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TPW Commission

Work Session, November 6, 2019

Transcript

TPW Commission Meetings

TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION

November 6, 2019

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

COMMISSION WORK SESSION & EXECUTIVE SESSION

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good morning, everyone.

This meeting is called to order November 6th, at 9:03 a.m.

But before proceeding with any business, Mr. Smith has a statement to make.

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

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

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Before we continue, I would like to announce that the Work Session Agenda Item No. 3, Amendment to the Threatened and Endangered Species List Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes has been withdrawn from today's agenda.

The first item -- first order of business is the approval of the minutes from the previous work session held August 21st, 2019, which have been distributed. I need a motion for approval.

Commissioner Scott.

I need a second.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Second.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Second.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Aplin.

All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Next order of business is the approval of the minutes from the Annual Public Hearing held August 21st, 2019, which have been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Make motion.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell. Seconded Commissioner Abell.

All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

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

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. For the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I apologize if I'm a little hoarse this morning. It was not just yelling and screaming about Prop 5. Ryland had a Little League baseball game last night, and we lost by one run. Two outs, bases loaded, one run, Mighty Casey struck out. Yeah, it was a heartbreaker. So the Hot Rods unfortunately went home with the trophy.

Just as a point of departure, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the record I want to call your attention to the annual report that Major Gray put together for all of us on the annual activities of the Internal Affairs team. It provides really a great summation of the activities of that team over the course of last fiscal year. In particular, it also describes all of the complaints that have -- or that came in, the nature of those complaints, where they were directed, how they were investigated, and what the dispensation of those were. Really good summary and I want to, again, make sure that you have a chance to read through that.

If you've got any questions at all, Jonathan, of course, is here and feel free to reach out to Jonathan to ask any questions about that.

So, Jonathan, appreciate your good work on that front.

Unfortunately, Ron VanderRoest is not here. He's having to deal with a health issue with his father and this is kind of a belated congratulations to Ron who was recently promoted as a new Lieutenant Colonel in Law Enforcement. He's going to be a great complement to Grahame's leadership. He was selected out of a very competitive body that competed for that job.

Ron's from West Texas. Been a game warden with us for 18 or 19 years. Served up in North Texas in Denton County and then was a captain game warden in College Station, a major in -- up in Lubbock in the Panhandle. Assistant professor there at Texas Tech or an adjunct professor, graduate of the FBI Academy. Just brings a lot of very practical field related leadership and experience to that team. Going to be a great complement to Grahame and we're excited about his promotion. Look forward to all of you working with Ron. He's a terrific guy and a great leader.

Speaking of leadership, you know, one of the hallmarks I think of our fisheries and wildlife biologists across the Agency is the applied science that they produce. And as all of you know, we really make it a priority to encourage our fisheries and wildlife biologists wherever possible to help publish their scientific work in peer reviewed journals, referee journals, books, popular articles, and so forth.

This is the latest book to come out of the American Fisheries Society and the title is fairly self-explanatory here, "Species and Watershed Approaches to Freshwater Fish Conservation." That was the Master Naturalist book. I had the wrong one. And so it is basically a case study on 28 rivers or hydrologic systems around the country and some of challenges that fisheries and wildlife and land managers deal with in trying to conserve, restore, and enhance native fish stocks.

Twelve of those 28 systems are located in Texas and so everywhere from the Brazos to the Rio Grande up at Caddo Lake, Pecos, the Devils River, Llano, Pedernales. Two of the lead authors, one of which Timothy -- Tim Birdsong is the Chief of our Habitat Management branch in Inland Fisheries and Gary Garrett is a retired fisheries biologist with Parks and Wildlife. But above and beyond that, I think there were 21 Parks and Wildlife authors to this book from Inland Fisheries, Coastal Fisheries, Wildlife, and State Parks. So kudos to those scientists and fisheries and wildlife managers that contributed this.

It's going to be a great, I think, series of case studies for the conservation community on how to protect fish stocks that are in trouble from habitat alteration, disrupted hydrologic regimes, invasive and exotic species, and all the other perils and pitfalls that confront our native fishes. So kudos to the team there and particularly Tim Birdsong who helped lead this effort. Really proud to see Texas highlighted.

Speaking of highlights, we've talked a lot over the years about the National Association of State Boating Law Administrations, which is the national organization working with the states to help promote water and boater safety. And one of our very own, Cody Jones, Assistant Commander of Marine Safety Enforcement, was recently elected President of that national organization. So that's a big deal.

Cody has been very involved in that organization as a thought and practice leader. He's going to do a terrific job leading that organization as President. It's a real feather in the cap for Texas and for Parks and Wildlife and our Law Enforcement Division and so kudos to Cody.

Concurrent with his nomination and election as President, our Law Enforcement team was awarded the very first Operation Dry Water Media Campaign Award at that national convention and that's a new award that is directed at a state that really is providing leadership on active education about the dangers and concerns of drinking while boating. Our game wardens/park police officers spend a lot of time focused on that with respect to water safety on our lakes and rivers and bays and estuaries. It's a big issue for us and their educational efforts -- in particular, the social media work that our game wardens have been focused on -- really calls them to receive that national award for education efforts about, again, the concerns about responsible boating and drinking -- particularly during holiday weekends when we tend to have a lot of accidents -- help caused them to get that award.

And so, Grahame, I want to congratulate y'all for that. Well deserved. Very proud of that.

Speaking of national awards, we've got another one in order for Michelle Haggerty. And some of you've had a chance to meet Michelle over the years. She's with our Wildlife team. She, along with a counterpart at Texas A&M AgriLife lead the Master Naturalist Program, which is the citizen science program which trains literally this army of ambassadors out there in communities big and small across Texas to help educate and teach them about conservation and Texas natural resources and then turn them essentially into public servants in communities wherever they live to volunteer in parks, nature centers, wildlife management areas, national wildlife refuges, backyards, private lands, et cetera, and Michelle has just done a terrific job.

She received this National Education Award from the Wildlife Society for her publication of this book, the "Texas Master Naturalist," which is basically the guidebook on how to become a master naturalist in Texas. And so she worked really hard on that. Proud to see her get that national recognition. It's a big deal. So kudos to Michelle and a big congratulations to that well deserved award.

I want to share a few words about a project up in Northeast Texas that probably has not gotten as much attention as it certainly deserves over the years and this is a great example of how our team is implementing conservation on a daily basis at a scale that matters and in systems that are of real concern to us from a fish and wildlife and land management perspective and it's called the kind of General Northeast Texas Conservation Delivery Network. Started organically by a small group of Parks and Wildlife biologists and colleagues with the Texas A&M Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service working together in Tyler that recognized that with all of the huge land use changes that have happened in East Texas -- and I'm really speaking primarily about the divestiture of the big timber holdings in East Texas and all of the fragmentation and changing land use practices that have come with those massive changes over the last two decades -- that there are were some really important systems that needed to get more attention from a land management and a stewardship perspective.

And so they started focusing on riparian corridors, riparian forest management and how to restore Shortleaf pine. Been a lot of attention in the southeast on Longleaf pine, not so much attention on our native Shortleaf pine. And so they pulled together a little group organically and started working with public and private partners to implement projects. That's grown now to more than 40 different organizations that are involved. Everybody from the Nature Conservancy, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Quail Forever, Caddo Lake Institute. Just pick your partner, they're involved and they're doing terrific things on a daily basis in a very quiet, but effective way. Putting prescribed fire down on the landscape, opening up areas for native grassland and prairie restoration and bird habitat. You can see this big mulching project that they were involved in down in Smith County. Thousands of acres that are getting impacted very strategically and thoughtfully.

I'm really proud of the numbers of Parks and Wildlife staff that are involved and the fact that over the seven-year existence of this network, we've had a Parks and Wildlife biologist lead that effort every year and the most recent one is Jason Estrella who is a GIS specialist and biologist out of Tyler -- is that right, Clayton? Yeah. So kudos to Jason for that and nice to be able to highlight that effort for work on Shortleaf pine and other systems there in Northeast Texas.

I want to turn this next subject over to Commissioner Bell to really help lead a short discussion of the Commission, chairman. And this is really an idea that he brought forward about, you know, how can we as an Agency do an even more strategic job of reaching out to our urban populace to connect them with our mission. I don't need to tell y'all that, you know, we grow with 1,500 new Texans a day. 85, 86, 87 percent of us live in nine major metropolitan areas. We're larger. We're more diverse. We're more concentrated in urban areas. We've got any number of programs that are focused on trying to get urban audiences out into the outdoors, but we know that we can do an even better job with that.

And so Commissioner Bell came up with an idea of maybe creating an advisory committee to help advise the Commission and the Department about how we do that more thoughtfully and strategically.

And, Commissioner, do you mind saying a few words about this idea and maybe we can have a little discussion about it?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Well, thank you, Carter. The -- first, even before -- not wanting to take credit for any type of brainchild, one, is that former Chairman Duggins and Chairman Morian also were very -- they had spoke with me about their concerns about outreach and having as many people as possible participate in what we have going on in Texas.

So the idea simply was -- and I -- and then I had some people from the public approach me after they found out I was appointed to the Commission as well, asking about how might we encourage more participation. So really as we start this process, the idea is to -- with the blessing of the Commission -- to consider forming an advisory committee that would be -- that would -- the members would come from some of those major urban areas. People who have an interest in conservation, in hunting, in fishing. So they already have a natural tendency to be involved in this and maybe folks that have not necessarily participated as much in the past either because of the proximity of facilities to them or just maybe their different -- the different levels of awareness of ongoing programs. But we do have some urban fishing programs, as you know, and maybe to spread the word on that.

There's an opportunity to do some co-branding. The Agency already does a great job of providing support to many localities in terms of park grants, how might we co-brand that and have the Commission also receive dual credit for increase in participation to visits to parks, whether they're municipal parks that we cosponsor -- whether they're state parks -- how to maybe have more people get involved in obtaining a boating license or a fishing license, hunting license. And just for those folks that you might say have not participated as much. And I hope that across the board, whether that's -- whether that's looking at issues around either ethnicity, around gender. We could get a lot more lady hunters out there too, right?

So we have an opportunity to talk to several groups and encourage them to participate and so as we do this, it's the start of an idea and over the next several months, I hope to work with -- work with the staff to help design something and periodically, I'll get back to Chairman Morian and Vice-Chairman Aplin and make sure that we're going in the right direction and they can keep kicking me the right way so we can make this happen.

MR. SMITH: I think that's great, Commissioner.

And I just -- Chairman and Commissioners, the other thing that dovetails really nicely with -- and we're going to have a presentation to y'all in January about this -- is a statewide R3 plan that Josh Havens has helped lead with a multitude of folks inside the Agency. What is R3? That means recruitment, retention, and reactivation. That's an acronym nationally that the fishing and angling and boating community is very focused on to help increase and sustain participation in the out of doors and the support for the North American model and those who have most supported conservation over the years.

And so this kind of effort focused on audiences that aren't always as naturally or easily connected to our work -- and as the Commissioner said, whether it's on the parks or general outdoor recreation side or hunting or angling or boating -- we want to provide those connections to conservation stewardship and outdoor recreation. So I think the timing on this is very serendipitous.

And you know, Commissioner, maybe when -- and I'm looking for Josh behind me.

MR. HAVENS: I'm back here.

MR. SMITH: Is he -- Josh? Where is Josh? Somewhere in the back row. There he is.

So thinking about a presentation in January on the R3 plan would be a good time to dovetail -- first time Josh has heard this, by the way. So if you see him just sort of squirming in his chair, that's why; but he's got time to prepare. So it will be a good opportunity for us to come back with a proposal on this committee, if that works for you?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Absolutely.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, yeah. Any other thoughts on that, Chairman and Vice-Chairman? Anybody?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I think it sounds great. It sounds interesting. And, I mean, I gather from what you said, that you'd like to go to these areas and bring in local people, leadership that know the people, that know the needs to kind of help -- to kind of help gather and talk through this. But these cities are growing and they're growing fast and to be able to find ways to get people -- especially young people in my mind -- to be able to get out and go experience something -- birding, hiking, fishing, shooting.

You know, when we were at the Chaparral deal for the 50th anniversary, they talked about the shooting course that they give and how popular that is and the kids come and really, really like that.

MR. SMITH: You bet. You bet. The shooting sports is another one and that's a great, great call.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: That's something you can consist -- that you can count on. Fishing, the fish may bite. They may not. But the shooting could be something that -- so I -- Oliver, I think it's great.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Well, I just think that the -- having -- with people having the chance to participate and sometimes getting out and doing things and not all of us being -- being maybe a little less of a couch potato. I think activity is the best drug we can have. So if we can encourage more people to get out there and do things and stay a little active and push it down, as you point out, to the youth as well, I think that's a great across-the-board effort and we'll see what we can do to make that happen. And my role in it is just to simply help out whoever -- whichever staff member we designate as the lead, I'll try to be moral support.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, great. I know we can count on you on that, Commissioner. I'm excited about this effort and look forward to working with you and seeing how we can continue to hone these efforts. So thank you for your leadership there.

It's the start of oyster season on the coast and so our Law Enforcement team is really busy on coastal related fisheries enforcement and I thought this might be a good opportunity, Grahame, to just highlight a few things that our game wardens are working on on a daily basis. You know, again, whether that's protecting against the overexploitation of oysters, fishing in closed areas, overharvest of juvenile oysters, enforcing the commercial fishing regs out to 200 miles, port security, the illegal long liners and gillnetters that are coming in on almost a daily basis from Mexico into Texas and U.S. waters that our game wardens are dealing with, illegal gillnetters on the river over at Falcon Lake and other places, all of the things that happen that our wardens deal with in the freshwater resources and their work to protect them across Texas. Just a reminder about the critical importance of that from a conservation law enforcement perspective.

One of the interesting trends that we are seeing is more activity in the illegal trade and collection and harvest of nongame species and our game wardens have really been focused on helping to break up illegal commercial activity on that and disrupt just kind of incidental collection. On the coast, there's been a lot of focus on trying to help restore populations of those four endangered sea turtles that we're fortunate enough to steward in Texas. People are passionate about sea turtle conservation.

Our Coastal Fisheries biologists and game wardens work really hard to try to protect those turtles. As we've seen, the Green sea turtles increase in the bay, we've also seen an increased incidents of people collecting them either for consumption or trade and so forth. And our wardens have made some great cases on those recently. A little wonderful case recently that a little 13-year-old girl who was over there at the East Cut there in the Lower Laguna Madre off Port Mansfield, witnessed a guy collecting Green sea turtles and sticking them in a cooler. She knew that was wrong. She called in that tip to our game wardens, gave enough information. They were able to use that information and catch him and release those turtles and then kudos to our Law Enforcement team for following up with her. Jarret Barker made sure that she got a little certificate of appreciation from our game wardens for their --

COLONEL JONES: They deputized her.

MR. SMITH: They deputized her as a deputy game warden. And so what a deal for a 13-year-old girl from the Valley and, you know, our Law Enforcement team and your Parks and Wildlife has a friend for life now. And so nice, nice, feel good story; but it also just reinforces the criticality too I'll say of your Operation Game Thief Program. That's our tip line, our Crime Stoppers line that anybody can call -- 1-800-792-GAME -- to report fishing and wildlife and environmental law violations. We get upwards of -- what -- 10,000 tips a year that our game wardens can use and run down and it's a critical part of our work here and kudos to the men and women that help support that important program.

Speaking of game wardens and park police officers, the 63rd cadet class is well underway out in Hamilton. It was kicked off -- gosh, 1st of October, Grahame?

We've got 57 cadets, I believe; 41 game wardens; 16 state park police officer cadets. Very competitive process to get in. Roughly 1,700 applicants. So, you know, that's about a 3 percent acceptance rate. Those who did get in, you know, went through a battery of psychological and physical related tests, background, interviews, and checks and so forth. We're excited about this group of men and women. They are an eager, excited bunch I'll tell you and they bring some great life history and experience to their work.

