TPW Commission

Work Session, March 23, 2022


TPW Commission Meetings


March 23, 2022



                 4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD

                    AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to Wednesday's Work Session, March 23rd, 2022. Before we get started, I'm going to do a roll call.

Aplin here.










CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, thank you. We've got a full slate of Commissioners. Thank everyone for showing up today.

I'm going to call this meeting to order March 23rd, 2022, 9:04 a.m.

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

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

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Carter.

Commissioners, as a reminder, please announce your name before you speak and remember to speak slowly for the court reporter.

Before we proceed, I want to announce that Work Session Item No. 9, the Fishing Guide License Rules and Item No. 11, Sunset Recommendations, Uniform Rules for Refusal to Issue or Renew Non-recreational Licenses and Permits, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register has been withdrawn from today's agenda.

First order of business will be the approval of minutes from the previous Work Session held January 26. I need a motion and a second from a Commissioner.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: We got a motion by Scott.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Bell second. All those in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Opposed? Hearing none.

Work Session Item No. 1, Updated on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's progress in implementing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Land and Water Resource Conservation and Recreational Plan, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I hope everybody is doing well.

I want to share a few words about various and sundry going-ons inside the Agency and as is customary and consistent with the Sunset Commission requirement, just provide a quick update on Internal Affairs. Mike and Jarret and Johnny and Mark and Patty continue to do a great job managing just the customary and usual caseload. They're also doing a good ensuring that they're getting the most contemporary and up-to-date training with respect to their management of the Internal Affairs team.

They are conducting a midyear audit of their IA PRO System, which is our software system for which we track case incidents, use-of-force incidents, and so forth. And last, but not least, you know y'all are certainly familiar with the Executive Protection team inside the Department and that leadership and professional development opportunity for our park police officers and game wardens and so we're going to be opening that up to other interested officers and so Mike and his team are going to be working with and Wes and Chad to see what other officers have an interest in participating in that program and so we're excited about that.

I want to welcome a new member of our Communications team, Cory Chandler. I don't know if Cory -- is Cory here to -- Cory. There's Cory. Cory is with us. He's our new Deputy Director in Communications working with Mischelle. We're thrilled to have him. As you can see, he's got a terrific background in media and external affairs and communications writ large. He was with the Comptroller's Office for eight years as their External Communications Manager. Did a lot on the media front. He was with Texas Tech and worked in their Office of Admissions in marketing and the law school over there and so we're excited about his expertise.

He's a great outdoorsman. Leads a Boy Scout troop, loves to hunt and fish and cares about all the things we do and so we're thrilled to have him and I know Mischelle is particularly thrilled to have him. So, Cory, welcome. Delighted to have you as part of the team.

I wanted to just share a few words about some promotions also inside the Agency. You know, we're all well aware of that tsunami that we know as the retirement of all the Baby Boomers and we had some of that inside our Inland Fisheries leadership team with the retirement of Dave Terre and Ken Kurzawski, both of which were the Agency for -- gosh -- about 30 years or so, Craig.

And so with their well-earned retirements, that did give Craig an opportunity to just think through his succession plan and division leadership and provide some opportunities to realign some programs and provide some promotional opportunities and here are three of our colleagues that have been promoted into new roles of leadership inside Inland Fisheries. Tim Birdsong, who was our Deputy Director of Inland Fisheries and he's overseeing kind of Craig's day-to-day operations of our fisheries management related teams on the lakes and reservoirs and rivers. So all of those biologists and technicians that are out there doing all the important work on the public waterbodies to ensure that fishing and our fisheries are in good state. Mike Tennant, who y'all have a chance to meet, is our Director of our -- our Coordinator for Regulations and Policy. And so Michael's job will be, you know, largely interfacing with the Commission, the Legislature, other interested parties on fishing-related regulations and so forth. And then Kevin Mayes is our Chief of Science and Policy inside Inland Fisheries and so he'll be overseeing our researchers at our Heart of the Hills research station, you know, of all of our, again, regulations and policy work, our natural research damage assessment related program when we're dealing with aquatic impacts from environmental spills and so forth. And so we're excited about Kevin taking that role. So three great choices and congratulations to all three of those colleagues, Craig.

I want to also acknowledge a hard-earned certification from Carolyn Gonzales. Carolyn has been with us 20 years inside our State Parks team and just a wonderful part of the Agency culture. Just a great bright spot. She is our Director of Staff Services and Administration inside State Parks and so she helps Rodney and Justin with all of the various and sundry personnel management inside State Parks, which as y'all know is a big, very disbursed division with lots of occupational diversity and lots of full-time and seasonal jobs in all corners of state and so Carolyn serves as that HR liaison for our State Parks team with Patty and her team with the Agency's HR team and Carolyn's been very involved with the local Society of Human Resources Managers. She recently earned her Senior Certified Professional Certificate and so always proud to be able to celebrate that kind of professional development for a colleague and so kudos to Carolyn.

And so is Carolyn with us? Is Carolyn here today? Did Carolyn come? No, I don't see Carolyn. Okay, hopefully she's listening as we're bragging on her. So hopefully her face is turning appropriately red, even if we can't see it. So anyway, congratulations to her.

Nice to see our team, no surprise, Inland Fisheries get another award nationally. This from time from the American Fisheries Society, which is essentially the professional society of fisheries biologists across the country and they're National Outstanding Sport Fish Restoration Award was given to our Inland Fisheries team for their work to repatriate Guadalupe bass, our state fish, back into the Blanco River and y'all have heard a lot about that 30-year program that our Inland Fisheries team has been working to restore our native bass and state fish back into those Hill Country streams, many of which either Guadalupe bass had either been extirpated or functionally extirpated because of the hybridization with Smallmouth bass. And so this is wonderful recognition for Tim Birdsong; Dijar Lutz-Carrillo, who's our geneticist with our Inland Fisheries program; Steve Magnelia; Ryan McGillicuddy; and Melissa Parker who've just done a fabulous job working with riverside landowners, local communities, and so forth, fly fishing clubs and others to engender a huge amount of interest in that fishery. And so anyway, really proud of this national award, Craig, and so kudos to our colleagues on that -- on that front.

Speaking of awards, our friends at the Shikar Safari Club, international hunting and conservation and sporting club, every year recognize a Game Warden of the Year, Officer of the Year. And Game Warden Landon Spacek out of Newton County is our Officer or the Year. And Landon is here with his family. Landon, there he is right there in the back. His three kids and wife have come in to help celebrate this all the way from the Louisiana border and the Sabine River in Newton County. And Landon has just done an extraordinary job over there.

And when the Shikar Safari Club recognizes an Officer of the Year Award, you can image it's pretty competitive. You know, they're looking for leadership. They're looking for impact. They're looking for officers that are standing above and beyond in their excellence in the pursuit and execution of conservation law enforcement and as you can imagine, that kind of award comes with a lot of competition and Landon has just done a fabulous job.

Since he graduated from the 48th Texas Game Warden Academy 20 years ago, he spent his entire career in Newton County. He married a local girl, which let me tell you, that's helped a lot. As the Vice-Chairman can attest, Newton County cannot always be the friendliest place to law enforcement. They're pretty independent over there and I'll leave it at that. You know, that was kind of ground center for the deer dog wars and Landon through his community-related outreach, his involvement in youth engagement, the trust that he's built up with landowners and citizens has just been extraordinary while doing his job and, you know, he's made ton of terrific cases, whether it's, you know, hunting at night, you know, poaching off somebody's land, illegal baiting on some of the public hunting lands over there. People have just really come to respect him and his work.

The other thing that I'll say, you know, one of the tragedies that befell that county, y'all remember the big floods in 2016 when the Sabine River got out of its banks and a good portion of Newton County had to be evacuated and all the entire town of Deweyville for, I think, at least a two-week period and that was a very, very difficult time for those residents. And Landon was front and center on that emergency response and disaster relief for a lot of frustrated residents who not only needed help, but also wanted to be able to get back in their homes. And Landon was just a tremendous calming influence and went a long way to building a lot of support for this Department. So he's a great ambassador and we're proud to see him recognized.

So, Landon, congratulations. Awfully proud to be on your team. Thank you for joining us today.

Speaking of awards, our State Park Law Enforcement team and Chief Wes Masur recently received a national award from the Park Law Enforcement Association and it's their platinum award for excellence and they'll pick a law enforcement agency every year nationally to recognize them for the exemplary performance, their innovation, their modernization, their contemporary policing inside park-related environments. And Wes and his team were awarded this very prestigious award this year and couldn't think of a better crew, obviously, to receive it than our own State Park police.

And, you know, our hundred and 30 some odd State Park police officers are responsible for, you know, public safety, emergency response, disaster relief, and helping to ensure the safety of everybody in and around the parks. And of course as y'all know in our parks, you know, we get upwards of ten million people a year that come through those parks and our State Park police officers are on the front lines ensuring that people stay safe in sometimes very challenging and inhospitable and dangerous and difficult situations and our officers confront those on a daily basis with tremendous professionalism and courage and so we're thrilled for this award.

It's well-deserved for our State Park team. I think Wes is with us today. There's Wes in the back. And so congratulations, Wes, to you and your team for this well-deserved award. And I know Rodney and Justin share my enthusiasm in congratulating them for this national recognition.

And this is a pretty good example of why that team is recognized not only their outstanding, you know, operations and organization and use of a wide variety of training and tools to ensure the safety of our public in and around the parks and in counties and candidly wherever the State needs them; but Laramy Estel, who's a State Park police officer up at Palo Duro Canyon, last year got a 9-1-1 call from a lady that had got trapped in flood waters there at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in a little crossing there, the Prairie Dog Town Fork at Red River, rising flood waters. She's trapped in a Subaru with 5 feet of water and rising and can't get out. And so Laramy swims out to try to get her out. She can't open the doors or windows. He busts open the back window and is able to swim her to safety. And so Laramy was recognized with a life saving award from the National Park Law Enforcement Association and that's, again, emblematic of the kind of work that our State Park police officers are doing day in and day out for this Department and the people that enjoy the park and in doing so, saved a life that day. And so congratulations to Laramy. Proud of his work and his contributions.

This year we've got a couple of program milestones and anniversaries and a couple of big ones, not the least of which is the 50th anniversary of our Hunter Education Program. And a couple of pictures or graphs on this slide, I think, tell a wonderful story. First in the upper left-hand corner is our first Hunter Ed instructor T.D. Caroll who helped start the program back in 1972. On the left side of that picture is a game warden, Captain Lynn Stanley, who was a Hunter Ed instructor. In the middle is a boy of 15 years old, Mike Fain, who was the very first individual to go through hunter education in 1972.

And the rest of the story is that Mike became a game warden for this Department and served for 25 years down in Kenedy County before he retired and unfortunately passed away down in his home town of Sarita in 2010. But it's a wonderful remembrance of just the importance of that program and the power that it has on young people, not only in introducing them to safe and responsible and ethical and conservation-oriented hunting, but also inspiring them to think about pursuing a career in conservation and, in this case, law enforcement.

This graph is pretty telling about the impacts of this program. On the X axis shows the years from the 80s to roughly the present. And then the Y axis on the left shows the number of hunting-related accidents per 100,000 hunting licenses and then on the right-hand Y axis shows the number of students who are certified each year. And during the 50-year program, our team has certified about a million and a half people. Roughly 50 to 60,000 people a year. A lot of that comes through high school ag and FFA related programs and that's a very, very popular way for young people to get introduced into hunter education.

We also have this extraordinary cadre of volunteers across the state, roughly 3800 voluntary hunter ed related instructors which teach hunter education to young people and old people too that want to get -- it doesn't matter the age -- that want to participate in hunting in our state and in other states. I think what's so telling is that through that program, we've reduced the number of accidents about 80 percent and you can see as the numbers of hunter ed instructors has grown on an annual basis, the decrease on in the number of accidents on an annual basis and last year was the lowest one on record with only 12 accidents across the state. Of course, we aspire for zero and that's obviously our hope; but we're really proud of this program.

The Commission has had a longstanding interest in the success of this program. Also has looked to ensure that it doesn't provide a barrier to people getting out in the field and so, you know, there are opportunities to purchase a one-time deferment for hunter education and the Commission put in place a rule that allowed people 17 years and older to take an online only class, as well as reduce the number of classroom days from essentially two to one, again, to make that hunter education more concentrated and more focused. But as you can see, the proof's in the pudding. We're very grateful for our volunteers, including our Communications team and our hunter ed chiefs around the state which lead this program for the Department, our game wardens that participate in this, State Park police officers, biologists, and others. A terrific program, so congratulations on that 50-year milestone.

