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TPW Commission

Annual Public Hearing - August 21, 2019

Transcript

TPW Commission Meetings

TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION

August 21, 2018

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

ANNUAL PUBLIC HEARING

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. We're all present. I'm going to call the Annual Public Hearing to order August 21st, 2019, at 1:08 -- 2:08, excuse me.

Now, will everybody please rise for the presentation of the colors by the Texas Buffalo Soldiers.

(Presentation by Texas Buffalo Soldiers)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you. Please be seated. It's a wonderful tradition we have here once a year at the annual meeting. For those of you in the audience who may not be familiar with the Buffalo Soldier Program, Buffalo Soldier was a name given to the African-American troops of the United States Army as they served on the western frontier in the late 1800s.

Since 1995, the Parks and Wildlife Buffalo Soldier Program has served as an outreach program of the State Parks Division dedicated to sharing a unique and often overlooked piece of African-American history and other untold stories of our multiethnic past. The program provides educational and interpretive experiences that connect underrepresented populations with Texas state parks through heritage interpretation.

This is our Annual Public Hearing and before proceeding with any further business, Mr. Smith, I believe you have a statement to make.

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

A 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. Mr. Chairman, I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting.

I just want to join you in welcoming everybody to our Annual Public Hearing. It's terrific that so many of you have come to visit and speak to the Commission, and so we're thrilled to have you. It's a wonderful opportunity for our Commission to hear from stakeholders and constituents and partners and collaborators from all over the state who have an interest in the business and work of this body. And so thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here.

Just as a quick reminder. For those of you who do want to speak to the Commission this afternoon, I want to remind you if you haven't already, to sign up outside. At the appropriate time, the Chairman will call your name and then the person on deck to come forward. When it's your turn to speak, please come up to the podium and you'll have two minutes to address the Commission about any topic germane to the work of the Department and if there's some specific follow up that the Commission has for us, they'll either ask us to follow up with you at another time or perhaps later today. But again, we're thrilled to have you here and thanks for joining us for the Annual Public Hearing. Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Carter.

And, again, we welcome the opportunity to hear from our constituents and look forward to your comments. If I mispronounce anybody's name, please correct it. Not just for me, but also for the record. I'll do my best.

And first person we have is Madeline Brogan, Andres Hefferty on deck.

MS. MADELINE BROGAN: Hello. My name is Madeline Brogan. I'm from Georgetown, Texas, and I'm 15 years old. I've attended the Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade for three years, North Texas Buckskin Brigade for two years, and Ranch Brigade for this summer. I would like to thank the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners and staff for your support towards the Texas Brigades and for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.

My Texas Brigades experience started seven years ago when my older brother attended the 18th Battalion of the Rolling Plains Bobwhite Brigade. I always heard my brother and sister talking about their great experiences and talking about all the fun things they've learned. I grew up watching my brother and sister marching call-cadences around the house and so I decided right then that I wanted to attend one of these camps once I was old enough. It turns out marching was one of my favorite parts about camp.

The Texas Brigades has allowed me to further my knowledge in wildlife and conservation and has given me the skills to talk with you today. I have grown tremendously as a land steward by applying the knowledge I have learned while at camp to my everyday life. At each camp they teach you everything you need to know about the camp's specific species. One of my favorite parts of camp that they often have in common is learning plants and grasses beneficial to each species. Now when I drive down the road to school or driving around a ranch, I randomly shout out different plant species that I see on the side of the road, which is probably distracting to the driver.

Learning about quail, deer, and livestock have opened my eyes to a whole new perspective. I've realized that it is our duty to take care of them and the environment they all live in. The Texas Brigades camps have given me the knowledge to do so. Thanks to my great experience with the Texas Brigades, I have found out what I am truly passionate about and what I care for: Taking care of our environment and the animals that live in them.

Again, thank you so much for your support towards the Texas Brigades over the years. Without y'all's help, the camps would not be the same. Thank you for allowing me to come and talk to you about my camp experience.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

MS. MADELINE BROGAN: Thank you.

MR. ANDRES HERRERA: Good afternoon, sir. And good afternoon to everybody.

So I have attended the 21st Battalion of South Texas Bobwhite Brigade and the 14th Battalion of Bass Brigade. And in this, I have learned several things not just about hunting and fishing, but about conservation and leadership and public speaking. All of these to me have been great skills and I just envy the skills that everybody else has and I felt that I should be able to get up to those skills. So I eventually went to these camps after hearing about it from my brother who attended Coastal Brigade and after these camps, I truly progressed.

So at my second camp, I took more of a leadership role and I decided to start working harder because what I had learned from the first camp, which was Bobwhite Brigade. And at this second camp, I went home with top cadet and after going home with top cadet, I realized that if you work hard enough, you really come out with a prize; but also I learned the role that Texas Parks and Wildlife has in helping make these camps successful. They truly, truly help with teaching these children and without their help, I truly think that the facts that are brought across to these kids wouldn't really be there without Texas Parks and Wildlife.

