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TPW Commission

Work Session, January 22, 2020

Transcript

TPW Commission Meetings

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good morning, everyone. I call this meeting to order at 9:11, January 22nd.

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

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

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good, Carter.

Before we continue, I'd like to announce that the Work Session Agenda Item No. 14, Reversion of Land, Bastrop County, Approximately 650 Acres at Buescher State Park has been withdrawn from today's agenda.

First order of business is the approval of the minutes from the previous Work Session held November 6th, 2019, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

Commissioner Latimer. Is there a second?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Second.

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

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Let's see. We do have a quorum, don't we? Yeah.

Any opposed? Motion carries.

Next we have Work Session Item No. 1, Update on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Progress in Implementing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan. Mr. Smith, please make your presentation.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I appreciate the chance to share a few words this morning about various items and elements germane to our Land and Water Plan.

Just as a point of departure, a quick report on the Internal Affairs front. Jonathan and Mike and that team continue to do an outstanding job. I want to make sure that anytime y'all have got questions about anything having to do with a matter pertaining to Internal Affairs, please talk to Major Gray about any issues or questions that you have. Nothing really granular to report on that front.

Jon and Mike did let me know that they are looking at what I think will be a positive process change and it has to do when we get complaints about employees out in the field and if they don't rise to the level of an Internal Affairs consideration, sometimes Internal Affairs is not made aware of them; but just from a pure tracking and a trend perspective, probably good that we have some kind of process to make sure that at least I.A. is just simply made aware of those, even if they're very, very simply and oftentimes better resolved out in the field because they don't, again, rise to the level of I.A. consideration. But just a heads up on that process change.

Next thing that I want to announce is a new member of our team, Andrea Lofye. We're thrilled that she's joined our team as our new Infrastructure Division Director. So I think all of y'all know Jessica Davisson retired to go back into the private home building sector. The place where she came. We had a very extensive search for her replacement. Meanwhile, Neil Thomas, the Deputy Director, did an extraordinary job leading the Infrastructure team on an interim and I want to publicly thank Neil for his leadership. I know he was very anxious to get back to that Deputy Director role and so nobody was more excited to see Andrea come on than Neil.

But Andrea brings a terrific set of kind of background qualifications to this. She rose to the top in a very competitive pool. She's got lots of experience at the local, state, and federal level. Most recently at TxDOT where she headed their Federal Affairs Program. She also brings with her to this job a great love of the outdoors and I think that mission focus is obviously going to serve her well.

And so, Andrea, welcome formally. We're thrilled to have you leading that really important team of the Agency.

So look forward to all of you working with Andrea as she leads our Infrastructure team.

Every year the Governor's Office partners with the LBJ School at the University of Texas on a leadership development program for senior executives in state government and universities and it's an opportunity for senior executives to get some additional leadership development, professional development, professional advancement, personal effectiveness, work on issues germane to the agency or entity from which they came. It's a competitive process. Nominees have to be nominated formally by the agency they work from and then they're selected by the Governor.

Very pleased that Scott Stover, the head of our Support Resources team, was most recently selected to participate in this program. We have a number of graduates inside the Agency that has gone -- that have gone through the Governor's Executive Development Program. Scott's our most recent graduate.

And so, Scott, appreciate your investing the time.

He took that program very, very seriously. Brought back some terrific feedback and insights from his participation and so just wanted to herald his participation in that important executive development program.

Y'all will undoubtedly recall that in 2019, the Commission passed new rules creating opportunities through the first of it's kind -- at least in Texas -- public drawing for an opportunity for Alligator Gar fishermen to catch and keep an Alligator Gar over 4 feet in length in that stretch of the Trinity from the I-30 bridge in Dallas County down to the I-10 bridge in Chambers County.

Applications for that random lottery drawing happened in late August and September. We had 150 slots open. As you can see here, we had 347 applicants for those 147 positions. Those individuals have all been selected and notified of their permit. Again, that will allow them to keep, harvest, and retain one Alligator Gar over 4 feet in that reach of the Trinity and they have the opportunity to do that between the time in which they were selected and the end of August. That permit also, by the way, is nontransferable.

Another component of the Alligator Gar regulations that the Commission put in place was a mandatory reporting of all Alligator Gar harvested in the state, save and except those Gar caught in Falcon Lake, and that reporting happens through the online or web-based app "My Hunt" -- or "My Texas Hunt Harvest" I guess is what we call that. I'm looking for Craig. Same thing we use on Eastern turkeys and you'll see in a minute on the antlerless doe reporting or deer reporting there in the Post Oak.

As of early January, we had 234 Alligator Gar that were reported as harvested. You know, obviously when the water temperatures are a little cooler, we don't expect a lot of active fishing for Gar. We expect that will pick up around spring break. But that information that is reported through that is going to give our biologists valuable information about population trends, harvest pressure, size of Alligator Gar, and so forth. So we're excited about being able to collect more information on Gar statewide and look forward to continued reporting on that front.

Oyster mariculture is a discussion that the Commission talked a lot about at its last meeting. Lance gave a very extensive presentation on that front and I simply wanted to remind the Commission that in March, we will be coming back to you with a draft set of rules for the Commission to consider. If you decide to go forward with that, we will then take those out for formal public comment, with a decision on those rules to be made by the Commission in May.

As a reminder, the Legislature which passed a law enabling the Commission or requiring the Commission to put in place rules governing the oyster mariculture program requires that those rules be adopted prior to September 1st and so time is of the essence. I want to thank the Vice-Chairman, in particular, for making a trip out to Alabama with Lance Robinson to look at an oyster mariculture operation out there. I think that offered him some pretty unique insights into how that's being done on the water and so certainly encourage you to talk to the Vice-Chairman about some of the things that he saw out there.

I think Robin and Lance and based on conversations with folks that are interested in this, we anticipate at least kind of three different types of oyster growing operations: The hatcheries and the production of seed stock that likely will be on land, we see that kind of operation looking for permitting; nursery operations very close to the coast, probably at -- or the shore associated probably with pier-based access where brood stock and other juvenile larva can be raised; and then, of course, the grow-out or production facilities in the bays and various places. But those are kind of the three operations that we would expect to be governed by this program.

Also just as a reminder, based on the conversation that we had with the Commission last time, you know, how we're proposing to generally look at this is to respond to individuals that want to nominate potential sites for their oyster operations. Kind of let them know if we see any real issues or fatal flaws with that. If not and if their operation requires the need for a submerged land's lease from General Land Office, then they can go pursue that and then come back to the Department for the formal permitting.

Our plan, again, in March is to -- between now and then -- is do some additional scoping with the task force that Chairman Hunter has created in Corpus Christi that's led by Brad Lomax and Professor Fox there at A&M Corpus. We also have kind of an oyster advisory workgroup which has been providing some input to us and, again, we'll take all of that input and bring our proposal back to you in March. Assuming you direct us to go forward, we'll go out for formal public comment. Again, then the goal would be to have the Commission vote to adopt something in May, well in advance of that August 31st timeline.

So, again, just wanted to remind you of some of the important work that's ahead and we've got a fair amount of things on our end to make sure that we cover before we bring back something to y'all in March.

The Chairman asked if I can give y'all a report on the new doe days that were set up in 21 counties in the Post Oak Region. First time in 26 years that there's been the opportunity to harvest antlerless deer through doe days outside of MLDP or some antlerless deer related permits. And so the four-day doe season that the Commission approved in 21 counties created four consecutive days starting at Thanksgiving and going to Sunday. Allows hunters to harvest up to two does a person and the harvest of those antlerless deer was required to be reported back through, again, the "My Texas Hunt Harvest" application.

This is a map that depicts that part of the state which it applies. In that lower, right-hand corner you can see that green area. That's that lower Post Oak Region of Texas, bound kind of west of Houston there in that bigger green map. You know, Waller, Austin County, going over to just east of I-35, Travis, a little bit of Hays, a little bit of Comal, and then cutting down to Goliad and Victoria and Lavaca Counties, Jackson County and kind of all the counties in-between.

In terms of the harvest, I think it generally fit what our biologists were expecting. And, again, the only thing that was required to be reported were antlerless deer and we had almost 4,000 does that were reported to be harvested and as you can see, roughly 75 percent of that harvest was in that four-day season from Thanksgiving to Sunday and then we had kind of a scattering of deer killed during the archery season or the muzzleloader or youth only, et cetera; but most of them killed during that four-day season.

Next couple of slides just show harvest by counties. Again, this is independent of any MLDP related properties. Smallest numbers, perhaps not surprisingly, east of I-35 in Comal County. Not much of that county was included in this area. Most of Comal County east of I-35 is agricultural land. Not really huntable, per se; but there were a couple of deer taken over there. The largest number in Dewitt County. So Cuero, Yorktown, Westhoff, those areas in Dewitt County, with about 455 does that were taken. Another shot, you can just kind of get a sense: Gonzales, Guadalupe, Karnes -- decent numbers -- Lavaca, Lee, Victoria, Wilson County, Seguin, Stockdale, Sutherland Springs, those areas.

Roughly 80 percent of the hunters that reported a harvest through the app, reported harvesting one doe. Had 20 percent reporting harvesting two. Those that reported harvesting three, that may have been MLDP hunters. It could have been user or operator error. We had not many issues at all. Candidly, the reporting went really, really, really well; but I wouldn't read too much into the three does harvested there. Again, vast majority of folks harvested one deer apiece.

In terms of reporting, again, most of it -- 80 percent -- done through mobile devices, as you can see, and about 18 percent on the web and so we were really pleased by that. Our biologists and game wardens reported getting a very, very few number of calls from hunters who were having difficulty accessing the app or the online reporting. The dozen or so that called in with concerns was either downloading the map to note the harvest or the management unit in which they harvested the deer or they were having a hard time reading the customer ID number on the license. So, again, the problems with this were nominal at best and I think from an IT perspective, Communications, Law Enforcement, Biology perspective, we were really, really pleased with this experimental four-day season and so I think it -- I think it went well.

And again, Chairman, I think the number of does harvested were consistent with what our biologists expected.

Is that a fair characterization, Clayton?

So, good. We'll keep you posted on this as we go forward.

We had a very unwelcome discovery as all of you know that we announced back in December of a five-and-a-half-year-old doe that was diagnosed with Chronic Wasting Disease. That's a picture of the doe right there. Classic clinical systems, as I suspect Dr. Dittmar or Mitch or Alan or Clayton would attest. You can see that thousand-yard stare; the droopy eyes; the emaciated, gaunt body; the what appears to be drool from the mouth.

It was discovered in a rural subdivision just south of Lake Amistad, west of Del Rio, by one of our game wardens. That game warden called one of our biologists who advised him to put the deer down, which he did. The brain sample was collected, sent off according to our protocol to A&M for an initial screening test. It came back as CWD suspect. According to our protocol then, we then have a sample from that deer sent off to Ames, Iowa, to the USDA Federal Lab, which is the only federally sanctioned lab for testing Chronic Wasting Disease and it came back positive.

Just to kind of put it in perspective from a geographic perspective map of Texas, these red and yellow zones reflect existing containment and surveillance zones. Y'all will know these: The ones northwest of Amarillo around Dalhart on the New Mexico border; the ones east of El Paso in the Hueco Mountains and around between kind of El Paso and the Guadalupe Mountains; the area in parts Medina and Bandera and the eastern most part of Uvalde or northeastern part of Uvalde County; and then, of course, there in southwest Texas, that just southeastern part of Val Verde County where we took emergency action to put in a new containment and surveillance zone in which we'll be coming back to you in March for formal Commission authorization of those new zones.

I have to say, Chairman and Commissioners, I was very proud of the interdivisional and interagency coordinated response to this. As soon as we got the CWD suspect positive news back, the team started preparing for a finding by the federal lab that it would come back as positive. And so discussions were held with Animal Health Commission and others about what a proposed containment and surveillance zone would look like.

We had previously made a decision to hire more seasonals to help with CWD collection out in the state to help try to alleviate pressure on our biologists out in the field. So we were able to deploy seasonals over to the Val Verde County area, thanks to the leadership of our Regional Directors in Wildlife and Law Enforcement to secure lodging and a place to quickly set up and stand up a new check station, discussion with local officials and key landowners. And, of course, I'll state the obvious, all of this being done without knowing what the final result would be and in the middle of hunting season during one of the busiest times of hunting season. And so our teams just did a phenomenal job.

The other thing, Mr. Chairman, I'd be very remiss if I didn't say is just how much support we got from the landowner and ranching community there in Val Verde County. Lots of calls from ranchers about their support for the Department and the need for the Department to be very proactive and aggressive about controlling the spread of this disease and, obviously, that was much appreciated news with offers of help and assistance from the landowner community and the hunting community and I know our biologists and game wardens appreciated that very much, as did I and plenty of others.