Speaking of milestones, we're celebrating 20 years of the annual crab trap removal program and that's also an important volunteer led program by our Coastal Fisheries team in partnership with fishing guides and CCA and Galveston Bay Foundation and just citizens along the coast to get rid of these abandoned crab traps in bay waters. Those traps just serve as essentially ghost traps and can be left abandon there to kill fish and crabs if abandoned. And so on the third Friday in February each year, we'll close the crabbing season for ten days and any crab traps that are in the bays can be treated as essentially litter or debris and be collected by somebody and then essentially thrown away and in doing so also freeing, you know, crabs and other organisms that are essentially left there to die.

So each year, we'll have several hundred volunteers that will participate in that activity on the coast. They'll remove somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 abandoned traps along the coast. So it's, again, a wonderful conservation program and proud of Robin and his team for leading that on a annual basis.

Last but not least, I just want to provide a quick update on the Rolling Pines fire and the independent review panel that we chartered at our last Commission, we talked extensively about that escaped prescribed fire and so I'm not going to revisit all of that detail. What you'll also recall though is that we worked very closely through Assistant Director Wes Moorehead at the Texas A&M Forest Service to impanel an outside, independent review panel to look at what were the likely causes of that escaped fire and just as importantly, what can we do differently to ensure the strength and safety of our prescribed burn program at Bastrop and other places as we continue to execute that critically important management tool.

Wes put together really a fabulous team from all over the Southeast with experience in wildfire suppression and prevention and forest management, all of whom had decades of experience in these kind of urban wildland interfaces in southern forests. They were led by Chief Darryl Jones out of South Carolina. We had Bo Chesser and Ken Parker out of Georgia, Kasie Crowe out of Florida, and Drew Daily out of Oklahoma and they were on the ground in Texas within a week of the escaped fire and at Bastrop, looking at what happened, interviewing those who were on the fire lines and doing their kind of forensic work to find out what happened.

I sent y'all a copy of their report earlier this month and then Dee has provided an additional hard copy for all of you. And, again, they essentially did two things as part of this outside review: One, looked at the likely causes; and then secondly, gave us recommendations about how we could strengthen our burn program going forward.

I think it's difficult in their mind to pinpoint any one action for the cause of the escape. A couple of factors though that they did identify, we had put together a couple two different burn units to burn at one time and that created a very long fire line for us to maintain and it's likely that we didn't have the requisite resources for that, just given the complexity of the fuels in that area, as well as the receptivity and vulnerability of the fuels in that area to fires. And so, obviously, we'll be looking to increase numbers of people in fires in the future. In addition, there was -- there was a concern about the lack of presence of bulldozers on those fire lines and staged at the right places so that when we had spotting of those fire -- meaning that we had fire that escaped from the area that we were planning on burning -- those bulldozers were not in the places where they could take immediate action to help extinguish the fires. Also because of the complexity of the fuel types and all of the neighbor related issues, you know, they felt that perhaps our goals of that fire were a little ambitious in terms of what we were trying to accomplish. And so in the future, we're probably going to need to try to scale that back in our either fuel mitigation objectives or fire risk management objectives or habitat related objectives. Probably be -- need to be taken more incrementally going forward as opposed to trying to attack in one larger fire.

They had a whole litany of recommendations about what we could do differently going forward. They did all come to the conclusion that one of the real mitigating factors in this fire from it becoming a whole lot worse was the very quick decision of our burn boss to call it an escaped fire. They all commented that they may very well not have made that call when they did; but because our burn chief or fire chief made that call when he did, that allowed emergency resources to be mobilized very quickly and ultimately homes were saved and kept a bad situation from getting a whole lot worse.

Going -- going forward, they want us to continue to work to strengthen our relationship which is already very strong with area fire departments and emergency management officials in the area and we're already well down the road on that. Have had a number of meetings with the fire management officers in that area and emergency management chiefs to do that. So I'm very confident that will happen.

They've also recommended that when we prepare burn plans for Bastrop and other high-risk areas, that we consider some additional variables for whether or not we decide to proceed with the fire or not. And so as you can imagine, our team looks at a wide variety of weather related variables -- relative humidity, wind speed, direction, 20-feet wind lengths or flame lengths, et cetera -- and they've recommended that we add some other variables just to help us make the best decision possible before we proceed on a fire or not. They've recommended that we get, at least for some period, an outside review of our fire plans at a place like Bastrop before we go forward. So we've got folks that are eminently qualified to prepare those plans. We do those well in advance of any prescribed fire, but asking a qualified reviewer from another entity or agency to look over those plans to make sure that we're not missing any -- missing anything is something that they strongly recommended. And there are other recommendations inside the report that you can read through.

I also want to let you know that we had a town hall meeting in Bastrop on -- earlier this month. Nim Kidd from the Division of Emergency Management moderated that meeting and very grateful for Nim for doing that. The county judge was there and the mayor and a wide variety of other public officials. Obviously, our State Park leadership team was there and Chief Jones from South Carolina came in and presented the findings and recommendations from the report and it provided our neighbors and the community of Bastrop an opportunity to ask questions and express, you know, their concerns. In some cases, you know, obvious frustration about the escaped the fire. In some cases, anger. And so we fielded those questions and heard those concerns.

Essentially, I think, to summarize what our neighbors expect of us at Bastrop, I think they all understand that prescribed fire is critical to maintaining the future of that forest at Bastrop State Park. People understand that. They get that. They're deeply, deeply impacted from the fire of 2011, as you can might imagine. And so fire itself is very anxiety-inducing in that area and so we're going to have to carefully manage that going forward with better communication and coordination about it and so their expectations of safety and communication and resources on those fires are emphatic and unambiguous and we certainly let the community -- our absolute intentions of honoring that, embracing all the findings in the report from the outside panel and continuing down a path of safely putting fire on the ground to help reduce fuel risk and fire risk and managing the habitat there in that environment.

Last but not least on that front, Chairman and Commissioners, you know, I'll say this. These kind of situations obviously are very difficult and I think they can be particularly difficult for staff that are involved in these situations in which there's lots of public hue and cry and criticism and it's a pretty easy reaction to see people build up a moat or get defensive or simply hunker down and I'm really, really proud of our State Parks team for not doing that. Embracing the outside panel, listening to the community, hearing the concerns, being open to the recommendations for how we can improve it and that's a great testament to the leadership of Rodney Franklin and Justin Rhodes and really proud of that culture of learning and self-reflection that that Division and the team has and so I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that to all of you.

With that, Chairman, I'll close there and see if you or any of the Commission have any questions about any of these items.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Carter. Good presentation.

Commissioners, any questions? Comments?

It's a lot of good stuff there that you shared with us, but I want to emphasize what you said. We very much -- this Commission very much appreciates the Agency leaning in to this Rolling Pines fire issue and being proactive and going straight at it and getting the best science, the best information, the best outside parties to help us and did not shirk that responsibility. So I know it was very, very difficult. We talked often, but thank you for going at it head first and we'll be better because of it.

MR. SMITH: You bet. Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Appreciate it. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 2, Financial Update. Reggie, how are you? Good morning.

MR. PEGUES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Reggie Pegues. I'm the Chief Financial Officer and today I'll be presenting the monthly -- the final overview through February. I'll be covering the following topics: Revenue summaries for our hunting and fishing licenses, state parks revenue, and boat registrations and also I'll conclude with our budget adjustments through the month of February.

Starting with license revenue, our largest source of revenue, we have revenues through February of 84.5 million and we're following the typical season paradigm with the majority of the revenues occurring from September through December, with January and February being our shortest months, with an expected upswing for the remainder of the year as we move into the warmer months.

This next slide is a five-year comparison of our license revenue. You see looking at '21 and '22, we're slightly behind last year's record pace and this is primarily due to a reduction in our resident license sales. This next slide is a revenue comparison of '21 and '22 by revenue type. As I mentioned previously, there was a slight dip in our resident fishing license for hunting and fishing; but, however, there was an uptick in our nonresident license fees and this is primarily due to a relaxation of the travel restrictions that we had last year that were related to COVID. So it's kind of an offset of those two sources.

Moving on to our second revenue source, state parks revenue. We have revenues of 31.2 million through February, with the month of February itself being 5 million which is the largest month we've had in recent memory. And just as a reminder, last February we had the real bad winter storm. So this February, revenues are 1.6 million higher than last year's revenues.

This next slide is a five-year comparison. So FY '22, we're actually outpacing last year's record numbers by about 2.4 million and also outpacing the prior year's revenues. So this -- if the trend continues, this may be another record year for state parks.

Next is a detailed comparison between '21 and '22 by revenue type. The primary driver between '22 and '21 is an increase in our facilities revenue and concessions revenue. Basically what that means is as people go to our parks, they're actually spending more in the parks than they did this time last year on our concessions.

Moving over to our boat revenue, revenues to date are 7.9 million. Again, following the seasonal pattern with an expected upswing as we enter into the warmer months. Here's also the five-year comparison of boat revenues. For this form of revenue, we're actually falling a little bit behind; but that's only in comparison to FY '21 being a record year. If you'll see the prior years, FY '20 through '18, we're still in excess of those numbers.

Next is the revenue comparison by type for '21 and '22. Again, revenues are down by 10.1 percent; but that's only in comparison to last year's record numbers.

Next, I'll go over our budget adjustments since December. At the end of December, we had an adjusted budget of 721.7 million. Since that time, we've had 14.4 million in budget adjustments. Breaking those adjustments out, we're 8.5 million in unexpended balances for federal funds from '21 into '22. Appropriated receipts, we include things such as third party reimbursements, our donations of 900,000; 3.8 million of unexpended construction balances; and 1.2 million for our fringe, which is our benefits for retirement, insurance, Social Security; and those numbers are estimated based on our payroll expenditures throughout the year, giving us an ending budget of 736.1 million.

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

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Reggie, thank you.

Commissioners, any questions?

Thank you, Reggie. Have a good day.

Work Session Item No. 3, Briefing, Natural Agenda Update, Michael Goldsmith. Good morning, Mike.

MR. GOLDSMITH: Good morning. My name is Michael Goldsmith. I'm the Strategic Planning and Performance Coordinator at TPWD's Financial Resources Division. Today I will be briefing you on updates to the Agency's strategic plan. At TPWD this takes the shape of the Natural Agenda.

Strategic planning is a long-term and future oriented process of assessment, goal setting, and decision making. For this process in Texas, all state agencies are legislatively required to complete and submit an updated five-year strategic plan every two years. The strategic planning process is intended to set direction for all the Agency's operations, communicate Agency goals, directive -- directions and outcomes to the Legislature and stakeholders and guide budget preparation and establish a basis for measuring success through the development and use of performance measures.

This guides budget preparation in two ways. The goals and strategies in the strategic plan comprise the budget and planning structure for each agency, which provide the framework through which agencies request and receive legislative appropriations. Identifying funding priorities also sets the stage for exceptional items requests in the Legislative Appropriations Request. The LBB and the Governor's Office give instructions on what must be included in the plan and the part it plays in the budget process. The strategic plan instructions also include Agency goals, objectives, and strategies, an assessment of internal and external factors impacting the Agency, and a set of performance measures to assess progress.

Within the formal requirements for what must be included, the Agency can use the plan as an opportunity to communicate what it thinks is important and what factors are affecting its ability to be effective. Every 12 years, TPWD comes under evaluation from the Sunset Commission who is charged with making recommendations to the Legislature on whether the Agency should continue, current performance of the Agency, and recommendations for its improvement.

Beginning in 2019, TPWD consulted with Sunset staff about a number of operational areas. This process was completed with a final Sunset recommendation document being issued in March of 2021 and a bill, SB 700, being passed to continue TPWD for the next 12 years and a TPWD related provision into legislation.

One of these areas was broadly an improvement of the Natural Agenda and highlighting its function as the Agency's sole strategic plan. Among these specific recommendations were to use the flexibility afforded to tailer the strategic plan to ensure the Agency is strategically assessing its existing activities and needs and has actionable, attainable goals it is making progress towards. Also to use this single strategic planning process to hone Agency operations, resources, and decision making, to actively involve the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, to include a thorough assessment of Agency capabilities and needs, external factors affecting the Agency's mission and operations, identification of future needs, and stakeholder input. And finally, link Agency goals, objectives, and strategies and include outcome measures to help the Commission and the Agency better evaluate whether its programs are achieving desired results.

While in general, TPWD reevaluates its existing activities and needs as part of the Natural Agenda strategic planning process every two years, this direction from Sunset led to a more intensive effort this round to make any changes necessary to ensure that the Natural Agenda best reflects current Agency activities and conditions and is holistic, operational, measurable, and as time-based as possible. This is reflected in both the Agency's budget structure and the Natural Agenda strategic structure.

