TPW Commission

Work Session, May 20, 2020


TPW Commission Meetings

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good morning, everyone. We're -- we had a few technical difficulties, but we've overcome them and we're now live.

First thing I want to do is take a role call. Reed Morian is present.

Vice-Chairman Aplin?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Galo?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Hildebrand?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Latimer?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Patton?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And I can see Commissioner Scott, so he's here.

We'll call the meeting to order at 9:50. Before proceeding with any business, as usual, 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'd like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Carter.

Just as a reminder, please announce your name before you speak.

The first order of business is the approval of the minutes from the previous Work Session held January 22nd, 2020, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

Commissioner Scott.

Do I have a second?

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Jeannie Latimer seconds.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Latimer seconded.

Now, I'm going to have to call individually each of you to vote.

I vote yes.

Vice-Chairman Aplin, what is your vote?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Abell, what is your vote? You may need to unmute.


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell, what is your vote?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Galo?



Commissioner Hildebrand?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Latimer?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Patton?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Scott?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Are there any opposed? Hearing none, the motion carries.

The next item is 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. Carter 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 with all of you this morning.

Andra, if you'll go to the next slide, please?

As is customary, just a quick report on Internal Affairs. Major Gray and his team have continued to carry out all of their functions as is customary with that program. Just a reminder to the Commissioners, if you have any questions about anything related to Internal Affairs, please direct those to Major Gray.

I do want to report on a new front facing Internal Affairs complaint process web page and a new set of FAQs to help the public if they have any complaints that they want to make directly to Internal Affairs and I appreciate the work of IA and Support Resources to help get that online to make it, again, easier and more transparent to the public if they have issues that need to be looked into.

Andra, if you'll go to the next slide.

I'm really pleased to introduce virtually Patty David as our new Human Resources Director. Patty was selected as our HR Director out of a very competitive applicant pool. She's a very accomplished and respected HR professional and leader. She brings 30 plus years of HR experience to this job. As you can see from the slide, she was the long-time HR Director and Deputy Commissioner at the Texas Department of Insurance. She also was with Homeland Security prior to joining the Department.

She's just been a godsend to the Department with her deep knowledge of HR related processes and systems and as you can imagine particularly in this COVID related environment, that has been enormously beneficial as we've had to work through lots of policy changes and emergency leave related procedures and telecommuting related agreements and the Families First Act and many, many other things. And so we're excited that Patty has joined our HR team and look forward to all of you having the chance to meet her once it's safe to do so.

Andra, if you'll go ahead and turn to the next slide.

You know, obviously like all of us the last two months have really been largely consumed here at the Department by all of the adaptation to the COVID-19 environment and like any entity, publicly or private, we've had to make very significant administrative and operational and fiscal and business related changes as we -- as we have adapted to whatever the latest iteration of the newest normal is out there.

The leadership team at the Agency has been laser focused on ensuring the safety of our staff and volunteers, contractors, our guests, while obviously still making sure that we're fulfilling our mission and our core programs and services that we provide to the public. And needless to say, that's brought lots of changes and lots of challenges to say the least as, again, we've put in place teleworking agreements for really almost all of our staff who work in office related environment, except for those that we absolutely need to have in the office for all or some parts of the day. Putting in place new emergency leave related procedures for colleagues that needed to take advantage of that, new safety risk mitigation protocols, new communication platforms that our IT team has done a terrific job of helping us to adapt to across the -- across the Agency.

Also emphasizing cybersecurity, which we've talked a lot about with the Commission and you know how important that is in times like these. So a myriad of changes that have happened across the Agency and the field and at headquarters. It also means that we've had to suspend doing some things because we simply were not in a position to carry those out either safely or in compliance with the Governor's executive orders on how business needs to be conducted across the state.

That said, I'm very proud of the fact that our teams have continued to do lots of things with respect to advancing the mission. Our Fisheries biologists have continued to operate and run the hatcheries, albeit in a scaled back version. They've been doing everything from sea turtle patrols on the coast; where it's safe, to work with local communities to continue to stock urban and neighborhood based ponds with catfish to allow for fishing for folks that want to get out. And our Wildlife team has continued to steward our wildlife management areas, put on the spring hunts that we had scheduled for turkeys and feral hogs. Our Infrastructure team continues to manage a very robust platform of capital projects all across the state.

Our Game Wardens have been very busy from a patrol perspective. As you may be aware, the lakes and reservoirs are even more popular than they have been in the past and that has warranted a lot of attention and focus from a water and boater safety perspective from our Game Wardens that will only be elevated obviously as we go into the Memorial Day weekend and we obviously need to remind everybody, Chairman and Commissioners, to be safe out on the -- out on the -- out on the water.

You're aware that we graduated a cadet class of new Game Wardens and State Park Police Officers and we're excited to have them out in their duty assignments. I also want to mention that our Law Enforcement team has really been the representative for the Agency at the State Operations Center helping with the State response to this pandemic and event and have done a terrific job making sure that the Agency assets were appropriately placed to help support the bigger goals set by leadership as we've worked to mitigate risk and manage this.

Game Wardens have been very involved in what we have kind of affectionately called the "Pony Express," delivering PPEs and test kits and collecting test samples in rural areas and delivering those either by truck or by air to labs and so forth. And so, again, just their support of the local communities has been very, very beneficial and I'm proud of that work as I am of all of our teams.

State parks, just because of their visibility, has probably gotten the most attention across the -- across the state. And, you know, the first half of our adaptation to this COVID environment was marked by lots of changes in the parks as we put in place social distancing protocols. We reduced visitor capacity. We closed group use facilities. We transitioned to online reservations and payments. We went through various rolling closures of parks because the lack of volunteers and/or staff that have been compromised in some form or fashion.

I will say that ever since the Governor's directed closure of state parks in early to mid April, things have stabilized quite a bit across the system as we came back online largely in a day-use only capacity. But as you I think are aware, as of Monday we have reopened a number of our parks to limited overnight camping for RV and primitive camping and on the weekends in some parks, we will be honoring existing reservations for folks to be able to use cabins and more enclosed facilities for camping and we look forward to that growing over time and when safe. All of our parks are now open, save and except Franklin Mountains which we expect to have open very soon.

You'll hear this from Mike Jensen in his report a little bit later on in the morning. We have had pretty significant revenue related impacts to the parks, as you might expect. If you look through the end of April, we're about 11 percent behind where we were last year. We should probably just expect that to grow at least through May and probably into June, again, unless our visitor capacities can be expanded and the type of uses can be expanded safely. Many of our revenue streams in parks have either been eliminated altogether or because of our reduced visitor numbers to comply with the Governor's safety protocols, our revenues are down anywhere from 50 to 75 and sometimes as much as 100 percent or more, particularly where we've had to make refunds.

That said, the demand of the public to get outdoors has been very strong and our hunting and fishing licenses are still up a little bit compared to where they were last year and we're seeing lots and lots of interest to get outdoors.

Last thing I'll touch on with respect to the COVID related environment for the Department, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, consistent with the Governor's order on Monday to allow for the reopening of office buildings with no more than either ten people or 25 percent of staff in an office, our Support Resources team led by Scott Stover has worked very closely with the leadership team to develop an Agency facilities reopening plan for how we'll safely re-accommodate our employees back into the workforce. It'll be a very phased, careful, measured approach. We haven't set a timeline exactly yet as when we'll start to reopen for the first phase, but we'll largely include those colleagues whose jobs don't lend themselves well to teleworking type arrangements and certainly those that do not have heightened susceptibility to COVID related concerns or child care related issues that would need to keep them home.

The primacy on the plan, obviously focus on everybody's safety and appropriate risk mitigation measures with a clear emphasis on self-surveillance. The message being: If you're sick, stay home. Don't -- don't come to work. We don't need you around. We've got specific social distancing protocols that will be implemented and much heightened attention to sanitation and hygiene measures, as well as encouraging everyone to focus very much on the safety of everyone around them. And so we'll obviously keep you posted as we launch that first reopening of office facilities.

We've also asked the divisions to come up with division specific plans that accommodate their various work environments, which y'all know are very varied and diverse across the state and so the division specific work plans take into account, you know, things about how Fisheries and Wildlife teams will go about safely continuing sampling related events, meeting with landowners, conducting interpretive related programs and so forth, as well as reopening facilities like the Freshwater Fisheries Center or Sea Center there in Lake Jackson.

Last but not least, I will say that the last couple of months has just driven home the criticality of this Department's mission and irrespective of whether we're in or outside a pandemic, people need the outdoors. They need it for their emotional and mental and physical well-being and the kind of stewardship and recreational related activities and services that this Department provides, I believe are just going to be more important than ever as we go forward and as we think about them as essential services and functions for the state and we look forward to working with the Commission to continue to advance those important needs and benefits.

Andra, if you'll change slides, please?

Also just want to remind the Commission that the work of the Sunset Commission Policy Team that's been assigned to the Department continues on. This is a timeline for Sunset staff. And, again, just as a reminder, sometime in June we expect the Sunset staff recommendations for the Agency to be formally published and made public and so we look forward to seeing that final report and what all is in it and disseminating that to the Commission. As of now, it's our understanding that on either July 8th or 9th, there will be a formal Sunset Commission public hearing, which will include Parks and Wildlife and other agencies.

Chairman Morian and I are scheduled to be there to formally testify and we certainly want to encourage other Commissioners to attend that meeting if it's held and participate how it's held and at this juncture, I don't know if that will be in person or whether it will be a digital virtual meeting like the one we're having today.

August 19th and 20, the Sunset Commission is slated to make a final decision on various agencies under its purview and to adopt specific recommendations for agencies like ours. And then as a reminder, a bill will be proposed by presumably a member of the Sunset Commission in January at the start of the Legislative session that will include the recommendations from the Sunset Commission and hopefully will call for the reauthorization for Parks and Wildlife for another 12 years. So that's the -- that's the process and obviously we'll continue to keep you updated as that moves on, but the nearest metric is that June Sunset staff report.

Andra, next slide, please?

I want to remind the Commission and for some of the newer Commissioners, every four years every State agency is required to review all of its rules and have its governing body either readopt the rules as they currently exist or in cases where there are clarifications that rules -- to rules that need to be made, duplications that need to be eliminated, chapters in rules that need to be harmonized with similar language, or rules that just no longer have a purpose or function need to be eliminated, every agency is asked to bring those issues forward to their governing body for a vote and adoption.

Because of the extent of the rules that govern the Department and the Parks and Wildlife Code, our Legal team which oversees this process in conjunction with the appropriate division leadership and subject matter experts, takes these rules in tranches and these are the first five set of rule packages that we are looking at. As you can see, everything from design and construction to stocking policy to law enforcement and so just want to let you know that that process has started. If you've got any questions about that, I'd ask that you direct those to Bob Sweeney and look forward to working with the Commission on the thorough review of this process.

Andra, next slide.

With that, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, it wraps up my presentation this morning and I'm happy to answer any questions that any Commissioners may have. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Carter.

Are there any questions or comments from the Commission?

If not, then we'll move to Work Session Item No. 2, Financial Overview. Mr. Jensen and Mr. Goldsmith, please make your presentation.

MR. JENSEN: Good morning, Chairman. My name is Mike Jensen. Good morning, Commissioners. This morning we'll be presenting Agenda Item No. 2. I'm going to present a financial overview. I'm going to hit on the three primary revenue streams for the Department: State park revenue, boat revenue, and license revenue. I'll give you a 12-month cycle for each stream, a month-to-month comparison for each stream, and a comparison to the prior four years. Then I'll have one single budget adjustment slide for the adjustments that took place in the month of April. I'll pause to address any questions and try to answer it to the best of my ability and then I'll pass the remainder of the presentation on to Michael Goldsmith, who will provide you an update on the Legislative Strategic Plan that Department calls the Natural Agenda.

Next slide, No. 2, please?

This slide is state park revenue for the full fiscal year 2019 12-month cycle. As you can see, it is a backloaded revenue stream. Our peak months are spring break and the summer months of May through July. Typically, March is the best month that we have historically. The first six months account for about 35 percent of the revenue. The last six months, about 65 percent of the revenue. Fiscal year 2019 on this slide is actually the best year of record for the Department at $55.66 million of revenue.

I've mentioned this in the past; but I think it bears repeating that in January of 2019, the State Parks Division moved to a new reservation system. In the new system, it requires prepayment of the full amount of the full duration of the visit. It also includes prepayment of related entry fees. This was done to minimize impacts on the customer and visitor, to reduce lines and improve queue management. But at the same time, we think it will probably slightly modify this 12-month cycle. Not drastically, but it will probably change somewhat; but it's hard to say right now because of the impacts of COVID-19. We were hoping that fiscal year 2020 would be the new baseline for our graph, but we'll probably have to wait when we don't have a pandemic or some sort of natural disaster.

Next slide, No. 3, please?

This will show the fiscal year 2020 monthly comparison through April of 2020. This is how we're tracking so far this year. We track very favorably through February. Then we had the pandemic, as you can see on that last graph, March and April where the revenue streams collapsed.

Next slide, No. 4, please?

This will show the month-to-month variance and the year-to-date variances through the end of each month. As you can see, we performed very well in the months of September, October, December, particularly in January and February; but with COVID-19, as Carter mentioned, it imposed significant operational impacts and curtailment of our revenues in March and many sites were closed during April, resulting in pretty much a negative revenue stream due to the high volume of refunds that were processed that month.

Next slide, No. 5, please?

This is the same data that compares the current year against the prior year for year-to-date figures. In this bar chart, you can see what Carter mentioned, we're down 11.7 percent, 3.84 million.

Next slide, No. 7, please?

This will provide the variances by state park revenue categories in a table format. As mentioned, the revenue's down 11.7 percent. Total visitation is down 4.6 percent.

Next slide, No. 7, compares this period to the same period for the prior four years. This is the five-year trend for the eight months. As mentioned, tracking against '19, we're behind 11.7 percent. We're behind fiscal year '18 by 2.6 percent. We're behind fiscal year '17 by 13 percent. We're behind fiscal year '16 by 4 and a half percent.

Moving on to boat revenue, Slide No. 8. It's going to show boat revenue for a full fiscal year 2019 12-month cycle, month-to-month. This revenue stream is even more backloaded than the state park revenue stream. The first six months account for 29 percent of revenue. The last six months about 71 percent. Typically, the best month is May and the peak months are summer, April through July. And this slide shows that the last fiscal year, the revenue was 22.515 million. The best year of record is actually fiscal year 2018 at 22.825 million.

Next slide, please, No. 9?

This will show the fiscal year 2020 monthly comparison year to date. We were tracking favorably compared to 2009 through March. Then we had a significant drop in the month of April.

We can go to the next slide, No. 10.

This shows the month-to-month variances and the year-to-date variances through the end of each month in this table format. You can see on the month-to-month where the percentages were positive, we were ahead of 2019; but again with COVID-19, we had a significant operational impact. The main reason for that is we were not receiving customers in person in the Law Enforcement offices and at headquarters. During the month of March and April, we were limited to online transactions and processing transactions through the U.S. mail primarily through headquarters staff.

If you look at the last line on there for April, I think that's slightly somewhat overstated because many customers did renew through the mail. And if they submitted through mail to a Law Enforcement office, those probably were not worked until April. So anything that was mailed in the month of April is being worked in May and recorded in the month of May.

So next slide, No. 11, same data. That compares the current year against the prior year for year-to-date figures. We're down 8.2 percent, which is the equivalent of $949,000.