We've got a number that served very proudly in the military. Others that worked in outher law enforcement agencies. Some that studied fisheries and wildlife biology in college and a myriad of other things so that they are a terrific, terrific crew.

They've got seven months of training ahead of them at Starr at our Conservation Training Academy. For those of you who have not yet had a chance to get out and see that in Hamilton, I want to ask that you try to make time to do that. Now is a great time to do that when those cadets are there. You get to see that training in action and what they're put through.

Again, it is just a world class academy, Grahame, and we're excited about the cadets -- both on the game warden side and park police officer side -- that are going through it.

We'll make sure that if we haven't already, Dee, the date in April for the officer cadet graduation that we'll have down at the Capitol. That's a really proud day for these men and women as they are commissioned officers. Your presence at that the ceremony would mean a lot. And so I just ask that you try to find that date if you can and join us down at the Capitol when we are able to formally commission them as new officers to work for Parks and Wildlife Department.

One of the reports that I think Dee handed out for all of you is the Fiscal Year 2019 Stocking Report. This is an annual report that our Fisheries and Wildlife biologists put together that sums up their work doing just what it says. The really important business that our team does on a daily basis, whether it's the three hatcheries on the coast or the five inland producing Redfish and trout and flounder and catfish and bass and stocking those in freshwater and saltwater, roughly 40 million fingerlings a year to help augment and sustain our vibrant fish populations and healthy fisheries or the work of our Wildlife biologists on putting Bighorn sheep back on the mountains in West Texas or Pronghorn antelope in the grasslands or Eastern turkeys back in the woods or Horned lizards in the rangelands.

And this stocking report tells the stories of that important work on public and private lands and waters and I'd ask that y'all take a look at it. Our Fisheries and Wildlife biologists work really, really diligently to help protect and restore and augment our fish and game and nongame related populations. This is what the hunters and anglers and conservationists of Texas expect of us in part and this is a great summation of that. So I want to call your attention to that report and I know that Clayton and Robin and Craig would be thrilled to entertain any questions you might have about their work on private lands or public waters. And so kudos to the team.

Back in August at the Commission Meeting, I gave a pretty detailed presentation on the Sunset Commission process. At the time, we were in the throes of submitting our self-evaluation report which, of course, was completed and we were awaiting determination from the Sunset Commission about whether we were going to be in the first tranche or the second tranche of agencies to go through the formal Sunset review.

Late September, we learned from the Sunset Commission that we were going to be one of the dozen or so agencies that you can see on the left-hand side of this slide that are going through the Sunset review. We're pleased today -- I know -- I think I saw them out there, our Sunset colleagues back there. There they are. Danielle Nasr and Amy Trost and Megan Maldonado and Andrew McConnell who are working on the review for Parks and Wildlife and they have been hard at work. They have endured, I think, probably at least 14 or 15 presentations, if not more, from Parks and Wildlife staff about the inner workings and programs and policies and operations and activities and budgets of the Agency.

They are engaging in their very deep due diligence about our systems and processes and structure and governance and funding structures and activities and operations and stakeholder service and so forth to help make determinations about how we make this Agency better. And so they're looking for inefficiencies, duplications, process, system, programs, operational, budgetary things that can be changed to help improve the function and responsibility of this Agency, as directed by the legislature. We really appreciate their due diligence. They are really going deep.

They have asked that we get a news release out too, letting folks know about the review process, encouraging our stakeholders to reach out to the Sunset Commission with any feedback on the Agency that folks want to share with them and certainly, obviously, we encourage that. We really appreciate Amy and Danielle and Megan and Andrew being here today and all the effort that they're putting into this process.

With that, Mr. Chairman and Vice-Chairman, I think I'm going to wrap up and let us proceed down the agenda unless there's any other questions you have for me.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions or comments?

Thank you, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Great, thanks.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Before we move on to Work Session Item 2, I think I should note the -- apparently, the Prop 5 passed last night and -- yeah.

(Round of applause)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: The -- I don't know what the final --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Eighty-eight.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: 88 percent, but that's just a --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Say that a little louder, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: 88 percent. That's -- but I want to -- I think we should all, if we have a chance, thank the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Senator Kolkhorst, Chairman Cyrier, and numerous others, the legislature for their diligent work to get this before the voters and to get it passed. We now at least have a secure funding source, which is a relief to everybody, so.

Which leads us into the financial presentation: Fiscal Year 2019 Internal Audit Update and Proposed Fiscal Year Internal Audit Plan. Sophia Williams, please make your presentation.

MS. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I am Sophia Williams, Internal Director of Internal Audit. I'm here today to update you on the status of FY '19 internal audit plan and any ongoing or completed external audits.

This is a summary of the internal audit projects approved for FY '19. The projects marked with a C have been completed, and reports have been issued. The land conservation advisory and the contracts audit are in the quality assurance review stage. There are two advisory projects that were canceled, as shown by the CX mark. Internal audit's assistance was no longer needed on projects due to fleet services having resolved the issues in acquiring toll tags and registrations for fleet vehicles and the Law Enforcement Division putting together a team to investigate out-of-state license fraud.

One project, the security of bills network audit, has been marked with an F as it is still in progress; but fieldwork is winding down. Once all the fiscal year '19 reports have been issued, this will essentially close out our audit plan for fiscal year '19.

Since staff's last update in May, we have issued nine reports. The nine reports include the selected IT systems in process as audit returning to IT systems operating outside the IT Division. The final four of twelve Law Enforcement fiscal control audits; the wildlife management area audit; two advisory projects; FEMA, Emergency Management Agency; and then conference monitoring and follow-up audit. The follow-up audit ended this year with 35 recommendations being implemented and 19 in progress.

I want to thank and express my appreciation to all those managers who closed their issues during the year.

We withdrew two recommendations. One recommendation was withdrawn because process changes made the finding no longer applicable. The second recommendation was withdrawn because the findings addressed in a similar audit conducted by the State Auditors Office. To summarize some of the issues found in recent audits, for the audit of selected IT systems, we conducted an audit of IT systems operating outside of the IT Division. The issues were included in two headings and the IT Division management has provided responses to the issues to demonstrate that they are working to resolve the items noted.

For the Law Enforcement fiscal control audits, we issued four reports to the South Houston, Waco, and Laredo Law Enforcement offices having no issues. The College Station office had one finding, and the office corrected the area immediately. For the wildlife management areas, fiscal control processes were generally in compliance, with only a few minor issues noted regarding issuance of paper permits. Management of three wildlife management areas decided to no longer issue paper permits and will utilize electronic systems for future permit processing.

Here is a list of audits or projects that are in progress. The IT security audit, security of field networks data and systems is in progress and fieldwork will be completed very soon. We are currently in the quality review stage for the contracts audit and we are performing an audit of state park revenue contracts and then there's a land conservation advisory.

The fiscal year 2020 follow-up audit has begun and will be conducted throughout the fiscal year without -- with a final report being issued next September. Regarding the completed external audits, the State Auditor�s Office has completed an audit of the Texas Comptroller's vendor performance tracking system where they looked at the accuracy of information and user access to the system. Findings were noted in the report and resolution of these issues has been made. The post-payment audit resulted indicated that improvements should be considered and responses have been provided to address the issues.

The FEMA audit results noted that there were no issues or observations in our risk management and administration of the port security grant program. And finally, the FBI's Criminal Justice Invest -- Information -- I'm sorry. Finally, the FBI's Criminal and Justice Information Security Division is required to conduct security audits every three years to assess Agency compliance with the Criminal Justice Information Security Policy and this assessment concluded that our polices were in compliance or not applicable.

Clifton, Larson, Allen -- CLA -- is in the process of conducting a single audit and the Comptroller has requested information from our Agency regarding purchase of promotional items. Before I move on to the proposed internal audit plan for our fiscal year 2020, do you have any questions or comments?

The Texas Internal Audit Act requires that the audit plan should be developed using a risk-based approach consisting of Executive management's review of Agency functions, activities, and processes. The risks should be ranked on their probability of occurrence and impact to the Agency in the financial, managerial, compliance, and information technology areas.

Questionnaires or surveys were sent to Executive management and Division directors. The surveys are structured to obtain top concerns within the Division, Agency-wide, external to the Agency, as well as concerns regarding information technology systems and fraud, waste, and abuse. Responses were reported and these concerns were ranked and scored, creating a list of priority concerns.

Once the concerns were prioritized and categorized, staff -- or our prior Internal Audit Director -- estimated the work hours needed to complete each project and compared it to the number of allowable work hours available to our audit team. At the end proposed -- simply proposed the internal audit plan to our Executive Director, our Interim Chief Operating Officer, and to Commissioner Latimer and Bell for comment. The plan will be finalized upon Commission approval hopefully tomorrow.

Exhibit A shows our fiscal year 2019 carryover projects and our new proposed projects for fiscal year 2020. The exhibit also includes the number of hours estimated to complete these projects. For the audit of selected IT systems and processes, we are proposing performance of, first, types and risk for IT security or cybersecurity risk at TPWD, including data sorted risks and various databases and on drives and applications across divisions and, two, state park incident reporting system and TPWD reporting system.

Under the selected grants project heading, we are proposing performing an audit of off-highway vehicle grants to include the Escondido Draw Recreational Area. Also included in the fiscal year 2020 internal audit plan are two alternative projects that can be substituted or added if time permits.

Therefore, this is the motion I will be asking you to adopt tomorrow: Approval of the fiscal year 2020 internal audit plan. I'd be happy to answer any questions. Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much. Is there any discussion by the Commission? Questions?

If there's no further discussion, I will place the proposed fiscal year 2020 internal audit plan on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 3 has been withdrawn.

Work Session Item No. 4, Passive Gear Tagging Rules, Recommend Adoption of Proposed Changes, Mr. Jarret Barker.

MR. BARKER: Good morning. Jarret Barker, Assistant Commander for Fisheries Enforcement. So the presentation involves the recommendation for the adoption of passive gear rule changes.

In August we requested permission to publish our recommended changes and go out for proposed public comment. That has been done. We were originally charged with developing a plan to address the negative impacts of abandoned fishing gear on public waterbodies. These passive fishing gears are approved for use in public waterbodies are juglines, trotlines throw lines, and minnow traps and perch traps.

Some of the problems center around the fish mortality. They increase as these devices -- or they increase as the fish, the resource, stays on the hook longer than four days. If somebody is not there either to check and keep and retain the fish, the fish dies and it becomes a wasted resource that then is unutilized. The devices can continue to fish when not baited. Just the hook alone will continue to catch fish species, but it will also foul hook other species such as turtles and birds. And then the abandoned gear represents a nuisance to other anglers and creates litter within the lakes.

The removal of requirements, we are authorized to remove these devices under Chapter 12 statute. There's some requirements that go along with that. It requires public notification through the local court and requires a property hearing before the actual destruction of the device. Some -- our proposed changes are to add the customer number to the gear tag.

The current language that we published and proposed would require the customer number and the name and address. We would like to slightly modify that so that it is the customer number or the name and address of the angler that set the device out. That would alleviate the requirement for individuals to relabel all of their current devices, but the intent of that was to allow some anonymity to somebody who wanted set out this gear. With the use of the customer number, we have access to the fishing license database and can identify who that belongs to, but that would protect somebody's identity from another fisherman if they were competing for a fishing spot or whatever interest that people have in that situation. So that would be a subtle change that we would recommend when we actually make the rule.

The other changes involve reducing the validity of the gear tag from ten days to four days and we would like to require all passive gear be marked with a float above the waterline. That would help facilitate law enforcement from finding the devices that are out there. As it stands right now, there's many devices that are secured tree limb to tree limb underneath the water and nobody knows it's there until the lake drops or they discover it through foul hooking and from some other fishing practice.

So this is where the gear tags would be attached at either end of a trotline. A throw line would not have the two ends, but would have a single gear tag, as would most of the other devices. The trotline, being that it has two ends to it, would be the only device that would need to have two gear tags. The proposed changes will reduce the unintended catch of fish and other wildlife resources, identify the location of the passive gear, and facilitate the removal of the abandoned gear from public water.

As of current, we have received 93 total public comments. Forty-three of those comments are completely in favor of the rule changes. There are 17 comments that oppose any rule changes. And interestingly enough, some of the comments within that 17, oppose the rule change because it's not enough. They would like to see a total removal of passive fishing gear or stronger stipulations to that. But some individuals are completely against any kind of change.

There's an additional 43 comments -- no, I'm sorry. Additional 33 comments that are opposed to one particular item. There is some opposition to the reduction from ten days for the gear tag down to four days. They feel that it's too cumbersome for them to go out and handle their lines every four days. They feel the ten-day is sufficient. Their reasoning being that weather events come in and they cannot get out for four days. Our position or response to that is that with today's technology, capability to view weather forecasts, you know, they should be able to predict their activities and either go update their tag, check their line, or remove the line if they can't get out for ten days. I mean, that is -- essentially, what we're asking them to do is handle the line every four days so that they know whether or not they've caught a resource that they wish to retain or to put back in the water.

The other opposition involves the requirement to put floats on trotlines in particular. Some members of the public, the commercial fishing folks and the recreational, have commented that that could be an open invitation for somebody else to come run their trotline and catch their fish that they've caught with that device. That very well could be a consequence; but as it stands right now, for law enforcement patrols to identify and know where proper gear is, who it belongs to, we have to know that it's there. So we would -- we would still ask that that rule be carried through.

And I would like to entertain any questions that you have at this time.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Is there any discussion by the Commission?

COMMISSIONER BELL: I have one question. If the -- if gear is not properly identified, is it a cumbersome process to have it removed? Or, in other words, if it's identified, but left out too long, there's probably one process. If it's misidentified or not tagged at all, what --

MR. BARKER: Right.

COMMISSIONER BELL: -- process do you have to go through for that?

MR. BARKER: That's a good question. So there's -- you could really lump gear into two different types of situations. You have gear that either the gear tag is expired on, we know who the owner is. We can pull that, make contact, and either issue a citation or maybe leave the gear in place and have the individual just come update their tag, you know, if it's only out a couple of days. A small oversight. And then you have gear that has no identifiable owner to it. There's no gear tag. They just -- it's a line with some hooks on it. It may not even -- it may be a hoop net. It may not even be a legal device that's out there.

The process is the same because under Chapter 12 it is, by definition, a fishing device and so we have to follow a protocol that's laid out in Chapter 12 that requires us to remove the device. We give notice to the judge that we seized this device from public water. The judge directs the sheriff to post at the courthouse for ten days to give an individual an opportunity to show up and claim that device. And then if nobody shows up at the property hearing, we're afforded the ability to destroy that device. That was most likely put into place -- that process -- before we had Commission rules that outlined a gear tag and created defined devices. It's a little bit of an antiquated process given the technology and the other statutes or rules that we have in place now.

Does that answer your question?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Thank you.

MR. SMITH: So maybe just to add a little more color to that, Commissioner, it is a very onerous process and antiquated as Jarret said and this is the kind of thing that I know we've raised with the Sunset Commission about something that they might look at to see if it warrants some potential changes from a statutory perspective or something that could discussed with the legislature in the next session. So just know that's on our radar screen.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Make a few comments. I'm glad you're working on this. I think it's needed. I think abandoned lines ghost fishing is a really bad thing. To me, this is very similar to the crab trap removal that we did a long time ago. I do hope we can have some conversations, if it's Chapter 12 where to do that. To me, if an abandoned line is there and law enforcement takes it, you know, I'm not so sure how much sense it makes to do the current process. So I hope we can -- you know, I hope we can work on that.

The ten days to four days, four days is a long time to leave a trotline or a throw line fishing alone. So I don't have a whole lot of sympathy on the ten days. And the weather, one of the whole intended things is if you see weather coming, what we're trying to do is say: Go get your gear before the weather hits so it's not ghost fishing for days or weeks or people have the leave the lake. They have to go back home. It's there. So I think what y'all are working on will be a really big improvement on our systems.