The goals, objectives, and strategies and the budget structure provide the framework through which agencies request and receive legislative appropriations. These goals, objectives, and strategies are used in budget development to create our Legislative Appropriations Request based on the budget structure approved in the strategic plan and defining performance measures in the strategic plan can inform decision-making internally and externally. The strategic structure is also developed for the Natural Agenda. The structure is based on four goals and various objectives originally developed in the Land and Water Plan. Because this structure does not have to be approved by the LBB and the Governor's Office, the action items created for this structure give us the flexibility to highlight any major action areas or an initiatives of importance within a five-year timeframe. This structure is also used to explore internal and external events, opportunities, or causes for concern within this timeframe.

While TPWD evaluates both structures as a regular part of the strategic planning process every two years to comply with Sunset recommendations, additional effort was made this round to evaluate each aspect of both structures, including working to include more specific quantifiable steps necessary to achieve budget structure objectives in certain timeframes, adding additional or better honed strategic structure action items to help TPWD better oversee and manage the program effectiveness, and ensuring that there are clear linkages between both budget structure and strategic structure goals, objectives, and strategies to better evaluate whether programs are achieving desired results.

Representatives from each division were asked over the past summer to evaluate the strategic structure, goals, objections, and action items to see if any components of these could be made more holistic, representative of the scope of Agency activities are actionable. After this internal review, the draft strategic structure was posted on the TPWD website in December and was sent out by e-mail blast to some 11,000 members. We have received 135 responses. Sixty of which had recommendations or comments. Of these decisions, staff made recommendations on which comments we would be able to implement within the scope of the current plan and the strategic structure draft was amended accordingly.

While not every recommendation was added into the strategic structure, division review and responses dictated which were appropriate for the scope of the current plan and which may be possible to incorporate in future versions of the plan. The draft strategic structure is currently under EO review. In addition to the presentation, we've updated the Commission throughout this process and will send the strategic structure in both summary and full text of the public comments for Commission review as the structure is finalized for the plan.

The other component of efforts to implement Sunset recommendations related to the strategic plan took the form of the Department's budget structure and performance measures. To comply with Sunset recommendations to budget structure objectives measurable and time-based, performance measure language was added to each of our eight objectives. So, for instance, Objective B1, ensure sites are open and safe in the current budget cycle reads: Ensure that TPWD sites are open to the public and safe for use.

Proposed language for the upcoming budget cycle would be ensure that TPWD sites and facilities are open to the public by ensuring X state parks are in operation at the end of each fiscal year and ensure that sites are safe for use by completing X percent of minor repair projects each year of the biennium.

Other changes to the budget structure include a re-scoping of Inland Fisheries performance measures to make them more holistic, inclusive, and reflective of Agency activities. These changes would include deleting the measure percent of Texas' streams with in-stream flow needs determined, as TPWD has completed the limits of its work in this area. Replacing the measure number of water-related documents reviewed with a more holistic measure that would capture the number of proactive consultations performed with responsible parties to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to aquatic ecosystems and fisheries and the addition of the measures percentage of freshwater fish and mussel species of greatest conservation need, with conservation actions implemented to recover, restore, or preserve their populations and number fish habitat and angler access improvement projects completed or underway in public waters.

Other changes that are unrelated to Sunset recommendations include changes to an object -- objectives, strategies, and a placement of a performance measure to reflect the movement of the boater education program from Communications Division to Law Enforcement Division. There are also a number of conforming changes and slight re-scopings of language measure definitions to better capture the activities and the efforts of divisions in various program areas.

These proposed changes have been approved by the EO and we are currently engaging with LBB and the Governor's Office in discussions with how to proceed. These changes are subject to LBB and Governor's Office approval.

Other elements of the strategic plan discuss an internal and external assessment of challenges, opportunities, and major initiatives to be undertaken within the 2023 to 2027 timeframe, statutory challenges for the Department in being able to fulfill its mission and possible fixes, an analysis of the TPWD workforce's ability to meet present and future challenges, an analysis of a recent customer service satisfaction survey, and information related to contracting with historically underutilized businesses. Initial division submissions are in the process of being compiled and edited. Once compiled, our team will meet with EO to determine priorities and distribute drafts.

We will need to get approvals and signatures of the Executive Director and the Commission prior to finalization. The final document is due electronically to LBB and Governor's Office on June 1st. And with that, I'll close and pause for any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commission, anybody have a question for Michael?

Hearing none, Mike, thank you.

MR. GOLDSMITH: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 4, Internal Audit, Ms. Brandy Meeks. Hello, Brandy.

MS. MEEKS: Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Brandy Meeks. I'm the Internal Audit Director. This morning, I'd like to update you on our fiscal year '22 internal audit plan, as well as external audits and assessments.

So this -- and the next two slides -- are going to show the status of our current audit plan. Changes since our last Commission Meeting are No. 2 under performance audits. The audit of selected contracts is now in the reporting phase, so you should be seeing that report soon. No. 3 under IT and cybersecurity projects, the active directory advisory has been put on hold. We were going to outsource that project; but during our selection of the vendor, me and I -- along with IT, we were working together to select the vendor. IT learned that Microsoft would come in for free and do an active directory assessment. So that's currently going on right now. That is a project in IT, though. Not -- Audit is not involved with that at all. Once that report comes out, Jamie will share that with me. She's the IT Director and, of course, share it with all the stakeholders. From there we can decide whether or not we want to pursue an audit active directory advisory project or maybe we want to put that on hold to give IT a couple of years or at least a year to make some changes if they need to in active directory before we go in and take a look, but we can just come to that decision after we see that report.

And then finally at the bottom for follow-ups and status reports, we are currently working on the Q2 reporting. We're in the reporting phase of the Q2 status report and follow-up report and we've already started following up on audit items that are due to be remediated in Q3.

As far as the 20 fiscal control audits that we have on our current plan, all of our state park fiscal control audits, all ten of them are in various phases. Two are in the fieldwork phase, four are in the quality assurance phase, three are currently in reporting, and one is complete. And we've also gone out and done fieldwork on one of our Law Enforcement offices. So we have nine still to start for our Law Enforcement offices.

And then finally as far as special projects and administrative duties, nothing has changed under special projects. We still have on our plate to do our TDI peer review, as well as follow-up on the Sunset recommendations; but I do have some good news. We have hired three of our vacancies for our Internal Audit positions. I have a lead auditor, a senior auditor, and a staff auditor who will be starting on Monday. So I'm very excited about that. We still have two positions to fill, however, our IT auditor and another staff audit position.

And then as far as external audits and assessments are concerned, the first four that you see are ongoing from the last Commission Meeting. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently conducting a civil rights review, as well as the OIG Wildlife Sport Fish and Restoration Program Grant audit that's wrapping up. The SAO is also currently performing an audit of our capital assets, as well as a contract monitoring assessment and then we were recently notified that the Comptroller would be doing a dual employment desk audit. None of the external audits and assessments have been completed since the last Commission Meeting.

And that completes my presentation. I'm available for any questions that you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Brandy.

Commission, any questions for Brandy?



COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.


COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Sorry. I have a quick question about the cybersecurity audit. You -- you said Microsoft is willing to come in and do it for free?

MS. MEEKS: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: I'm always a little suspicious of something like that.

MS. MEEKS: Well, we have ongoing contracts with Microsoft. So because of that relationship, they offered to come in and do an internal assessment. Initially, that project I wanted to be an audit; but then after thinking about it, I thought let's make it an advisory because it's never been looked at and it's something that definitely needs to be looked at. And so moving it from an audit to an advisory was more of to help management to know what changes, if any, they need to make in order to more adequately secure our active directory configuration settings. So I felt fine with if they want to do an internal assessment, if IT wants to do an internal assessment with Microsoft, especially if Microsoft's offering to come in and do that free of charge. So we'll just kind of see what the results -- how those end up.

And it's my understanding -- and, Jamie, please correct me if I'm wrong -- but Microsoft was not only going to address the objectives that we had from the third-party vendors; but even do a little more work around that.

Jamie, you want to add anything to a that?

MS. MCCLANAHAN: Good morning. Sorry.

MS. MEEKS: No, that's okay.

MS. MCCLANAHAN: For the record, this is Jamie McClanahan, IT Director. Do you -- will you repeat your last question? Sorry. I was walking up.


MS. MEEKS: Suspicious of Microsoft coming in for free.

MS. MCCLANAHAN: Oh, we -- we can get you more information on the separation of duties and -- regarding the Microsoft assessment. I wasn't prepared this morning to address that.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Okay. All right, thank you.

MS. MEEKS: Did that answer your question or kind of?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Just wanted -- Commissioner Bell. Just wanted to recognize the fact that you've done all that work on recruiting and --

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER BELL: -- you've got a little bit of relief that's headed your way starting on Monday. So just say congratulations on that effort. I know it was time consuming and a little bit stressful in the background trying to get other things done. So hopefully within a few months you'll see some relief from that effort, so --

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER BELL: -- I just wanted to acknowledge that.

MS. MEEKS: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. I'm excited.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Brandy.

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 5, Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan Stakeholder Committee Appointment, Delegation of Authority to the Executive Director. Good morning, Colette. How are you?

MS. BRADSBY: I'm good. Thank you.

Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Colette Barron Bradsby, the Deputy General Counsel here at the Department. Let me get my presentation going.

In 2007, Senate Bill 3 established the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program, or RIP, to assist in the recovery of threatened and endangered species associated with the aquifer. SB 3 required Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to appoint a member on the RIP governance committee and I served on that committee for a time; but SB 3 also directed that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission appoint a member to represent recreational interest in the Guadalupe River Basin.

As many of you probably know, conflicts and competition over the Edwards Aquifer -- the primary drinking water source for San Antonio -- have been ongoing since the mid 20th century. These were escalated with the naming of nine federally threatened and endangered species that are dependent upon the aquifer.

SB 3 formalized the RIP that was initiated originally by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and other interested parties in 2006. So ultimately, we had 39 diverse stakeholder entities participating in five years of consensus-based negotiations to develop a working plan to balance water development with species protection. And after some nail-biting moments and against quite steep odds, the RIP achieved success in the form of a habitat conservation plan, or HCP, that was approved by Fish and Wildlife Service. An incidental take permit was issued to the Edwards Aquifer Authority, the cities of New Braunfels and San Marcos, Texas State University, and San Antonio Water System.

Let me see if I'm on my right slide. Sorry.

SB 3 formal -- excuse me. In recognition of the RIP success, the Department of Interior awarded the Edwards Aquifer HC Program its Partners in Conservation Award and the RIP was actually the subject of a book called "Heads Above Water." Ten years into implementation of the HCP, the HCP has performed very well and its successful conservation measures included habitat restoration, a voluntary irrigation suspension program, and the use of an aquifer storage and recovery facility.

Okay. The HCP requires governance by a combination of those incidental take permit holders and a stakeholder committee whose membership is appointed in the same process as was set out in Senate Bill 3. So that means that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission is to appoint the recreational interest member on the EAHCP stakeholder committee.

The committee is beginning the analysis and decision phase for developing the next HCP, as the current HCP expires in five years. The recreational interest slot was recently vacated and a new appointment is necessary. So to simplify the appointment process and to support moving quickly on vacancies, staff recommends the Commission delegate the appointment authority to the Executive Director. This recommendation is also supported by the Edwards Aquifer HCP Program Manager. So I respectfully request that this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for action and I'm happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any -- any questions?

COMMISSIONER BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. I have one question. Just -- I'm just trying to understand from the language is that -- is that supposed to -- is that member supposed to be a Commissioner or that member could be anyone that the Commission appoints?

MS. BRADSBY: That member could be anyone; but specifically it's someone who has the requisite qualifications to represent recreational interest in the Guadalupe River Basin. So, for example, our previous member on the committee was a pretty well-known, successful bass fisherman who was involved in a lot of recreational opportunities on the river.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Okay, thank you.

MS. BRADSBY: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any other questions?

Okay. Hearing none, then I will place this on the agenda item for Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action. Thank you.

Work Session Item No. 6, Aquatic Vegetation Management Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Good morning, Monica.

MS. MCGARRITY: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Monica McGarrity and I'm the Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species Management. Today I'll be presenting on proposed changes to the rules pertaining to nuisance aquatic vegetation management.

Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 11 directs TPWD to adopt by rule a state aquatic vegetation management plan for public bodies of surface water. The plan addresses management of nuisance aquatic vegetation defined in brief as aquatic vegetation species with a potential to significantly interfere with the uses of a public body of surface water and all individuals managing aquatic vegetation must adhere to this plan.

A key requirement of this plan is that a nuisance aquatic vegetation treatment proposal must be submitted to the Department for approval prior to undertaking any efforts to manage nuisance aquatic vegetation using any methods: Chemical, mechanical, or biological. The goals of the state plan are to ensure application of the principles of integrated pest management and preside over -- provide oversight of our habitat management efforts to ensure adequate protection of habitat for fish and wildlife and ensure responsible use of herbicides in public waters.