Next slide, No. 12, please?

Provides the variances by three boat fee categories in table format. And a full month 12-month cycle of registration fees typically account for about two-thirds of total boat fee revenues. I've mentioned this in the past, but it bears repeating. That first line of sales tax that you see on there for 2019, that is the 5 percent that's appropriated to the Department, 1.71 million. In 2019, we actually collected for this period $34.1 million. The other 32.4 million is in Fund 1 in the Treasury.

Similarly for fiscal year 2020, you'll see 1.46 million which is appropriated to the Department. The total sales tax collection so far this year is 29.2 million. The other 27.7 million is in Fund 1 in the State Treasury.

The revenues are down 8.2 percent on volumes. Total registrations are down 7 percent. And new registrations are down 20 percent, transfers down 21 percent, renewals are down 2 percent, and titles are down 18 percent.

Next slide, No. 13 please?

Compares this period to the same period for the prior four years in the bar chart. As mentioned for a full 12-month period, 2018 is the best year. And most revenue is collected in the months that are coming, in May, June, and July. 2020 compared to '19, we're behind 8.2 percent. We're behind 8 percent for fiscal year '18. We're behind fiscal year '17 by 7.9 percent, and we're behind fiscal year '16 by 12.3 percent.

Moving to license revenue on Slide No. 14, this shows a full license year 2019 12-month cycle month-to-month. It's an extremely front-loaded revenue stream. For last license year, we collected $104.77 million. The best license year of record happened right before the hurricane and that was license year 2017, $107.7 million. The cycle, typically the highest peaks for combination and hunting license, the best months are September through December. The best months for fishing are September and March through July.

The first month in most years accounts for roughly 39 to 40 percent of all annual license revenues. The first six months accounts for about 73 percent. Last six months about 27 percent.

Next slide, No. 15, it shows the license year monthly comparison year to date. We're tracking favorably, as Carter mentioned, compared to license year 2009. So far we're at 90.16 million.

The next slide, No. 16, shows the month-to-month variance and the year-to-date variance through the end of each month. If you look at the column of month-to-month percentage, you can see with the exception of November and March, we've actually done better than every other month in the prior year. So year-to-date we're ahead about $2.56 million.

But we have had a significant COVID-19 adverse impact to nonresident license sales, which makes sense because people are not moving and traveling. And because of the front-loaded nature of this revenue stream, we need to be very careful and carefully monitor the impact at the onset of the next license year which starts on August 15th.

Next slide, No. 17, is the same data; but compares the current license year against the prior license year. As Carter mentioned, we're up almost 3 percent, 2.56 million.

Next slide, No. 18, please?

Provides variances by license categories in a table format. Looking at this, if we combine resident and nonresident, we can see fishing revenues are up 11.6 percent, which is about 2.73 million. Combining resident and nonresident hunting revenues, we're down 3.6 percent or we're down $706,000. Combination licenses are up seven-tenths of a percent, $242,000. Other license types are up 5.5 percent or $449,000.

Next slide, No. 19, compares to the same period for the four prior years. We are tracking behind license year '19 -- actually, ahead of license year '19 2.9 percent. We're ahead of license year '18, 2.6 percent. The best year of record license year '17, however, we're tracking behind that by 1.8 percent. License year '16, we're ahead of that by about four-tenth of a percent.

The final slide that I'll present is the next one. Slide No. 20, please?

These are the budget adjustments that are reflected for the month of April. We started with an adjusted budget of March 31st of 682.59 million. We have two categories of adjustments. The first adjustment is related to federal funds. It's a reduction of $8,304,598. The second adjustment is appropriated receipts and donations of an increase of $648,393. So the subtotal of adjustments is 7.65 million. The adjusted budget is 674.94 million.

To explain the first line of federal, really back in August if you'll recall, we presented the general appropriations budget as approved by the Legislature and we pointed out that the estimates for federal funds provided by the Legislative Budget Board, we believed those were too high. So this adjustment really trues up our budget with the actual apportionments that we received. It will not have any adverse impact to our programs or divisions because the excess authority, we never passed that out into the divisional budgets. So we're looking good from a federal fund standpoint.

This concludes my presentation on the revenue and adjusted budget portion. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to try and answer them. If not, we'll hand this off to Michael Goldsmith and he can walk you through a summary of the Natural Agenda and the Strategic Planning Process.

MR. GOLDSMITH: Good morning, all. Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Michael Goldsmith, the Performance and Strategic Planning Coordinator for TPWD. I'm going to give a quick run-through of the Strategic Planning Process and an update on where we are this round.

If you can go to the next slide, please?

Strategic planning is a long-term and future-oriented process of assessment, goal setting, and decision making. The Strategic Planning Process is intended to set direction for all these Agency's operations; communicate Agency goals, directions, and outcomes to the Legislature and stakeholders; and guide budget preparation and establish a basis for measuring success through development and use of performance measures.

It guides budget preparation in two ways. The goals and strategies in the Strategic Plan comprise the budget and planning structure for each agency, which provides the framework through which agencies request and receive Legislative appropriations. Secondly, identifying funding priorities also sets the stage for exceptional item requests in the LAR.

The LBB and Governor's Office give instructions for what must be included in the plan and the part it plays in the budget process. The Strategic Plan instructions include Agency goals, objectives and strategies, an assessment of internal and external factors impacting the Agency, and a set of performance measures to assess progress. Within the formal requirements of what must be included, the Agency can use the plan as an opportunity to communicate what it thinks is important and what factors are affecting its ability to be effective.

If you can go to the next slide, please?

A major component of the Strategic Plan is to request changes to the Department's budget structure and performance measures. These form the structure by which we submit funding requests and monitor and report performance relative to statutorily defined goals. For the 2021 through 2025 cycle, we requested the following changes which were approved by LBB and the Governor's Office. The new measures, number of water safety hours and number of Fisheries and Wildlife hours, will give a more holistic picture of Law Enforcement effort by category than the current measure of hours patrolled in boats by itself. This will give a clearer picture of how changes to funding and priorities shift hours of effort.

New measure, number of successfully delivered e-mail and text messages will count the number of delivered messages multiplied by the distribution list. This will capture the number of impressions that take into account both staff effort and the effectiveness of outreach. New measure, number of expansions to state parks and WMAs will count the number of these expansions by the addition of adjacent acreage or inholdings; including purchases, donations, or compensation for impacts to TPWD property.

TPWD requested the deletion of one strategy, meet debt service requirements. This was disapproved, as were two measure deletions, number of subscribers to the TPWD e-mail subscription service and number acres transferred.

Next slide, please?

One of the major sections of the plan is centered on operational goals and action plans, which are organized by the four major Land and Water goals. Under these, in addition to metrics, several key events and areas of change are intended to capture events and dynamics that will impact the Agency over the next five years. These include Chronic Wasting Disease, aquatic invasive species, the transition to CAPPS, an update on natural disaster recovery, the ongoing Sunset review process, oyster issues, the R3 Plan, the sporting goods sales tax proposition, the State Park Police Program, and turnover and succession planning. These are just examples and are not a comprehensive list.

Next slide, please?

The Natural Agenda frames the Agency's future funding needs in broad terms to prepare oversight agencies for what is coming in the LAR. Examples of items we included are shown on this slide, namely state parks and local parks; employee compensation; aviation needs; cybersecurity; CAPPS financials; ADA related issues; capital construction needs, including Fund 9 division sites and road and bridge repair needs; and increasing access to public lands on sites that are in TPWD's inventory, but are not fully developed for public use. Though we are identifying these as future needs, inclusion in the plan doesn't necessarily mean that all of these will be included in the LAR, especially given current circumstances.

Next slide, please?

Other elements of the Strategic Plan discuss statutory changes for the Department and being able to fulfill its mission and possible fixes to these, an analysis of the workforce's ability to meet current and future challenges, an analysis of recent customer service array, and information related to contracting with historically underutilized businesses. A full draft of this plan has been circulated internally and edits are being incorporated. The final document is due electronically to LBB and the Governor's Office on June 1st.

That's my presentation. At this time, I'd be glad to take any questions or comments.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much.

Are this any questions from the Commission? Hearing none --

COMMISSIONER BELL: Chairman, wait. This is -- Chairman Morian, this is Commissioner Bell. I had one question for Mike and one question -- well, Mike Jensen and one question for Michael.

And my question for Mike is just in terms of our overall projections and how you feel about the adjustments we've had to make in revenue, based on the circumstances we're facing right now, all of this seems to fit those circumstances and we should not panic in regard to revenue because nothing is out of line based on the circumstances. Is that fair to say, Mike?

MR. JENSEN: This is Mike Jensen. I would agree with that. We have a good cash balance for cash for the State Park Account. We could actually withstand a reduction of revenue of close to 40 percent before we face severe consequences. The funds for the Fund 9 are healthy as well, but not as healthy as the State Park Account. And they could actually sustain probably about a 20 percent reduction. So from what we're seeing right now, we are okay for this fiscal year moving in probably through the end of the next fiscal year; but we have not yet received instructions from oversight on potential reductions, expenditure reductions for the Department. We're expecting a 10 percent reduction schedule in the LAR. It conceivably could be more than that. But when you decrease the capability to have expenses, then that releases the burden on the revenue side as well.


And just -- and, Michael, in regard to the Strategic Plan, I think the Commission has done an exceptional job in trying to recognize diversity, encourage, you know, people to get out and use park facilities, working with business, and I'm glad to see that the Strategic Plan continues to emphasize that. So I just wanted to compliment the Executive Director and the team on that as well. So we appreciate your efforts there and we look forward to seeing what that plan looks like when it goes in next month.

MR. GOLDSMITH: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good. Thank you very much.

If there are no further questions, we'll move on to Work Session Item No. 3, Internal Audit Update. Ms. Brandy Meeks, would you please make your presentation.

MS. MEEKS: Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Commissioners. My name is Brandy Meeks, and I'm your new Internal Audit Director. This morning I'd like to update you on our fiscal year '19 and '20 internal audit plans, as well as brief you on recent external audits and assessments.

Next slide, please?

So this first slide is showing you the status of our internal -- our fiscal year '19 internal audit plan. As you can see, all of our projects have been completed, with the exception of one advisory project and that is the -- this is on my screen. Sorry. That is the Land Conservation Program. Sorry, now I can see it. My toolbar was in the way.

If we could go to the next slide, please?

So the next two slides are going to show you the status of our current audit plan and we do have 25 fiscal control projects for the state parks. That is going to be showed on the second slide. But on this first slide, you're going to see our current audit projects, our advisory projects, as well as special projects. So for our current audit projects, we have started in the planning phase an IT project, which is No. 1 and that's the audit of our Incident Reporting System, as well as No. 5, the Orphan Boat Ramps Project. We are about to release a report for Item No. 3, the audit of selected grants and that project we selected four off-highway vehicle grants and you will be seeing that report shortly. Items No. 2 and 4 have yet to be started and that's another IT project, our security and cybersecurity project, as well as our audit of selected contracts.

We do have one advisory project on our plan, and that is the construction change order process. It's an infrastructure project. We have yet to start that. As far as special projects are concerned, Internal Audit has assisted Internal Affairs on two investigations. We have also participated in another State agency's peer review. We are also due a peer review this year. The yellow book requires all government internal audit shops to be audited every three years and we are up. So I will be getting with our SAFE, the SAFE group, and we will be setting up that peer review by the -- by fiscal year end.

And lastly, I'd like to talk about our follow-up process. The follow-up process is ongoing throughout the year and the audit shop used to report to the Commission annually on the status of a prior audit recommendations. However, we have now changed this. We will be reporting to Executive management and to the Audit Committee quarterly. Our first quarterly follow-up report will be issued in June for all audit issues that were due during the second fiscal quarter. So those due March through May of this year.

Next screen please.

This screen shows the status of our fiscal control projects, our state parks audits. Prior to the pandemic, we had seven state park audits in the fieldwork stage. They are now in the quality assurance review stage, and I anticipate that we will be getting those reports out in the next month or so. So once the pandemic hit and once we were settled at our homes, my team started working on rewriting the State Park Audit Program to perform the remaining state park audits remotely, as well as to update the audit program for the new parks business system.

This process entailed doing a comprehensive risk assessment to identify state park fiscal risks and controls, reading the newly updated state park fiscal control handbooks updated for PBS, meeting with fiscal control specialists and PBS specialists and rewriting the audit program based on all of that. We have now completed that rewrite and just this week my team is now starting to perform the state park audits again remotely using this new audit program.

The status as of right now is shown above. Fifteen have yet to start, two are in the planning phase, and one audit report for Buescher State Park was actually issued before the pandemic hit.

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Lastly, I'd like to update you on external audits and assessments. So the SAO has issued two audits and two assessments the past several months concerning Parks and Wildlife. The Statewide Single Audit, as well as the federal portion of the Single Audit, was released in February and there were no findings for Parks and Wildlife. In April, the SAO issued a report on the implementation status of prior State Auditor's Office recommendations. For this project, the SAO verified that the nine recommendations for Parks Audit 18-8, 19-6, and 19-706 were all fully implemented.

And lastly, in April the SAO issued a report on contract monitoring assessment at certain State agencies. This project assigned contract monitoring ratings to the 25 largest agencies by looking at contracting related information, such as SAO audits, internal audits, LBB reviews, Sunset advisory reviews, and self-reported improvements and analysis. The assessment concluded that the level of monitoring of our contracts is adequate and no additional contract monitoring is required.

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So that concludes my presentation. Thank you for listening, and I'm now open for any questions if you have any.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Are there any questions from the Commission?

Great work. Thank you.

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: With that, if no questions, we'll move on to Work Session Item No. 4, Designation of Nonprofit Organization for the Help Feed Hungry Texans Program. Does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

If not, I will place the Designation of Nonprofit Organization for the Help Feed Hungry Texans Program on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment.

Moving on to Work Session Item No. 5, Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamations, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Staff, would you make your presentation please.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Ken Kurzawski of TPWD's Inland Fisheries Division. This presentation and the ones following are a culmination of process for changing both our fishing and hunting regulations that we started back in November. Today I'm presenting the proposed changes to the freshwater fishing regulations, along with a summary of public comments.

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Just a second. I'm having a little -- the first proposed change is on Moss Lake, which is near Gainesville in Cooke County. It is a Largemouth and Smallmouth bass fishery. Current regulations consist of a 14-inch minimum length for Largemouth bass and no length limit for Spotted bass. These 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 would allow you to obtain a bass of that size for submission to the ShareLunker Program during January through March.

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Bass regulations are being modified to 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 and combining regulations for Spotted and Largemouth bass would also lessen some of the identification concerns between those two species.

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Next are Brushy Creek Lake and Brushy Creek, which flows out of the reservoir. The lake and part of the creek are in Cedar Park and the creek expands farther into Williamson County. Brushy Creek Lake is regulated as a community fishing lake or CFL. That's the definition we have on smaller waterbodies 75 acres or less or within city or county parks. For CFLs, there are special harvest regulations 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 two poles.

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

The proposed changes would extend the CFL regulations on Brushy Creek from the dam downstream to the Williamson-Milam County line, which is about 50 miles. The minimum length for Largemouth bass on Brushy Creek would return -- lake, on Brushy Creek Lake would return to the statewide minimum limit of 14 inches.

