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TPW Commission

Commission Meeting, January 23, 2020

Transcript

TPW Commission Meetings

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good morning, everyone. This meeting is called to order January 23rd, 2020, at 9:09 a.m.

Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement the make.

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

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

Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, I just want to join all of you in welcoming everybody. Standing room only today, which is great. Delighted to see so many people come in for the Commission Meeting. For those of you who this is your first time to come to a Commission Meeting, after the Commission takes up a couple of orders of business, we're going to have the service awards and special recognitions. Again, a special opportunity for us to recognize colleagues from around the state for their distinguished service and tenure at the Agency.

After that part of the Commission Meeting is over, the Chairman will take a break and for those of you who don't wish to stay for the remainder of the meeting, that will be a great time to leave. For those of you who do wish to stay, obviously you're welcome to state throughout the duration.

There are a number of action items that the Commission will be taking up today. For those of you who want to address those action items on the record, I would just respectfully remind you to sign up ahead of time. At the appropriate time and when that item is taken up, the Chairman will call you up by name. Please come forward to the podium. Tell the Commission who you are and who you represent and what your position is on the subject matter at hand. You'll have three minutes to address the Commission. There will be a green light/red light scheme. Green means go, yellow means wind it down, and red means eject. So help us be mindful of that timeframe. We appreciate your coming to the meeting today. Delighted to have you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Carter.

The first item of business is the approval of the minutes from Commission Meeting held November 7th, 2019 -- (Dog barking) Is that a motion or -- which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

Commissioner Latimer. Is there a second?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Second.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Scott, thank you very much.

All in favor please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.

The next item is acknowledgment of the list of donations, which have also been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Motion.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Scott. Seconded by Commissioner Patton.

All in favor please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.

Next is the consideration of contracts, which also have been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

Commissioner Abel. Is there a second?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Second.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Scott. All in favor please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Hearing none, the motion carries.

Now, for the special recognitions, retirement, and service awards.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Well, you have already heard our K-9 attendees and I can assure you this is going to be the most fun you're going to have on a State Agency Board is helping to commission a couple of police dogs. So we're excited about that day.

A little background. In 2013, our Law Enforcement team recognized that one of the really important elements of a strong, robust game warden team was having a K-9 program. And so with the support of the Parks and Wildlife Foundation and under the leadership of then Captain Kevin Davis, a select group of game wardens were selected and dogs were identified to send off to Utah to train those dogs in police dog work and that was the genesis for our K-9 program and their role, as you might imagine, is in everything from evidence recovery, subject apprehension, search and rescue, the very difficult task of recovering bodies at the time, aiding local law enforcement, state law enforcement, federal law enforcement, helping with again fish and wildlife related violations. Just suffice to say, it has been an indispensable element of our team.

Two of the first participants in that program were Christy Vales, a game warden in Travis County who's now the captain of our K-9 team and her dog Ruger. And since that time, Ruger has gone on to, if not fortune, at least fame and is a beloved police dog by local and state authorities, again, for Ruger's keen nose and work to, again, recover evidence, find blood, find poachers, trespassers, violators, evidence, you name it. It's also been a terrific ambassador for our game wardens in schools and kids just love seeing and meeting Ruger.

What we neglected to do was to formally commission Ruger. And today we're going to ask Captain Vales to bring Ruger forward. I want Ron VanderRoest and Kevin Davis to come forward as we formally, albeit a bit belatedly, present Ruger with his badge. And so, Ruger, please come forward.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: All right. Ruger likes pictures about as much as Parks and Wildlife employees.

So our next K-9 is K-9 Bosch. K-9 Bosch joined our team in 2019 under the leadership and handling of Joni Kuykendall. Joni is a game warden there in Somervell County. Jon Gray's country between Granbury and Glen Rose southwest of Fort Worth. And one unique aspect of Bosch is that Bosch was the second police dog to go through the American Police Dog Human Detection Remains School and Training. And so Bosch has just been, again, indispensable in that very, very difficult work that our game wardens are often called upon to do to help recover bodies in whatever form or fashion. Whether they have drowned or worse, murdered.

In fact, there was a horrific incident that Bosch was called in to help with, with a lady who was murdered and whose body was burned and as the authorities were looking for evidence and trying to find the body of the lady that was killed, Bosch was brought in and found that body on the subject's property.

Bosch was trained not only by Joni, who went through the Parks and Wildlife kind of K-9 program; but to make it all the more special, one of her Game Warden Academy classmates, Royce Ilse -- who's a game warden down in Kleberg County, second generation game warden, also a K-9 warden, has his own dog -- was the one that played a big role in helping to train Bosch.

And so today as we commission Bosch formally and we ask Joni to come forward, we also want to ask Christy and we want to ask Royce Ilse to come forward to help do the honors. And so let's give a big round of applause to Bosch, our K-9 dog.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: All right. Now, we are going to see whether or not these Parks and Wildlife employees do as well as the dogs. So stay tuned. I bet this next one does. And so our honoree today, Rachel Kellner. She is the 2019 Game Warden of the Year as nominated and recognized by the Game Warden Association.

Y'all have met Rachel before. She's got a wonderful spirit. She's a native of the coast. Her mom loved nature. Dad was a big hunter. Raised her in the outdoors loving all things hunting and fishing and nature and rivers and the bays. She went to her dream school Texas A&M.

(Round of whoops)

MR. SMITH: That's a little better than the usual whimper we have around here I'm pleased to here, Commissioners. That's good, not bad.

And then she got her dream job as a Texas game warden and Rachel has been stationed in Uvalde County and is in the middle of everything out there and whether it's baiting in dove cases, you know, poaching a deer off a ranch, trespassing, illegal driving in the riverbeds, spear fishing fish out of the Nueces River, Rachel is on top of it. She's just got a terrific reputation over there for the way that she carries out her business.

In recent years, we have tasked Rachel with being kind of the public face of game wardens during these huge catastrophic and emergency events. Hurricane Harvey when, as y'all know, game wardens and park police officers and other employees worked so diligently to help rescue people in the Houston area with the floods. Rachel was sent over as part of our Critical Incident team to help talk to the public and the news media about what game wardens were doing to help people that needed it most.

During the Hill Country floods in 2018 when the Llano and the Colorado and Pedernales and all those rivers were flooding and displacing people, we had Rachel on the front lines, again, talking to the media about what was happening, the search and rescue, and often times too unfortunately the recovery efforts and what our game wardens were doing in that regard.

When the tropical storm hit Beaumont, Imelda, we sent Rachel over there again to help serve as the face of our game wardens with the news media to help explain what Parks and Wildlife was doing to help those communities that needed it most.

When a tragedy befell one of our colleagues in Midland who lost his daughter in an accident on the first day of school, it was Rachel that led the Critical Incident team to go over there and help provide solace and comfort to that family and to help get the other daughter enrolled in college while they were mourning the loss of their sister and their daughter.

She's also been recently involved with a couple of friends in Uvalde that run the Chamber of Commerce and the EDC and some of the local tourism efforts to put on an event called "Women Who Wander" and it's an event in which they partner with landowners and businesses in the Frio Canyon area. The first year they brought 600 women to the Frio River for a weekend of activities to teach them how to fly fish and shoot and camp and cook wild game and do stand-up paddle boarding and climb Mount Baldy at Garner State Park and rumor has it, they might have drank a little wine in the evenings. But the goal was to get women outdoors and expose them to nature and the outdoors and so she's just been a tireless ambassador for your Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, your Texas game wardens. And so no surprise that the Game Warden Association is honoring her with their Game Warden of the Year.

I'd like to ask Uvalde County Game Warden Rachel Kellner to come forward and also the Game Warden Association President Quint Balkcom to come forward to help present this award. Quint, Rachel.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next awardee is another game warden out of Johnson County, Joseph Quintero. And Joseph is a native of deep South Texas. Grew up in a Brownsville. Grandfather introduced him to the joys of the Lower Laguna Madre. Taught him how to fish at a young age. Got him interested in the out-of-doors.

When he graduated from high school there in Brownsville, Joseph joined the Army, stationed at Fort Bragg, part of the Air Force Division. Went over and served in Japan. Did eight or nine years in the Army. Retired from the Army. Decided he wanted to go to college and went to Texas State. Got a degree in criminal justice and then he was selected by Parks and Wildlife to enter the Game Warden Academy and graduated proudly in 2015.

And I think in recognizing Joseph for this award by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and this is the 50th year in which they have recognized officers for their distinguished service around the southeast, there were a number of things that stood out to them about Joseph. First, just how well-engaged and integrated he is into the local community that he serves. He's always there for the local police departments, the sheriff's office, the other enforcement agencies. He's present for school events. He's just tireless with youth outreach and education, working on educating the community about the importance of our fish and game laws and conservation in that part of state.

He was selected to be part of our honor guard. A very distinguished, but also sobering service that members of that honor guard play to help recognize fallen officers and/or their families and he's just been a stellar member of that. Also a member of our Executive Protection team. And he's an expert drone pilot and so our unmanned aircraft system. Joseph is one of our go-to guys to help train other employees and particularly game wardens about the appropriate use and compliance with FAA regulations with the use of drones. Most recently taught a class for 60 game wardens about the appropriate and best utilization of unmanned aircraft related systems.

We're very proud of the Southeastern Association recognizing one of our own for this and today we honor Joseph as the Officer of the Year. Joseph, please come forward.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: We've got a couple of colleagues that retired on us and so this is an opportunity for us with the Commission to say thank you to them for their literal decades of service. We're going to start off with Robert Korenek.

Robert started with this Department 27 years ago. He was part of the Coastal Regulatory District. Worked on everything from stocking turkeys in Wharton and Matagorda County, working on a big deer breeding chronology study. When the state bison herd was established up at Caprock Canyons State Park, Robert helped to build the fences and facilities to start that program.

In 2000, he moved over to our Mad Island Wildlife Management Area outside of Collegeport near Palacios to help manage that really important mid-coast wildlife management area. A wonderful expanse of freshwater and saltwater wetlands along the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway, native prairies, rice fields. And so Robert's job was helping to manage that: Control invasive and exotic species, manage public hunts, restore marsh, habitat, band mottle ducks, you name it. And he's just been tireless in his service to that mid-coast project and, again, helping us take care of that really important state wildlife management area. He's been an integral part of our Central Coast team. He's now going to retire to spend a little more time with his wife. He's got two kids. One at Blinn, one at Texas A&M.