Aquatic vegetation can be separated into categories of submerged species, rooted species with floating leaves, emergent species along the shoreline, and truly floating species. For the purposes of these proposed rule changes, we're focusing on floating aquatic vegetation. This may consist of free-floating species not ordinarily rooted in the substrate, which includes exotic invasive species such as Giant Salvinia and Water Hyacinth; but not rooted species with floating leaves such as Water Lilies. It may also include fragments, floating mats of fragments of submerged species such as Hydrilla that have been dislodged such as through flooding, creating floating mats of plant material.

Floating aquatic vegetation poses a nuisance for waterfront landowners when it accumulates around docks and shorelines, impeding access for fishing, swimming, and boating; but can be relatively easily removed by raking. However, physical removal of even small quantities currently requires a treatment proposal. Unlike removal of submerged or rooted aquatic vegetation, which provides important habitat for fish and wildlife, management of floating aquatic vegetation has minimal impacts on aquatic habitat and can even be beneficial when nonnative aquatic invasive species are removed.

The proposed rule changes would create a definition for floating aquatic vegetation that encompasses both floating species of plants not rooted in the substrate and those floating mats of fragments of vegetation dislodged through natural processes such as flooding. The proposed rule changes would also create an exception from the treatment proposal requirement based on this definition for physical removal of aquatic vegetation by waterfront landowners and their agents from around docks and shorelines, provided compliance of transport and disposal requirements for exotic species. The exception would not extend to individuals removing vegetation for hire or using mechanical harvesters, as these activities have the potential to be large-scale, have more significant impacts on habitat, and potentially to spread exotic invasive species.

The goal of the proposed rule changes is to enable waterfront landowners to rake up small quantities of floating aquatic vegetation onto the shoreline for drying, composting, or disposal to alleviate access issues without having to submit a treatment proposal. The proposed rule exception would also reduce staff time for reviewing these proposals, as well as reduce staff time and alleviate logistical constraints of attempting to treat very small quantities of plants along shorelines with herbicide.

The Department has determined that removal of aquatic invasive plants is beneficial to the aquatic ecosystem and removal of small quantities of native floating aquatic plants is not detrimental. Furthermore, this activity does not present a risk of spreading aquatic invasive plant species, provided compliance with the regulations regarding possession, transport, and disposal of harmful or potentially harmful exotic aquatic plants.

A total of five public comments were received, with all agreeing with the proposed changes. That concludes my presentation, and I'll be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, question for Monica?

Hearing none, I'll place this item on the agenda for Thursday's Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Monica, thank you.

MS. MCGARRITY: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 7, 2022-23 Statewide Recreational/Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Hello, Mike.

MR. TENNANT: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Michael Tennant and I'm the Regulations and Policy Coordinator in the Inland Fisheries Division. Today I'll be presenting proposed freshwater fishing regulation changes for 2022-2023, along with a summary of public comments.

Blue and Channel catfish special harvest exceptions are in place for Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Law Enforcement has identified a need to establish the upstream reservoir boundary to delineate where these exceptions apply. Under current regulations, there is no delineated upstream boundary for Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The proposed rule change would delineate the upstream boundary as the Union Pacific Railroad bridge to differentiate between the reservoir where special exceptions apply and the inflowing river.

Current county location for Sam Rayburn Reservoir is Jasper County, whereas the reservoir is actually located in five counties. The proposed rule change would clarify the county location for Sam Rayburn Reservoir to included Angelina, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Sabine, and San Augustine Counties, which encompass Sam Rayburn Reservoir as depicted on the map.

For the Sam Rayburn Reservoir boundary delineation, a total of 13 public comments received, with 11 agreeing and two disagreeing on the proposed rules. For the Sam Rayburn Reservoir county designation, a total of ten public comments were received, with nine agreeing and one disagreeing.

Striped and White bass, Channel, Blue, and Flathead catfish special harvest exceptions are in place for Lake Texoma. An upstream boundary delineation was requested by Law Enforcement to differentiate between the lake where these exceptions apply and the inflowing river. The proposed rule change would delineate the upstream boundary between the lake where special exceptions apply and the inflowing river, seeking reciprocity with Oklahoma to the extent possible. Sycamore Creek was identified as a landmark that was recognizable to anglers and enforceable.

Walleye were last stocked in Lake Texoma in 1977, and they have not developed a self-sustaining population, nor have they managed as a sport fishery. Fisheries management surveys in recent years have not detected this species. The proposed rule change would return to statewide standards as special exceptions are no longer needed, which consist of the same daily bag limit and no minimum or maximum length limit and a bag limit of two fish less than 16 inches in length.

For the Lake Texoma boundary delineation, a total of 11 public comments were received, with ten agreeing and one disagreeing on the proposed rules. For proposed changes to wildlife harvest regulations, a total of eight public comments were received, with seven agreeing and one disagreeing.

Due to regulation changes in 2021, Oklahoma now prohibits May harvest of Alligator gar statewide, including all waters of Lake Texoma and the Red River. This poses an enforcement issue for Law Enforcement for both states, as it is difficult to pinpoint where an Alligator gar was harvested on the lake or the river. The proposed rule change would expand the no-harvest area for May to include Lake Texoma and all Texas tributaries of the Red River on the Texas-Oklahoma border in Cooke, Grayson, Fannin, Lamar Red River, and Bowie Counties to alleviate law enforcement issues and ensure reciprocity with current Oklahoma harvest regulations.

There are currently regulations in place for some North and East Texas waters to prevent the transfer of Bigheaded carps via bait bucket transfers. When small, these carp are very similar in appearance to shad and can be easily misidentified as shad and transported as live bait and introduction via that pathway into Lake Texoma, where they could potentially become established and problematic is a significant concern. The proposed rule change would add tributaries of the Red River in those counties along the Oklahoma border to the list of designated waters from which live nongame fish may not be taken.

For the Lake Texoma/Red River Alligator gar proposed rules, a total of 13 public comments were received, with ten agreeing and three disagreeing on the proposed rules. A respondent disagreeing with the proposed rules indicated there has never been a shortage of Alligator gar. For the invasive carp prevention proposed rules, a total of 13 public comments were received, with 11 agreeing and two disagreeing on the proposed rules. A respondent disagreeing with the proposed rules stated that TPWD should make it illegal to return any carp alive to any state waters.

Bois d'Arc Lake is a newly created lake on Bois d'Arc Creek in Fannin County in North Texas. The Department has stocked Largemouth bass with trophy potential in ponds in the reservoir footprint during construction and additional fish are being stocked in the lake as it fills. The fisheries management goal for Bois d'Arc Lake is to develop top-of-the-line fishing opportunities and maximize the quality of fishing over the reservoir lifespan. It is important to provide protection to those initial year classes of stocked bass which will have already grown beyond 14 inches, as they have the greatest growth potential and are the most viable spawning stock.

For soon-to-be-open Bois d'Arc Lake, the proposed regulation would establish a 16-inch maximum length limit, five-fish daily bag, and allowance for temporary possession of Largemouth bass 24 inches or greater for weighing. A total of 12 public comments were received, with all agreeing on the proposed rules.

Historically, Red drum were stocked in Coleto Creek and Fairfield Reservoirs. Stocking of Red drum has not occurred in over ten years and the Department has determined they are no longer present in these reservoirs. The proposed rules would change the current minimum length limit to the statewide standard slot length limit for Red drum, as a special exception is no longer needed. A total of 12 public comments were received, with 11 agreeing and one disagreeing on the proposed rules.

The Department has determined that an external administrative error in publication of rules in 2020 inadvertently resulted in incorrect Largemouth bass harvest regulations for nine waterbodies in the Texas Administrative Code. Existing Department publications and public information reflect the length and bag limits and special provisions intended by the Commission and, thus, conflict with enforceable provisions currently in the Texas Administrative Code.

The proposed change would restore the intended regulations for Largemouth bass previously adopted by the Commission. A total of 11 public comments were received, with ten agreeing and one disagreeing on the proposed rules. A single respondent disagreeing with the proposed rules stated that TPWD should make the maximum keeper size at least 18 inches.

Current Striped bass species description contains references to White bass and subspecies. The proposed rule change would remove references and to White bass and/or subspecies to more accurately represent the intent of the rules and to apply only to Striped bass and their hybrids. A total of 13 public comments were received, with all agreeing on the proposed rules.

That concludes my presentation, and I'll be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, questions for Mike?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Vice-Chairman.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I think you answered it, but I just wanted to verify. So back on the issue with Texoma on the Alligator gar, so we're in total agreement with our counter agency in Oklahoma. Is that an accurate statement?

MR. TENNANT: Yes. However, upstream of the reservoir, we only include Cooke County; but further upstream with the counties that border, the habitat and hydrological conditions aren't there to support Alligator gar. So we didn't impose that in those counties to the -- further to the west with the Oklahoma-Texas border.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Further to the -- okay.



MR. TENNANT: So Cooke County, it encompasses the upper end of Lake Texoma and up into the river some; but then any counties further west we did not include because the habitat conditions and environmental conditions that Alligator gar need to survive just aren't there.


MR. TENNANT: Mainly the water.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: As well, you know, like Toledo Bend, you know, Texoma -- Texoma and Toledo Bend since we share it with other states, you know, we obviously need to be awfully close to their guidelines or else it kind of defeats the purpose. So I just -- I just want to make sure about that item. Thank you.

MR. TENNANT: You're welcome.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anyone else?

Mike, are we having a presentation from Les?

MR. TENNANT: We are.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: There he is. Okay, thank you, Mike.

MR. TENNANT: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Les, you're up.

MR. CASTERLINE: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. For the record, my name is Les Casterline. I am the Assistant Commander of Fisheries Enforcement here at Texas Parks and Wildlife. I'm also here today to recap the proposed rule change to the 2022-2023 recreational hunting and fishing proclamations pertaining to our devices, means, and methods, specifically the section that relates to sail lines.

All right. The current rule states that sail lines may not be used by the holder of a commercial fishing license. Earlier this year, staff was approached with a question on the current rule as to why commercial fishing license holder would be restricted from utilizing a sail line for recreational purposes. After research and discussion, staff has identified that the current language was poorly written and that the original rule did not intend to prevent a commercial fishing license holder from utilizing a sail line while recreationally fishing.

The proposed change would alter the section to now read: No person may use a sail line for commercial purposes.

We received no public comments on this subject for this particular item and as part of the statewide. And then, at that time, that concludes my presentation, if any of you would have any questions for me, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Short and sweet, Les.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, anybody got any questions about sail lines for Les Casterline? Isn't that a great name for a Fisheries guy?

MR. CASTERLINE: Good deal.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: No questions? Thank you. I'll place this on the agenda for Thursday's Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 8, Statewide Oyster Fishery Proclamation, Closure of Oyster Reef Areas, Recommend Adoption of Proposed Changes. Robin, you're up. Good morning.

MR. RIECHERS: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. Again, for the record, my name is Robin Riechers, Director of Coastal Fisheries. And, of course, at our last meeting we provided you with kind of a broad overview of the state of state in the oyster fishery and then moved into a proposal that would close Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres Bay to oyster harvest and I'm here to present that as a proposed item for a adoption.

As we talked at the last meeting, the habitat of oysters is both the habitat and the food product itself and, of course, oysters also provide foundational habitat for a lot of other aquatic species and the more complex the reef areas are and how they intertwine with other critical habitats, the more organisms that those reef areas support and then the complexity of those reefs and the composition of those organisms are there in greater number if it's a more complex kind of resource base there. But as we talk about this particular area, we know that it's an ecologically and important sensitive reef habitat, provides nursery area habitats for fish and invertebrates, it is near our is Cedar Bayou tidal fish pass that is open at this time, it provides -- these reefs provide protection of shoreline habitats, including salt marsh and seagrass. And in this particular area, we've seen increasing harvest pressure.

To show you in a little more clarity how it intertwines with those other habitats, there in the red is the closed area. San Antonio Bay, of course, is to the north. In the little inset you can see that with Aransas Bay to the south and west just a little bit. This kind of lies on the transition zone between them and, again, the brown habitat or the black habitat is the oyster reefs. The light green, kind of almost yellow, is our seagrass in that area and the salt marsh is the darker green. And so you can see it's embedded in those other areas with that other critical habitat nearby and then, of course, you see Cedar Bayou coming out of the south end of that and then making its way to the Gulf.

When we talk about Mesquite Bay, because that's Area 28 -- and, of course, it's the area that's part of this. Carlos and Ayres are outside of that Mesquite Bay area. The harvest area is what we're talking about here and you can see here the increasing harvest pressure that has occurred in '20, '21, and '22. And I might also add that that's really a record since 2008 with that 2022 harvest pressure and if you were to look at sacks -- which I don't have the slides for '22 on sacks -- but we're at or near the record on number of sacks coming out of that area as well. 2017 was the record number of sacks and then this year we're just slightly below that at near 30,000 total sacks coming out of the area. And I'm going to follow this one up with basically the sacks harvested overall from some of these bay systems and then the abundance.