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Our goal is to manage the reservoir and creek as one system. The creek also has excellent public access, and this area has experienced substantial population growth. Anglers are using both the reservoir and the creek sometimes during the same day. Not many bass are being harvested. So moving to an 18-inch minimum length limit for Largemouth bass will have little impact. At the creek, we are seeing some cast netting for harvest of smaller fish, which in these smaller systems could have some impacts. The gear restrictions in these smaller waterbodies are -- are intended to direct whatever harvest is occurring to pole-and-line anglers only.

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Lake Nasworthy is a reservoir within San Angelo that has a relatively stable water level, especially for that part of the state. This reservoir has good bank access and White crappie fishing is popular. 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 these are 10 to 11 inches.

We are proposing to remove the minimum length and maintain the 25-fish bag, which would allow anglers to harvest some of the 8- to 9-inch fish.

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Our goal is to improve the population structure by encouraging more harvest. The poor growth and high natural mortality greatly limit the effectiveness of the current 10-inch minimum length limit. Anglers surveyed expressed support for removing the minimum 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 alter the population.

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Our goal is to have the regulation standardized in both the Texas-Oklahoma waters to facilitate in enforcement and understanding by anglers. Blue and Channel catfish are under a 12-inch minimum length limit and a 25-fish daily bag, which differs from the Texas statewide daily bag of 25. Additionally, anglers are allowed to harvest only one Blue catfish 30 inches or larger. The minimum length limit for Flathead catfish is slightly different from the statewide limit in Texas, 20 versus 18.

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On the Red River below Texoma in Texas waters, our 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 area depicted on the map that includes an area that covers about three-quarters of a mile from the dam downstream to the mouth of Shawnee Creek. If you're fishing on the bank or in the water, you're in Texas. If you're downstream from that, even if you're fishing from the bank, you're in Oklahoma and have to follow Oklahoma regulations.

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Our proposed changes focus on catfish and 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 limit of one Blue catfish 30 inches or greater would be retained. For flathead catfish, the minimum length of it would also be removed and five-fish daily bag would stay the same. Oklahoma will reciprocate on these changes through their regulation process.

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In 2015, the Commission approved a bag limit of five Alligator gar on Falcon Reservoir, directed staff to monitor the Alligator gar population to determine any negative effects of the five-fish daily bag and place an expiration date of September 1, 2020, on the five-fish bag. Our staff has conducted monitoring of the gar population in 2014 and again in 2016 and 2018. That biological information was used in making management recommendations for Alligator gar on that reservoir.

The information collected continues to support the determination that the Falcon Reservoir Alligator gar population can safely be sustained under the five-fish daily bag.

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

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All public input received on proposed fishing regulations came through our online comment pages. Totals increased substantially from approximately 50 to 800s in late April when a fly fishing shop in Round Rock encouraged through e-mail and social media anglers to support the changes proposed for Brushy Creek Lake and Brushy Creek. Some of those persons also commented on the four other proposals.

Start looking at -- starting at Moss Lake, that percentage was 94 percent agreed and 6 percent disagreed. Among those that disagreed, nine had comments. Reason given for the disagreement with the proposed regulation included preference for a different limit or questioning whether the proposed limit would work.

Next for Brushy Creek Lake and Brushy Creek, we had 93 percent agreed and 7 percent disagreed. Among those that disagreed, 29 had comments. The most frequently mentioned reason for disagreement, approximately 20 comments with the proposed regulation, was the desire to continue to be able to use cast nets or seines to collect bait fish, primarily minnows from the creek. Two persons objected to these regulations being extended downstream to the Williamson County/Milam County line. An additional seven persons disagreed with the change of the minimum length limit on the lake for bass from 18 to 14 inches and expressed a preference for the 18-inch limit.

Next on Nasworthy, we had 91 percent agreed and 9 percent disagreed. Among those that disagreed, four made comments. Reasons given for disagreement with the proposed regulation include a preference for a different limit or questioning whether the proposed limit would work.

On Texoma and the Red River, we had 94 percent agree and 6 percent disagree. Among those that disagreed, five made comments. Reason given for disagreement with the proposed regulations included keeping the minimum length limit for catfish or a preference for a different regulation.

And finally on Falcon Reservoir, 94 percent agreed and 6 percent disagreed. Among those that disagreed, three made comments. The primary reason for their disagreement was they preferred a lower daily bag limit for Alligator gar. In summary, support for all these proposals exceeded 90 percent.

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That concludes my presentation on the freshwater fishing proposed changes. I can address any of your questions or comments at this time.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Thank you, Ken.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Thank you, Commissioner.

MR. GEESLIN: Okay. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Dakus Geeslin. I'll be presenting the proposed changes to our saltwater fishing regulations today.

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The proposed regulation changes I'll be presenting today include changes to the flounder regulations and also changes to our paddle craft all-water guide license requirements.

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Just as a reminder, our current flounder regulations that went into effect back in 2014 include the following regulations: A 14-inch minimum size limit with bag limits for the recreational sector of a five-fish bag and a 30-fish bag for the commercial sector. There's also a seasonal adjustment for both the commercial and recreational sectors, which includes a two-fish bag from November 1st through December 14th, with no gigging allowed during the month of November. However, gigging is allowed during the December seasonal adjustment to the bag limit.

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Over time we have observed declines in Southern flounder in many of our gear types. This slide shows both the -- our fall and spring gill net samples. Our gill nets are designed to catch adult and subadult fish. Now, this is fishery independent data. Meaning the fish are collected by biologists as part of our long-term routine monitoring efforts. This type of data also reflects the overall status of the population and consequently, fish available for harvest. As you can see over time with the declines in both the spring and fall gill net samples, our regulation changes -- which are highlighted on the graph -- have led to temporary increases in catch rates, but they have not been sustained and have not achieved our desired impact. So our goal would be to achieve those historic levels of catch rates, and our proposal today will take steps towards achieving that goal.

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Similarly, our bag seine data -- which is also fishery independent data -- shows a declining trend in the catch rates. Bag seines are an indicator of recruitment as this year type collects young-of-the-year flounder.

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On average, our upper coast provides a little better habitat and a little better conditions for flounder. They're more abundant on the upper coast from Sabine Lake down through Galveston Bay. This graph shows declining recruitment trends for both the upper and the lower coast. The solid lines show the bag seine catch rates over time and the dash lines running across the graph are trend lines clearly headed in a downward direction. The intermittent peaks you see every three to five years are due to good recruitment as these are young-of-year fish spawned in the winter.

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Now, moving on to our fisheries dependent data, this is information gathered through harvest surveys or recreational anglers through their catches. This trend also mirrors the trends observed in our fisheries independent data. This slide shows number of fish landed through private angling, anglers fishing off their private boat in the orange line, and the party boat landings are catches from anglers fishing from a charter or a guided trip. I want to note that our fisheries management regulations implemented in the past may have led to decline in harvested fish; but haven't had the desired impact of increased catch rates in our routine monitoring.

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This graph shows our commercial landings in pounds, which also continues to decrease over time. This is also fisheries independent data -- I'm sorry. This is fishery dependent data, and also mirrors the catch rates and the recreational landing trends. It's also worth noting that our commercial finfish buyback program implemented in the year 2000 and previous regulatory actions may have also contributed to the lower landings.

Now, even with the declines in the number of flounder harvested in the commercial and recreational sectors, both catch and landings, we still haven't seen those catch rates in our resource monitoring samples -- that's our gill nets, bag seines, and bay trawls -- we still haven't seen those increased catch rates in our fisheries independent data types.

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And as part of our hatchery enhancements, I'd like to share just a few of the highlights of our increased efforts to produce more flounder. We've constructed two dedicated flounder buildings at each of our primary hatchery facilities. One building each at Sea Center Texas and the Marine Development Center. The pictures below are from new flounder build -- the new flounder building at the Marine Development Center.

We've also doubled down on our production to increase our cycles per year, moving from one cycle to two cycles per year. And so far this year, we've been able to produce approximately 115,000 flounder. We've used both -- these for both stocking and research purposes, which will help us better understand the scientific needs for flounder during the multiple phases of production. It's also worth noting that we're currently looking for other ways to increase our flounder production for the future.

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Throughout this process and in order to gain input and gather input from stakeholders, we've held public scoping meetings in early December and formal public hearings in March following the publication of our proposal in the Texas Register. These meetings were held along the coast at five locations in Port Arthur, Texas City, Port Lavaca, Rockport, and Corpus Christi. We've taken in comments from a variety of different avenues, including our public comment portal which Ken mentioned, through e-mails, public hearing testimony, letters, phone calls, and even through our Facebook live event that we hosted early in March.

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We've also met with our Coastal Resource Advisory Committee in mid March and in January. And of note, while the Committee does support the staff proposal, they really felt that the proposal didn't go -- didn't go far enough and made two motions at their March meeting and each of these motions passed, resulting in the following recommendation.

The first one was to classify flounder as a game fish. And the second recommendation is a more restrictive approach to some of the management options and this included an increase in the minimum size limit from 14 inches to 15 inches, to close the flounder fishery from November 1st through December 15th, and a bag limit reduction of three fish for the recreational sector and a ten-fish bag for the commercial sector. This Advisory Committee also recommended that we clarify some of our commercial harvest reporting requirements.

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We are recommending the following changes to the current flounder regulations with the goal of achieving those historic catch rates. We recommend to close the fishery, flounder fishery, from November 1st to December 15th. We also seek to increase the minimum size limit to 15 inches, and we want to strengthen the language regarding who's required to report under our commercial finfish license. We believe that language in the commercial reporting section already exists, but we're seeking to strengthen and clarify that language so there's no confusion as to the requirements for our finfish license holders to report their catches.

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This slide is going to illustrate the benefits of the proposal. And one thing that I want to make abundantly clear is this fishery is entirely dependent on the females. The males, male flounder rarely reach 14 inches and nearly all the flounder harvested legally are females. That's why it's imperative for us to protect the larger percentage of the males if we hope to achieve our fisheries management goals.

So this proposal would allow more females to reach sexual maturity before entering into the fishery for harvest. Reducing flounder harvest prior to and during the fall spawning migration and outward immigration from the bays into the Gulf, will increase the escapement of these fish and increase the potential spawning population and, therefore, increase the recruitment.

Since most of the flounder harvest is compromised of females and occupy -- and occurs during spawning, the proposal is projected to increase spawning stock biomass up to 58 percent over one generation. That's about five years. Five years, it's a generation of flounder. And also the harvest reporting change will make it abundantly clear that all aquatic products are to be reported through our ticket landing system.

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Now, this slide shows the summary of public comments we've received as of 3:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon. As you can see, almost 52 percent of commenters support the proposal. This includes the Coastal Resource Advisory Committee, the Coastal Conservation Association, and the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation. Many of these commenters felt that the proposal didn't go far enough.

Also I'd like to mention that we received a letter from Representative Cyrier here lately and while he supports the -- supports the proposal, he seeks to or he recommends to delay the implementation of the proposal until 2021.

Now, I'd like to draw your attention really to this next category because this is something we really don't see that often. This next category is those folks that oppose the proposal because it simply didn't go far enough. It wasn't as restrictive as this group would have liked to see. The most common additional desired regulations were for a longer closure. Going through entire -- closing the entire months of November and December, banning gigging, and close the commercial fishery altogether. Now, once you combine those two -- those two groups, you end up with almost 61 percent.

As you can see, the percentage of comments received opposed to the proposal is nearly 36, 36 percent. A third of the comments in opposition were simply opposed to any or additional closures. Of note, we've also received a couple of letters of opposition from Representative Middleton. He expressed concerns over the economic impacts associated with the closure and his second letter reiterated his concerns given the current COVID-19 situation.

The neutral folks that voted neutral is right around 3 percent.

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We're also seeking to change regulations associated with our paddle craft all-water guide license. That's guides that seek this license to conduct guiding activities from a kayak or another paddle craft vessel. This proposal would remove the specificity associated with current course requirements. A few of the required courses simply are -- they're no longer listed or available or have been renamed. Our proposal would require those seeking this license to take a Texas -- take a -- I'm sorry -- take a paddle craft leading course from the American Canoe Association or another Parks and Wildlife approved course.

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Now, the flavor of the comments shown on this slide is from the -- for the paddle craft all-water guide license comments. You can see that a quarter of the commenters support the proposal. Just a little over 10 percent opposed the proposal, and these folks felt that this regulation shouldn't be -- this shouldn't be regulated at all by Parks and Wildlife. They felt the licensing should be banned, and the course requirements should -- or the courses should be free. Of note, most of the folks that commented on this proposal arrived at the public comment portal as they were seeking to make comments on the flounder proposal and that's why you see the high rate of neutral. Almost 65 percent of folks that commented were neutral on this, on this proposal.

And with that, this concludes my presentation. I'm happy to take on any questions if you have any.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much.

Are there any questions by the Commission?

I would just like to mention the two very thoughtful letters we received. One from Representative Middleton who asks us to defer any action until we see the impact from the obvious decrease in the fishing activity due to the pandemic and Chairman Cyrier who asked us to implement the changes, but defer the closure until 2021. I think both have some valid points, although clearly the flounder population is in trouble.

But would the Department -- Carter, would y'all look and see if -- and give us any feedback tomorrow on these two letters and the impact if we decide to take some action?

MR. SMITH: Yes. Yeah, we can certainly do that, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Reed. Mr. Chairman, this is Commissioner Bell. I had one question.

Just in terms of the flounder portion and we are talking about the COVID-19 piece and just the impact on small business, can we also just ask that we try to do a good balance between, you know, the obvious needs we have for conservation and managing the fishery; but also the need we have, at least in a commercial sense, because it seems, you know, maybe we split the regulation and have one approach for recreational or sport fishing and another approach for commercial fishing. Although, I know they're in the same -- they're up in the same area. And the only other question I would have is does -- is there any potential -- since it's coastal waters, any other impact from fishermen that where not from the United States?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Dakus, do you want to answer that?

MR. GEESLIN: Sure. Sure. I'd be happy to take a stab at that.

So what we've -- we've looked at some of the commercial landings just over March and April during the prime impact period from COVID. From our commercial landings, what we're seeing is about -- they've landed almost 11,000 pounds and this is in line with what we saw last year. In fact, it's a little above what we've seen last year from this timeframe. So it's -- we're seeing similar landings.

From the recreational side, before some of the widespread shelter in place, we saw -- we're hearing along the coast that we saw increased use of the fishery as folks, as Carter mentioned, folks were seeking to get out and take advantage of the fishery. Now, when the widespread shelter-in-place/stay-at-home orders came into effect, what we did see is closures of boat ramps, piers, marinas, different boat docks. So there for about two to three weeks, we saw reduced pressure; but since those have been, we're seeing increased use from our recreational anglers. But we won't know the full extent of that impact until probably later, later in the fall as we conclude our high use, high use season in November; but we'll know the impact of this spring later this summer.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Thank you. I appreciate that for a perspective. And again, you know, the -- I guess my question again was from that -- you might say that small business or the commercial side of it, to make sure that we strike whatever balance we can and I think the staff work reflects that we've done that. But as the Chairman said, you know, there is a chance to take a double look before we act.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah. And we're very sensitive to small business. So, thank you.

Any other questions or comments?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Bobby Patton. I have --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I have a few comments.

Okay. So one is I guess I would express some disappointment that, you know, when you've got a stressed natural resource like the flounder appear to be, that we're not taking any effort, particularly on the commercial side to limit the bag. And if we're not, I would think that, at a minimum, we should impose a maximum size limit. We're talking about a minimum of inches; but in a number of other fish, we have a slot. And this species, in particular, if we have 20-, 21-, 22-inch or some number to protect the fish of that size and up, what we're going to do is protect 100 percent of the female.

