have been added through other local partnerships that have come on board.

The Laureles Park, also the Judge mentioned. You know, that's another park that we invested $2.5 million with -- in. With your Department, we had a $400,000 grant that we were able to supplant that investment. We have walking trails, soccer fields, baseball fields, playground areas, basketball areas, again, in a very underprivileged, underserved part of Cameron County. So we're taking services and providing them there, including a splash park. During the summer it comes in handy, as you well know, Mr. Scott. You know, we talked about how muggy and hot.

El Ranchito, which is on the river area, it's another park that is fairly new that was developed in partnership with you-all. That was about a million-dollar investment. We had a $100,000 recreational grant that came from you-all, which really took it over the top: Baseball fields, concession stands, picnic areas, basketball courts, walking trails, etcetera, and parking that have been great for that particular area of the community.

Isla Blanca boat ramp, that -- there was no way to get into Lower Laguna Madre from a county facility. This boat ramp at Isla Blanca Park, with your help, gave fishermen access to South Bay in Lower Laguna Madre and, you know, your boating access program partnered with us to the tune of $667,000. That is the facility that exists there today. That is close to a venue project that is ongoing right now in which we'll co-use parking lots. You know, that particular facility has been very well utilized since it has been opened.

The Jaime Zapata memorial boat ramp on Highway 48. Again, another area that was difficult for boaters to get to legally. You know, they could launch in ways that were not too safe; but with your Department and the boating access program, we were able to build this facility. That's what it looks like, you know. There's even a kayak launch site there besides the boat launch sites. It has been very, very well used; and it's not unusual to see that place packed on the weekends.

Adolph Thomae, we just doubled the capacity of that particular park in boat ramp accessibility. Again, with some of your boating access dollars and grant funding to the county, we were able to build a beautiful, new ADA accessible boat ramp, you know. We also built a low-impact parking area so that the water runoff permeates through the soil and does not leave us there. We're also incorporating a living shoreline to delineate the parking from the Arroyo Colorado.

We found that solid bulkheads sometimes create issues for us in erosion problems. So living shorelines have been excellent, and we've started using those now for a number of years. The latest project that we're working on is the South Texas Ecotourism Center. This center is a venue tax-funded project. We are looking at spending at about seven and a quarter million dollars total if the potential funding revenue sources from some of the recreational grants that we've applied for come through. And it is a really interesting project because it incorporates a vision of experiencing South Texas in one location to allow our visitors that come by there to understand the uniqueness of what we have not only on the island, but all throughout South Texas.

The project goals are listed. The factors that we wanted to make it a success, that we feel are very critical to us. It not only being an Ecotourism Center for visitors from out of the area, but also to incorporate an educational component through our local schools in the area. We have numerous schools that utilize our island to take their kids to as a fun day for recreation. A stop by on this facility, we hope to incorporate educational components where a 5th grade teacher on her way to the island can download the curriculum that that day will cover all of the STEM's related subject matter so that it won't be just a trip to the island; but it'd be an educational opportunity.

Incorporated into that area will be kiosks, interpretive kiosks in which the different flora and, you know, the plants and animals of the area will be described educationally-wise for us. So that's an overview of the park, and you have a packet in front of you. It's an overview of what it is. You know, the arrival area, this is, in part, thanks to the town of Laguna Vista. Laguna Vista owns 23 acres that were given to them by Frank Yturria many years ago. We are developing a 10-acre tract of which they have 13 more acres next to us to develop as an economic engine for that city and they need an economic engine and we want to be an anchor for them so that that can occur going into the future.

Part of that overlay there, also includes a way where we can capture water from Highway 100, freshwater, redirect it, take it through the building structures and into a ponding system so that we can enhance the wetlands behind those 10 acres, which is Bahia Grande. So, again, that component being not only freshwater inflow, but a component where storm water runoff educational opportunities for and partnering with the local universities, we'll be able to help kids to work in their master's program on or other programming. Those partnerships are already developed, you know.

This is just a floor plan. You know, if and when these other particular funding opportunities come in, we intend to include a water lab also on there to make it a full-time educational opportunity. A lab that will allow everyone from kids in elementary, middle, and high school, along with water/sewer plant operators from different municipalities to come and participate in training there so that they can learn how valuable what their flows into our Lower Laguna Madre area can do for us in a positive way and not negatively impact our environment where we live.

So there's a whole lot of different components to this. You know, that's just another proposed layout that we're working on. But I noticed that at your workshop this morning, you talked about four goals and those four goals are, I believe, part of what you have adopted for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Land and Water Resource Conservation and Recreational Plan. Well, guess what?