This is a shot of the containment and surveillance zones that we have put in place. Again, around Del Rio. You can see Del Rio and kind of just off to the center of the map just west of Laughlin Air Force Base. You can see the Del Rio Airport. The area in red is the containment zone. Of course, you see Lake Amistad. The tributary cutting up to the top of the page in the center of the map is the Devils River. The tributary just off the map to the northwest would be the Pecos River and, of course, part of Lake Amistad is along the international boundary of the Rio Grande.

Our biologists and Animal Health Commission did a really good job of trying to identify the smallest possible area that we could reasonably justify to put in the containment and surveillance zones based on international boundaries, the waterbodies, transmission lines, roadways. Again, things that were recognizable and could be enforced and monitored and, of course, we could educate folks about. And so that was, in essence, the two zones that have been put in place and I wanted to make sure that y'all had a chance to see it.

Chairman, do you have a question?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Where was the -- where was the deer found in --

MR. SMITH: You bet. And I'll show you a spot shot of that in just a minute. But can you see Highway 90 there? From Del Rio there's a highway that goes due north and then cuts back to the west on the south side of the lake.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. SMITH: It was north of Highway 90 and south of the lake about kind of midway in that -- in that red containment zone. Found in a rural subdivision, high deer densities in that area. That's where it was located. And it's important to note when a discovery like this is made and the first one in this area, you know, the biologists, the epidemiologists really have no idea is this the southern most distribution, the northern most, the eastern, the westward. Is it one outlier, or are there others out there? It's simply the index case. The only known case that we have and so the real first order of business is to try to ascertain distribution and prevalence. And so that mandates, obviously, a lot more testing and focused testing in that area.

Just as a reminder of the kind of restrictions that are put in place in containment and surveillance zones wherever they are in the state and they're the same, the containment zone is, of course, the most stringent. All hunter-harvested deer have to be tested. There are very explicit carcass movement restrictions. You can't Triple T deer in and out of there. You can't engage in a DMP related operation in the containment zone and there are some very specific restrictions on breeding facilities, including no new deer breeding facilities can be established in the containment zone.

I do want to say, to my knowledge -- and, Clayton, you correct me -- there are not any deer breeding facilities in the containment zone. Is that correct?

MR. WOLF: That's correct.

MR. SMITH: Are there any in the surveillance zone, Mitch? Do we no?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Not currently.

MR. SMITH: Not currently. So no deer breeding facilities in either the containment or the surveillance zones.

There's some similar regulations in the surveillance zone: The mandatory sampling or testing of hunter-harvested deer, the carcass movement restrictions. You can Triple D -- T deer into the zone, but you can't move them out of them. You can have DMP operations; but for DMP operations in which you have a loaner buck or a leased breeder buck, if you do that, that buck has got to stay in the zone. It can't go back to where it came from and then there's some movement restrictions on breeder facilities in there that are unique depending upon the status of that facility. But, again, some overlap between the regs between those two zones.

Again, first order of business by the team through the check stations and our biologists have done a fabulous job on that. Law Enforcement has been a great cooperator on this as well as, again, to try to assess prevalence and distribution. This shows the test results to date. One positive, 300 tests that came through the check station in or near the two zones that were determined CWD not detected and we have another 78 animals that are pending. I also want to publicly acknowledge TVMDL at A&M which is prioritizing the testing of samples coming from this area and so A&M has really made it a priority to prioritize these tests, which have been much appreciated on everybody's end.

This is a pretty good map that was put together that shows where the samples have come from and what the results are. The orange area is the containment zone. Yellow is the surveillance zone.

Kind of in the upper middle part of the map you can see that green dot, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Uh-huh.

MR. SMITH: That was the CWD positive animal just north of Highway 90 and you can kind of see a line of -- I don't know if that's pink or purple or magenta. Sorry. I struggle a little bit with colors. But there's kind of a linear arc there of samples and that's right along Highway 90. I suspect most of those are probably road kill animals that were collected; but the pink, purple, or magenta -- whatever it is -- those samples were not detected positive. The little black dots are test results that are in the lab that we're waiting results from. So, again, you can see the, again, concerted effort to really prioritize sampling in this area within those zones and immediately around them.

As the Commission was notified, we did enact emergency rules to put the containment and surveillance zones in place. The Executive Director, I can do that in the event of an emergency through an Executive order. There is a time limitation though on that Executive order and it can be in place for an initial 120 days and it can be extended for another 60 days, but that's the longest period for which that Executive order can stand. And so the emergency rules are governing that area now; but, again, we will be coming back to you in March asking you, as a Commission, to formally adopt these rules so that they will be Commission adopted and put in place and so just wanted to make sure that y'all are prepared for that and, obviously, if you've got any questions between now and then, please let us know.

In terms of what is going on now with our teams again in coordination with Animal Health Commission, AgriLife, private landowners, USDA, nonprofits, the many divisions inside Parks and Wildlife, lots of coordination. Clearly an epidemiological investigation into, you know, how did it get there and at this juncture, we simply don't know. And so anything that I might say right now would be pure conjecture. We just don't know at this juncture how that animal contracted CWD and how it got there, but clearly the teams are continuing to explore that and look into that.

The coordination with local officials, very important. A number of our senior Wildlife and Law Enforcement staff met with the County judge and one or more of the County Commissioners at a group of interested citizens in a public meeting upon the announcement of this discovery to talk about coordination, what this meant. Clearly we want to maintain an active dialogue with local officials so that they know what's going on and what we're doing.

A&M AgriLife is looking at holding another public meeting in the area, which we think is important just to continue to provide education to landowners and hunters, businesses, local officials. And, you know, the team continues to explore different management strategies to make sure that we're collecting sufficient samples of deer from areas to make sure it's representative and we've got a good handle on, again, distribution and abundance in the area. So again, really, really applaud the quick response of our team, coordination with Animal Health Commission and others who have been great, great partners on this.

Last but not least, just wanted to give you a heads up in March, Chairman and Commissioners, we're going to bring back -- or bring to y'all a proposal to create two new Commission advisory committees. One of which we have talked about or we talked about at the last meeting, a new Urban Outreach Advisory Committee, again, just to help sharpen our focus and work in the state's urban areas, urban counties, the big municipalities. This is a particular interest to Commissioner Bell who David Buggs, our senior liaison on this has been working closely with.

And, David, I appreciate your work and leadership on this.

And so we'll be coming to y'all with a proposal to adopt that new committee and to create that committee. Also, our Support Resources team has brought forth a proposal about creating an Accessibility Advisory Committee and we think this is important as all of our facilities need to be inclusive. They need to be as accessible. A lot of our facilities, as y'all know, were built in the 30s and 40s and so considerations for ADA, of course, were not in effect at that time. And so as we contemporize and modernize our facilities and make sure, again, that all people can access those and particularly if they've got some kind of impairment, that we're doing all we can to try to upgrade them and prioritize where we can make enhancements and improvements and we think we would benefit by having a formal committee that provided some strategic guidance and direction, helped us prioritize investments in this area which, obviously, are not unlimited. I want to be clear about that; but, again, getting some thoughtful feedback about where we invest funds to help improve accessibility is really important and where there are problems out there, we can try to anticipate them or head them off. So we see a lot of value in that committee and look forward to bringing those back to you in March for your consideration.

With that, Mr. Chairman and Commission, that concludes my presentation. I'll be happy to take any questions that any of you might have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions or comments?

Thank you, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Good? Thanks, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Work Session Item No. 2, Financial Overview, Mr. Jensen.

MR. JENSEN: Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chair, Commissioners. I'm Mike Jensen, Financial Resources Division Director. I have a presentation that kind of has three parts. I want to walk you through quickly the three revenue streams yearend and see how we did. Then, I want to walk you through the first quarter for this fiscal year and then we'll do a budget adjustment slide.

We'll start with the state park's revenue. This is a five-year comparison at the end of last fiscal year that shows the prior four fiscal years, how we did. I'll point out, you'll see the spike there in fiscal year '17. It dropped off because of Hurricane Harvey. State park revenues and license revenues are sensitive to those types of events. So if you'll look at this, '19 compared to the prior years, it's about 11 percent better than '18, 1 percent better than '17, 10 percent better than '16, and 20 percent better than '15. The seven-year average year-to-year growth for state park revenue is approximately 5.4 percent or $2.3 million.

This is what the cycle looks like during a 12-year fiscal year. One comment that I do have on this, we did change to a new state park business system in the middle of -- at the end of January a year ago. And with the new system, we collect more money up front. When people make reservations, we now collect the full duration of the visit. We also collect the entry fees. So I'm expecting these low months, September through February, in the future to be slightly higher as we collect those in advance. You can see that this is a backloaded revenue stream. State park revenue, first six months account for about 35 percent of the revenue. Last six months, 65 percent. Best months typically are spring break/March and the summer months. The second best is July. Third best is June.

This shows the variance with the high level categories that we keep track of. Again, we were 11.3 percent better than the prior fiscal year, 5.6 million. Now, some of this is due to the change in the new state park business system and some of it hopefully we're just recovering from that hurricane and visitation is growing again. Paid visitation is up about 7 percent, nearly 342,000 visits.

The boat revenue, this is a Fund 9 revenue stream; Game, Fish, and Water Safety where these are deposited. The state park revenue is deposited into Account 64, the State Park Account. During the course of a year, we typically collect anywhere from 22 to 22 and a half million dollars for boat revenues. This is comprised of sales tax, titles, registration fees. Registration fees usually account for about two-thirds of the revenue.

It's important to note and I'd like to remind you that even though the sales tax if you look at fiscal year '19, 3.43 million, that's what was appropriated to the Department. That was 5 percent of what was collected. We also collected another 65 million that was deposited into Fund 1 with the Treasury, for which we do not have appropriation authority.

So fiscal year '19 compared to '18 was about 1 and a half percent behind compared to fiscal year '17, it was about 1 percent ahead. It was behind '16 by about half a percent. It was ahead of '15 by about 3 and a half percent. This is also another backloaded revenue stream, even more so than the state park revenue. The first six months account for about 29 percent of the revenue. Last six months about 71 percent. The best months are May, July, and April.

The best year is 2018. That's why we're tracking slightly behind. Total revenue is about 1.4 percent behind, about 310,000 behind. Total registrations, we're behind about 2.5 percent. New registrations behind 4.9 percent. Transfers behind 2.8 percent. Renewals behind 1.6 percent, and titles we're behind 4.1 percent.

License revenue is deposited into the Game, Fish, and Water Safety Account Fund 9. And, again, you'll see that drop. License year '17, Hurricane Harvey happened at the end of August of that year. So we're finally starting to recover from that two years out, three years out. Compared back towards '18, we're six-tenths of a percent better. We're 2.7 percent behind license year '17, which is the best year; two-tenths of a percent better than '16; and almost 4 percent better than license year '15. The average over a seven-year cycle is about 1.1 percent. So typical average growth is about 1.13 million when we don't have hurricanes and drought.

This what the 12 months looks like. It's highly front loaded. The first month accounts for nearly 40 percent of the revenue. The first six months, 73 percent of the revenue. Last six months is 27 percent of the revenue. Of course, the best months are going to be September, followed by November and October. Combination and hunting peak periods are September through December. Fishing is that initial month of September and then we end out the year March through July with fishing revenue.

Year to date, we're about six-tenths of a percent better than the prior year. If you combine nonresident and resident, fishing was up about 2.3 percent. Combined resident and nonresident hunting, trailed about 2.3 percent. The combos, we're down by about half a percent and combining the other and the lifetime licenses, we're ahead about 4 percent in that grouping.

Now, coming to this current fiscal year 2020. State park revenue is tracking favorably compared to fiscal year '19. September was up almost 14 percent, October was better by nearly 24 percent, November did drop about 6 percent, and I know that December is actually 31 percent and I mentioned earlier some of that's attributed to the change in the state park business system. We're capturing more revenue up front when people make their reservations, including their entry fees.

For the same quarter compared to the prior four years, we're ahead of '19 by 9.6 percent, ahead of '18 by 2.2 percent. We're behind the best year of record '17 by nearly 10 percent, and we're ahead of '16 by 7 percent. So compared to last year, receipts are up. So far for the first quarter this year by 9.6 percent or $1 million. And as I mentioned before, I expected to see the entrance fees at facilities to be higher because we're collecting more up front. So the revenue is up 9.6 percent, $1 million. Visitation is also up 17.8 percent. Compared to '18, it's actually behind by 2.4 percent and compared to '17, it's behind 12.2 percent. Compared to '16, it's ahead 5.4 percent.

The boat revenue -- again, Fund 9 -- it's also tracking fairly well compared to the prior year. September was ahead by 4 and a half percent, October was ahead 13 percent, November was behind 3.8 percent, and I know that December is actually ahead by 7 percent. First quarter looking backward at the prior four years, most revenue is collected in the spring and summer months, you remember. So these revenue total amounts are kind of small, but they'll be greater as we get into the summer. We are exceeding '19 by 5 and a half percent. We're better than fiscal year '18 by 4.3 percent. We're better than '17 by 4.2 percent, but we are tracking behind '16 by 1.6 percent.