It is my understanding that any flounder that is over, you know, 20, 21 inches is going to be, I mean to a 100 percent certainty, a female. And really when you've got commercial fishermen out there pulling 30 at a time out of the fishery really without, you know -- with their goal being a total biomass or weight, if we can restrict that, you know, and the other thing I've kind of come to realize, a restaurant doesn't even really want a fish that big. They just -- at that -- once it gets bigger than a plate or something that they can put on a plate, the basically would just cut that fish up and sell it as a fried fish finger, you know, on a kid's menu.

So you're taking our most valuable fish and effectively wasting a natural resource. And I actually thought there was going to be some discussion to trying to protect the, you know, the broodmare side of the equation and I'm a little surprised and I would like to express, you know, call it my alarm that we're not trying to protect those breeding females that, you know, I would think are -- should be critical to, you know, our whole purpose of trying to protect this natural resource.

MR. GEESLIN: Chairman and Commissioner Patton, if I could try to address some of those concerns. What we know about flounder is at 15 inches, almost 100 percent of those are females and all those are also sexually mature. What you may see if you had a maximum size limit is hooking mortality, and we don't have a good estimate for what that would look like. We know that it would -- there -- the hooking mortality component would be big as folks were hooking or gigging fish above that maximum size limit.

With gigging, you're almost 100 percent mortality. And as those big fish inhale, you know, live bait, there's also a high level of hooking mortality associated with attempts to release those fish that may fall outside of that maximum size limit.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, I -- you know, and how much of that is going to be -- this is Bobby Patton again. How much of that is applicable to the 30 fish that the commercial fishermen are taking?

MR. GEESLIN: Right. And what our data would suggest is most of the fish caught commercially fall between that 15- to 18-inch size class.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, good. Then it shouldn't be much of a problem then if we did have a maximum because that would just add further protection to that fish.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Bobby, this --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I mean, I'll just say I think it's irresponsible not to have it, quite frankly. And I've caught flounder, and I've released flounder. Now, there's no question there's not much release on the gigging side of it; but do you have an opinion as to -- with commercial fishermen if they're using gigs or poles and artificial bait for most --

MR. GEESLIN: Yes. If I could address that. Most of the commercial fishing, it's nearly all gigging.


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: This is Reed. Bobby, let me -- I've been assured that the commercial gigger can differentiate between 15 and 17 or -- so I would take it to the conclusion that they could certainly differentiate if it was a 20-inch fish. So I think Bobby brings us a very interesting point, particularly for giggers, putting a maximum length on --

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Chairman, this is Commissioner Abell. I would be definitely supportive of the slot limit and would suggest, you know, extending the no gig to cover the whole timeframe. You know, not just November; but November through December 14th. But I'd be open -- regarding Chairman Cyrier's letter, I'd be open to deferring the total closure until the next year; but I think a slot limit makes a lot of sense.


MR. RIECHERS: Commissioner, this is Robin Riechers. Could I weigh in here? I just want to remind the Commission where we are in process is that this was, along with statewide hunting and fishing of course for the other species, was -- came to you in January and the proposal that you asked us to publish in the Register was the 15-inch minimum size increase and the six-week closure, complete closure to both gigging and recreational fishing or hook-and-line catch as well.

And so certainly we had comments about that slot type limit, and we looked at some of the data in this respect; but that is not part of the current proposal. And from a statewide hunting and fishing perspective -- and I'll leave this to Bob Sweeney or our legal counsel -- but I'm not certain that for tomorrow's discussion, that can be considered. But I'll leave that to Bob. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Robin.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: This is Commissioner Latimer. I have -- would you remind me what the current regulations are if we postpone this taking effect until 2021?

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, ma'am. So those current regulations include a 14-inch minimum size limit and a seasonal adjustment and this is probably the big differentiation because the bag limits would stay the same outside of that seasonal adjustment. The proposal now would close the fishery from November 1st through December 15th.

As of right now, that seasonal adjustment includes a two-fish bag for both commercial and for recreational sectors from November 1st through December 15th, with a November 1st through November 30th no gigging.


MR. GEESLIN: I hope I made that clear for you.


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Bob, do you have any comments?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Bob Sweeney or Bob Patton?


MR. SWEENEY: Yes, Mr. Chairman. The question I think is from an APA standpoint whether the breadth of the initial proposal is sufficient to allow a maximum size limit. My reaction to it is -- this is the first I've considered it today -- my reaction to it is probably yes. The proposal certainly talks about flounder regulation and the options that if the Commission were to do something that is more stringent than the staff proposed, I think that the argument would still be that we have given adequate notice to the regulated community of our intent to regulate flounder based on issues with the viability and how heavily the fishery is used and how much of a resource is out there.

There is certainly an argument that someone would could say that this was beyond what was published, specifically what was published in the Register. So I think that would be, you know, an argument that could be made. But I think that the general notion of the APA is that we have opened up this rule. We've made a proposal. It could be made somewhat more stringent than staff originally proposed and certainly this would be based on public comments, some of which has gone beyond what staff proposed. So you have that as a basis for adopting a more stringent regulation should you choose to do so.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And if not, we can always go back and have it -- we can republish and --

MR. SWEENEY: That's -- that's certainly -- that's certainly the most -- the safest course from the APA perspective to say --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Which is what we might want to do.

MR. SWEENEY: And that's -- that would be another approach just to say we'll consider for next year a potential slot limit.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Any other comments?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So are we going to vote on this tomorrow? I mean because, quite frankly, as the staff recommendation currently is written, I would be inclined to vote against it, you know, kind of in this category of opposed because it doesn't go far enough. So where do we leave this?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: We're going to vote on it tomorrow.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: As it is currently recommended?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Unless we add -- unless we decide to add -- everybody is comfortable with adding a slot limit and taking into consideration the two letters we received from State Reps. Yeah.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And does -- in your opinion, Mr. Chairman, does that require a motion? And if so, I would like to make a motion that we do add a maximum length, which would create a slot limit. And I am open still to discuss the -- what a good number should be there.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: This will be for tomorrow, Bobby.



COMMISSIONER BELL: So this is Commissioner Bell. So if I understand then, if we had this discussion tomorrow and we're coming up prior to a vote, if we had a question or a comment, we could also say "The proposal as amended" by --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- whatever might be said. So we could vote on the proposal as is or we could vote on the proposal as amended, such as a 22 -- a 22-inch upper limit or something to that effect?

MR. SWEENEY: We can -- so now we're talking about a matter of parliamentary procedure and there will be an opportunity, I imagine, for the Chairman to entertain motions tomorrow and to put those up for votes and then the vote on the motion that is -- that receives the majority vote will prevail.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Thank you, sir.


All right. Any other questions or comments?

Then I will place the 20-21 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

With that, we'll move on to Work Session Item No. 6, Statewide Hunting and Migratory Game Bird Proclamations, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Mr. Shawn Gray and Shaun Oldenburger, please make your presentations.

MR. GRAY: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shawn Gray and I'm the Mule Deer and Pronghorn Program Leader and tomorrow I'd like to seek adoption to the proposed changes to Mule deer and Pronghorn regulations.

Next slide, Andra, please.

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 administrative burden of issuing these permits, as well as increase efficacy of permit issuance in 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.

Next slide, Andra.

Proposed changes to subsection 65.24 will set forth the application requirements and conditions for the issuance of Pronghorn and antlerless Mule deer permits using the LMA system. This 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 number, permit number, date of kill, and location of kill will be required to be collected and maintained until last day of permit validity.

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Public comments made online indicate that about 70 percent of the respondents agreed with the proposal with only about 20 percent disagreeing completely. Germane comments disagreeing with the proposal were one person thought the proposed changes would add more complexity and another believed we should allow landowner agents to participate in these permits for landowners. In such a case, the proposal does allow for landowner agents.

Next slide.

And this concludes my portion of the -- my portion of the proposed changes to the statewide hunting regulations. And before I turn it over to Shaun Oldenburger, I'd like to address any questions the Commission might have at this time.

Okay. Thank y'all.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. I'm the Small Game Program Director for the Wildlife Division. This morning, I will be presenting staff proposed changes to the 20-21 migratory game bird proclamation. With your permission, we will be placing these proposed changes to the proclamation on tomorrow's agenda for potential adoption during the Commission Meeting.

Next slide, please?

Staff have proposed four substantial changes to the 20-21 migratory game bird proclamation. They are the following: Decrease scaup daily bag limits from three per day to one per day; decrease light goose daily bag limits during the regular season from 20 per day to 10 per day in both zones; shift hunting seasons from the Western Zone for geese season one week later than the previous hunting season; and shifting hunting season dates for snipe two weeks later than the previous hunting season.

As stated during the January Work Session, TPWD must follow all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service federal frameworks for migratory game bird hunting seasons since the Department of Interior has the ultimate authority on these regulations under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Basically, TPWD is not allowed to go more liberal than the federal frameworks; but we are allowed to be more conservative. For example, the decrease in daily bag limits for scaup is a federal framework change due to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service harvest strategy for this species. As such, we cannot allow the option to be more liberal than one per day for this next hunting season.

Next slide, please?

We will start with the proposed hunting season dates and daily bag limits for dove season. During the regular season under the federal frameworks, we are allowed 90 days of hunting in three zones and that's on the slide in front of you and the daily bag limit is 15 doves in the aggregate daily bag limit for Mourning doves and White-winged doves. We do have a daily bag limit restriction on White-tipped doves with two per day, but that species only occurs in South Texas and is not common in hunter bags due to that species behavior and preferred habitat.

Also as we move forward with proposed hunting season dates, as a reminder, all proposed regular season hunting dates for doves are calendar progressions from the previous hunting season.

Next slide, please?

First, we will start with the North Zone. Historically, this season has always started as early as possible under federal frameworks, which is September 1st. The first segment of this hunting season is proposed to run from September 1st to November 12th, as you can see in green on the calendar in front of you. The second segment of this hunting season is proposed to run from December 18th to January 3rd.

Next slide.

Next, we will have the Central Zone. Similar to the North Zone, this season starts as soon as possible on September 1st. And the first segment for the Central Zone runs from -- runs through November 1st, as you can see in blue in front of you. Once again, the second segment will open again on December 18th and run to the end of the 90 days to January 14th.

Next slide, please?

Moving on to the final zone for dove seasons, we have the proposed season dates for the South Zone. We will start with the proposed season dates for the Special White-winged dove days. For a reminder for the Commissioners, this is a special season for the take of White-winged doves and as such, there are special restrictions with this hunting season under federal frameworks. We are only allowed four days for this special season under the -- under most -- and under most calendars, staff have always preferred the first two full weekends of September for this season. Staff propose September 5th, 6th, 12th, and 13 as the season dates for this special season.

Also there are daily bag limit restrictions under federal frameworks. Thus, of the 15 birds allowed in the daily bag limit, only two may be Mourning doves. Also TPWD has established different hunting hours for this season which runs from noon to sunset each day.

Finally for the dove seasons, the proposed season dates for the regular season in the South Zone, these dates will open as early as possible under federal frameworks, which is September 14th. That was a change that the Department was successful establishing through the federal regulatory process a couple years ago.

Next slide, please?

Looking at the proposed season dates for the South Zone, you will see in yellow the Special White-winged dove dates as I stated earlier and there in gray is the regular season starting once again on September 4th, running through November 1st, opening again as of December 18th as all zones will during the second segment, and running out the rest of the 90 days to January 23rd.

Next slide, please?

Now, we'll move on to proposed duck seasons during the statewide teal seasons. For your information, this season is also a special season established underneath U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service frameworks. We are allowed 16 days under federal frameworks from the previous breeding waterfowl survey has a set population of breeding Blue-winged teal. Staff preference has always been to go the last three full weekends in September to best capture the migration chronology of Blue-winged teal through Texas. The daily bag limits we're allowed is six per day during this special season and that may be an aggregate of all three North American teal seasons (background noise). A large majority is obviously Blue-winged teal due to the migration chronology and available abundance during this season.

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Now, starting the regular seasons for three zones -- for all three zones in Texas. As a reminder for the Commissioners, all proposed season dates are just calendar progressions from the previous hunting season. So no proposed changes to these hunting season dates.

First, we have the High Plains Mallard Management Unit, which you will see highlighted in orange on the map to the right. Starting with the youth seasons, proposed dates are the weekend prior to regular season opening. Thus, the dates are October 24th and 25th. The regular season as proposed would have a first segment of October 31st and November 1st. After a four-day split, the second season is proposed to start on November 6th and run through the last Sunday in January, which is also the end of federal frameworks for ducks.

Also staff should note in all zones, there is a five-day delay under federal frameworks for the take of dusky ducks, which was established for the protection of mottled ducks. So you'll see separate dates for the take of dusky ducks, which include mottled ducks, Mexican light ducks, and American black ducks. For the sake of time, I'll not go through the proposed season dates in all zones.

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Now, looking at proposed season dates on the calendar for High Plains Mallard Management Unit. You can see teal season is highlighted in light blue, youth season is highlighted in orange, and regular season dates in green.

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Now, staff will present the proposed season dates for the North Zone for duck seasons. The North Zone is highlighted in green on the map to the right. Proposed youth seasons are set for the weekend of November 7th and 8th. The following weekend, the regular season's first segment is proposed to open up November 14th and run to November 29th. After a five-day split, the second segment is proposed to open on December 5th and run out the federal frameworks on January 31st. Also you can see proposed dusky duck seasons on the slide.

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Looking at the proposed season dates on the calendar for the North Zone, you can see teal season is highlighted once again in light blue, youth season is highlighted in orange, and regular season dates in green.

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Moving on to the final of the three duck zones in Texas, the South Zone. You will see that the zone highlighted in yellow on the map to your right, the proposed season dates for the youth season in the South Zone are the weekend of October 31st and November 1st. The regular season's first segment is proposed to start November 7th and run through November 29th. Then we'll have an 11-day split and the second segment is proposed to start on December 12th and run through the end of federal frameworks to January 31st.

As within this zone, nearly all Texas' mottled ducks are within this zone. So this is where the five-day delay in the take of dusky ducks has the most impact on hunters.

Next slide, please?

Looking at these proposed season dates on the calendar for the South Zone, you will see teal season is highlighted in light blue, youth season is highlighted in orange, and regular season dates in green once again.

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Finally, for duck seasons' proposed daily bag limits as presented, there are no proposed changes for the previous hunting season, except for scaup going from three per day to one per day in the daily bag limit. Based on the 2019 May Breeding Waterfowl Survey conducted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service, this proposed decrease was from approximately 4 million to 3.6 million, which caused the harvest strategy to recommend a restrictive harvest package for this season.

Next slide, please?

Next, staff are moving on to proposed daily bag limits and season dates for goose seasons. As you will see on the map, the Western Goose Zone is in red and the Eastern Goose Zone is in blue. There are no proposed changes to the Eastern Goose Zone hunting dates except for calendar progression. For this zone, there is a Canada goose only season proposed to align with teal season in that area to allow hunting opportunity on the growing population of large Canada geese in this zone. As stated in previous years, Canada geese do not historically nest in Texas and this population is a result of a successful establishment of breeding Canada geese by surrounding states' efforts.

Moving on to season dates, proposed regular season dates would start on November 7th and run to the end of duck hunting federal frameworks on January 31st. The conservation order, which I should highlight is not an official hunting season, but rather an order established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decrease the number of light geese and the Mid-continent light goose population would begin on February 1st after the regular season and run to March 14th. During this conservation order, the daily bag limit is 20 and there is no possession limit.