(Round of whoops)

MR. SMITH: Thank you.

And a little more time hunting and fishing. And so 27 years service, Robert Korenek. Robert, bravo. Thank you.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague is from Coastal Fisheries, Rebecca Hensley. Rebecca has been one of our stalwart Coastal Fisheries biologists. She started back in 1993 as a Fisheries biologist in the Upper Laguna Madre working on all the things that you know our Coastal Fisheries biologists do from, you know, gillnet surveys and bag seines and helping to study the fish in that area, restore habitats.

In 2000, she moved up to Galveston to be the Ecosystem team leader for Galveston Bay. A huge responsibility as you know because of the significance of that bay system and its popularity for fishing and boating and outdoor recreation and also the sensitivity of the resources there.

In 2007 or '08, Rebecca was promoted to a new position to oversee all of our Coastal Ecosystem Resources team on the upper coast from Sabine Pass down to Boca Chica and in doing that, she led a team of biologists that were responsible for really helping us protect all of the sensitive coastal habitats, from barrier islands to marshes to rookery islands, bird nesting islands, oyster beds, seagrass beds. And so if there was some kind of a catastrophic event -- for example, a hurricane, a red tide, a cold stunning event in which sea turtles were stunned out in the bays -- Rebecca and her team of biologists were on point to help respond to that to help fish and wildlife that needed it or restore habitats.

When there were oil spill or tanker fires and the incident up in Deer Park in which there were big fires and chemical spills there along that waterway there, Rebecca and her team were on point to help try to contain the damage and assess impacts to fish and wildlife. Throughout her tenure, she hired and mentored and trained up over 30 biologists and worked with them on how best to help protect and restore and enhance this wonderful place that we know as our Texas coast and she's been involved in too many conservation projects to enumerate, from the Powderhorn Ranch and the acquisition of the Sartwelle property to add to the Perry R. Bass Station, that Matagorda Peninsula project that y'all have been working on for a number of years, restoring marshes there on the backside of Galveston Island, seagrass beds, oyster beds, et cetera. She's just brought a wonderful blend of leadership and a strong conservation ethic to her leadership as part of our Coastal Fisheries team and today we're thanking her for her 23 years of service and congratulating her on her well-earned retirement, Rebecca Hensley. Rebecca, please come forward.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: We talk about the just incredible dedication and tenure of Parks and Wildlife employees. Y'all see that all the time. This first colleague that we're going to honor for 40 years of service to Parks and Wildlife today, Roger Shelton. And Roger has done it all.

He started off as a seasonal ranger there at the San Jacinto Battleground. Was promoted to park ranger. Became a lead ranger at Varner-Hogg, then state park and historic site. Now under the management of the Historical Commission. And then in 1990, he was looking for promotional opportunities and he was hired as the Assistant Park Manager there at Bastrop State Park, just east of here. At that time, he went through the Travis County Sheriff's Office police training, became a commissioned officer. We named him a park police officer. Promoted ultimately to the complex superintendent for all of Bastrop and Buescher State Parks in which we oversaw that really important park complex for us.

Went on to become a lieutenant for us in our state park police operations, overseeing our important park police functions at all of our regional parks in that area. Took one year off in a sort of a quasi retirement and then came back when we brought him back on as our State Park Safety Officer in helping to work with our State Parks teams to help emphasize and put in place important safety procedures to make sure that our colleagues are safe in their jobs, as are the visitors and guests that come into the parks.

He's done a terrific job throughout his 40 years of proud service to this Department. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment however was marrying his wife Kim, who we're going to get to honor in just a few minutes for 25 years of service. But first, let's give Roger a big hand for 40 years of service. Roger Shelton, bravo.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague Ram Medrano has 30 years of service with the Department. He started off as a park ranger at Lake Casablanca there in Laredo and then Lake Corpus Christi. Transferred over to our Inland Fisheries team to join our South Texas Management District helping to take care of lakes and rivers and reservoirs in South Texas like Choke Canyon or Lake Corpus Christi.

Ram is really known by his team just for his wonderful sense of humor, his dedication, his innovation. He's worked on everything from, you know, how do we improve our fish stocking efforts, our aquatic vegetation control, and restoration projects, ShareLunker, Alligator Gar research. You name it, Ram has been right in the middle of it.

One of the things that I know he particularly cherishes in his job is teaching the next generation of kids to get out and enjoy the outdoors and he's put on a terrific program there at Lake Corpus Christi State Park in partnership there on a youth trout derby that each year brings hundreds of kids and gives them a chance to come out and fish and enjoy the park and enjoy the beautiful lake and learn about fishing and fisheries and fisheries management. And today we're celebrating Ram's 30 years of service to Parks and Wildlife Department. Ram, bravo. Please come forward.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: We've got another colleague that we're celebrating 30 years of service, Robert Adami. And we talked a fair amount yesterday about some of the important work that goes on in our coastal fish hatcheries that our Coastal Fisheries team -- and Robert has been front and center of that for the last 30 years.

Started out as a technician and then a biologist at our hatchery there in Corpus Christi, the Marine Development Center there. Went on to become hatchery manager at our Perry R. Bass facility there in Palacios. Came back to the MDC Center there in Corpus or Flour Bluff to be our hatchery manager and Robert literately has been involved with the culture, propagation, and stocking of millions and millions and millions of Red drum and Spotted seatrout to help put back into our bays and estuaries. Obviously, most recently and most notably new project going on with the Southern flounder.

Robert's also been involved with our shrimp inspection program. Worked to help manage and control the incursion of invasive and exotic species in our bays and estuaries from Lionfish to White shrimp, water spinach, other species that give us consternation because of their impacts and competition with our native species and Robert is also playing a big role with the department of the new oyster mariculture program that we talked about yesterday and are going to have a chance to come talk to y'all about again in March.

But today we honor Robert for his 30 years of service on the coast of our Coastal Fisheries team. Robert, please come forward. Robert.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Well, you met Kim's husband Roger. Now, you get to meet his better half Kim. Kim started 25 years ago, April Fools' Day. Very first day of state service while she was driving to the office, she was told that she was only going to have to work until noon that day and she thought, "Well, this state service is a pretty good gig."

And she was hired as a contract specialist working in contract and procurement and purchasing for the Agency. When we delegated some of those contract responsibilities to our Infrastructure team or our Construction team to help manage those contracts, Kim moved over to our Infrastructure team to work on contracting for our capital projects and involved in a bunch of them.

She did a short stint with our State Parks team, helping them ramp up their contracting procedures for minor repair projects in the parks. Went back to our Infrastructure team where she is our -- essentially our contract program supervisor overseeing our contractors in Infrastructure, helping to develop our policies and practices and systems for how we do that as well as we can and should and in compliance obviously with all laws.

She's been involved in a gaggle of projects across the state in helping to make happen from the World Birding Facility -- Birding Center Facilities, the build-out of Government Canyon State Natural Area, the work that we're doing now at the Tyler Nature Center and the refurbishment there, the restoration at Cedar Hill, the Battleship. You name it, Kim has been involved in it in her proud 25 years of service.

Something she said about her time at Parks and Wildlife that I think just resonated really well in all of us who have the privilege of working here and for you, she said she came here for a job, but what she found was a beloved work family, work that gave her deep and great satisfaction and a mission that she cares deeply about. And so today we honor her for 25 years of service, not only the Agency, but for putting up with her husband Roger as well. So, Kim, please come forward and then let's get Roger so we can get -- take a few pictures.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: All right, Roger, where are you? Oh, there you are. Yep.

(Photographs taken)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague Patricia Whittle came from financial resources and she came from the banking world. She was with Guaranty Federal there for many years before she decided to come over and work for state government and went looking at profit and loss statements and try to decipher the unwielding accounting of fund accounting in state government. And so Patricia has just done a terrific job working in accounts payable.

She's really become one of our experts in that regard. Some of our trickiest purchases, Patricia is right in the middle of because of her expertise. She's one of our team leads there in Financial Resources. A mentor to new purchasers that are coming on board not only here in Austin, but also out in the field because of her years of experience in this area. She's also helped the Agency navigate as we've transitioned from various accounting systems from an old accounting system to a new business system and now our transition into the CAPPS system that we're doing.

She's also, just because of her expertise, been brought in to train other accounts payable and purchaser colleagues and accountants in state government. Led training for 250 colleagues there at the Capitol. She loves working at Parks and Wildlife. She says she measures her time here by watching the age of her son, who started when he was seven and who now is 27.

And so today we thank Patricia for her 20 years of proud service to Parks and Wildlife. Patricia, bravo. Thank you.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague Brent Whitus has also served two decades with this Agency. Brent started off with our State Parks team. He was at Lake Colorado City. Then moved over to Garner, where he was a park ranger in a park -- or park manager, I'm sorry, and then a park police officer. And then in 2003, he was selected to enter into the Game Warden Academy, in which he graduated.

After getting out of the Game Warden Academy, he spent five years down in Webb County and Brent made a bunch of good cases down there: Felony hunting cases, trespassing, poaching, helped worked to enforce illegal fishing going on there at Falcon Lake and pulling up, you know, dozens and dozens of miles of illegal gillnets. Made some very high profile cases on deer breeder violations down there, narcotics cases. You name it, he got into it down in the brush country.

In 2008, he moved to Burnet County there in the Hill Country where he was doing all that in the Hill Country, plus water safety and boating enforcement there on the Highland Lakes. And Brent has been particularly active in the area of BWI cases and making sure that we're keeping boaters and anglers and recreational users safe there on the lakes.

2009, he was named the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency Officer of the Year, just as we honored Joseph for today. He's been a great ambassador and representative for the Parks and Wildlife and our Law Enforcement team there in the Hill Country. He and his wife and kids are well-embedded there in Burnet. Again, represent us with great professionalism. We're proud of Brent. Twenty years service, Brent Whitus. Brent, bravo.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague is out of our State Parks team, Trey Cooksey. Trey also started 20 years ago. He was a management trainee at the Sebastopol House, which was a unique architectural kind of designed house there in Seguin. We ended up transferring that property to the City of Seguin back in 2011, I think, Rodney, if I remember correctly.

Trey was a management trainee for about a year and a half and then he was sent to go work at Government Canyon State Natural Area. One of only two employees at the time as we were working to design and build out and open that new roughly 12,000-acre state natural area just on the outskirts of San Antonio. And one of the things that Trey got particularly involved in with the design and development of Government Canyon was the build out of hiking trails there at the state natural area. Probably our most popular activity in state parks is hiking.