So, again, you saw this slide last time as well. Obviously, at the beginning of the slide it is shows the decreasing trends of sacks in Galveston Bay moving over to the red circle and what we really highlighted last time to you in the red circle is that the Aransas Bay and the San Antonio Bay system had received more fishing pressure, which ultimately led to more harvest coming out of those two systems. As you might expect, as harvest goes up in our catch rates, our fishery independent data, we start seeing overall abundance going down and that's what you can see here and as depicted in this slide where our greater than and -- basically market oysters are undersize oysters and you can see that both of them peaked in '18 and are then coming downward.

In addition to this, of course, Mesquite Bay, 28 there, Harvest Area 28, as you might know did close in 12/20 of this year using our inner season closures that we set up and the other two systems, Carlos and Ayres in combination with the other reefs in those areas -- they're different harvest areas -- closed within a month after that. So really the larger harvest areas in this area closed very early, remembering we open in November and then we use those management closures to close when it reaches that lower threshold that we described to you at the last meeting and so these did close relatively early in the year.

Again, just for a recap on what it means from these areas in terms of total acreage. Our total acreage is a little over 2,100 acres of oyster habitat. Equates to about 3 percent of the overall coast-wide total of oyster habitat and it -- it -- from those areas, we estimate that it accounted for about 10 percent of the coast-wide landings. That's 10 percent based on the last three-year average -- '19, '20 and '21 -- and as you might expect, that 10 percent is probably higher than the relative average long term because of that increased fishing pressure that we saw in those areas during this timeframe.

We held three public meetings. We held them in Galveston, Rockport, and Port Lavaca. You can see there we had about 235 in total attendance. Of course, the most heavily attended -- I'm sorry. I said that wrong. It was about 295 or 300 -- about 350 total attendees. And so the most attended, of course, was the Rock Port hearing, which is the closest hearing we had to that area and you can see there those numbers. We also held a virtual informational meeting for our oyster working group.

I might add that Representative Middleton asked to speak to that group as we started that meeting. He did speak to that group. Basically shared some of the same sentiments that he had shared with this Commission and us prior to our proposal at the January meeting.

So in summary of all of our public comments, which really ran through 5:00 o'clock yesterday afternoon, we basically see that about 80 percent are in the support of the proposal. We had over 2,300 comments, leaving about 440 opposed to the proposal. When we talk about the top six reasons why people oppose the proposal, one of those top reasons was just general agreement and I didn't list that one here; but the other ones are basically people were speaking to the economic impacts of what the proposal do -- would do to the local communities. They also spoke to the proposal just furthering concentrating effort as we close areas, whether it's a management closure or even a closure that's more permanent in nature. They did not support the closures because they didn't believe it was based in science and data. And then we did have a good number of people say that a working reef is good for the reef basically. If you work the reef, if you dredge the reef, it helps to basically make the reef a more productive reef. And then the last one was regulation should only apply to the commercial fishery and that it should not apply to the recreational fishery.

We also took this to our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee on March 16th, and they were unanimously in support of the proposal. In addition, we've had numerous -- which have been forwarded to you -- numerous correspondence in support of the proposal and as you recall, I mentioned Aransas County Judge Burt Mills had sent us a letter prior to the proposal last time in support of the closure; but you notice there in that list, we have also have numerous other entities that have now supported the proposal, of note, from the local area our Coastal Bend Bays and Estuary Program, FlatsWorthy, Coastal Conservation Association with members there, and also I might add the San Antonio Bay Partnership, but that's the list. In addition to that list, overnight we also received comments in support from the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter.

So in opposition to the proposal, of course, I just mentioned previously the letter that we had received from Representative Middleton expressing his opposition to this closure, as well as anything, basically closures that would prohibit the option of harvest. We have a City of Seadrift resolution that has been sent to all of you that opposes the closure and then we got two others yesterday in transmittal -- they had been done a little earlier, but they were sent in transmittal yesterday -- from Galveston County Judge Mark Henry and the Commissioner Courts of Galveston County. Those are both in opposition. One of them believes that the action has already taken place the way the letter is written. Both of them seem to speak as much to the in-season closures as they do to this particular action; but we did -- for inclusion purposes, we wanted to include them here because they obviously were not in support of closures in general in some respects.

In addition to that, those closures, last night we also received in opposition a letter from West Side Calhoun County Navigation District in opposition to the proposal as well.

With that, just as a reminder, this again is the area. I showed you this slide last time and earlier today as well, but this is the area in question that we're talking about closure again: San Antonio Bay to the north, Aransas Bay to the south.

With that, I'd be happy to answer any questions at this time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, Robin. Thank you.

Commission --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- Vice-Chairman.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hildebrand, go ahead.


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So you talked about the data, Item 8, page 5. So the total number of sacks out of San Antonio Bay grows so precipitously in 2020-21. How good is that data?

MR. RIECHERS: That data is self-reported, mandatory self-reported data that we receive from dealers and/or if a -- it's basically dealer-reported data. If there is an instance where a fisherman sells directly to a restaurant or something, they are also supposed to report the data. So basically it should be a consensus of all the data or sacks that were removed from those areas.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Back on -- back earlier in the deal, there was one comment made that working the reefs was good for the reefs. I don't think that's y'all's opinion of the situation, is it?

MR. RIECHERS: No, sir. Certainly there is a lot of -- and we've heard this for years and there may be some truth that spreading out the shell allows more substrate and then there's more area that oysters can attach to kind of in a flat area kind of notion and so we recognize that that's what people are talking about. But certainly when we think about oyster reef health when there's many, many studies that basically support the notion that more complexity, you know, basically creates the habitat for more organisms, provides habitat for finfish species, provides habitat for oysters themselves, makes a more durable reef, meaning that it can withstand, it's higher up in the water column, it can withstand some of siltation that might occur with storms, might be able to withstand even possibly freshwater inflows as well. So, no, we don't agree with that statement; but that is -- we have often heard that statement.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Vice-Chairman thanks for clarifying that.

Any other Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. I've got a couple. First, if you'll look at Item 8 -- Item 8, page 6 again.

MR. RIECHERS: Item 8, page 6, okay.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: I'm curious what happened between '94 and '98 because it looks real similar to what happened between '16 and '18. What caused the dramatic increase in abundance in '94 to '98?

MR. RIECHERS: And I don't -- I don't have that answer completely. I'm going to assume though a lot of it, first of all, we didn't have the fishing pressure that we see in these later years; but I'm going to assume -- and certainly we can go back and look at some of the weather records -- but I'm going to assume that the conditions just got extremely right.


MR. RIECHERS: And that's probably what led to that higher abundance in those periods of time and then, of course, with fishing pressure and other things that might happen. Because we did last time talk about the other natural mortality events that can occur on these reefs.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Okay. Do we have a reasonable estimate from the biologists about what the time to recovery would be if they're left alone, like if there is a closure?

MR. RIECHERS: The time to recovery has -- in these management closures where we've closed in-season and then we looked to sample again and reopen, we've been able to open some reefs the following year, meaning they've recovered to the threshold level of reopening. Doesn't mean that they may hold all the benefits of a fully restored reef, but they would recover to a harvestable level again. But we've had some closed for longer periods of time as well.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Okay. I guess where I was headed with that, if we had sort of a range estimate, the only tweak I'd propose to this rule change would be that it sunsetted at some point instead of just a closure. You know, whether that's three years, five years, whatever; but there's set time that the future Commission looks back at it and decides if it still needs to be closed or not. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, James.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Robin, I'm probably grayest haired here and so I remember this conversation that we had. And, Carter, you'll have to refresh my memory. It's been seven, eight, nine years ago and we had representatives from the industry that came in and as I recollect -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- we had a major problem with all of the freshwater that came down and we had a hurricane or two that messed up the sedimentation. As I recollect, their representatives recommended a minimum of two years closure for -- or to allow the reefs to, you know, rebuild themselves and everything. Do you remember -- do you remember that conversation? I can't remember where you were seven or eight -- of course, I can't even remember where I was yesterday; but that's neither here nor there. But, you know, I just -- I'm just curious. And this is actually more of an information tool for all my fellow Commissioners going back that far as to that particular era when we were having another issue on a number of oyster reefs and the health of them.

MR. RIECHERS: Well, certainly after some of the storms -- Hurricane Ike, in particular -- there were a lot of beliefs that because of the siltation, specifically in Galveston Bay and the changes that it was creating in the industry -- I don't remember exactly people calling for two-year closures, Commissioner Scott; but it's highly likely that people did. We've heard that before from other people.

We certainly have used a two-year mark when we restore reefs because that allows basically two spat sets and growth to a market size oyster. So we've used that as kind of a benchmark of getting reefs back to where you can harvest market oysters off them again. But I will add these in-season closures that are a little bit mixed up in this conversation, that prior to us getting that authority to have those in-season closures, we would get cries from industry members, nonindustry members, our own biologists and enforcement officers and they would speak to that we need to close these reefs. And without those in-season closures being basically delegated to the Executive Director, we could never get those reefs closed in time on Commission action kind of approaches because of the notice requirements and so forth. And so, you know, while the in-season closures are now creating kind of a floor that we're working with, before that we weren't able to even establish that floor that would ensure that a couple years or maybe three years after we would be able to harvest oysters again. So that's an important part of those closures.


COMMISSIONER BELL: Hey, Robin. Commissioner Bell. Just another question. You know, I always have a concern. You know, we're all business folks up here. Some of us are small business folks as well. So whenever there's, you know, folks talking about economic impact, obviously we're thinking about that; but there's two kinds of economic impact here. One is what you might argue is the result of overfishing. The other -- or us shutting it down so people can't get there. The other is the result of overfishing, which means it's going to shut down anyway.

So with the trend that we're on, these areas apparently are going to be closed one way or another. Either closed because we take the action trying to preserve the asset or closed because the asset is no longer going to be harvestable anyway. It seems like we would be smarter to move forward to protect the asset to create a greater, long-term potential for continued economic strength and development. But I understand there's probably -- what -- $60,000 per acre to establish --

MR. RIECHERS: To restore reefs, yes.

COMMISSIONER BELL: -- to -- and is there any notion of public/private partnerships? Do any of these companies that are also talking about this economic damage, perhaps want to share? Because the State doesn't have the money to do all of that. We can do some of that. But do they want to share and create? Any thought to that just about how we help the resource?

MR. RIECHERS: And certainly, Commissioner Bell, there is sharing that is going on now. After House bill 51 in 2017, it was first time -- and there was a minor amount of dollars coming in on a sack tax prior to that timeframe that did go for some restoration activities; but relatively minor in comparison. But after House Bill 51, now 30 percent of the shell that is removed does have to come back into public waters and basically help with those restoration projects ongoing and so there is a sharing that's going on now; but there obviously is place and discussions amongst other entities that might want to help with that. Not necessarily industry entities, but other entities we continue to have those conversations about ways that we can restore more reef areas more quickly. And so we -- you know, we're working hard in that direction. But as you suggest, it really is a cost -- it's a cost benefit question, but it's a cost question of the Agency first establishing those restorations.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners?

I suspect we'll have more dialogue about this and, of course, this is going to be on the agenda for tomorrow. But Commissioner Bell's comment and your comment, his question, seems appropriate. So I would suspect that at tomorrow's meeting, regardless of which direction the Commission takes on this, maybe will be thought, dialogue, instruction to the Agency of how to go out and figure out what we can do long term.

If we open a season in November and we have to close a reef in December, that clearly is not sustainable. And if this is less than 3 percent of the reefs in the state waters, it's a very, very small percentage and it's approximately 10 percent of the harvest. That's not sustainable. And so we'll see what comes out of tomorrow's conversation in the meeting and dialogue about this -- about this issue. But it's -- it's a difficult one, no doubt about it. And those secondary bay systems are small, but they're of critical importance to the overall health and welfare of our bay systems.

So if there's no other comments, I'm going to put this on the agenda tomorrow for us to have full conversation about and take action.

MR. RIECHERS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Robin.

Work Session Item No. 9, Fishing Guide License Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register, that item has been withdrawn.

We're going to move on to Item No. 10, 2022-23 Statewide Hunting Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Hello, Alan. You're up.

MR. CAIN: Hello. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Alan Cain. I'm the White-tailed Deer Program Leader and this morning I'll be presenting proposed change to the statewide big game harvest regulations and requesting action on those items tomorrow.

The first proposal staff will be presenting is a result of a petition for rule-making the Department received this past summer and the petitioners requested the Department allow the take of firearm -- or take of White-tailed deer by firearm in Collin, Dallas, Grayson, and Rockwall Counties, which are those counties in red on the map and they also happen to fall within Deer Management Unit 21, that polygon in yellow there. That's the scale at which we monitor populations. Currently those counties are archery-harvest only during all seasons. After reviewing the petition, staff found no reason to deny that petition recommended pursuing a proposal with those changes.

