Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Hide Alert Show Alert

Stay up-to-date on operations adjustments and temporary closure of TPWD offices, state parks, recreation facilities and water access points due to COVID-19. Please follow guidance from local authorities, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

 

TPW Commission

Commission Meeting, November 7, 2019

Transcript

TPW Commission Meetings

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm calling this meeting to order on November 7th, 2019, at 9:02 a.m.

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

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

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

Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, I want to join all of you in welcoming everybody to the meeting today. Looks like we're standing room only here in the back. I appreciate everybody coming in to help us celebrate, in particular, all the service awards and special recognitions that we have scheduled for this morning.

For those of you who haven't been to a Commission Meeting before, just a little bit about kind of the order of things. The Commission has a couple of quick things to do before we have a special guest and a presentation. Then we're going to have some special presentations and service awards. And after that, the Chairman is going to call for a quick break and for those of you who don't want to stay for the rest of the meeting and need to head on home or back to your office, that will be a great opportunity to do so.

Last thing that I'll just mention, just in the interest of the room and quietness, if you've got a cell phone, if you don't mind quieting that for us. So thanks for coming today. Appreciate you being here.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Carter.

Before we continue, I would like to announce that Action Item No. 2, Amendment to the Threatened and Endangered Species List Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes has been withdrawn from today's agenda.

First on the agenda is the approval of the minutes from Commission Meeting held August 22nd, 2019, which have been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER BELL: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell. Is there a second? Commissioner Scott.

All in favor, say -- please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Next is the acknowledgment of the list donations, which has also been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

Commissioner Aplin and seconded by Commissioner Scott. All in favor, please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

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

COMMISSIONER BELL: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell. Second Commissioner Paxton -- Patton. Any -- all in favor, please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Now, I'd like to move over to introduce a very, very special guest, Chairman John Cyrier of the House Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee. Chairman Cyrier was instrumental in securing -- and I want to emphasize this -- the bipartisan support of Proposition 5, which as we all know passed overwhelmingly. I mean, 88 percent, is that still the --

REPRESENTATIVE CYRIER: Yes.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: That's amazing. Chairman Cyrier is a great friend of the outdoors of Texas and our parks. So welcome and thank you.

REPRESENTATIVE CYRIER: Thank you, Chairman and Commissioners. I'm so honored to have this time this morning, especially after that great victory. We -- you know, during the session, getting the bill passed and getting the joint resolution through on both sides, we knew we had one more hurdle to accomplish, which was the election that we just had on Tuesday.

We also knew that everybody -- at least all of Texans -- we appreciate our Texas parks and our spaces that y'all protect and have for our future generations and we knew that we would have a support on that. We knew that for many, many years that we would show that many Texans want to make sure that our parks are well funded and secured for future generations.

But I think the voice was said or the voice was heard from us on Tuesday, which was the 88 percent vote. I think that was an astounding sound of saying that, "Hey, our parks are very meaningful for us." But I also wanted to give you something this morning to remind you and the other 3,000 plus employees of our Department, just a reminder of how much the legislature also appreciates you and we had discussed that we got all 149 members of the House to sign up on as sponsors and cosponsors of the legislation. They wouldn't give me the original copy of the bill that had all the signatures on it, but this is a copy for everybody to remember here at Texas Parks and Wildlife. So thank you for letting me be part of --

(Round of applause and photographs)

REPRESENTATIVE CYRIER: So when they go through the names and each day that we would get through and I'd present the new names, we'd use a highlighter and then we'd go through and highlight off the names and put it on the computer everyone who supported it. And what you'll also appreciate is some of the people don't know their own names and so they wrote on the wrong lines and they were x-ed out and all that other stuff.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: You had fun with that.

REPRESENTATIVE CYRIER: Yeah, you'll have fun looking through all this later.

MR. SMITH: We'll make it prominent. We'll put right here for everybody to look at, Chairman. How about that --

REPRESENTATIVE CYRIER: Perfect.

MR. SMITH: -- for right now?

REPRESENTATIVE CYRIER: See where people signed on the wrong line.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, yeah.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. What's my next...

MS. HALLIBURTON: Special recognitions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Hmm? Special recognition, isn't it?

MS. HALLIBURTON: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah, let me -- Carter, I'm going to turn it over to you for special recognitions, retirement, and service awards.

MR. SMITH: Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Parks and Wildlife Department. The other part of that wonderful story that Chairman Cyrier didn't tell you was there was another critically important piece of legislation that the Speaker really wanted every member to sign onto and so the Chairman, in his inimitable wisdom, camped out in the office where every member of the legislature was expected to go and caught them en route to a wholly other different matter and he had a nice -- obviously, very persuasive -- visit with them about all things state parks and historic sites. So he knows his way around the Capitol and rest assured, he knows which line to sign.

So, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, we've got a number of awards today and fun that our first one is the Midwestern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Officer of the Year Award. This is an honor every year that the state fish and wildlife agencies bestow upon a deserving game warden for each of the member states in that region. And we're thrilled that Sean Reneau from Nacogdoches County and Nacogdoches, Texas, is our recipient of the Midwestern Officer of the Year Award.

This year, Sean is a proud fighting Texas Aggie.

(Round of whoops)

MR. SMITH: On cue, on cue. Good. There will be lots of tests. You'll have a chance to repeat that. Don't worry.

Got out of the Game Warden Academy in 1997. Went over to the woods of East Texas and Sean has just really distinguished himself over there, whether it's working on private lands or working on the national forest lands, working on the abundant water there. He's just been such a great ambassador for the Department. A wonderful officer. Grahame told me a story about Sean, about a notorious poacher that all of the game wardens over there had been trying to catch and nobody had caught him and they all knew he did it and everybody had laid up many a night trying to catch him shooting deer off roads and so forth. And so one night, Sean set up the deer decoy and laid up with his partner and waited and waited and waited.

And all of y'all know over in East Texas, you set up those deer decoys, it's -- those country boys just can't help themselves. And pretty soon the fish came into the barrel and they recognized him driving slowly down this little country road at night and were just waiting and waiting and waiting and he slowed down and stopped and then kept going and thankfully they held their position. But like I said, he couldn't help himself. Came back 30 minutes later this time in his wife's car, shot the decoy, Sean arrested him.

Sean's done a great job over there. One of the things he's been such a wonderful ambassador about is Stephen F. Austin has produced a lot of game wardens that work for this Department, not the least of which is our Colonel, and so it's a wonderful pipeline of talent of kids that are coming out of that school, young men and women that want to serve in law enforcement. Sean's been our liaison mentoring, you know, dozens of kids that want to pursue careers as a state game warden. His peers respect him widely. When the Captain is out of town, Sean becomes the go-to guy there in the district for the other men and women to look to for advice and counsel. The community respects him dearly. And so it's no surprise that the Midwestern Association Fish and Wildlife Agencies Officer of the Year Award goes to Sean Reneau. Let's congratulate Sean on this well deserved award.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next honoree is -- and this is really a follow-up to the visit we had yesterday about the National Association of Boating Safety Law Administrators and the critically important work our game wardens and our state park police officers do to help keep our waters safe and we're so proud of Cody Jones for his ascension to the presidency of that organization. But today we have the incredible honor of recognizing Ms. Dana Gage for the Texas and Southern States Boating Educator of the Year Award.

And I have to tell you this is a very poignant and no doubt bittersweet award for Mrs. Gage. She lost her son Connor in a tragic accident, a drowning accident back in 2012. And anybody who's a parent can only imagine the unimaginable grief that must come with losing a child. And somehow she was able to work through that and devote her life to making sure that that doesn't happen to other families and other kids.

She started the LV Foundation to help provide education and outreach really primarily to kids to help educate them about the criticality of wearing life vests while they are swimming in the water and just how important that is and that it is cool and it is okay to wear a life vest when you're out there on the water swimming. Because of her extensive professional background in marketing and social media and digital communication -- she does work for some professional sports teams, including the Texas Rangers, on media outreach and so forth, Chicago Cubs and others -- she's been able to bring that expertise to the Water Safety Foundation to Water Safety Committee to help promote these messages to reach our targeted audiences.

She started these programs on water buoyancy. She created a program call the "Waves of Hope," which brings together surviving families to tell stories about their loved ones who were lost in drowning accidents that were, for many cases, wholly preventable and help, again, to share the critically important message of being safe on the water: Knowing how to swim, being with a buddy, wearing a life vest and it's okay to wear one.

One of the things that Tim Spice, our Boating Education Coordinator, and Cody also mentioned about Ms. Gage is because of her business connections, she was able to engage the services of really a global advertising and marketing firm to help get involved with leading another round of public awareness related campaigns in this area and she's just been a tireless advocate for keeping people safe. Particularly kids, our most vulnerable on the water. And we're deeply, deeply honored to recognize Ms. Gage for her service to the state and the country. God bless her. Mrs. Gage.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: I had to smile when I saw the next honoree who is the winner of the Shikar-Safari Officer of the Year Award, Rachel Kellner. It reminded me a couple of weeks ago, I got a call one Saturday night from my sweet mom and she said, "Oh, I just met one of your game wardens and she told me she knows you and she said nice things about you."

And I said, "Well, of course Rachel said nice things about me."

And she said, "Oh, she's just the cutest little thing. She's just cute as a bug. She's just precious and she has all these wonderful stories and she has so much to share and we just talked and talked and talked."

And, of course, knowing my mom and knowing Rachel, I was wondering who was doing the listening in that crowd. But Mom went on in her sort of effusive description of Rachel and I'm kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. And finally, she lets out the pause and she said, "But you know, honey? If I were a poacher, I don't think I'd want that Rachel Kellner on my tail. I think she'd arrest her own mother if she had to."

I said, "I think that's why she was hired, Mom."

Sixteen years ago, the Department made a great decision in hiring Rachel Kellner. She grew up in an outdoors family. Her mom loved nature and the outdoors and conservation, lakes, beaches. Her dad was a hunter and introduced her to that at an early age. So she was always tagging along to the deer camp. She's also a proud second generation fighting Texas Aggie. On cue.