Trey really got interested in that and in 2010 when a position opened in Austin to oversee all of our hiking trail programs inside State Parks, he jumped at the chance and was promoted to the position. In 2015, he became our State Parks Trails Program Leader with our Recreational Grants Program, overseeing all of our recreational trail grants that we give out to communities around the state to help develop non-motorized and motorized trails, as well as make investments for new hiking trails in state parks.

Trey also oversees our boating access program. So boat ramp grants that we provide, boat ramp projects that we provide to communities on inland and marine waters to help facilitate boating access. He does a great job of helping to work with communities all over the state, get people outdoors to hike and boat and fish. And today we are going to honor Trey for 20 years of service to our team, Trey Cooksey. Trey, bravo.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague Lori Reiley is a beloved member of our State Parks team. Also been with us for 20 years. I'm not sure what her title is, but she is affectionately known as the queen of creative staffing, Rodney. And by that is she is here to attract, recruit, and retain the best and brightest workforce to help us inside state parks wherever and whenever we need it. And she is a wonderful outward and inward face for this Department.

Not only does she help with trying to fill jobs inside parks or up here in programs at the Agency, Lori has been involved with developing and managing our volunteer programs, developing our volunteer management system, overseeing our internship program inside state parks as we try to provide pathways to recruit more folks that are interested in working for the Department around the state. The management trainee program in which we can attract folks who may ultimately be interested in taking on a superintendent job in leading a park, that's all been under Lori's purview.

She's just done a fabulous job helping us with, again, attract the best and brightest and most talented to come work with our State Parks team. She's a wonderful part of making this culture what it is and today we honor Lori for 20 years of service, Lori Reiley. Bravo, Lori. Please come forward.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague Nathan Kuhn, Wildlife biologist right out of Texas A&M.

(Round of whoops)

MR. SMITH: A little better. A little better.

And Nathan was hired -- actually, that makes these Longhorns crazy. You love it, don't you?

So Nathan was actually hired to work in our Coastal Fisheries team, our Resource Protection team at the time, working on river flows, marsh protection, seagrass restoration/enhancement. Nathan spearheaded the development of our statewide seagrass protection and conservation program inside Coastal Fisheries. 2016, he moved over to our Wildlife team to oversee our wildlife research and so in that regard, Nathan is responsible for helping to work with our colleagues to prioritize investments on research and upland game birds, migratory game birds, nongame species, big game animals. Again, helping to strategically direct those state dollars, stamp dollars, hunter invested dollars, federal dollars in the best research to help support our work.

As an aside, Nathan took on a big task -- and I guess, Clayton, this was a year or two ago -- with overseeing the big CWD summit that the Commission asked us to put on in Austin, bringing together scientists and technical experts from really all over the country, if not the world, to come to Austin and Nathan quarterbacked that, which was a big job and just did a terrific job with that.

He's got a wonderful family, two kids that love the outdoors. He's making sure that they hunt and fish between baseball games. And today we're proud to honor Nathan for his 20 years of service to Parks and Wildlife. Nathan, please come forward. Bravo.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Last but not least and he has waited patiently, Ron Smith. Ron started with us 20 years ago. He was a professor at A&M Corpus and decided to leave the world of academia to come work for us in our kind of newly created rivers conservation program. And so Ron was there to work on river conservation, angler access, paddling access, habitat related restoration. Really to ramp up our work to help protect the 190,000 miles of rivers and creeks and streams that we have in our wonderful state.

In his capacity working with our Inland Fisheries team, he's responsible for, again, river corridor projects, helping with angler access related to rivers across the state. He produced a river guide section to books on how to access the rivers. And Ron has also been deeply involved with our very successful paddling trail project and so creating paddling trails in our freshwater and marine systems around the state.

And as I understand it, he may be the only person in Texas who's actually paddled every single one of those paddling trails. So if you're looking for Ron Smith, don't go to the office. Get on a kayak. Twenty years of service. Let's honor him for his service to Parks and Wildlife. Ron, please come forward. Bravo.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commission. That concludes my remarks.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: At this time, I'd like to inform the audience that everyone is welcome to stay for the remainder of the meeting. However, if anyone wishes to leave, now would be an appropriate time to do so.

(Recess taken)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: We have reconvened at 10:05.

Action Item No. 1, Personnel Matters, Selection of New Internal Auditor and Mr. Smith is going to make a presentation.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I don't need to tell all of you one of the most important governance functions that you have on this board is helping to oversee our internal audit function. That's a critical important function as we help to manage risk inside the Agency, as we ensure compliance with all appropriate state and federal laws, ensure that we don't have waste or fraud or abuse that is going on anywhere inside the Agency.

We have been blessed over the last few years to have Cindy Hancock lead our very capable Internal Audit team. Because of a need to take care of her husband, as y'all know, Cindy retired this summer. And with her departure, Sophia Williams has done a fabulous job as our acting Internal Audit Director and very, very appreciative of that role. Sophia, thank you.

(Round of applause)

MR. SMITH: We also obviously on your behalf launched a search to find Cindy's replacement and we had 36 applicants who applied for that job that met the minimum qualifications. After consulting with the Chairman, we had a cross-divisional interview team representing various sectors of the Agency from our Financial Resources team and I.A. and Internal Affairs and State Parks and Executive Office and the Legal team, interview seven finalists. Following those interviews, we narrowed it down to two just extraordinary candidates.

Those two finalists were brought forth to an interview panel that consisted of the Chairman, Commissioner Latimer, and Commissioner Bell and myself. And I think the Commissioners felt, again, that we had two outstanding individuals from which to choose from, both of whom brought great strengths and talents to that job.

After careful consideration, the Commission has asked me to make a recommendation to all of you that you consider offering this position to Brandy Meeks. Brandy is a graduate of the University of Texas.

I don't think we get a whoop out of that, Commissioner, sorry.

But she's got a bachelor's degree in English, a master's in accounting. She's a certified internal auditor. She's a CPA. She's got her certification in IT auditing. She spent 15 years of auditing inside state government from the Department of Insurance to her current role as a lead auditor at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She and her husband own their own business, so she knows what it's like to run a business, make payroll, and manage people.

She's an outdoors enthusiast. She's very excited about this opportunity if you go forward with her selection. We've asked Brandy to be here. Brandy is right here. Please stand up.

And before I ask for a motion, Chairman or Commissioners, is there anything you would like to say our anything you would like to ask of Brandy?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I don't hear anything.

MS. MEEKS: Good morning.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Brandy, you seem -- hold on. You seem like a fine, outstanding Longhorn. So thumbs up on that.

MS. MEEKS: Thank y'all for having me this morning and considering me for this position.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions, other comments? Is there a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Second?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Second. Let's give it to Jeff. He's the Longhorn.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Seconded by Vice-Chairman Aplin. Any -- all in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.

Thank you, Brandy.

(Round of applause)

MS. MEEKS: Again, thank y'all very much for considering me for this position and for giving me this opportunity to lead the Internal Audit shop. I really appreciate it. I'm going to work very hard, give it 100 percent, and I'm ready to get going. Very excited. So thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

(Round of applause)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: We'll move on to Action Item No. 2, Amendment to the Threatened and Endangered Species List Rules and Amendment to the Prohibited Species for Commercial Activity List Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Ms. Meredith Longoria, please make your presentation.

MS. LONGORIA: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Meredith Longoria and I'm the Nongame and Rare Species Program Leader within the Wildlife Division. Yesterday, I went into detail about the differences between the state and federal lists, as well as reviewed the associated regulations and statutes. My presentation will be a little bit shorter today.

You may recall that the example I used of a state threatened species that highlights the biggest difference between the state and federal lists, the Texas Horned Lizard. There are no land use restrictions associated with Texas Horned Lizard or any other state threatened species. Presence does not hamper industry, development, or slow economic growth and landowners love them and they want them on their property, even though they're a state threatened species.

Yesterday, I also presented the details of the methodology and the process that we used as the basis for a proposed amendment. Again, this slide depicts all the data housed in our Texas Natural Diversity database on species of concern in the state and it's decades worth of data, including the data we used for the conservation status assessments. That data was collected and/or curated by our TPWD staff or research that we funded.

Let me reemphasize that with the accumulation of new data and the application of a consistent methodology based on best available science, we are now ready with a scientifically defensible update to our state list to better reflect the conservation needs of the most at-risk species in the state.

I would like to review once more that the value provided by maintaining an up-to-date state threatened list includes identifying and prioritizing Texas most at-risk species based on current data, directing our limited conservation resources to those species, thereby giving us greater opportunity to conserve and recover those species through partnerships with private landowners and industry, providing us the opportunity to avert the need for federal protection entirely, keeping species under state regulatory authority, and to contribute to the recovering of federally listed species so that they no longer receive or need federal protections, like the Black-capped Vireo.

As presented yesterday, the recommended changes to the state threatened list include adding a total of 45 imperiled or critically imperiled species to the state threatened list and removing a total of 13 species that are no longer considered imperiled or critically imperiled. The detailed list of species were presented in August and are in your books for reference.

As stated yesterday, the only changes to the state endangered list will reflect changes to the federal list as statutorily required. Also, staff recommend prohibiting commercial activity involving the six reptile species recommended for removal from the state threatened list by listing them under Texas Administrative Code 65.331(E).

As described yesterday, the proposed amendment was published to the Texas Register on December 20th for public review and comment and as of yesterday at 5:00 p.m. when public commenting closed, we had received nine comments online and five letters. Of those who commented online, five agreed completely and four disagreed completely or in part. Texas Public Policy Foundation and Texas Farm Bureau disagreed completely and then we received two letters of support from Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation and Permian Basin Petroleum Association and we also received a letter from TxDOT and I think disagreement doesn't completely characterize or accurately characterize their letter. They just raised some concerns regarding the process and regarding costs.

All comments fell within three categories for the most part: Either the proposed amendment didn't go far enough or it went too far or there was disagreement with our process, the data, or the methodology we used. Much of the middle category of it going too far can be attributed to confusing the protections that the federal and state lists afford.