Total revenue is up 5 and a half percent, 183,000 for boat revenue so far the first quarter. And the volumes are up 7 and a half percent. New registrations are up 10 and a half percent. Transfers are up 2.8 percent. Renewals are up 7.4 percent, and titles are up 6.2 percent.

License revenue is also tracking favorably compared to the prior license year 2019. September was up by 2.4 percent, October was up 13.4 percent, November we did drop off behind compared to the prior November by about 4 percent, and December was pretty good. It was better than last December by about 5 percent.

Comparing '20 versus '19, we're 3 percent better than license year '19, 2.7 percent better than '18, but we're behind '16 by 2.8 -- '17 by 2.8 percent and '15 by .2 percent is ahead.

So revenue is up 3 percent compared to last year, 1.9 million. And if you combine resident and nonresident fishing, we're ahead 11 and a half percent, 1 point -- nearly 1.2 million. Combine resident and nonresident hunting, we're ahead three-tenths of a percent, about 37,000. Combination licenses are up 1.2 percent, about 375,000. When you net the other lifetime licenses, we're ahead 4.1 percent or 321,000.

If you'll recall back in August, this is the budget that was approved by the Commission. It's the budget that was established by the Conference Committee House Bill 1. So that first line of 424.45 million, that's basically our base budget in the Conference Bill. It includes the base that we submitted that addressed a whole litany of issues, about 28 million dollar's worth of prior issues that got resolved. It includes appropriation -- it includes 100 percent sporting goods sales tax. It improve -- it includes an estimate of additional 8 million of sporting good sales tax growth. It includes our exceptional items that were approved, 12 and a half million for Palo Pinto in general revenue and a million dollars for Law Enforcement equipment and $11.8 million for additional local park grants and general revenue.

And then we had to make some adjustments for Article 9 provisions. Three contingency items, that's what those first three items are, 1.34 related to Managed Land Deer permits. We transferred six parks. So that's an adjustment, the second adjustment there, 1.97 million. Then we had a directed local park grant for a million dollars up in the Dallas area. So the subtotal of adjustments was 73.34 million. So we started this fiscal year at 497.79 million.

And these are the adjustments for the first quarter. And typically, you're not going to see adjustments this large as we move on through the rest of the year. We're moving one biennium to the next. So we have a big UB opportunity. As I mentioned back in August, the fifth item that we have on here, employee fringe, we usually start the budget with the estimate that the Legislature provides us and that estimate tends to be a little bit high. So that's what that 11.74 adjustment is, to true it up with the actual costs that we've seen. The first item you see on there is an adjustment to Senate Bill 500. That is the supplemental bill. It's 13.43 million. Out of that, approximately 8 million is related to Hurricane Harvey, Wyler Tram is 5 million, the Battleship is about half a million.

The second adjustment item of federal and UB, they're from 31 CFDA sources. The top four comprise about 77 percent of that amount, 137.1 million. Wildlife restoration is -- includes about 51 million, outdoor recreation about 25 million, sport fish restoration nearly 16 million, national recreation trail grants nearly 14 and a half million on that second line item.

The third item is primarily related to donations. It's an adjustment of 19.98 million. Out of that, about 17 and a half million is from donations.

The fourth adjustment is moving or capital related to appropriated receipts and federal funds into the current biennium, 13.18 million. Most of that is about 67 percent is federal funds. The other percentage is appropriated receipts. And I also mentioned the employee unemployment. That's just a true-up from actual costs. That adjustment is 11.74 million. So the subtotal of adjustments, 171.96 million. The adjusted budget at the end of November is 669 million .75 million.

That's all I've prepared for you this morning. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to try and answer them.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions or comments?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Are these adjustments in line with, like, previous years? It just seems like a lot.

MR. JENSEN: It is a lot. The Legislature has been very good to Parks and Wildlife Department because we have the full appropriation for sporting goods sales tax.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So most of this attributed to that?

MR. JENSEN: No. This is -- moving from biennium to biennium, you're going to have federal. The federal apportionments have been pretty high for the last seven years on wildlife restoration. That's why there was about 51 million there, that slide. The good news is this Department is very good at managing that first-in, first-out. So we've never reverted any federal funds. It is a -- it's the largest budget I think this Department has ever had, but I'm anticipating it's going to continue to be this way because of the sporting goods sales tax. The public voted that. We have a large portfolio of capital construction. About 92 million, 90 -- yeah, 91 and a half million just of sporting goods sales tax alone and that's going to continue into the future.

The good news is our balances are very healthy. The State Park Account/Fund 64 projected balance is about 41 million at the end of this fiscal year. Fund 9 -- Game, Fish, and Water Safety -- is comprised of the boat revenues and the hunting/fishing license revenue. The general piece of that General Fund 9 is projected to be about 28 million balance at the end of this fiscal year, which is pretty healthy. But there's also some dedicated stamp balances that are available. We have about 15 million available in migratory stamp, about 28 million that will be available in freshwater stamp. So as we develop the Legislative Appropriations Request, there are opportunities to tap into those balances for priorities that the Commission would like to pursue.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So what was the subtotal adjustment for last year?

MR. JENSEN: I'd have to go back to my binder.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Is it in line, or do you think this a lot more than --

MR. JENSEN: This will probably be a lot more.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay.

MR. JENSEN: This is a large number. It's hard to compare session to session because you have different exceptional items and you have different priorities from the Legislature as well.

MR. SMITH: But, Mike, to be fair though, most of these are federal funds when you look at what's being moved forward.

MR. JENSEN: Yes.

MR. SMITH: And those bring their own appropriation authority and we typically have longer runways by which we can spend those. Now, it doesn't mean that we should be dilatory in spending those; but we are given more latitude with that and so we can move funds across biennia. And so most of these are federal funds. You know, certainly I think we can take a hard look at our wildlife restoration/sport fish restoration funds, make sure that we've got those on a good sequence to get those encumbered and spent. But that's the lion's share of this, and I would say this is more than what it's been past.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: That -- I mean, I get it that it's a lot. I'm just -- but I don't have any context --

MR. SMITH: Sure.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- from previous years or -- and then future years as well.

MR. SMITH: You bet.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: It just seems like -- it's a good adjustment, so.

MR. SMITH: It is.

MR. JENSEN: It's kind of apples and oranges sometimes to compare to a prior biennia; but as Carter mentioned, we get wildlife restoration/sport fish restoration roughly about 60 million each year and those moneys are typically good for nearly -- nearly three years. So some of those are prior years that are in progress. They have plans. The Divisions have plans to spend those on specific projects, especially the Wildlife Division for wildlife restoration and the Fisheries Division with their moneys as well.

MR. SMITH: I'd say also, Commissioner -- and we can get you some trend data if you'd like to see that -- the federal funds are harder to predict. And so that creates a level of uncertainty here and so it's not at all surprising for the Commission to see an upwards budget adjustment because of more federal funds that are coming to the state. Typically, the amount to come is underestimated as opposed to overestimated and that can create the perception of a significant upwards delta.

But I will say because of both the diversity and preponderance of federal funds that we get, it's not uncommon at all for us to see these kind of mid-year adjustments to reflect more federal funds that otherwise were projected to be available.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: But, Carter, one point I think needs to be made about this situation, too.

Bobby, this kind of kicks into what you're asking about.

Remember back about six or seven years ago, we had a bunch of money and we had to get it tied up, although we had five years to do it; but -- so the trick, what's really important is what he said about we get it in encumbered so that we don't lose it going forward.

MR. SMITH: Sure. Right. Absolutely.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So that's a good deal.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. And that's critical on both the state and federal source fronts. Yep.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other questions or comments?

All right. Thank you very much.

MR. JENSEN: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Work Session Item No. 3, Internal Audit Update, Sophia Williams.

Thank you, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Welcome.

MS. WILLIAMS: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. I'm Sophia Williams, Interim Director of Internal Audit. I want to update you on the completion status of our internal audit plans and any external audits.

Our fiscal year '19 internal audit plan looks like this to date. All of our audits have been completed, with exception of the IT security and field networks audit and the state park revenue and contracts audits and we have project remaining advisory project which is the Land Conservation Program. I expect the audits and the advisory to be completed by the end of February. So we will wrap up the FY '19 plan very soon.

For the fiscal year 2020 audit plan, we have five projects in -- five projects in progress to date. Two audits are in the planning stage and three audits are in the fieldwork stage. The IT audit regarding state park incident reporting system and TPWD reporting system is in the planning stage. Also, the orphan boat ramps is in the planning stage. The grants audit concerning the off-highway vehicle grants is in the fieldwork stage. For the grants audit, our objective is to determine grant compliance with state and federal regulations.

For the fiscal controls of selected park audits, we have completed fieldwork in four of the 25 selected park sites so far: Colorado Bend, Lockhart, Bastrop, and Buescher. Our objective for these audits is to determine compliance of the park's fiscal control processes as compared to the Texas State Park Fiscal Control Plan and the Site Specific Fiscal Control Plan. Our follow-up audit will be ongoing throughout the fiscal year.

Since my last update to you in November, two external audit recommendations have been implemented. Management is currently working on to resolve the other eleven external audit findings and seven internal audit findings. Regarding our external audits, Clifton Larson Allen is in the fieldwork stage of its performance of a single audit.

And this concludes my presentation. Thank you for listening. I'll be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much.

MS. WILLIAMS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions or comments?

MS. WILLIAMS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. Work Session Item No. 4, 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 in the Wildlife Division. In August, I presented in detail about the proposed amendments to the state threatened and endangered species list rules and that's the same topic I'll be presenting on today.

I want to clarify there are two sets of lists, which are often confused. The state list, which include the state endangered species and state threatened species and the federal lists are species protected by the Endangered Species Act that include federal endangered species and federal threatened species. Not only do the two lists differ by species, but also by process. I'll explain our process later in the presentation. I'll also provide a quick refresher on the regulations and statutes that pertain to our state threatened and endangered species lists. Please stop me if you have any questions or need clarification at any point.

Section 68.002 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code dictates that species of fish and wildlife are to be listed as endangered on the state list if they're listed on the federal list of endangered species or if -- and here's where it can get confusing -- they are considered threatened with statewide extinction as filed by the Director of the Department. Let me clarify. Threatened with statewide extinction is synonymous with state endangered and it's separate from what we call state or federally threatened species. I'll explain on the next slide how we determine whether a species is considered threatened with statewide extinction.

As required by statute, our state endangered list must include all species listed as federally endangered that occur in Texas. However, the same is not required of our state threatened list, which varies considerably from the federal threatened species list for animals. Section 68.003 of Texas Parks and Wildlife Code defines a species of fish and wildlife as threatened with statewide extinction if the Department finds that the continued existence of that species is endangered due to destruction, drastic modification, or severe curtailment of its habitat, its overutilization for commercial or sporting purposes, disease or predation, or other natural or manmade factors. In other words, state endangered means that a species is heading towards extinction in Texas.

Please note that the statute provides TPWD with the authority to add species to the state endangered list that are not listed as federally endangered; but historically, we haven't done that.

State threatened species are defined under Section 65.175 of the Texas Administrative Code as any species that the Department has determined is likely to become endangered in the future. In other words, if a species continues along the same trajectory, it's likely to become state endangered. It's important to note that species on the state threatened list receive priority for research and conservation funding. They also provide a nexus for encouraging developers and other state agencies to consult with us for guidance to minimize or avoid harm to these species and for building partnerships with landowners who can choose to implement voluntary conservation measures to benefit these species. And as result of these two things, it provides us with the opportunity to avert the need for federal intervention and keep these species under state authority.

According to Chapter 88 of Parks and Wildlife Code and Chapter 69 of Texas Administrative Code, plants are listed as endangered, threatened, or protected if listed as such on the U.S. list of plant species or as filed by the Director of the Department, similar to animals. Code also states that if the list of endangered or threatened plants issued by the United States is modified, the Director shall file an order with the Secretary of State accepting the modification if the plant occurs within the state. This means that any native plant in Texas that's either on the federal endangered or threatened list, shall be reflected on the state lists accordingly and this list may be also amended by the Director.

The major differences between the protections provided by the state and federal lists are shown here. I want to emphasize that the biggest difference is that unlike federal law, state law does not restrict land use. State law only protects the organism itself from intentional take. There's no regulatory burden placed on private lands that results from adding species to the state threatened list.

Value provided by maintaining an up-to-date state threatened list includes identifying and prioritizing Texas most at-risk species based on current data that more accurately reflects conservation needs, 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 recovering federally listed species so that they no longer require federal protections like the Black-capped Vireo, for example.

The most recent changes to our state threatened and endangered species lists have mostly reflected the changes made to the federal list of endangered species for fish and wildlife and to the federal threatened and endangered species list for plants. Our state threatened list does not currently fully represent the conservation needs of Texas' most at-risk plants and animals.