And I had one question. Because they're right when they -- I understand the logic. They don't want to tag to their trotline, and I know why; but I think it's worth it. It's in -- I think it's just worth it for what we need to do. But my question is: If someone is caught running another person's trotline, is that a -- what's the violation?

MR. BARKER: It could be theft. If it was a recreational fisherman that came and ran a commercial fisherman's line or another angler's, it would be theft. At the time that somebody catches a resource on a properly marked line, that becomes ownership to the individual who caught that resource. So it would be theft. For one commercial fisherman to steal another commercial fisherman's gear or product, we have some statutes that specifically cover that and there's flagrant offense rules that come into play that would put that person's commercial fishing license actually in jeopardy; but, again, it would be theft.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: So there's some responsibility from running another person's line?

MR. BARKER: Absolutely.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Lastly, do you ever see this potentially growing like the crab traps did with CCA? Do you ever see an opportunity to go out with the public and remove nonconforming lines in a big way during a set time? Have y'all thought about the possibility of that?

MR. BARKER: We have had some discussions with that. Some of what we considered, there was -- you know, with the crab traps -- and I wasn't in my position when that came about -- but that takes place in February and that's a great time for law enforcement and the communities to go and clean up that particular fishing gear. Really the best time for the clean up of the fishing gear in freshwater inland lakes is in August when the lakes are down. You can really see the exposed gear, but our law enforcement patrols -- because we have limited officers -- are really engaged in public safety work on the lakes and the two patrols don't go hand in hand because the removal of gear is a very dirty process. You lose your officer presence when you're splattered with slime and -- it's not fish slime, but --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Officer presence.

MR. BARKER: The mud that comes up off of --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: You still have that badge.

MR. BARKER: Yeah, absolutely. But anyway, the patrols don't -- you know -- do good. We could certainly do that if that was the direction that we wanted to go.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I'm just asking if --

MR. BARKER: Right.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: -- the potential --

MR. BARKER: Yeah, we have kicked it around; but there's such a -- you never know what the right time window would be for the fishing public because some people run their lines in the cold weather. Some people want to run them in late summer when the grandkids are in.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: So I support it completely and --

MR. BARKER: Right.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: -- I hope everyone else on the Commission does. The theory of removing lines that are fishing without the fishermen being around running them and just killing the resource, is just a complete waste in my mind, so.

MR. BARKER: Absolutely. And I think we're reaching -- we're already to the point where a local community on their own could go out and collect lines. We just need to better clarify what's a valid line and what's litter.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Good.

MR. BARKER: And then address a little bit of the Chapter 12 issue.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Are there any other comments or questions?

If not, I will place the Passive Gear Tagging Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

With regard to Work Session Item No. 5, Boater Education Fee Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

If not, I'll place the Boater Education Fee Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 6, 20-21 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation Review. Ken Kurzawski and Robin Riechers, please make your presentation.

MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, maybe as Ken is just getting settled, particularly for the new Commissioners, just a word about process because this meeting really kicks off our formal regulations process in which our Fisheries and Wildlife biologists for the first time really bring ideas that they're considering for potential rule change to the Commission's consideration. And so this is a process that the Commission standardized long ago to provide more predictability and certainty and a framework for hunters and anglers so that they know when the Commission might be taking up new items, but also so that it reconciles with the timing that we have for the Commission taking action and then getting rules published in the Outdoor Annual and other means of dissemination to share with hunters and anglers so that they know what the laws are once you pass them.

So the November meeting, just for our new Commissioners, as a reminder, is the place in which our biologists kind of screen ideas that they're thinking about and so they're here to solicit your feedback and input on them. They'll take that feedback, come back in January with more formal proposals for you to review and consider. And at that time, we'll be seeking your actual permission to publish those proposed rules to get formal public feedback in the Texas Register and through other forums. And then March is the timeframe in which you actually make those decisions about what fish and wildlife regulations you want to implement.

So it provides, again, a steady, predictable framework and structure for the Commission to deal with this on an annual basis and our constituents know when it's happening. So, again, this is the start of that process and just for your edification, just wanted to make sure that we provided that kind of prelude.

So thanks, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Thank you, Carter. Thank you, Chairman, Commissioners.

Chairman Emeritus Bass, good to see you be back here before you again.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: Good to see you.

MR. KURZAWSKI: My name is Ken Kurzawski with the Inland Fisheries Division and I'll be going over the potential freshwater fishing regulations we're considering for this year. Just sort of a -- a little bit of forewarning with the process so that Carter outlined, that means me and my colleagues in Coastal and Wildlife will be before you potentially three more times to talk about those things. So just thought I'd give you a little forewarning on that.

So first regulation change we're considering is on Moss Lake, a lake near Gainesville in Cooke County. It has a Largemouth and Spotted bass fishery up there. The current regulations there are 14-inch minimum length limit for Largemouth bass and for Spotted bass, there's no length limit on those. Those two species are combined with all the Black bass species are to five-fish daily bag.

Anglers are having a little difficulty identifying the Spotted versus Largemouth bass. We'd like to see some harvest there. There's a large abundance of smaller fish and staff believe that's discouraging some of the harvest.

The bass population status there, bass angling pressure is high. There's a lot of recreational and tournaments on the lake. There's a lot of angler catch there; but harvest is low, which is typical of a lot of our bass fisheries. The Largemouth bass there is growth to moderate. We have produced some larger fish. There were a few 8-pound fish. But with the Spotted bass, they're very abundant; but very few of those are larger than 12 inches, very few are harvested, and those plus the abundance of the Largemouth bass under 14 inches are contributing to abundant -- overabundance of bass in that -- smaller bass in that system.

So what does -- what we're looking at to modify the bass regulations there, we'd like to try and promote some more harvest. We surveyed the anglers that -- some of the anglers that fish there. They support that and some of the benefits that, we'd reduce the interest specific competition and that could have some improved benefits for growth. The potential change we're looking at there is for the Largemouth bass regulation. We are -- we're looking at putting the 16-inch maximum length limit on there. That means you wouldn't be able to harvest any fish under 16 inches. The one exception to that is if you caught a fish over 24 inches that exceeded 13 pounds, you would be able to retain that in your possession for submission to the ShareLunker Program.

This will -- allowing the harvest of all fish under 16 inches, both Spotted and Largemouth, would lessen some of the ID concerns about the Spotted and Largemouth bass and once again, hopefully that will promote some harvest and have a benefit on that lake.

Next, Brushy Creek Lake, which is not too far from here in Cedar Park and we're looking -- we've been looking at that and the Brushy Creek coming out of that reservoir. Brushy Creek Lake itself is regulated a community fishing lake. That's a definition we have on smaller waterbodies, 75 acres and less, that are within city/county parks or state parks and that definition, with that, we have some special regulations on those waterbodies.

For Blue and Channel catfish there, there's no minimum length limit with a five-fish bag, reduced bag there. We have some gear restrictions. It's pole-and-line angling only and you're limited to two poles. And separately from that on Brushy Creek Lake, we have an 18-inch minimum length limit for Largemouth bass.

Brushy Creek downstream, that flows down into Round Rock and farther down, that contains additional impounded areas. Has a lot of excellent public access. A lot of people are using that system and the creek itself is under statewide rules, which means, for instance, Channel catfish, it's a 12-inch minimum with a 25-fish bag and for Largemouth bass, it would be the 14 inches and five-fish bag.

Staff looked at some of the angling out there and talked to some of the anglers. You know, that area has experienced tremendous population growth. People are -- there's a lot of people looking to fish close to home, use some of these creeks and smaller systems. Anglers are using -- heavily using both that reservoir and the stream and sometimes even using both in the same day.

There are very few Largemouth bass being harvested. Anglers are -- a little downstream -- are catching a few Guadalupe bass in the creek. And as far as harvest, what we see there, most of the harvest has been confined to the Channel catfish and that's mostly on the creek.

What we're looking to do there is to manage this reservoir and creek as one system. We're going to remove that 18-inch minimum length limit for Largemouth bass. Not many bass being harvested there, so that's not having any impact on the populations. And then what we're looking to do is extend those CFL regulations down to the creek itself. We put no minimum on the Blue and Channel catfish, limited to a five-fish bag, and then extend those gear restrictions, pole and line and two rod maximum to Brushy Creek and that would be on the creek down from the dam downstream to the Williamson County line, which is about 50 miles.

We are seeing a little bit of the cast netting for harvesting some of the smaller fish. So these gear restrictions and the reduced bag will help us. Whatever harvest there, we'll direct that to the pole-and-line anglers.

Next on Lake Nasworthy, which is a reservoir within San Angelo. It has a relatively stable water, especially for that part of the state. It's a fairly shallow and turbid reservoir. It's right there within San Angelo. It has a lot of good bank access. One of the popular fisheries there are the White crappie fisheries. The crappie are very abundant, but most of them are smaller than the 10-inch minimum length limit. Anglers are still very interested and out there fishing, but they -- a lot of times, they'll go to seven or eight sub-legal fish and keep one legal size fish.

What we've seen, their growth is below average and natural mortality is very high. Kind of surprisingly, 50 percent of the crappie die before they even get to 10 inches, which is an unusual situation kind of due to the overabundance and the poor growth. What we -- we would like -- since there's a lot of interest in the crappie fishing there, we would like to try and improve that population structure. That poor growth and high natural mortality really limits the effectiveness of the harvest restrictions, especially that 10-inch minimum since many of the fish are dying from natural mortality before they even reach that.

So what we're looking to do there is remove that minimum length, maintain the five-fish bag, and by allowing anglers to harvest some of those 8- to 9-inch fish, we're hoping we could possibly restrict -- restructure that population. Anglers there, we asked them about this, surveyed them, and they do express -- expressed support for removing the minimum and harvesting some of those smaller fish. So we're hoping to see some benefits from that.

And the last place that we're looking at making some changes is on Lake Texoma and the Texas waters of the Red River downstream from the dam at Lake Texoma. You know, red -- Lake Texoma lies there on the Red River. It's a very popular and diverse fishery. It has excellent Striped bass fishing. Really good Largemouth, Smallmouth, catfish, White crappie, and White bass. You know, it's just a -- probably one of our premier, diversified, and excellent high quality fishery.

Approximately 70 percent of the reservoir does lie within Oklahoma, but we co-manage that with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. And due to the -- sort of the intricacies of the Red River and the Red River Compact, there's just a small stretch of river downstream from the dam that is within Texas boundaries and it's about a three-quarters of a mile stretch down to the mouth Shawnee Creek that if you're fishing on the bank there or in the water, you're in Texas waters. If you're downstream from that, even if you're fishing off the bank, you're fishing in Oklahoma waters and you would require an Oklahoma license.

The catfish fishery there is very popular. It's the third most targeted group in Lake Texoma. It is driven mostly by the Blue catfish. Two-thirds of the harvest there are Blue catfish. The rest are Channels. There aren't too many Flathead catfish there. We don't sample many or see many harvested. They have caught a number of large Blue catfish there over the years, including the previous world record. That's the fish that the three gentlemen are holding in the middle. That was caught in 2004 and at that time, it was a world record. It was 121.5 pounds and you may have heard that angler nicknamed that fish "Splash" and we had it at the Freshwater Fisheries Center for a while in our dive tank and it was -- it drove a lot of -- a lot of people came there to see Splash. So that was a pretty notable fish.

On Lake Texoma itself, as far as game fish regulations, they're the same on both sides. We meet regularly with the ODWC. In fact, we have our annual meeting with them coming up in December. We make -- we worked real hard to get our regulations standardized from one side of the reservoir to the other to make it easy for the anglers to understand them and for law enforcement. We do have a few different regulations there because of that.

For Blue and Channels, we have the 12-inch minimum and the 25-fish fish daily bag, which is similar to our statewide; but we've got a little bit additional tweak there that on Texoma itself, we only allow one Blue catfish 30 inches or greater to try and build up some of those -- protect some of those larger size Blues that are in there.

Flathead catfish regulations is a little bit different. Statewide in Texas is 18-inch minimum, but there on the Lake Texoma it's a 20-inch minimum. And then on the Red River down below in Texas waters for Blue and Channels, we have our -- the statewide regulations, the 12-inch minimum, 25-fish daily bag. Flathead catfish, we have the same regulation there that we do have on the reservoir, the 20-inch minimum. And once again, that is just in effect in that little stretch of red depicted on the map.

In the Oklahoma waters which is, you know, the bulk of the area down below the dam, they're under Oklahoma statewide regs, which is a no minimum length limit, 15-fish daily bag for Blues and Channels and then there's that limit of one Blue catfish 30 inches or greater in your harvest and for Flathead, there's no minimum and a five-fish daily bag.

So looking at all that, what we're looking to do there is to make those regulations the same on both Texoma and the Red River on both Oklahoma and Texas waters and what we're looking to go to is for the Blues and Channels, go to that no minimum, 15-fish daily bag, retain the one Blue catfish 30 inches or greater, remove the minimum on catfish and retain the five-fish daily bag. Oklahoma will reciprocate on these through their process. They have to make changes on their side of Texoma, but they don't have any make -- make any changes on the Red because these are -- these regulations are the existing regulations on there. And by doing that, that will make it easier. The catfish regulations will be standardized on both sides of the reservoirs, both sides of the river. It'll maintain that protection for some of those larger Blue catfish onto the Texas side of the river. The removal of the minimum for Flathead isn't much concern. Not many of them are harvested.

One thing that Texas anglers will have a reduced total bag from 25 to 15; but most of the time when we look at our creel survey data, very few anglers are harvesting those 25 fish. So that won't have a major impact there. Before I answer any of your questions or comments, I would note we did present these changes before our Freshwater Fisheries Advisory Committee in October and they supported us moving on and presenting them to you at this stage, so.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions or comments?

All right. We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 7 --

MR. SMITH: I think we've got -- yeah.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Sorry. I'm sorry. Yep. No, I'm backing up. Yeah. Thank you.

Welcome, Robin.

MR. RIECHERS: Thank you, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Robin Riechers of the Coastal Fisheries Division. Our one scoping item that we'd like to discuss with you today is regarding flounder regulations. And as many of you will recall, the Commission has expressed a high interest in flounder in the past and we've been routinely updating you kind of on where we stand in flounder. The last time we did this was in November of 2016.

Certainly the Commission has a long history of trying to, I guess, what we would call move the needle in regards to flounder populations and flounder biomass, starting with a 14-inch minimum size limit in '96, followed with limited entry programs that was established by the legislature in both shrimp and finfish in '95 and '99, bycatch reduction devices going on in the shrimp fishery, as well.

But in 2009, we came before you and basically were proposing either a closed timeframe in the fall or a reduction in bag limit in the fall to see if we couldn't increase escapement so that we could get a greater spawning and recruitment. And what we ended up doing there was reducing the overall bag limits from -- in the recreational fishery -- from ten to five and the commercial fishery from 60 to 30 and established only a two-fish bag limit in the month of November and you could not use gigging means to catch those two fish in November.

We saw immediate response to that, but then it dissipated and we came back to you in 2014 and we extended the timeframe from November 30th on into two weeks -- the first two weeks of December. But we basically, at that point, said we really don't care how you get your two fish during that month. You can either gig them or use hook and line to get them.

So when we look at our coast-wide gillnets -- and I might add that, you know, again our gillnets are our resource sampling. We do this the same way every year, so it basically allows us to really look at whether abundance is going up or down. We also catch quite a few Southern flounder in our bay trawls and they also have a similar trend of what you see here. But basically you can see when those two regulations went into effect, we did get a little bump up in our overall gillnet catches; but as we kind of indicated when we came back to you in 2014, basically the benefits or the gains that we had gained, they dissipated after a few years and you see that again when we took that action in '14 as well and we're now back down to a lower population level.

In explaining some of the reason why we believe this may be going on, certainly UTMSI has done a tremendous amount of work regarding mariculture through the years and one of the things that they reported after we started doing some mariculture work on flounder and they started studying it as well and then we certainly confirmed it with our own scientists as well, there's a really narrow tolerance range for Southern flounder -- basically from 18 degrees centigrade, plus or minus two degrees -- in their first few weeks after they hatch for larval survival at the highest rates. They basically have to -- that temperature has to stay within that range and so they're very sensitive inside of that range.