And help of professionals also helps. So people like Mr. Gary Klein, who's a professional angler, also helped a lot with the camp in teaching us things like tournaments and fish care. That all went with Mr. Gary Klein and it was truly all just from the help of TPWD and professionals and other people who play a role in Brigades. So, yeah, I truly think that TPWD has done a lot for Brigades and that's -- that's about my experience.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, we love to have the feedback. Thank you.

MR. ANDRES HERRERA: You're welcome.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: We have Roy Leslie, with Sandy Saks on deck.

MR. ROY LESLIE: Good afternoon. My name is Roy Leslie, and I just represent myself. My first topic is consequences. If I'm spotlighting on Old Highway 9 and David Langford hears a shot, calls the law, and the Kendall County game warden catches me dragging a buck under the fence, here are the consequence I face: I lose the venison, the antlers, my rifle, my hunting license, my truck, and I face a stinging fine. If I'm a deer breeder and allow feed lot deer to escape or go missing, I still have my permits, my deer pens, and face zero consequences.

No violator or serial violator was held accountable between 2004 and my January 2019 Open Records request, 11,689 deer. I present that poachers pose a lessor threat to our wild native White-tail deer than irresponsible deer breeders. No consequences. Please correct this in the name of protecting our native wildlife deer from the spread of Chronic Wasting.

My second topic is the need for a current statewide survey of exotic animals. The last Parks and Wildlife count was published in 1995. For Kendall, my county, that study showed zero free-range Axis. Next door in Kerr County, the free-range estimate was 6,000. Axis invaded our low-fence ranch in Kendall before that. The data was incomplete. I'd ask that Parks and Wildlife begin work on an exotic census.

Axis numbers are climbing rapidly. They're a growing threat to native habitat and wildlife. There's an easy way to gather thousands of data points. More than 11,000 Texans hold Managed Land Permits. We must annually report all exotic kills. For a few lines of code, ask us how many we have. This won't square with traditional methods; but with thousands of entries, accuracy would rival the guesses in projections of 1995. It's free, it's mandatory, and it's available every April 1st. Please consider a statewide exotic census, and let's hold deer breeders accountable for allowing over 11,000 deer to escape or go missing. Thanks.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I've got just a quick question for you. Is --

MR. ROY LESLIE: Sorry.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: One table is escaped breeder deer and the other one is breeder deer determined to be missing. Are they separate?

MR. ROY LESLIE: There is a separate page in there that explains that a little bit. Escaped are numbers that are actually by law required from the breeders. They furnish those numbers. And missing and unaccounted for comes from surveys, on-the-ground surveys by Parks and Wildlife. That's the actual physical count that they -- they try to do that every two years, but it doesn't always happen that way. So they're two -- the escape numbers come from breeders themselves. The missing and unaccounted for come from Parks and Wildlife's physical counts.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, in 2014, there were 1,098 determined to be missing. Does that include the 127 that were reported as escaped?

MR. ROY LESLIE: No.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. So it's added.

MR. ROY LESLIE: Kind of scary, isn't it?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Thank you very much --

MR. ROY LESLIE: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: -- for bringing this to our attention.

Sandy Saks.

MS. SANDY SAKS: First of all, I would like to thank you for allowing me to address the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission today. I'm here as a friend of the environment and the wildlife at Lake McQueeney. It's a little lake south of New Braunfels, and it's part of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. We have been advised that the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have devised a plan to dewater the lakes of the Guadalupe and those lakes south of New Braunfels.

This plan claims to dewater these lakes with minimal impact to our environment and wildlife. Although, I believe that this is not a irrevocable decision, I do believe it could be an irreversible -- have irreversible impact on the wildlife and the environment in that area. And all I'm asking for today is a copy of the plan and the environmental study that was done. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

MS. SANDY SAKS: By this Department. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Carter, we have five people. Do you want to address Ms. Saks' comments, or do want to listen to all five?

MR. SMITH: Well, why don't we listen to all five, Chairman, and then I'm happy to respond; or if you'd prefer for me to make a statement about it now with Craig, I'm happy to set the stage because I am concerned about some misinformation that may be --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah, I think we ought to clear that --

MR. SMITH: Would that be helpful?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: -- up first.

MR. SMITH: Okay, sure. And then we can follow up with information that people have.

And I do want to be abundantly clear, Parks and Wildlife has absolutely no regulatory or management authority over the operation and management of the dams or water levels of the affected reservoirs by this decision. So I want to make sure everybody knows Parks and Wildlife was not part of a decision-making body with respect to that decision that was announced last week by the GBRA board of directors.