(Round of whoops)

MR. SMITH: Thank you. And was hired by Parks -- I know, Commissioners. It's just so predictable, this Pavlovian response. I love it.

Was placed over in Uvalde County, where she's served us for 16 years and she's done a terrific job. If you dove hunt over there on opening day, you are going to get checked by Rachel Kellner. It doesn't matter if you're a Parks and Wildlife Commissioner, the Governor, a State Legislator, the Colonel. Now, she doesn't count his birds. Now, the guy before him? She'd count them twice.

She's caught road hunters at night. There was a big flood on the Nueces -- I guess that was last summer or two summers ago at Park Chalk Bluff there that Rachel led a team pulling people out of high water and off the tops of the roofs the cars. She's just been a great ambassador, and I think a couple things that really distinguish Rachel among many. One is she's there when people need them most and so she heads up our critical incident team in West Texas and so there was a horrific helicopter crash a couple of years ago. A young couple just got married on their ranch in Uvalde County and after the wedding party, they left in a helicopter and at night and fog and unfortunately crashed into a mountain and Rachel and her partners spent all night trying to find them and found the wrecked helicopter and the bodies and brought those bodies back home and then spent the next several many weeks consoling the families for their loss.

We had a captain that lost a daughter in a car accident on the opening -- the first day of school and Rachel was there to provide a team to support that family, as well as make sure that their other daughter was able to get sent off to start college at A&M and get put into her dorm.

When we've needed a public information officer to represent the Department when our game wardens are out working on emergency response and water rescues -- like the big floods in the Hill Country from summer before last or the recent tropical storm in Southeast Texas -- Rachel Kellner was has been our go-to person to serve as our face to the media to talk about what Texas game wardens and park police officers and Parks and Wildlife Department and other first responders are doing to help people that need it most.

Rachel is just a wonderful ambassador for this Department. One of the things I think she's the most excited about, besides catching bad guys -- and she catches a lot of them. Get her to tell you her story about catching some spear fishermen on the Nueces River recently. It's a great, great game warden story -- is this event that she and a group of ladies from Uvalde and the Chamber of Commerce started called "Women who Wander" and it's focused women at 21 years and over to bring them together for a weekend in Concan in the Frio River Valley and teach them about all things outdoors. And so archery and shooting sports and stand-up paddle boarding and wild game cooking and they go climb Mount Baldy at Garner State Park and kayak and provide a real community for outdoors women and Rachel has just grown that. It started off with 600 people. Next year it's going to be 800 people and she's just over-the-moon excited about it, as are we.

We've got Byron Sadler today from the Shikar-Safari organization to present this award to Rachel, and Byron and his wife are long-time friends of conservation and hunting. They've been involved in organizations from the Houston Safari Club and the Wild Sheep Foundation, Exotic Wildlife Association. They've got a beautiful ranch there in the Texas Hill Country. Great friends of hunting and conservation and state game wardens and I want to ask Byron to come forward to say a few words and present this award to Rachel.

So, Byron, if you'll come forward. Where -- oh, Ms. Sadler, you come too, please. Yeah, yeah.

MS. SADLER: I get to do the talking.

MR. SMITH: Oh, you get -- good, good. I'm sorry. I should have known that. Thank you.

MS. SADLER: That's okay.

MR. SMITH: Thank you for coming. Yeah, thank you. Yeah, yeah.

MR. SADLER: It's a real honor to be here and we appreciate everything y'all do and my wife does most of the talking in the family, so here it goes.

MS. SADLER: Good morning. I'm Sandra Sadler and one of the things they asked me to do was to try to introduce you-all to Shikar-Safari Club International, who's presenting this award. And so Shikar was formed 67 years ago, 1952, and is made up of men and women and we are required to be hunters. You aren't a member of Shikar unless you are a hunter, man or woman.

Every member of Shikar has pledged to be an ethical hunter. Compliance with game laws and cooperation with all game officials is a necessary responsibility for all of us, as I know it is for all of you. We are a group of sportsmen and sportswomen who adhere to the highest level of hunting, ethics, and morals. Our club members are expected to comply with all game laws of the areas of our countries that we are hunting in. We're stewards of the land and supporters of conservation, having the responsibility of assuring the continuation of hunting and the preservation of wildlife, not only for this generation, but for generations to come. What better way than to support our game wardens, as you are our partners in support of conservation for our future generations.

In addition to our support of game wardens and wildlife officers all over the United States and Canada, we have contributed over the years millions of dollars to a multitude of other worthwhile organizations such as fish and wildlife agencies, Tennessee Wildlife Federation, USA Sporting, many youth foundations, and many more local and international groups supporting conservation.

We are very honored to be able to present on behalf of Shikar-Safari Club International to Game Warden Rachel Kellner.

And, Rachel -- I think, at this point, we probably need Rachel to come up here because we do have a few things that we would like to give to Rachel.

(Round of applause)

MS. SADLER: Okay. We have -- okay. We have this certificate -- oh, we're going back?

MS. KELLNER: The photographer said go back.

MR. SMITH: I'd listen to Rachel.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MS. SADLER: Well, the one thing too that Shikar does for the Game Warden of the Year, they -- you are presented with an insurance policy in the uneventful -- whatever you want to call it -- event for your family.

MS. KELLNER: My husband's here. He might off me.

MS. SADLER: But that is also part of the deal.

MS. KELLNER: Thank you.

(Round of applause)

MR. SMITH: I tell you, that's service from the Chairman. I just want you to know that.

MS. KELLNER: I wouldn't have another Chairman.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, there you go.

Thank you, Chairman.

We're now going to move to the next phase of our recognition portion of the meeting today and that's our retirement awards and we've got some wonderful colleagues that have served this Agency very, very proudly over many decades during their tenure with the Agency. And for nearly 30 years, Chuck Kowaleski has served very proudly as first a fisheries technician working in Seabrook, Robin, there over near Dickinson, Galveston Bay for Coastal Fisheries. Then he was hired as an urban wildlife biologist for our Wildlife Division in '93 to be one of our first urban wildlife biologists that our Wildlife team started to put biologists in the big communities of Texas to work on wildlife issues and issues that are so prevalent in our large cities. Chuck did a great job there.

Moved into Austin to oversee our Project Wild Program, which is an educational program for teachers and a curriculum that is now very, very well embedded in schools to teach young people about the importance of our fish and wildlife and natural resources and Chuck led that program. And then in 2000 or 2001, Chuck was promoted to be our Farm Bill coordinator and this is where Chuck just -- stock just soared nationally. The Farm Bill is the single most important piece of legislation impacting private lands across our country and our state because it provides the resources and the programs and policies that affect what private landowners can do for soil and water conservation and agriculture and rangelands and watershed and wildlife.

And Chuck set out as our representative and, ultimately, really the representative for fish and wildlife agencies across the country, to make that Farm Bill more wildlife friendly and to make sure that there were practices put into the Farm Bill in which landowners could be incentivized to help manage their farms and ranches for constructive and positive fish and wildlife habitat and Chuck became the go-to person for people in Congress and Senate, for national organizations, sportsmen organizations, conservation organizations, federal and state agencies, private landowners. He's just done a wonderful, wonderful job representing the fish and wildlife community.

On a personal note, in the last couple of years, Chuck was fighting cancer and so we just watched him so valiantly fight that while carrying on his duties and we hate to see him retire. Today we're going to lift him up, tell him how much we love him and how much we appreciate his proud service to this Department. Almost 30 years of service, Chuck Kowaleski. Chuck, God bless him. Thank you.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague, Mike Morse, retiring after 27 years of service. I think y'all were classmates in the Academy, weren't you, Grahame?

Mike served proudly as a state game warden -- very proudly -- for 27 years. During that time, he became a husband, became a dad, became a granddad and Mike just did a remarkable job. When he got out of the Academy 27 years ago, he was stationed down in Starr County there in the Rio Grande City, where he worked along the border and in the brush country and the ranch country. Then he moved up to Pearsall and was a game warden in Frio County for many years. And then in 2012, the Department wisely promoted him to Captain in South Texas in the San Antonio District.

And I could say many things about Mike, but one of the most steadiest, most trusted leaders out there. The men and women that work for him just absolutely think the world of him. The landowners in South Texas have given him a key to every single gate. If there's a problem to be solved, Mike Morse is the guy to call.

I recall an incident a number of years ago shortly after he was named Captain and it was a very difficult situation we had with a landowner. There was lots of conflict and lots of media attention and lots of political interest and there was an operation we had to carry out on a ranch and there was a lot of concern about things getting out of hand and so we looked for one person to send over there to help maintain the calm and that was Mike Morse, who did it for a week straight with his just steady, even leadership as somebody that it doesn't matter where you're coming from, he's the guy that you're going to have trust in and confidence in and he's just served this Department so proudly and so capably. And so today, we honor Captain Morse for 27 years of proud service to this Agency. Mike, please come forward.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Mike, such a pretty face. I can't imagine that they didn't want to get another picture of you.

All right. No more retirements. So that's good. We're done.

All right. Service awards, David DeLeon, Inland Fisheries, 30 years of service. David started out with our Inland Fisheries team down in Mathis. He was a seasonal for us working out of the Mathis field station on our aquatic vegetation team and then our team hired him as a full-time technician to go work up in the Panhandle in Canyon. And that's where David has spent really the better part of his 30 years with the Agency working with our biologists and technicians, helping to manage the lakes of the Panhandle region and stocking fish, monitoring fish, collecting fish, dealing with habitat related issues, Golden algae, drought, snows, floods. You name it, David and his team there have been in the middle of it and he's just done a great job as a fisheries technician.