You may recall from the August presentation, that staff from all three natural resource divisions are using the NatureServe conservation status assessment protocol, bringing in teams of subject matter experts from outside the Agency, including university-based experts and other professionals with taxonomic expertise to evaluate species based on the best available science and identify current conservation needs. This protocol is designed to be transparent, science based, and to reduce bias from the assessment process. It's either used by or is consistent with similar tools used by many other state natural resource agencies and natural heritage programs across the nation and it also provides a mechanism for identifying the most impactful management actions for achieving recovery and securing a status of a species.

This methodology involves assessing three main factors to generate a conservation status value for a species including rarity, threats, and population trends as you see here. Those species with a conservation status of imperiled or critically imperiled are recommended to be added to the state threatened list. This slide shows data that are housed in our Texas Natural Diversity database on species of concern in our state, including the data that we use for conservation status assessments. This image represents decades worth of data collected and curated by our taxonomic experts and from research we fund.

We're recommending adding 45 species to the state threatened list now because staff have been applying this advanced methodology for over five years now and throughout that time, we've continued to fund research on at-risk species and obtain new data. We didn't have a similar consistently applied approach to use across divisions and taxonomic groups prior to adopting this one. As a result, we've accumulated a significant number of recommended changes.

Staff began consulting with the Department leadership in 2017, seeking the opportunity to bring forward our proposed amendments. Staff were granted the opportunity to bring the proposed amendments to the Commission and sought permission to publish to the Texas Register in August of 2019 and this proposed amendment was published to the Texas Register on December 20th.

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 lists of these species were presented in August and are in your books for reference. And as stated earlier, the only changes to the state endangered will reflect changes to the federal lists as statutorily required.

Finally, staff determined based on biological parameters that although the six reptile species being removed from the state threatened list are no longer believed to be in danger of extinction. The population status of these species remains such that protection from commercial exploitation is warranted. As such, staff recommend prohibiting commercial activity involving these species by listing them under Texas Administrative Code 65.331(E).

As stated earlier, the proposed amendment was published to the Texas Register on December 20th for public comment. As of yesterday, we received eight comments online and two letters. And I checked again this morning, and that's all we've received. One from -- one letter was received from Texas Public Policy Foundation and one from the Texas Farm Bureau. Of those who commented online, five agreed completely and three disagreed completely or in part. Texas Public Policy Foundation disagreed completely and recommended TPWD withdraw the proposed rule-making. Texas Farm Bureau disagreed completely, also recommending Texas Parks and Wildlife withdraw the proposed rule-making.

All comments fell within three categories: The proposed amendment didn't go far enough; it went too far; or there was disagreement with our process, the data, or the methodology we used.

With the support of the Wildlife Diversity Advisory Committee, TPWD staff recommend adopting the proposed amendments to the state threatened and endangered nongame species list, the endangered and threatened plant lists, and to the commercial nongame permit rules concerning commercial activity. And with that, I'm happy to take any questions you might have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, Meredith, thank you very much for navigating a very complex issue; but I do have a couple of comments. The -- there seems to be some, A, misinformation out there and, two, even some inflammatory information and it's -- I think it's misguided. And I've learned a lot in reading this material. But, for example, the -- if it's on the state threatened list, it doesn't regulate land use; is that correct?

MS. LONGORIA: That's correct.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: So you can't -- you can't kill it. You can't capture it. You can't sell it.

MS. LONGORIA: Right.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: But you can have it with a permit in some cases, right?

MR. SMITH: Correct.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: So it really doesn't follow any of the federal guidelines or rules as --

MS. LONGORIA: Right. And if I can provide just one quick example, and I'll try to keep it short. The Texas Horned Lizard is a really good example of a state threatened species. Texas Horned Lizards don't restrict development. Landowners love them and they're calling Wildlife staff all the time asking how to get them on their property and that's a well-known state threatened listed species. So just -- I just wanted to use that as an example.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: That's a good one. And the other one where there seems to be a lot of confusion -- certainly there was on my part -- is the Comptroller's program in funding versus ours.

Can you clarify that a little bit, Carter? Just --

MR. SMITH: Sure, yeah. So the Comptroller is charged with managing and overseeing a task force that looks at the intersection of endangered species and economic development. And so there's a task force that the Comptroller oversees which multiple agencies and entities are represented on that task force, including Parks and Wildlife.

In addition, over the last few sessions the Comptroller's Office has gotten a specific appropriation that the Comptroller's Office can -- in concert with research universities -- invest in data gaps and monitoring for species that are either candidates to be listed on the federal endangered species list or are on the endangered species list. And so -- and the Comptroller's Office coordinates that work with Parks and Wildlife and so we work together on identifying priorities there.

That funding as I understand it, Meredith, cannot be used for biological studies or monitoring for species that are on the state list; is that correct?

MS. LONGORIA: Right. Unless they are -- unless they've been petitioned for a listing --

MR. SMITH: Okay.

MS. LONGORIA: -- are candidates or are federally listed. They can't direct those funds to anything other than -- oh, and they also cannot direct their funds to plants, regardless of their listing status.

MR. SMITH: And then the -- Meredith, the statutory responsibility for the conservation and protection of fish and wildlife in the state, rests with Parks and Wildlife, correct?

MS. LONGORIA: That's correct.

MR. SMITH: Okay.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah. And there's even -- there was even an -- I use this word on purpose -- allegations that our data is flawed. That we apparently worked this all up in a vacuum. But we work with any and everybody, don't we? The Comptroller's Office, the feds, I mean --

MR. SMITH: Well, that's certainly -- yes, we do.

And, Meredith, I think it would be helpful to talk about, you know, how Department biologists will seek -- well, data that the Department has, will seek out data that others have. Whether it's the Comptroller, university, private landowners, wherever we can get data that would help us make the best decisions for a conservation of species. Can you talk about that process?

MS. LONGORIA: Sure. There's a couple of facets to that in that we issue scientific research permits through the Department and all -- anybody who works with wildlife in the State of Texas for research purposes has to have one of those and with that comes a requirement to share the data with us. Now, some of that data comes in different forms; but it all ends up going into our Texas Natural Diversity database. And our own staff collect data and curate data that they collect, as well as that we receive through that scientific research permit.

And so we have a large volume of data that we use to make these -- to analyze during these conservation status assessments. And when we bring in -- we bring in teams of researchers and taxonomic experts to weigh in on the conservation status assessment process and to bring any new data to the table that maybe we don't have copies of just yet because it's newly published; but it's all peer reviewed data, best available science out there.

There was some misunderstanding that we use NatureServe's data, but that's not the way it works. NatureServe has this tool that we use, a conservation status assessment protocol that we use that generates a value that helps us decide which species are most at risk essentially. We provide NatureServe with data. We're one of 80 member-networks that provides NatureServe with data. They don't provide us with data. Does that make -- does that make it --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: They provide you with a methodology, but not data.

MS. LONGORIA: They provide us with a methodology, a tool, a ranking calculator, and then we provide them with data that they package in different forms for different uses.

MR. SMITH: But -- and, Meredith, just to be really clear about this. State law governs how we are able to share biological data collected on private lands.

MS. LONGORIA: Oh, that's correct.

MR. SMITH: Data cannot be shared without the explicit --

MS. LONGORIA: Consent.

MR. SMITH: -- written consent of private landowners, correct?

MS. LONGORIA: That's correct. That's correct.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good point.

MS. LONGORIA: Very good point.

MR. SMITH: Yep.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other comments or suggestions?

Again, I want to thank you. I think this is a very, very -- was a very well-executed review and it's necessary and I applaud you for doing it. I'm sorry for all the background chatter that generated, but --

MS. LONGORIA: That's okay. It's to be expected.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: -- it's our job and our duty to watch after these potential -- both animals and plants that need our assistance.

So, yes.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: I'd just like to say too with so much of the state being in private property hands, we as a Commission encourage the partnership of private landowners and we -- I, for one, do not want any more regulation or onerous things that we pass; but I also want to emphasize that it is a partnership and if we can do anything to encourage a species from not becoming more threatened, then I think that's what we're here to do.

MS. LONGORIA: Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Meredith, I do think it might be helpful just to talk about that point. What does this mean for a private landowner if something is on the state threatened list? What does that mean? And recognizing landowners are not homogenous. They have very different interests with their land. Our job is to respect those different interests and values, to voluntarily encourage them to engage in conservation, not compel them. But what does this mean for a landowner?

MS. LONGORIA: This means that there's an increased opportunity for working with the state through partnerships as you've recommended there, to be proactive in doing things to benefit the species and it may be many management actions. When our biologists are consulting with a landowner, they might really be focused on game species and the biologist will be aware that there's a state listed species and educate the landowner about that in ways that maybe their management plan might benefit that species. But it also -- we've got a landowner incentive program that's another mechanism for partnership to enhance habitat through land management practices voluntarily on private lands that we turn to as a partnership mechanism and tool as well.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other comments?

Thank you very much.

MS. LONGORIA: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I'll place the 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 on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 5, Managed Lands Deer Program Fees and Amendments to Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes.

MR. CAIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good morning.

MR. CAIN: For the record, my name's Alan Cain. I'm the White-tailed Deer Program Leader. This morning, I'll be reviewing the proposal to charge a fee for MLD, as well as a few changes and clarifications in addition to the current MLDP regulation language.

Now, as we discussed in November, MLD has been around for over 20 years and the purpose of the program is intended to foster and support sound management and stewardship of our native wildlife and wildlife habitats on private lands. And the program provides landowners and hunters the flexibility to manage their deer populations by providing greater hunting opportunities through extended seasons and property specific bag limits. In exchange for these benefits, the landowners implement habitat management practices depending on the option of MLDP that they are participating in.

The Department recognizes the importance of this partnership between private landowners and the Department and provides landowners -- and private landowners to accomplish conservation on private lands. The MLD provides the opportunity for that public/private partnership and it helps to keep the gates open so we can engage with those landowners.

The program has been extremely popular and has experienced greater than a tenfold growth in terms of number of tracts of land and the acres enrolled in the program since it began in the late 90s, as you can see from the chart on the screen. Now, although the program has experienced significant growth, the number of TPWD biologists who administer the program has remained flat since the year 2000. Just to be clear, we haven't added any new field biologists in 20 years; but you can see the MLD Program has grown from about 300 tracts of land -- or 800 tracts of land and 3 million acres to 12,000 tracts of land and 28 million acres over that same 20-year period. So that combination of program growth and no additional staff to address the growth has presented significant challenges for the Wildlife Division, primarily with respect to allocation of our staff resources to meaningfully engage with our MLD participants, administer the MLD Program, meet technical guidance requests, and complete other assigned duties that our staff are tasked with throughout the year.

Now, we've been working on streamlining and trying to simplify MLD for a number of years. I can remember at least back to 2011, but really things came to a fruition in 2015 when staff proposed changes to simplify the Managed Lands Deer Program and add some administrative efficiencies to help address these challenges that the Division was facing in terms of growth of the program and that proposal was adopted by the Commission at that time.

Now, during that process, a revise in the MLD Program and informal working group comprised of a subset of members of the Private Lands Advisory Committee and the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee recommended that the Department consider charging a fee for participation in the program and then utilize that revenue or that's generated from that fee to support additional positions, as well as the administration of the system, online system that helps administer MLD.

And then so just moving on, I wanted to provide -- again, go over some the background that we talked about in November. And just as a reminder, the MLD has two options that participants can choose from. The first option is the harvest option, which is an automated self-serve option that generates a harvest recommendation and tag issuance and does not require staff assistance. This is a do-it-yourself option. It's likely to be attractive to those individuals that are really looking for the benefits of that tag or the extended season, but not necessarily needing assistance from our Parks and Wildlife biologists. The conservation option on the other hand offers the opportunity to work with a Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist to receive customized, ranch-specific deer harvest and habitat management recommendations. There's also a requirement for a wildlife management plan, deer population survey data, and implementation of habitat management practices.

The primary difference between the harvest and the conservation option is that the conservation option participants are allowed more flexibility in terms of early buck harvest with a firearm and customized harvest recommendations based on site specific deer survey data. And just another point to note is that enrollments in the MLD Program occur at the management unit level with the exception of aggregate properties and I'll go over these property types in just a minute. And a management unit is a specific portion of a tract of land that's enrolled in MLD and the management unit can be a portion of the ranch or the entire ranch.

So in order to better understand how our proposed fee structure, it will be helpful to review these different property types and the first property type we have is an individual ranch. The vast majority of properties enrolled in MLD are what we call -- consider a single management unit. So they're just an individual ranch, and you can see that from the illustration on the left in this slide. But we do have examples of ranches with multiple management units receiving distinct harvest recommendations where there's distinct enrollments for each of those management units and an example would be the illustration on the right, which is a ranch that may have multiple high-fence pastures where they want enrollments on two -- on -- or they have to have enrollments on each of those independent pastures. But we have examples where there's properties that have a combination of high and low fence, depending on how that landowner wants to manage that enrollment process and those harvest recommendations. And most importantly, tag issuance is specific to each management unit enrolled within the property.