We do have responsibilities, obviously, to protect the fish and wildlife resources within those waterbodies and the way that we work with public entities that are dewatering large lakes or reservoirs is to develop aquatic resources relocation plan and that is something that our biologists are in the throes of working on right now and, obviously, it seeks to avoid and minimize impacts to the extent practicable and if that's not viable, then to help identify ways to mitigate those actions with future activities. And so our biologists are now actively in the throes along those series of lakes looking at habitat mapping of different structural features in the lakes, looking at ways to protect things likes stumps and other structures within the lake, trying to provide counsel and advice to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority about their rate of drawdown so that fish and mussels and other species affected by this would have some chance to be able to get back into the main stem of the river.

Where necessary, obviously, we're working to help provide recommendations for the rescue and relocation of organisms that are going to be affected by the drawdowns and we certainly going to have recommendations about what GBRA can do in the future to help restore habitats within those lakes once those dams are rebuilt. And so, again, our role in this is very specifically limited to, again, this aquatic resource relocation plan and I want to be abundantly clear about that to all of the rightfully concerned stakeholders along those lakes. That plan is not finalized; but, obviously, we are more than happy to share that when it is.

And so, Chairman, I guess that's probably a good overarching statement just to clarify our role and to make it abundantly clear what we're involved in and just as importantly what we're not involved in. Because I too saw a press release that suggested that Parks and Wildlife was either part of that decision or was consulted on that decision and I just -- I'm not sure that was as artfully worded as it could have been to reflect the level of cooperation that we have on a certain slice of this. Does that -- does that --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: That helps.

MR. SMITH: Craig, did I miss anything with respect to --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Please, come up.

MS. SANDY SAKS: Can I ask a question after that or a response?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yes, please.

MS. SANDY SAKS: I under -- so you are doing a study and you are studying the lakes and mapping out the different environmental issues that I'm sure you think we are concerned with also. What are we doing to preserve all our options, and what can we do to possibly not begin draining the lakes in the next three weeks? Because then if you find out something that is irreversibly damaging our habitat, we have a problem.

MR. SMITH: Sure. No, and I completely understand that, ma'am. I will say that is the -- the decision-making body for that question is the board of directors for the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. And so that question really has to be directed at the GBRA board.

Craig, if there's any other issues that I'm missing here with respect to our monitoring and the plan that we're putting together, let me know. But the decision-making body is the GBRA board.

MS. SANDY SAKS: Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah, we had no input and no prior -- no previous knowledge that it was going to occur.

MS. SANDY SAKS: But I believe that the Texas Parks and Wildlife is about preserving --

MR. SMITH: We are.

MS. SANDY SAKS: -- the wildlife and environment.

MR. SMITH: We are.

MS. SANDY SAKS: If we do believe that something is going to happen, what action do you normally take to preserve options or to keep this from happening? What authorities do you have?

I know you can't control what they do. But what authority do you have to protect the wildlife and environment? Do you have --

MR. SMITH: Sure. And that's a great question, and there's a whole array of authorities. Unfortunately, they don't help a lot with respect to the specific issue that you're concerned about with the complete drawdown and dewatering of those lakes and the water back to the main stem of the channel.

The authorities that we have is to work with the GBRA, in which they are coordinating with us on to the extent possible in this situation to try to minimize the impacts. Obviously, there are going to be impacts. We want to be clear about that. And then to work with them on trying to restore features and structures and restocking of those lakes once those dams are replaced or rebuilt or repaired.

MS. SANDY SAKS: You keep saying when the dams are rebuilt. Is there a plan for that?

MR. SMITH: I don't know.

MS. SANDY SAKS: Okay.

MR. SMITH: And I may have misspoke, you know, whether it's repaired, rebuilt, whatever the --

MS. SANDY SAKS: Right. But once the water is kept at a level again or that the water is sold again -- which is what GBRA does, selling the waters -- and that's what I was wondering. If you wait three years, there's different impact --

MR. SMITH: Sure.

MS. SANDY SAKS: -- than there is if you drain the lakes for six months.

MR. SMITH: Right. Right.

MS. SANDY SAKS: And so I didn't know if this Commission has enough authority to say, "Well, no, you cannot impact this wildlife for a certain -- forever."

MR. SMITH: We do not.

MS. SANDY SAKS: Okay.

MR. SMITH: We do not. Yeah.

MS. SANDY SAKS: Thank you.

MR. SMITH: And I really appreciate your coming and giving us a chance to respond. I hear your concerns loudly and clearly. We want to do our part providing the best possible technical information to GBRA to consider while they're drawing down the lakes and once they go back to filling them up, which is hopefully sooner rather than later. But I don't want to pretend that there are not impacts on the people around it and, obviously, the fish and wildlife communities that depend upon them.

MS. SANDY SAKS: Thank you very much.

MR. SMITH: Thank you. Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. We have Robin Rush and Dr. Judi Owens up.

MR. ROBIN RUSH: Good afternoon. Good afternoon, Your Honors. I'm here as a 26-year resident of Guadalupe County and representing myself. My family and myself have been in the New Braunfels/Seguin area for many years.