Again, there are no land use restrictions or economic impact that result from adding species to the state threatened list. And the latter about disagreement with our process, the data, and methodology we used, has to do mostly with misunderstandings about our process and methodology and the source of our data. As far as the letter from -- oh, I forgot to mention, we also received a letter from Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Railroad Commission raised some concerns with two of the species that we're proposing to add, which include the Black rail and Red-crowned parrot. The Red-crowned parrot, U.S. Fish and Wildlife determined was not warranted for listing. However, that species is not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This species particularly nests in urban areas in the lower Rio Grande Valley in four cities and they nest in dead palm trees. And so the main threats to those species or to that species is removal of dead palm trees and poaching, poaching of nestlings and young and commercial -- illegal commercial trade. And that's the reason why threats ranked high for that species and we're recommending to add it to the state list.

As far as the concerns raised by TxDOT, they're mostly concerned with data accessibility and cost of working with us to avoid or minimize impacts.

MR. SMITH: So maybe I'll add a little color to that, Chairman. The TxDOT letter, again, raised the two principal issues that Meredith referenced. Our working relationship on providing feedback and input to them on fish and wildlife related concerns to transportation projects -- you know, building of roads and highways and so forth -- is governed by an interagency memorandum of understanding. And that MOU spells out how each agency is to communicate with one another, work with one another, coordinate/share information, the kind of things that they ought to be concerned about when building a road to make sure that we're doing what we can to avoid impacts at all possible or minimize them where possible. And so that MOU, which is called for in statute, has been again kind of the governing document for guiding our work together.

That MOU is up for renewal and so it strikes me, Chairman, as a good opportunity for us to dive back into that MOU with these specific concerns which they have raised. Again, they want a better window on the scientific basis that our team has used for making these recommendations and specifically the origins and genesis of the data that's used; but also they've raised concerns about heightened costs that they feel like they may be bearing because of extra survey work or monitoring that they're having to do that in some cases they don't believe is necessary.

I don't have an opinion of that because I don't understand the granularity of it; but I do think this is something we can work and will work with them to address. Irrespective of your decision today, is they have a job to do. We respect that job. I know they've got to do it and they've got taxpayer funds for which they are fiduciaries for. Our charge, obviously, is to what we can obviously to protect the fish and wildlife of the state, which we're going to do also; but we think we can do that in concert and we'll make sure that we're doing all we can to address these concerns that have been raised.

MS. LONGORIA: Thank you, Carter.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah, sounds --

MS. LONGORIA: And lastly -- oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: -- like a good solution. No, go ahead.

MS. LONGORIA: I was going to mention something about the Black rail. The Black rail is -- Texas is the last stronghold for that species. It isn't faring as well in the majority of the rest of its range. It's a very elusive species. It's very difficult to detect when we survey for them. And so as we -- we've been developing methods that help identify where they may be easier -- more easily detected and we're working on survey methodology and as we gain new data, we'll be able to incorporate that data into our conservation status assessments and reassess that species. And if it turns out that it's more common than it appears to be at this time, you know, that might be something that ends up being recommended for removal at some point. But the main threats that species faces right now is it's associated with coastal marshlands and there's severe erosion happening with coastal marshlands and just loss of marsh habitat. And so that's why we've recommended adding that species to the state threatened list and it's been proposed for a listing at the federal level, but a final rule has not yet been published.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. Thank you very much.

Any comments from the Commission?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Well, you know, I just -- question for you. And, you know, what makes Texas who we are and the magic and the regulatory environment that we all live and have had success in, it's this balance between economic growth and environmental stewardship and how do you do that pragmatically.

MS. LONGORIA: Right.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: We know a lot of other states that don't do that well; but I think in Texas, we do get that regulatory process. I think we do it right. So can you give us comfort that while as stewards of the environment, we're doing our job; but we're not impeding through overt, kind of addition of regulation, the Texas magic, the economic growth of our state? Because I think that's -- for me, that's the concern and the balance.

MS. LONGORIA: Right. And that's the beauty of the state threatened list essentially is this is our opportunity to really prioritize funding that goes into establishing partnerships with industry and with landowners on a voluntary basis to prevent the regulations associated with federal listing that actually restrict land use. Whereas our state threatened list does not restrict land use, does not slow economic growth, does not impede economic growth. And so this is our -- this is our opportunity to really get ahead of that extra burden that might be placed with a federal listing. Did that help answer your question?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Yeah. So, I mean, are you saying you believe this really preserves that notion of eco -- or environmental stewardship, but with the right amount of regulatory oversight?

MS. LONGORIA: Correct.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And that we're controlling our own destiny --

MS. LONGORIA: Correct.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: -- and not allowing the feds to control it for us?

MS. LONGORIA: Right. And that's something that they do look at when they take -- when they are considering species for federal listing is they look at is there adequate regulatory mechanisms in place and this is our last resort regulatory mechanism and the penalties associated with intentional take of a state listed species equate to the same penalties that you would face had you taken and kept an undersized crappie or didn't tag a deer harvested correctly and so I just wanted to point that out as well. And so this is our -- this is our opportunity to get in front of those additional burdens in land use restrictions.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Thank you, Reed. Excuse me.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Scott.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: As it relates back, I haven't heard anything in quite some time; but did we get behind the curve on Attwater Prairie chicken? Is that how we got into such a mess where the feds were trying to do all that stuff to us?

I think that's a good context to explain what it appears to me you're trying to avoid because we got into such a train wreck trying to fight that Prairie chicken deal.

MS. LONGORIA: Right.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So you might want to just relay that to some of the newer Commissioners so that they can kind of see how that process works.

MS. LONGORIA: Sure. To the Lesser Prairie chicken up in the Panhandle area is still currently under review by U.S. Fish and Wildlife after they were -- after U.S. Fish and Wildlife received another lawsuit to consider listing that species. We have been working proactively with landowners in the Panhandle area. Our Wildlife staff have very close relationships with them and have been working under a candidate conservation agreement with assurances and part of the reason why the ruling for federal threatened was dismissed by a federal court was that that federal judge felt that U.S. Fish and Wildlife didn't take into consideration strongly enough that conservation agreement that we have in place with landowners and so then it was removed from the federal threatened list at that time.

And so right now it's currently under consideration again, but we still have all those conservation agreements in place and are still working actively with the landowners in the Panhandle on that species and on protecting it and improving habitat for it. Does that help?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yes.

MS. LONGORIA: Okay, great.

Well, with that, finally staff recommend that Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts amendments to 31 TAC 65.175 and 65.176 concerning threatened and endangered nongame species, 31 Texas Administrative Code Section 69.8 concerning endangered and threatened plants, and 31 Texas Administrative Code Section 65.331 concerning commercial activity, with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the December 20th, 2019, issue of the Texas Register.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much. It's been very, very educational for me and I expect for the other Commissioners to hear your briefing.

Are there any other questions from any of the Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER BELL: I have one comment. It seems -- it seems to me -- and is to echo what Commissioner Hildebrand, the point he was making. It seems that this is a very good way, so to speak, to pay it forward. That we are kind of raising a flag to get people's attention; but operationally, the process we have does not restrict them as much as if the regulation came from the federal level. And they really -- then they really get clamped down on much more. So this is really the opportunity to raise the flag, maintain some freedom of operation so people can go forward and if we can stay in front of it enough, then we don't have to worry about someone else coming in and imposing additional regulation on us that would -- that we might rather not do, even if it was right.

MS. LONGORIA: Absolutely, Commissioner Bell. I couldn't have -- I couldn't have stated that better. That's exactly right.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Okay.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And I think the Prairie chicken, that's a good example of states being very active in postponing. When did we first bring up the Prairie chicken?

MR. SMITH: Well, you know, we've been working on Prairie chickens for a long time. You will recall that it's a game species or was a game species.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Right.

MR. SMITH: And, you know, there is no badge of honor for a species going on the federal endangered species list and so the notion of having a game species, in particular, be listed as endangered was anathema to us and so our biologists began working on that many years ago. It kind of culminated in 2009, 2010, with the concern about a federal listing and a very creative partnership among five state fish and wildlife agencies, you know, a hundred plus members of the oil and gas community, companies, private landowners on these conservation measures that could be put in place across the entirety of the Prairie chicken's range so that we could show that we were doing all we were doing to conserve, enhance, and restore that species so it didn't have to be put on the list.

As Meredith said, the Fish and Wildlife Service did make a determination to list it as federally threatened. That ruling was overturned by a federal judge in Midland. Some environmental groups have sued the federal government and petitioned it to be reconsidered for listing and that status review is underway now.

It is always our contention that wherever possible and practicable, it is much better for the State of Texas to be managing its own species and --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Absolutely.

MR. SMITH: -- we take that responsibility very, very, very seriously. And you're right, the Prairie chicken is a good example of that where we have tried and our biologists have worked hard on that.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Any other questions or comments?

We have one person signed up to speak. Mr. Henneke.

MR. ROBERT HENNEKE: Good morning, Commissioners, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Robert Henneke. I'm the General Counsel and Litigation Director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. With reluctance, I'm here today to speak in opposition to Agenda Item 2 and to request that you table, take no action on or decline to adopt the recommendation.

Just by way of brief background, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, we're a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute here in Texas. We've been in existence for 30 years and have been engaged in the area of environmental energy and private property, regulatory policy for the past 15 years working with persons on property issues, including for example now Deputy Secretary Susan Combs who worked with us for a period of time after her departure from elected service.

For the last five years, we've operated a litigation center that I run where we've been active in defending private property rights against government overreach. Currently, I'm the lead counsel on two lawsuits pending at the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit involving the federal Endangered Species Act for specifically the lawsuit where I represent the Texas General Land Office and Commissioner George P. Bush in the pending action to delist the Golden-cheeked warbler. That's my case. We've also filed a number of comments on the Endangered Species Act and been involved in several delisting type actions.

With all the focus on the federal government, it's with great surprise that I find myself here today in talking about this issue. Certainly the federal Endangered Species Act is a massive regulatory scheme and my concern here to today is that the proposal before you-all actually goes beyond that in adding -- seeking to add species and imposed burdens on private property rights beyond the already burdensome restrictions imposed federal government.

It's unprecedented. The proposal here today is that one action to increase by over 30 percent the number of species listed on the state threatened species list. The Foundation, we have four basic objections to proposal that I would like to address Ms. Longoria's comments. And first all, to make sure and reference that we did file a comment with the Commission. It's much more exhaustive than I have the time here to discuss.

But I think in jumping to the points made by Ms. Longoria, yes, the state Threatened Species Act doesn't regulate habitat; but it regulates the species and it provides criminal penalties for actions involving a species. So you are applying a regulatory burden on property owners that comes with criminal penalties. It's not a voluntary basis. Your money or your not -- or your life is not really a choice and this act does carry criminal penalties.