The next property type is a wildlife management cooperative or association, and it's simply a group of properties owned by different landowners that fall under a single wildlife management plan that addresses all tracts of land within the co-op that are to be enrolled in the Managed Lands Deer Program. As you can see from the illustration, these properties do not have to be contiguous and co-ops can encompass an entire county or a portion of county. It really depends on how our biologists set those co-ops up and how they administer them.

Co-ops can only be enrolled in the conservation option and they may choose to receive antlerless only tag issuance rather than buck and antlerless. And harvest recommendations and tag issuance are specific to each management unit within the co-op. It can only be used on those management units for which the tags are issued. So if we're all in a co-op, I can't use the tags on your property and you can't use them on mine. They're specific to those particular tracts of land.

Now, lastly we'll talk about aggregate properties and an aggregate is a group of contiguous, low-fenced tracts of land joined together by multiple landowners for the purpose of MLD enrollments. Tags that are issued to an aggregate may be used on any tract of land that's part of the aggregate. Aggregates typically occur -- or they can occur anywhere in the state, but typically we see them in East Texas where you have a hunting club that may encompass three or four different timber company tracts of land. So there's different ownership of that hunt club encompasses those different properties. Other examples are family ranches where there may be different ownership among the family members, but the family wants to manage that as one property and they can do that through an aggregate or we see that in areas of east of I-35 where you have lots of small acreage properties and they need to band together to be able to receive a reasonable tag issuance. Otherwise, they may not receive tags at all because some of the properties are so small.

To help understand a bit about our participants and who they are and to give some context in terms of the fee structure option and some of the public comment received, I think it would be helpful to review some demographics about our participants. The vast majority of participants, as you can see, enrolled in the conservation option and only -- at 83 percent and 17 percent are enrolled in the harvest option.

Now, the number of management units per biologist position -- which is represented on the map there -- ranges anywhere from 5 up to 1,177 management units per biologist position. Some of our staff work with upwards of 290, close to 300, individual properties and you can see those on the map. They're down in South Texas along the Rio Grande there in those counties in brown or in red as you move east towards San Antonio. And then it takes -- in some of those instances where they've got two to 300 cooperatives, it can take them five to six, seven years to be able to get around to see those properties every year and so we want to try to improve that. Hopefully, if we hire new positions we'll be able to do that.

We also have some biologist positions with -- that work within excess of 500 management units and those are generally in areas from that area between San Antonio and Houston along the I-10 corridor and those counties or areas in brown there and those are areas that have a heavy co-op presence. And so there may be biologists working with co-ops that have five, six, 700 members out there.

Now, for those biologists working with wildlife management cooperatives with lots of members, they don't necessarily meet one on one with each of those co-op members; but they do interact and provide guidance to these participants at annual meetings or biannual meetings. Many -- managing these co-ops and responding to calls, e-mails, and just the requests from the co-op board and the presidents is very time consuming. In fact, it can be as time consuming doing that much work, you know, just working with the co-op as it is for a biologist to have two or 300 individual properties out there.

Now, although our staff typically manage these co-ops through annual meetings, staff will provide one-on-one assistance if these co-op members call and ask us to come out and provide a site visit. We'll certainly do that.

So looking a little closer at some of our demographics. We see that 91 percent of the properties out there are single management units that we talked about earlier. We also know that 73 percent of those properties or management units that are properties are less than 2,500 acres and we have management units that range in size anywhere from 11 acres up to about 500,000 acres. There's some perception, at least among some of the commenters that we'll talk about in a bit, that there's lots of large landowners and that's just really not the case. In fact, only 6.6 percent of the properties enrolled in MLDP are over 10,000 acres. So the vast majority are less than 2,500 acres. 71 percent of these properties receive less than 50 tags, bucks and antlerless. And tag issuance ranges from as few as one tag up to 1,375 tags.

For wildlife management cooperatives, 72 percent of those managements units enrolled in MLD are less than 250 acres. And in fact, 88 percent are less than 500 acres. So we're talking lots of small acreage properties in these co-ops. Enrollment, management units range in size from 1 acre to about 8,800 acres and of these co-ops, 79 percent have chosen to receive antlerless only tags and of those, members that are receiving antlerless only tags, those management units, 74 percent receive five or fewer tags. And these co-ops, again, are primarily located in the eastern third of the state where doe harvest under county regulations is limited or restrictive and the MLD provides additional flexibility in terms of number of days available to hunt.

So during the process developing a final proposal, staff considered and discussed different ways to assess the fee structure, including a fee by number of tags, a fee by a number of acres, or a graduated fee structure and we talked about that at the November Commission Meeting. However, as discussed then, these strategies that we considered do not reflect staff effort associated with MLD properties, benefits of the type of enrollment that you would receive. It also creates situations for disagreement over tag issuance or harvest recommendations and it could result in an unequal cost among co-op participants when you're looking specifically at them.

And so staff believe the best fee structure is a fee by enrollment type for a specific management unit or aggregate. This structure provides the fairest fee for participants based on the enrollment type and the benefits received. Therefore, staff are proposing the following fee structure in Chapter 53.5. For the harvest option enrollment, the proposed fee would be $30 for each management unit within a property that's not part of an aggregate. Then a $30 fee for each aggregate acreage. So that's the aggregate as a whole. It's just a $30 fee. And then for the conservation option, we're proposing a fee that is $300 for the first management unit within a property and if that property has additional management units, it would be an additional $30 for each extra management unit. Be a $30 fee for each management unit within a wildlife management cooperative and a $300 fee for each aggregate acreage.

Now, these fee amounts are chosen based on feedback that staff have received from various groups, benefits that the participants receive under the different enrollment options, and a fee that's reasonable enough to generate sufficient revenue to help address the staffing needs. We chose a lesser fee for the harvest option because staff time spent administering the harvest option is considerably less. Again, that's the automated option that doesn't require staff assistance.

Additionally, the harvest option participants don't enjoy that early buck harvest with a firearm that conservation option participants do. We also recommend a smaller fee for wildlife management associations because the vast majority of those co-ops choose antlerless only tag issuance, receive five or fewer tags, and they don't -- most of them because they receive an antlerless only, don't enjoy the early buck harvest benefits that the other conservation option participants choose or enjoy.

Now, the $300 fee was chosen because it's a reasonable fee to generate sufficient revenue to support additional biologist positions. And additionally, a survey conducted by the Texas Wildlife Association in 2007 indicated that those respondents would be willing to pay a slightly lower fee of $250. They thought that was acceptable, but still within range of that $300 fee.

Now, as I discussed in November, I had an opportunity to present this proposal before we -- brought it to the Commission in November, to the Private Lands Advisory Committee, the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee, and the Mule Deer Advisory Committee, as well as the Texas Wildlife Association Executive Committee and group of co-op board members and presidents. We had an opportunity to talk to those. And as you can imagine, we had a diversity of feedback. As Carter says, there's a million opinions on how to manage deer in the state. Well, there's a million opinions on how to charge a fee. So we had lots of different comments on that on what -- whether to charge a fee, what that should be, fee should be, and the structure, how that should be applied.

And so I want to provide, again, the Commission with a summary of what our advisory committees had to say, as well as the feedback that we received with public comment thus far. And so with the exception of the cooperatives, all the advisory committees and TWA supported a fee for participation in the MLD Program, recognizing the Department is a facing some challenges with the in the MLD. We had several individuals that suggested that we consider no fee for the harvest option enrollment to encourage participants to utilize that self-serve option. Additionally, to help reduce some of that workload or burden on our staff.

We also had -- and I think it's probably one of the primary concerns that we heard from the advisory committees, that there was some disparity between the harvest option and conservation option as far as the fee amounts. And we had -- especially with the Mule Deer Advisory Committee and the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee, we had individuals suggest that we increase the harvest option fee and decrease the conservation option fee.

Fee amounts ranged all over place. For harvest option, we had suggestions anywhere from $50 to $175 and for the conservation option, anywhere from $200 up to $1,000. Many felt that $250 for the conservation option was a fair and appropriate fee amount. We did have several individuals suggest that we not charge a fee for the additional management unit for that $30. They just said charge a flat fee for the property. Noting that they considered that $30 fee as just another additive cost when they consider their hunting lease license fee, their hunting license fee, and all the expenses they had managing their property. And we did have several individuals suggest that we offer a break on landowners that would pay an MLD fee if they were also paying a hunting lease license fee, paying one or the other.

Now, feedback from the co-op representatives was mixed, with some supporting the proposal; but the vast majority didn't. The primary concern among the co-op members is that it would discourage or cause a loss of membership in these wildlife management cooperatives. Many co-ops already require a membership fee and they felt that fee that goes to their co-ops to administer their business coupled with our MLD fee would just be too expensive, too much for these co-op members and would cause a decline in membership or participation.

These co-op members or that group we talked to did have some popular suggestions, including increasing the hunting license fee or creating a deer stamp. Again, reasoning that all Texans and hunters not -- and landowners not associated with the MLD still benefit from the additional biologists. The majority of the co-op representatives recommended an increase in the harvest option fee from $60 to $90, somewhere in that range, and decrease the co-op fee to $5. But when I pressed them on the issue and say, "Hey, guys, $5 is probably a little cheap there," and they said they'd be willing to pay up to $20 and so just asking their opinions on those.

And then we did have a few co-op leaders suggest that we give co-ops an option to choose to pay either by the management unit, which is what's being proposed, or just a flat fee by the co-op. But as I mentioned earlier, we investigated that and it just doesn't appear to be a viable option because there's no co-ops out there that have the same number of members or number of acres and it's going to result in an unequal cost per member and that will be perceived as unfair for those that have different metrics there.

So we received a lot of public comment to date since the proposal has been published in the Texas Register on December 6th, and the Department sent out a number of press releases. I've been able to conduct several interviews without outdoor writers and on the radio to get the message out and we also sent an e-blast to 12,000 folks that are associated with MLD properties. So we wanted to make sure that our folks that would be most affected by this have an opportunity to comment and that went out on December 12th. To date, we -- well, at least as current as that slide, there's 739 public comments and that's probably close to 750 as of this morning.

About 17 percent of those folks actually agreed and supported the proposal as is. To be expected, we had about 82 percent that opposed or disagreed with the proposal and that's understandable. The program has been free for 20 years and now we're proposing a fee. So you can kind of understand some of that frustration. Of those that disagreed, there was about 87 percent or 523 that disagreed completely with the fee in and of itself in the proposal. About 13 percent or 82 of those commenters disagreed specifically with the proposal. In other words, they suggested that, "Hey, we understand the need that Parks and Wildlife has to address the growth of the program; but we want you to consider a different fee amount, a different fee structure, some other option." So they didn't necessarily disagree that we needed a fee, but just how that's applied. And then there was approximately 1 percent with no opinion.

Now, to get an idea of who our commenters were, we did ask several questions on our website where they could provide public comment and that included whether you were a landowner of an MLD property and there's 474 commenters that were, 544 of the commenters hunted on MLD properties, and 278 of the commenters were co-op participants through the -- or participants in MLD through the co-ops.

So in reviewing the public comment, there were several common themes that emerged for reasons opposing the proposal. And I, again, just want to take some time to review those general themes and give you a little bit of a flavor of what the folks are saying out there. And a lot of these individuals took a lot of time to provide comment. It wasn't a one- or two-sentence statement. Some of these folks wrote multiple paragraphs and they were very passionate, well-thought-out comments.

And so one of the most common comments received was that many MLD participants felt they were already contributing financially with expenses for the habitat and wildlife conservation management practices they're conducting on the property. And for many years, MLD participants have been under the impression that the habitat work and the financial burdens associated with that or the deer surveys or everything else they're collecting, the additional hunting opportunities they afford others like youth hunts they may not otherwise do, they felt like that was the exchange for the benefits of participating in the program, that season and bag limit. So that's their viewpoint on the contribution back.

A number of commenters felt that the fee was an excessive tax, that we were targeting MLD participants to pay more for the biologists rather than others out there, that hunters or the landowners may benefit from these additional biologists as well. Commenters were also concerned that the fee would lead to a decline in hunter participation or a decline in co-op membership, which we heard that earlier from the co-op folks, and a decline in just general participation in the MLD program.

There were some concerns that the revenue generated from the fee would be utilized for something else other than the Managed Lands Deer Program. But just to remind the Commission again, the rider associated with it, Senate Bill 733, explicitly specifies that that revenue generated from the MLD fee would -- is to be used for the MLD Program. So it's in rule that it's to be dedicated. So it's not going to be used for something else.

Other concerns that folks had was that they may not see a change in the level of the service received even with the addition of new biologists. We also had some commenters suggest that the MLD Program provides a significant value to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the State of Texas in terms of land access, data collection, wildlife and habitat conservation being conducted on private lands, and that the Department should consider the value or the loss of value that may arise if lots of folks dropped out versus the fee -- the revenue we might generate from the fee and consider that and whether that fee is worth it.