What we're doing with this facility, fits exactly into the four goals that you-all have been discussing and legislatively been mandated to implement as part of your mission. And all we want to do is continuing in the future to be partners with you and to help you get that message across of how we can be as good of a steward for our area as we can be and, as I mentioned earlier, leave it a little better than we found it when we got here.

We thank you for being here today. We thank your Law Enforcement officials that are a constant force with us. We know many of them because they work well with our local either Sheriff's Department or local other municipal officials here and we really appreciate their presence here and the help that they provide for us. Continuously, we want to be your partners.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you, Commissioner.

(Round of applause)

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: It's really special to hear leaders talk about the critical importance of educating our youth on understanding the value and significance of our natural resources and open spaces. So thank you so much for those remarks.

I also would like to recognize the former Chair of this Commission, Nacho Garza. Thank you very much for joining us today. He led this Commission some time ago and still remains involved.

(Round of applause)

MR. YGNACIO GARZA: It's great to see Parks and Wildlife Commissioners in the Rio Grande Valley, here in Brownsville and earlier up in McAllen and visiting this part of the state. This brings back a lot of memories for me as I see you-all here sitting here.

I've been fortunate to be involved in many different levels of government from local to state to national to international, but clearly I think some of my fondest memories are the time I spent as a Commissioner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. And I think no other organization I've been involved with -- I found that people who work for this Department, that it's much more than just a job. It's a vocation that they have to protect and preserve the resources and the outdoor opportunities we have in Texas.

And I'm going to just -- you heard about Judge Oscar Dancy like the mythical figure because I think he was County Judge for 50 years. You heard about Thomae State Park -- or County Park. I remember County Commissioner Thomae telling me that at one of his first meetings, he went against Judge Dancy on some project the Judge wanted to build. And he said after the meeting was over and he was walking behind the Judge, the Judge says, "Young man," he says, "When you want to build something, it takes an architect, an engineer. It takes tradesmen." He said, "But the village idiot can blow it up." So I'm glad to see that Cameron County has adopted the Dancy approach about building things when it comes to the benefits for their people.

And in a couple of other areas, Cameron County -- when we changed the way we fund state parks in Texas, Cameron County played a role in that because the then Director of Cameron County Parks, Ken Conway, was the President of the Local and County Park Association of Texas who we got to be part of the lobbyists for us to go to the Legislature to change the way we fund state parks.

But just thank you-all so very much for taking the time to come down here and visit, which you don't know this probably; but Brownsville has been designated or often referred to as the second most historical city in the state of Texas. Second only to Austin. The first two and only battles of the Mexican-American War that occurred in what's today the United States, occurred here in Brownsville. The last battle of the Civil War, about three weeks after Appomattox occurred here in Brownsville. So Brownsville has been this historical point where geography and the flow of people and commerce and the whole Valley, I think, has been that type of point.

So thank you-all for taking the time to be down here with us, and it's a pleasure to see my friends once again.


(Round of applause)

COUNTY COMMISSIONER GARZA: One quick interruption -- and I should have done this at the end of my presentation -- but we have a resolution for an individual that was your employee for many, many years and unfortunately, he could not be here today. I'm not going to read the whole document because it would take too long, but Tim Hogsett was an employee of yours for over 30 years, I believe, you know. I guess 39 years, almost 40 years because --

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Quite a while.

COUNTY COMMISSIONER GARZA: -- we made his reception. He made that big of an impact to us, and we have a resolution that we prepared for him. I will give to Carter so that he can deliver it to him. He has an open day. We already invited him to come, and he likes to do a lot of photography. So that we will take him around and, you know, take him on the Lower Laguna Madre and take him around and have him take pictures of whatever he likes. But the Cameron County Commissioners Court approved this resolution, passed it, and wished for him to have it. And it just goes to show the impact that one individual in your organization with his Department and their help can make for an area, so.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you very much.

(Round of applause and photographs)

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: All right. Let's now turn to a presentation that we will have from our Chief Operating Officer, Brent Leisure, on operations and initiatives in the Valley that the Department is involved in. Brent.