Recognized by the Texas Chapter of the American Fisheries Society as one of the Outstanding Fisheries Workers of the Year Award. Really proud of David for that. And he's been particularly passionate -- and I know the Commission will love hearing this -- about youth education and introducing kids to angling and particularly special needs youth and making sure that they have an opportunity to participate in angling. I just love that about his service. And today, we honor David DeLeon for 30 years of service. David, please come forward. David.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Speaking of youth education, our next honoree, Steve Hall, knows a few things about that. Steve's been with us twice now for 30 years and not a nicer guy on the planet than Steve Hall. Grew up in Colorado, graduated from Colorado State, worked for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and then Parks and Wildlife poached him from Colorado and a very, very good hire and Steve headed up our Hunter Education and Outdoor Education Programs. And so in that capacity, he was involved in starting everything from the Texas Youth Hunting Program, Clayton, to the Shooting Sports Program, the Target Range Program, the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Program, various angler education programs, worked with the legislature when the mandatory Hunter Education Program was started.

Steve's work has always been about connecting people with the outdoors in some form or fashion. He leads by example. He's a consummate outdoorsman himself. He and his wife and their kids spend as much time outside as they can. Steve retired from the Department and became the Executive Director for the Texas State Rifle Association and worked on shooting sports related issues and constitutional issues for them. Then the International Hunter Education Association hired Steve because of his -- really his global reputation in the shooting sports and hunter ed community and he led that organization for a number of years and then Josh and company were able to lure him back for another round of Parks and Wildlife, where he's, again, overseeing all of our hunter education and shooting sports' related programs. Just a terrific ambassador for this Department. Won't be meet a finer man. Thirty years of service, Steve Hall. Bravo, Steve.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: I'm excited about this next one. Todd Pilcik started 25 years ago. He and I worked together when we were so low on the totem pole, Clayton, we didn't have titles. They didn't trust us with anything, let me tell you.

Todd's done a great job in his career. Worked for our Migratory Game Bird Program and the White-winged Dove Program as the technician doing research and monitoring work really all over Texas as White-wings were starting to really expand throughout Texas in the late 90s and early 2000s. It's kind of remarkable to think that they were once restricted just to the Valley and northern Mexico when we think about how many places they are now.

Todd left that program to become a wildlife biologist for us in the Hill Country in Bell and Coryell and Lampasas County, working with private landowners in the Hill Country. And then he moved to Matagorda in Brazoria County, where he's served really the balance of his career working on waterfowl and wetland related projects, working with private landowners in that area. He does a great job helping us take stock of and manage the wildlife along the coast and in those coastal counties and proud to honor Todd today for 25 years of service, Todd Pilcik. Todd, bravo.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: I'm getting some tips on extemporaneous speaking here. So if I have to step away for a minute, just excuse me.

Okay. All right. Next honoree, Derek Spitzer, 20 years of service. Derek, 20 years a state game warden. Derek is just one of the great waterfowl enthusiasts in the state. He was a waterfowl hunting guide. Went through the Game Warden Academy. Came back to Harris County area where he worked on the coast and in the rice prairie country and spent a lot of time on the Katy Prairie and Buffalo Bayou, in and out of the marshes and rivers and bayous leading into Galveston Bay.

And then Derek transferred over to East Texas to Wood County, where he's been a steady presence as a game warden for us there on Lake Fork working on fisheries related issues. Has great partnerships with Sabine River Authorities, our Inland Fisheries team. Made some terrific cases on waterfowl baiting and shooting past legal hours and this and that. He's just been a great ambassador for us. He's on our dive team and been very involved with that really important part of our Law Enforcement team that works on recovery of evidence and unfortunately oftentimes recovery of bodies of people that have drowned in our lakes and rivers and we're awfully proud of Derek for his 20 years of exemplary service to this Department as one of your state game wardens, Derek Spitzer. Derek, please come forward. Derek.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague is another wildlife biologist, Derrick Wolter. And Derrick started 20 years ago. He actually worked with us for a number of summers as interns on the upper coast at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area and then over at the Gus Engeling and a couple of other area WMAs.

When he got out college, he was hired to work on the Upper Coast Ecosystem Project down at the Tony Houseman area, Commissioner Scott, in your neck of the woods in the Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area. Became an assistant manager there at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, that massive marsh complex that y'all know well and we've spent a fair amount of time talking about on various issues with the Commission.

And then in, I think it was 2004, Derrick transferred to the Hill Country and took over as a regulatory biologist in that Bell/Lampasas/Coryell County area of Central Texas. So he sought out some hills and dry land and found those over there and went to work from working from -- with ducks to deer and private landowners. Today he oversees our work in Bell and Williamson County. Manages our Granger public hunting lands, really popular deer hunting and waterfowl hunting spot here just north of Austin. Worked with landowners on dove and deer and quail and turkey and nongame stuff and just a great ambassador for us and we're proud to honor Derrick today for 20 years of service. Derrick, bravo.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next -- our next honoree also been with us 20 years, Doug Volcik. And Doug's a state game warden. Actually, came to us from Louisiana where he worked as a Louisiana game warden for and senior agent for a number of years and then I gather probably thought it might be safer to come over to Texas and catch those Louisiana poachers over here as opposed to back home.

So got through the Game Warden Academy I'm sure for his second time now and he's been stationed in Hill County in Central Texas where he just does a great job representing us. He's also been a member of our Honor Guard, that group of officers that represent us at really important ceremonies and events. Some of which, obviously, are very sad and he's the bugler on that team. Part of search and rescue team. He's a TCOLE licensed firearm instructor. He's a Scout Master back home and so really embodies that really important, that outward facing community based role that we want of our colleagues and our officers and really all employees and today we're honored to honor Doug for 20 years of service. Doug, bravo. Thank you for your great service.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague, Dr. Warren Schlechte, 20 years of service. And Warren is with our Inland Fisheries team. Warren is one of our quants. He's one of our quantitative guys. You know, he's the guy that not only understands algorithms; but he knows how to write them. And we poached him too away from the National Marine Fisheries Service where he was working on salmon and other things and brought him in to come back to his beloved Texas Hill Country to our Heart of the Hills Research Station, which I hope all of you have a chance to go visit sometime. It's the research arm for our Inland Fisheries team and Warren is a senior scientist there. And what Warren and that team do is they help Craig and Dave Terry and that whole bunch solve real problems. And so if there's a management problem, a stewardship problem, a question that the Commission has about a resource, the folks that we go to to design the research, get the answers to produce the biological data to help inform your decision-making is Dr. Warren Schlechte. And he brings a great experimental design methodology to set up research in the field that are replicable, that oftentimes are -- the results are published in peer review journals.

He's been part of, you know, several dozen scientific articles on behalf of the Department in his capacity. Some very important work that the Commission has asked us to get involved in, we've had Warren take the lead in from a quantitative, biological perspective. The Alligator gar work and modeling, looking at life history and harvest strategies and survivorship and population dynamics. Wildlife team, Clayton and Mitch brought him in for his expertise and others to help with the population modeling and disease detection modeling on the Chronic Wasting Disease rules in 2016. Warren worked overtime on one of those other duties assigned that had absolutely nothing to do with fish and unequivocally convinced him he wanted to go back to fish after that. But he's just been such a great gift for the Agency. He's a straight shooter. You can always count on Dr. Warren Schlechte to tell you what you need to hear, and I appreciate that about him very much as a professional. Warren Schlechte, 20 years of service. Warren, bravo.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Our next colleague is a wildlife biologist, Sandy Birnbaum. And Sandy helps oversee and manage this treasure-trove, this artesian well of biological information that we have called the Natural Diversity Database and it's really a repository about all things that make Texas special. All of these just fascinating biological organisms, species, and communities, data that scientists, biologists, citizen scientists, master naturalists, ordinary citizens research and others collect from all over the state, public and private lands and submit that to the Department in this database that Sandy oversees that then helps us figure out where areas that are particularly unique; sensitive; imperiled; in need of conservation; where are areas that if you're having to put in a road, a reservoir, a transmission line, some kind of impact to the environment, you can use that database to help inform you on places that you ought to avoid.

And she manages that database of element occurrence records that is such an important driver for our decisions and actions inside the Agency as a colleague. She's also gone back to school to get a master's degree in conservation biology from Texas State, which I'm really proud of her for doing that while working full time for the Department. She's just been deeply committed to this natural heritage that really makes up what we get to call our home ground and what we get to wake up every day thinking about and working to steward and protect and save for future generations and so we're proud of her service. Sandy, 20 years of service. Sandy, thank you for all you do.

(Round of applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: So our next -- we made David Shirley wait back here. David, thank you for your patience. That one somehow didn't make the book, David. My bad. So thank you for your patience.

David's been with us for 25 years as a state park police officer where he has proudly served this Agency. I first met David when he was a superintendent right next door at McKinney Falls State Park and proudly oversaw one of our most popular parks where people from Austin/Central Texas/all over come to enjoy the beautiful creeks and the interface of the Hill Country and the Blackland Prairie. And then David moved over to Houston to work in a more regional law enforcement related role, helping to ensure that the public was safe at places like Sheldon Lake State Park and others. And so he's been with us for 25 years.

Started off at San Jacinto State Historic Site where one of his first jobs was to lead an inmate crew and to keep them on the straight and narrow then in the park and help with eradicating Chinese tallow and clearing the battleground. Worked as a lead ranger at Palmetto State Park. Again, commissioned as a park police officer. Worked at Martin Dies over in East Texas. He was a park superintendent at Mission Tejas. And so, again, you can see David has had real exposure to the Department. Worked at Lake Somerville. He's done a great job working in first aid as a TCOLE instructor in any number of things.

Helped head up our incident command team for the Bastrop County Complex Wildfire back when that happened back in September 2011. And our state park police officers, as all of you know, play an essential role for this Agency. We've got 10 million visitors a year that come to your state parks and their jobs are to make sure that the public, the people, the families can enjoy those places safely and responsibly and that's a big job in those parks and those officers do a terrific job every single day very quietly, very humbly, very effectively. And today we're proud to recognize David Shirley for 25 years of service. David, bravo. Thank you.

(Round off applause and photographs)

MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, Commission, I think that concludes my presentation. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: It's always a great, great time to recognize these people that have been here for 25, 30 years.

At this time, I would like to inform the audience that everyone is welcome to stay for the remainder of the meeting. However, if anyone wishes to leave now -- if anyone wishes to leave, now would be a good, appropriate time to do so. We'll take a quick break here.