Another -- a number of the commenters also recognize, like I said earlier, a need for more biologists and recommended the Agency seek different funding sources rather than targeting MLD participants. Some of these suggestions include increasing the hunting license fee and that was one of the more popular recommendations that was provided through the website and if -- there was some that suggested that, hey, if we don't increase resident hunting license fees, at least consider the nonresident fee as an increase there. Reasoning that they get a lot of values, nonresidents do. You can harvest up to, you know, five White-tails, there's two Mule deer, turkey, javelina all included on that tag and that was a lot of potential benefit compared to some of these western states where it may cost five, $600 for a bull elk tag, for example. And so that was some of their thought process there.

Others suggested that we utilize the Proposition 5. But as you know, that funding is not available to the Wildlife Division. Again, some folks suggested we go ask the Legislature. We did have some suggest that we utilize the hunting lease license fee that we're collecting and also ensure that we're in compliance and enforcement of that, which I think we already do a good job. And then some suggested alternative fee structures, which include a fee again by the acreage size or the number of tags. And talked about it earlier, we don't see that as a viable option. A fee for properties deriving income from hunting, so those properties that are running commercial hunting operations, package hunts. They -- some suggested those folks should be footing the bill and then if you're just a landowner doing good things for the land, hunting for benefits of your family, then you shouldn't have to pay a fee.

Others suggested we assess a higher fee at least the first couple of years and then consider lowering that fee as the participants need less time with our biologists because they've been educated about the deer management processes and everything else that's going on on that property. Again, some suggested that a single fee by the property, not the additional management unit. And we had a number suggest that we lower the conservation option fee, ranging anywhere from $30 to $200 were the suggestions we received.

So in addition to the proposed fee change I just talked about, staff are also proposing several minor changes to the current MLD rules in 65.29. These other proposed changes would add definition for an aggregate acreage and management units which are necessary to help differentiate the types of tract of land available for enrollment in the MLD Program. We're also proposing to set a deadline for the fee remittance to be received by the Department and modify the withdrawal deadline from the MLDP to be the Friday closest to September 30th, which is the day before MLDP season starts. The proposed change would also clarify in rule that the county harvest regulations apply on properties in which they withdraw from MLD or they fail to pay the fee by deadline.

And lastly, staff would propose to modify language regarding the requirements for information on the application of enrollment for an aggregate acreage to be consistent between the harvest and the conservation option and clarify that MLD tags issued to aggregate acreages may be utilized on any tract of land within that aggregate acreage.

And that concludes my presentation. I'll be happy to try to answer any questions you-all may have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Alan, thank you very much. Very thoughtful presentation. And this is not -- these fees are something we're going to review in the years to come.

MR. SMITH: I think, Chairman, if you decide to go forward with this tomorrow, we can review those any time you want.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. SMITH: And so there's no doubt about it.

Alan, if I stepped out and missed this, but I do think it's important that the Commission know this prior to tomorrow that there was an appropriation rider that went with the legislation that enabled the Commission to consider this that stipulates that the fees collected have to be used for --

MR. CAIN: Yes.

MR. SMITH: -- the MLDP Program. So I think just to reinforce --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Right, he made -- he pointed that out. And a lot of feedback. Very constructive. But I'm back to user pays and we just have to review it and make sure we are doing it the most efficient way in years to come. But I don't see us making any changes to what's already proposed unless, but I'll let -- Beaver, do you have any --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Yeah. Alan, thank you for the report and I appreciate all the comments from all the stakeholders. I enjoy the benefits of MLDP personally. And there were a lot of good -- a lot of good points. But what really strikes me is I look at the first graph and we went from a handful to 12,000 and no new biologists and that just can't continue and I support the recommendation.

I think it makes sense. And as the Chairman mentioned, you know, we obviously can look at this every year in the future; but we need to get started. The Legislature kind of gave us that directive that you can go do this. The money is designated just for this program, and so I support it.

MR. CAIN: And to be clear, it's a voluntary program. We're not forcing anybody into it, so.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Absolutely.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah. Any other comments or questions?

Well, with that, I'll place the Managed Lands Deer Program Fee and Amendments to Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 6, 20-21 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation Preview, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski with the Inland Fisheries team and today I'll be reviewing the proposed changes to the freshwater fishing regulations for the new regulatory year that starts in September 2020.

The first proposed change is on Moss Lake, which is near Gainesville in Cooke County. It has a Largemouth and Spotted bass fishery. Current regulations are a 14-inch minimum length limit for Largemouth bass and no length limit on Spotted bass. Those two species combine for a five-fish daily bag. The proposed change for Largemouth bass would implement a 16-inch maximum length limit, which means anglers wouldn't be able to harvest any Largemouth bass over 16 inches. There's an exception for bass over 24 inches that exceed 13 pounds which will allow you to retain a bass of that size for submission to the ShareLunker Program during January through March. That's when we accept those large fish into that particular part of the program.

Bass angling pressure on Moss Lake is high, which includes numerous fishing tournaments. Angler catch is high; but harvest is low, which is typical of many of our bass fisheries. Largemouth bass growth is average and the lake has produced some eight-plus pound fish. Spotted bass are abundant with few exceeding 12 inches and few being harvested and combined with the abundant Largemouth bass under 14 inches, contribute to an overabundance of smaller bass in that system.

Modifying the bass harvest regulations could encourage more bass harvest. Lake anglers surveyed support that approach. Additional harvest could reduce interspecific competition and that could have some improved benefits for bass growth. Allowing harvest of all bass under 16 inches, both Spotted and Largemouth, would lessen some of the ID concerns between those two species.

Next on Brushy Creek Lake and Brushy Creek which flows out of the reservoir, both are in Cedar Park and Williamson County. Brushy Creek is regulated under community fishing or CFL regulations. That's a definition we have on smaller waterbodies 75 acres and less that are within city, county, or state parks. For CFLs, there is a special harvest regulation for Blue and Channel catfish, no minimum length limit and a five-fish daily bag. There are also gear restrictions, which are pole-and-line angling only and anglers are limited to two poles.

Separate from the CFL regulations on Brushy Creek Lake, there is an 18-inch minimum length limit for Largemouth bass. Brushy Creek is under statewide rules for Blue and Channel catfish. Those are a 12-inch minimum with a 25-fish daily bag and a 14-inch minimum for Largemouth bass.

The proposed changes would extend the CFL regulations to Brushy Creek from the dam downstream to the Williamson County/Milam County line, which is about 50 miles. The minimum length for Largemouth bass on Brushy Creek Lake would return to the statewide limit of 14 inches. Our goal is to manage the reservoir and creek as one system. That creek also has -- the creek also has excellent public access in this area, which includes Cedar Park and Round Rock and has experienced substantial population growth. Anglers are using both the reservoir and the stream sometimes during the same day. Not many bass are being harvested. So removing the 18-inch minimum length limit for Largemouth bass will have little impact.

Anglers are catching a few Guadalupe bass in the creek, but most of the harvest has been confined to Channel catfish and that's mostly from the creek. At the creek we are seeing some cast netting for harvest of smaller fish. The gear restrictions and the reduced bag could alleviate any impacts from that and direct whatever harvest is occurring to the pole-and-line anglers.

Next, Lake Nasworthy is a reservoir within San Angelo that has a relatively stable water level, especially for West Texas. The reservoir has good bank access and White crappie fishing is popular there. Crappie are abundant, but most of them are smaller than the 10-inch minimum length limit. Anglers have to catch seven or eight sub-legal fish to keep one legal size fish. Most of those that are caught are in the 10- to 11-inch range.

We're proposing to remove the minimum length and maintain the 25-fish bag, which will allow anglers to harvest some of the 8- to 9-inch fish. Our goal is to improve the population structure by encouraging more harvest. Growth is below average there, and natural mortality is high. Around 50 percent of the crappie die before they even get to 10 inches. That poor growth and high natural mortality, greatly limits the effectiveness of the current 10-inch minimum length limit. Anglers surveyed expressed support for removing the length limit and being able to harvest the smaller crappie. Harvesting some of the sub-legal crappie may benefit growth among the remaining crappie and over time positively alter the population.

We comanage Lake Texoma with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and meet with them regularly to discuss management and enforcement issues. We last met in December. Our goal is to have the regulations standardized on both sides of the reservoir to facilitate enforcement and understanding by anglers. Texoma is a very popular and diverse fishery. It has an excellent Striped bass fishery, along with other species such as Largemouth and Smallmouth bass and catfish. The catfish fishery is driven mostly by Blue catfish.

The Blue catfish in this photo is the previous world record that was caught there in 2014 that weighed a little over 121 pounds. Blue and Channel catfish are under a 12-inch minimum and a 15-fish daily bag. Additionally, anglers are allowed to harvest only one Blue catfish 30 inches or larger. The minimum length for Flathead catfish is slightly different from our statewide in Texas, 20 inches versus 18.

On the Red River below Texoma in Texas waters are statewide regulations for Blue and Channel catfish, 12-inch minimum and 25-fish daily bag are in effect. Flathead catfish regulations are the same as on the reservoir. These regulations are in effect in the stretch depicted on the map. That area covers about three-quarters of a mile down to the mouth Shawnee Creek. If you're fishing on the bank or in that water, you're in Texas. If you're downstream from that, even if you're fishing from the bank on the Texas side, you're fishing in -- technically fishing in Oklahoma and would have to follow Oklahoma regulations.

Our proposed changes focus on catfish and would allow the -- would align the regulations for both Texoma and the downstream waters of the Red River in Oklahoma and Texas. For Blues and Channels the minimum length limit would be removed and the 15-fish daily bag and the limit of one Blue catfish 30 inches or greater would be retained. For Flathead catfish the minimum length would be also removed and the five-fish daily bag would stay the same. Oklahoma will reciprocate on these changes through their regulation process.

As proposed, the catfish regulations would be standardized on both sides of Texoma and both sides of the Red River downstream of the dam. It will add some protection for larger Blue catfish on the Texas side of the river. The removal of the minimum for Flathead catfish would have minimal impacts, as not many of them are being harvested. Texas anglers in the river would have a reduced bag for Blues and Channels from 12 to 15; but what we see based on our creel surveys, few anglers harvest up to 25 fish.

And finally, as Carter mentioned earlier, Falcon Reservoir is an exception to the statewide rules that the Commission enacted last year and in previous years. In 2016, the Commission implemented -- in 2015, the Commission implemented a bag of five Alligator Gar on the reservoir, directed staff to monitor the Alligator Gar population to determine any negative impacts of that five-fish daily bag, and placed an expiration date on the special provisions of September 1, 2020.

In the years prior to 2015, we had received numerous comments on Alligator Gar on Falcon, including some legislative interest. Our staff conducted a comprehensive study at the reservoir in 2014 to obtain the biological information necessary to make management recommendations for Alligator Gar on that reservoir. The information collected pointed to Falcon having a robust Gar population that could continue to support harvest at the levels that were occurring. Monitoring data from the reservoir continues to support the determination that Falcon Reservoir Alligator Gar population can be sustained under the five-fish daily bag. The population is similar to what we found in 2014.

The size structure and their abundance have changed minimally. Fast growth and early sexual mortality -- maturity, along with environmental factors contribute to more frequent and strong year classes being produced. These population characteristics for the Alligator Gar population indicate that the reservoir can continue to safely sustain a harvest under the five-fish per day bag.

Our proposal is to eliminate the time constraints so that the five-fish bag will be continued and treated like all other regulations reviewed on an annual basis. Staff will continue to monitor the population for any changes.

This concludes the freshwater fishing proposals for this year, and I'll be happy to answer any questions or take any comments that you would have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions or comments?

Okay. Thank you.

MR. GEESLIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chair, Director Smith. For the record, my name is Dakus Geeslin with the Coastal Fisheries Division. I currently serve as our Branch Chief for the Science and Policy Branch. Today I bring before you our coastal fisheries statewide regulation proposed changes for license year '21, 20-21, that begins in September 1, 2020.

Today I've got two proposals for you-all. The bulk will be our flounder proposed regulations. The commission has expressed interest in hearing regular updates on our Southern floundery -- Southern flounder population. So we're here to express those trends and propose a -- some regulation changes today. Also, I've got a paddle craft all-water guide license proposal. It's kind of a clean-up language to that paddle craft guide license which is in effect for kayak and canoe guide fishing.

Just a reminder of what our current flounder regulations look like. We've currently got a 14-inch minimum size limit. Our bag limits are recreational, a five-fish bag; commercial are a 30-fish bag limit. And we also have a seasonal adjustment to those bag limits where in November through November 30th, there is no gigging of any type and through December 1st through 14th, you can take fish by gigging. But through that six weeks, November 1st through December 14th, there's a two-fish -- two-fish bag limit. Any legal means can be -- any legal means you can take flounder throughout the year, other than that month of November.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And that applies to commercial as well?