MR. LEISURE: Thank you. Thank you, Chairman, Commissioners. It's my pleasure to be here. It's wonderful to hear the reports that we've just heard from our partners here locally in the Rio Grande Valley and the spirit of partnership with this Agency is representative of the same kind of partnerships that we experience all across the state. This area, in particular, is especially rich in natural resources and rich cultural history and it's our privilege to be able to be present in this community in many different ways and my colleagues that represent many different divisions within our Department, work with communities in the Rio Grande Valley all the time and it's our hope to be able to highlight some of the good work that's coming out of the State Parks and the Inland Fisheries and the Coastal Fisheries, the Wildlife Division, the Law Enforcement Division as they help to protect our resources and serve the communities of South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.

I'm going to go through a series of slides and just try to illuminate some of the good work that we think our teams are doing and it's not only for us to be able to celebrate some of the successes of our Department, but to also highlight these for the benefit of the people that are in attendance that are in this community.

With regard to our state parks, we've had the privilege to be in this area with four state parks in the Rio Grande Valley for a number of years. With Falcon State Park up on a large reservoir up -- further upstream from us on the Rio Grande River. And then, of course, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission; Estero Llano Grande outside of Weslaco; and Resaca de la Palma here in Brownsville State Park; and Port Isabel, a wonderful lighthouse and historic site within this state.

It's a great presence and a longstanding presence that Parks and Wildlife has in this community. Those four sites together represent 2,700 acres and a 150,000 visitors that they are able to serve and generate over $650,000 in earned revenue every year. The Rio Grande Valley and nature tourism has such a long history in capitalizing on nature tourism and the abundant resources that exist here in this community. It's long been recognized as a region with abundant resources supporting extraordinary diversity of wildlife. In many ways, the 1944 donation of the property to become Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, set the mold for the network of more than 20 nature centers that exist throughout the Valley to date.

This network includes the nine world birding center sites, which you've heard about over the last couple of days, that highlight the Rio Grande Valley as a world class birding destination and celebrates the history, cultural, and natural abundance of this area. According to a recent Texas A&M University study on economic impact, that nature tourism in the Rio Grande Valley generates more than $300 million annually from visitors from outside the community.

As we look forward and celebrate our past, but look forward, we just want to remind everybody in 2023, the State Park System will celebrate it's 100th anniversary. It's a tremendous milestone. Texas State Parks will celebrate this with plans that have not yet been formalized, but we did put in place a centennial plan that recognizes where we have been and where we tend to go with the state park framework and strategic framework. Management and development of our park system is so important.

Included in this plan are six broad strategic imperatives to ensure the relevance and viability of the park system from this point forward. The next three slides are going to showcase some of the efforts related to three of those imperatives: Awareness, partnership, and stewardship. Much of which you've heard about already from our community partners this morning.

A central focus of the parks in the Rio Grande Valley is awareness, education, and outreach. This takes many forms from casual family visits to international birding tours to school groups using our parks as outdoor classrooms. During the last fiscal year, over 1,500 interpretative school groups and special event programs were held at four Rio Grande Valley state parks that reached more than 17,000 children and more than 22,000 adults.

One great example of collaboration between nature center sites is the "Family Summer Adventure Challenge" organized by the Rio Grande Valley partnership, bringing together 24 nature center sites that includes Resaca, Estero, Bentsen, and Falcon State Parks.

Speaking of Resaca, in May of 2018, the inauguration of the Cristina Torres Memorial Astronomical Observatory was held at Resaca de la Palma State Park here in Brownsville. The observatory, which is owned and operated by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and resides in the park, is an example of a partnership that was first conceived many years ago by Dr. Diaz, Director in the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy with the Department of Physics at UT RGV.

Estero, just up the road, another increasing -- after increasing infestation of the exotic and invasive Tawny crazy ant, in 2014, Estero Llano Grande State Park began exploring options to control the ant and arrest the negative effects to both the wildlife and the park infrastructure. We partnered with Dr. LeBrun, a research scientist in the University of Texas Department of Biology; and he discovered the diseased ants in Central Texas and introduced those diseased ants into colonies here at Estero Llano Grande State Park. The inoculation rate was monitored, and continued research is underway. Initial results are showing dramatic declines in the ant population. That partnership is invaluable to us and many like it all across the state.

When we talk about stewardship, it's important to note the rich resources that exist here in this area. Wetland management for centuries has been an important part of our history. The Rio Grande River regularly flooded and flowed over banks covering the Rio Grande Valley. The seasonal floods would replenish historic river channels, known as resacas, and spread rich nutrients that were badly needed for abundant habitat and for wildlife over the floodplain.

Due to the flood control structures that have since come, these seasonal floodings no longer occur. Today, our teams at Resaca, Estero, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Parks, implement resource management practices that mimic the historic river flooding. These wetlands -- this wetland management activity has helped to ensure quality year-round habitat is available.