(Recess taken)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. We'll continue on with our business.

But first, Carter has a comment to make.

MR. SMITH: I do, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. We've got a couple of special guests that I want to point out. And first I see Dr. Kelly Reyna from Texas A&M Commerce and runs the wildlife program over there. He's brought some of his students from A&M Commerce to be us with today that are studying wildlife biology and management and so they were interested in watching the deliberations of the Parks and Wildlife Commission.

And so, Kelly, thrilled to have y'all and thank you.

I know Kelly has a class that he's invited a number of Parks and Wildlife biologists and game wardens and park superintendents to talk with his students about employment opportunities in this profession.

And along those lines, I see our old friend Dr. Matt Wagner. Matt is a professor at Texas State. Dr. Wagner was a wildlife biologist for this Department for many, many years. Deputy Director of Wildlife. Real leader in the wildlife community across the state and country and he's got some of his students, as well.

And so, Dr. Wagner, Dr. Reyna, want to recognize you two, the students from Texas State and Texas A&M Commerce, and thank y'all for being with us today. We're honored to have you. So welcome.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. SMITH: Thank y'all. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Welcome.

(Round of applause)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Action Item No. 1 is Approval of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Fiscal 2020 Internal Audit Plan. Ms. Sophia Williams, welcome.

MS. WILLIAMS: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Sophia Williams, Internal Director of Internal Audit.

Texas Government Code 2102.008, also known as the Texas Internal Audit Act, requires the annual internal audit plan to be approved by the Commission. I am here today to request approval for the fiscal year 2020 internal audit plan, as listed in Exhibit A.

Exhibit A shows our carryover projects from FY 2019 and our new proposed projects for fiscal year 2020. This exhibit includes the number of estimated hours to complete these projects. We're proposing to perform for the IT systems and processes, types and risks for IT security or cybersecurity threats at TPWD, data stored at rest in various databases and on drives and applications across divisions, and also the State Park Incident Reporting System and TPWD Reporting System.

For the grants, we are looking to propose performing an audit of the off-highway vehicle grants. And we have two alternative projects that can be substituted or added if time permits.

Staff recommends that Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the following motion: That Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approves the TPWD FY 2020 Internal Audit Plan as listed in Exhibit A. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Is there any discussion by the Commission?

COMMISSIONER BELL: I have just one question.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yes, sir. Commissioner Bell.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Hi, Ms. Williams. I have just one question for you.

MS. WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER BELL: You know, I'm noticing the -- and I didn't ask yesterday in the Work Session; but on our budgeted hours, I think you referenced this. You've gone back and looked at your staff and you're comfortable that you've got the staff to -- on hand to be able to manage that number of hours for the year to get that -- those processes done?

MS. WILLIAMS: Currently, yes, sir. This is something that the former Internal Audit Director worked on and I instituted the carryover projects for FY 19 as part their action. So, yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Okay. Thank you.

MS. WILLIAMS: All right. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: No one has signed up to speak. So I'll ask for a motion for approval. Commissioner Scott. Seconded by Commissioner Bell. All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Action Item No. 2, Amendment to the Threatened and Endangered -- oops. This item has been withdrawn.

Action Item No. 3, Passive Gear Tagging Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Mr. Jarret Barker.

MR. BARKER: Good morning, Commissioners. For the record, Jarret Barker, Assistant Commander of Fisheries Enforcement. I'm here today to request adoption for the proposed rules for changes for fishing with passive gear. Again, we were addressed to develop a plan to address the negative impacts of abandoned fishing gear left on public waterbodies.

These passive gears are represented by juglines, trotlines, throw lines, minnow traps, and perch traps. The proposed changes will standardize the gear tag requirements, the float requirements, and the use requirements of all of these items. Some of the problems are around -- center around fish mortality. The longer the fish stays on a hook longer than four days, the fish becomes dead and a wasted resource.

The devices continue to fish regardless of whether or not they have been baited. These fish will bite a naked hook that is still in the water and then they will foul hook other wildlife resources -- birds and mammals -- that are in the water, as well. And then the abandoned gear represents a nuisance to other anglers who are utilizing either the water resource just to recreate or to fish in some other manner.

Game wardens who inspect these gear, are authorized to remove the gear found in violation of Commission rules under Chapter 12. Requires the additional public notification of the seizure of the gear and lays out the requirements for a property hearing to lawfully dispose of that gear.

The proposed changes add a customer number, but we'll actually give the option of utilizing the fishing license customer number or the name and address as it is now for gear tags; adds the gear tag as part of the definition of the device and the recommended change is reducing the validity date from ten days to four days, that assumption that there is a window that you could work with within that if you so choose to; requires all passive gear to be marked with a float above the waterline so that it is visible to Law Enforcement patrols, our biologist staff who want to gauge the use of anglers on freshwater lakes.

Again, this is what one of those devices -- a trotline -- looks like with the gear tags at each end, a float marked. The orange being for a commercial fishing device and any other color would be allowed for recreational fishermen. Again, the proposed changes are to reduce the unintended catch of fish and other wildlife resources, identify the location of the gear for all individuals around the water, and facilitate the removal of abandoned gear just to clean up our freshwater lakes in a faster manner.

We have received, at this time, 93 total comments. This slide represents the public comments we have received to date on the internet. We've had other public comments come in. Ninety-three total. Forty-three are fully in support. Seventeen comments oppose any changes to the current regulations, and an additional 33 comments represent desired changes either against the ten-day reduction to four days or the requirement to add floats to those devices so that they're visible.

The reduction from ten days to four days, some of the anglers feel is that the requirement is too cumbersome and they don't want to handle their lines that long because of weather interference or other factors that come along that prevent them from getting out there that often. The opposition towards the floats, the fishermen -- commercial and recreation -- do feel that that is an invitation for their lines to be checked and the fish to be stolen by another angler.

At this time, staff recommends adoption of the proposed amendments to Administrative Code 57.971 and 973 for regulations governing certain passive fishing gear, with changes necessary to the proposed text as published in the September 27 -- September 27th, 2019, issue of the Texas Register. Do you have any -- would you -- I'd entertain questions at this time.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any discussion by --

MR. SMITH: Chairman Morian, just one think I want to add to Jarret's presentation and I understand we may have somebody that wants to speak on the topic; but one other comment that we got -- and I just want to make sure that the Commission saw it -- we got a letter from Representative Ashby, he wrote me yesterday and then called just expressing his concern about some of the impacts of the regulation on trotliners in his district and he too was hopeful that the Commission might consider a little bit additional forbearance on the length of time required to check those and whether or not the Commission had any wiggle room there.

So he asked that I relay that to you, which I am now doing. You should have a copy of his letter. His feedback was very thoughtful, but he's got a lot of constituents in the district that are impacted by the proposed regulation and wanted to make sure that he had a chance to weigh in. So he also wanted to tell you congratulations on Prop 5. So I've shared that, too, so.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, I will hear from the other Commissioners; but I certainly could entertain a proposal to go from ten to five or six days, but with the caveat that we extend an outreach program because this -- going to four days is the ultimate goal and we need to do that; but we need to educate people that this is to preserve the resource, not to penalize trotline fishermen or throw line fishermen. And we got most of what we wanted, I think, with the floats which is important.

MR. BARKER: This will -- this will absolutely facilitate the removal of a lot of gear. It's going to be identifiable to Law Enforcement patrols and community clean-up projects that the community wants to undertake. They too will be able to look at it and determine if this lawfully belongs to somebody or represents litter.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. BARKER: So we are a big step into what our ultimate goal was.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah. I think it's a big improvement and I think we just need to collect data and show them the science behind the idea of going to four days. So with that, I'll entertain --

MR. SMITH: Do we have somebody signed up to speak, Caroline?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: No.

MR. SMITH: No, we do not. Okay, okay, great.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: So any other comments?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So what are you wanting to do, Reed?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I'm proposing that we go to six days with the goal to ultimately get to four or five, whatever the right number is supported by the science. But so I would amend the recommendation to extend to decrease the number of days from ten to six and not four.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: So I was somewhat vocal yesterday about this concept about the entire recommendation. But along with what the Chairman said, I do feel like we're making a giant step forward in improvement. So I think that is very good and, you know, understand that we're getting some feedback from some of the constituents.

So, you know, we had this workshop yesterday; but I do feel like what you're suggesting, Mr. Chairman, is a very good compromise, a step forward with the ultimate goal of doing the research, the science, and maybe the outreach and maybe ultimately get to four. So I can make a motion along those lines for six days.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much. Do I have a second?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Second.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Second by Commissioner Bell. All in favor please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Thank you, it passes.

MR. BARKER: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good work.

Action Item No. 4, Boater Education Fee Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Mr. Tim Spice, please make your presentation.

MR. SPICE: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, my name is Timothy Spice. I'm the Boater Education Manager here at the Agency. The -- a little history, the boater education rules were passed for the first time in 1997, which addressed teenage operators and some user conflict we were having with personal watercraft. It effectively exempted people over 18 from taking a boater education course. And then in 2011, we added a born-after date of 1993 and we started a slow phase-in process for people over the age of 18 to take a mandatory boater education program.

Some of the proposed changes, we've got some old rules like a six-hour requirement for a classroom course that's -- we are proposing to change and has changed nationally with some of the education standards. We also want to eliminate provisions requiring a service fee established by the Executive Director and we want to eliminate the exemption that we currently have for our online providers, that -- a $10 fee is required by Code to be sent into the Agency.

Also, we want to eliminate some of the fees required that do not affect enhanced programs. Right now, we have some wording in there that defines enhanced programs for some of our other partners, like the Power Squadron and the Coast Guard Auxillary. There's some new technology out for interactive courses that are showing some good science on retention and young people really like to take them and with our fee structure right now, a lot of those courses cannot be provided because it's very cost inefficient for a $20 fee for a course that a company or even a nonprofit may spend half a million dollars to develop. We also want to add an exemption for certain armed forces training and our friends in Canada who have a pleasure craft education program similar to that in the United States.