Mr. Chairman, I've got a few more points if I could finish.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: We've gotten your letter.

MR. ROBERT HENNEKE: Sure. You know, I was hoping to speak to the points she made; but if my time's up, my time's up. So with that, thank you for your time here today and consideration.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Any other comments?

I just want to make a statement before we vote. I think it's our job, my job, to look out for the wildlife in the State of Texas and that includes plants. But as the Commission goes forward by adding species to the state endangered or threatened lists, I want to emphasize that I view our primary focus to be on education. Clearly there was some very bad facts put out about this action.

Secondly, it's the building of voluntary partnership with landowners, businesses, and communities and the Prairie chicken is a good example. It's been ten years and through the voluntary efforts of five states, interested parties, it's at least postponed the listing. And I just also want to emphasize voluntary conservation measures. Our goal is to keep species from being listed and I think this is a good step forward.

With that, I'll call for a motion for approval.

COMMISSIONER BELL: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell. Do we have a second? Commissioner Scott.

All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Motion passes.

Thank you, Meredith.

Okay. We're going to Action Item No. 3, Managed Lands Deer Program, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Mr. Cain.

MR. CAIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Alan Cain. I'm the White-tailed Deer Program Leader and this morning I'll be reviewing the proposal for an implementation of a fee for the Managed Lands Deer Program, as well as a few clarifications in addition to the current MLDP regulations for your consideration for adoption this morning.

As the Commission knows, the MLD Program has been around for over 20 years and the intent of the program is to foster and support sound management and stewardship of our native wildlife and wildlife habitats on private lands in Texas. The program allows landowners and hunters flexibility in managing their deer population through extended hunting opportunities through enhanced season or extended seasons and enhanced property specific bag limits.

In exchange for those benefits, landowners conduct habitat management practices and collect certain types of data, depending on the option of the MLD that they're enrolled in. And the Department recognizes the importance of that public/private partnership to accomplish conservation on private lands and MLD has kind of been that conduit to keep that gate open and engage in conservation with these private landowners.

The program is extremely popular, as we talked about yesterday and has experienced greater than a tenfold growth, as you can see from the chart, in terms of tracts of land and number participants enrolled in the program since its beginning in the late 90s. Although the program has experienced significant growth, the number of biologists that administer the program has remained flat since the year 2000. So just to be clear, in 20 years we haven't hired or created new positions to help address the growth in the program. Yet, the program has grown from 800 tracts of land and 3 million acres up to -- fast forward to today -- 12,000 tracts of land and 28 million acres. And so that's presented significant challenges. The growth in the program combined with not hiring additional staff has created challenges for the Wildlife Division, primarily with respect to the allocation of our staff resources to meaningfully engage with our MLD participants, manage the MLD Program itself, and provide technical assistance to landowners, as well as all the other tasks that are associated or responsible for throughout the year.

And then as we talked about yesterday, we've been looking at this issue for a number of years. Back at least in 2010 or '11. But in 2015, staff brought forward a proposal to simplify the MLD Program and add administrative efficiencies as a way to help address some of this workload demand and the Commission at that time adopted those changes to the Managed Lands Deer Program.

And during that process of revising the MLD, a subset of the members from the Private Lands Advisory Committee and the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee got together and recommended that the Department consider charging a fee for participation in the MLD Program, with the intent of using that revenue to support additional biologist positions and help address some of these challenges.

Now, as we talked about yesterday and back in November, staff considered lots of different options and fee structure alternatives to how things should be charged; but ultimately, we decided that the best option would be a fee structure that's by enrollment type for a specific management unit or acreage. That structure provides the fairest fee option for participants based on enrollment type and the benefits received.

And so staff are proposing the following fee structure to Chapter 53.5 of the Texas Administrative Code. And for the harvest option, the fee would be a $30 fee for each management unit within a property that's not part of an aggregate property or a $30 fee for each aggregate property. And just as a quick reminder, the aggregates are continuous, low-fenced properties by multiple landowners joined together, essentially treated as one ranch. And for the conservation option, we're proposing a $300 fee for the first management unit within a property that's enrolled in MLD and $30 for each additional management unit. For those ranches that have multiple high-fenced pastures, for example, of a combination of high- and low-fenced pastures with different enrollments, there would be an additional fee for each additional management unit.

For a wildlife management association or cooperative, we would propose a $30 fee and for an aggregate property -- again, kind of treated as an individual single property -- it'd be a $300 fee. These fee amounts are chosen based on feedback that staff received from stakeholder groups and based on benefits that participants receive under the different enrollment options and a reasonable fee to generate enough revenue to help address the staffing needs.

We considered a lesser fee for the harvest option because the time that staff spend administering the harvest option is much less than it is for the conservation option. And, again, the harvest option is that automated option that doesn't require staff assistance. Additionally, the harvest option participants do not enjoy the early buck harvest with a firearm in October like conservation option participants do.

A smaller fee for the wildlife management associations was recommended because the vast majority of the co-ops -- as we talked about yesterday, I think it was close to 79 percent -- receive antlerless only tags. They don't opt in for the buck and antlerless tags and most of those receiving five or fewer tags and so they don't necessarily enjoy the full benefits of the conservation option. And a $300 fee was chosen because it's a reasonable fee to generate sufficient revenue to support these additional positions.

Additionally, a survey conducted by the Texas Wildlife Association in 2007 indicated that their respondents suggested they'd be willing to pay a slightly lower fee of $250. So that $300 fee is within that range we believe.

And as I mentioned, I've had the opportunity to visit and present this proposal back in August with the Private Land -- or advisory committees. So the Private Lands Advisory Committee, the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee, and the Mule Deer Advisory Committee. We also spoke to the Texas Wildlife Association Executive Committee, as well as a group of wildlife management cooperative board members and presidents. As you can imagine, there was a diversity of opinions on the subject from how much to charge, whether to charge to at all, or how that fee structure should be applied.

With the exception of cooperatives, the advisory committees and the TWA Executive Committee supported a fee for MLD participation, recognizing the challenges that the Department is facing. Primary concerns of staff's proposal arise -- well, actually some folks on some of these advisory committees recommended we don't charge a fee at all for the harvest option, to encourage folks to utilize that self-serve program and help reduce some of that burden on workload on staff. But the primary concern was the disparity between the fee amounts for the harvest option and the conservation option.

Most of them recommended that we increase the harvest option fee, but decrease the conservation option fee. We had suggestions for the harvest option fee from these advisory committees that range anywhere from $50 to $175 and for the conservation option fee as low as 200, but up to a thousand dollars.

Additionally, we had some members of these advisory committees suggest that we not charge a fee for the additional management units. Just have a flat fee for the property, suggesting -- or at least they indicated that's just an additional burden when they consider hunting lease license, their hunting license, and all the financial burden they contribute back through habitat management practices. And we did have some suggest that we offer a break on the hunting lease license fee. If you're paying that fee and you're enrolled in MLD, then you pay one fee or the other; but not both.

Now, the feedback from the co-ops, again, was mixed; but the -- with a few supporting the proposal, but the vast majority did not support the proposal. Again, their primary concern was that the fee would -- excuse me -- result in lost membership. Many of these co-ops already have dues they charge the co-op that goes back the co-op for their own purposes and they felt this additional fee for the MLD would put a burden on some of these members and cause them to drop out of the co-op. Although, I just want to clarify that membership in the co-op is independent of MLD; but they did feel it would be a burden.

We did have some popular suggestions among a majority of the co-op folks that commented, especially these leaders that we met with. One was to increase hunting license fee, reasoning that all Texans benefit from additional biologists and so that cost should be shared among all. Some suggested we create a deer stamp and utilize those revenues to fund additional positions. The majority of the co-op folks that we spoke to recommended an increase in the harvest option fee, ranging from $60 to $90 and decrease the co-op fee. Their initial thought was $5; but again, when I pressed them on it, they'd be willing to pay up to $20. And some suggested that we consider an option to choose a flat fee or allow co-ops to choose either to pay a flat fee for the whole co-op or a fee by each individual management unit, which is what we're proposing; but as we talked about a number of times, there's no two co-ops have the same number of members or acreages and so if you charge a flat fee, it's going to be a disparity depending on who it is or how many members or acres and so that's going to be perceived as unfair in paying different costs on a per member basis, which that certainly will come through.

We've received a lot of public comment since the proposal was published on December 6th in the Texas Register. The Department has reached out. We've sent news releases out to folks. I've done radio interviews with outdoor writers and folks and then we also sent e-blasts to 12,000 of our landowners and hunters associated with MLD properties because we really want to hear from them. They're the folks that are affected. So we want to make sure they had the proposal, and had a chance to comment.

And to date, this number went up significantly. It's -- you know, on the slide it shows 739 comments. It's actually up to 881 this morning. Based on the numbers from yesterday, we were at 17 percent support the proposal and 81 percent are opposed to it and those numbers haven't really changed much, even with the additional comments that we received since yesterday afternoon.

Of those that disagree, about 87 percent completely disagree with the proposal. They just didn't think we need to be -- or they needed to pay a fee. But we had 82 individuals, about 13 percent, that disagreed with the proposal; but suggested we either charge a different amount or look at some sort of alternative fee structure out there. And we had about 1 percent that just didn't have an opinion, that didn't provide a comment.

We did look at a little bit at the demographics. We asked some questions on the public comment page, whether they were a MLD landowner, a hunter on MLD property, or belong to a co-op that's enrolled in MLD. And the vast majority of folks that commented were associated with MLD properties in some form or fashion as you can see from the slide. We did have a large number of folks that are specific to co-ops commented and that number is probably closer to 300 as of this morning.

So in reviewing the numerous comments, there were several themes that emerged for reasons for opposing the proposal and I wanted to take some time just to review those. A lot of folks provided thoughtful, passionate comment. I mean, and they -- you could see it in the letters and the e-mails and the comments on web page. It wasn't just one or two sentences. Some of these folks wrote multiple paragraphs.