And then at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and Falcon State Parks, they are directly located on the U.S.-Mexico border. Our game wardens and State Park police officers work collectively to contribute greatly to a unified effort in the detection and control of illegal activities in this area. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is currently proposing a border barrier and that I know that you're familiar with and many are in this community.

The barrier is anticipated to exist on the south side of the levee at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. The Department has had an opportunity to offer comments on this project to the Customs and Border Protection and we've taken the advantage to do so and over the last year, have provided the feedback and concerns that we have with the project and alternatives that we think are very responsible in being good stewards over the resources there. That work will continue, and we anticipate meeting with CBP in the weeks to come.

As it relates to our Inland Fisheries Division, just these photographs really tell a wonderful story. Freshwater fishing opportunities are abundant in this area of Texas. Our Inland Fisheries teams manage sport fish populations on 51 different reservoirs covering more than 108 surface acres of water. The region also contains seven major rivers in a complex system of resacas that taken all together, provide quality fishing opportunities for literally millions of visitors and residents to this area.

This area is well-known for high quality Largemouth bass fishing, but especially for trophy-size bass. Lake Falcon, for example, is nationally ranked as a top destination for bass fishing in Texas or across the country. Multiple reservoirs within the region have produced Toyota ShareLunkers, which are 13-pound or larger bass that have been caught by anglers and donated to Parks and Wildlife for spawning at Department hatcheries. The region is also known for its outstanding catfish, hybrid Striper, and Alligator Gar fishing. Over the last five years, Parks and Wildlife has stocked more than 5 million fish in 26 public waterbodies in this region of the state.

Inland Fisheries continues to invest in local communities and youth to engage people in the outdoors through fishing. Fisheries teams have assisted the Brownsville Public Utilities Board with resaca restoration project. Our team works with them to conduct fish population surveys, enhance fish habitat, and provide technical guidance and training.

Of course, this area of the state really hits on all the various areas of expertise within -- that exists within our Department and we're thankful to have a presence here with our Coastal Fisheries team. Our local Coastal Fisheries staff is comprised of the Lower Laguna Madre Ecosystem Management team and members of the Ecosystem Resource Assessment team. They're all housed here in Brownsville field station.

The Ecosystem Management team collects fisheries data in the Lower Laguna Madre and Gulf of Mexico using a variety of gears and different techniques. The data is used to monitor trends and abundance of marine organisms, including popular sport fish, as well as landing and fishing pressure by recreational anglers and commercial fishermen.

The Ecosystem Resource Assessment team is involved in habitat conservation restoration projects and regulatory review. They work with local and city, state and federal agencies to protect and conserve fish and wildlife resources and provide comments on public notices of permit applications to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, with recommendations for avoiding, minimizing, and compensating for impacts to fish and wildlife resources.

A local examples of larger projects that they've been involved in recently, include three large liquid natural gas projects, Valley crossing pipeline, SpaceX, and the Lower Texas Coastal Mitigation Bank. These projects are great examples of some of the good work that's coming out of our Assessment teams with the Coastal Fisheries Division.

And then the Ecosystem Resources Assessment team, with support from the Lower Laguna Madre Management team, also respond to and investigate fish and wildlife kills caused by pollution and natural events such as red tide blooms and freezes. Responders often transition into wildlife rescuers as they attempt to mitigate the impacts of these events. This past winter, for example, Coastal Fisheries staff rescued dozens of cold-stunned sea turtles in the Lower Laguna Madre during a freeze and assisted game wardens, DPS, fire departments, and several other agencies and local municipalities with rescuing Brown pelicans from being struck by vehicles along Highway 48 near Port Isabel.

Of course, outreach is an important component to all of our divisions and all of the work that's happening across the state. It's an important component to the Coastal Fisheries. With the goal of increasing public awareness and knowledge of Texas coastal ecosystems, our biggest event locally is the Rio Grande Valley Coastal Expo, which is an annual two-day event held each February in Edinburg. This year, the Coastal Expo was able to reach over 2,800 4th and 6th graders from 28 different schools and 18 different school districts.

As we transition into the Wildlife Division, we talk about some of the abundant wildlife resources and the access that we provide to the outdoors here and responsible use and the conservation efforts in this division. It's a real pleasure to be able to do so. We have a number of colleagues here in South Texas district that are shown here in the red and it's one of the two districts in Wildlife Region 4. Eleven staff cover a heavy workload in South Texas with over 2,000 tracts of land enrolled in the Managed Land Deer Permit Program, leading to technical guidance on over 7 million acres of private land in this area of the state.