We did have some public comments. We had eight in favor for the recommendation. We had one letter sent to me that was also strongly in favor of the recommendation. We had three opposed. Somebody didn't want Canadians to come down and go boating and be exempt. And I assure you that Texans can go to Canada and with our training and boat in Canada. The State would also -- should not collect the fees. Somebody didn't want any fees. And then we -- I'm sure it's one of our old boater education guys who said we shouldn't have any online courses. So those were the only three negative comments.

As far as staff recommendation, we recommend that the Commission adopts the amendments to the Administrative Code 51.81 concerning mandatory boater education and amend to 53.5 concerning training and certification fees and any changes necessary to the proposed text that were published in the September 13th issue of the Texas Register. And that's all I have, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any discussion by Commission?

We have one individual who has signed up to speak: Mr. Jason Alexander. Welcome.

MR. JASON ALEXANDER: Thank you. Good morning. Howdy. As introduction, I'm Jason Alexander, the CEO of Kalkomey. Born in Fort Worth, grew up Decatur, live in Rockwall, fifth generation Texan. I love the state, so.

As an introduction to the company, Kalkomey has been around for 23 years. Fun fact, we -- Texas Parks and Wildlife was our first partner. We worked hand and hand with you guys to bring the course online many years ago and have been working here shoulder to shoulder with you guys all along the way, so. Kalkomey is the national leader in recreational online safety. We work in all 50 states, over 210 agencies. We do so in all matters: Hunting, boating, snow mobile, off-road, concealed carry, scuba diving.

Our business was really founded, you know, like I said, 20 years ago by Kurt and Cindy Kalkomey on the belief that, you know, safety education is paramount. You know, our company motto is our work saves lives and all of our employees believe that. We take that to heart.

So I'm here today to really talk about the Action 4 and our support behind it. 51.81 really allows us to move more towards online education. It's something that we've seen a trend over the last ten years. As the demographics start to trend younger, you obviously need to deliver these courses in a manner in which the younger generation will support. Having them go into a classroom is just tough. It's a huge hurdle to getting them educated and safe on the waterways.

Regarding 53.50, we of course support this as well. As Mr. Spice said, we've been spending lots of capital and many years developing and innovating in that space to really bring the next generation of courses online. So the fee structure unfortunately in Texas has kept us out of being able to allow that course to be allowed to the constituents in Texas and with this change, it would allow us to open that up to all the Texans and, you know, in obviously safer waterways. So thank you guys again for allowing me to give this feedback and this opportunity and appreciate everything that you guys do. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thanks for your -- thanks for your comments.

Any other questions or discussion?

Is there a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER GALO: So moved.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Galo. Do I have a second?

Commissioner Patton, thank you very much. All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any opposed? Motion carries.

Action Item No. 5, Grant of Easement, Brazoria County, Approximately 66 Acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. You've seen this item previously. This is a reading for action resulting from a request for an easement at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area by CenterPoint Energy.

The Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area is in southern Brazoria County. It's due south of Houston, right on coast, just west of Freeport. You've seen this slide before; but just again, I want to point in the fact that the wildlife management area is becoming quite a significant conservation -- almost an island that's being hemmed in on the east and north by residential, industrial, and commercial development. Hence, the number of requests we've seen for third-party infrastructure.

The wildlife management area was formed in 1959, 60 years ago with the acquisition of the original 8,400 acres, named after a game warden who was killed in the line of duty in 2007. Now, the wildlife management area is approaching 15,000 acres. Again, a very, very significant coastal resource. The habitats there include a variety of coastal wetlands, uplands, and some Live Oak coastal forest. Very significant for everything from migrating songbirds to shore and wading birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals. Just a very significant conservation resource. It's also a popular destination for waterfowl hunters, deer hunters, and hog hunters.

CenterPoint Energy is in the process of trying to construct a new line connecting the Jones Creek Substation and the Bailey Substation and in order to get between those two locations, they have gone through the Public Utility Commission. We intervened in that process. Worked to work closely with the PUC and with CenterPoint to come up with a route that we feel like minimizes damage to natural and cultural resources. It simply was not possible for -- or we feel like it was not reasonable and prudent to expect CenterPoint to go around the wildlife management area because of those communities and to the north of the wildlife management area.

The route that was settled on, or Route 5 or the Settlement Route, again, staff believes would minimize those impacts and is the only feasible and prudent route for this new power line. It would cross the WMA, as you'll see here on this map, on the north side. It may be possible to reduce the footprint on the wildlife management area somewhat, but it will be somewhere between 55 and 66 acres. Again, staff have reviewed this carefully. Have looked at many, many, many alternative analyses to reach the conclusion that the route proposed is the only feasible and prudent route for the easement.

We've actually received six comments now regarding this item. All of the item -- all of the comments felt like we should be sure and include monitoring of those impacts, whether they be bird strikes or impacts to behavior of wildlife, vegetation in the right-of-way and so forth and that we should be careful to calculate compensation and mitigation for those impacts that truly, truly offset the long-term nature of those impacts and the fact that those impacts will survive for the life of that project.

With that, the staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the following motion: The Commission adopts the resolution attached as Exhibit A. I'd be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any discussion by the Commission?

No one has signed up to speak. I need a motion for approval.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So moved.

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

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Thank you.

Briefing Item No. 6, White-Nose Syndrome, Mr. Jonah Evans.

MR. EVANS: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, for the record, my name is Jonah Evans. I am the State mammalogist within the Wildlife Division. My position oversees conservation and management of 133 native nongame mammals in the state. Today I'll be providing an update on White-Nose Syndrome in Texas and our plans to combat the disease. I provided a similar update a year ago, and there will be some overlap for the benefit of the Commissioners that have recently been appointed.

Thirty-three species of bats have been found in Texas. More than any other state. And many species have very long life spans, often 30 to 40 years, and are slow to reproduce, often having just one to two offspring per year. Their reproductive biology is more similar to that of a Black bear than a normal, small mammal. Bats in Texas consume many insects, including important agricultural pests. The bats at nearby Bracken Bat Cave are estimated to consume on the order of 200 tons of insects every night. That's roughly the equivalent of 50 elephants in weight. At our old -- at our own Old Tunnel State Park, the bats are estimated to consume as many as 120 million moths every night.

The consumption of so many insects provides significant economic benefit to the state. Researchers have calculated that farmers in Texas save $1.4 billion per year in reduced crop damage and reduced pesticide needs. Nationally across all agricultural sectors, bats are thought to save farmers on the neighborhood of $23 billion a year.

So White-Nose Syndrome was first discovered in New York State in 2007 and since its discovery, it has spread rapidly across the eastern United States. We now know it is caused by the cold-loving fungus Pseudogymnoascus Destructans, which I will henceforth refer to as simply Pd or the fungus. And we distinguish between the presence of the fungus itself and the disease it causes because there are some species that are able to carry the fungus and not ever exhibit signs of the disease.

So White-Nose Syndrome is known to be fatal to hibernating species of bats. The fungus invades the wing and muzzle tissue, causing bats to arouse during hibernation to preen and these repeated arousals during hibernation exhausts critical energy reserves, causing the bats to die of starvation or to emerge in search of food in really harsh winter conditions and die because of exposure to the elements. And nationally, White-Nose Syndrome is thought to be responsible for the deaths of over 6 million bats. Some highly susceptible species have declined greater than 90 percent in impacted regions.

After the original detection of Pd in New York State 12 years ago, the fungus spread towards Texas at about 200 miles per year. Numerous western and eastern bat species overlap in Texas, and the potential impact for many of them is currently unknown. We expect to see the fungus continue to spread throughout Texas into Mexico and in New Mexico.

We first detected Pd in Texas in early 2017 in six Panhandle counties. These include Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Hardeman, King, and Scurry shown in red on the map. The counties in gray denote other sites where we surveyed, but did not detect the fungus in that year. The fungus was detected on cave walls, as well as on three bat species: The Cave Myotis, the Townsend's Big-eared bat, and the Tricolored bat. This was the first detection ever on a Cave Myotis and a Townsend's Big-eared bat. The surveys were conducted by Bat Conservation International and Texas A&M University through grants from Texas Parks and Wildlife.

In 2018, we detected Pd in seven counties, four of which were new. These include Blanco, Ford, Kendall, and Wheeler. We detected the fungus for the first time on a Mexican Free-tailed bat at Old Tunnel State Park. And, again, these surveys were conducted by BCI and Texas A&M University. The detection on a Free-tailed bat was particularly concerning because this extremely abundant species is responsible for the majority of insect control provided by Texas bats. It also draws large numbers of people to watch the nightly emergences of popular viewing sites such as Congress Avenue Bridge, Bracken Bat Cave, and Old Tunnel State Park.

Fortunately, Mexican Free-tailed bats migrate rather than hibernate during the winter and are not expected to significantly be impacted by the disease. However, due to their enormous distributions, which you can see on the map here, many researchers are concerned that they'll be a vector for spreading the fungus much further than it has previously spread.

So to address this concern, earlier this year we conducted a research project to focus primarily on the Mexican Free-tailed bat. We hired a seasonal bat biologist with a grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and surveyed 118 bridges and swabbed 559 bats across Central and South Texas and she's depicted here collecting a swab sample off of a bat roosting in the crevice in this culvert. And in part, due to this additional survey effort, we detected the fungus at 22 sites in 16 counties, 11 of which were new. This brings the total number of counties we've detected the fungus from 10 last year to 21 this year.

It was found on 43 Cave Myotis, 4 Tricolored bats, and 13 Mexican Free-tailed bats. The fungus was also detected at nearby Bracken Bat Cave, the largest bat cave in the world. And, again, the surveys were conducted -- in addition to our surveys -- by BCI and Texas A&M University.

There were several sites in Central Texas that I should also point out came back with very high levels of the fungus. All of the detections so far throughout the state have been at very low levels. You know, on the edge of threshold of detectability. This was the first year we had very strong detections at four different sites.

So in summary, Pd has now been detected on four species at 32 sites in 21 Texas counties. So far, White-Nose Syndrome -- the disease -- has still not been observed. It usually requires two to four years after we detect the fungus for fungal loads to reach a high enough level to start causing the disease. However, it is still uncertain exactly what will happen in Texas at these southerly latitudes.