Current regulatory surveys conducted in Deer Management Unit 21 estimate the deer population to be at 11,300 deer or a deer density of one deer for every 80 acres. Statistical confidence intervals around those estimates range from a deer to 18 up to deer to 356 acres, depending on the habitat quality and quantity out there. These population estimates are similar to Deer Management Unit 22 to the west. It's a deer to 70 acre. Deer Management Unit 20 to the south, it's a deer to 118 acres. And both of those DMUs and all the other ones surrounding these counties currently allow take by firearm during general season, youth season, and on MLD properties.

So staff believe allowing take by firearm during the general season, youth season, and on MLD properties during the MLD season is not a resource concern. It will provide additional hunting opportunity and give landowners additional means to manage the deer population in the native habitats on their properties. Therefore, staff are proposing the following changes. The first one is to remove the prohibition on the use of crossbows during -- use crossbows during archery season, allow the take by firearm during general and youth seasons and on MLD properties during the MLDP season, implement a 4-day doe season during the general season, and require mandatory harvest reporting of buck and antlerless deer in the deer -- in those counties so we can monitor deer harvest in that particular DMU.

At least as of 5:00 o'clock last night, we had 743 total public comments. 34 percent agreed with the proposed changes. 66 percent disagreed and you can see the breakdown of the -- where the comments came from, whether it's our online comments on the web page, we did hold a public hearing in Grayson County, and then received numerous e-mails and phone calls and I believe those numbers are close to the same, but we've had a number of comments come in since last night.

We've also had a number of letters or resolutions from different folks around the state, including a letter of opposition from Representative Reggie Smith and Senator Drew Springer, also the Collin County Commissioners Court, the Collin County Sheriff, the Grayson County County Commissioners Court submitted a resolution in opposition, so did the City of Anna, the City of Sherman, and there was an individual in Grayson County that organized a petition. It's got over 2,000 signatures on that right now, all in opposition.

Those in opposition to the proposal cite several reasons, including their assessment that the deer population is too low to sustain -- or for -- to sustain harvest by firearm or that the shrinking habitat will ultimately have impacts on the deer population and not allow for sustained deer harvest with rifle hunting. There's also concerns that firearm harvest would result in a reduction of the number of trophy quality bucks up there or decrease in the age structure. There could be -- one commenter suggested -- or a couple did, that there could be an increase in poaching with firearm season. There was a number of folks concerned about safety and the discharge of firearms and projectiles going across property boundaries. Although there wasn't -- it was -- the majority of folks just were completely opposed to the proposal. There were several that provided a comment that they'd be okay with other options, including the option to take deer by firearm on MLD properties or at least on high-fenced MLD properties and then some suggested to allow take by firearm during the youth-only season in those counties and there was a few that would like to see the crossbow restriction removed during the archery season.

The next proposal for consideration is to modify the definition of buck and antlerless deer for clarification purposes for hunters and for law enforcement purposes to address those oddball tagging requirement scenarios such as shed antler bucks, antlered does, or buck fawns. And so staff would propose to clarify that antlerless deer are deer having no antler point protruding through the skin or a deer that has completely shed its antlers and that buck deer will be defined as deer having an antler point protruding through the skin or a deer having antler growth in velvet greater than 1 inch.

To date, we've received 257 responses. 83 percent agree. 17 percent disagree with the proposal. The reasons for disagreement, primarily the majority of the comment was that folks thought that shed antler bucks or buck fawns should be tagged as a buck and looking at it as purely the sex of the deer rather than, you know, what's on its head. And there was one -- I think one person commented that we should -- antlers should include deer with hardened antlers less than 1 inch.

The next proposed change is to modify the proof of sex requirements for buck deer, which currently includes the head. And staff would propose another option to include the tail and unskinned skullcap with antlers attached and, again, as that second option. This additional proof of sex option, age, and CWD management, allowing the hunters to leave the most infectious part of the deer at the site of harvest so we're not hauling the brain material around to other parts of the state and then potentially spreading the disease. The tail is included to aid in species identification for law enforcement purposes. Sometimes if you've just got a set of antlers there, you can't always tell if it's a Mule deer or a White-tail just based on antlers and so that could be important for law enforcement to enforce our harvest regulations.

To date, we received 237 total responses. 82 percent agree with the proposed change. 18 percent disagree. Reasons for disagreement were don't require the tail as part of the proof of sex. I think folks just didn't understand the reasoning behind that. One person suggested we not require the skin to remain with the skullcap, and then somebody else suggested it won't work for trophy deer; but for trophy deer, obviously they can use the other option which is to take the whole head as proof of sex.

And the last proposed change concerns cold storage facilities, tagging requirements, and proof of sex. Current regulation state that the proof of sex requirement cease once tagging requirement cease and so at commercial cold storage tagging -- commercial cold storage facilities, tagging requirements cease once that deer has been quartered and the harvest has been entered into the cold storage record book at that cold storage facility. And so the current rules require the head to be retained for a carcass that is not quartered versus a quartered carcass where the hunter shows up at the locker plant, they can -- once that harvest is entered into the cold storage log, they can take that and leave or the locker plant can discard that head and do whatever they need to do.

So staff are proposing to allow the proof of sex to cease in a commercial cold storage facility business after the deer has been entered in the log, regardless of whether it's been quartered or it's a whole carcass to provide some more flexibility for hunters and those locker plant owners.

To facilitate this proposed change, staff will need to make a couple of distinctions for several types of cold storage facilities. One being a brick-and-mortar business versus a commercial cold storage facility on a private ranch where hunting occurs for pay and also what is considered final destination as it relates to tagging requirements. Some under this proposed change, we would create a definition for a Type 1 commercial cold storage facility, which is essentially a place of business for the purpose of storing and processing game birds or animals and it's open to the public for a for-profit basis. And then a Type 2 facility, it's a facility that's not open to the public on demand and utilizes -- that utilizes or stores game taken on a property where hunting occurs for pay. So basically a business in a private ranch where hunting occurs. So we need to create those definitions.

We'd also need to create a definition for final destination for deer or deer carcass parts. It would include the residence of the hunter or the person receiving the carcass or carcass parts, but we would also add to that the Type 1 commercial cold storage facility. Again, that brick-and-mortar business. And so at Type 1 facilities, staff are proposing to allow proof of sex requirements to cease once the harvest is entered into the cold storage log and that includes the harvest location, the ranch and the county name. It needs to be recorded by the cold storage business and it can be on that log or a separate log. Now although carcass tagging requirements would cease as far as a hunter's concerned, the cold storage facility would be required to retain the tag or the wildlife resource document while in possession of the carcass or any carcass part, again, to help aid us in law enforcement purposes.

And then at Type 2 facilities -- again, those ranches where hunting occurs for pay or private noncommercial cold storage facility, so ranches where hunting doesn't occur for pay, but for your family and friends -- the proposed change would require that deer is at least quartered and entered in the cold storage record log before the proof of sex and tagging requirements cease. Essentially, there would be no change in how these cold storage facilities, these two the types, operate today versus what we're proposing. It's primarily clarification with these new definitions for these facility types.

To date, we've received 217 responses. 91 percent agree with the proposed change. 9 percent disagree. And the reasons for disagreement, there were several folks that suggested that retention of the tag by the cold storage facility is redundant since some of that information is entered into the record book. Somebody suggested that this rule would eliminate locker plants in small towns and then a couple of folks suggested that it would be difficult for law enforcement to enforce the antler restrictions and check bucks at locker plants for violation.

That concludes my portion of the statewide. Before I turn it over to Shawn Gray, I'll be glad to try to answer any questions y'all may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Alan. I guess Shawn is going to talk about a different subject. So these antlerless and antler requirements, that is all part and parcel statewide or is this just to have to do with these take by firearm, Collin, Dallas, Grayson, Rockwall?

MR. CAIN: The definitions for buck and antlerless, I'm -- I wasn't clear on your question.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Is the -- we started out with the take by firearm --

MR. CAIN: Yeah, in Grayson and those four --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- and then we dovetailed into locker plants and buck and antlerless are those separate?

MR. CAIN: They're separate. The definition, the proof of sex, and the cold storage are all separate from -- those are independent proposals, I guess is how you'd look at that. Those are different from the firearm season in Grayson County.


So, Commissioners, do we have any conversation, questions? We'll break it up in pieces. We'll start with take by firearm recommendation from staff and discuss that and then we'll go on to the locker coolers and locker plants and antlerless deer. So --



COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. On the Grayson County stuff, there was a number of entities, people against taking by firearm I guess is a good way to summarize it. Is there anybody in favor of it? Why -- and maybe we talked about this, and I can't remember now. Why are we -- why are we even trying to do this? Where did it come from?

MR. CAIN: Again, the request was a result from a petition which the Department has to respond to.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So procedurally we got a petition.

MR. CAIN: We got a petition.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Who did we get it from?

MR. CAIN: We received the petition from two gentlemen, Harry Jacobson, Dr. Harry Jacobson, and Tim Condict. And then --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Can you give me any background on who they are?

MR. CAIN: Dr. Jacobson was a former professor at Mississippi State, a very well-renowned deer biologist. He sits on our White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee. Tim Condict is involved, I guess, with the deer breeder organizations or has been in the past and he -- I believe he sits on our CWD Task Force. And they probably --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Is there -- is there a staff recommendation on this?

MR. CAIN: The proposal to open the firearm season and -- or allow take by firearm during youth, general, and on -- season -- and on MLD properties, mandatory harvest reporting, and then implement a 4-day doe season during the general season.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. So that's a yes, right? There is a staff recommendation?

MR. CAIN: That was staff recommendation proposal.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. So to adopt it, right? That --

MR. CAIN: Yes, we're seeking to adopt --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Now why -- why do -- why? Why do the staff recommend to approve this?

MR. CAIN: There's no biological reason not to. It provides opportunities for those landowners, especially in these situations, I think some of the impetus behind this was some of these high-fence properties that had no way to manage their deer populations that had got out of hand. I believe Dr. Jacobson has provided several slides to y'all and in one of them I saw on there is the very last slide, he's got a picture of redbud in a property in Grayson County and there's a browse line this high. Obviously, that's not good wildlife management if you're allowing deer populations to exceed carry capacity, overbrowse that habitat which impacts, you know, other species that utilize those communities up there.

Now I realize there's an outpouring of opposition, I mean. But there are also -- and I think we've had 30 something percent -- whatever that total was, I don't quite remember -- of folks that were supportive, 34 percent were supportive of that proposal, and they listed different reasons. Some people just want landowner choice. I mean, there was a guy at the public hearing, I recall that he owned property that was on Fannin and Grayson County line and he said, "I can kill deer with a rifle here, but I can't right there." So there's opportunities to provide that.

If the -- you know, the -- if the Commission believes that this is a special opportunity to retain archery season or archery -- harvest by archery equipment only during all seasons, then that's certainly your prerogative to do so; but there's no biological reason not to allow that.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, why was it there in the first place? If there was no biological reason, it's obviously been that way for a long time, a lot of people in the area feel strongly about it, why was it that way to begin with?

MR. CAIN: So the history -- and I don't recall back in the 90s or whatever. I mean, it started out like that. Season was closed by the Texas Legislature. I think they opened it up and allowed hunting on -- or the department ultimately did on the National Wildlife Refuge up there and then when we went to move forward I think with the season back -- I don't know -- 80s, 90s, or whenever it was, I don't recall off the top of my head, there were some residents around Lake Texoma that didn't want firearm discharge -- which is also where that Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge was -- in their backyard and I so suspect that they pushed the Legislature a little bit and the Department at that time to not allow firearm hunting and it's just remained like that, even when we opened the season, full county season, it never changed.

We haven't -- I mean, quite frankly, there's been public opposition. We tried this -- we had a request or a petition back in 2008 or 2009 and I think before it actually got up here to the stage we're in today, they had a public hearing. There was enough outcry from the public up there that the Department didn't move forward with the proposal at that time.

So, again, it doesn't mean there's not a justification not to move forward with that; but with all the public opposition back then, we just didn't move forward. But today, I'd like to -- you know, we're bringing this forward to the Commission for consideration and to get your take on it, whatever action the Commission believes is best considering the comments and everything that we received.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, thank you.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. I've got a couple. I agree with Bobby's points. If I were to vote for the recommendation tomorrow, it would be the first time I had voted for something where more than 50 percent of the people were against it. So I think for me personally, I think maybe we need the people that want to hunt to get out and make some comments and, you know, come back with that being at least 50/50 or greater or we need to make some tweaks to the recommendation to do, you know, like you said, archery and, you know, any method of archery, whether it's crossbow. You know, something in-between or the high-fence only or something. I think as it sits right now, I'd have a real hard time voting for it. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anna. Commissioner Galo.