Moving on to season dates for the Western Goose Zone, staff are recommending to start hunting season a week later than the previous season to allow more hunting opportunity towards the end of season when more geese may be available for hunter opportunity. This change occurred based on public comment from the previous hunting season to both staff and the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee. Based on this change, the proposed season dates would begin on November 14th and run to February 14th, with the conservation order then needing to be delayed until the end of the regular season. This season would then begin -- open on February 15th and run to March 14th.

Moving on to proposed daily bag limits for both dark and light geese. For dark geese, no change. The proposed daily bag limit is five dark geese to include no more than two white-fronted geese in both zones. For light geese, staff are proposing to decrease the daily limit from 20 per day to 10 per day. We will come back to that with a little bit more information in a couple slides.

Next slide, please?

This slide shows the proposed season dates on calendars for both the Western and Eastern Goose Zones.

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For the proposed staff change in daily bag limits for light geese, this is in response to the large decrease in wintering light geese that has occurred in Texas in the last 20 years. As you can see from the graph, the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey has indicated an increase in light geese across both the Mississippi and Central flyaways in the last 40 years. However, simultaneously the wintering population of light geese in Texas, especially to coastal Texas, has declined from approximately 1 million in the early 2000s to less than 250,000 in the latest years based on TPWD aerial surveys conducted in this area.

At a time when we saw unprecedented growth in areas across the two flyaways outside of Texas, Texas has observed a decline in populations to all time lows. Without a doubt, this is not only a harvest issue, but rather a habitat issue as well with declines from winter flooded rice acreage and near evaporation of undisturbed roost sites along coastal Texas. Light goose hunting was invented in Texas and as such, many duck clubs and landowners established a landscape full of undisturbed roost ponds across the landscape. As rice acreage has decreased, the infrastructure has disappeared and access to water eroded to allow those roost ponds to be established. In exchange, most flooded wetland and rice acreage has been changed to allow mostly duck hunting opportunities in coastal Texas.

Earlier this year, the Commissioners received a letter from the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee which complimented the Department's new program to assist the establishment of new, undisturbed roost ponds along the Texas coast. Staff believe that both changes in habitat and harvest regulations are required to potentially reverse the wintering light goose population trend, but also decrease the amount of disturbance in the landscape from our wintering duck populations which continue to show signs of stress. For instance, we see reduced body conditions on pintails and historic low wintering survival rates in this species as well.

Due to these reasons, staff are recommending the decrease on daily bag limits on light geese from 20 per day to 10 per day during the regular season.

Next slide, please?

This slide shows the estimated harvest of light geese in Texas for the last 50 years. As you can see where the -- we have a concerted effort by waterfowl managed to decrease the light goose population -- back to the previous slide. Sorry.

As you can see on this graph, the amount of harvest from both the regular season and conservation order, you'll see that basically the regular season is in blue and the conservation order's harvest is in red. Most of the harvest of light geese occurs during the regular season and participation in harvest during the conservation order has actually declined since its establishment.

It is staff's intent to decrease daily bag limits during the regular season first, and then monitor responders -- monitor responses of wintering light geese populations to this regulatory change along with increasing the established undisturbed roost pond program at the same time if possible.

Next slide, please?

Next, we will have the proposed season dates and daily bag limits for Sandhill cranes. For all Sandhill crane hunting dates, there are no proposed changes except for calendar progression. Starting in the west with Zone A, we are allowed a 93-day season underneath federal frameworks and three birds in the daily bag limit. These proposed hunting dates are October 31st to January 31st during this zone with a daily bag limit of three.

Moving on to Zone B in green, as you see in front of you, proposed season dates are November 27th to January 31st. In this zone, TPWD voluntarily delays the hunting season to decrease the potential for any possible take of Whooping cranes by hunters which migrate through this area to their wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas. With regard to harvest, this impacts few hunters since a very small percentage of the overall take of Sandhill cranes occurs in this area compared to both Zone A and Zone C.

Lastly, proposed hunting season dates for the Zone C in red are December 18th to January 24th and we are only allowed a daily bag limit of two underneath the federal frameworks.

Next slide, please?

Next, we have the proposed hunting season dates for rails, gallinules, moorhens, snipe, and woodcock. The proposed dates -- season dates for rail, gallinule, and moorhen is to occur during the teal season from September 12th to 27th and then again starting on November 7th and running out the rest of the days to December 30th.

Moving on to snipe, this proposed season -- we do have a proposed season change by staff. During last spring we received some public comment about wanting to move hunting dates to allow more opportunity in February after duck season and those hunting opportunities would be available in flooded pastures on the coast and in Central Texas. Due to the limited number of snipe hunters in Texas, staff have recommended delaying snipe season by two weeks and putting those at the end of the season in February. As such, proposed dates are November 7th to February 21st.

And then we are moving on to woodcock, which there's basically no change from the previous year.

Next slide, please?

For falconry dates, additional opportunity for falconers is proposed to occur for doves from November 20th to December 6th. Also staff are proposing to have additional opportunity for falconers for the take of woodcock, moorhen, gallinule, rail, and ducks in the North and South Zones from February 1st to February 15th. There is no additional opportunity in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit since we already utilized the maximum number of days of take for ducks under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in this zone, which is 107.

Next slide, please?

Okay. Now, moving on to public comment for the proposed change for daily bag limits of scaup from three per day to one per day. We did have 37 people as of this morning comment on this, with a majority supporting the change. Obviously, as I stated before, TPWD -- most of the commenters actually thought this would be harmful for those that hunt the coast and bays going from down to one scaup and then also having two redheads. Both those species tend to be a large majority of the take for some hunters. TPWD staff agrees with that, but unfortunately we do not have any say with this regulation change due to the federal frameworks.

Next slide, please?

For public comment on proposed change for the daily bag limit on light geese from 20 per day to 10 per day during the regular season in both zones, we had a total of 50 commenters with 42 percent agreeing with the staff proposal. Most of the commenters that disagreed, specifically stated that this is a habitat issue, not a harvest issue. As stated previously, staff agree that there is a habitat issue for wintering light geese, especially in coastal Texas; but we believe a combination of increased undisturbed habitat along with a decreased daily bag limit will allow the best opportunity forward for managing this continued decline of light geese in Texas.

Additional commenters still wanted the opportunity to harvest above ten, and that -- this opportunity occurred during the regular season. But based on Fish and Wildlife Service harvest data, this is a rare opportunity really for hunters and does not occur on a common basis. We also had multiple commenters that wanted the daily bag limit further reduced to five birds during the regular season. However, staff believe the reduction to ten in the daily bag limit warrants the best first step to deal with this resource issue.

Next slide, please?

For public comment on the proposed change for shifting of Western Goose Zone hunting season to a week later than the previous hunting season, we had 26 commenters with 88 percent approval of this proposed change. Those that disagreed wanted the previous year's seasons to continue.

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And for the public comment on the proposed change of shifting of snipe season two weeks later than the previous season, we had 24 commenters with 100 percent approving this proposed change.

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We also do allow the public to comment on the migratory game bird proclamation as a whole. We did have 44 commenters that disagreed with the -- that commented on this, with 50 percent -- 57 percent disagreeing. A large majority of the public that comments on this is beyond federal frameworks. For instance, we have a lot of comment that folks would love to go to daily bag limits on pintails to two. Obviously, TPWD staff wholeheartedly agrees with that; but unfortunately we're not allowed by the Fish and Wildlife Service frameworks. Also we get comments such as folks wanting to have dove season in February and the end of federal frameworks is January 31st, so that's not possible as well.

Next slide, please?

All right. In closing, in summary, all proposals came out -- came out of the Migratory Game Bird Technical Committee and all staff proposals were approved by the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee with the exception of a reduction of light goose daily bag limits to ten. This Committee's recommendation was to match the daily bag limits for dark geese at five per day.

With that, I'd be happy to take any questions from the Commissioners and thank you for paying attention to me through this lengthy presentation.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I have a comment, Mr. Chairman.


COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just as a comment having grown up on the coast and witnessed the unbelievable increase in the Snow geese and everything and now to be seeing this decline, I think it might be helpful and even on some of these other duck proclamations to perhaps word something to our constituents that we have to go by what U.S. Fish and Wildlife lays out on migratory game birds and be very clear on the points that we don't necessarily agree on, but that we don't have any way to get around the national migratory rules. I think that might help clarify some of these questions and some of the comments that are negative, just to let everybody understand that this is not our decision. This is something that we have to negotiate and work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Thank you.

MR. OLDENBURGER: If I may, Chairman, just in response to Commissioner Scott. He's -- that's true. We probably need to do a better job of communicating to the public that a lot of these changes are coming from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and various harvest strategies and not specifically from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Very good point.

Is there any other discussion by the Commission?

If there's no further discussion, I'll place the 20-21 Statewide Hunting and Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Moving on to Work Session Item No. 7, Public Hunting Program, Establishment of an Open Season on Public Hunting Lands and Approval of Public Hunting Activities on State Parks, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

Not hearing any, I will place the Public Hunting Program, Establishment of an Open Season on Public Hunting Lands and Approval of Public Hunting Activities on State Parks on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Moving on to Work Session Item No. 8, Chronic Wasting Disease Detection and Response Rules, Containment and Surveillance Zone Boundaries, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Mr. Mitch Lockwood, would you please make your presentation.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you. Excuse me. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And good morning, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood and I'm Director of the Big Game Program. And with your approval tomorrow, I will seek adoption of proposed amendments to rules regarding the establishment and the delineation of CWD zones within the state, or Chronic Wasting Disease zones within this state.

Next side -- next slide, please?

This map shows all four CWD zones that are currently established in Texas and with these zones come mandatory testing requirements for hunter-harvested deer, as well as restrictions on the movement of carcass parts and the movements of live deer under a permit, such as a deer breeding, Triple T, or DMP permit.

Next slide, please?

I'll begin with a proposed amendment for a slight expansion of the containment zone in Medina County, which is in response to two new CWD detections last season. Now, those two deer were in very close proximity to a site where we know CWD to have existed and still to exist, of course. But they were still on the other side of the fence, on low fence and open range and that necessitates a slight expansion of this containment zone to be compliant with our protocol for this particular area, which is for the containment zone to extend 5 miles from any known free-ranging positive.

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Next, we'll move to Val Verde County where CWD was detected last fall in a free-ranging White-tailed deer that was located in a rural subdivision just south of Lake Amistad on the west side of Del Rio. This particular deer exhibited clinical symptoms of the disease and it was dispatched by one of our local Game Wardens and samples were collected by our local wildlife biologist.

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By emergency rule, we established a containment zone and a surveillance zone in that immediate area while the hunting season was underway. In fact, just a week before Christmas. And those rules recently expired, so now we're following the standard rule-making process to reestablish those zones. Now, there aren't many easily recognizable features within this area to assist with zone delineation without making this zone very large; but we are able to take advantage of an easily recognized transmission line on the east and north sides of the surveillance zone.

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This map shows all of Val Verde County to give you kind of another perspective of the geographic extent of the proposed CWD zones in this county.

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Our staff collected 473 samples from those zones as the hunting season wound down, and we did find one additional positive. The pink dots on this slide represent all of the not-detected test results that we received and the two positive test results are depicted by the green dots on this slide and those two green dots are about a mile and a half apart from each other. We do have plans for additional surveillance to help us better understand what the prevalence of the disease is in that immediate area.

Next slide, please?

Now, we'll move to Kimble County where CWD was detected in a permitted deer breeding facility last winter. This is facility is just, oh, about a couple miles southeast of Segovia, which of course is on I-10 just a few miles southeast of Junction.

Next slide, please?

This map illustrates the proposed surveillance zone for this particular area labeled "Surveillance Zone 5," and the red star indicates the approximate location of the CWD positive breeding facility. Now, you'll notice we don't have a containment zone illustrated on this map and that's because we're not proposing to establish a containment zone in this area. Rather we believe that the quarantine order and the herd plan that are issued by Texas Animal Health Commission would function as the containment zone, which is consistent with how we handled Medina County, the cases in Medina County prior to detecting CWD in the free-ranging population.

Now, I should point out that the proposal that was published in the Texas Register, that I believe is found on page 226 of your booklet, has a typographical error. That would be Section 65.82 Subsection 1(e) in which it labels this particular area highlighted in yellow on this map as "Containment Zone 5" and it should really read as "Surveillance Zone 5." And so if the Commission adopts this proposal tomorrow, we would need to -- it would need to be adopted with amendments and we would need to correct that typographical error.

And as you can see on this map, it's similar to Val Verde County. We really don't have a lot of features in this area to help us form a real clean boundary all the way around without making this zone really large. But you'll see that the western boundary would be Highway 83 for the most part. The southern boundary would be the county line and US 290. And then the northern and eastern boundaries would be a series farm-to-market and county roads. The KC roads that you see numbered on this slide, that simply stands for Kimble County; but they're county roads.

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And this map shows all of Kimble County highlighted there, the boundaries highlighted in kind of a fluorescent blue and this is just to give you a perspective of the geographic extent of the proposed zone in that county.

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We received nine comments on this proposal, all of which came before the scheduled March Commission Meeting date. Eight of those comments were in support. The one opposing comment was from an individual in Val Verde County who believed that it was -- it is premature to reestablish or, say, make these zones more permanent, if you will, based on a single CWD detection. But again as you now know, there was a second detection of CWD about a mile and a half from the first, which gives us -- it lets us know that that first case was not an isolated incident and we certainly do have a need for more information to get a much better idea of what the geographic extent and prevalence of the disease is.

Next slide, please?

And that concludes my presentation. I'll be glad to answer any questions that you might have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any discussion by the Commission? Any questions or comments?

If not, I will place the Chronic Wasting Disease Detection and Response Rules, Containment and Surveillance Zone Boundaries, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action, noting your one change.

Moving on to Work Session Item No. 9, Alligator Rules, Proposed Amendments to the Alligator Proclamation and the Statewide Hunting Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Mr. Jonathan Warner, please make your presentation.

MR. WARNER: Yes. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Jon Warner and I'm the Alligator Program Leader for the Department. With the Commission's approval today, tomorrow staff intend to seek adoption of proposed changes to the Alligator Proclamation and alligator section of the Statewide Hunting Proclamation. Overall goal of these changes is to modernize, reorganize, and clarify existing regulations.

Next slide, please?

Proposed changes to the Alligator Proclamation include amendments and additions to the definition section and relate primarily to commercial egg collection activities and the export and import of alligators and alligator parts in Texas. Additionally, in the general provisions section, verbiage has been added to clarify permit privileges for all classes of permittees. Under this proposal, alligator wholesale dealers would now have the ability to sell partially processed alligators for human consumption. I would say an example of a partially processed alligator is one that's fully skinned except for the head and feet and this is a culinary item that's becoming increasingly popular across the southeastern U.S. at events like tailgate parties, festivals, crawfish boils, et cetera. Please note that this does not relieve the seller from all applicable local, state, and federal food safety requirements.

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Proposed amendments to the general provision section also includes a requirement that alligator farmers submit notification to the TPWD Law Enforcement Communication Center not less than 24 hours nor more than 48 hours prior to transport or receipt of live alligators. If transport or receipt cannot take place after this notification, cancellation notification to the Department is required. This notification will allow staff to be better informed of when and where alligator transactions occur in Texas.