We just received the emergency -- you said you weren't aware. None of us were really aware the lakes were going to be drawn down until two weeks ago is when the notice went out. This is a 90 -- for those that don't know, this is a 90-plus-year-old system of lakes and rivers of the Guadalupe River Basin of lakes. I've never seen a planned exercise that doesn't require a proper amount of impact studies done before it's ever done.

I don't believe the census and the mitigation efforts that you guys are assisting GBRA is the proper avenue to follow. I also believe that the State of Texas and Parks and Wildlife would be very concerned if endangered species -- which there are on your list, TPWD's -- and protected species are going to be killed and the environment and the habitat with which they're there will not exist anymore. At this point, they will not exist anymore. There is no -- there is no money. There is no dams to be rebuilt.

They have cited safety as a primary reason. I submit to you that that is just a red herring that -- the areas they're citing, safety is the failure of the gates. There's two gates that have failed on two lakes in less than ten years. The river went up six inches, a foot. Nobody was hurt and they're not going to get hurt unless they're playing on the dams, which are restricted areas to begin with. They said, "Well, the canoers break the law and go up to the dams."

There is no reason to endanger this habitat until the proper environmental and economic studies are done. You guys have the authority to protect the wildlife. I believe that a 90-year system of lakes and rivers comes under your jurisdiction of these -- there's three species that are threatened endangered for sure that I found out in the last week or two. One of them is the -- I think I gave you -- there's a document you should have in front of you. There's a Cagle Maps turtle, which is endangered and protected under TPWD. It's then listed as a red list endangered species. It's only found in this Guadalupe River Basin Area. It's not found anywhere else. I think it used to be in the San Antonio system, but they haven't found them in a long time.

There's two clams that are threatened for sure. In fact, they did a study. They were out there in July, your guys were with Fish and Wild -- U.S. Fish and Wildlife, as well as with GBRA and they found a bunch of dead Pimplebacks. You're going to kill off the Pimplebacks which are threatened except for what exists there in the minor part of the river.

You're not going to be able to reverse this. If I were you -- and I'm not -- I would demand that GBRA do a proper environmental and economic impact study to this before they do it. There is no compelling reason. You're going to kill more people and hurt more kids that fall off the docks that are 15 feet tall. You go to Lake Dunlap, they're 15 feet in the air in their backyard. They're going to fall off and break their necks.

You're not going to hurt anybody with that dam. All three gates are not going to break. They're not going to break. They said they're going -- or what happens if all three gates -- well, there's concrete between each gate. You're going to lose a gate. And it's an area below and above the dam where nobody goes and they're not supposed to be there. If you want to go jump off Hoover Dam, go jump off it. But anyway, I really appreciate your time. I think that this is one of the proper venues for somebody to say, "Hey, we don't want to threaten species that we actually are protecting."

You know, you guys do a fantastic job. This is a 90-year system of things you've protected. Please have them do the right thing, which is they should do a proper environmental impact study. They should mitigate all these things prior to doing something like this. This is haphazard and wanton, so.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you. We understand your passion and --

MR. ROBIN RUSH: Well, if you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer; but there's --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: We have your --

MR. ROBIN RUSH: -- a document there that can help you. But I think you will find you probably do have the authority as the State of Texas to stop it, so.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well --

MR. ROBIN RUSH: And at least do it in a proper manner, so.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. ROBIN RUSH: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

MR. ROBIN RUSH: Appreciate it, guys.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Dr. Owens --

MR. ROBIN RUSH: Oh, this is Dr. Owens. Yeah, she's going to talk a little bit about the species, so.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And Gib Hafernick is up next.

DR. JUDI OWENS: Oh, I thought you said --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Dr. Owens, yes.

DR. JUDI OWENS: Dr. Owens, yeah.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Then Hafernick.

DR. JUDI OWENS: Yeah, I -- first of all, I want to thank the Commission for giving us the opportunity to speak and to have our concerns heard and I understand that you're not able to override what GBRA is saying and what their board's plans are. And we're not asking for an override; but I think that this is something that once the action takes place, we're going to lose species.

We have a Cagle's -- if you turn to the page -- there's a map on here, page 5. The Cagle's Map turtle is a turtle that is protected by -- do you have the document I'm looking at? It looks like this on the front cover. Okay. And on page 5, there's a map. And this shows where the turtle has historically been. This is a turtle that is protected by the State of Texas and it historically was in the San Antonio River Basin and the Guadalupe River Basin and it's no longer believed to be present in the San Antonio River Basin and these have been seen as recently as I saw one yesterday in the Guadalupe River Basin and they live in the canals along Lake McQueeney.

If we don't evaluate first, if we don't have a proper impact study, we're not going to know what we're losing. And I strong -- you know, encourage this organization to insist or put forth pressure on knowing what we're going to do, knowing what the -- what is it we're even going to lose?

We have mussel species that are endangered. We have the turtle species that's a protected species that's endangered. The mussels are threatened and the turtles endangered, let me correct. But we're not going to know what we're going to lose unless we do it first. If we wait until the lakes are drained, then we don't even know what's going on and there's no study that's been available for public review. We would -- you know, just to know what's been done.