Most of this work is focused on White-tailed deer habitat management as it relates to Chronic Wasting Disease. With the assistance of four seasonal employees, they staff a mandatory check station seven days a week throughout the season. Within the Medina County containment zone, over 1,500 deer were sampled at that check station this last year.

A project of note in the Rio Grande Valley, is a joint effort of many state, federal, and local agencies, along with nongovernment organizations and private landowners. Cattle fever is a livestock disease that has caused a rapid onset of death to infected cattle with a risk of quarantines to ranches and import restrictions to the cattle industry in Texas. White-tailed deer and exotic Nilgai antelope are secondary hosts for the tick. While there are several topical treatment options for the livestock, like dipping vats and spray-box methods, to treat wildlife are limited. Parks and Wildlife is working with our partners to utilize Ivermectin laced corn to treat the fever tick on White-tailed deer. This has been a successful method, but it cannot be used within 60 days of any open deer season to prevent human consumption.

On the eastern front of the battle line, Port Mansfield presents an excellent opportunity to stop the spread of fever tick prior to entering more contiguous cattle country in Texas. This is an interesting map and I hope it's one that we can reflect on a little bit as we look across the large expanses of the Rio Grande Valley and each of these colored postage stamps that you see on this map represent conservation areas that are managed by both state and federal partners.

They're precious little pieces of land, precious pieces of remnant habitat. It's important that we manage them responsibly, we take good care of them, and we provide access to them so people can learn and the Rio Grande Valley can learn about the significance of their resources in this area. This map helps to illuminate a very disperse culmination of these conservation lands. The federally managed lands are in green. The Parks and Wildlife managed properties are in red.

Some of the nongame efforts that are taking place in the county or in this region of the state are worth noting. Ocelot, for example, South Texas field staff work with partners, the East Wildlife Foundation and Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, to survey ocelot populations on private ranches. The Managed Land Deer Program has built relationships with private landowners for many years, allowing this important work to be conducted. Again, I think we're -- it's a wonderful example of the partnerships that takes place between our Department and private lands and their important role in conservation across our state.

Red-crowned parrot, for another example, is a globally endangered species native to northeast Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley. The population has dropped from 100,000 in the 1970s to three to 5,000 today. The Mexican population is unknown. The Rio Grande Valley population overall is around 750 to 800 parrots. Due to the fact that the parrot is currently a candidate for listing on the United -- in the United States, quarterly population surveys have been conducted by the Department, along with universities and local volunteers since 2016.

And then that highly treasured Monarch butterfly. In 2017, a 65-acre Monarch habitat restoration project and demonstration site was planted at the Longoria Unit of the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area. Staff partnered with South Texas natives from Kingsville, Texas, utilizing a grant provided from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Speaking of Las Palomas and public hunting, as you know, it's an important activity that we provide access to the outdoors and responsible harvesting of our fish and game animals. The Public Hunting Program is such an important part of our mission here and throughout the state. We have nine units are open to public hunting permit holders here in this area of the state where hunters can take chachalaca, quail, rabbit, dove.

Special drawn hunts, for example, are also available at the Arroyo Colorado Unit of Las Palomas WMA, where deer and javelina are harvested. This is an exciting opportunity and it speaks to the future of our Department and what the investments that are being made, advancements in conservation where a 17,000-acre ranch known as the Powderhorn Ranch, was -- is -- has been acquired and perpetually being conserved and managed well by the Department.

One thing we're going to celebrate here recently is the transfer of nearly 15,000 acres from Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and that will become and already is a wildlife management area within the -- managed by the Wildlife Division at Parks and Wildlife. And the upper piece of that that has not transferred to the Department yet, you'll see on the top end of that map is a State Park's transfer that has yet to happen, but will in the years ahead. We're excited about this. It's a tremendous resource. One that was badly needed to be conserved, and we look forward to the opportunity to making it available to Texans for generations to come.

As a matter of fact, it already is being used to some degree. In the last two weeks, we've conducted three hunts. Forty-two hunters have harvested 83 total animals at the Powderhorn to include White-tailed deer, Sambar deer, Axis, and hogs, a 200 percent success rate. It's pretty remarkable and it's an abundantly rich piece of land.