And before I get into that, I do want to mention that the Texas Deer Association provided a letter yesterday, which I think you-all received, and they were not supportive of a fee for the conservation option. That was specifically listed in their letter, but they were supportive of the additions and clarifications that I'll talk about in just a minute, as well as standardizing the fee deadline with the withdrawal date. But in general, their summary was to not charge a fee for MLD participation, reasoning that many landowners contribute back to the habitat management practices they implement on their property. And that's one of the most common comments that we heard from the public comment process is that MLD participants are already contributing financially with expenses for habitat management, their data collection practices, surveys on the property, and they feel like that financial commitment to those habitat work and other expenses is the exchange for the benefits of that extended season and the bag limit for that particular property.

We did have folks that suggested this was an excessive tax, that we were targeting MLD cooperators. Suggesting that there's other folks that benefit from biologists and they're not paying or sharing in part of that cost to support additional positions. Additionally, there were some folks that were concerned, just as the co-ops were, that this would lead to decline in hunter participation, co-op membership decline, and just, in general, participation in the MLD Program. We had several commenters suggest that they're not going to run any more youth hunts or veteran hunts; but, again, they have the general hunting season to do that too.

We did have concerns that the revenue would be utilized for something else other than intended purpose. But as we talked about yesterday, the rider associated with Senate Bill 733 explicitly directs the revenue generated from this fee to go back to the MLD Program. So I think that helps alleviate some of those concerns that some of these individuals may have. Some folks suggested they may not see result or positive change in the level of service received if we don't hire enough biologists or that it's just not going to make a difference -- whatever the fee is -- in additional staff.

And then others suggested that there was a -- there's a large value associated with the MLD Program, as we talked about earlier, these landowners conducting habitat management practices that are contributing back to the state. Some folks suggested that that value is greater than the fee that will be generated to support additional positions, whether it's land access, data, or the conservation that's being conducted on these private properties.

A number of commenters recognize the need for hiring more staff. They were supportive of that, but they suggested that the Agency seek alternative funding options. And, again, one of the more popular ones like we heard with the co-op folks was to increase the hunting license fee so everybody shares in that burden of helping support additional staff. Some folks indicated if we don't increase hunting license fees or don't consider that for resident, at least do it for nonresident because they believe that nonresidents get a very generous license with lots of different species you can harvest compared to some of these western states where it may be $500 for an elk tag or a Mule deer tag; but in Texas, you've got White-tailed, Mule deer, turkey, javelina associated with your hunting license tag for a nonresident.

Some folks suggested that we utilize Proposition 5 revenue that the Legislature just passed this past session. But again, as you-all know, that money is dedicated to parks and Historical Commission, so not available to the Wildlife Division. Some suggested we ask the Legislature for additional funding to support positions, and others suggested we utilize the hunting lease license fee that we collect for properties that are running commercial hunting operations and ensure that we're in compliance in enforcement to make sure we're getting all that revenue in.

Some suggested alternative fee structures, which we talked about in the past of a fee by acres or the number of tags issued. Again, those don't reflect staff effort and they end up not being fairly applied for all MLD participants. We did have some folks suggest that the fee be charged only to those properties generating income from hunting on their property. But if you're a person that's just under MLD for the sake of managing your deer population for family benefit, they suggested the fee not be charged for them.

We had a few individuals suggest that we charge a fee -- a higher fee -- for the first several years when the interactions with the biologists and that technical guidance is more likely to be higher or more involved during the first couple years and decrease the fee in the succeeding years when staff are going to be spending less time with those MLDP participants.

And we had some folks suggest that we charge just a single flat fee for the property, but not an additional fee for each management unit or for each additional management unit. And we had a number of folks on the public comment that suggested we lower the fee for the conservation option anywhere from a $30 fee up to a $200 fee. It was all over the board.

With that, staff are also proposing several minor changes to the current MLD regulations in Section 65.29. These other proposed changes would add definitions for an aggregate acreage and a management unit, which is necessary to help differentiate the types of tracts of land available for enrollment in MLDP. We'd also set a deadline for fee remittance to be received by the Department and to modify the current withdrawal deadline from the MLD Program to be the Friday closest to September 30th, which is the day before the MLD season opens. This proposed change would also clarify and rule that harvest regulations apply on properties in which they withdraw from the MLD Program or they fail to pay by the deadline. They'd be subject to the county regulations and not enrolled in MLD at that point.

And lastly, the proposal would modify language regarding the requirements for information on the application of enrollment for an aggregate per acreage for consistency between the harvest and conservation option. Just a few minor changes there. And it also clarified the MLD tags issued to an aggregate acreage may be used on any tract of land within that aggregate.

And then staff recommend that Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt amendments to Section 53.50, the recreational hunting license stamps and tag proclamation in the Texas Administrative Code, as well as Section 65.29 of the statewide hunting proclamation in the Texas Administrative Code, with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the December 6th, 2019, Texas Register. I appreciate your time, and I'll be glad to try to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much.

Any comments from the Commission? Questions?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I have a question.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yes, sir.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Alan, the letter from Texas Deer Association, help me understand this. They say if, in fact, we do pass this fee structure or any fee structure for that matter, they ask that we would accept credit card payments for enrollment. Do we currently not accept credit card payment?

MR. CAIN: We -- well, I don't know about all other permits. I think we do for some. But for MLD Program, when we build out the capacity to accept payment in the Land Management Assistance, it will be by credit card only. We won't receive checks. So that functionality will be built into the new system and address the concerns.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: So their concern will be addressed?

MR. CAIN: It will be addressed, yes.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I mean, I understand that they're proposed; but they say if you do.

MR. CAIN: Right.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: So you've already addressed that issue?

MR. CAIN: Yeah. It will be by credit card payment, and we'll address that already.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And I've got one question. If you go back to public comment slide, I just -- commenter demographics.

MR. CAIN: Oh.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Were some of -- were the 544 that hunt on MLDP, were they landowners enrolled in one of the projects, or were they just people that hunted on MLDP land?

MR. CAIN: I can look at that, and get that information for you. I didn't break it out. We just --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. CAIN: I looked at that column and summed it up and this is the number of hunters. But a lot of those folks that commented, they were just -- what I remember reading through them, a lot of them were landowners. But we heard from some folks that were just hunters on MLD properties. Now, they're agents listed in the system or people told them about it.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Right.

MR. CAIN: But I remember some folks from Angelina County commenting and they were on a lease over there and they were concerned that the timber companies were going to go up on the price of their lease to -- you know, and charge them whatever the fee is. I think they would have been conservation option, $300. And so there's some of those --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. CAIN: -- that are just hunters and they're concerned about their lease fees going up.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Understandable.

All right. If no other comments -- Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Just a couple of questions. One, if you do some quick math, 28 million acres, 12,000 units, about 2,300 acres per management unit. So just broad math here. What's an individual who's got a 2,300-acre low- or high-fenced management unit going to pay?

MR. CAIN: If they're enrolled -- it depends on what option they're enrolled in.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: I understand. The conservation option.

MR. CAIN: If you're conservation option and you're an individual property, it's $300. It doesn't --

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So three -- that's it, $300.

MR. CAIN: $300. And it doesn't matter the size of acreage. And as we talked about in the past, acreage doesn't reflect effort. Our staff can spend as much time on a 500-acre property as they can a 50,000-acre property. It really depends on what that landowner -- how much assistance they need. Some folks call us all the time and others like, "Hey, I'm kind of doing my program. Y'all check in every year." And so but the fee is just a flat fee.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Got it, $300. So second question: What's the total cost to Texas Parks and Wildlife to manage this program, and then what will be the corresponding revenue associated with this program?

MR. CAIN: So we just ran the numbers the other day and I think it's around 1.3 million, Clayton, on -- that's what it currently cost the Department and I'll let him comment. And then real quickly, if everybody stayed in the program today and based on the fee structure and the number of folks, we'd generate about $1.8 million.

MR. WOLF: Alan's close. So our -- the time that's charged currently to the program is 1.2 something million dollars of staff time. We believe that's a pretty conservative estimate. Some folks may be choosing a different code; but when we ran that specific code, it was 1.25. And then the rider that's associated with the -- with this program right now, caps it at 1.3 and some change, so.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So we're -- simply, we're just trying to cover our costs. We're not trying to make any money on this, right?

MR. WOLF: Oh, we will not be making money on this deal.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Right.

MR. WOLF: But the objective from the get go back in 2016 was a capacity issue and so the vast majority of additional revenue that we bring in will be put toward new biologists and their equipment with a little bit of that to be a system maintenance for the software that will be used to help us administer the program.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Great. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: How many new biologists will this allow you to hire?

MR. CAIN: Again, it just really depends. Somewhere between 12 and 15 biologists would be a safe bet and then as Clayton indicated, the rest going to the maintenance of the system. That's going to get us a long way down the road to help address some of the issues. It's not going to completely solve the problem, which is understandable and I know Clayton and Carter have talked about, you know, looking for other ways to help address that.

MR. WOLF: Yeah, it's -- again, Clayton Wolf, Wildlife Division Director. It's probably worth clarifying that when we were downtown this past winter or winter before, we were hoping that the appropriations rider would basically allow us to expend what came in so that it would -- so that it would meet the spirit of the legislation, which was all the money generated goes in.

Frankly, we're having to speculate what we're going to bring in. We'll be better able to speculate once you adopt a fee structure, but we don't know what kind of attrition we'll have. Ultimately, really it's our goal once we have revenue coming in, that we go back to the Legislature and to make sure that the appropriation authority matches the revenue so that it matches the spirit of the legislation, which is to put all that money into the program.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: One more question.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So currently, that legislation capped it at 1.3, even though you project your revenue from that would be more.

MR. WOLF: We did a revenue estimate that was 1.3 and some change and so the appropriations rider basically would appropriate an amount not to exceed that 1.3 million. So --

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So if it does bring in more, it just goes into the general fund or does it stay with the Department?

MR. WOLF: It would go into fund 9.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Okay.

MR. WOLF: It definitely is Fund 9 revenue; but, you know, but in order to address some of these concerns and, of course, meet the spirit of the authors of the bill and our intent and our stakeholders, we would like to go back and essentially see if we could get that rider modified so that it matches the revenue that comes in.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Clayton, you might also just address so any new biologists that we hire, how will we prioritize where we place them?

MR. WOLF: That's a very good question. So the team, Alan and the rest of our team, have been going through exercises, looking at different metrics for number of landowners or properties per biologists, size of co-ops. That map that Alan showed you that had the different colors on it, essentially that's where the bodies are going to go in those brown and red areas more so than anywhere else. We promised folks that we were going to put the extra capacity where we're strained the most and so we've been going through those exercises.