Under this proposal, the reporting requirements would be reduced for alligator farmers that only operate alligator egg incubator facilities and are, therefore, inactive for most of the year. We also seek here to clarify that hunting is not allowed within permitted alligator farm facilities.

Next slide, please?

Similar to the notification requirement for farmers, proposed changes to alligator egg collector's section in the Alligator Proclamation would replace existing requirements and require notification to the Department by egg collectors before initiating collection activities. This will allow Law Enforcement staff to be cognizant of the collection timeframe and location. In this section, staff also seek for safety and enforcement reasons to only allow egg collection during daylight hours.

Under this proposal, egg collectors and alligator farmers are require to provide geospatial data for farm and alligator egg incubator facilities and for wild nest locations where collection activities occur. GPS data will enable staff to identify exact nest locations and reduce confusion caused by more rudimentary methods and facilitate better datasets for resource management. Temperature requirements for incubators are also stipulated.

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We had a few more comments trickle in this morning. As of now, staff have received five public comments on this proposal. Three in support, and two in partial disagreement. Supportive comments indicated a desire for greater regulation of the alligator farming and egg ranching industry so that the alligator resource is not overexploited. A commenter in partial opposition to the proposal suggested that there remains ambiguity around how to delineate a true alligator nest. Another commenter partially against, voiced concern about potential logistical difficulties and resource waste because of the rigidity of the 24-hour notification requirement.

I'd also like to note here that as a result of a public comment from one of our constituents, staff would recommend two minor amendments to the language as proposed. The first would be to allow for initial issuance of nest stamps to egg collectors for properties that have historically received nest stamps based on biological factors and compliance history, but with no further issuance until the Department has received complete nest GPS data for said property. And the second would just be to change the wording of the egg collection notification requirement to clarify that notification is the duty of the person to whom the nest stamps were issued and not required of every person in the egg collection party.

Next slide, please, Andra?

Staff's only proposed change to the alligator section of the Statewide Hunting Proclamation concerns the CITES hide tag fee for alligators currently harvested during the spring season in peripheral or what we call non-core counties. Under current rule, it's not clear that the fee for a hide tag must be submitted with the application for the tag and this proposed amendment simply seeks to clarify that the tag fee must also accompany the necessary documentation.

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There's been no public comment on this item, and that concludes an overview of the proposed changes to the Alligator Proclamation, statewide hunting regulation. I'd certainly be happy to address any questions the Commission may have at this time.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Are there any comments on questions by the Commission?

If there's no further discussion, I will place the Alligator Rules, Proposed Amendments to the Alligator Proclamation and the Statewide Hunting Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 10, Oyster and Mariculture Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Rules, Mr. Lance Robinson.

MR. ROBINSON: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Lance Robinson with the Coastal Fisheries Division and I'm here this morning to present to you a packet of proposed rules that would establish a Texas cultivated oyster mariculture program for the State of Texas.

And so -- and, Andra, can you go to the next slide, please? Thank you.

House Bill 1300 was passed by the 86th Legislative Session last year, which created a new Chapter 75 in Texas Administrative -- or I'm sorry -- in Parks and Wildlife Code for cultivated oyster mariculture program and it delegated the authority to the Commission to establish this program that would oversee and govern this activity in public waters of the State of Texas. The bill also sets aside 20 percent of any fees that are collected within this program and those fees are to be dedicated specifically for the removal of abandoned or lost gear when the original owner is unable to be found or located.

And then finally, there was some additional language in the bill that stipulated that the Department must coordinate closely with other appropriate State agencies in developing these proposed rules.

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In developing these rules, the Department staff looked at a number of other states around the country who have some type of shellfish mariculture or oyster aquaculture program. We also relied heavily on Representative Hunter's Oyster Aquaculture Task Force and the Parks and Wildlife ad hoc Oyster Mariculture Committee of stakeholders in putting together this proposal packet.

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Within the cultivated oyster mariculture program, there will be three permitted activities that will be allowed: Grow-out facilities, nursery facilities, and hatcheries. And I'm going to speak about each of these over the next couple of slides.

The first one, the grow-out facility is simply those areas that -- where a permittee would be allowed to grow oysters to a harvestable size that would then be taken to market. These sites would be nominated by the applicant. They could be deepwater sites or shallow water sites. There is no acreage limit on these sites, but the Department is -- the proposal does include active use criteria that stipulate a certain number of oyster seed to be planted within these areas to make sure that they're being used for the purpose intended.

Each permit will have a ten-year term and the cost of the term would be 400 -- $450 per acre per year. This permit would allow year-round harvest and also harvest from sunrise to sunset. Additionally, oysters grown in these permitted areas would be allowed to be harvested at two and half inches. This is smaller than the current public oyster reef minimum size of three inches and, therefore, because these vessels transporting this product from the grow-out facility to the shore, the growers would be in possession of oysters that were undersized relative to the public reef minimum size. Transport documentation would be required to be on the vessel to aid Law Enforcement in verifying that these oysters are coming from a grow-out facility or one of our other facilities that are undersized and also to help prevent or minimize the risk of co-mingling of illegally harvested undersized oysters from public reefs and brought in under the mariculture.

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Second type of operation that could be used is a nursery facility. This is typically an intermediate step in production. It's not used by every grower; but certainly in some cases, individuals may chose or may desire to incorporate a nursery operation into their total facility. It also has a nominated site plan that the applicant would provide to the Department where they would propose locating these nursery operations. They could be land-based, or they could be water-based. They're typically smaller operations than the -- than a grow-out facilities. Water-based operations are typically located on a barge or some type of floating structure that is tied adjacent to a pier so that that operation has access to electrical power to run pumps to move water across the oysters that are growing in that nursery facility. The perm -- the term -- I'm sorry. The term of the permit would also be a ten-year permit, and the annual fee for that permit would be $170 per year.

Of note, the public water surcharge number that you see on the screen, I need to bring to your attention is different than what was published in the proposal, preamble proposal in the Texas Register. The proposed language was higher than what it should be and so this number here is really the accurate or the correct number and should the Commission decide to proceed with adoption of these proposed rules, then we would need to make that amendment to the final approval.

The maximum harvest size for a nursery operation, it applies in those situations where a nursery operation is located within waters that have been classified by the State Health Department as either restricted or prohibited and that minimum -- maximum size, I'm sorry, would be one inch. That maximum size is established to ensure that any oysters growing in these restrictive or prohibited areas, are moved from those waters out to a grow-out facility or to a facility that is classified as either approved or conditionally approved by the State Health Department and allowing enough time to pass for those oysters to reach that minimum size. In this case, two and a half inches. So the maximum size they have to be, at least 120 days before they can be harvested once moved from the nursery area if grown in a restricted or prohibited area.

Similarly to the harvest grow-out facilities, growers would be transporting oysters that would be of a smaller size, undersize relative to the legal public size, legal size limit for public reef oysters. And, therefore, a similar transport documentation would be required while that product is being moved, say, from a hatchery to a nursery facility or from a nursery facility out to a grow-out facility.

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And the final type of operation would be a hatchery facility. In these cases, these structures, these facilities are located on private property. They are currently required to be permitted by the Texas Department of Agriculture and so that permit would have to be acquired. But where Parks and Wildlife's involvement would occur would be through the broodstock permit. The broodstock permit, as currently proposed or as currently listed in Administrative Code, is called a broodfish permit. So one of the motion -- one of the -- in the proposed language for change would be a modification of this term from brood fish to broodstock to make it more inclusive for the use of shellfish broodstock. But the broodstock permit would allow a hatchery operator to collect mature oysters that they would then hold in their hatchery facility and could spawn to produce that seed oyster that would be made available to either nurseries or grow-out facilities.

The fee for that broodstock permit is $25, plus a restitution value placed on the number of oysters that are collected for this purpose or under this permit and the term of that permit is 60 days. Again, as I mentioned before, the transport documentation rules would also apply for these operations.

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Texas has the unique distinction among other U.S. coastal states in having two different genetic populations of Eastern oysters. There's a southern population of oysters that exist from the Lower Laguna Madre up through Corpus Christi Bay and culminating in a transition zone located in Aransas Bay and then a northern population that runs from San Antonio Bay northward across the Gulf Coast and ends about Apalachicola, Florida.

Aransas Bay also represents a transition zone for the northern population. So in other words, you can find both northern population and southern population oysters within that Aransas Bay transitional area.

As such, for the cultivated oyster mariculture program, oyster seed that are produced in hatcheries and using broodstock that are obtained from the southern population zone, could only be placed into waters from Aransas Bay south. Similarly, oysters produced in a hatchery using broodstock that came from the northern population, those seed could only be placed into operations that were located from Aransas Bay northward along the Texas coast.

Following along with that, there are really -- there are currently no oyster hatcheries in Texas. And since we don't know how many permits will ultimately be issued, we're really unable to predict what the initial demand for seed production or seed oysters will be and also until Texas hatcheries have a chance to become operational and then -- and once they become operational, we hopefully will have then a better idea of their capabilities in meeting that demand for seed. Therefore, as a temporary solution, the Department is proposing to allow permittees to utilize existing oyster hatcheries that are located along the Gulf Coast to obtain seed that could be used in Texas under the following conditions.

For diploid oysters, which are sterile -- or fertile oysters, the broodstock must come from Texas oysters or the broodstock must come from Texas and those similar geographic limitations would apply. The broodstock must originate from either the northern or the southern population and then depending on the location of the receiving grow-out or nursery facility, that match would have to occur. And also out-of-state hatcheries would be required to provide the Department with a disease testing results from a Department approved laboratory before seed oysters would be shipped into the State of Texas.

A little bit about diploids and polyploids just real quickly just for the sake of understanding of this next section. Diploids, as I say, are kind of the naturally occurring oysters you would see in the wild. Have two sets of chromosomes. Polyploids are oysters that have been manipulated either through a chemical or in most cases, a combination of chemical and selected breeding programs that creates an oyster that has more than two chromosomes in it. Having that additional chromosome oftentimes will lead that -- result in that oyster being, for all practical purposes, infertile, sterile.

And so the oyster mariculture industry around the country typically relies on the use of triploid oysters for the use in these operations, primarily because the natural spawning of wild oysters results in a poor quality of meat, if you will, during the warmer summer months. Whereby a triploid oyster maintains that meat quality and weight of that oyster year-round because they're putting more of that energy as they feed into growth of the oyster and not into reproduction.

The industry prefers using these triploid oysters because, one, they grow faster. In the State of Texas, we would anticipate that a triploid oyster could reach that two-and-a-half-inch size from a few millimeters seed in less than a year. Whereas wild oysters on public reefs take typically 18 to 24 months to reach that harvestable size. Additionally, the industry prefers the triploid because they end up with a uniform market size product that can be sold and marketed year-round.

So, again, as a temporary solution, the Department proposes to allow the use of polyploid oysters in Texas under the following conditions: That diploid females that are used in hatchery breeding operations must come from the northern stock in Texas and that disease testing results from a Department approved laboratory must also be provided to the Department prior to those seed oysters being shipped into Texas and those hatcheries that are producing these triploids, must provide documentation to the Department on how the triploids were created -- whether it was a chemical induction, spawning, or combination -- and also ploidy testing results.

Though the genetic risk to the natural oyster population in Texas by allowing the use of the triploid oysters is considered to be low, there's certainly a desire to utilize pure Texas line of triploids in the future. As -- creating this line of pure Texas triploids could take five to seven years to accomplish, therefore, the Department is proposing to require the exclusive use of Texas oysters, polyploid or diploid, after December the 31st, 2027.

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The application process is really going to be a two-step process as we envision. The first step would involve coordination with Parks and Wildlife on site selection, and I'll touch on that in just a minute in a later slide. Secondly, the applicant would be required to submit an operating plan, which would include information and specific details about the proposed activity, such as the type of operation, whether the grower is planning to use floating cages or perhaps an adjustable longline system. They would also be required to include elements such as the layout and density of equipment that are used in the arrays and then additionally information related to, for instance, a hurricane or tropical storm plan that stipulates or specifies how the grower is going to address protecting their -- that infrastructure within 72 hours of a named storm or a tropical storm from that getting displaced or dispersed across the bay. So all of that would be in their operating plan.

And then additionally the applicant would be required to complete a natural resource survey, which would be designed to provide qualitative information regarding the presence and absence of sensitive habitat within the proposed permit area and the associated buffers that may be -- the may apply as it relates to seagrass, public oyster habitat, and bird rookeries.

One thing I will mention too -- going back up to the operation plan -- because these permits are for ten years, there's nothing that constrains the applicant to staying with one plan that they may propose in their operation plan. So they -- there are mechanisms in place that if the applicant decides to change this type of operation in year four or five, they could certainly do that with an amendment to that operating plan.

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Step 2 of the process, once that Step 1 is completed -- and I'm sorry. I missed one section on Step 1. So you can leave it here, but let me go back to Step 1. Once the applicant has submitted all of those materials to the Department along with their application fee, the Department will then seek public comment on those proposed sites. We're going to do that in two ways. One is the information related to the proposed site will be provided on the Parks and Wildlife website on a dedicated landing page that would allow individuals to go and look at that information related to that proposed site. And secondly, the Department will schedule a meeting in the municipality or city that's closest to the proposed site to allow the public another opportunity to ask questions or to provide comment on that particular proposed location.

Once all of that information, the public scoping has taken place and any concerns have been addressed in that process, Step 2 will then kick in. For Step 2, the applicant will be required to reach out to the other state and federal agencies that have a nexus into this program and may have some requirement for a permit or a lease or some authorization requirement within their code. I have a list of those here on the screen here. So the applicant would be reaching out to these entities. We've worked with each of these groups and they're aware -- well-aware of the process and are prepared to work with these applicants as they come forward.

Once the Department has received verification of these authorizations from these other groups by the applicant, then -- and the applicant then submits the annual permit fee, the Department will issue the cultivated oyster mariculture permit and they would be allowed to proceed with putting infrastructure and oysters into the water.

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So a little bit back now on the Step 1 process in coordinating on the location. As the Department worked with various stakeholders and looking at and visiting with other states as to issues related to oyster mariculture, site selection is certainly one of those elements that seems to garner the most attention. And, therefore, the Department established really three criteria or goals that -- in trying to locate where these operations would be positioned.

First and foremost was to avoid impact to any natural resources or other sensitive habitats that may occur in the bay. Secondly, to try wherever possible to minimize user conflicts in these areas. And finally, to consider the environmental conditions where the proposed site would occur so that any oysters that might be placed there would have the best opportunity for survival and growth.

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So I think we've seen -- you've seen this slide before. But in going through this process, we have -- using a marine spatial planning tool/GIS application, we've identified a number of layers related to these different considerations as we call them and so as we work with the applicant in that site selection or that nominated site that they bring forward, these are the kind of areas that we're going to be looking for to make sure that there's not an impact. And certainly if one of these -- if the site is located on or impacts one of these areas, we would then work with the applicant to try to reorient or try to move away from these impact areas.

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Tier 2 considerations are primarily informational and are designed really to provide the applicants with information that may be important in their decision to locate a mariculture site in a particular area. For example, if you locate your site in an area that has a wide fluctuating conditions for salinity or oxygen, that could certainly have ramifications on growth of the oysters that you locate there or even survival of oysters in the case of freshwater inflows that result in mortality. And also, you know, the other factor, user conflicts. If you located a site in an area that maybe is a pretty hot spot for either commercial or even recreational fishing, knowing that ahead of time may help mitigate some of the concerns that may be brought up during a public scoping process.