COMMISSIONER GALO: Thank you. Commissioner Galo. I have a comment because you mentioned there was a lot of public opposition in the past. But I'm looking here and you have the leaders of your communities. You have Commissioner Courts. You have a county sheriff. You have cities. So I'm assuming that's council members and mayors. That's pretty -- if you have the leadership in that area opposing it, I mean doesn't that speak to it's not just -- it's not just the public, it's the leaders of the public in those cities and counties. Is there a reason that -- are -- I mean, are we taking that seriously enough? Because besides having a big opposition from the public at large, we have a big opposition from the leadership of those areas.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Anna. Good point.

Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Just I see there was a petition, 2,000 signatures. Any idea what's the population of Grayson County? Just to --

MR. CAIN: I don't know. I mean, just for clarification, petitions go out all over the world.


MR. CAIN: I mean, you can get people from all over and then you've got to consider that it's not just Grayson County. It's Collin, Rockwall, and Dallas, which have millions of people up there, so.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. But, you know, clearly another fact is to -- that there's opposition against the issue.

MR. CAIN: Sure.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Commissioner Rowling.


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: You said a couple times that there's not a biological reason to limit the rifle hunting, I guess. And to take the other side of the coin, I mean, based on the population, there's not a biological reason that we need rifle hunting. Would that be correct? It's not overpopulated, I guess, would my question.

MR. CAIN: At the DMU scale, no, it's not overpopulated. But keep in mind, like I pointed out, you've got deer management units bordering that -- in fact, 21 North, which is just to the east, I think it's a deer density of a deer to 174 acres. Twice, you know, as low as 21 there and we still have rifle season. They sustain a harvest. The population is stable in those. And, in fact, if you look at DMU 20, which is a deer to 118 acres, that's that strip that runs Blackland Prairie from Dallas south to Austin along that Blackland Prairie corridor. That population is actually growing. It's very slow growing over time and we actually had complaints, you know, several years ago from farmers on depredation issues. And so rifle harvest is just another tool for landowners to manage their deer populations in those particular counties, so. And, quite frankly, the -- whether you having a rifle season, an archery season, what's going to happen to those deer populations or what is happening right now, which the residents pointed this out, is that land fragmentation is going to be what's going to destroy that deer population. At the end of the day, it's not a resource concern. Those -- the deer populations that are going to be left are going to be isolated to little pockets of habitat and managed by those individual landowners. But as far as the Department's management, you know, we've manage that larger scale. It's getting to the point where it's not going to have a big impact.

It's no different than Harris County. We have a rifle season in Houston. Obviously, there's not a whole lot of hunting that goes on there; but where there is patches of habitat and there may be a few deer, people can harvest by whatever legal means we have for those seasons.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Alan.

Thank you, Blake.

Anybody else?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. Just on thing. It just seems just in terms of adjustment, I know what the original recommendation is; but over time as things come in, I think Commissioner Galo pointed it out very well, when you have other folks -- you know, the powers that be, if you will, and even just general public comment come in one way or another on an issue -- for example, we just had the oyster conversation and it was overwhelmingly in support of the effort that's ongoing. Here it seems to be -- it seems to be to the contrary.

So the one thing that might be in question is just the ability for all of us to pivot, if you will, when it seems -- because there's no -- it's not changing hunting. All they're -- all we're really talking about is means. So there doesn't seem to be that there's anyone there against hunting or harvesting deer, just the matter in which it's done. And if the local population seems to be that concerned with how it's done and maintaining a preference for that, I don't know that there's a -- there's -- I don't know that there's an overwhelming reason, so to speak, to stay on task or whether or not we should break it up. We didn't really have a lot of comment from Dallas County, but we did have a lot of comment from Grayson and Collin County, right? And so, you know, working with folks locally there, you know, how might we want -- how might we want to look at that?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Commissioner Bell.

I think it's pretty clear, Alan, with the Commission, they've all brought up great points and in my opinion, when I look at the numbers of the people that went to the effort to actually go to a meeting, which takes more effort than an e-mail, it's 94 percent of the people are not supportive of this proposal. I know how this proposal got here. This is how it works. We needed to hear the public comment. I believe we've heard the public comment. The leadership, as Commissioner Galo mentioned, overwhelming. I had a call from Representative Smith, from Senator Springer, the Commissioners Courts on -- it's just overwhelming. So I suggest we pivot as well.

Now there's one thing that was on this recommendation that I think could be of importance to this Commission, is there was also a specific in there about the mandatory reporting for the harvest, which would give us harvest data. You can do it -- am I correct, Alan, you can do it on your smart device?

MR. CAIN: Correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: They could -- if we went that route, they could still hunt bow only, no rifle, report, we could get the data, and we could offer that up as something to put on the agenda tomorrow. And the conversations that I've had, I don't believe that that would be a problem with the majority of the leadership and the people in the area. I think they'll be very happy to keep their bow only, which they enjoy. It's their local community, and I think we should listen to them.

So if the Commission supports this, I would suggest we take this off the agenda; but put on -- the rifle hunting, but leave the part that was part and parcel to this of the reporting if you do harvest a deer. Am I correct in that?

MR. CAIN: Yes. Yes, Chairman. And that would be very helpful just to understand what kind of harvest is happening up there. Is it a lot? Is it a little? Just to give us an idea in case there's changes in the future. And that's something that, you know, our staff are going to be looking at in the future not just in those counties, but in other counties as the potential to expand mandatory harvest reporting. So this would fit well.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. And so today would just be not putting it on the agenda, but with that caveat and then obviously we vote on it tomorrow; but I'm seeing overwhelming support of the Commission that says, no, let's don't force this on these counties.

Commissioner Abell.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Robin, I just want to ask one more question. Do you have any sense for how many people that were against would be offended if we just -- if we gave an inch and said that take by crossbow is okay?

MR. CAIN: So that's a good question. I don't. But before -- we don't even have the authority to do that. There's a statute that says if you have counties where there is no firearm harvest allowed, then take by crossbow during archery season is prohibited unless you have an upper limb disability. So you'd have to open a gun season to allow that restriction, so we can't do that anyway. But good question.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. Just one other -- just for clarification because the way that was item put together. The firearm proposal was one proposal. So it's one separate item over here. And then the balance of the presentation was -- were other proposals so that we would be -- go ahead.

MR. CAIN: No. I think what you're asking is we can -- tomorrow when I come back to present and seek action on these, we can modify this part of the proposal just to include mandatory harvest reporting and then everything else we can discuss that as part of that statewide big game.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, y'all good with that?

Is that enough or do you need -- you want me to read the section that you need to keep?

MR. CAIN: That's enough.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Are you good? We're good?

Okay. Then I think it's clear that the Commission would like to go that route.

MR. CAIN: Okay.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And get the message out because there's a lot of people that are thinking about driving a long ways to come down and talk about this.

MR. CAIN: Yeah, I understand.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Don't make them burn all that $5 gasoline.

MR. CAIN: Yeah, yeah. No, we'll --

COMMISSIONER BELL: They might be more upset about that than this.

MR. CAIN: Yeah. Yeah, definitely so.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Alan.

Now we need to talk about storage, antlerless harvest. Does anybody have -- we've seen the recommendation. This had overwhelming support --

MR. CAIN: Yes.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- for these proposed changes. Any Commissioners have any questions/comments on than particular part of Alan's presentation?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. Abell again. Just one. It's awfully hard to see an antler protruding through the skin less than an inch. I mean, I realize that was only one comment; but that's a fair point. Does anybody else have any comments on that?

MR. CAIN: Just for clarification, the current regulation for bucks is a deer with a hardened antler protruding through the skin. So it doesn't matter if it's an inch or five inches.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Maybe I misread it. I thought the proposal was that it was not protruding through the skin. It would be antlerless if it was not protruding through the skin.

MR. CAIN: Right. If the deer is -- well, and I thought you were talking about antler point. If there's no antler point protruding the skin -- in other words, if there's no part antler sticking through the skin, then it's an antlerless deer. If there --

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Right. I'm clear on that. But if there's a half inch of hard antler sticking through the skin, then it is a buck?

MR. CAIN: It is a buck.


MR. CAIN: And that's how the current regulation is. We haven't had --


MR. CAIN: -- any concerns with that.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Does that solve it for you, James?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other questions?

Okay. Then I'm going to authorize staff to put that on the agenda for tomorrow as well. Now we're going to here from Shawn.

MR. CAIN: Thank you.

MR. GRAY: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Shawn Gray and I'm the Mule deer and Pronghorn Program Leader and tomorrow I'll be seeking adoption for the proposed Mule deer hunting regulations.

As I shared with you in previous presentations, the Department in 2018 initiated an experimental Mule deer antler restriction in six southeast panhandle counties and in 2019, Lynn County was added to the experiment. And prior to the experiment in the southeast panhandle, excessive buck harvest occurred primarily because of increased lease hunting and the popularity of Mule deer hunting.

This excessive buck harvest affected the Mule deer buck sex ratio in the area, with our survey data indicating a postseason sex ratio of about five does per buck. In addition, past intensive buck harvest impacted the buck age structure and because of this, staff received many requests from landowners and hunters to improve the buck age structure of the Mule deer herd in this area of the panhandle.

Most western states have tried an antler point restriction, such as a minimum of four points on one side, with no significant improvement in buck age structure. This is because many young deer meet these minimum standards. We tested a different antler restriction criterion. Using the White-tailed deer -- oops. Sorry. A little too fast there. Using the White-tailed deer antler restriction as a model, staff collected data on Mule deer captured during ongoing research projects and hunter-harvested Mule deer in the panhandle to estimate the ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread of bucks standing in the alert position. The average ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread for Mule deer bucks standing in the alert position is 21 inches, demonstrated in the picture.

Because of the average ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread on panhandle Mule deer bucks is 21 inches, staff propose to use a restriction with an outside spread of the main beams of 20 inches to protect younger age bucks and it closely matched the distance between ear tips when a buck is standing in an alert position. The outside spread is estimated in a similar manner as the inside spread, but by using the outside measurement of the antler material. This graphic demonstrates what type of buck could be harvested or those protected with the proposed Mule deer antler restriction. Using the ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread as a guide, the bucks on the top row are legal to harvest, while the bucks on the bottom row are not legal to harvest regardless of unbranched antlers.

Data suggests that the antler restriction with an outside spread of 20 inches protects at least 80 percent of one and a half to three and a half year old bucks and about 80 percent of bucks four and a half years of age or older would be harvestable. This map illustrates the proposed Mule deer regulation changes with the current seasons. Staff propose the 28 light blue colored counties to be under the Mule deer antler restriction with a general season of 16 days. Staff also propose to test the Mule deer antler restriction in Terrell County, the light green colored county in the Trans-Pecos.

Given favorable feedback from an opinion survey and positive biological impacts from the antler restriction, staff propose to make the antler restriction permanent in the current seven counties and expand to an additional 21 counties in the panhandle. In addition to proposing the antler restriction in the 15 southwest panhandle counties, staff propose to extend the 9-day season to 16 days with a special archery season. Staff also propose to test the experimental antler restriction in Terrell County. With this proposal, any buck with an outside spread of 20 inches or greater would be legal for harvest. Thus, any buck with a spread less than 20 inches would not be legal to harvest regardless of unbranched antlers.

The antler restriction currently does not apply to MLDP properties and staff propose this to continue. As part of the MLDP Program, TPWD sets property specific bag limits, which for are Mule deer are generally conservative. Staff also propose that the antler restriction not apply in any CWD zone. Staff will monitor success of the experimental antler restriction in Terrell County using population surveys and a voluntary check station to collect more antler and ear measurements, as well as buck age structure data.

So public comments made online indicate that about 80 percent of the respondents agreed with the antler restriction proposals, with 13 percent disagreeing completely. And just to give you a little more updated numbers from -- from when I made this slide, there's an additional 16 in agree -- in agreement in that agree completely category, another one in the disagree specifically on category, and another four in the disagree completely category. Won't change percentages, but that's the additional numbers there.

Germane comments disagreeing with the antler restriction range from the antler restriction is too restrictive or because they hunt for meat, there are too many deer, the restriction is too confusing, hunters can't cull inferior bucks, and government overreach.

For the Mule deer season extension proposal, support was 85 percent with 12 percent disagreeing completely and updated numbers there in the agree completely, we had an additional 26 in agreement, no change in disagree specifically on category, and another five in the disagree completely category.

And germane comments from those disagreeing with the extended Mule deer season from nine days to 16 days in the 15 southwest counties included extended season will cause more poaching, the population is too low to extend the season, or it would lead to buck overharvest. Other commenters disagreeing thought that we should implement the antler restriction, but keep the current 9-day season. We also received a letter addressed to the Chairman and Commissioners from Mr. O.W. Schneider who expressed concern from -- concern that extending the 9-day season would lead to buck overharvest and he was speaking more in terms of mature bucks.