The only -- I think the only challenges when you compare co-ops to individual ranches, you're kind of -- you're comparing apples and oranges. So we've got to work through that. But ultimately, we're looking at each district, each individual, and if they've got a heavy workload, if their biologists in the next counties have really heavy workloads, then that's where we'll be prioritizing those new positions. And that's -- frankly, that's going to be South Texas, the Hill Country, and then that area between east -- between San Antonio and Houston will get a good share of those positions, but that won't be the only place they'll go.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And this is -- this money is on top of what we're already spending?

MR. WOLF: That's correct.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah. So we'll still be -- I mean, a quarter in the hole like we are now at the end of the day; is that right?

MR. WOLF: We'll take the delta, whatever we grow on this, to put into the program. It's yet to be determined because when we look at this, we look at the proportion of a biologist's salary that goes into the MLD Program and so, obviously, those numbers are going to change some if we put people in the right places. Our guess is that we will definitely utilize all of the additional revenue to support the program, no doubt.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other questions?

We have several people signed up to speak. I just want to remind everybody that you have three minutes. And I'll read off the first two: Mr. Leslie and Mr. Kucera, followed by Mr. Yeates and Mr. Shepperd. Welcome.

MR. ROY LESLIE: Welcome to you too. Good morning. My name is Roy Leslie. I'm for the proposition for the fee structure and I represent only myself. I would like to apologize. I'll be reading my statement. It seems to be the only way I can get my point across without wasting a lot of your time and I hope some day when I grow up, I could speak as well as Mr. Smith over here contemporaneously; but I can't. I haven't grown up yet.

As I said, my name is Roy Leslie. I'm a low-fence, no lease, no fee landowner and represent only myself and my family. I'm for charging landowners for the MLD permits. I've promoted this for years and testified in favor of SB 733 in the 86th Session. It's only fair. Customizing our White-tailed management practices to an individual piece of land is a real privilege. We're lucky here in the Texas that Parks and Wildlife allows us to work closely with their biologists in adapting a program to the real world on a particular ranch.

The program's successful beyond expectations and the numbers served have gone from the low hundreds to over 12,000. This should have happened years ago and it's only fair to charge me more than those who choose than harvest option. If one expects a customized plan, one should expect to pay the freight.

I do have one problem though. I'm not happy about being charged 50 percent more for my MLD permit than breeder feedlot operators for their permits. I do not require more biologists and enforcement hours than a deer breeder. Not even close. There are many programs under Parks and Wildlife supervision that are not completely covered by fees charged. The MLD fee -- MLDP fee may not still cover all costs, but the program has proven beneficial to all native wildlife species and is successful in promoting superior native habitat. It has universal value.

Would someone please show me the positive factors for native wildlife and habitat that accrue from the activities of deer breeders and releasers?

I've thought of none so far and I'm tired of subsidizing a business model that falls outside the mission statement of Parks and Wildlife. Please note I'm not complaining about the MLD conservation fee, but how can you justify charging me $300 and a deer breeder 200? Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you. And I appreciate your comments.

Mr. Kucera.

MR. DANNY KUCERA: My name is Danny Kucera and I wrote a letter to Mr. Cain and I'll just read it and then I'll have a couple of comments.

"Alan, as the agent along with Bill Miller and the owner Sandra White, we oppose the proposed fee increase for the conservation option for 2020 to $300. We jointly manage the S.L. White Ranch for hunting in Dewitt County. First, going from 30 to 300 is excessive. It should not increase at all, though justification is given, until we just heard hiring the biologists. We, as hunters, spend more than our fair share for licenses, hunting equipment, lodging, and food and supporting local businesses in Cuero. Second, the doe/deer population in our area is extremely healthy. I have been Sandra's property for over 40 years and have yet to be disappointed. Third, over half of the hunters here on our lease are retired. There are fewer and fewer younger hunters spending time outdoors, much less hunting. Granted, TV and the internet play a role; but also the cost. Therefore, we strongly urge the Commission to not approve the increase -- increase."

Whether or not we stay in the conservation option or the MLDP Program is -- I'll have to talk to the hunters after you guys make a decision. I think there's a four-day doe season around Thanksgiving now. So --

MR. SMITH: That's correct.

MR. DANNY KUCERA: -- you know, we'll just harvest the does in that four days and we'll just do away with our extended hunting season. Like I said, most of us are retired. Probably half of us don't even shoot anymore. We just go out there and, you know -- anyway, we oppose the increase on the conservation option. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Mr. Yeates.

MR. DAVID YEATES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is David Yeates. I work for Texas Wildlife Association. We submitted a letter in support of this proposal back in October of this year. TWA has a pretty diverse leadership in our volunteer oversight. There are biologists, landowners, hunters, academics, nonhunters, et cetera. But we have supported this concept for a very long time, for years. As a member of the Private Lands Advisory Committee myself, I've also participated in this discussion and personally am in support of it.

We've worked over the last two Legislative sessions in support of enabling legislation. Finally getting it passed last session. No one likes fees. No one likes taxes. No one wants to pay more money. And the public comment is -- looked like a survey of our executive committee. There was a wild disparity of opinions on how to skin the proverbial cat. But wildlife conservation and hunters, we are in a user pay/user benefit model. We have been for over a century, and we're proud of that. We pay our own way because we must.

Our Legislature is very attuned to financial efficiencies. There are a lot of other demands that rise above the criticality in their opinion of wildlife conservation. So those of us that are in the minority in this state that care about this stuff must pay for it. We don't like it, but we have to and we're going to do it because that's the right thing to do.

These fees are restricted by a legislative rider and, Commissioner Latimer, to your point on the disparity between that estimate and the rider, by the time these dollars are collected and going back in, we'll be back in session and we'll have the opportunity to go in and fine tune that rider to reflect the financial reality when we arrive at that place.

Quick comment about the public comments. Assuming all 900 of those that commented in opposition, assuming they were all MLD participants and landowners, that'd be 7 percent response rate. The U.S. Census Bureau considers 11 percent to be statistically relevant. I am no human dimension expert or professional, but I will venture a guess that if a participant who got an e-mail about a fee that was ambivalent or tolerant of supportive of a fee, would not go register opposition or support. Rather we've got a bit of a sample bias in the responses of that survey. That's my lay opinion.

This is a voluntary program. It's too valuable to allow it to collapse under its own success. We need to open up the bandwidth. I think a nominal fee that's well within the parameters of what was estimated by the Legislature, that I personally supported and testified in front of the Legislature, is not going to wildly blow out the price sensitivity and push people out of this valuable program. It's evidenced by the amount of public comment. It's evidenced by the demand. 12,000 participants and growing every year.

$300 to your point, Commissioner Hildebrand, is not a giant amount of money. I don't mean to make light of that; but in terms of the context of the value of that this program provides and the need for more bandwidth, it's more than appropriate. With that, I'll close. Happy to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Any questions?

All right. Appreciate your comments.

Mr. Shepperd, welcome.

MR. JOHN SHEPPERD: Mr. Chairman and Mr. Smith. I work for the Texas Foundation for Conservation and part of our mission is to ensure the people of Texas will always have abundant and healthy fish and wildlife populations to enjoy. I'm also a board member of the Texas Conservation Alliance and I'm speaking today on behalf of that 45-year-old organization, that is the Texas affiliate to the National Wildlife Federation.

The enabling legislation for this rule-making was Senate Bill 733. It's carried by Charles Perry and John Cyrier. They are the primary authors of the legislative committees that have legislative oversight of the Parks and Wildlife Department. It unanimously passed both Oversight Committees without amendments. It passed the full Senate 31 to zero and it passed the House 140 to 6 and it was signed into law eight days -- excuse me -- after the Legislature adjourned.

It's a voluntary program that can no longer be expanded unless we implement these fees. And so it's not surprising that you have a cohort of people who are enjoying program right now for free; but by doing that, they're denying the participation of other Texans. So if you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you for your comments.

Does that bring any additional questions or comments from the Commission?

In that case, I'll ask for a motion for approval.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So move.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Latimer. Is there a second?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Second.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell. All in favor, say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.

With that, we'll move to Action Item No. 4, grant of Easement, El Paso County, Approximately 1 Acre at Franklin Mountains State Park.

MR. VICK: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Trey Vick. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. I'm here today to present a grant of an easement in El Paso, approximately 1 acre at Franklin Mountains State Park.

Franklin Mountains State Park is located in El Paso. Franklin Mountains State Park consists of approximately 25,000 acres, over 40 square miles. It's within the city limits of El Paso and making it the largest park in the lower 48 states. The park encompasses most of Franklin Mountains range and contains elevations from 4,800 to over 6,000 feet.

The park includes over a hundred miles of trails, offering hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and camping. The state acquired the land in 1981, and was opened to the public in 1987.

Parks and Wildlife and the City of El Paso have had a long working relationship together, working on projects to improve and expand recreation -- recreational opportunities for the citizens of El Paso and the citizens of the state. The City, through its Parks and Recreation Department, operates trailheads providing public access to the state park. And particularly the one that we're presenting today is Thunderbird Trailhead.

The City is requesting an easement on state park land to help facilitate the construction of a new playground at the Thunderbird Trailhead. You can see here on the map showing the location of the Thunderbird Trailhead within the park and this is an overview of the actual proposed easement. Staff received no public comment on this item, and I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Are there any questions? No discussion?

MR. VICK: Well, if there's no questions, I ask that the Commission adopt the resolution attached as exhibit A.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: There's no one signed up to speak. And with that, I'll ask for a motion for approval.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Scott. Seconded by Commissioner Hildebrand.

All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Hearing none, the motion carries unanimously.

MR. VICK: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Action Item No. 5, Acceptance of Donation of Land, Bastrop County, Approximately 5 Acres at Bastrop State Park, Mr. Vick.

MR. VICK: Again, Mr. Chairman, commissioners. For the record, my name is Trey Vick. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. I'm here today to present the acceptance of a donation at Bastrop State Park of approximately 5 acres. The state park sits over in Bastrop, Bastrop County. It's about 30 miles from here. The state park consists of 6,600 acres in Bastrop County. It was acquired in the early 30s.

The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the earliest park facilities in the 30s. The park's very popular with Central Texas residents for hiking, birding, and camping. Parks and Wildlife staff has been working with the neighbors to acquire land adjacent to the park to protect habitat and viewshed. The owner approached us -- the owner of the 5-acre hilltop homesite that was lost during the fires of 2011, approached staff about donating his vacant homesite.