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So as of 5:00 o'clock yesterday afternoon, we've received a total of ten comments. Eight in support of the proposals, including a letter from the Pew Charitable Trust supporting it. We've received two comments -- I'm sorry -- three comments in opposition. That number is incorrect. The things we heard in those opposition were the cost of the permit, felt that it was too high. We also heard they're concerned about the movement of seed oysters from outside of the Lower Laguna Madre. For instance, a hatchery that may be producing seed either in another state or even in Texas, but in that northern zone area. So concerns about moving seed and possibly disease down to the Lower Laguna Madre. And then finally, we did receive a letter from Representative Middleton early on in the process with concerns about locating these sites within 900 feet of the shoreline unless the Department had received written authorization from the property owner that locating a site there would be okay.

As we've worked through with some of the other agencies, what we have discovered with the General Land Office is that in most of these cases, they are going to require a submerged land lease and through their process of the submerged land lease, they require a written notification from adjacent property owners that are within a thousand feet of the activity or the proposed submerged land lease. So we believe Representative Middleton's concerns are going to be addressed certainly by the requirements under the General Land Office.

And with that, that concludes my presentation and so I would certainly be happy to answer any questions that anyone may have.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah. Dick Scott. One quick question. I guess this is really for you, Bob.

How does this effect -- and this may be an Executive Session item. I don't know. How does this affect the litigation that we have currently going forward on the issues that we have, or does it?

MR. SWEENEY: I don't believe it does, Commissioner Scott. But I think that your instinct is correct, that we should probably take that up briefly in Executive Session. I think though that I'm -- this has no -- I have no concern about this having any kind of affect. I think this is the form of expressly authorized regulation that the Legislature, in this case for cultivated oysters, in the case of that was for and the Chapter 76, wild oysters if you will, and I don't see that there's any concerns with; but I think any deeper discussion should be in Executive Session. Yes.


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. Thank you.

Are there any -- any other -- any further discussion by the Commission?

Not hearing any, I will place the Oyster Mariculture Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Rules on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

With that, we'll move on to Work Session Item No. 11, Wildlife Rehabilitation Permits Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Ms. Meredith Longoria, please make your presentation.

MS. LONGORIA: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Meredith Longoria. I'm the Nongame and Rare Species Program Leader within the Wildlife Division and today I will present to you proposed amendments to the wildlife rehabilitation permit rules.

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Proposed amendments as described in detail in your briefing book, would function collectively to address issues and concerns relating generally to wildlife disease control and response and specifically to the detection and management of Chronic Wasting Disease, including registration of rehabilitation facilities; elimination of the use of unpermitted volunteers; electronic reporting and daily log requirements; veterinary certification for retention of non-releasable wildlife, which is wildlife that cannot survive in the wild on its own following rehabilitation; deer identification, tagging, reporting, facility, and release requirements; landfill disposal of wildlife mortalities; and other modernization and housekeeping changes. And I'll elaborate more on these items later in my presentation.

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Under Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 43 Subchapter C, a permit is required to rehabilitate protected wildlife. I'd like to note that the intent of a wildlife rehabilitation permit is to provide a mechanism to rehabilitate indigenous wildlife with the end goal of releasing them back to the wild, doing no harm in the process.

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This group of proposed amendments aims to revise the rules to better reflect that intent, as well as address issues and concerns relating generally to wildlife disease control and response and specifically to the detection and management of Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD. Also included in the proposed amendments are housekeeping changes since there have been few, if any, amendments to these rules since 1997.

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As you are aware, CWD management and control strategies were adopted by rule over the last five years by the Commission in response to the emergence of CWD, especially with respect to the movement of deer held under various Department permits. A major component of that strategy has been to implement regulatory identification, reporting and recordkeeping keeping requirements to make disease investigations easier, more efficient, and more productive. As part of this effort, staff seek the opportunity to align wildlife rehabilitation activities involving deer with the CWD management and response rules, including adding provisions regarding facility and testing requirements.

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The impact and causality of novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has introduced additional dimensions of concerns as it originated as a wildlife disease before jumping to human population. Disease outbreaks, including COVID-19 and other diseases that occur in indigenous wildlife populations both in the wild and in captivity, pose threats to the health and safety of other indigenous wildlife, livestock, and humans.

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Under the current rules, unnamed volunteers may assist with wildlife rehab activities at both registered and nonregistered facilities. Subpermittees may conduct rehab activities at nonregistered facilities, sometimes hundreds of miles from the supervision of the named permittee and recordkeeping requirements are minimal with no daily log requirements. All of these things make disease tracing difficult, if not impossible, under the current rules.

The proposed measures will address those concerns, making it possible to quickly identify where an animal came from, who came into contact with it, and what other animals it may have come into contact with. As such, staff believe it is both prudent and necessary to limit the number unpermitted individuals allowed to engage in permitted activities by narrowing it down to named sub-permittee, limit where permitted activities take place, allowing such activities to take place only at permitted facilities or facilities registered with the Department, and to require electronic reporting and maintenance of daily logs at registered facilities.

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Staff also identified the need to improve the current rules in the context of disease management by more clearly specifying the requirements for release of rehabilitated wildlife, who is allowed to retain non-releasable wildlife and under what circumstances, what to do with animals that die or are euthanized, use of regulated substances for treatments of injured and sick wildlife, training and certification standards for permitted wildlife rehabbers, and when and where wildlife can be transferred. Again, staff believe these updates are necessary to facilitate disease management and contact tracing.

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This is a big rule-making since few changes have been proposed to these rules over the last several decades and as such, staff identified multiple areas for improvement. I'd like to remind you of the very detailed copy of the proposed changes to these rules provided in your briefing book. Therefore, I'll concentrate mostly on covering the major modifications and significant new provisions through the remainder of this presentation and will not take up time on the many non-substantive changes proposed to improve accuracy, clarity, and consistency among the various subsections of this rule.

I'd like to note that when I say "non-substantive changes," I'm referring to housekeeping changes that do not alter the legal meaning of the rule. For example, the current rules use the terms "permit holder" and "permittee" interchangeably, which could cause confusion. Standardizing terminology throughout the rules are considered non-substantive changes.

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The proposed amendment would require any facility where rehab activities take place to be registered with the Department via a Department application, eliminate the use of volunteers, and require all sub-permittees to conduct activities at registered facilities. The registration of the facilities, permittees, and sub-permittees would allow the Department to maintain a real time inventory of persons, places, and animals and this approach has proven to be quite effective in the effort to manage the spread of CWD from and between deer breeding facilities.

I'd would like to note that an exception

would be made to be allow permittees and sub-permittees in the presence of the permittee to retrieve, stabilize, and transport wildlife to a registered facility.

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The proposed amendments would also prohibit the co-mingling of domestic pets, livestock, exotic livestock, exotic fowl, or nonindigenous wildlife with animals being rehabilitated, which is necessary to reduce disease transmission. Rehab activities would also be prohibited from taking place on the same property as a deer breeding facility, which is already a provision of the rules under current Subsection D; but is being stated explicitly for purposes of clarity to emphasize the necessity of preventing the accidental spread of disease to confined populations.

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The proposed amendments create a new requirement for request to retain non-releasable wildlife. These requests must be accompanied by a statement from a veterinarian that the animal cannot be released, including the reasons why, and stipulates that the Department will not authorize the retention of an animal that because of a disease or condition poses a danger to humans, other animals, or itself.

Staff are increasingly confronted with requests to retain wildlife, many of which should be euthanized for various reasons and the Department does not have the staff resources to investigate each claim to confirm that an animal is, in fact, not releasable. Requiring a statement from a veterinarian will assist the Department in evaluating each case on the actual merits of the request.

The proposed amendments would also specify that all medical treatment, including vaccinations, be performed in accordance with applicable laws governing the extra label use of such products. Veterinarians may prescribe medications and vaccines for animal uses not addressed in the product labeling. However, such usage is regulated by federal law. The proposed amendment would clarify that such regulation also applies to wildlife rehabilitation and rehabilitators.

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The proposed amendments require wildlife mortalities to be either transferred to an authorized person or disposed of in a Type 1 landfill. Current rules do not specify the destination for final disposition of mortalities, so they're not able to be donated or transferred to other types of permittees for other purposes. Therefore, staff believe it's prudent to require all expired wildlife to be transferred to either an authorized person permitted to receive such specimens or to be transferred to a Type 1 landfill. This ensures that deceased animals are disposed of in a safe manner that prevents or mitigates disease transmission.

The proposed amendments would also require CWD testing of deer older than six months to maintain consistency with the Department's CWD management strategy and response.

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The proposed amendment would add a new subsection to improve alignment with CWD management protocols. This new subsection would require permittees who rehabilitate deer to attach permanent identification to each deer, notify the Department of each deer mortality within 24 hours of discovery, and specifies the release of rehabilitated deer via the same mechanisms used by deer breeders.

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The current rules reflect an outdated view of wildlife by being restricted to game animals and birds. Staff propose the broader application of rehabilitation rules to all protected wildlife, not just game animals and birds. All indigenous mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and aquatic life are included in the definition of protected wildlife under Chapter 43.

Staff also determined that it's appropriate to professionalize the requirements for issuance of wildlife rehabilitation permits. By requiring a certificate of completion of a nationally recognized training course, replacing the current standard of an 80 percent grade requirement with a 100 percent grade requirement on an open-book Department test, allowing applicants to take the test as many times as necessary to achieve a passing score, and requiring a letter of recommendation from a licensed veterinarian and/or a permitted rehabber with at least three years experience who has known the applicant for a minimum of two years. The intent of professionalizing requirements is to ensure that applicants are familiar with the rules governing wildlife rehabilitation and familiar with basic rehab activities in order to qualify for a permit.

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The proposed amendments would also add continuing education requirements for permittees to renew their three-year permits by requiring evidence of one or more of the following: Either completion of a nationally recognized training course within the preceding three years, or maintenance of a current wildlife rehabilitator certification, or attendance at a national wildlife rehabilitator's conference within the preceding three years.

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The proposed amendments specify facility requirements specific to deer rehab, as mentioned earlier, to improve alignment with CWD management protocol. By maintaining consistency with regulations associated with other Department issued permits that govern the holding of deer in captivity and the movement of deer, stipulating that deer held in captivity must be kept in an enclosure that prevent both escape and contact with other susceptible species, prohibiting the transfer of deer to rehabilitators in other states. Interstate movement of CWD-susceptible species is highly regulated at the federal and state level and the proposed changes would clarify that such regulations also apply to wildlife rehabilitation rules.

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The proposed amendments also impose requirements for sites where deer are released after rehabilitation to align with TPWD's CWD management protocols, including release site fencing requirements that are necessary to prevent escape of deer, specifying that the release site must be registered with the Department, and that the landowner must agree in writing to maintain the fencing. And the proposed amendments clarify that the rules governing release of rehabilitated wildlife do not supersede the applicable provisions of local, state, or federal law.

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As such, staff respectfully seek your permission to publish the proposed changes to the Texas Register and I'm happy to take any questions that you have.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yes. Dick Scott. I have a couple.


COMMISSIONER SCOTT: One, who pays for all of these new tests and all of this stuff that's in this regulation? Who has to pay for that?

MS. LONGORIA: That would be the responsibility of the people seeking the permit, seeking the rehab permit.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Okay. Okay. That being the case, they don't get paid to rehab these animals. As I understand, most of them do it just because they like to do what they think is right. Is that accurate?

MS. LONGORIA: That is accurate.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Okay. So that being the case, why would anybody want to be a rehabber that takes on all the liability that this proposal is going to dump on them? I don't follow why somebody would choose to punish themselves to do something that is right and appropriate.

And to further that, it's quite obvious that this is a step up on the CWD and it's imposing a lot of additional fees and everything. I just -- I just have a problem with the whole proposal as stated because of all the additional costs and responsibility that we're dumping on people that are just trying to do what's right. That's my comment and question.

MS. LONGORIA: Okay. Could I respond to that comment briefly, Mr. Chairman?


MS. LONGORIA: I just wanted to note that I've looked up the fees of what it would cost in order to fulfill the requirements for professionalizing the permit essentially, so the certification requirements and such. And there's a number of different courses that can be taken or a person can simply read, study up on, you know, rehab practices, just the basic activities and take a test and the test fees are nominal. I believe it's $35 to $79 for the online courses. It's $40 for a renewal fee for the certification and $115 for the application and the test doesn't cost. It's just applying for the certification at the national level and with that comes some benefits for the rehabbers in that they receive some insurance that they might not otherwise have under some of the certifications. So there's two different certification programs, as I understand it.


MS. LONGORIA: So I don't know if that helps alleviate any of your concerns at all.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Very minorly, because when you start having to get veterinarians involved and everything, they don't work for free very often. So my concern is if we're going to start dumping -- that is just a small set of the fees that are proposed here. You know, you start getting into deer stuff, you start getting into any animal that requires CWD testing and everything, we already know roughly what that costs and it's certainly not $35 or $40.

So my point here is I'm not being derogatory on the concept. I'm being -- I have concerns over the additional charges. Why would people even take or go to the trouble of trying to rehab something to get into the loop that they're fixing to get into?

That's my concern, Mr. Chairman. That's why I think this has got merit, but I think it needs some fine tuning.

MS. LONGORIA: Understood.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Mr. Chairman, this is Mitch Lockwood. May I respond?


MR. LOCKWOOD: For the record, Mitch Lockwood, Director of the Big Game Program. The cost to have a diagnostic test performed for CWD would be $45. With that, we believe these changes are critical for the management of CWD. And so with that in mind, we are investigating the possibility of the Department at least assisting with paying for those particular expenses, as well as potentially the cost of the identification of those deer. The ear tags, for example.

As far as veterinary expenses, these volunteers of the State already have a relationship and work closely with veterinarians; but they don't necessarily need to pay a veterinarian to collect these samples for CWD. There's no reason why we couldn't train these individuals, just like we've trained hundreds of individual -- several hundred individuals in this state to help with the CWD surveillance effort. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, we pay for the CWD testing now. I mean, we collect road kills and I don't see why we wouldn't step up and pay for the CWD testing for these rehabbers. I think it's important to close this loophole here. I see it as a loophole. Whether we pay for the ear tags or not, that's something you-all can work out. But I think Dick's got a point about the CWD testing. We want as many tests as possible and we want to be able to track these animals, so I think we have to do it.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Based on the results of an audit we've been conducting, it appears that we should be able to cover those costs to help with that testing.


MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you.


COMMISSIONER LATIMER: This is Commissioner Latimer. I think the concept of the rule is definitely necessary and our current pandemic is probably a good example that we need to be on top of all kinds of animal species, not just the deer, and be aware -- be aware of what all's going on and have people who are knowledgeable doing that rehabilitation.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good point. Thank you.

Any other comments or questions?

If not, we'll move on to Work Session Item No. 12 and then I thought we would take a 20-minute break for lunch after Work Session Item No. 12, if that's agreeable to everybody?

Okay. Possession of Resident Licenses -- License Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Stormy King, please make your presentation.

MR. KING: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Stormy King, Assistant Commander of Wildlife Enforcement for the Law Enforcement Division. I'm speaking today on behalf of staff seeking permission to publish to the Texas Register proposed changes to regulations related to possession of resident licenses.

Next slide, please?