Just to give you a kind of a quick look -- and you don't have to get too hung up on the graphs here and the dots -- but what you can see is those trend lines in December and you can pick November through February or you can pick December through March; but they're all basically the same, showing an increasing warming temperature off of our Gulf coast as we move from the, you know, 1980s into the current timeframe. And more importantly, those are month and average -- those are monthly averages by year. But what you have to remember with that tolerance range, we're talking about having to sustain itself in that 4- to 5-degree temperature zone. When you think about the variation around these means, you can see where we may be getting outside of those means quite often and, therefore, we think that's some of the reason we're not seeing the benefits or the recruitment levels that we thought we would see with some of the regulation changes we've already enacted.

So when we dig a little bit further into that, we wanted to break this down by year class so that you could actually see exactly what was going on. Obviously, the age one and age twos are what we begin in our fishery. Those are -- age ones are our recruits into the fishery at the first time that we can start measuring them. And as you can see, we're just not at the levels we were and certainly the 1980s. We stabilized kind of at a different level in the 1990s and now we're rocking along, if you will, kind of with quite a bit of variation; but, you know, you can see that we're not staying at those levels we were certainly in the 80s and possibly not even in the 90s.

As we look at the two fisheries in this particular fishery where we both have a commercial take and a recreational take, you can see some of those same downward trends and there's your recreational landings for Southern flounder and as you can see that, it follows that basic same trend that we saw in our resource sampling gear.

When you look at the commercial landings, you see, again, that same basic trend. Now, I might add that on this particular trend, given when limited entry took place in 2000, the commercial finfish buyback program, some things we've seen in other domestic fisheries where high costs of fuel and imports might have also impacted price in ways that it doesn't make it sustainable to continue fishing. So that may also be impacting this; but either way, you see a trend that very closely mirrors what we're seeing in our resource sampling.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Robin, I've got one question. What is a -- what's the party -- the previous line, what is a definition of "party"?

MR. RIECHERS: Oh, I'm sorry. Yeah. The party boat in this case are guide fisheries. People who would be guiding for flounder. Anyone who has a guide license basically and taking people out to fish. And as you can see, they've remained relatively stable; but it's really hard to tell given the low level and the scale of the access there on that one.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

MR. RIECHERS: Again, the commercial landings as I indicated before. Now, often when we talk about these two fisheries, both recreational and commercial, you'll hear discussions about what we target larger fish or smaller fish. As you can see by this graph, in 2018 -- and this mirrors itself -- you can pick other years, as well -- but basically, both fisheries catch whatever fish are out there and they catch them basically in somewhat of a like manner percentage-wise.

So kind of as a general fisheries' summary here and give you a little more flavor of how that fisheries shapes up across the Texas coast, over 70 percent of our recreational fish are landed in Galveston and Sabine. Approximately 80 percent of the fish that are designated as commercial fishery landings, come from Galveston to Corpus Christi, with basically a fairly even distribution across the major systems there, minus San Antonio Bay which is a little bit lower than the rest there.

And then lastly, kind of what we've seen in this fishery -- as I've already stated -- biomass appears to have maybe stabilized at a lower level than we saw in the 1980s and maybe even the 90s a well. And because of what we think is going on with temperature and recruitment, you know, we may not reach some of those historic levels. We may not be able to build this fishery back up to the same biomass that we saw back in the 1980s and I think the last time we visited with you-all, we shared that thought as well. That we may be -- our target if it's the 1980s, may be very difficult for us to reach given the lower recruitment we're now seeing in this fishery.

But with that, we would like to go out to scoping and have this discussion with our recreational and commercial fishermen and consider some of the management tools we have in this fishery, whether they be -- whether it's a decrease in the bag limit, possible increase in the minimum size limit, area closures or time closures that we could consider, even further gear restrictions, or as we've seen when we passed the 2009 regulations. Combinations of these various types of management tools. We'd like to go have that conversation and come back to you in January or at least report back to you regarding those conversations. With that, I certainly would be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: The commercial landings, that decrease is astounding. Is that even with the -- what's the bag minimum on commercial?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Thirty.

MR. SMITH: Thirty. Thirty, except that period in November and early December when it's --

MR. RIECHERS: Yes.

MR. SMITH: -- two.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah, the --

MR. SMITH: Right.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: But that is minuscule, if I'm reading that right.

MR. RIECHERS: Yeah. We're down to -- and, you know, according to the graph there -- somewhere in the neighborhood of -- and you can pick your high points or low points -- but maybe on average 50,000 pounds a year being reported in the flounder fishery.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Any questions or comments?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Yeah. I don't know if it's a question or comment or both. But it's kind of discouraging that, you know, in the 80s when we had a bunch of fish, we also had very liberal limits. We had 20 fish per individual. I don't remember the commercial. Then we went to ten. Then we went to five. We closed the optimal time to harvest flounder, November and into December. The commercial guys are falling off. The private guys' catches are falling off. And it's likely that temperature and the larvae. So I don't know. I'll be anxious to what y'all come back with, but it seems like almost any -- we've gone from 20 to 10 to 5 to shut November, and it's still on a steep decline. I know that just kicked off the Corpus flounder.

MR. SMITH: Flounder propagation, yeah.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Going to kick off the Sea Center in Lake Jackson soon. Do we have any hope there? We've done a great job with the Redfish, the trout really coming on. If the flounder during this larvae time, it sounds likes they're more susceptible certainly than a Redfish, maybe even a trout. I always thought of the trout being more susceptible. That may be the real beauty there is if we can get them past that larvae stage.

MR. SMITH: The real sensitive time.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, we'll get some feedback at the --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: A really big time in a big way.

MR. RIECHERS: Well, Commissioner, this is the classic case where hatcheries can help where you have a bottleneck situation like this.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. RIECHERS: Certainly we don't expect that we're going to be able to raise those fish at the levels we do Red drum, which is just a perfect fish to raise in a hatchery environment; but we have been able to stock over 500,000 since we kind of got up and going with an experimental effort in 2006 and beyond. And last year, we stocked over 50,000. So we're hopeful that with our new buildings in both Sea Center Texas, as well as the Flour Bluff Hatchery, that by giving some more tank space and being able to control that environment better and being able to have a longer period of time to help spawn those fish, we can up those numbers; but time will tell in that respect.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thanks, Robin.

MR. RIECHERS: Okay. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Look forward to what you're coming back with.

Any other questions or comments?

We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 7, Statewide Hunting and Migratory Game Bird Proclamation Preview, Shawn Gray and Shaun Oldenburger. Welcome, Shawn.

MR. GRAY: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shawn Gray. I'm the Mule Deer and Pronghorn Program Leader for the Wildlife Division. And this morning, I would like to brief the Commission on potential proposed changes to Mule deer and Pronghorn regulations this January.

As you may know, the land management assistance online application, or LMA, is currently used to facilitate the MLD Program. Biologists, landowners, and agents use this application to provide harvest recommendations, identify specific tracts of land and management units geospatially, print MLD tags, and report harvest and habitat management practice for the MLD Program. Staff have begun the process of including antlerless Mule deer and Pronghorn permits into the LMA system. Staff believe including these permits into the LMA online application, will significantly reduce the administrative burden of issuing these permits, as well as increase efficacy of permit issuance and the harvest reporting process.

Potential regulation changes that would support this transition, involve clarifying several new definitions for each permit, application and harvest reporting deadlines, and the requirement of a daily harvest log. And before I turn it over to the other Shaun, I'd like to entertain questions that you might have. Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Thanks, Shawn. Appreciate it.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Good morning, Chairman, fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. I'm the Small Game Program Director. I'm going to continue with the statewide hunting proclamation preview, and so we're going to talk about migratory and resident game bird regulations.

So for resident game birds, currently staff are not proposing any changes for those regulations in statewide hunting proclamation for the next hunting season.

And so moving onward, which is the migratory game bird proclamation for migratory game birds, just to give a little background some of the new Commissioners, there's a flyaway regulation process in place by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Whereas resident game birds, the state has total control of their species. The Fish and Wildlife Service underneath the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has full control on those species. And so basically we need to play within the rules of the road basically and so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service selects federal frameworks and so the Commission may select more restrictive regulations, but we cannot select more restrictive regulations with migratory game birds. So, for instance, if they're offering us 70 days for dove hunting, which it traditionally was, we couldn't add more days. That would be against federal law.

So getting to the migratory game bird federal frameworks. And once again, that federal framework's word is used to basically put what are the rules and what are the boundaries we can do for hunting seasons. And so for waterfowl and ducks and geese and specifically for ducks, we can go the Saturday nearest September 24th is when we can open the regular season and we can end on January 31st. For geese, we can go the Saturday nearest September 24th and then end Sunday nearest February 15th.

Just so you know for next year, the package is already complete. We did have basically a Flyaway meeting the last week of August and so as far as process goes, the Fish and Wildlife Service has already selected federal frameworks for next hunting season. Although we just started hunting season for waterfowl. So it's a little bit confusing. So this is due to public comment periods. Basically, they combine what they call an early and late season a few years ago into a singular process now that occurs -- basically, starts in August with the states and pushes forward through the Federal Register postings and is complete sometimes prior to August of next year.

So those packages that were selected were liberal. No changes for geese. There was an inclusion of veterans' days and there's an asterisk next to that, so we'll come back to that here in a little bit.

So federal frameworks for doves. Season length and daily bag limits are unchanged from the previous season. And just to give a little bit of background, we're also allowed three zones with no more than two segments. North and Central can start September 1st and we can run to January 25th. In the South, a little bit different federal frameworks. We can only as early as September 14th and run out to January 25th. We are allowed four days in a special season, what we call the Special White-wing dove days. We have to take four days away from the regular season, but we -- that's why we have actually have differential regulations on Mourning doves during that season because we're not -- that's a special season. It's not considered a regular season.

So moving on to potential proposed changes for waterfowl. So daily bag limits are the same as this year, expect scaup will decrease from three per day to one per day. Within these federal frameworks, we have a number of harvest strategies on various species. Pintails being one, scaup being another, as well as mallards. And so the scaup harvest strategy for next year says we need to decrease our daily bag limits from three per day to one per day for the whole season.

Something that's not in the federal frameworks for next year, but is a staff proposal, is to decrease the daily bag limits on Light geese from 20 per day to 10 per day. Just to give you a little background, currently federal frameworks do allow us to harvest 50 per day during the regular season. Currently, we're not proposing any changes to duck or goose seasons. Just calendar progression with season hunting dates.

Just to kind of give a little background on some of the proposed changes. When we look at scaup daily bag limits, here's the population through time. It starts here in 1955 there on the horizontal and runs through currently and then the dash line being the long-term average. You can see we're below the long-term average in this last year with the May breeding waterfowl survey that was conducted in Canada. Canada and United States showed a fairly sharp decline in the last couple years in scaup breeding. Therefore, we'll have the decreased bag limit for the 20-21 hunting season.

Moving on to veteran days. This was actually included in the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation Management and Recreational Act amendment, which amended the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. That act was signed by the President in March. March 12th, I believe. So the implementation of those occurred. Basically, that adds up to two days for veterans, active duty military, and national guard and reserves on active duty. Staff preference is to coincide with special youth only waterfowl seasons. But what I will say here, there's an asterisk here. What we did not find was staff -- being me -- we didn't realize we actually do not have legislative authority to actually have veteran days. We do have legislative authority to conduct youth waterfowl hunts and youth days for hunting seasons; but that needs to be explicitly put into basically the statute that we would have that opportunity because right now, we can only have hunting seasons that are fair and equitable to everybody. So youth are actually put into statute. We would need to add veteran here in the next cycle and so obviously the Department will be working with the legislature to get that inputted so we can actually have implement of this veterans' days, so. So that is actually off the table until that change occurs.

This one's a little bit more complicated with the Light goose dilemma. So I'm going to try to get this in a five-minute discussion and this is a little bit of a complicated -- there's a lot of history here. We've been actually researching snow -- what we call Light geese, which would be Snow geese and the Ross's geese for a long time. Since the 60s, 50s. Early in the 1990s, we actually -- researchers and biologists noted to start seeing an increase in Light geese throughout the flyaways. What we started to see in early 90s -- around that time -- as well to see some damage to tundra and basically the arctic and subarctic breeding areas. And so basically they were eating themselves out of house and home.

And so when we look at more temperate environments and we look at habitat types and ecologically functions, you know, we don't live on a knife edge. When you get to the arctic and subarctic, they're really living on a knife edge as far as what damage some of those vegetative communities can take. So one particular was the South Hudson Bay area and that was an area of what we call the Loft Roost Breeding Colony. That one's pretty unique where we have a breeding colony, but it's also a spring staging area where most of the population starts. We started seeing large scale vegetation die off in those areas.

So at that time, the Arctic Goose Joint Venture Management Board. Put a bunch of synopsis of all the science with regards to Snow goose populations and vegetative date in the -- so basically the arctic and subarctic together. We actually got that together, as I sit on actually the Arctic Goose Joint Venture Management Board now. Back in the 90s, they put that forward to the Secretary of the Interior and they proposed some regulations to Congress, which were accepted, basically to have a conservation order for Light geese to deal with this increasing population.

And so what you'll see here in the next slide, is you can see there starting in the early 90s, you start seeing a little slow uptick and then it's really progressed since then. And so in 19 -- I believe 1998 is when the Light Goose Conservation Order was signed, was actually adopted by Congress and signed by the President. And so what that did is it amended the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is not a hunting season. It's much like a depredation order, which you can actually allow different regulations for the take of a species to actually deal with them. And so this is a -- not a depredation order. It's a conservation order to actually be able to decrease survival on Snow geese is really what the attempt was. Decrease the annual survival.

And so you can see this population went from very consistent in the 70s and 80s to about -- you know, bouncing around about 5 million is what kind of some of the estimates are and to bumping around about 25 to 30 million now is what we estimate Light geese we actually have in the Mississippi and Central Flyaways. So a significant increase. We have seen increased damage in the arctic since then, obviously; but overall, the conservation order is still discussed amongst researchers and biologists as far as being at success. If we look a success being to decrease annual survival rates on basically Light geese, we have not achieved that even with increased harvest.

And so what we've seen in the Central and Mississippi Flyaways -- and this is midwinter survey, so this is on a different scale and so this is flying around in an airplane and counting geese during December and January, a different way of looking at the population -- and so there in the blue bar, you can see populations upticking very consistent with what the previous slide I showed. And so what we have is in Texas is kind of irony in itself, is we've actually seen a decrease on the Gulf coast in wintering populations of Light geese. There's a number of hypothesis why this has occurred. Obviously, you know, we went from in 1970s to 500,000-acre base in rice to about 200,000 acres in rice. We've seen basically the disappearance of lots of the coastal prairies, as well. We've also seen tremendous growth in wintering areas, whether that be reservoirs, large-scale agricultural changes north of us. You look at it, when you look in the 1960s, there wasn't much habitat north of us. Pretty much everything had to go to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

And so that has really changed over time with that rice base going away. So basically deletion of some of those prairie wetlands as well going on. We look at expansion of corn to the west and north. We look at change -- large-scale farming changes. Growing up in the upper Midwest, we used to use plows when I was growing up. We went to that to chisel disks to actually no till now and so availability in the springtime, there's a lot more energy on the landscape in the springtime up north. And so those geese are wintering farther and farther north. In fact, we have wintering populations in the Kansas City area now, which would have been unheard of 30 years ago.

But, however, I mean still there in -- when we introduced the conservation order in 1998, we still had about a million geese on the coast of Texas. We're somewhere down around 200,000 now. So that's a significant decline just in -- since the introduction of the Light goose conservation order.