MR. GEESLIN: That's right. Absolutely.

And just to walk some of the -- walk through some of the trends that our team has observed over time and our resource monitoring data show a long-term population decline for our Southern flounder. Now, what you'll see in this graph is our resource monitoring data from our gillnets, which are designed to catch adult fish and subadult fish. And while these regulation changes, as you can see here illustrated on the graph in '96 all the way through 2014, while those regulation changes have led to increased catch rates, but they have not achieved the desired impact we would have liked to see. You can see the episodic or those blips increase in our catch rates immediately following some of our reg changes. And this is -- this is our fisheries independent data. This is outside of commercial or recreational activities and it reflects the overall status of the population and consequently, those fish that are available for harvest.

You can see the same trend here mirrored in another fishery independent data -- dataset. And this is our bag seine data. This is an indicator of year recruitment. As gear the gear collects young of the year, young of the year smaller flounder. Of note are 2016 and 2017 were some of the lowest on record. And as you would expect with a recruitment pulse, those young of the year flounder would enter into the fishery as legally harvestable fish in about two years. And of note, our bag -- our bay trawl data shows this same trend. That's another fisheries independent dataset that we take part as our routine monitoring.

Now, moving on over to our fisheries dependent, which is sampling of anglers and commercial landings both through creel surveys and through our trip tickets program, this is our recreational landings. This is -- you can see the orange line is our private anglers. Anglers fishing off of a private boat and also our party sector, which is charter or guided fishing trips.

Now, the trends also mirror our fisheries independent sampling and it's good to note that our fisheries management regulations naturally would -- implemented in the past -- would naturally have led to some of the landings declines. But we haven't had the desired impact that we had hoped with those previous regulations.

Now, this is our commercial landings in pounds. And as you see, this is -- this also continues to decrease over time. It's good to recognize that our buy-back program implemented in 2000 and other operating costs may have also contributed to lower landings; but the trend, which is an important point here, is the trend matches the abundance in the recreational landings as well.

So following our discussion in November when Robin briefed you-all about our scoping issues for this statewide cycle, we conducted public scoping meetings. Five locations across the coast in early December in Port Arthur, Texas City, Corpus Christi, Rockport, and Port Lavaca. All sum in total, we had over 370 attendees in person at those public scoping meetings. We also extended the public scoping comment period until the very end of the year. We solicited and subsequently received over 750 comments. And now that includes also those 370 comments that we may have received at those public scoping meetings. And just for the record -- because I do know we have some of the participants here in the audience today and probably listening online -- just for the record, I would like to thank those that interacted in this public scoping process and let their positions known.

We had the fortune and pleasure to interact with very passionate advocates along the spectrum of this position and it's been incredibly beneficial for us as a Coastal Fisheries team.

So just some of the comments we received through that public scoping process. We heard everything from no changes at all, leave the regulations status quo, and some of the -- just some of the flavor of the types of comments we received regarding regulation changes, we heard support for season closure. We heard support for an increased minimum size all the way to a commercial fishery ban; to a gigging ban, which is gear type ban; to lowered bag limits; and we also heard resoundingly we would like to see more increased enforcement and enhanced penalties for violations.

Earlier this month, we also held a -- the Coastal Resources Advisory Committee held one of their meetings and they -- at the end of that meeting, they came up with a recommendation and that recommendation was to close November to all flounder fishing, to bump the minimum size limit from 14 inches up to 17 inches, and bag limit reduction from a five-fish to a two-fish bag limit for the recreational component and from a 30-fish to a 10-fish bag limit for the commercial component. Excuse me.

So I come before you today with staff recommendations. We are proposing for a full closure of the flounder fishery from November 1st to December 15th. We believe this reduction in flounder harvest prior to the fall migration prior to and during the fall migration will really increase that escapement from the bays into the Gulf and could possibly increase the potential spawning population and, therefore, increase the recruitment into subsequent year classes. Also proposing a 15-inch minimum size limit. This will be a change from the 14 to 15 and also we're seeking to strengthen the language regarding who is required to report under commercial finfish licenses. We believe that language is there in the commercial harvest reporting section, and it already requires them to report; but we're seeking to strengthen and clarify that language and we'll be working with our Law Enforcement and Legal teams.

MR. SMITH: Dakus, what would a 14-inch to a 15-inch size limit change and accomplish?

MR. GEESLIN: You know, that's a good question. So at 14 inches, you can presume that that fish, those Southern flounder, are sexually mature. The females. You would get about one year of spawn, one-year spawn, and half of those fish -- half of those fish would be sexually mature. At 15 inches, you would presume that 90 percent of those flounder are sexually mature. So you could potentially optimize the spawning capacity by two years, allowing those fish to -- keeping those fish -- those 14 fish -- inch fish still in the population.

Yes, ma'am.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: The 15-inch minimum size limit is both recreational and --

MR. GEESLIN: And commercial.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Thank you.

MR. GEESLIN: Yes. Good point.

And the paddle craft all-water guide license proposed changes, we were notified early on from our Boating Law Administrator that there's been some ambiguity in some of the language and really it dealt with the course requirements for this specialized license type. There is some course requirements that are simply no longer listed or available or the American Canoe Association has simply changed the names of the course catalog. So we're wanting to change that requirement to include kind of a more general paddle craft leading course from the American Canoe Association or any other Parks and Wildlife approved course, so folks can meet the requirements of that license.

And with that, I'll take any questions from y'all.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much.

Any questions or comments? Suggestions?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I don't know if anybody else. I have a few comments. Kind of the research we've done that you just hit on, the going from the 14 to the 15 basically goes from 45 or 50 percent of the fish are able to reproduce to 90 or 95.

MR. GEESLIN: Yeah.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: That seems like a really big benefit versus, you know, cost analysis to go from that one inch. I mean, it seems like a good bang for the buck to --

MR. GEESLIN: Certainly. We believe so and we believe that also for our gig fisherman, that jump in -- jumping up too much, that provides a challenge in discerning size classes when you're actively visually looking for those fish before you harvest them.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Yes. Now, the November/December, the very nature that the flounder go offshore to spawn, you know, the numbers that I was hearing is that's a really big bang for the buck for the biomass if we allow -- we reduce this substantially, no gigging, you can only catch two in November, two in the first two weeks in December; but total ban of taking the fish during that six weeks, my math has that as probably -- is a 51, 52 percent increase in the biomass is the projection --

MR. GEESLIN: That's correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: -- is that correct?

MR. GEESLIN: That's correct. And when you add in that 15-inch minimum size class, all sum in total we're projecting about a 60 percent -- 58 to 60 percent increase in that spawning biomass.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: And -- right. But that's a significant effort towards it. And I have a couple comments. I've been studying flounder and what happens. Prior Commissions have done a lot to maintain the fishery. The restrictions and the regulations have changed a lot over the years, and we continue to have this decline. However, we do have two hatcheries that are coming on board this year. One in Corpus and one in Lake Jackson. So I'm excited about the opportunity, the potential to possibly do some things with the hatchery like we've done with Redfish, which had similar declines back in the day and trout. So that's exciting to me, that opportunity, that potential.

You mentioned here the language about the -- regarding to who reports commercial. I would ask that you would look into -- I don't know how to describe it other than I call it the deckhand permit. Maybe if you'd report back and kind of explain to me what's going on with that thing, which I believe allows an individual without a finfish license, but with a deckhand permit --

MR. SMITH: With a general commercial license to --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: -- to participate in the --

MR. SMITH: Uh-huh. Sure.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I would like to understand it.

MR. SMITH: Okay. Yep, sure. We can do that. We can help with that.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: This -- you know, I've talked to a lot of people on the coast that are very passionate about this. There's a few of them that have come from a long way that are here today that I talked to this morning. This is, as I say, I think an approach in the right direction to try to improve. The graphs are clear. We need to do something and I think a lot of it contributes to this water temperature, which none of us -- we can't do anything about that except maybe the hatchery. But this -- this is -- nothing is what everybody wants, but it seems to be a compromise and a substantial improvement on the biomass. So thank you for your work.

MR. GEESLIN: Thank you, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Any other questions or comments?

With that, I authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

With that, we'll move to Work Session Item No. 7, State -- 20-21 Statewide Hunting and Migratory Game Bird Proclamation Preview, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Hi, Shawn. Please make your presentation.

MR. GRAY: You betcha. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Shawn Gray. I'm the Mule Deer and Pronghorn Program Leader and again this morning I'd like to seek permission to publish the proposed Mule deer and Pronghorn regulation changes into the Texas Register for public comment.

As you may know, the Land Management Assistance online application, or LMA, is currently used to facilitate the MLD Program. Biologists, landowners, and agents use this application to provide harvest recommendations, identify specific tracts of land and management units geospatially, print MLD tags, and report harvest and habitat management practices for the MLD Program. Staff have begun the process of including antlerless Mule deer and Pronghorn permits into the LMA system.

Staff believe including these permits into the LMA online application will significantly reduce the administrative burden of issuing these permits, as well as increase the efficacy of permit issuance and the harvest reporting process.

Proposed regulation changes that support this transition involve several new definitions for Pronghorn permits, application and harvest reporting deadlines, and the requirement of a daily harvest log for both permits. Proposed changes to 65.24 in Texas Administrative Code will set forth the application requirements and conditions for the issuance of Pronghorn and antlerless Mule deer permits using the LMA system. The proposal will provide the ability for multiple landowners to combine multiple tracts of land to create an aggregate acreage for issuance of these permits. However, tracts of land aggregated for antlerless Mule deer permits must be contiguous. Staff believe this promotes a more conservative harvest strategy for female Mule deer.

Applications and harvest reporting for both permits shall be submitted electronically by LMA and because landowners will be required to print their own tags, a daily harvest log will be mandated. Information such as name of hunter, driver's license or customer ID, permit number, date of kill, and location of kill will be required to be collected and maintained until the last day of permit validity.

And before I turn it over to Shaun Oldenburger, I'd like to address any questions that you have on these proposed changes.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions?

MR. GRAY: No questions? Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. Thank you, Shawn.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. Good morning, Chairman, fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. I'm the Small Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. Today we'll be seeking permission to publish changes to the migratory game bird proclamation for the 19 -- for the 2020-2021 hunting season.

The following are the staff proposed changes for migratory and game birds. Just to clarify, the first one is the daily bag limits are the same for all species, except scaup will decrease from three per day to one per day. That is a change in federal frameworks from the previous year, and that is the only change in federal frameworks for this next hunting season. The following proposed changes are staff driven. The second one there being decreasing light goose daily bag limits during the regular season from 20 per day to 10 per day. The third one, shifting season dates for Western Zone goose seasons later. That was a recommendation that came in after the November briefing meeting. So just wanted to make sure I clarified that. And then also shift season dates later for snipe seasons.

So moving on to the staff season proposals, and here is the statewide regular dove season. Here's all three zones on the map in front of you, with the North, Central, and South Zones. Just for summary, this is a 90-day season with a 15-bird daily bag limit, with the exception of White-tipped doves, there's only two during the regular season which all those occur actually in the Valley.

Moving on to season proposals in the North Zone. Here, you can -- starting September 1st in green, which is the earliest you can go for migratory game bird hunting seasons and running out to November 12th and then having a split and starting again December 18th and running out the rest of the 90 days to January 3rd. And just for clarification once again, all season proposals for this year, except those proposed changes, are just calendar progressions from the previous year.

Moving on to the Central Zone. Once again, starting September 1st as historically we've done and running out to November 1st, there in blue, and then starting again December 18th, running out the rest of the 90 days on January 14th.

Moving on to the South Zone Special White-winged dove days and just to -- for the season for September 5th, 6th, 12th, and 13th. Those would be the Special White-winged dove days which are covered by the whole South Zone. We're allowed 15 birds in the daily aggregate, of which only two may be Mourning doves. That is a special season that we're allowed underneath U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service federal frameworks. So, therefore, that's the restriction that occurs. The regular season will start September 14th, which is the earliest we can do by federal frameworks, running to November 1st, starting again December 18th and running out to the rest January 23rd. Obviously, during the regular season once again, 15 in the aggregate.

To look at this on a map. On a calendar here you can see in yellow, those are the Special White-winged dove days -- September 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th. Once again, that is also an afternoon-only hunt. We'd be starting as soon as possible with federal frameworks, which would be September 14th and then running to November 1st, opening again December 18th as the other zones and running out the rest of the days to January 23rd.

Moving on to ducks. We'll start with teal hunting. We're allowed 16 days underneath the federal frameworks. Staff preference has always been to go the last three full weekends of September. This is to take advantage of the migratory behavior of mostly this species here in front of you, the Blue-winged teal, which comes through primarily through the coast, but other regions of Texas as well on their way to Yucatan and other places they winter in South America. So proposed season dates would be September 12th to 27th and we're allowed six birds in the daily bag limit and that's an aggregate for all teal species.