In recent years, TPWD Law Enforcement has often as a result of inquiries from other state conservation enforcement agencies encountered an increasing number of residency status issues related to hunting and fishing licenses. The common motivation for such activity is an attempt to enjoy the benefits of residency in multiple states. While current regulations provide residency requirements and refer to the possibility of criminal prosecution, they fall short of either clearly articulating a specific chargeable offense or defining the penalty for such violations.

Residency fraud cases such as these often do not meet the required elements of statutes related to falsification of or tampering with governmental documents. Furthermore, the higher level penalties associated with some of these statutes may render prosecutors reluctant to pursue prosecution as they perceive the penalties as too severe, too severe.

Uncertainty related to this verbiage could also prevent the Department from utilizing the tools provided -- excuse me -- by the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact to hold nonresident violators accountable.

Next slide.

The proposed amendments would clearly articulate a Class C misdemeanor violation for the possession of resident hunting and fishing licenses by those ineligible to hold them. The clarity provided by the proposed amendments will allow law enforcement to more effectively and efficiently address these cases of fraudulent -- fraudulent residency claims.

This concludes my presentation. I'm happy to answer any questions at this time.


Yes, sir.


MR. KING: I'm sorry. I don't know if that mic's on. I can't hear anything.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I thought I hit the button. I missed it. That's what happens when you get eye surgery. You can't see any better anyway.

So what I was saying is I don't see anything in here that gives me any concern, but I just want to make sure that we're clear. Four or five years ago, you know, we passed the deal giving exemptions for military or people, you know, disabled and everything. This does not affect that in any way, right? I mean, even nonresidents can still have -- can still come in and get the -- our licenses and stuff under those exemptions; is that accurate?

MR. KING: Correct. Yes, sir. This won't affect any exemptions whatsoever. It would not affect the residency status of a -- of someone who buys a license and moves out of state for the term of that license year. It would have no affect whatsoever on eligibility or exemption.


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And a Class C misdemeanor, the fine is what?

MR. KING: Twenty-five to 500.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Twenty -- all right.

Are there any other questions or comments?

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

And with that, if no one objects, we're going to take a 20-minute break at 12:45. We'll be back here at, I guess, 1:05. We'll try for 1:05. All right, thanks.

(Recess taken)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Welcome. We just got back from our abbreviated lunch. Is everybody back? I guess I should do roll call again.

Okay. I'm present. Mr. Patton is present.

Vice-Chairman, are you on?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I'm present, yes.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Abell?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Galo?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Hildebrand?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Latimer?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And I can see Mr. Scott, so we'll count him present.

With that, we'll reconvene at 1:20. Sorry we took a little longer than we thought.

Work Session Item No. 13, Civil Restitution Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Mr. Kevin Davis, please make your presentation.

MR. DAVIS: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Kevin Davis, Chief of Staff of the Law Enforcement Division. I'm here today requesting permission to publish proposed amendments to the regulations governing the assessment of civil restitution values in the Texas Register.

Next slide, please?

Chapter 12 of the Parks and Wildlife Code establishes civil liability for the unlawful take of fish and wildlife. This simple recovery value is separate from and addition to any criminal penalty associated with the violation of these laws. Chapter 12 also requires the Department to adopt rules related to the values of fish and wildlife.

Next slide.

Our rules for our basic value calculation for our fish and wildlife are established along a set of eight criteria that provide a scored weight system to establish our values.

Next slide, please?

Once those scores are associated, they're multiplied by a weight score along four other categories and they result in the monetary values associated to the right side of your screen that you're seeing now. So for comparative purposes, if you'll look at the yellow -- the yellow arrow there, that 273.50 is the base value associated with a White-tailed deer doe. That blue arrow indicates the base value for a White-tailed deer buck, and the red arrow depicts the value for a Mule deer buck.

Next slide, please?

Now in 1996, the Commission adopted specific rules related to these trophy species you see: White-tailed deer, Mule deer, Pronghorn antelope, and Bighorn sheep. Now, these base value calculations derived for these specific animals are created by an algebraic equation that's applied to the score of the animal as it increases through the Boone and Crockett Scoring System.

Next slide, please?

So for a visual here, the way that we arrive at a score for a White-tailed deer buck, for instance, is the gross Boone and Crockett score minus a hundred squared, times a $1.65, plus the base value of 881.50. So as the score of the animal goes up, so does the recovery value of the animal.

Next slide, please?

So for a further visual, the picture of the deer on the left scores 228 inches and when we apply the mathematical equation to that score, the value results in a $27,915 assessment for that deer. Compare that deer to the set of antlers on the right, that's a 300-inch Boone and Crockett scoring set of antlers and the value associated after the equation on that set of antlers is $66,881.50.

Now, it's important to note that when these regulations were adopted, the availability of these type of trophies were extremely more rare than they are today. This is due in part to improved management practices, various business models, and then, you know, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the overwhelming growth of the MLD Program that the Department provides. So the availability of these type animals is way more prevalent today than it was in the 90s.

In 1999, the Texas Legislature created an additional offense along these same four species for the offense of taking one of these animals without consent of the landowner. Prior to that time, there were no felony level offenses for take of this type of animal. But since that time, those felony level offenses prove to be a tremendous deterrent to wildlife crime as it relates to hunting without permission.

Now, what we're experiencing today is a trend that we're seeing in lower level courts for lower level offenses, Class C type offenses, where the court system understands that a conviction is triggering the civil restitution process and we are seeing a trend in courts vacating criminal convictions or finding some other remedy other than a conviction of the offense and it's causing us some issues on the prosecution side of things.

Next slide, please?

Now, this slide is here to show you kind of a snapshot of the hunting -- the viable hunting population across all four species. We do have hunting seasons you see down on the lower end of the slide as -- you know, with Pronghorn and Desert Bighorn. They're more regulated permit process, et cetera; but we do have viable hunting populations.

Next slide.

Now, by comparison for values, this slide depicts two of our endangered species. You have the Whooping crane on the left and the Attwater's prairie chicken on the right. Both these two species are valued at $12,907.50 each if they were unlawfully harvested. Whereas a relatively common 200-inch White-tailed deer would be valued at $17,381.50.

Next slide.

So I incorporated this slide just to show you a comparison along some of our other threatened and endangered species. I won't belabor you with going through each one of those, but you can see those values are considerably lower than some of our values for some of the big game species.

Next slide.

This is a snapshot of our civil restitution caseload over the last five years. You'll see overwhelmingly our caseload involves mostly the unlawful take of White-tailed deer and trails off lower than that.

Next slide.

So staff is recommending repealing the portion of the Administrative Code that deals with trophy value calculations and this would allow staff to obtain convictions as necessary and apply appropriate recovery values across all species.

And this completes my presentation. I'm happy to address any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. Are there any questions? Comments?

If there's no further discussion -- yes.

COMMISSIONER BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. I have one question.

Would a revised table be -- if we were -- when we -- when we vote -- when we finally approve whatever the assessed value would be, would that finalized table periodically be put in front of the Commission to approve the value or is that an internal just occupational assessment that would continually be reevaluated annually or as the situation -- whatever the time period permits or is required?

MR. DAVIS: So staff is required to review the values annually. However, those reviews are not traditionally placed in front of the Commission unless there's changes suggested.



CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other comments?

Hearing none, I authorize staff to published the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Moving on to Work Session Item No. 14, Accessibility Advisory Committee and Urban Outreach Advisory Committee Formation Rules, Recommended Adoption of New Rules. Does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

Hearing none, I will place the Accessibility Advisory Committee and Urban Outreach Advisory Committee Formation Rules, Recommended Adoption of New Rules on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 15, Temporary Commission Meeting Policy Regarding Meeting Procedures. Very timely. Mr. Sweeney, please make your presentation.

MR. SWEENEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is Bob Sweeney, the General Counsel at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This item concerns the necessity to make -- we hope -- one-time changes to our Commission Meeting public participation policy that will really be in effect tomorrow and this is necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and I'll walk through that a little bit.

Next slide, please?

So as we know in mid-March, the Governor issued a Disaster Declaration. Shortly thereafter, the Office of the Attorney General requested waiver of portions of the Texas Open Meetings Act. And the idea there was to avoid gatherings by State agencies, held by State agencies or local governments, counties, and cities were also subject to this, during our pandemic while preserving the essential notion of the Open Meetings Act, which is transparency in government.

Next slide, please?

So what this waiver did that the Attorney General's Office asked for and the Governor's Office granted, was to expand the authority of the Parks and Wildlife Commission to hold meetings by teleconference, which of course we're doing today and tomorrow. And it also critically established -- establishes criteria for public participation from remote locations.

Next slide, please?

Now, let's contrast what we currently do. Currently on action items, which are the action -- the items that we're handling tomorrow, we have procedures under our current Commission Policy 001 for in-person public comment and submission of paper copies. Now, neither of those things is going to be available tomorrow. The public comment will be over AT&T phone line and we have for this meeting said that all written submissions must be online and not actually on paper that people can bring to the Commission. So in order to not do those things for tomorrow's meeting, we need to -- we need to temporarily suspend the relevant part of the CP-001 and adopt alternative procedures consistent with the Governor's Office's direction.

Next slide, please?

So tomorrow, no paper comments; but online written comments are very much encouraged. We have a registration and call-in process which is advertised on our website, and we did a press release about it as to how folks do their oral public comment. The public will be able to hear the meeting and address the Commission and I believe the public is able to hear the meeting today. The meeting tomorrow will be recorded and available for public access. All speakers must identify themselves before speaking. If we have technological problems that make it impossible for the key elements of this program to be undertaken, we will temporarily recess. And critically, the rules of conduct that apply to ordinary in-person public comments, still apply to public comments made by teleconference. So we still expect the same adherence to decorum and time limits that we have in an ordinary meeting when we have in-person public comment.

Next slide, please?

That's the end of my presentation. Tomorrow we're making a motion for approval. Are there any questions?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Bob.

Any comments or questions from the Commission?

With that, then we'll move on to Work Session Item No. 16, the Disposition of Land in Blanco County, Approximately 3 and a Half Acres at Blanco State Park. Does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

Hearing none, I will place the Disposition of Land, Blanco County, Approximately 3 and a Half Acres at Blanco State Park on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

And move on to Work Session Item No. 17, Grant of Pipeline Easements, Brazoria County, Approximately 30 Acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, Request Permission to Begin the Public Notice and Input Process, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, could I recommend that the Commission consider this item in Executive Session prior to taking it up in Work Session today?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yes. Thank you.

Work Session Item -- we will take this up in Executive Session.

Work Session Item No. 18, Grant of Pipeline Easement, Brazoria County, Approximately 6 Acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, Request Permission to Begin the Public Notice and Input Process, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: And, Chairman, could I make the very same recommendation for this item as well, please?


This item will also be heard in Executive Session.

Work Session Item No. 19, Cameron County Conservation Strategy, this item will be heard in Executive Session.

Work Session Item No. 20, Marion County, Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area, this also will be held -- heard in Executive Session.

Work Session Item No. 21, Litigation Update, Oysters, Chronic Wasting Disease, and the Bastrop Fire will also be held in Executive Session.

I didn't miss anything, did I?

No. At this point, I would 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 deliberating real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meetings Act and to seek legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation. We will now recess for the Executive Session at 1:35 p.m. Thank you.

(Recess for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: We will reconvene the regular session of the Work Session on May 20th, 2020, at 4:08 p.m.

I guess I'll run through a roll call just to make sure everybody is back.

Vice-Chairman, are you there?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Abell?


(Background noise)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. We're back -- we're back live. Somebody's -- so we've got Vice-Chairman. We've got Abell. We've got Commissioner Bell?










CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And I can see Mr. Scott again.

All right. We're back in session. The first item, Work Session Item No. 17 is withdrawn.

Work Session Item No. 18, Grant of Pipeline Easement, Brazoria County, Approximately 6 Acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, Mr. Hollingsworth is going to make a presentation.

Ted, please make your presentation.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good afternoon. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item is being brought to you to present a request for a pipeline easement at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area.

Next slide, please?

The wildlife management area is in Southeast Texas in southern Brazoria County.

Next slide.

The wildlife management area is due south of Houston about 60 miles and just across the Port of Freeport Channel from the City of Freeport.


The Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area is almost 15,000 acres. It is a -- it is a very diverse mosaic of tidal, intermediate freshwater wetlands, emergent marshes, sloughs. Jones Creek runs through the wildlife management area. There are uplands, including a coastal live oak forest. It's a very diverse habitat.

Next slide.

Just very, very briefly. It has been one of our premier coastal wildlife management areas for 35 years now. The name was changed from Peach Point Wildlife Management Area to the Justin Hurst to honor a Game Warden who has killed in the line of duty. Again, almost 15,000 acres and not only is it very significant for its conservation values, but it's also a popular destination for birdwatchers and for public -- for public hunts, especially -- especially waterfowl hunts; but also deer, hogs, and other wildlife.

It is, I would point out, bounded on the south by the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway, on the east by Port of Freeport lands and the City of Freeport, and to the north by the community of Jones Creek, Clute, and Lake Jackson.

Next slide.

Enbridge is in the process of acquiring and I believe they have already acquired a tract with -- on the north side of the WMA, bounded on -- bounded on two sides of that tract by the WMA and just a very short distance away from an existing tank battery/tank farm which we call the Phillips 66-Enterprise Tank Farm. The request is to grant an easement that would allow them to install three 36-inch pipelines to connect the two tank farms. The distance that has to be spanned is roughly a thousand feet.

Next slide.

The three pipelines would be run side by side as close together as is safe for those pipelines. This area is a bottleneck in the wildlife management area as you saw in the map, which is already -- because it is a bottleneck, has already attracted a number of other easements. Staff has -- Enbridge has presented staff with a number of options for routing those pipelines.

Next slide.

This map shows one of those alignments and the alignment that staff at this time thinks would cause the least amount of harm to the wildlife management area.

Next slide.

Staff would like permission to continue negotiating with Enbridge and to work with the Legal Department and with -- oh, sorry -- the Legal Division and with the Executive Office and if we can come up with terms and conditions that we believe satisfy Chapter 36 -- Chapter 26 and the other chapters of the Code which are pertinent to this process, would like to be able to go initiate the public notice process with the intent of bringing -- bringing that proposed easement back to you for action at some meeting in the future. I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I think we -- the Commission has authorized you to hire an engineer to review whatever plans you may -- may be submitted. Right?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. I think that's important.

Is there any other discussion on the proposed pipeline easement?

And if not, I'll authorize the staff to begin the public notice and input process.

I believe, Mr. Smith, that the Commission has completed its Work Session business. Unless somebody has anything else, I'm going to declare us adjourned at 4:15 p.m.

I want to say thanks to the staff for an amazing job of setting this up. Those of you who are not here, they've really done a good job at isolation, separation. It took a lot of work. And thank all the Commissioners for taking their time to dial in. It was a long and lengthy, but I think very productive and beneficial meeting and we're adjourned until August.

MR. SMITH: Well, until tomorrow. Right?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I'm sorry. Until tomorrow. I don't -- yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

MR. SMITH: Sorry.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Scratch that. Scratch that. It's been a long day.

MR. SWEENEY: You had a quick second there from Commissioner Scott.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: So we'll see -- hopefully, everybody will call in tomorrow morning and we'll finish our business tomorrow. Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Chairman, Commissioners.

COMMISSIONER GALO: Thank you, Chairman.



(Work Session Adjourns)



I, Paige S. Watts, Certified

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


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

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto

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


Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: December 31, 2020

7010 Cool Canyon Cove

Round Rock, Texas 78681