And then finally our Law Enforcement Division. You know, there are 11 million miles patrolled by our game wardens in this area of the state. 1.25 million hunting and fishing contacts made. If we reflect upon those numbers for just a minute, you see that they're staggering. Our game wardens are ambassadors. They're representing our Department. They're out in the resources every single day encountering Texans as they utilize the hunting and fishing opportunities and enforce water safety laws. 104,000 -- 104,000 hours patrolled by boat. These are remarkable figures. 610,000 plus water safety contacts.

The border -- you know, as is the case all across the state, game wardens defend against illegal hunting and fishing activities. They work closely with Border Patrol to provide border-related security operations to include some of our State Park police in this area, as well. These are important and critical operations. We appreciate the support that the community has provided to our game wardens. Speaking of which, 357,000 people in this region of the state have attended and been reached by public programs that are provided by the game wardens in the Rio Grande Valley.

And then finally, I just want to highlight this. This is very fresh information, just yesterday. I thought it would be a good way to end on a virtually realtime report on our game wardens who are working out in this area, standing in defense of our natural resources. This enormous pile of indiscriminate killing gillnets was intercepted by our game wardens just yesterday. This important work takes place every day. The image is an important reminder to us all. I hate to think what might happen to the resources of Texas if it not for a Texas game warden out defending them. We're proud of their work and thankful for the privilege that comes with protecting our fish, wildlife, and our wild places in Texas.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my remarks.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Members, any questions or comments?

Could you -- Brent, could you go back to the slide that had the cattle tick --


CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: -- plot on the map? That.

MR. LEISURE: There we go.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Yeah, that one. So in the lower right-hand corner where the red is, the graph or the chart says "infested." Is that currently infested with the --

MR. LEISURE: You know, I'm going to pass this over --

MR. SMITH: Yes, yes. Yeah.

MR. LEISURE: -- to Clayton.


MR. SMITH: Yes, it is.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Okay. And those are the areas where we treat with the Invermectin corn -- Ivermectin corn, I'm sorry.

MR. SMITH: Clayton, do you want to come forward and talk about the --

MR. WOLF: Yep.

MR. SMITH: -- Ivermectin treated corn and the refuge and the --

MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, Clayton Wolf with the Wildlife Division. And the short answer, Chairman, is yes. There has been a lot of groundwork done with the Fish and Wildlife Service and an environmental impact statement to be able to use the Ivermectin treated corn on federal lands, but that treatment was -- has been used for a couple years now on private land in order to treat deer for cattle fever tick.

And, of course, as Brent had mentioned on the north end there, you know, there's expansive ranch country and so there's essentially a lot of effort going in trying to keep that fever tick population from moving northward into some vast ranching country. USDA is trying to work on other methods to control fever tick. Nilgai is particularly problematic because Nilgai don't eat corn and so they can't be treated the same way we treat deer. So it's definitely a big challenge, a big risk for our cattle industry in Texas, and our landowners in South Texas. And we go through these cycles. You know, we've -- we -- obviously, Texas Animal Health Commission, the reason that agency was established was because of cattle fever ticks. So they've been battling and helping ranchers battle this disease for many, many years.

And it goes in cycles and when you get wet cycles, you get high deer numbers, tick numbers go up, they come down; but it's an ongoing -- it's an ongoing battle and researchers are looking for other ways to try to control fever tick to keep them -- to keep those numbers from expanding northward.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: So who -- is it fair to say if there's one agency, who's in charge of this effort? Is it us? Is it Parks and Wildlife or is it Animal Health Commission or is it a joint effort to �

MR. WOLF: So for the state, it's Texas Animal Health Commission; and then in the federal government, it would be USDA.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: And are we -- I'm sure we are, but -- so it's rhetorical, I guess. But we're making sure, like, through groups like Texas Wildlife Association, we're making sure they're aware that this is a challenge in the area and --

MR. WOLF: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. And, you know, in those particular areas, it's a problem folks are aware of. Texas Animal Health Commission/USDA are the leads on this. We're brought in because of -- because White-tailed deer are a host; but, obviously, the expertise and the impetus for the fight against this disease is with those other agencies and then we work with partners, you know, East Foundation, any partners we have out there that are associated with the ranching and wildlife community.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: And has -- if you looked at this same chart two years ago, were the infected areas smaller or larger than they are today?

MR. WOLF: My recollection is they're going to be -- they were smaller. It has -- the last couple years have really -- maybe even going back three years, we've -- Animal Health Commission has experienced some really significant challenges as the tick has tried to advance northward.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Okay. Thank you very much.

MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: All right. We will now hear from those who have signed up to speak and if there's anybody who hasn't signed up to speak, but would like to offer remarks, we would certainly welcome them. This is one of the reasons -- primary -- well, one of the primary reasons we came here is we love hearing from folks and understand it's a trek to come to Austin to share comments. So if you haven't signed up, please come see Ms. Halliburton over here to my right and she'll be glad to give you a form. It doesn't take much to fill out.

So let's start with David Lohse, followed by Joe Lee Rubio.

MR. DAVID LOHSE: Chairman, Commission, Carter, good to see you. Carter is an old friend. Glad y'all are here and admire you coming during election season where we have quite a colorful political history here.

I came to speak really on -- you know, I know y'all are faced with so many problems and a lot of challenges. One of the long-term challenges that I've been thinking about lately is the degradation of the seagrass in the bay here. I live on the Laguna Madre and Laguna Vista. I grew up in Corpus Bay, lived in Port Aransas, fished in Lighthouse Lakes, learned how to fish there. And over the last few years, I've noticed that a lot of the -- a lot of those lakes and a lot of areas here in Laguna Madre, the seagrass has been replaced by algae. And then there's a lot of different reasons for that, for the algae growth.

Some of it is manmade. It can be caused by storms. The soil displaced on the seabed and when the algae -- I mean, when the grass is degradated and dies, it becomes food for the algae. You know, it -- so it's sort of a -- but it's a growing problem and, you know, we're going to have -- the way the Texas coast is growing, we're going to have more people using the same resource. So -- and we're trying to protect it in a lot of ways, but we need to protect the seagrass because algae does not produce the marine life that seagrass does.

Algae has not a whole lot of benefit. Crabs and stuff don't live in algae like they do in seagrass and it's going to be a long-term problem and I would like to see, you know, the Commission take a look at it and to have some more studies on it. I talked to Rick Kline yesterday, Dr. Rick Kline who's a marine biologist and who's managing the RGV Marine Lab there in Port Isabel and I just wanted to fact-check myself that it is -- the algae is increasing and without blaming anybody about the seagrass degradation, we really need to be very careful about issuing permits where the seagrass is healthy and in good condition because there's a lot of areas there is no seagrass anymore.

A few years ago, the Lower Laguna Madre, the ICW was dredged from about the Cullen House down to Port Isabel and they did an open-bay disposal of all that dredge material and not only is the material detrimental to the seabed, but the sediment and the turbidity blocks out the sunlight and then that stuff drifts back and forth with the tide and that is not good for the grass either.

So there's a lot of factors, and not all of them are manmade; but that's something that, you know, Parks and Wildlife needs to take a look at because I'm sure, you know, we're all interested in keeping the bays healthy for more and more people to use.

You know, we're going to have user issues in certain areas. There already is user issues around the Lighthouse at Port Aransas, Rockport. I had long discussions with former Commissioner Dan Hughes about that, you know, trying to figure out how to let people use it and have some sort of control over it. But anyway, that's all I've got for you. Thank you for coming.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you very much for your remarks.

Robin or Lance, do you want to offer any feedback on this? Any comments on it? I'm not -- it's not necessary if you don't want to. Just...

MR. RIECHERS: Just real briefly. Certainly, we look and try to monitor seagrasses across the state. We work with TCEQ in developing a seagrass monitoring program. That's part of their water quality program and this particular area is included in that, as well; but certainly we can maybe have our troops take a little closer look down in this area.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Great. Thank you so much.

All right. Next up, Joe Lee Rubio, followed by Valerie Bates. Welcome, sir.

MR. JOE LEE RUBIO: Thank you. Thank you, Commissioner and members of the Board -- of the Commission -- I'm sorry -- Chairman and the Commission. I'm a Texas master naturalist. I was a charter member of the Rio Grande Valley Chapter back in 2002. Also a little master gardener. As a result of all those volunteer efforts, I got involved with the City of Brownsville Beautification Committee, presently serve on the Parks Advisory Board, and I'm a Vice President of the Native Plant Project of South Texas.

The reason I'm coming in front of you today is Cameron County -- all the cities in Cameron County recently passed an active transportation plan where they're planning, like, connecting all the cities with hike-and-bike trails and maybe canoe/kayak trails. Along these trails, I'm presently working on a project to plant native plants so that we can have one of the largest hike-and-bike trails with native vegetation attracting birds and butterflies in South Texas.