We hear that, you know, there's some surveys. We see surveyors out on the lake, but none of that has been open for public record. And delaying the dewatering of these lakes until proper evaluation can be done I think is the only responsible way to move forward. Questions?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Dr. Owens.

DR. JUDI OWENS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Gib Hafernick and Tom Goynes.

MR. SMITH: Goynes.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Goynes.

MR. SMITH: Goynes.

MR. GIB HAFERNICK: My name is Gib Hafernick. I'm from San Antonio, Texas.

Proposal: That the following dams owned by GBRA -- Dunlap, McQueeney, Placid, Meadow, Gonzales, and Wood -- be modified and cut down in the height done at Rio Vista Dam in San Marcos, Texas. Separate, but not owned by GBRA, would include M.A. Wade Dam and the City of Gonzales Dam.

By doing that, you would create eight white water venues. If you do that, you should plan for seating and restroom attendance for 2,000 people at each venue, expandable to 5,000. You should have portage trails on each rapid and you should have parking and put-in at each of these take-out points.

Three linear parks can be created using the surface reservoirs of these lakes. Of Dunlap, McQueeney, Placid, and Meadow, you could have a 40-mile linear trail from Seguin to Gonzales and the acreage of 1,157 acres equal to the 50th largest state park in Texas. If you combine the acreage of Lake Gonzales and Lake Wood, it represents -- it's equal to the acreage of the 50 largest state park in Texas.

This system enhances the natural aeration of water policy for your water suppliers and by building catchment basins along the sides of the river, you enhance the river for clarification and retention. The benefits of this are it restores the property values with a long-term plan instead of a questionable and -- instead of a questionable and expensive repair. It's an economic solution that's in line with the tourism and recreational values in New Braunfels.

The available revenues for such a project are through private, local, state, and federal use. It creates a tourist destination spot for Texas, U.S., and aboard. It's a year-round venue open all the time. It also enhances and brings about restoration of the river to a natural state. I am recommending as an action plan that you form a task force of all concerned parties to evaluate the potential of this proposal. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much.

MR. TOM GOYNES: I wanted to follow Gib. I'm Tom Goynes. I'm President of the Texas Rivers for Texans Association. So that if he did get shot while talking about removing these dams, I can leave, you know; but he's still alive. But you don't allow guns in here, so maybe that's -- he might not make it back to S.A.

If you've ever had the pleasure of paddling the Rio Grande, you know that whenever you're on a lake on the lower canyons of the Rio Grande, all hells about to break. You're going to run into a rapid. So it's a pool-and-drop river. But the state, to my knowledge, has never had a repair those rapids. Think of them as dams. Rio Vista Dam on the San Marcos has been turned into Rio Vista Falls, given our instrumental in talking the City of San Marcos into doing that.

Dams fail. These 100-year old dams are failing, but you can still have pools and drops. You can build -- turn ugly concrete dams into beautiful rapids and the fishermen can still have their pools. You wouldn't make them as big as the current dam, but you could make more of them. So what I'd recommend is -- I know y'all aren't excited about wading into this controversial issue. But y'all are great at task forces. Set up a task force, work with GBRA, let's get all the people together and look at all these different alternatives and see if we can't solve this. Make some beautiful, I think, beautiful rapids instead of ugly concrete dams. I think it would be a win-win situation. But, you know, I just -- I hope I make it home. Thanks.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Mansal Denton and Cindy Cassidy.

MR. MANSAL DENTON: Thank you all. I -- in the interest of time, I want to first express my concern for the way that mountain lions are treated in the state and offer two simple changes that I think could help. Number one, currently it is legal to set up a snare, allow an animal to be trapped, and then have that animal slowly suffer and die without water, without food, and without a trapper checking. I don't believe this is ethical.

Like many of you, I'm a hunter. In a few weeks, I'll be starting archery White-tail season. So I understand that at times, it's justified to kill for food, for protection; but I don't think any hunter in good conscience can agree that allowing an animal to suffer over time is justified. I've had conversations with some of the foremost trappers, like Billy Applegate, to understand their perspective, the mammalogists and it seems to me that we have the resources and we have the technology to institute 36-hour trap check laws on mountain lion trapping.

Number two, when I spent time speaking with all the experts, it became abundantly clear nobody has a really good understanding of exactly how many mountain lions are in the state and that's just a result of poor data right now. So I recommend mandatory harvest reporting so that we have better data. It's simple to ask the trappers and hunters to report better data because we're currently facing added problems with the border wall preventing some of the migration from mountain lions coming into the state. I think it's worthwhile for us to at least get the data so we can manage the resource that belongs to everybody. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you for your comments.

MS. CINDY CASSIDY: I join -- my name is Cindy Luongo Cassidy and I join Mansal in asking you to step up and to make some positive changes for this iconic Texas native, the mountain lion. And you may know that we have two populations of mountain lions in the State of Texas, in West Texas and South Texas. And Texas is the only state that does not protect our mountain lions at all.