So right here you can look at Light goose harvest in Texas through time. You can see here it's bumping along, bouncing from 100,000 to 150,000. We really introduced the conservation order and ramped up efforts to actually expand Light goose harvest. In 1999, you see goose harvest went really far up there in blue, regular season; red being conservation order. At that time, we estimated we had about 28,000 people that hunted during the conservation order. Obviously, we had a large number of folks that hunted during regular season, as well. Now, that harvest has really fallen off since we've actually had a decrease in population since that time since we had about a million wintering geese on the coast then and now we're around about 200,000. So you can see it's declined and declined and as a result, our Texas goose hunter numbers have declined, as well. And so we've gone somewhere from about 70,000 goose hunters around 2000 to around about 45,000 goose hunters now today. Obviously, when you have more opportunity, you're going to have more hunters and so that's just the reality of the situation now.

And so one thing Department staff has discussed is about kind of scaling back those regulations in Texas. We actually are, like I said, in a unique position where we are having issues with Snow geese. Most people aren't complaining about Snow geese, obviously. We look at Texas, when you actually talked about Texas goose hunting in -- all the way up until the 90s you talk about Texas. That's not the case now. We talk about South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas. Those are the places people are going Snow goose hunting now. So Snow goose hunting was invented in Texas; but, obviously, it's other places now where they're harvesting a lot more birds.

And so as a result, staff have discussed what we can do about that. We've talking about decreasing daily bag limits in kind of a baby-step way, going from 20 down to 10. We're also talking about doing some habitat management on the landscape in coastal Texas, as well. We're talking about identifying some pieces of property and when Snow geese went away, those roost ponds went away that were traditionally there. People went to all duck hunting across most of the ranches in areas across coastal Texas, and so we're trying to bring some of those roost ponds back with some programs to get some of those disturbance-free areas back that occurred when we had large numbers of geese.

And when we had the BP oil spill, there was much money that we were given to actually increase harvest or habitat management on the coast and when we put more water on the landscape, we obviously saw a Light goose response to that. So that can occur. And so we're scaling back -- proposing to scale back regulations and then, obviously, increase habitat on the coast at the same time to bring back some more Snow geese to coastal Texas.

I know that was a lot to digest. So is there any questions about any of the waterfowl proposals before I go on?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I have a comment. You said the season is already set, or y'all are still discussing it?

MR. OLDENBURGER: So -- yeah. So --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: The dates.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah. So the season date discussions have not occurred yet. And so basically the Fish and Wildlife Service has set the season frameworks and basically, here's the guidelines. Here's where you can open. Here's where you can close. This is your bag limit, and this is how many days you can have. So it --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: What I would like to hear is the logic if you can individually or report to the whole Commission. We have duck and goose season. We have a North and a South, and the North starts the second week in November. The South Zone duck starts November 2nd, which is also the same day as deer season. In my perspective, it's not ideal for the duck hunting. Another week would help get more birds down and it conflicts with deer. So I would like to know the logic of having duck season that early and not having it in -- November 9th would be my suggestion or my question.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah. Yeah, it's a good question. And so in the South Zone, when we look at the South Zone as a whole, we probably have the most diverse wetland habitats of any zone in North America in the South Zone. We have prairie wetlands. We have coastal marshes. We have the Laguna -- historic Laguna Madre, hurricane ponds. And so what coastal Texas does is draw in a lot of early migrant ducks. And so we think about Blue-wing teal. We think about pintails. We think about redheads.

Those birds actually pass over the trees to the north and come to the coastal Texas first. And so we actually see a large increase in duck populations much earlier in the South than the North. It's a little bit counterintuitive. And so those birds will arrive, you know, already in October.

What we also see is we see a higher success in November compared to later in the season in the South Zone. It's actually flipped in the North Zone. We actually see higher success late in the North Zone compared to the South Zone. We also have a longer split in the South Zone because we've had, as I mentioned here, decreasing waterfowl populations on coastal Texas. And so when we think about that, whether that be pintails or Light geese, you know, we really believe there needs to be a significant rest period in the South Zone compared to the North Zone where it's only a five-day what we call split compared to basically having a weekend off hunting in the South Zone.

And so what you get in the South Zone then is with that long delay, that longer split in that it opens back in December, we actually get basically a second opener, per say. So some fairly good hunting. Obviously, that -- also when we looked at seasons as well in that, when we look at the current basically season selections, we'll obviously be able to get Thanksgiving in there and get Christmas in there, as well. And so we're able to hit up and maximize hunting opportunity.

One thing we've also tried to do is have different regulations in the North and South. And so if you're living on that line, you have more opportunity, you know, even though, you know, we don't have seasons the same. So when you have seasons different, you know, you can go south this day. You could live in Houston and you could go North that day on that day and so, therefore, you know, having those splits different and those openers different, it allows more hunter opportunity, as well.

We also have seen the reason for that longer split in the South is based on research that's been done at Texas A&M Kingsville and various other places, we've seen a very marketable decline in body condition on birds on the Gulf Coast. And so we really believe biologically there needs to be a little rest period that's longer on the coast compared to, say, that North Zone.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Rest period. You're talking about an additional week? Is that you mean when --

MR. OLDENBURGER: So, yeah. What I mean by that is what we call the split and so we have two segments --

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Right. It's a week we're talking about.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah, yeah. So it's five days in the North and plus seven days in the South, so 12 days.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Okay.

MR. OLDENBURGER: So that's where that -- that's where that differential proposed opening days come from as far as opening earlier in the South compared to the North Zone.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Okay.

MR. OLDENBURGER: And we're happy to supply you with more information on the basis of that if you wish.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Okay, thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other questions or comments?

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: I have a question. You mentioned the phenomenon that a lot of the White geese aren't coming as far south anymore because of various reasons you outlined. You also mentioned some habitat enhancement. Some of it with Deepwater Horizon money, et cetera --

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yep.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: -- to try to increase the White geese numbers here. How does a goose that's used to stopping in Kansas City know that something's changed and they might want to keep flying to Texas?

MR. OLDENBURGER: If you can figure that out, let me know.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: I mean, it seems like the only way you'd get an increase is a generational increase --

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: -- but that -- there's such a long lag time on that, that it would be hard to discern, wouldn't it?

MR. OLDENBURGER: So interesting enough -- just a couple points on that -- it has seemed in waterfowl management the whole "Field of Dreams" thing, right? Like, "If you build it, they will come." That has proven to be successful wherever we've done projects. And so for some reason when we put more water on the landscape, we do see a response. I do not know how exactly that occurs. But another thing, too, is I think there's been some dogmatic thought out there as well as far as, you know, those Texas geese, those are Louisiana geese, you know, those are Arkansas geese. You know, we recently put some transmitters on some Greater white-fronted geese in South Texas and the mid coast area. It turns out they're using the brush country. They're using North Texas. They're using Louisiana. They're using Arkansas all during the same winter period. And so, yeah, they're bouncing --

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: They move around some.

MR. OLDENBURGER: They move around. And so you might think that you have that pond and those 50,000 geese have been sitting on there; but there's a lot of transition going on there, and geese are moving around a lot. And so we have a lot of disturbance in the south now. We have, you know, a lot of hunters on our WMAs. We've actually seen the highest -- highest numbers of hunters on our WMAs in recent years in the South Zone. And so there's a lot of pressure on there on a lot more limited habitat compared to 30 years ago.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: Yeah.

MR. OLDENBURGER: So, yeah. Why a goose in Kansas knows what's going on in Texas, I can't tell you; but, yeah, it's --

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: It sounds like some of them come to see.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah. We definitely have those discussions later at night after these meetings, yeah.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other questions? Comments?

MR. OLDENBURGER: I'll move on to webless really quick if there's no questions. Potential proposed changes, webless daily bag limits are the same as this year is what staff will be proposing. Calendar progression with season hunting dates except for snipe. Two of our 200 snipe hunters commented last year late in the -- later in the process. They wanted a later snipe season on the Gulf Coast area. Considering it's the only public comments we've ever had for snipe hunting, we'll go ahead and abide by that and we'll push -- staff proposal, more than likely, will have a later snipe season proposed this year.

So summary, no proposed changes for upland game birds. Proposals developed by staff, the Migratory Game Bird Technical and Advisory Committees will review and provide input. That's what -- date selections that we have not done yet. That whole process will start in December before the January Commission Meeting. At the January Commission Meeting, we'll have the final proposals from staff presented to the Commission and then the Commission will adopt seasons in March.

So with that, I'll take any additional questions if you may have them.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other questions or comments?

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right, thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right, thank you.

With that, we'll move on to Work Session Item No. 8, Managed Lands Deer Program, Fees and Amendments to Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Mr. Alan Cain, please make your presentation.

MR. CAIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Alan Cain, White-tail Deer Program Leader. And this morning I'll be requesting permission to publish in the Texas Register for public comment, staff's proposal regarding the implementation of a fee for MLD or participation in the MLD Program, as well as a few clarifications in addition to the current MLD language.

Now, because we have some new Commissioners that may not be familiar with the Managed Lands Deer Program, I thought it might be important to review some of the background, common terminology, information about our participants and why we're here talking a fee today. So the MLD Program has been around for over 20 years and the purpose of the program is intended to foster and support sound management and stewardship of our native wildlife and wildlife habitats on private lands. Now, in exchange -- well, those -- and the program provides landowners and hunters the flexibility to manage their deer populations by providing greater hunting opportunities through extended seasons and property specific bag limits and those landowners also implement habitat management practices depending on the option, the MLDP that they're enrolled in.

And the Department recognizes the importance of this partnership between the private landowners and the Department in accomplishing conservation on private lands, and the MLD Program provides that conduit. It's that opportunity for that partnership to occur and it's what keeps those gates open so we can practice conservation on private lands in the state.

The program has been extremely popular and has experienced a tenfold growth in terms of both number of tracts of land and the participating acreage enrolled in the program since it began in the late 90s, as you can see from the chart on the slide there. And those numbers with the number of management units and acres are current for the 2019 season. Now, although the program has experienced significant growth, the number of biologists that administer the MLD Program has remained flat since the year 2000. And so that culmination of the program growth and not hiring any new biologists to address that MLD growth, has presented significant challenges to the Wildlife Division, primarily in regards to allocation of staff resources to be able to meaningfully engage with our MLD participants, provide technical assistance to those MLD cooperators, administer the MLD Program, and just be able to conduct other duties that staff have throughout the year with its regulatory surveys or CWD surveillance and other important work they do.

In 2015, staff proposed changes to the Managed Lands Deer Program to simplify the program and add administrative efficiencies for our staff, as well as the landowners. And during that pro -- and the Commission adopted that proposal in 2015. During that process, we had an informal working group created with a subset of members from the Private Lands Advisory Committee and the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committees and that group recommended that the Department pursue authority to charge a fee for participation in the MLD Program, with the intent of using that revenue to fund additional positions to help address the challenges the Wildlife Division was facing. And so seeking that authority to charge a fee has been one of the top Agency priorities that I know Carter and Clayton and our whole team has been working on since 2015 since we had the new changes implemented. And as most of you are probably aware, Chairman Perry and Chairman Cyrier pursued MLDP fee legislation on behalf of the Agency. In this most recent session, Chairman Perry introduced Bill 733 and that bill would give this Commission authority to charge a fee for participation in the MLD, as well as adopt rules to implement that fee. And the legislation also designated that revenue generated from this fee would be placed in the Fund 9 account, which is a dedicated account. And there's also a rider associated with this bill that provided appropriation authority for revenue that would be generated from the MLDP fee.

The bill was adopted this session and signed into law in June. And I'd just like to take a moment to express our gratitude and appreciation to Chairman Perry and Chairman Cyrier and their staff, which I think a couple of them are in the audience today, for all their work and pushing this legislation through and having a positive outcome. Without their support, we would be talking about this today and attempting to address the challenges we're facing as far as the growth and popularity of that program.

So on the slide before you is a general timeline of the process to implement a fee for the MLD Program. Now, assuming that the schedule for the regulatory process kind of runs as planned, including an adoption in this January of 2020 or possibly as late as March of 2020, we wouldn't be able to implement the fee structure until the 2021-22 season and the reason for that extended implementation period is because we need time to go through the process, the contract amendment process, with our current developer that handles the LMA system that Shawn referenced earlier.

Then also once that contract amendment is done time, the developer needs time to actually program the system, test it, and go through that process, which can take, you know, up to six, seven months or a little bit longer. And so we don't expect that process to be complete until March of 2020. And, I guess, the blessing in this maybe a little bit of an extended timeline is it gives us a chance to inform our participants in the MLD Program about the upcoming fee changes so they can make plans accordingly or adjust to that as needed.

So before reviewing some of the fee proposals staff are considering, I think it would be helpful, as I mentioned earlier, to understand some background about the program. And so just as a reminder, MLD Program has two options that participants can choose from. And the harvest option is an automated, self-serve option that generates harvest rec and tag issuance. It does not require one-on-one assistance or direct staff assistance. And this is essentially the do-it-yourself option and it's probably attractive to those individuals that are really looking for that additional tag or an extended season, but don't necessarily need our assistance. They're really just looking for some of the benefits of the extra harvest there or harvest opportunities.

The other option is the conservation option and it offers opportunity for those participants to work with a Parks and Wildlife biologist to receive customized, ranch-specific deer harvest and habitat management recommendations. That option also requires the participant to have a wildlife management plan, conduct deer population surveys, and to implement habitat management practices on those properties. And primary difference between the two options, the conservation option participants have more flexibility in terms of early buck harvest with a firearm in the month of October that the harvest option participants do not. Additionally, those conservation option participants are receiving that customized, site-specific deer harvest recommendation because they're collecting data on their property and so it's much more customized than what the harvest option is and so there's some additional benefits there.

And just another point of clarification is that when we're talking about MLD enrollments, the occur at what we call a management unit and a management unit is nothing more than a specific tract of land enrolled in the MLD Program. And I'll talk a little bit more about that in just a minute. But I also wanted to highlight the different property types that may have management units associated with them.

So the first property type that we'll talk about -- and this will be related to the fee structure we're going to propose in just a minute -- is an aggregate acreage and that's a contiguous -- it's a group of contiguous, low-fenced tracts of land joined together by multiple landowners for the purpose of MLD enrollment. And so these are essential treated as a single property. When our staff set theses aggregates up, the harvest recommendation/the habitat management practice are applied to that aggregate as a whole. And so as you can see from the illustration on the slide, you've got three different individual properties, different landowners; but those are cobbled together because they're low fenced and they're contiguous and so we're able to enroll that as one property, so to speak, or one entity, you know, even though it's made up of three different properties there. And then the unique thing about the aggregates is tags can be used on any tract within that aggregate. Again, we're treating that kind of as a single property or a single management unit.

Now, aggregates occur -- they occur anywhere in the state; but primarily we see them in East Texas, and that's really the reason aggregates were developed is to deal with a lot of these hunt clubs in East Texas where they're encompassing multiple tracts of land owned by different timber companies. And so there may be one club, but there's six different property owners and it's a way to issue tags to one entity where there's multiple landowners. Another example would be if you have a family ranch that's split up and actually, you know, one sibling owns this part and the other sibling owns this part and they want to manage that ranch as they always have in the past as a single property, that allows us to do that. And so those are examples of aggregates.

The next property type is a wildlife management cooperative or association and it's a group of properties, different landowners, that fall under a single wildlife management plan that addresses all tracts of land that are a member of that co-op that are to be enrolled in the Managed Lands Deer Program. And as you can see from that illustration, these properties don't necessarily have to be contiguous like an aggregate property does. And co-ops can encompass an entire county. They may encompass portions of counties and there may be counties with multiple co-ops in those counties and it really depends on our staff has set up and organized those co-ops and worked with those landowners to form those co-ops.

Now, one thing unique about co-ops is they can only be enrolled in the conservation option and they do have the opportunity to choose an antlerless-only tag issuance for an entire cooperative -- you know, for that enrollment for the cooperative -- rather than buck and antlerless, but they have that option.

The harvest recs and the tag issuance are specific to each management unit within the co-op and can only be used on that management unit. And so on the slide, there's, you know, 10 or 15 different management units -- or those individual properties, so to speak -- but the tag issuance is specific to each one of those. So if I issue you ten tags, you can't give them to your neighbor and say, "Hey, you can use these on your place," or another co-op member. They're specific to your tract of land.