Of the 33 species of bats that we have in Texas, we predict based on hibernation behaviors and similarity to susceptible species that four of them are very likely to be at a high level of risk from White-Nose Syndrome. Seven additional species may or may not be at risk. There just isn't enough information available. And 22 species are likely at little to no risk. And currently, the Tricolored bat is our highest priority. It has undergone significant declines outside of Texas and U.S. Fish and Wildlife recently published a substantial 90-day finding, indicating that it may be considered for listing under the ESA because of its declines from White-Nose Syndrome.

So we began preparing for White-Nose Syndrome back in 2012 with the initiation of surveys in the Panhandle with Bat Conservation International and we continue that partnership today. And in 2015, we funded a project with Texas A&M University to conduct winter roost surveys. We have now surveyed 173 caves, 146 bridges, and 302 culverts statewide. And these studies have enabled us to identify high priority roost sites for potential treatment studies.

We have also supported Bat Conservation International conducting treatment trials in the Panhandle, and this year we began our own experimental treatment trials at sites in East Texas. So we found through our surveys that 70 percent of the entire known winter-roosting population of Tricolored bats can be found roosting in just ten culverts under a major interstate highway in East Texas. This is unique in that we can efficiently reach a large number of bats and are not burdened by concerns about impacts to sensitive cave species.

So our plan utilizes an integrated disease management approach with multiple treatments being applied at different times throughout the year. During the summer months when bats are not present, we coat the surfaces of the culvert with polyethylene glycol, a common additive to toothpaste and hand lotions and actually is the only ingredient in MiraLAX. So it's very safe for animals to consume. And basically it presents the fungus from growing on the surfaces if it's brought into the site. Then during the winter, we'll apply an antifungal fog consisting of a substance called Decanal and it has undergone several years of field trials in Georgia with some degree of success and so it's a combination treatment approach that we're taking.

We were awarded a grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to conduct these treatments and we just did the first summer treatment this September and we'll deploy the first winter treatment this January and it will probably be a couple of years before we have results back about the effectiveness of this effort.

So we are currently preparing to hire a full-time bat biologist on staff to assist with bat and White-Nose Syndrome issues. The position is currently funded for two years, with potential for extension if funding becomes available. We recently funded a statewide summer bat survey using acoustic detectors with Texas State University. Up to this point, all of our surveys have been done at winter roosts during the winter season and it is -- many species are not detectable in that method. Some of them roost in trees and crevices and other sites and so this will allow us to complete the picture of bat distribution and abundance throughout the state by doing this summer project.

We are also starting a project with Bat Conservation International to look into patterns of the invasion of Pd in Texas because there are some indications that some interesting things are happening here that are maybe a little bit unexpected. So we're taking a deeper dive into that to better predict exactly what the impacts of the disease will be.

So thank you for listening and if y'all have any questions, I'd be happy to take them.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions or comments?

Yes, Commissioner Bell.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Thank you for your presentation. Just one. If a bat -- well, I guess if they have this disease, is there a specific treatment once they have it? It sounds like the treatment steps you were talking about were kind of on the prevent side, if you will, not necessarily treating an infected animal.

MR. EVANS: So the treatments that we're trying, one of them is more of the preventative side. The summer treatment where we're putting the polyethylene glycol into the site. The winter treatment, we're actually going into a site, covering up both ends of the culvert and then fumigating it with an antifungal fog called Decanal and that actually is meant to attack the fungus if it's already on the bat. So it is a treatment.

It's really not hard to treat and cure a bat in a laboratory setting. I mean, if you have a bat in captivity and it has White-Nose Syndrome, you feed it and it does okay. You know, it has wing damage and the like; but it will do okay. In the wild, it's really hard to find a treatment that you can deploy at a scale that really is effective.

COMMISSIONER BELL: And then the only other thing: Does it affect any other species?

MR. EVANS: At this point, it's only known to affect bats. In fact, it's known to -- its source is from Europe and from sites in Asia where it is a specialized pathogen in bats.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Are the bats in Europe and Eastern Europe, are they immune to this?

MR. EVANS: They seem to be very resistant to it. I believe it has some impact to them, but it's not --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: They're resistant, not immune. Yeah.

MR. EVANS: Not completely immune, but they have -- they have resistence to it. I think it's an uncomfortable skin infection on the bats. It does not cause big die offs like we've had here.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, thank you very much.

Any other comments?

Please keep us informed on how your treatments turn out.

MR. EVANS: Absolutely.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. EVANS: My pleasure. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Any -- if no other questions or comments, then we'll move on to Briefing Item No. 7, Oyster Mariculture Program, Relating to House Bill 1300. Mr. Lance Robinson, welcome.

MR. ROBINSON: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Lance Robinson with the Coastal Fisheries Division and I'm here this morning to provide a briefing, if you will, on the result of legislation that passed in this most recent legislative cycle whereby the Department has been asked or directed to develop a commercial oyster aquaculture or mariculture program for the state. And leading into this, I want to make sure that we all kind of understand that some of you may have been aware or have heard of oyster -- the oyster certificate of location program, sometimes referred to as leases, that is restricted to Galveston Bay. This is not that.

The certificate of location program is really designed as a relay operation where oysters are moved from areas that are restricted, classified restricted due to high bacteria by the Health Department, relayed to these areas under location. The oysters are allowed to naturally purge the bacteria and then they're deemed safe for harvest. This program is really dealing with water column. The certificate of location program is strictly on the bottom.

So as interest began in this subject matter, Speaker Bonnen's office was reached out to by several folks that were interested. His office and he directed the group to work closely with Parks and Wildlife in developing bill language that would provide the development of such a program. The 1300, which passed, create -- would create a new chapter in statute that would be specific for oyster mariculture. It would delegate the authority to the Parks and Wildlife Commission in establishing that program and governing that commercial operation.

Also of interest and it'll be important as we get into this conversation a little deeper in the presentation, the bill specifically sets aside 20 percent of any revenue and funds that come in from this program to go into a special account that is dedicated and for use in removing abandoned or if the leaseholder is not identifiable, to remove any abandoned gear or gear that was displaced by storms. This funding in this that created in this bill, would allow the Department to go out and help clean up any derelict gear that might be abandoned or lost in the water.

It also has language that stipulates that the Department work closely and coordinate closely with the other State agencies that may have some nexus in oyster aquaculture or mariculture. Additionally, the language in the bill stipulates that the rules must be adopted by August the 31st, 2020. So we've got a little bit of time, but the clock is certainly ticking.

In moving into this and looking at how we might develop or identify such a program here in Texas, Texas -- at least as we talk about water column leases for shellfish aquaculture -- Texas is probably the last state in the U.S. that really doesn't have such a program. So we capitalized, I believe, on the experience of other states and the experiences they went through and we reached out to all coastal states in the United -- in the U.S. that had shellfish aquaculture programs. Twenty-one states in all. We also reached out and looked at programs in two Canadian provinces and also looked at the shellfish aquaculture programs in Australia and New Zealand and a couple of the European Union countries. The whole idea being that if they've gone down this road, we may actually learn something in developing our program. Learn, you know, from mistakes that maybe they realize now and help guide our process.

Representative Hunter, who ultimately ended up carrying the bill, also developed an oyster aquaculture task force made up of a variety of different individuals, including representatives from Texas A&M, Harte Research Institute, the Texas Restaurant Association, CCA, and some other groups. And so they've been working and meeting and looking at different components and elements related to oyster aquaculture. We too have reached out to a group of individuals, a little bit higher level looking at groups that may have some interest or have some thoughts and stuff on how a program like this might apply. Those would be groups like the Nature Conservancy, the Texas Wildlife Association as it relates to private property owners, the Galveston Bay Foundation, and of course the Coastal Conservation Association.

So Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries Division really pulled together two different teams that were tasked with looking at two major elements as we looked at a conceptional layout of how our program might look. The first was looking -- very critical decision point -- of where do you locate these, these operations. And then secondly, we had a team that was really looking at more the programmatic, you know, elements related to the program.

So in looking at the site, certainly our goal was to avoid impacts to any natural resources and sensitive habitats that occur in our coastal bays. Also taking into consideration any conflicts that may arise and minimize user conflicts, other -- many users of the bays out there. And then also looked at environmental conditions as it may provide success or survival for growth of this product. So in looking at the siting, we looked at -- we really broke it down into to Tier 1 and Tier 2 considerations and I'm going to spend a few minutes here talking about how we kind of developed this process and then share with you some imagery, some maps of how we applied some of these Tier 2 and Tier 1 considerations and identifying areas that could potentially be suitable for oyster aquaculture or mariculture.

Tier 1 considerations, as you see on the slide, really focus on sensitive habitat -- seagrasses, oyster beds, threatened and endangered species' habitat, also other users such as if an area has already been leased or permitted by -- for oil and gas, for instance, that would be an area that would not be conducive for oyster mariculture operation. So the Tier 1 considerations were really the no-go. If we looked at an area and one of these Tier 1 considerations rose to the top or we identified in the area, it would be our decision that that is not a suitable site for locating a commercial oyster mariculture operation.

Tier 2 considerations, although certainly can be very important in making the decision of where you site one of these operations, they weren't necessarily, you know, a deal killer, for instance. One of the things that we really wanted to look at is there are certain areas of the bay that would be more conducive, have the environmental conditions that are more suitable for oyster growth. Those would be areas you would probably want to look at if you're going to be locating one of these operations. There are also other user conflicts in the bay that we wanted to certainly be aware of and take into consideration as we're looking at siting. Those could be traditional commercial shrimping grounds or traditional wade fishing sites for recreational fishermen. And so those elements, those Tier 2 considerations, were all factored in and we'll kind of walk through a few of these in this next series of slides.

Before I get to the slide, I really wanted to kind of speak to where this data comes from and we used multiple sources that were out there, any available dataset, time series that we could find to put into a GIS layer using -- you can see on this slide here -- data from the General Land Office, the Texas Colonial Waterbird Society and many other agencies, including data that Parks and Wildlife has generated.