They're classified as S2, imperiled, by Texas Parks and Wildlife as a species of greatest conservation need. And yet, they're a nongame species and have zero protection. They can be hunted, trapped, killed year-round with just a valid hunting license. So we do ask that you require -- use your authority to require that it be reported when they're killed and that you limit the number of hours between the times that traps are checked.

Mountain lions will kill a lot of feral hogs. There was a study done -- and that costs the State of Texas billions of dollars every year. Last year I believe it was 52 billion. The -- there was one study in Texas that did an investigation of 200 mountain lion kill sites that revealed absolutely zero livestock depravation. Their existence that they're regular predators means we do have a healthy ecosystem right now, but let's protect them.

I've spoken to y'all before on an entirely different topic. My husband and I have helped with making the state parks designated international dark sky parks. So I want to leave you guys with some fun stickers that -- just drop them off.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, ma'am.

MS. CINDY CASSIDY: So the skies aren't the only thing I care about.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Next up, we have John Koonz, Dr. Craig Nazor, and then followed by Evelyn Merz.

MR. JOHN KOONZ: Hello. My name is John Koonz. I'm a frequent state park visitor and a touring cyclist. I'm here to ask Texas Parks and Wildlife to consider adopting a no turn-away policy as has been found in nine other states. I distributed some more detailed information to you-all that has case studies and sample policies from these other states showing how this can be done.

A no turn-away policy is a guarantee of a camping spot -- even if it's just a patch of grass by the park headquarters -- for people arriving under their own power, that would include cyclists, canoeists, backpackers and finding that the campground is full. It is not for people who attempt to enter the park leaving their vehicles outside the park or for cyclists with vehicular support and it's not a freebie. People arriving at a full park had intended to pay and so should pay.

And why? Partly, it's a safety issue. It can take all day to ride 75 miles. The distance a car can cover in an hour. Weather conditions, mechanical issues, and just plain exhaustion can make arriving at a certain park at a certain time on a certain day very uncertain. Being turned away with nowhere to legally camp can put a cyclist in danger, and that's happened to me several times.

There are 16 state parks here in Texas along established cycling routes, including the Southern Tier that goes across the country and the Hill Country Loop. Both of those trips -- tours actually pass about half a mile from here. Please consider at least a trial at Pedernales Falls, Bastrop, Blanco, Lost Maples, and Seminole Canyon because they are along those tours.

Benefits, increased revenue. If they're turned away, they don't pay. Thousands of cyclists tour Texas every year and spend up to 40 percent more in local economies than car drivers covering similar distances. Touring cyclists, backpackers, and canoeists tend to support conservation and sustainability and so are a good fit for our great state parks. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you. Something to think about.

Dr. Nazor.

DR. CRAIG NAZOR: Greetings, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. My name is Craig Nazor. I am the Vice-Chair of the Conservation Committee of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. I'm here today to talk to you about a true American gem, Balmorhea State Park. As you know, Balmorhea contains San Solomon Springs, which supplies water to one of the largest artesian spring-fed pools in the world. Being located in a very hot and arid part of Texas, this park has supplied humans with a source of cool, clean water since humans first arrived in North America over 10,000 years ago. It supports much wildlife, including five endangered species.

It is our belief that this park, particularly San Solomon Springs, is under threat. Your Commission is in charge of this resource. Protection of the springs is your responsibility. There were originally five springs in the group of springs that are found in this area. Some of these springs now only run intermittently. This year, the flows into San Solomon Springs are down by a third. We find this alarming.

Recently, there has been a large amount of fossil fuel development to the north of San Solomon Springs. This development involves fracking, which uses large amounts of water drawn from the aquifer. This water is combined with chemicals -- whose names the public is not allowed to know -- which is then reinjected into the ground. The wastewater from this process is also reinjected into the ground.

There are an increasing number of earthquakes in the area since fracking has begun. Air pollution levels are also rising in the area. At the very least, Texas Parks and Wildlife should come up with more accurate methods to monitor spring flows. Monitoring air pollution at the park is also something that should be -- should commence. But we would also like to see more engagement from Texas Parks and Wildlife to monitor the fossil fuel extraction process that now endanger this park.

The pollution of groundwater is difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. Once water quality is compromised, the park will be seriously damaged. Are the profits of the fossil fuel industry worth this risk? This industry ironically is an industry that is now damaging the climate of the entire planet. We believe Texas could do better. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Go ahead, Evelyn.

MS. EVELYN MERZ: Okay. Good afternoon. My name is Evelyn Merz. I'm the Conservation Chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. I would like to address two concerns today. First, the -- we are concerned about the long-term sustainability of Balmorhea State Park, particularly related to the demands upon San Solomon Springs. As we all know, aquifers have had -- have had declines across Texas. Increased population, agricultural demands have been traditional stressors; but aquifers located in areas experiencing heavy fracking activity have added another element.