And the last property type we'll talk about is an individual ranch. Most properties in the MLD are a single management unit -- i.e., that ranch. And so, for example, in the illustration on the left there, that's a property; but we treat that as a single management unit. It's just one tract of land that will receive a harvest recommendation and an enrollment for that. But we do have some properties out there that have multiple management units, as illustrated in the screenshot on the right there. And those could be properties that have multiple high-fence pastures. They may be a combination of high- and low-fence pastures, or we've got some examples of properties that are low fenced where the landowner chooses to split those out and has different harvest recommendations for each of those different pastures because they lease it out to different hunter groups and they like to keep those recommendations in harvest and management recommendations separate. And tag issuance is specific to each enrolled management unit within that property.

And so to help understand a little bit about our participants who are in the program and give some context in terms of how this fee structure is set up, I think it's important to look at some of these characteristics of our participants. And so the vast majority of participants -- in fact, 83 percent -- enrolled in the conservation option. So, again, the conservation option is the option where these participants are receiving one-on-one staff assistance and customized recommendations.

Now, the number of management units per biologist position, which is represented on that map there, ranges anywhere from as few as five management units per biologist position up to 1,177. Now, some of our staff work with an excess of 290 individual landowners or properties out there and so it makes it quite difficult for those folks to be able -- our staff to be able to get out there and see those participants on a frequent basis. I mean, you're talking some people not getting to these participants every five to six, seven years. There's just so many of them, and we want to be able to reduce that time available to see those folks so they get out there on a quicker basis.

Now, there's some of these positions that have, like I said, have over 500 to a thousand management units per that biologist position. And you can see them in the -- they're in those brown counties there kind of in the central coast that ranges from about San Antonio over towards Colorado County towards that Houston area. And those are positions that have large co-op contingents there. A lot of co-ops, large -- excuse me -- members within those coops.

And for our biologists working with cooperatives, we don't necessarily meet one on one with each individual member of that co-op; but our staff do interact -- interact and provide recommendations and guidance to those participants at annual meetings. As you can see from the slide there, that's typically how a co-op meeting may go. And although staff tend to provide guidance and assistance in this group setting, we will work one on one with the individual members of those co-ops at their request or they seek that assistance. It's not just for that meeting only.

And even though we manage some of these co-ops a little differently through these annual meetings, there's still a lot of work just managing the co-op. When you've got a 500- or a thousand-member co-op, staff are still fielding phone calls and e-mails. And so if you get half of those members calling you or a third, that's still a lot of work and it's comparable to some of these positions that have several hundred individual properties that they're working with.

So a little closer information about some of the demographics. We know that 91 percent of the properties out there, these individual ranches we're talking about, are single management units. And 73 percent of those management units are less than 2,500 acres. And so just talking to the general public and even some of our MLD participants, I think there's a perception that this is a program for large acreage landowners and that's simply not the case. As you can see from the statistics there, many of these are relatively small acreage properties. They range in size from 11 acres up to nearly 500,000 acres per -- for a management unit. And 71 percent of our properties enrolled in MLD, receive less than 50 tags for buck and antlerless in the conservation option and harvest option and tag issuance ranges from as few as one tag up to 1,375 tags.

Now, switching gears to wildlife management cooperatives, 72 percent of those management units are less than 250 acres. And, in fact, 88 percent are less than 500 acres out there. So lots of small acreage properties we're talking about. They range in size. The management units for these co-ops range in size from 1 acre up to about 8,800 acres, depending on co-op and the area it is in the state.

And of all the co-ops out there, 79 percent of the co-ops receive that antlerless-only tag issuance. That's the option they choose. So they don't receive the buck issuance. And then of those that receive antlerless-only tags, 74 percent receive five or fewer tags. And so we're talking very few tags for these participants. And these cooperatives are primarily located in the eastern part of the state where a doe harvest under county regulations is limited and the MLD provides additional flexibility in terms of number of days available to hunt for these co-op members in these counties where the antlerless harvest is restricted.

So during the process of developing staff's final proposal that we'll talk about in just a minute, we considered different ways to assess that fee structure. And so I wanted to take a minute to kind of walk you through that thought process in case there may be some questions you've heard different ways that staff ought to consider this. And so one of the ways that we could assess a fee would be by the number of tags or number of acres in the program. And staff believe that a fee by number of tags is not viable because the fee structure has the -- of this nature -- has the potential to create situations for conflict over appropriate harvest recommendations between the biologists and that landowner and those harvest recommendations should really be based on that deer population data, the habitat on that property, and the goals and objectives of that landowner. And the cost of the tag shouldn't drive the tag issuance or the harvest recommendation.

We don't want to -- the Department doesn't want to put our staff or that landowner in a situation where they're having to debate over the tags because the landowner is concerned about the cost that, you know, those tags are going to be and he may not want to pay that. So we don't want to put either party in that situation there.

And staff also considered a fee by acreage, as well. But the other thing that's important to note, that the tags or acres -- either of those metrics -- don't reflect staff effort. And so if you're talking about acreage, our staff can spend as much time with a 250-acre property as they do a 25,000-acre property. It really depends on the needs and the desires of that landowner. We have small acreage places that call us and say, "Hey, come out. I want you to look at my prescribed burn or my habitat work out there." But the 25,000-acre place, they may say, "Hey, we're good," or they may have a private biologist that's working for them and so these needs really are not reflected in number of acres or tags, to be clear.

And then we had some -- we looked at the idea or considering the idea of some sort of graduated fee structure. So it might be something if you're looking at number of tags, zero to ten tags is $100 and 11 to 20 is X number of dollars and so forth and so on. Ultimately, that creates complication of regulations, which something we try to avoid. We keep regulations simple and, quite frankly, it's just not equitable for those participants out there. And so staff does not believe that a fee by number of tags or by number of acres is a preferred option.

We also considered different ways to assess a fee structure for co-ops participating in the Managed Lands Deer Program, whether that's a graduated fee -- kind of like I just mentioned -- or a single flat fee cooperatives. And the graduated fee, we're talking about something based on the acreage or number of members. The problem with a graduated fee structure or even a flat fee is that, one, that cooperatives do not have equal numbers of members or acres in that co-op and, ultimately, that results in an unequal cost per member and it's going to be perceived as unfair to each of those members paying that fee.

And so example would be if is if I flat fee of a thousand dollars for a co-op, a 10-member co-op is going to pay $100 per member. But a 50-member co-op is going to pay $20. And so those members are going to see that disparity there and perceive that as unfair. And, again, it doesn't reflect staff effort or the benefits received and that's something I didn't mention on the previous slide; but neither of these reflect the benefits of the program if you're looking at acres or number of tags. And so staff don't believe those to be preferred options.

So staff do believe the best fee structure is a fee by enrollment type for the specific management unit or aggregate. This structure provides a fair fee for participants based on the enrollment type and the benefits received. Therefore, staff are proposing the following fee structure in Chapter 53.5. So for the harvest option, enrollment fee would be a $30 fee for each aggregate acreage and a $30 fee for each management unit within a property that's not part of an aggregate. And for the conservation option, the proposed fee would be $300 for each aggregate acreage, $300 for the first management unit within a property, and then $30 for each additional management unit for those properties that have multiple management units, and a $30 fee for each management unit within a wildlife management association or a co-operative that's enrolled in the MLD Program.

Now, these fee amounts are chosen based on feedback staff received from various stakeholder groups, the benefits those participants receive under the different enrollment options, and that it's a reasonable fee to generate sufficient revenue to help address some of the staffing needs that we're talking about today. We believe a lesser fee for the harvest option is justified because staff spend considerably less time in administering harvest option enrollments compared to time spent with conservation option participants, those one-on-one interactions there.

Additionally, the harvest option participants do not receive the benefits of that early buck harvest. So there's a reason for the difference in that fee structure. A smaller fee structure is also recommended for the wildlife management association because the vast majority of these cooperatives receive an antlerless-only tag issuance under the conservation option and most of those, like I pointed out, receiving five or fewer tags. So, again, small acreage properties primarily in the eastern part of the state. And additionally, these co-ops don't enjoy the full benefits of the conservation option.

The $300 fee for the aggregate in the property under the conservation option was chosen was because, again, it generates that reasonable revenue to support additional positions and that 250 -- it's slightly above a $250 fee, which we heard from a number of stakeholder advisory members suggest the fee amount be around there. Staff believe that $300 is fairly close to that. And it's also -- the Texas Wildlife Association conducted a survey back in 2007, which is a while back; but during that time, they asked their members what they'd be willing to pay for MLD participation and it was about $250 was what was acceptable at that time. But, obviously, that's 12 years ago and times have changed and costs have increased, too.

So as I mentioned, we've had the opportunity to present this proposal to the Private Lands Advisory Committee, the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee, and the Mule Deer Advisory Committee earlier this summer, as well as the Texas Wildlife Association's Executive Committee and their Deer Committee and a group of wildlife management cooperative representatives from that southeast central part of the state that I kind of illustrated on my map earlier in that central coast area there.

As you can imagine, we received a diversity of feedback from these groups with many opinions on whether to charge a fee, what the fee amount should be, or the fee structure options. And so I wanted to provide a summary of that feedback for the Commission to consider.

So with the exception of the cooperatives, all the advisory committees and the Texas Wildlife Association supported a fee for the MLD participation, recognizing the challenges the Wildlife Division is facing. I'll note that the Private Lands Advisory Committee was supportive of staff's current proposal, but reminded staff of the importance of the wildlife management cooperatives and especially in the eastern part of the state when you're working with these small-acreage landowners and encouraged us to do what we can to continue to maintain membership where we can and where it's possible.

The Mule Deer Advisory Committee was -- again, they were supportive of the fee. They recommended across the board an increase in the harvest option fee and at least they were supportive of the $300 fee for the properties and aggregates under the conservation option and I believe they even suggested it could be a little higher.

The White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee, we had, again, a diversity of opinions. There was nine individuals on that committee that supported the current proposal; but then we had a range of others on that committee that suggested the fee be lower for conservation option and a little higher for the harvest option, which that was a concern I heard from lots of different folks, including the Texas Wildlife Association Executive Committee.

The primary concern for most of these groups, there was a big disparity in the fee amount for the harvest -- between the harvest option and the conservation option. And so those groups that had that concern over that disparity, recommended that we increase the harvest option fee and decrease the conservation option fee.

We had fee amounts for the harvest option with suggestions ranging from anywhere from $50 up to $175. And for the conservation option, we had fee ranges anywhere from as low as $200 up to a thousand dollars. Some folks said they were willing to pay more. We did have a few individuals in these different stakeholder groups that suggested that the Department -- or recommended the Department not charge a fee for the additional management units for a property. They felt that it was just adding on to the additional fees they were already having to pay, whether it's the flat fee for the first management unit in the property or my hunting license or a hunting lease license these individuals may have to purchase. And then we had some offer a suggestion that we give a break on the hunting lease license that some of these landowners are having to purchase if they're paying a fee for the MLD participation. And we had some individuals suggest that we not charge a fee for the harvest option enrollment at all, to encourage participants to utilize that self-serve option as a way to help address some of this -- the workload and the demand and being able to provide that quality technical assistance to those that really want that.

Feedback from the cooperative representatives was mixed. We had some supporting the proposal as is, but the majority generally didn't support a fee -- charging a fee for MLD participation for co-ops. Their primary concern was that the fee will result in lost membership. Many of these co-ops already require a membership fee just to be a member of that -- obviously of that co-op. And they felt the MLD fee coupled with the membership fee would be too much for these co-op members and cause some attrition from those co-ops or loss of participation.

They use their membership fees -- just to be clear, they use those membership fees to host annual meetings, barbecues, scholarships, whatever they do. But I want to be clear that those memberships are separate from what the Department does and with the MLD fee. And I know that's not how individuals in those co-ops look at it, but we have to make sure that that's clear that it's separate money that goes to their purposes for those co-ops.

The co-ops did have some popular suggestions among that group. They recommended increasing the hunting license fee or creating some sort of deer stamp. They reasoned that the revenue that would be generated from the increase in license fee or deer stamp to support additional positions, benefits all Texans and all hunters and not just MLD participants and so they felt that the MLD participants were being singled out a little bit and those additional biologists are going to help others in addition to the MLD participants.

Now, the majority of the co-op representatives, recommended increase in the harvest option between $60 and $90. And at the same time, decreasing the co-op fee to as low as $5. But when I pressed them on the issue and said, "Hey, guys. You know, $5 may be a little cheap. What would you be willing to pay?" And they said $20. And so that's kind of that range where they settled on.

And we did have a few co-op leaders -- not all of them, but just a couple -- suggest that we give co-ops an option to choose whether they pay a flat fee for the entire co-op or a fee for each management unit. But as I pointed out earlier, there's some inherent problems with that and staff just don't believe that a flat fee for the co-op is a viable option either.

And so in addition to the proposed MLD fee changes, staff are also proposing change -- some minor changes to the current regulations, which would include adding definition for an aggregate acreage and a management unit, which we just talked about. We would also set a deadline for fee remittance and amend the current withdrawal from MLD deadline to be the Friday closest to September 30th, which happens to be the day before MLD season starts. It also happens to be the -- it's the same -- the day before archery season, too. We're just consistent in that language. Those changes -- or that proposed change would also clarify that county harvest regulations apply if they withdraw from the MLD program or they fail to submit a fee by that deadline.

And lastly, the proposal will modified language regarding the requirements for information on an application for enrollment for an aggregate acreage so it's consistent between the harvest option and the conservation option language in the rules. And also clarify that tags issued to an aggregate acreage may be utilized on any tract of land within that aggregate acreage.

That concludes my presentation. I know that's a lot of information. So I'll be happy to entertain any questions the Commission may have.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I'm still digesting.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

MR. CAIN: Can I make one point real quick? In talking with our Legal team, they reminded me that the Commission doesn't -- if you're okay with the fee structure, how the fee's assessed; but maybe you're worried about trying to make a decision on the fee amount -- our Legal team indicated that you could make that decision in January. We have the flexibility because it's a logical outgrowth. And so that gives you time to receive more public comment as we hopefully get this published in the Texas Register. And so just keep that in mind so that it's not a weight on your shoulders right here today.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: How long were you planning on running the public comment period through?

MR. CAIN: So as soon as I guess it gets published in the Texas Register, which in the next couple of weeks -- Carter, I'm not sure.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. Bob, you want to answer that just from a timing perspective?

MR. SWEENEY: For the record, Bob Sweeney, the General Counsel. Once we send it to the Texas Register -- let's say we send it on Friday, the 22nd of November -- it will get published two weeks later. So it will come out, you know, the 6th I think of December if we -- so -- and then the Commission would have the opportunity to take it up at the January meeting. It has to be published in the Register a minimum of 30 days before the Commission considers it for adoption. So now -- so we could publish it on the 22nd and we'd still have time. We could publish it on the 29th, we'd still have time. Past the 29th, I don't think we'd have time to adopt it in January. Now, that's a minimum. So we could also, you know, take longer and there are concerns about -- I think even March is --

MR. CAIN: Yes. And so to Bob's point, if the Commission chooses or sees a need to delay the adoption to March or really beyond March -- but we get beyond that, we're probably going to push the implementation back another full year. It just takes that long of a process for the contract amendments and other things and --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Alan, go back to your timeline slide.

MR. CAIN: Sure.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. So, Bob, tell me again what -- January 2020 is you seek adoption?

MR. SWEENEY: Yes. And we'd have to publish the -- it shouldn't be a problem for staff to generate the proposal that's already essentially written, based on -- and then make a change based on what we hear today. But to send that to the Register on November the 22nd and then it would get published on December the 6th and then that would be -- it would be roughly 45 days for public comment. If we send it on the 15th, it would get published November 29th and add a little more time.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So, Reed --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I've got one more question. Just a second. But then the implement -- you don't implement the fee structure until the 21-22 season.