So the next series of slides we're going to focus is really the images of Galveston Bay and we have these types of imagery and data for every bay system on the Texas coast except for Sabine Lake. Sabine Lake is closed to all commercial harvest by the State Health Department for water quality issues and there's no expectation that that classification will be lifted. So we have not considered Sabine Lake in this exercise.

So all of these are of Galveston Bay. If the -- the grid that you see there between the blue and yellow, that grid system represents state land tracts that the GLO identifies. Those tracts, on average, are about 360 acres in size. So when we apply that Tier 1 consideration to Galveston Bay, the areas that are identified in yellow in the slide represent those areas that were a Tier 1 consideration did not hit. So it potentially is an area that you could consider for an oyster mariculture operation.

However, if we kind of drill -- and let me specify the black edging around there is really State Health Department classification. Those waters are closed to regular harvest of oysters and so they would not be eligible at least for the grow-out operations that we're depicting here and I'll touch a little bit on the possible use of these restricted areas later in the presentation.

So we've identified/applied the Tier 1 considerations. We've got a suite of potential sites and now we would look at it using the Tier 2 considerations. Again, those are not deal killers. It's just to give us a little better flavor of what's going on in these particular areas. The first one we kind of looked at -- and, again, I apologize. This is a very busy slide. But really I wanted you to focus, this represents some of the coastal fisheries independent data that we collect and it's really salinity that we're looking at here. We used -- we did this for temperature as well, but this is just a slide representing kind of a mean low salinity conditions and the red means, you know, this is probably not a good area and if you look at that imagery, that upper part of the bay, that's Trinity Bay. There's a lot of red around there with -- yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Bobby Patton. I just wanted for my own education: Do oysters grow better in low salinity or high salinity?

MR. ROBINSON: Good question. Thank you. Oysters are very resilient. They can survive a wide range of salinities. Clearly though when you get down to zero or one to two parts per thousand -- very, very low -- the average salinities in our bays are 15 to 20, 25 as you -- a little salty as you go south. The optimal range is going to be in that 15 to 25 parts per thousand. So when you get salinities that are running down around one or even zero, oysters will cease filtering water. They'll close and cease filtering and they can do that for a short period of time; but unless that salinity comes up and they begin filtering again, they will die. And when you get those low -- those fresh set events, those flooding events that we oftentimes see in the Trinity Bay, in this particular image, those salinities drop. And so if you were going to be looking at siting an oyster mariculture operation, you probably don't want to do it up in an area up in Trinity Bay where if you have a rainfall event, your whole crop could be killed just in a few days. And so this is used just as, you know, guidance, if you will, on where would be a better place to site it.

So if we -- looking at that kind of factor, another factor that we kind of put into play here is we spoke and visited with all of our staff in each of our field stations who have a good appreciation, a good understanding of the dynamics and the uses of their respective system. This map, this particular image, represents -- you know, see the hashed area kind of in that center part, that blue line that runs kind of diagonally is the Houston Ship Channel. So everything to kind of the east of it, you see that hatching, that represents areas that our staff have identified as pretty traditional commercial shrimp trawling grounds. A lot of activity goes on there and so that may be something you want to consider if you're going to be putting these mariculture operations because they are very dense. You can't really run boats. This is a water column operation, so it takes everything from the surface down to the bottom out of use of other users. So that was something we factored in as well, our personal knowledge of our staff.

And so if we apply those, we see a couple of areas that kind of pop out on the map: East Galveston Bay to the right of the slide and then a small little area kind of on the west side of the Houston Ship Channel. So we're going to look now -- and, again, this is a busy slide. But I really wanted to demonstrate to you the level of detail and the effort that we've tried to look at here in identifying all of the conditions that one would need to have at their disposal in deciding where you want to locate these operations.

So this is West Galveston -- or East Galveston Bay. You see there's a lot of different legends there. The yellow areas are still identified, but you'll see there's natural oyster reef in the areas. There's marsh vegetation. There's rookery areas for birds, nesting colonial waterbirds. There's also private -- those private certificate of locations are overlaid on that map. And so one thing that kind of looks at -- you know, we can now kind of drill down and look at the level of detail. And remember, those tracts are 360 acres and we -- as we went through this exercise, we were being very, very conservative in our approach and very cautious in our approach and so if we had -- for instance, if you have an area that's 360 acres in size and you have a 1-acre oyster reef that occurs within that 360 acres, that natural resource code that the GLO uses, flags that entire 360-acre tract as having oyster habitat existing somewhere in that tract. So if we were really going to be looking at these for oyster mariculture sites, one of the things that we could certainly be looking at is really drilling down and looking at a more -- a closer view of a 360-acre tract. We still -- even though it shows up as blue and potentially omitted from consideration, there are some of these sites that we could certainly look at and probably find some additional area that could be used.

I want to bring to your attention as well, if you look around the fringing edge of that blue, there's kind of a ragged dark line. That's the 1-meter contour, 3-foot water depth. And as we talk about oyster mariculture, there are really two different operations that industry and other states have utilized and certainly there's an interest here in Texas among those who want to go into this business. One is a deeper water site, where the cages that are used are floating in the water column. They can be submerged and raised to take advantage of the plankton that the oysters are feeding on. It's in deeper water and they anchor those or tether those cages to the bottom. In the shallower water areas, it's a -- it's really a -- the primary operation that's used in other states is referred to as a long-line system. And there was an image of one in Alabama on the first slide in the presentation you can look at at your leisure, but it really looks more like a clothesline. It requires you to get out and wade in the water to get access to these cages. Therefore, shallow water depth is a must. It also -- the shallow water sites is probably a little cheaper to operate because you're not having the investment necessarily of a boat and traveling to and from those sites. It's right -- you just have to have access across the upland property.

So as we -- so as we move into -- so this is kind of really just getting us the level of effort that we kind of looked at in trying to create a tool that we could utilize in deciding where the best location that it might be to locate these operations, these -- and like I said, we have this type level of a detail for every bay system along the coast.

The second group of our team really looked at the programmatic elements of what a pro -- what an oyster mariculture program might look like. And as we went down this road, our -- and in talking with some of other states -- our conceptional model that we had originally kind of looked at was what we called a developmental area, if you will. It was identifying an area using that first spatial planning tool and identifying a suitable site, taking in those other considerations into the equation, and then aggregating those sites into one development area.

For instance, the one that we were kind of looking at is taking a 25-acre tract, then dividing that tract up into 16 1-acre leases and then there would be 50-foot run lane. Now, I have an image. I'll show you kind of conceptually what it looks like. But a 50-foot run lane, access lane, so boat traffic could move in and around and people could access their respective leases and that's in this slide here. It's depicted on the left-hand side as those aggregated tracts.

And as -- and to kind of set the stage here, as we've worked and conversed with Representative Hunter's task force and some of the folks in the industry, there is certainly a desire on the part of the folks that have an interest in maybe looking at this as an option or opportunity for them, is really what they -- we refer to now as kind of that nominated sites. Those are those individual tracts, an individual just wants to go and set up their own little 1-acre or 2-acre tract, if you will, and develop an oyster aquaculture/mariculture facility.

There are some challenges in doing all of these, either one and we tried to address some of these. Fee structure is certainly one that we have to take into consideration on the development areas. One of the ideas that we were contemplating is setting up some type of annual rent fee that is established through a bid and the other option is a set fee. And we'll talk a little bit about that bid versus set fee in just a minute. But also of note is that in setting up those sites, the Department would incur the initial cost of developing those areas. That it would require side-scan sonar surveys, the Corps of Engineers and the GLO require archaeological surveys to ensure that there are no antiquities or historical elements in those areas. All of that would have to be done on the front end and the idea being that as you then lease those out, those costs would be recaptured through that rental process and they're shared by those lessees.

On the nominated sites, as I said, these are individual tracts. Their annual rent could be established through a bid process or some type of set fee. Bidding would be a little more challenging to do that, but it certainly is -- there are other models out there where that's been done. In this nominated site, the lessee would bear all of those costs that I previously mentioned, for all the survey work, the side-scan, the archeological survey, that would be on the shoulders of those lessees. And this, as I said, is certainly the one, that model that is preferred by the industry.

One thing to consider in looking at these nominated sites is you would want certainly -- and something we're looking at very closely -- is that as you identify an area where you're going to maybe want to develop these sites and if the nominated site option is available, at some point in time, there may be a saturation point upon which you have to say that no more, you know, of these operations can be developed in this small body of water. It's a -- if everybody is looking at shallow water sites along a very popular shoreline where a lot of activity of recreational fishing occurs, there may be a point in time where you say, "You know, this is all that this area can handle and still provide opportunity for other users in that system."

So this is really just, again, conceptionally how some of this might play out. That larger tract kind of in the middle that's all the grids, that's that 25-acre concept with the 16 1-acre tracts, how it might be oriented. You'll see that squiggly line up to the top. That's that 1-meter contour line, depth contour. And so you may have on those nominated sites or even developed sites by the Department, a tract and it could be a variety of sizes or configurations, depending on the nature of the industry and the particular grower.

So I mentioned about the cost on the front end, those estimated costs. So this gives you a little bit of flavor and this is based on costs that we have been involved -- have incurred and involved with some of our oyster restoration work that's oftentimes covered by grants and other funding sources. But in order to develop those sites, we get a range of 30 to about $50,000 for that 25-acre tract. Those -- that range is really there because depending on the bay system that you may be operating in, there may be travel costs or additional hire costs for getting some of this survey work done because of travel for the contractor who's going to be doing that particular survey effort.

But if you were to take that cost for that 25-acre tract and amortize it over a proposed ten-year lease term for those 16 tracts, that translates into about 121 to 198, about $200 per acre per year as a potential lease cost.

So we mentioned about the bidding versus a set fee and this is just a couple elements that we certainly believe we have to be aware of as we go and decide which pathway we want to go down. Bidding certainly provides the opportunity for allowing the market to set the value and establish the value of these operations. The challenge becomes though because if we don't have anything to compare against here in Texas at this point, there really is nothing out there to kind of set that value to begin with. So that certainly is a challenge.