I'm asking for your support and cooperation and expertise in advancing this plan that I have, this idea. Presently, U.S. Fish and Wildlife is partnering with us a little bit to plant some native plants along the Battlefield Trail that extends from the federal courthouse out to the Palo Alto Battlefield and we're planting -- every couple of weeks, we plant maybe a couple hundred square feet and get that project started.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife, I was volunteering at a national service day and I met one of their persons and I asked them about access to some of their U.S. Fish and Wildlife lands that are in and around Brownsville. Come to find out, they had over 1,000 acres and I said, "We need to get access to those." And as a result, last year they signed a memorandum of understanding with the City of Brownsville to open up those lands. Last month, they had nature hikes on some of the land; and this month, they're having bird watching hikes. And I would also ask Texas Parks and Wildlife to support those efforts and use some of their expertise in coming up with the long-range plans to have access, public access, to those fish and wildlife lands that are in the city of Brownsville and around the city of Brownsville so that we can get people outside and enjoy the outdoors and at the same time, use that recreation -- those areas for recreation and to combat the obesity and diabetes problems we have in South Texas. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you, sir. Appreciate your remarks.

All right. Valerie Bates with the City of Port Isabel, followed by Laurel Steinberg. Welcome.

MS. VALERIE BATES: Thank you. Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, I'm honored to be here today. I'm Valerie Bates. I'm the Marketing Director for the City of Port Isabel, and I'm here just to share a few thoughts on the Port Isabel Lighthouse.

We have a long history with TPWD, going way back before we even had a service agreement between our city and this Agency. We're currently in our 22nd year of a service agreement and so our Chamber of Commerce operates a visitor center out of the lighthouse keeper's cottage. We staff and maintain the grounds of the lighthouse, and it's been a very profitable partnership we hope for the both of us.

I also wanted to the thank you-all for the renovation that we recently underwent, though it was quite extensive, an exterior renovation. The lighthouse looks beautiful. We're still celebrating when we were able to open it in the first part of January of last year. It affects our tourism not only just in our town, but actually the region because the lighthouse is such a beacon, if you will.

The point that I'm here to make today is the Sunset Commission has taken a look at the state historic sites that are currently under TPWD, and they would like to transfer some of those sites over to the Texas Historical Commission.

As we approach the Legislative session, Port Isabel wants to know how we can be part of that conversation as we move forward. Whether we stay with TPWD or we get transferred, we would just like to sit down and have a conversation about what our futures look like. Appreciate your time today.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Well, thank you for coming out. We, obviously, are aware that on the last day of the hearings, that -- I'll state one of the members made a motion to transfer eight areas that we manage and think we do a good job with to the Historical Commission and I'm glad that you're aware of that and would just say we appreciate your interest in the issue and I think it would be great if the City would pass on its views on that to Senator Lucio, Senator Hinojosa, Representative Lucio, and anybody else that's involved in this because it will obviously be -- or not obviously -- but it's likely going to be part of the bill for the Texas Historical Commission as it goes through Sunset next session.


CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Well, thank you very much for taking time to come today.

All right. Laurel Steinberg, welcome.

MS. LAUREL STEINBERG: Thank you, Chairman and Commissioners. I'm a citizen of Brownsville for 21 years. I'm not representing any organization, but I am active with the Sierra Club and I just want to thank you for your efforts, especially Director Carter Smith and Chief Operating Officer Brent Leisure for their work and your work to prevent or mitigate a border wall from being built in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. I hope you will prevail so that this special place can continue to be a home for birds and wildlife and also to be a functioning park and an attraction for local Texan, national, and international visitors.

CHAIRMAN DUGGINS: Thank you very much. You're right. This Commission is very interested in the challenges that a proposed wall would present to the many, many people who visit and enjoy the park. And we're scratching our head, working together trying to figure out how we can best address and balance the competing interests that exist there. But thank you so much for taking the time to come today.

Okay. Is there anybody else that would like to share views or comments on something related to the Parks and Wildlife Department?

Okay. Well, we are very grateful to -- we are very grateful to those who came to talk today. We listened and appreciate so much your interest in the mission of the Department and how we can best achieve that mission and thank you for coming.

With that -- and I want to thank the staff as well, as we shut down here, for coming down from Austin and making good presentations and helping us manage the agenda. Appreciate the great job all of you do in each division.

And with that, I say everybody get fired up to press our Legislature for more park funding and I declare us adjourned on that note. Thank you.

(Regional Public Hearing Adjourns)



I, Paige S. Watts, Certified

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


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, 2020

7010 Cool Canyon Cove

Round Rock, Texas 78681