This proposed donation is adjacent to the existing trail and will allow scenic views and views of the surrounding park, along with protecting the rest of the park's viewshed.

Here's an overall map of Bastrop State Park. Proposed donation is outlined in green. Here's a closeup of it showing you how it sits adjacent to the park. We received no comments on this proposed transaction, and I'd love to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any discussion by the Commission?

No one has signed up to speak on this action item. So I'll ask for a motion for approval.

COMMISSIONER GALO: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Galo. Is there a second?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Second.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Patton. All in favor please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Motion carries.

MR. VICK: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Action Item No. 6, Disposition of Land, Jasper County, Approximately 1.2 Acres at the Former Jasper Fish Hatchery. Oops, I've got to -- I've got to change my script here.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I am standing in for Stan David, Land Conservation Program. This item is the result of a request by the Indian Creek Cemetery Association for the transfer of a small sliver of land adjacent to the cemetery that is currently part of the former Jasper Fish Hatchery. That hatchery is located in Jasper County.

The request actually came to us about four years ago and staff, knowing that the use of the Jasper Fish Hatchery was changing, that there was a possibility that the Commission would consider divesting that property at some point, has stayed in touch with the Cemetery Association; but kind of tabled that request until a more appropriate time.

The 219-acre fish hatchery was acquired in the 1930s. We basically outgrew it. The technology changed. Those fish hatchery operations were moved for the most part to the John D. Parker Fish Hatchery when that facility opened and the facility no longer serves as any really useful purpose.

A little less than a year ago, this Commission authorized the sale of the Jasper Fish Hatchery and at that point, we returned to the Indian Creek Nursery Association and advised them of the opportunity. Staff got on the ground and marked out a logical tract of land to convey to the nursery. We've had an opinion of value of that tract. It's about 1.2 acres. The Association has agreed to pay that fair market value for that tract.

It's a very significate historical cemetery. It is associated with a church built in 1853, which is the oldest existing slave-built church in the state. The church and the cemetery, in particular, are still extant, or still active. The 1.2 acres would go a longs ways towards letting that Cemetery Association continue to use the cemetery well into the future.

This map shows where that sliver of land is in relation to the rest of the hatchery. We have GPSed out that location and are prepared to make that transaction if you authorize it. It would be formally surveyed and staked on the ground at whatever time we proceed to sell the balance of fish hatchery.

We received no public comments regarding this proposed transaction and the staff recommends that the Commission adopt the resolution that you have attached as Exhibit A. I'd be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions or comments?

No one has signed up to speak. So I'll ask for a motion for approval.

COMMISSIONER BELL: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell. Seconded by Commissioner Latimer.

All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Motion carries.

Action Item No. 7, Acquisition of Land, Brazoria County, Approximately 1,200 acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, Mr. Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item is a follow-up to an action item that you took in November authorizing the negotiation of an easement to CenterPoint Energy that will cross the north end of the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, which is just a couple miles west of Freeport, Texas.

Per our recommendation to the Commission and the feedback provided by the Commission, we have been working with adjacent landowners to identify property that might be added to the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area rather than taking cash payments from CenterPoint for this easement.

The Justin Hurst is currently approaching 15,000 acres. It is surrounded, for the most part, by industrial development, property owned and being developed by the Port of Freeport. The cities of Clute, Freeport, Lake Jackson, Jones Creek, and is becoming significantly -- increasingly significant as a refuge for migratory waterfowl, resident waterfowl, waterbirds, wading birds, and other wildlife and so expanding that while we have an opportunity seems like the best outcome in the long run for fish and wildlife conservation.

Staff has identified some acreage, approximately 1,200 acres adjacent to the wildlife management area that we feel like would contribute significantly to the conservation values of the wildlife management area. We are negotiating with CenterPoint and with the landowner to affect that transaction in exchange for a term easement of equal value based on our rate schedule, which you're familiar with.

We received no public comment regarding the proposed transaction. And staff recommends that the Commission -- the Parks and Wildlife Commission authorize the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire approximately 1,200 acres in the Brazoria County -- in Brazoria County for addition to the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area. Again, this would be compensation for that CenterPoint easement for a certain term and I'd be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: If I recall, Ted, this is -- will also get you access for that side of the wildlife management area to Highway 36.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. That's correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Which I would think would be very beneficial.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. So I'll ask -- there's no one signed up to speak. So I'll ask for a motion of approval.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Vice-Chairman moved. Seconded by Commissioner Abell.

All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.

Action Item No. 8, Acquisition of Land, Matagorda County, Approximately 1,100 Acres at the Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area, Mr. Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. I'm particularly excited about this item. This Commission created the coastal management area system back in nineteen seven -- nineteen seven -- 2017 with the acquisition of 5,400 acres on Matagorda Peninsula from the General Land Office, about 12 miles of that peninsula. At the time, we advised the Commission that staff would continue to look for opportunities to grow that coastal management area by acquiring more of the peninsula.

That's located in Matagorda County. The peninsula itself actually separates the Gulf of Mexico from East Matagorda Bay. Again, we currently protect about 12 miles of that barrier peninsula and we consider protection of the entire peninsula and East Matagorda Bay a very high conservation priority because East Matagorda Bay is one of the least disturbed bays -- bay systems in Texas and we have an opportunity -- we have a window of opportunity to truly protect that bay system and conserve it for the future.

We had about 700,000 or have about $700,000 in funding still in the Restore Grant that we used to purchase the original 5,400 acres from the General Land Office. We've also received an additional $2.4 million that's gone to the Galveston Bay Foundation to make the acquisition of additional acreage possible. We have options to purchase two tracts totaling about 1,100 acres on the peninsula in the location shown in this map. And we're working closely with the landowners. We have those under option. We're working closely with the Galveston Bay Foundation. We've received appraisals now on those tracts and they are within the guidance -- within the parameters established by the option. The families are pleased. We're proceeding.

We've received no comments regarding this proposed transaction and staff would like to recommend that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorize the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire approximately 1,100 acres in Matagorda County for addition to the Matagorda County -- or Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area. And I'd be happy to answer any questions.

MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, before you proceed on this, I just wanted to remind you as I previously disclosed to the Commission, I'm concerned about a perception of a conflict that I may have with this. As I have told you, my mother's first cousin or second cousin is one of the owners of part of those tracts and so I have recused myself from any work on this project and will continue to do so.

I think that the recommendation or the resolution should be modified for the general counsel or somebody else to take any and all necessary steps if you choose to go forward, but I'd like to leave the room as you further deliberate this issue.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: And, Chairman, under our -- under our signature authorization policy, in the event the Executive Director does not sign a deed or contract related to a land purchase, that responsibility can also be assumed by the Chief Operating Officer.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay.

MR. SWEENEY: So Bob Sweeney, the General Counsel. Yes, please when you make the motion, please indicate the appropriate staff or the Chief Operating Officer to make that. I think it has to say Chief Operating Officer to take all necessary steps to --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: You want the Chief Operating Officer --

MR. SWEENEY: Yeah, let's do that.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: -- instead of Executive --

MR. SWEENEY: Yes, please.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: No one signed up to speak. Any comments?

I'll entertain a motion with the addition of changing the Executive Director to Chief Operating Officer. Do I have a motion?

Commissioner Abell. Second Commissioner Galo. All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Excuse me. Motion carries.

Action Item No. 9, Acceptance of Donation of Land, Matagorda County, Approximately 172 acres at the Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item relates to a proposed donation of land. We've been contacted by a family that owns 172 acres on the Matagorda Peninsula well within the coastal management area boundary that y'all have seen and approved in the past. That family contacted us last summer and regarding the procedure for making a donation to the Department and we've walked them through that.

The family has agreed they'd like to make that donation. The property -- I won't go into any details about the coastal management area, but the property is at the east end of that coastal management area. Again, as approved by you in the past. That 172 acres straddles what is now the mouth of Brown Cedar Cut, which is the tidal exchange for East Matagorda Bay. Very, very significant hydrologically and biologically. You can see from this picture that that 172 acres includes emergent marsh, it includes some coastal prairie, some beach habitat, some lagoon habitat, and bayous. Again, just very, very high conservation value and would be significant addition to the coastal management area.

We've received no comments regarding the proposed action and with that, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes -- we recommend the motion that the Parks and Wildlife Commission authorize the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire approximately 172 acres in Matagorda County for addition to the Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area. With that, I'd be happy to answer any questions.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Anybody have any questions? No?

With that, we'll recommend a motion for approval.

The Chairman's back. He can take over.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: No one signed up to speak, so I'll entertain a motion for approval.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Patton. Do I have a second? Commissioner Scott.

All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Motion passes unanimously.

I think in the interest of time, we're going to postpone Mr. Havens presentation until next meeting, if everyone is all right with that.

Okay. So at 11 -- yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER BELL: If I could, Mr. Chairman, I just wanted to make a comment before we go. You know, there are a lot of things that Parks and Wildlife has the opportunity to be involved in and obviously on the calendar, we show a lot of different affinity groups and months and activities, whether it's boss' day, secretary's day, Black history month, Latin history month, and there are a lot of things that the Agency has gotten involved in and supported and I do know we have some activities coming up next month for Black history month, in particular.

So I just wanted to make sure that as we're going through -- I'm going to try to attend a couple of those, as well as some other activities; but I really appreciate the Agency's efforts around that and also the support that's been given towards the establishment of our internal Diversity Advisory Committee and hopefully we'll be able to announce shortly some of the folks that we would be putting forth in that capacity. So thank you to everyone on the Commission for all that support and all their efforts in that regard and thank you to the staff as well.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you for your comments.

And with that, Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its business and I declare us adjourned at 11:37.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(Commission Meeting Adjourns)

In official recognition of the adoption of this resolution in a lawfully called public meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, we hereby affix our signatures this _____ day of ______________, ________.

_______________________________________

S. Reed Morian, Chairman

_______________________________________

Arch "Beaver" Aplin, III, Vice-Chairman

_______________________________________

James E. Abell, Member

_______________________________________

Oliver J. Bell, Member

_______________________________________

Anna B. Galo, Member

_______________________________________

Jeffery D. Hildebrand, Member

_______________________________________

Jeanne W. Latimer, Member

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Robert L. "Bobby" Patton, Jr., Member

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Dick Scott, Member


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

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: December 31, 2020

7010 Cool Canyon Cove

Round Rock, Texas 78681

(512)779-8320

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