And then we'll move on to regular seasons for ducks, mergansers, and coots and we'll start with the High Plains Mallard Management Unit where we're allowed some additional days underneath the federal frameworks due to the unique population of mallards that winter west of the 100 longitude. And so here, we have youth season October 24th and 25th as proposed by staff; regular season will start on Halloween there, October 31st and November 1st. We have a strange little two day here and then we have a split starting again November 6th and then going out to the rest of the federal frameworks, which is January 31st, which just happens to be the last Sunday in January for the next hunting season.

In all zones we have a five-day delay on dusky ducks underneath the federal frameworks to help protect those species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Therefore, that season will not start until November 9th and running out to the rest of the frameworks as well. So to look at a calendar here for the High Plains Mallard Management Unit, there in light blue you see the early teal season we have from September 12th to 27th. Then the youth season on the November -- October 24th and 25th in orange and then in green is the regular season there, October 31st and then November 1st, having a four-day split, starting again November 6th and running out the rest of the days to January 31st.

For ducks, mergansers, and coots for the North Zone, you can see there in green on the map. Youth seasons as proposed would be November 7th and 8th. Regular season will start November 14th and run to the 29th. We have a short split there and opening again December 5th and running out to the end of federal frameworks as well, January 31st. And once again for dusky ducks, a five-day delay as you can see there with the dates proposed.

Looking again on a calendar here in blue. As you can see, September 12th through the 27th is the early teal season. Then youth you have in orange, November 7th and 8th. And then in green your regular season, November 14th through the 29th. And then once again, December 5th to the 31st of January.

For ducks, mergansers, and coots in the South Zone, youth is proposed October 31st to November 1st. Regular season would start November 7th to run to the 29th of November. Opening again December 12th and running out to the end of federal frameworks. Once again, a much longer split here as we discussed in November due to some concerns biologically there in the South Zone. Once again in this area is where we do have a primary -- most of our mottle ducks in the state. So the dusky duck delay here does have an impact on hunters and opens again November 12th, runs to the 29th, opens again December 12th, and runs out to the end of federal frameworks.

To look at a calendar here, you can see teal season is September 12th to the 27th as the previous zones; October 31st and November 1st, youth season; and then in green is your regular season, as you can see on the calendar in front of you. For bag limits for ducks, mergansers, and coots, proposed daily bag limits are in front of you. Those had no changes from the previous years, except for scaup. They're highlighted in yellow, so we'll go through them. Ducks you're allowed six per day, five mallards only, two of which may be hens; three wood ducks; two redheads; two canvasbacks; one pintail; one scaup; one dusky duck after the first five days; all other species are six. Mergansers you're allowed five per day, two hooded mergansers in that daily bag limit. Coots are 15 per day and the possession limit for all migratory game birds are three times the daily bag limit unless specified otherwise. So once again, just the only change being scaup there due to the harvest strategy on those species. They did decline this last year based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's breeding population surveys.

Moving on to geese, the proposed dates for goose seasons. Daily bag limits are five dark geese to include no more than two White-fronted geese. Here we have a staff proposal to go from 20 per day to 10 light geese per day, no possession limit. At this point, I would like to note that the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee did disagree with staff proposal on this one. They would actually like to go to five per day and the reason staff only wanted to go to 10 is going from 20 to 10 is less -- it's basically less dramatic than going from 20 to 5. There really is no biological reason by any means and, obviously, staff will actually look at the 10 per day if approved in the future and actually want to look at additional changes in the future, depending on what we see harvest-wise and what kind of public comment we do get on that.

So getting in to season dates for the Western Goose Zone there in red. Dark geese and light geese, November 14th to February 15th. Once again as stated earlier, that is a little bit of pushback of a week. We did have some public comment that actually thought there would be more public opportunity available in February compared to early November. Staff did not disagree with that. So, therefore, that's -- that is staff proposal. Conservation Order would open directly after that regular season, February 15th and March 14th.

There in light blue you can see the Eastern Goose Zone. In this area we do have a special only for Canada goose season, which occurs primarily during teal season, as well as proposed, September 12th through the 27th. We do have a small population in breeding Canada geese and growing in Texas and so historically, they did not breed in Texas. And we have dark and light geese November 7th through January 31st and then Conservation Order February 1st to March 14th.

Looking at calendars here, you can see the West Zone there on your left. Basically, regular season opening November 14th and running all the way to February 14th. Opening afterwards is the Conservation Order from February 15th to March 14th. East Zone there you can light blue as you saw on the teal seasons. That would be the Canada -- special only Canada goose season that we would have as proposed. November 7th would be regular season starting and running out to January 31st and then there in yellow the Conservation Order afterwards.

Just going back to November briefing meeting. We did have some slides on light goose issues in the state. The wintering light goose populations in central flyaway, Mississippi flyaways. Once again there in blue, you see how the populations of light geese have exploded across the Mississippi and Central flyaways; but not in coastal Texas. We actually as late as the late 90s had almost a million light geese on the coast of Texas and now this last year's count was about 240,000. So a fairly significant decline in light geese on the coast.

As such with a decline in numbers, we also see a decline in harvest. So light goose harvest in Texas you can see in front of you from 1970 through 2018. We did have some high count -- high harvest there during the regular season harvest in the late 90s, early 2000s, which corresponded to some high counts we had as well; but also the start of the Conservation Order harvest. And since then, harvest has declined through every year since.

Okay. So we'll move on to Sandhill cranes and proposed season dates. We do have three zones in the state. Zone A is there in light blue, as proposed October 31st through January 31st, daily bag limit is three. In Zone B, November 27th through January 31st and the daily bag limit as proposed is three. In Zone B, the Department does actually take a delay in opening that season. We allow Whooping cranes to migrate through. That's the primary migration area to go to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas. So we do delay season there.

Zone C, which is in the area of Whooping crane wintering area, will be December 19th through January 24th and a daily bag limit is two. We have a much lesser season in this area due to federal frameworks.

Moving on to rails, gallinules, moorhens, snipe, and woodcock. The season for rail, gallinule, and moorhens would coincide with teal season, September 12th to the 27th and then open again November 7th and run out the rest of the days which is December 30th. Snipe season we would delay this year as proposed -- it's a change -- November 7th to February 21st. That would be to allow two more weeks of snipe hunting in February than we have done historically. Woodcock is no change from previous years, December 18th to January 31st. January 31st is the last day you can go by federal frameworks. We back up the 45 days we're allowed underneath the federal frameworks and start December 18th.

Moving on to proposed falconry seasons for Mourning, White-winged, and White-tipped dove, November 20th to December 6th. And woodcock, moorhen, gallinule, rail, and ducks in the North and South Zone is February 1st to February 15th. We do not have a falconry only season in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit because we already allocate our total of 107 days to duck take and underneath the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, you're only allowed 107 days of take for an individual species.

So just a summary, Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee provided input and supported all staff proposals except the daily bag limit on light geese. Once again, they wanted -- our staff proposal is to go to ten. The Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee would want to go to five. Public in process -- public input process will begin next month and the adoption is scheduled for March. So with that, I conclude my presentation and I'll be happy to take any questions with if there are any.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Shaun, I have a question. With what's going on with the light geese in the coast, is there -- is there still a need for the Conservation Order?

MR. OLDENBURGER: I would say that's probably a big question and it depends where you are located on a map. Obviously, the Conservation Order was put in place to protect tundra on the nesting ground. That's what a Conservation Order does for migratory game birds. Obviously, we still see quite a bit of population growth for light geese. What we're actually seeing lately is more conditions in the tundra actually having more of an impact basically on their population than, say, the hunting season. So there's been a lot of banding and a lot of research going on as far as what the impact of the Conservation Order has been through time.

The results for the mid-continent population seem to be fairly mixed. Whereas the high harvest rates that occurred did not seem to have a significant impact on annual survival rates. So that's how we weigh things, those harvest rates versus annual survival rates based on the banding that we do in the Arctic.

And so is there a need for it still? I think that's a question we probably need to address fairly soon. Obviously, there are some folks in other states obviously that would say yes and interesting enough, this is actually on the agenda for next week as we host the Arctic Goose Joint Venture meeting in South Padre Island next week. And so there's a lot of discussion about this now and I would just say that based on who you are and where you sit, your answer is fairly mixed on that question.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Well, it was brought about just because of the overpopulation of the light geese, correct?

MR. OLDENBURGER: That's correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: And that's not changed in some parts of the country.

MR. OLDENBURGER: That has not changed in parts --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: But it's going down here.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah. And so what we see, especially on the southern part of Hudson Bay, we do still see significant destruction in tundra and that type of habitat. But that's a little bit different for the fact that it's also staging area for light geese as they move farther north. What we're actually finding with some really interesting research that a number of great researchers are doing is when we were actually going down -- if you look at the late 90s and mid 90s -- you know, our outlook then was basically once you have tundra go away, it won't come back. Some of the new, exciting research has actually shown when geese actually get removed from an area, tundra comes back much more quickly than we ever thought. So that's actually some really good news coming out of the research.

Is the Conservation Order still needed? We're still having destruction of tundra in certain areas, but not in other areas. So the tundra is a large area and so, you know, you really see mixed results depending on what population of light geese are actually migrating to a certain area or breeding in certain areas. We've also seen large changes even in recent years of where birds are breeding in the Arctic. For instance, Karrak Lake which is where most of the Ross' geese nest in North America. Basically, that population has moved significantly in the last few years. And so there's a lot of changes occurring in the Arctic and that's why I said there's really a mixed answer to your question on whether it's still needed.

Obviously, we still want to look at it's still a huge issue for, you know, natural resources basically in the mid-continent region and I think that's while we're actually -- the Department spends significant funds on banding those populations of Snow geese and Ross's geese in the north. That's why we spend so much time actually monitoring these species because obviously on the wintering grounds, we've obviously seen significant declines here in coastal Texas; but other places have seen huge increases in their wintering populations of light geese.

And so, you know, it's kind of a -- it's kind of a struggle for us to have that discussion where we're the only ones really in the whole mid-continent region having kind of a negative impact on their wintering population compared to other areas.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay, Shaun. Thank you.

Any other questions or comments?

If there's no further discussion, I authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

And with that, now Work Session Items -- I was going to do all of them.

MR. SMITH: Do all of them? Okay.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Work Session -- under Land Conservation Items 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 -- so I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meetings Act; deliberating personnel matters, which is Item 15, under Section 551.074 of the Open Meetings Act and Item 16, seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation will be held in Executive Session. We'll now recess for Executive Session at 11:43.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. We'll now reconvene the regular session of the Work Session on January 22nd, 2020, at 1:42.

Work Session Item No. 8, Grant of Easement, El Paso County, Approximately 1 Acre at Franklin Mountains State Park, this item was heard in Executive Session. And if there's no further discussion, I will place the Grant of Easement, El Paso County, Approximately 1 Acre at Franklin Mountains State Park on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 9, Acceptance of Donation of Land, Bastrop County, Approximately 5 Acres at Bastrop State Park, this item was heard in Executive Session. If there's no further discussion, I will place the Acceptance of Donation of Land, Bastrop County, Approximately 5 Acres at Bastrop State Park on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 10, Disposition of Land, Jasper County, Approximately 1.2 Acres at the Former Jasper Fish Hatchery, this item was heard in Executive Session. And if there's no further discussion, I will place the Disposition of Land, Jasper County, Approximately 1.2 Acres at the Former Jasper Fish Hatchery on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 11, Acquisition of Land, Brazoria County, Approximately 1,200 Acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, this item was heard in Executive Session. Again, if there's no further discussion, I will place the Acquisition of Land, Brazoria County, Approximately 1,200 Acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 12, Acquisition of Land, Matagorda County, Approximately 1,100 Acres at the Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area, this item was also heard in Executive Session. If there's no further discussion, I will place the Acquisition of Land, Matagorda County, Approximately 1,100 Acres at the Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 13, Acceptance of Donation of Land, Matagorda County, Approximately 172 Acres at the Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area, this item was heard in Executive Session. If there's no further discussion, I will place the Acceptance of Donation of Land, Matagorda County, Approximately 172 Acres at the Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Okay. Work Session Item No. 14, Reversion of Land, Bastrop County, Approximately 650 Acres at Buescher State Park, this item was heard in Executive Session and there's no further action at this time.

Work Session Item No. 15, Personnel Matters, Selection of New Internal Auditor, this item was heard in Executive Session. And if there's no further discussion, I will place the Personnel Matter, Selection of New Internal Auditor on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 16, Litigation Update, these items were heard in Executive Session and no further action is required at this time.

Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its Work Session business and I declare us adjourned at two -- at 1:45.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(Work Session Adjourns)


C E R T I F I C A T E

STATE OF TEXAS       )
COUNTY OF TRAVIS )

I, Paige S. Watts, Certified

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

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the

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

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto

set my hand and seal this Turn in date ______ day of _________________, ________.

___________________________________

Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: December 31, 2020

7010 Cool Canyon Cove

Round Rock, Texas 78681

(512)779-8320

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