MR. CAIN: That's correct.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: That's putting January 2020 -- that's 18 months. What --

MR. CAIN: So it takes that long. Like you see on the bottom of the slide, this -- we have to go through a contract amendment process. So we need the rule to be adopted so we know what -- when we go to this contractor and say, "Hey, this is this business requirements we have because the Commission decided, hey we don't like staff's current fee structure the way you're assessing it and we recommend you charge a fee by number of acres," for example. The way I understand it, that requires that staff come back with a different proposal than what we had today.

If it's just the fee amount that you're going to adjust, you can do that in January, as I understand it, because that's a logical outgrowth of this proposal. It's just changing the amount, but not necessarily the structure.

If I understand that right, Bob.

MR. SWEENEY: I don't want to overgeneralize as to the exact scope of what the Commission can do in response to comments in January. We have to sort of take that -- make that decision. I think this notion of being related to the matter that's under consideration is the driver in terms of how much flexibility the Commission would have to do something.

It's easy to do something slightly different from what's proposed; but the farther out -- the farther distant it is from the proposal, the more radical difference from the proposal, the better argument is made for republishing a proposal because it's -- it wouldn't be considered to be sufficient notice to the people who wanted to comment. So, but it's hard to say as we sit here today -- I mean, minor language changes, slight adjustments in the fee I don't any concern that those would be -- would require republication of the initial notice.

A complete shift in how the program is funded, we might be getting in the territory where we would want to republish the --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: That leads me -- if 21-22 is our goal, then we have a little bit of a leeway in when we publish. We don't have to --

MR. SMITH: Yeah, but the issue really gets back to us being able to contract for these services for the development of the technology to support this in our LMA system. So -- and I'm looking at Chris Cerny. And Chris can nod yea or nay with what I'm saying.

But once the Commission adopts a rule and we have finality on that, then we're able to go out to -- with our contract amendment with a contractor or an RFP, however we're going to do that from a contract perspective, get the company on board that's going to do this work and it's going to take them time to make those changes, which is going to go past the next season. Meaning, the 20-21. So by the time they have that programmed, the 20-21 season will already be underway. We wouldn't have a chance to put that in place until, again, the 21-22.

But the timing is important and so I would say really -- there's been a long runway to this process. January, I think, is really a good date for the Commission to shoot for a decision. We've got a lot of stakeholder input already.

To your point, Commissioner Scott, I think we'll have this published and folks will have, you know, at least 45 days to comment on it. Our staff will redouble their efforts to get out in front of constituents that are going to be affected by it to make sure they see this proposal definitively and comment on it and I'm confident we'll get plenty of additional feedback for y'all to consider in January.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: Reed?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: If I may comment a little bit, Mr. Chairman.

For those of you that don't know, I've been Chair of the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee since, I believe, its inception and I have no idea how long that is; but it's been a long time. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. And we, obviously, have kicked this idea around of a fee for MLD for a number of years. Five, six, eight, maybe ten? I don't know.

One of the hangups has always been that while user benefit/user pay as a rationale and an appeal, that the legislature tended, more often than not, to not fully appropriate the funds that were in Fund 9 and that if a fee was instituted, there was the thought that there was no certainty it would be appropriated to the Department and translate to more biologists to help enhance the program.

And a number of people on that committee have been involved in the program since its inception and there's clearly a lack of an ability in a lot of regions of the state for the biologists and the staff to provide the levels of service that, in years past, they were able to. But we got to a point with the leadership referenced in the legislature that the -- you know, there's an appropriation's rider with it that we feel -- while nothing's ever certain -- very comfortable that those dollars will flow through and translate into new biologists to be able to enhance the service to this group of users.

The -- under the proposed fee structure, how many biologists is that? It's roughly a dozen?

MR. CAIN: Yeah. I mean --

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: Plus or minus two or three. Ten to fifteen.

MR. CAIN: Yeah, based on the current models and --

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: Assuming no attrition. And, Alan, my recollection of how many people on staff meet with landowners at some part of their job function throughout the year, it's --

MR. CAIN: We have 80 biologists that really administer the bulk of the MLD.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: So we're talking about maybe a 15 or 20 percent increase. Not insignificant. But it's going to be uneven. You know, there's some of those regions that Alan referenced -- and by the way, I thought Alan did a great job of covering what's a pretty complex, complicate -- convoluted, I guess, is the best word -- you know: How did we get here?

But there's going to be some of those regions that, you know, probably aren't going to get any increase in service and others that, you know, are -- you know, where people are stretched more thin that will get some -- you know, hopefully a noticeable increase in service. So, I guess at the -- so after a number of years, the White-tail Committee kind of said, "Okay, if we're comfortable that there's a really high probability that this is going to translate into new biologists to service these users, we're for it."

Then the kind of next threshold question was: What's the fee structure? Is it per permit? Per acre? Per, you know, tag? Per what?

And we -- the committee very quickly got to the only viable option seemed to be the one presented by Alan. It's based on per permit rather than tag, acres, or whatever. Because the others all seemed to have so many unintended consequences that were just obvious, you know. You know, someone say, "Well, I don't -- you recommend 12 tags; but if I buy more than ten, I have to pay this. So I'm just going to take eight," or whatever, you know, and you're kind of going against the purpose of what you're trying to incentivize landowners to do for habitat management.

So that structure, there really was unanimity on. Then you move to how do you -- what's the fee structure and, you know, as Alan laid out, it's -- at the end of the day, it's kind of made it -- it made for a great high school or college debate topic because, you know, very thoughtful comments from people on our committee would be -- you know, I think this part of the fee should be higher and I think this should be lower and then both have very cogent, rational arguments for their point. So it -- there wasn't a -- and we also did this a lot of -- kind of by remote, so the committee didn't have a chance to sit around and really talk it out to a consensus; but I'm not sure -- I'm pretty confident we wouldn't have gotten to one. We would have ended up punting to the Commission: Well, some of us thought this, some of us thought that.

So I guess part of the point I'm trying to make is the structure of how the fee is structured on a permit basis, is -- had unanimous support from our committee and I think pretty much by -- with a few exceptions that you referenced -- I think most of the comment you got is overwhelming, "We like this model better than others."

MR. CAIN: Right.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: Now, this is a question. If that gives the people who write the program enough defined direction that the Commission can decide, "Well, instead of $30 for a co-op permit, we're going to make it 25 or 45 or whatever," can you kick that decision down the road as long as the permit -- I mean the program writer knows, "I'm going to have this -- I'm going to have this permit and all I have to do is be able to plug in what's the fee, as opposed to rewrite the whole permit because now I'm going to be charging by acre or something"?

MR. CERNY: Yes, sir. My name is Chris Cerny. I'm with the Wildlife Division. The thing I want to put in front of y'all first is that while the 21-22 season is where we target to begin implementing that fee, we have to begin collecting that fee months before that season starts. So you can begin enrolling in MLD as early as April -- pardon me -- and so as early as April, we need to be able to have a fee in place so that folks can pay us before they get their tags. Once people can print a tag, if we haven't received fee, we're going to have a hard time going back and collecting that. So if we were to begin today -- I mean, so to your question, if the only change potentially to be considered is "What is the exact fee amount," yes, we can deal with that as we go on the fly.

However, the process to develop the system will require a contract amendment with our developer and we need some certainty in regards to not only the exact fee structure in terms of by management unit, a fee for an additional management unit, but also the definitions that are being considered for adoption. So we need to make sure that the withdraw deadlines and the removal from participation will be set. Those are all going to drive how the system is developed. So all that would be important to consider.

And even if we felt that all of that was a surety, that we could begin processing this contract amendment, if we submitted that within, say, the next few weeks, requirements for our developer to consider, I would estimate that we would need, at a minimum, a month to six weeks to amend a contract and that would be on what I would consider a pretty blazing clip to get a contract amendment processed to do work. So if we started that now, maybe by January we would be considering the ability to start work.

This is a new fee, and so we have to work with Texas.gov. Just so you know, we plan to implement this fee with a credit card payment process. We're required to go through Texas.gov, who provides a common checkout process for secure credit card payments. There's an on-boarding process with them that we're required to go through. I can't speak for certainty to that timeline; but I know that a system we are currently working on, we're expecting at least a two-month process for on-boarding with them to provide them with all the details we need, to have the system set up to do the testing with them to handle the payments and make sure that we're tracking that money appropriately. So, you know, you're talking now about a potential for a three-month timeline just to get a contract amendment and to get on-boarded with the credit card processing service that we would use.

That would already put us into March, and that hasn't even talked about the development of the system itself. I feel that trying to push this to be ready for April of 2020, which is when we would have to be ready to begin collecting a fee for this upcoming 20-21 season, is too tight of a --

MR. CAIN: 21-22 season.

MR. CERNY: Well, we are planning for the 21-22 season. I feel that to try to say that we could put this in place by this coming April, which would allow us to be ready for the next hunting season, which is the 20-21 season, does not give us sufficient time to guarantee a system that works flawlessly.

We don't want to roll something out that is prone to problems in the first year of payment collection. I just don't think we can reasonably accomplish that on that timeline, even if the only thing we were debating at this point was what is the exact fee amount under this given structure of the fee proposal.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I've got kind of a question, I guess. Is the -- is the -- this fee collection, the contract that y'all keep referring to, is that in place for the permit fee that's collected for the deer management pens?

MR. CERNY: No. No, sir.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So is there any possibility? I mean, to me that seems like a very easy -- you know, every year we -- I submit a request for -- you know, I just send in a check for, you know, approval for my DMP pens to be permitted. And is that a possibility for at least year one if we were trying to do it more quickly?

MR. CERNY: So the system that handles the DMP payments or the payments for DMP and several other permits, is TWIMS.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Right.

MR. CERNY: And the system that handles the MLD enrollments is Land Management Assistance. They are two entirely different systems. Our internal TPWD IT team manages the TWIMS system. We actually have, therefore, quite a bit more flexibility to begin work very quickly on that system because it's not managed through a contract with an external vendor.

The LMA system is managed through that contracting process with an external vendor. So any work that is beyond the scope of the current contract, has to go through that amendment process. And so we would have to get, you know, the requirements documented, submit to our vendor those requirements for their estimation on what it would cost to get this done, go through our Contracting and Legal teams to get that amendment approved before we could even consider starting work on that.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: How did that ever -- that would be another good discussion. That is a little awkward, that LMA versus TWIMS. And I deal with it all the time, and I don't think I understand it. And so, I mean, how did that ever -- how did that path diverge?

MR. CERNY: As part of this process of modifying the Managed Lands Deer Program to attempt to address the growth and challenges with the program. So when we were considering changing to the harvest option/conservation option format, we recognized that to successfully implement harvest option, we would need a system that has a geospatial and mapping component built into it. The TWIMS system doesn't have that.

So we actually went through a contracted audit of the TWIMS system to develop recommendations for how we could best implement the new MLD format. Could we do it in the existing TWIMS system and just build in a mapping component that could then do what we need for MLD? Because the Managed Lands Deer Program was historically managed through TWIMS prior to LMA.

The results of that audit by a third party suggested that, no, that system has been in existence for quite a while. The technology that's built in is becoming dated, and that you would be better served for the long term to build a new system that it's built around this mapping component. And so we followed the recommendations of that audit.

Our IT team in-house felt that this would be a larger project to build on the timeline we wanted to see it built than they could handle in-house and so recommended that we go out for bids to find the company that could to do that and that's how we landed in the current contract Applied Geographics.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: How much revenue do we think we're going to get, estimated?

MR. CAIN: So based -- if we had no attrition with the current enrollment right now, we're looking at about 1.8 million.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So we're going to lose that if we don't get it. And I think really, quite frankly, most people would be happy to pay. I mean, I don't know what percentage most is; but, heck, I'd pay for right -- for this year, you know, and I think most people that I know that are in the system would too if we could make it easy. You could maybe charge a fee just to go back to the perforated sheets so I don't have to try and print them out on my printer and get them all lined up perfectly, which is very difficult to do. I'd pay a fee for just being able to get my tags in the mail.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, from what I --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I don't know how that -- I don't know how that changed either, but that was --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: What I hear is that in order to get this implemented, the only issue we're faced with is the possibility of changing the fee. And I assume your program -- that will not be an issue. So the fees are going to change over time anyway. So I'm prepared to move forward with the request for publication, recognizing we'll get comments and that this is not --

MR. SMITH: Sure. Yep. You'll have an opportunity to adjust if that's what you want to do in January.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And the fee, we may accommodate the co-ops -- if 20 bucks is better than 30, I don't want to lose anybody. So with that, I'm prepared to go forward.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yep.

COMMISSIONER BELL: I have one --

COMMISSIONER GALO: Chairman?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Go ahead.

COMMISSIONER GALO: Well, I agree with you, Chairman. But I also agree with you, Commissioner, that maybe we'll be instituting a fee that's going to be fair and, like you said, we don't want to lose anyone. But maybe we could make some of the requirements -- help them out. Because I've had a lot of complaints, you might want to call them, that it's becoming burdensome, the paperwork when you harvest, the --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Uploading.

COMMISSIONER GALO: The uploading. And I didn't look into it because someone just told me this yesterday; but that in New Mexico, they have some kind of an app that you can take a picture of the tag and all your information and who shot -- you know, who harvested the deer. It's connected to their license. I don't know. You might want to look into it. I don't know anything about it. But if we could somehow not make it so burdensome on those that are in the program because I've had a lot of complaints unfortunately. And if in conjunction with this, you could start looking at, you know -- the paperwork, we don't mind the paperwork; but a lot of people do mind the paperwork.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. You take that --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, I don't think LMA and TWIMS talk to each other.

COMMISSIONER GALO: No.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I mean, that's kind of --

MR. CERNY: They do.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: But that's kind of -- okay, good.

COMMISSIONER GALO: Yeah, that's another issue.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, I need to learn that language. But I think really that may be another discussion, but I'd hate to lose the opportunity to collect any portion of $1.8 million for year from people, particularly that would probably be happy to pay it and if there's any way to collect it.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, I think you heard the comments and you can address them --

MR. CERNY: Well, I'll reiterate that I believe the timeline we have to implement this to begin collecting a fee when we need to begin collecting the fee, would -- to complete that between now and essentially April, you know, of -- what -- five months from now, six months from now, to get everything done that has to happen and to guarantee that we have a system that doesn't, you know, cause complaints, that doesn't have a lot of problems, that is accurately tracking revenue so that we're audit proof, so that we know that we have a system that we can rely on in all those different ways -- we need it to be user friendly and bullet proof for tracking finance -- I just don't think it's feasible that that's going to happen between now and when we would have to begin collecting a fee for the 20-21 season.

And one other thing I would like to point out is that, you know, it would also provide a very compressed timeline to begin working on all those other points that we think are important, like the communications plan with our customers.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Can I make just one comment because I want to just make sure we're not confused on this one point.

My impression is that if you're reverse planning this, you're not planning to have to be active with anything until, say, you want to have your system ready for beta testing maybe February of 2021.

MR. CERNY: I little earlier than that; but, correct.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Well, I'm just saying at some point. So there's no activity that we're looking for in 2020, other than putting the infrastructure to get -- having the contract let whatever you're reverse cycle planning is, putting all the infrastructure in place so that sometime either late in 2020 or early in 2021, you'd be testing the system so that it could go live as -- I think you suggested for the consistency and the yearly program, be able to go live by April of 2021 to be collecting -- to begin collecting fees.

MR. CERNY: Correct.

COMMISSIONER BELL: So if that's the case, it seems that we're all -- that that would be pretty fairly straight -- a little more straightforward. I think, as you point out, trying -- I don't think anybody here is suggesting we're doing anything this spring because I think that's pretty complicated.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS BASS: I would hope as we roll this out, it's been beta tested better than the last update on our Apple iPhones.

MR. WOLF: If we -- for the record, Clayton Wolf, Wildlife Division Director. And, Commissioner Bell, you're right. I think -- I think Chris was hearing some folks were just generally speaking next year or whatever and I think that's where there was a little disconnect. But for the most part, the 20-21 season as delivery, the complications or the things -- the steps we need to go through to do this properly, we need that time.