Reeves County, in which Balmorhea is located, is experiencing a fracking boom. In the last two years, the monitoring of San Solomon Springs has changed from quarterly to continuous. I understand that the monitoring of the outflow at Balmorhea is being done, but the measurements could be flawed because of a gate problem. The long-term San Solomon flow data does show some decline; but with fracking demand, it will decline even more. There will be a downward trajectory.

Balmorhea State Park at 47-acres is the best known piece of earth in Reeves County. It will be the poster child for aquifer sustainability in West Texas. There's an important step that Parks and Wildlife could take in addition to its current monitoring and studies. That is to advocate for the formation of a groundwater conservation district in Reeves County. As the most visible stakeholder in the county and the guardian of Balmorhea State Park, that would be one of the most useful actions that could be taken.

The second item is the update of the management plan for the East Texas black bear. The previous plan expired in 2015. Since before 2015, Texas Parks and Wildlife has been requested repeatedly about the status of the plan update. We have always been told that it is in progress, but we never get a definite answer. The Texas Parks and Wildlife website on black bear still has a note that a group was formed in 2002 to develop a plan, but there is no information on the website after that. Even the website needs updating.

But the most important thing is I believe that the people who care about the East Texas black bear and its management plan, do deserve a straight answer about when that management plan is going to be finished. Thank you all.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Evelyn. That was -- if you ever have a comment, jump in, so.

MR. SMITH: Evelyn, I'm happy to talk to you about that later. Yeah, thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Shane Bonnot and Kirby Brown.

MR. SHANE BONNOT: Good afternoon. My name's Shane Bonnot. I'm from Lake Jackson, Texas. I'm here representing the Coastal Conservation Association of Texas.

First of all, Mr. Morian, congratulations on your being named Chairman. I'm glad to see you in that seat.

And, Commissioner Hildebrand, Abell, and Patton, glad to see you here. Congratulations on your appointments.

And, Commissioner Galo, your reappointment, congratulations to you.

I want to thank this Department and Coastal Fisheries specifically for the leadership they've shown in the second year of the exempted fishing permit for Red snapper in federal waters. We experienced a great Red snapper season this past summer. The season was projected to go 97 days. Parks and Wildlife through their creel surveys and monitoring the catch that anglers were bringing in, decided to close the season earlier than that projected 97 days. And it just showed how flexible the Department is and their ability to manage Red snapper in state and federal waters. So we appreciate that and we're looking forward to true state management of Red snapper and in moving forward in that fishery. So great job to this Department.

And I want to thank Lance Robinson and Robin Riechers in Coastal Fisheries for their leadership at the Gulf Council. That's the regional body that makes decisions for fisheries in federal waters, like Red snapper and Gray snapper and Amberjack and Cobia. That is not a fun process. I can't imagine they look forward to having to go to Gulf Council meetings, but they show up and and they speak up and they speak up for Texas and we appreciate their efforts.

And then finally to our game wardens busting their tails down south on the border, pulling up gillnets, battling the launch of fleet that we see coming out of Mexico that are illegally taking sharks and snapper from state waters, it's -- we thank those guys for what they do. I can't imagine. That's got to be a difficult job, and it seems to never end. So we appreciate them. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Shane.

MR. KIRBY BROWN: Mr. Chairman, congratulations on your appointment.

Commissioners, especially new Commissioners, thank you for your service.

My name is Kirby Brown, conservation outreach biologist with Ducks Unlimited. Ducks Unlimited is the largest wetlands organization in the world and our more than 1 million members nationally and including 50,000 people from Texas, we want to thank the Parks and Wildlife Commission and staff for our long-term partnership that we've had on wetlands conservation in Texas and the partnership is one of the strongest anywhere in the United States.

The TPW Commission has long recognized that waterfowl are a shared resource. That wetland habitat conservation has to take place not only here in Texas, but also in the breeding grounds in Canada where most of our waterfowl are produced and in Mexico where many of our waterfowl overwinter. The Texas annual contribution to the state grant program -- a specific program -- sends state migratory game bird stamp funds specifically for wetlands conservation in Canada. Long-term banding data show that 48 percent of our ducks that we harvest in Texas come from Saskatchewan and Alberta and most of your projects are there.

Last year, Texas was the first and only state to provide funding for a wetlands project in Mexico with DU México, a very critical wetlands project. Our Texas migratory stamp dollars are leveraged by Ducks Unlimited and our Canadian partners when they go to Canada four times at a minimum and some years, five and six, sometimes seven times just because of the dollar and the exchange rate, multiplying your wetland habitat impact up there in that region.

And here in Texas, much more. Such as our partnership on Texas Prairie Wetlands Program, now providing over 90,000 acres of wetland habitat on private lands with those voluntary agreements with landowners; assisting our WMAs, state parks, and others with wetland project design, engineering, and construction not just creating wetland habitat, but opportunities for hunting and bird watching and outdoor education.