Also if you're bidding it out, you're assuming that you're going to have a lot competition that helps drive that market bay system. Also under a bidding scenario, you would probably set your bidding up to occur at a very fixed time of the year, which would limit then that opportunity for growers who wanted to go into the business to only that timeframe in which you're opening up rounds for bidding.

On the set fee, that's going to be based on -- certainly as I mentioned before, could be based on the recoup of Department costs that were shown in the previous slide. There's some questions that certainly have to be addressed about where do you front-load some of those costs. I mean, the Department would have incurred those costs right on the front. So do you front-load those costs on the front end to help recoup some of that instead of waiting to the tenth year to get the last part of it?

The -- also with the set fee, you know, you're looking at that's going to be mostly the model probably that would be looked at in a nominated and then a question has been raised: Certainly if you're setting a set fee that's based solely on the recovery of the Department's costs, what happens after the end of that ten-year period? If you've already recouped your development costs, what happens after that last -- if you're going to renew it?

So as we get into the permitting aspect, once it's gone down, we've identified sites and we're kind of moving more toward that permitting phase, if you will, what we are looking at and considering is that these would represent a ten-year term. The -- that there would be no limitation on the number of acres that somebody could request for one of these grow-out facilities or one of these operations. But I will say that these operations are incredibly labor intensive. It takes almost weekly handling and working to maintain this product and maintain it a -- to get that high value that you're going to be generating for this operation. These are primarily destined for the half shell market. It's a high-end commodity and so even though you have no limitation on the number of acres, there's a physical limit of how much you're going to be able to do.

One of the elements that we've tried to include here is some active use criteria. So if somebody is going to obtain multiple acres, that there is some threshold we have to -- they have to demonstrate that they are actively using that water column for the purpose intended and not just sitting on those acres and just, you know, sitting, letting it lay fallow, if you will. So there's some options there we can look at for active use.

We're also proposing that because of the permit and also some of the requirements that now fall on the Department in going down this road that are predicated or prescribed by the Food and Drug Administration, that we're suggesting that there be no transferability of these permits and no subleasing of these operations because of those FDA requirements that we're also going to be held to. We are proposing that they allow year-round harvest. Year-round harvest exists within these certificates of location in Galveston Bay now. So a year-round harvest is certainly a condition here that we felt would be appropriate.

We also would make it very clear that these areas could not be used for the storage of unused gear. That was certainly something that came and was made very clear by some of the other states that we talked to, that that had been a problem that people used those areas to kind of store gear until they get it back into production and that just -- they prescribed it as putting it at risk of getting disbursed in a storm or something like that and just, you know, being lost or forgotten about.

We're also talking about a minimum size on what size that oyster should be when it's being harvested, and that next slide kind of gets into some of the elements here. Certainly this Commission and the legislature has been very active in most recent years in addressing some of the challenges that our Department has realized as it relates to the harvest -- illegal harvest -- of undersized oysters on public reefs. And so we certainly made a number of changes and new enhanced penalties to try to address that. So our suggestion at this point was to maintain that 3-inch minimum size in these oyster mariculture operations, primarily to reduce the incentive that illegal harvest from public reefs and kind of incentivize that harvest of undersize oysters and try to push it into this particular market.

Now, the folks that have an interest in this, perhaps pursuing this, have certainly made no -- or made us aware that they prefer having a smaller size available. The two-and-half-inch or even less is one of the things that they have talked about. That's certainly something that they indicate is preferred by the market. Provides a, you know, a higher value for that cultured oyster. So there's a decision point here that we're certainly having to take into consideration.

And then finally there what I was speaking to before are really primarily grow-out operations. The way these things will operate is that there has to be a hatchery element involved that provide the seed or that tiny oyster that then is put out into the waters into these cages and allowed to grow to that harvestable size and so hatcheries play a role. They are land-based private -- on private property. But one of the elements that we would be including here is some permitting requirement primarily through the Brood Stock Permit. We have certainly some genetic issues related to oysters in Texas and so we want to make sure that only Texas oysters are being used in these operations and so the Brood Stock Permit that would allow them to collect native oysters used in those operations would allow us an avenue to kind of help check and keep an eye out to make sure that, you know, the native oysters are the ones that are being used.

There are no native hatcheries in Texas as of today. And so certainly there is some interest by some that if this gets approved before hatcheries get developed, that acquiring that seed from hatcheries in other states would be an option they would like to utilize and certainly something we've looked into and certainly consider, provided that they follow those -- some of the bio security issues and concerns that we have. They would have to use native Texas oysters in those hatcheries. We would be able to check those oysters to ensure that they are, in fact, the progeny or, in fact, Texas oysters.

The other issue and the reason why hatcheries have to play such a big role in these operations is that typically in other states, the oysters that are grown in these facilities are sterile. They're functionally sterile. They basically don't -- can't reproduce because of a way they manipulate them when they're spawning them and because the oysters aren't putting energy into producing gametes to reproduce, all of that energy goes into growth. So it accelerates the growth of the oyster. You can get a crop off in about a year. They grow that fast. And so that would be something we would be working with hatcheries in Texas that would be -- and out of state that might be involved in this operation.

And then I mentioned earlier in the slide presentation those areas that are closed by the State Health Department, being in restricted waters because of bacteria. There is an element here within mariculture where those areas could be utilized as nursery areas. FDA rules do allow that to occur and there may be some individuals that may have an interest there in just that element of the industry. The picture you see here is an example out of Washington State of a nursery operation. It's an upweller. It's kind of attached to a pier. It's a floating operation. They have to have power to get water pumped through their facility -- yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: What's the difference between a hatchery and a nursery?

MR. ROBINSON: A hatchery is going to take the adult oyster and then by manipulating temperature and salinity, they induce that oyster to spawn and release the larvae, fertilize them, and then they will attach -- have that oyster or that larvae attach to a grain of a shell that's ground up and then you get an individual oyster. Once it gets to a certain size, it then can move into a nursery operation where they grow that animal up to whatever size you want before you put it out for final grow out. You don't necessarily have to have a nursery. It sometimes is an intermediate step that is used in other states.

You could get the seed oysters directly from the hatchery and go straight out into the grow-out facility out in the bay; but you're using a much, much finer mesh because these are millimeter in size and you've got to let them grow and a lot of handling and splitting as they get bigger and bigger. The grow-out -- or nursery operations can kind of manage that and then they can also provide that to those grow-out facilities if some individuals want to do that.

Using these nursery operations in restrictive waters though do carry some additional responsibilities for our Department and that's driven by FDA. As I mentioned earlier, we would be held under some FDA requirements. In this particular case, we would have to set a maximum size for oysters that are produced in these restricted waters. And by that, meaning that as I -- it's really the same concept that we utilize in our certificate of location program where oysters growing in these restricted areas are allowed to be moved and then through the natural physiology of the oyster, they purge themselves of that bacteria. Same concept applies here, except that we have to set a maximum size beyond which that oyster has to be moved out of the restricted waters and then put out in approved waters as determined by the Health Department. And that maximum size is really dependent on how long it takes that oyster to reach a harvestable size and it has to be at least six months before that oyster reaches a harvestable size. So whatever we set our minimum -- our harvestable size at, that will dictate what our maximum size might be in these nursery operations that may occur in restricted areas.

And so that really covers my -- the briefing I wanted to provide with you today. I'm certainly here and will try to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions or comments?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Lance, when we move oysters in Galveston Bay, the program where you can move them because they're non-harvestable to another reef, do we have this same deal? Do they have to be a certain length, a maximum length in that program?

MR. ROBINSON: They don't and the reason being is that that is handled a little bit differently in that most of these oysters are already of legal size. And so when they're moved, they're under a very tight oversight, if you will, by Parks and Wildlife, as well as the State Health Department. And so we issue a permit that allows them to go into these restricted areas and move that product to their areas under location and then once they place them on the area of location, that area is closed by the State Health Department. Cannot harvest anything off --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: For six plus months?

MR. ROBINSON: No. Because of the way they're operating and the way the Health Department is sampling, they have to be closed for a minimum of 15 days. So it's two weeks in that scenario.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: And that's time to purge?

MR. ROBINSON: That's sufficient to purge the bacteria out of those animals. The FDA in their rules that they -- that address aquaculture/mariculture are very specific though on nurseries and they say that it has to be a maximum size and they stipulate six months. They don't give you that two week or that we have under FDA --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: So we're far more liberal here with our process in Galveston Bay. So to go from a nursery to a mariculture, you have to move it at a length where it gives it six months before it becomes two and a half or three inches, whatever number we settle.

MR. ROBINSON: That's correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: But then we believe and the Health Department believes in reality, if we give that oyster 15 days, it can purge.

MR. ROBINSON: It can. And under the Health Department, under those particular --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Will purge, not can.

MR. ROBINSON: Yeah, it will purge. Under relay rules, under F -- and these are still FDA rules. But FDA provides a much narrower window and it's based on the sampling effort that the Health Department does. So they are allowed to do that under FDA rules for that two weeks. So it's still an FDA requirement that is being met by the State Health Department.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other comments or questions?

Thank you very much.

MR. ROBINSON: Thank you, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its business and I declare us adjourned at 11:19 a.m.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

(Commission Meeting Adjourns)

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

_______________________________________

S. Reed Morian, Chairman

_______________________________________

Arch "Beaver" Aplin, III, Vice-Chairman

_______________________________________

James E. Abell, Member

_______________________________________

Oliver J. Bell, Member

_______________________________________

Anna B. Galo, Member

_______________________________________

Jeffery D. Hildebrand, Member

_______________________________________

Jeanne W. Latimer, Member

_______________________________________

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

_______________________________________

Dick Scott, Member


C E R T I F I C A T E

STATE OF TEXAS ) COUNTY OF TRAVIS )

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

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

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Turn in date _____ day of ________________, ________.

___________________________________

Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: December 31, 2020

7010 Cool Canyon Cove

Round Rock, Texas 78681

(512)779-8320

TPW Commission Meetings