But to Commissioner Galo's comments, as well. I believe if I interpret what you're saying, a lot of those programmatic requirements are really -- they're outside of this. So I think if we could maybe take the opportunity to get with folks and better understand that.

Commissioner Patton, those other program requirements that really aren't related to what the fee amount is and how we will collect that fee, I believe it sounds like that's what some folks are talking to you about and so that's something we ought to be able to assess at any time and see how we can improve the program.

COMMISSIONER GALO: I just feel like people wouldn't mind paying this fee for this to get some relief over here. You know, I know they're not related; but they are in a way.

MR. SMITH: Sure. Yeah, there's a perception issue connection. Yep.

COMMISSIONER GALO: And when you hear that people aren't inviting as many friends or not donating hunts to charities because of the paperwork involved and they don't want mistakes to come back and, you know, affect them, it's something we need to look at.

MR. SMITH: Okay.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I agree completely.

Any other comments?

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Chairman, I've got a question, a comment, I don't know. And Chairman Bass helped me a little bit with his comment.

The structure, I don't think I have a problem with the structure. It's kind of what we've been talking about for a while here. And so at some point, it seems to me you also have to publish the fee to get real feedback; but as far as the structure and working on writing the program or the software or whatever, the structure seems to make sense.

There's a little bit of -- I, for one -- and I read it bunch and don't understand it. So I've got to ask on the staff fee recommendation, I have a few questions. On the harvest option, is the $30 fee for each aggregate acreage, is that for each landowner within an aggregate?

MR. CAIN: It's for the entire aggregate. Remember, the aggregates are treated as a single property and so regardless of how many people join or how many properties join together, it's -- that fee is associated with that entire aggregate because it's just one recommendation.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: So, Alan, on a harvest option aggregate, $30, ten landowners. It cost the landowner three bucks?

MR. CAIN: Yeah, you could look at it like that.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: Okay. So I just need to understand.

MR. CAIN: Sure.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I find a little heartburn with that, but I just need to understand. Then $30 fee for each management unit within a property. That's not the aggregate. That's if you're harvest option and you have one and I pay my $30 fee and then I have another pasture, it's another $30 fee?

MR. CAIN: Yes, that's correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: I understand that. That tends to make some sense to me. On the conservation option, it's $300 for each aggregate acreage. So --

MR. CAIN: Right.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: -- that's the same concept. If there's ten of them in there, then it's $30 for each versus three on the HO.

MR. CAIN: Right.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: And then it's $300 for each management unit within the property. I think I understand that. This one confuses me. Thirty -- it doesn't confuse me. I'm surprised. It's $30 for each management unit, which is the same as it is on the harvest option; but you're telling me there's a lot more work on the conservation option to add a management unit. And then the last one that I don't understand is the $30 for each management unit within a wildlife management association/co-op. I need to know what that means.

MR. CAIN: Okay. So let's talk about the $30 for each additional management unit for a property. And your -- I guess your thought is that because it's under conservation option, we're working -- staff are working with each property and that there's more effort associated with that. But remember that we're talking about -- for context here, a ranch may have multiple high-fence pastures. It doesn't mean that staff are going to go out there and make two different site visits. I mean, when they're visiting that ranch, they're going to drive through the pasture no different than they would be through a ranch with, you know, one past -- or one management unit or one enrollment.

The difference -- the reason for the smaller fee for that $30 additional management units, is because staff are really creating a separate harvest recommendation and some habitat management recommendations; but it's not near the amount of work for that one additional management unit as it would be for a distinct new property over there, a different property and so especially in terms of that physical meeting on the property there. They're just, you know, we're going to cover -- if there's multiple management units, we're going to make that site visit all in one trip. It's not like having to go to two different ranches, so to speak. And so, therefore, staff recommend a smaller fee for that.

And then $30 for each management unit within a co-op, I'm not sure that -- I don't know how to explain it better other than the co-op, it's just an entity that, you know, it encompasses all these members and so -- or management units, which are members of the co-op. And so each management unit under that co-op that's enrolled in the conservation option is going to pay a $30 fee. And so if a co-op has 30 members and they're all going to be enrolled in the conservation option, each management unit is going to be a $30 fee. It's going to be charged a $30 fee.

And so if there was 30 members, that's $900, you know, if you're looking at it for a co-op as an entirety; but really we need to be looking at it as a fee for each of those individual management units within that co-op.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: So thank you for that clarity, and we can think about that. I think the structure is good. Seems like we're not going to get this done.

I mean, I understand, Bobby, your point. It sounds like we're not going to get this done by the -- this coming hunting season.

And then I would like to consider, this has being 20 years, MLD? Twenty years and we're addressing it now and we're talking about numbers that, quite frankly, are -- seem like a real bargain to me. But I'd like to ask: Is there the opportunity in the future to put in some kind of pre-considered -- maybe not law, maybe the next Commission gets to consider it -- but some pre-considered kind of inflation factor? In five years, it's going up 10 percent or something so we don't look up another 20 years and we're wringing our hands over if we can charge a landowner $3 to be in this program.

And you've got to put this in perspective. This program lets you hunt a month early. I mean, there's some real -- but there's value to the State, too. But so I don't even know if that's an option, but I would like to hear back about if an inflation --

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

VICE-CHAIRMAN APLIN, III: -- option is possible.

MR. WOLF: Yeah. And, Vice-Chairman, an interesting point. The appropriation rider that Alan referred to, we had to provide an estimate for that appropriation rider and so when we did that during the session, we used the enrollment figures that we had then and plus a model we were working with that -- where we didn't have the liberty of all the engagement.

And so when that appropriation rider was adopted, to meet the spirit of the legislation -- which was to appropriate all those funds to that program -- it was capped at 1.3 million, 1.3 million because -- but since then, enrollment has increased and also the fee structure proposed has changed a bit. And so something that we are going to have to do, working with Mike Jensen's team as well or even in the notion of looking at fee increases in the future, is if we meet the spirit of the bill which was to appropriate those funds to the program, we're going to have to -- we're going to have to follow that with additional appropriation that matches our revenue. And, frankly, we don't know what our revenue is going to really be. We don't know if we're going to exceed some price point for our co-op members or for the conservation and so we really don't know what that is.

And so it's a good point; but I think that the thing that we are just to tack on to that, is we are going to have to monitor what that revenue is and take the necessary efforts downtown to make sure as things settle out that the program is appropriated the proper amount, whether that is through a fee increase that the Commission considers or it's just growth in enrollment and our revenues go up because we get more enrollees.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Is that it?

Okay. I'll authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

MR. CAIN: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you.

Work Session Item No. 9, 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. This is the second reading of an item requesting an easement at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area for a high-voltage transmission line. CenterPoint Energy is making that request.

The Justin Hurst is in south Brazoria County. Has frontage on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. It's a little over 14,000 acres due south of Houston, just west of Freeport. I include this photo just so you can see that this wildlife management area is becoming an island of conservation surrounded by the Ship Channel. The old Brazos River Channel is now the Ship Channel. A lot of heavy industry. A lot of tank farms. A lot of petrochemical industry, and a lot of residential areas. So it is becoming sandwiched in by development on all sides, which is part of the reason we've seen as many requests for easements as we have in recent years.

The wildlife management area is now approaching 15,000 acres. It was named for a game warden who was killed in the line of duty in 2007. Very, very, very significant conservation values. Marshes, wetlands, bayous, uplands, some bottomland hardwood forest, everything from Neotropical migrants to resident and migratory waterfowl, a lot of reptiles. I mean, just a very, very significant conservation asset for this Agency. Also a very popular destination for hunters, including deer hunters, hog hunters, and waterfowl hunters.

CenterPoint Energy has been working on this project for some time now. The project went to the Public Utility Commission. We intervened because of the prospect of the line crossing the wildlife management area. Worked with the PUC and with CenterPoint on a route, which we are referring to here as the Settlement Route which does pass through the WMA; but which we believe minimizes overall net impacts. Also avoids having the line go through a community, which would require the removal of people's homes. Churches and schools would be affected and so forth. And so we feel like the Settlement Route is the most feasible and prudent alternative for this transmission line.

It would be approximately 100 feet in width and the reason I say 100 feet is because there are some doglegs in the line that would require slightly wider easements and there is one area where we're asking that the poles -- the structures -- be farther apart to minimize impact to sensitive habitat. When you spread those farther apart, the lines have more sway and, therefore, there's a regulatory requirement for a somewhat wider easement and the easement might reach 110 feet in width in places.

Again, the staff has worked on this for some months now. We did report to you back in August that we feel like this Route 5 or this preferred route is the route that best meets the intent and letter of Chapter 26 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code to -- and that there's no feasible and prudent alternative to going through the wildlife management area. We don't believe going through the community of Jones Creek is a feasible and prudent alternative.

And just as, again, a reminder, sometimes it is possible to go around wildlife management areas and state parks. In fact, most of the folks who approach us requesting easements, end up going around wildlife management areas and state parks. The bar to go through those is set -- we set that quite high. But in this case, we don't believe there is a feasible and prudent alternative.

The line will run parallel for its entire length to existing high-line easement; therefore, kind of aggregating those impacts and minimizing them. This is the route of the proposed easement across the north end of that WMA. It may ultimately be a little shorter than this. The leg just west of that existing tank farm may end up being on private property on the other side of our boundary, which will reduce that overall footprint from 66 acres to 55 acres. I don't believe that alternative is set in concrete. Regardless, a significant amount of that line looks like it's going to have to cross the wildlife management area.

Since I prepared this slide yesterday, we've had three more commenters. We've had six comments received. None of the comments are in favor of the easement. None of the comments that have come out specifically said they are against the easement. What all of the comments have had in common is a concern that the net effect of all the commercial and industrial infrastructure on the Justin Hurst and on other wildlife management areas and in state parks is having significant impact on the values for which those properties were acquired and are held in the public trust by this Agency and request that the Commission and that the staff take into consideration in negotiating compensation mitigation and that we bear in mind the fact that these -- particularly these high lines -- are going to have impacts on fish and wildlife resources as long as they're there -- bird strikes, vehicles are going to bring in seeds for exotic species when they come in to do their assessments and so forth -- and that whatever compensation and mitigation structure we set in place, needs to take into account that these impacts are going to be in perpetuity.

The Sierra Club did provide comments, which they asked to be distributed in writing.

Dee, did that -- oh, so you do have comments from the Sierra Club in front of you. And those comments did a particularly did a good job of capturing the sentiment that was in all six of the comments we received, just regarding the need to be sure we understand the long-term net impacts and recommending that we monitor the impacts over time so that we have a better understanding of the net impacts of infrastructure, particularly high-power, high-voltage transmission lines.

Staff does request that the item be placed on tomorrow's agenda for public comment and action. I'll be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: We're going to hear this in Executive Session, isn't --

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir.

MR. SMITH: Yes, we are.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Any questions? Comments?

Work Session Item No. 10, Grant of Easement, Brazoria County, Approximately 19 Acres of the -- at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, Request Permission to Begin the Public Notice and Input Process, Mr. Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item is a first reading of another request for an easement across the wildlife -- the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area in Brazoria County. This particular one is a pipeline easement. Again, I won't -- I won't go into any further detail than I did in the last presentation.

The applicant in this case is COLT, which stands for Crude Offshore Loading Terminal. They are in the midst of a permitting process to develop a -- what's called a very large crude carrier loading facility, which is a floating tanker loading facility about 40 miles offshore from the coast of Freeport. The COLT project includes not only the offshore facility, but also a 42-inch pipeline which takes material out to that floating facility, a new tank battery, which would occur on the north side of the wildlife management area. The wildlife management area, in effect, wraps around that tank facility and then lines to bring crude from West Texas to the tank battery to be pumped to the offshore facility.

This is a little different process in the marine components go through a different regulatory review through the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration Agency known as MARAD. The MARAD process is currently underway. They are responsible for development and review of the draft environmental impact statement. I will tell you the clock is stopped on that process right now. MARAD has asked for additional information to complete and approve that draft environmental impact statement.

COLT is requesting that the Commission hear this item at this point in the process, so that if the Commission has any comments to make regarding the routing or the methodology or the compensation of mitigation for the pipelines associated with the process, that they have that information at this point because not only will they have this MARAD process, but once MARAD dictates where that pipeline comes on shore, then there will be other regulatory processes that COLT has to comply with in finalizing that route and securing those easements and finalizing that tank battery and so forth. So, again, if this Commission has any comments to make regarding the pipeline components -- the onshore components, the components that would affect the wildlife management area -- COLT requests that the Commission make those.

I would add that COLT has been a very good applicant from our regard. They have come to Austin and rolled out their route analysis, route -- have shared copies of all of their permit applications, has worked closely with staff to make sure that we're apprised of where they are in this process.

This is what that COLT facility looks like from our perspective. The red square is the area that the tank farm would go. COLT has that property under option and would propose to put a tank battery there, making it clear why a route across the wildlife management area for that pipeline is probably going to be the only feasible and prudent alternative. I would add that the feed pipelines from west that are shown on this slide, COLT has indicated just in the last couple of weeks that they may have figured out a way to avoid the wildlife management area. There's a very narrow band of property in-between the wildlife management area and the Jones Creek community that is undeveloped and COLT indicates they may have worked out -- worked out an agreement with that landowner to snake those pipelines through there and avoid the wildlife management area on the west.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: So they're requesting -- it was 19 acres and it's the white line from the red square both to the east and to the west; is that right?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. Nineteen acres both to the west and to the east. Yes, sir. So it would be something less than that. Maybe 11 or 12 acres should they find a way to route those western pipelines around the wildlife management area.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you for your presentation. This item will also be heard in Executive Session.

We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 11, Acquisition of Land, Matagorda County, Expansion of the Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area. This will be held in -- be heard in Executive Session.

Work Session Item No. 12, Acquisition of Land, Marion County, Approximately 2,000 Acres at the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area. This item will be held in -- will be heard in Executive Session.

Work Session Item No. 13, Litigation Update, will also be heard in Executive Session.

Item No. 14, Briefing of Cybersecurity. This will also be held in Executive Session.

At this time, I would like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meetings Act, seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation, deliberation regarding security devices or security audits under Section 551.089 of the Open Meetings Act. We will now recess for Executive Session.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Boy, the audience has gotten a little smaller.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We outlasted them.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank goodness for the -- we will now reconvene the regular session of the Work Session on November 6, 2019, at 2:30 -- the clocks are different between upstairs -- 2:33.

The first item is Work Session Item No. 9, Grant of Easement, Brazoria County, Approximately 66 acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area. This item was heard in Executive Session. And if there's no further discussion, I will place the Grant of Easement, Brazoria County, Approximately 66 Acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 10, Grant of Easement, Brazoria County, Approximately 19 Acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area, Request Permission to Begin the Public Notice and Input Process. This item was heard in Executive Session. And if there's no further discussion, I authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process regarding the Grant of Easement, Brazoria County, Approximately 19 Acres at the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area.

Are we good?

Work Session Item No. 11, Acquisition of Land, Matagorda County, Expansion of the Matagorda Peninsula Coastal Management Area. This item was heard in Executive Session, and there's no further action at this time.

Work Session Item No. 12, Marion County, Approximately 2,000 Acres at the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area. This item was heard in Executive Session, and there's no further action required at this time.

Item No. 13, Litigate Update. This item was heard in Executive Session, and there was no further action required at this time.

Work Session Item No. 14, Briefing, Cybersecurity. This item was heard in Executive Session, and there's no further action required at this time.

Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its Work Session business and I declare us adjourned at 2:35.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(Work Session Adjourns)


C E R T I F I C A T E

STATE OF TEXAS ) COUNTY OF TRAVIS )

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

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

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

___________________________________

Paige S. Watts, CSR, RPR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: December 31, 2020

7010 Cool Canyon Cove

Round Rock, Texas 78681

(512)779-8320

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