Working with partners like TPW, Ducks Unlimited has now conserved -- and drum roll, please -- over 15 million acres of habitat in North America. A pretty remarkable feat for all of us as partners and we want to thank you for your part in the impressive accomplishment. And on behalf of DU and all waterfowlers, thank you for your unwavering support for all we do for Texas wetland.

Just to end up, a special thanks to Carter Smith; Clayton Wolf; the migratory bird staff with Shaun Oldenburger, Kevin Kraai, and Jeff Rausch; the WMA staff; Robin Riechers; the Coastal Fisheries staff; and Ted Hollingsworth. And when we look at it right now, we are at the best times for duck hunting any time in the last 70 years of waterfowl surveys. So thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Leona Hazlewood and Jessica Gordon.

MS. LEONA HAZLEWOOD: Hello. Thanks for letting us come here to speak today. My name's Leona Hazlewood. I'm from San Marcos, Texas, and I have several issues that I would like to address here today.

The first thing is I would like for Texas Parks and Wildlife to impose a moratorium on the use of Glyphosate being sprayed directly into our public waterways and around our public waterways. Being a likely known carcinogen when applied directly to humans, it also is known and documented to breakdown our ecosystems. And what this does is it allows toxic cyanobacteria to bloom in our lakes and rivers. We've seen this on the news lately in Guadalupe River and Lake Austin. You know, it's toxic to our pets. It's also toxic to humans, which has also been documented since 2009 by the Department of the Interior.

Cyanobacteria releases a modified amino acid that causes neurological degradation of humans and can be implicated in diseases like ALS. This is a serious concern because this is a lot of our public's drinking water supply and I'm pretty sure nobody is testing for the presence of this chemical in our water supply while we're drinking it. That's the first thing.

And then along those same lines, I would like for Texas Parks and Wildlife to consider the use of industrial hemp to allow for mitigation of the nutrient excess in urban areas and around public golf courses, as well as possibly around industrial agriculture.

I would also like full transparency about the issues going on with Balmorhea, including the water supply, the fresh water supply there. Where is it going? What's causing the structural damage at Balmorhea? And where have the dark skies gone in Balmorhea?

I would also like for Texas Parks and Wildlife to uphold our current Texas laws to protect our endangered species, despite what our national laws may become. And lastly, I would hope that we can establish an external nonpartisan review board to examine the ethics of our Commissioners here, just because about 50 percent of y'all are associated with major oil and gas, auto industry. And so I think there could be direct conflicts of interest and I would like to help ensure the public that all of our resources as public citizens are being utilized to maintain the mission of Texas Parks and Wildlife to protect our wildlife and not take advantage of our resources of all of our citizens. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Jessica Gordon.

MS. JESSICA GORDON: Hello. I'm Jessica Gordon, Chair of the Texas Speleological Association and editor of the Texas Caver magazine. I would like to begin by thanking you for protecting access to an amazing network of public lands across the state. These lands are invaluable for connecting people to nature, improving quality of life, and inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.

TSA has worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife for over 30 years, leading volunteer-run projects to document and map caves and karst features on Texas Parks and Wildlife lands. For example, Colorado Bend State Park project started in 1987. One of TSA's project leaders for Government Canyon State Natural Area recently came out with a book publication on the caves of Government Canyon. This property alone has over 60 documented caves and many yet to be discovered and this area is very environmentally sensitive and surrounded by rapid development and impervious cover.

A cave we mapped this past January made the issue of our Texas Caver magazine and this area was on the part of the land that was more recently acquired to protect water quality in the Edwards Aquifer. These caves and karst landscapes are full of caves home to endangered and endemic species and critical for protecting water quality. I look forward to continuing to work with Texas Parks and Wildlife and hope you can find ways to acquire and protect more of these fragile landscapes for our future. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Does Mr. Navarro care to speak?

MR. PAUL SANCHEZ-NAVARRO: Thank you very much for the chance to speak. I just wanted to add to the previous comment about the use of Glyphosate and I wanted to ask if the Commission could research into the negative impacts of Glyphosate and other chemicals in Roundup herbicides and remove their use from all of Texas Parks and Wildlife habitat restoration projects.

From what I understand, I may not have full information, but I do understand that some of the excellent restoration projects are being carried out with private landowners initially used Glyphosate as a weed -- Roundup as a weed killer to kill out all invasive species and then over several years, start replanting native species. I hope that the Department can find another way to use -- do restoration projects without using Glyphosate or these other pesticides because they end up -- potentially end up in our aquifers, affecting wildlife that depends on the aquifer plus future generations of the children who will be drinking this stuff for generations to come. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Is there anyone else that would care to speak that I've missed?

Well, if not, those that are still here, I would like to thank you for making the effort to come here and give us your opinions and thoughts. It's important.

With that, I'm going to declare that the Commission has completed its business and I declare us adjourned at 3:06 and thank all of you very much.

(Annual 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, 2020

7010 Cool Canyon Cove

Round Rock, Texas 78681

(512)779-8320

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