And before I turn it over to Shaun Oldenburger, I'd like to address any questions that you might have at this time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Questions, Commissioners?

Thank you, Shawn.

MR. GRAY: Thank y'all.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: We have another Shaun.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. All right. Good morning, Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. I'm the Small Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. Once again, I'm going to continue talking about recommended adoptions of proposed changes to the statewide hunting and migratory game bird proclamations that we'll bring forth to you tomorrow.

We're going to close out the statewide hunting proclamation proposed changes with wild turkey proposal. This is back in January, if you recall, we talked about the extensive restoration project that staff had been involved in in East Texas with regards to Eastern Wild turkeys and also Rio Grande wild turkeys. East Texas tends to be the last remaining place in the United States where we have failed to restore wild turkeys to their former historic range. And so once again with this map you see those green dots where we've released turkeys, Rio Grande turkeys.

And as of last month, we have released 1,041 East turkeys since 2014 and 835 Rio Grande turkeys since 2016. So a pretty extensive restoration by staff, fellow agencies, and other state fish and wildlife agencies that have given us Eastern wild turkeys. So with regard to this proposal to close eastern wild -- eastern Ellis County to spring turkey season, those green dots are where we've released Rio Grande turkeys here in the last couple years. Those turkeys have moved over into those gray boxes, which are occupied habitat now. They were not occupied prior to the releases and so these, as a result, this population establishment is a result of our restoration efforts and so we want to be consistent across Eastern Texas with regards to what we've been doing in the past and so our proposal is to close eastern Ellis County to spring turkey season to hopefully give a little shot in the arm to this population both there in Navarro County, Henderson County, and Kaufman County, the surrounding counties as well to make sure that we concurrent with those counties as well.

As of this morning, we've had 227 comments. So up from the 160 from yesterday. The percentages haven't changed, but we've had 93 percent in support this proposal.

Moving on to the migratory game bird proclamation for 22-23. I'll just start off with some good news. As of last week, we got word from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that they are in agreement with the State Department, basically the Ministry from Canada, Environment Canada, and so we're able to get off the ground this year the 2022 May breeding waterfowl survey. That has been proposed -- postponed for two years due to COVID restrictions in Canada. So, you know, that is a population survey that has been conducted since 1955 across the prairie parklands and Alaska and Boreal forest, mostly counting waterfowl. And so we look forward to actually getting some good population estimation information for this next cycle. So good news with regards to what's going on in the world and with regards to our monitoring efforts on migratory game birds.

Moving on to some proposals from staff. These are -- will be in frameworks or are in federal frameworks. So the Department really has minimal play on this for the fact that we must abide by federal frameworks when it comes to migratory game bird seasons, but we do have to go through the process of public comment on these. So the elimination of hooded merganser daily bag limit is one of the proposals that will be in the Federal Register. That was looking at basically there's been a restriction on hooded mergansers for two in the daily bag limit for a long time. That goes all the way back to wood duck restrictions and when there was a lot of issues with hardwood forests in the eastern part of the United States and populations were down for the cavity nesters. Since that has improved and these populations rebounded, so we believe this restriction wasn't necessary at this time. The Fish and Wildlife Service agreed. So we're proposing to eliminate hooded mergansers and the daily bag limit.

Another one is combining mergansers and duck daily bag limits into an aggregate bag limit. Mergansers are part of the waterfowl or part ducks. So it just seems -- it seems silly to have two separate bag limits with regards to this and just have an aggregate one to keep simplification. That would actually make it really easy for hunter to understand bag limits. We don't harvest a whole lot of mergansers in the State of Texas. It's anywhere from about three to about 8,000 per year. Most of those are hooded mergansers. The only other mergansers you're going to encounter while waterfowl hunting are usually red-breasted mergansers, which are wintering on the coast.

The next one is the federal Sandhill crane hunting permit. Unfortunately we had an error in our regulation process a couple years ago. We left this out when we combined early and late season migratory game bird proclamations a few years ago. But the federal Sandhill crane hunting permit has been required by the Fish and Wildlife Service since 1978. That has been in the Federal Register. So that is a requirement under the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Going through public comment on these, we had 22 for hooded mergansers, with 77 percent agreeing. Those in disagreement, some wanted stricter regulations. Some of them wanted basically to maintain what it historically was. And then also with the combined daily bag limits, we had 40 public comments as of yesterday morning, with 70 percent agreement and basically folks thinking that mergansers and ducks were different and so they wanted to keep them separate and maintain the historic there as well.

With regards to federal Sandhill crane permit, we had 28 comments, with 80 -- 81 percent concurrence there. The folks that did disagree with this proposal, their comment were not germane to the proposal.

Moving on to some further proposed changes to the migratory game bird proclamation. One would be the addition of veteran waterfowl hunting days. Underneath the John Dingell, Sr. Conservation Management and Recreation Act of 2019, which was signed by then former -- signed by former President Trump -- basically, this is also the one that permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That gave us some opportunity, special opportunities, with regards to veteran days during waterfowl hunting. Unfortunately due to state statute, we were unable to do those until SB 675 was by Senator Kolkhorst was signed into law last session by Governor -- by the Governor. And so now we're allowed to actually have this special hunting opportunity. Staff proposal is to have it concurrent with youth-only waterfowl seasons. And the proof of veteran status is very lenient with regard to this. It would be your driver's license where you have veteran written on top and then basically any federal paperwork that you have that proves that you're a veteran. So as long as you have that on your persons, you'll actually be legal to hunt during that special season and then also you can bring those to the court to get those charges dismissed to if you would get filed and didn't have those on you. So there's also that within this proposal.

Just to give an -- show here on the calendar with regards to the way this would look. Here you can see here in green, that's the regular season in the High Plain Mallards Unit. One of the three duck zones we have here in the State of Texas. And there in orange you can see on October 22nd and 23rd is where the youth season and the veteran seasons would overlap. We did have some concerns about this, about overlapping youth and veteran seasons on some of our wildlife management areas; but when you look with regards to youth seasons on our WMAs here in the State of Texas, they're not used to the capacity that regular seasons are. I'll used Justin Hurst WMA as an example. I think our hunting capacity there is around 200 individuals on any given hunting day. I think during youth season, we probably average around 20 people that use that. So there's a lot of opportunity there for veterans on those WMAs during that season.

As far as public comment on this, we had 29 and 79 percent were in agreement. Basically those that disagreed, specifically as with regards to comments that I said early about WMAs.

Moving on to proposed goose hunting seasons, we do have a proposed change with regards to our western zone. As I mentioned in January, we do have two populations, major goose populations that do winter in the West Zone. Those are the Cacklers or Cackling geese in basically the panhandle. Those birds winter in basically the city ponds in Lubbock and Amarillo. So if you ever get up there, that's a pretty good site. And then also we have Greater White-fronted geese that winter on the eastern side of the West Zone and those birds come down a little bit earlier. They'll come down in late October, early November. So there's an earlier hunting opportunity for those the ducks -- or for those the geese.

Based on public comment we received over the last year, we had some folks that wanted to go a little bit earlier, especially in that Winchester Lakes area and so proposing to move goose season in the West Zone a week earlier than this last year. With regards to public comments on this, we received 23, with 57 percent in support. The 39 percent -- or the 43 percent that disagreed with this, basically wanted to maintain historic season structure.

As far as advisory committees, the staff proposals with regards to wild turkeys was discussed and supported by the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee. The Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee supported all staff proposals, with one exception -- and I think I forgot the slide out, if I'm guessing right. And I did. Basically what they wanted is we have a 90-day season for doves. Every year, you know, with regard to September 1st or September 14th, depending what zone you're in. Those 90 days kind of slide based on calendar progression. The way it ended up in the second segment this year, is we could actually open on a Saturday and close on Sunday, a second segment to take advantage as many weekends as possible. Staff propose -- believe that that is the best option for full hunter opportunity. Whereas the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee believed that opening on that Friday would be the best hunting opportunity for the public and then running out the rest of the days, which then would close on a Saturday. So just wanted the Commissioners to be aware of that as well.

And here would be the recommended adoption we'll bring forward to you tomorrow if you decide, so. And with that, I'll be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, questions for Shaun?



COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: This is an unrelated question. Do you know -- have we set the dove hunting season opening day for the South Zone yet?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Well, we will tomorrow.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And what is it, the proposed?

MR. OLDENBURGER: So the South Zone -- let me get my cheat sheet out here.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, good. So it's not completely unrelated.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah. No, it is --


MR. OLDENBURGER: -- related.


MR. OLDENBURGER: So -- so for the South Zone for the regular for -- as the staff proposal is would be September 14th to October 30th and then the second segment would open December 17th and run to January 22nd. You also have to remind yourself that we do have those Special White-wing dove days, which would be September 2nd through the 4th and the 9th through the 11th as well.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners questions for Shaun?

Hearing none, I'll place this item on the agenda for Thursday's Commission Meeting for public comment and action as discussed. We've had a lot of discussion and so there will be that one tweak on the -- on the original on Alan's proposal.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Work Session Item No. 11 has been withdrawn, Sunset Recommendations.

Work Session No. 12, Comprehensive Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Management Rules, Triple T Provisions, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Alan, you're back up.

MR. CAIN: And thank you. For the record again, my name's Alan Cain, White-tailed Deer Program Leader in the Wildlife Division and I'll be presenting proposed changes to the Trap, Transport, and Transplant Permit provisions.

So as discussed at the January meeting, Triple T permit issuance was very active in 2013 and prior -- and in prior years, but it's significantly declined since that time. You may recall that most of the trap sites for Triple T are high-fence and most of have trapped deer only once in the last six years. In fact, only 12 percent of those trap sites have trapped four or more years out of the last six. Additionally, most of the release sites have received deer only once in the last six years and most those release sites are high-fenced. Low-fence release sites are primarily located in the western Edwards Plateau, in that area where you have anthrax outbreaks and significant mortality events and those landowners use the Triple T as a tool to restore those populations over there. And on average, we were moving about 1,500 deer a year between 2015 and 2020.

So with considerable input from this Commission at the last Commission Meeting and our advisory committees, staff are proposing the following changes, noting that certain provision -- those in gray font -- that are in the current rule would remain in effect. And those proposed changes would include prohibiting Triple T from the following sites: Any property that's within a 5-mile radius of an epi-linked deer breeder facility until movement qualified status has been restored, a property within 10-mile radius of a deer breeder release subject to a hold order or a quarantine until that hold order or quarantine is released, and also any site that the Department deems is an unacceptable risk based on an epidemiological assessment. And this last provision provides the Department the flexibility to make individual assessments about properties that don't fall within those buffer areas in that previously mentioned categories, but may post a risk for moving CWD.

Acknowledging that some of the trap sites that could be in these buffer areas would be low risk for having CWD present, staff are also proposing a mechanism to potentially authorize a Triple T trap site based on a Department disease risk assessment of that site so we can ensure that there's adequate CWD surveillance measures are in place to detect the disease should it be present in that population. The landowners and/or the permittees would need to agree in writing to the testing standards or other CWD management strategies prior to approval as a trap site within those buffer areas.

Staff are also proposing two sets of CWD testing requirements for trap sites based on risk exposure to CWD. One is those that have not received breeder deer on the trap site and, obviously, properties that have received breeder deer -- or breeder deer release sites. So all trap sites would be required to submit 60 not-detected postmortem tests. Those samples may be collected in the current permit year for which the permit is sought over -- or over multiple consecutive years, including the current application year. But if samples are collected over multiple years, they would need to collect a minimum of 15 sample -- 15 postmortem not-detected tests each year.

And the 60 samples is the testing rate that would provide a 95 percent confidence level that we could detect that CWD -- could detect CWD if it were present at a 5 percent prevalence rate in that population at the time sampling began.

And then for perspective trap sites that are deer breeder release sites or receive breeder deer at any time, CWD testing to achieve that 60 tests that we're proposing to be required, shall not begin any sooner than five years post-release or five years at the last date of release of a breeder deer on those particular trap sites.

So once the trap site has achieved that initial CWD testing requirement to remain eligible as a trap site, the trap site would need to continue to collect 15 samples, 15 postmortem not-detected samples each year. And if the trap site falls short of those 15 samples, they need to maintain that status, they would start over back at the 60 postmortem not-detected test to regain that initial trap site status.

Staff are also proposing that a clearly visible Department ear tag be required, such as a cattle tag or a bangle tag like you can ID an animal at 100 yards or so. The visible ID would obviously aid in location of deer should the need arise, you know, at that release site. So in current practice, keep in mind most Triple T properties, trap sites and release sites, are putting ear tags on them already. They don't want to release those deer and inadvertently harvest them. So most of them are already marking those animals with large tags.

And then finally, the last portion of the proposal would require CWD testing for any trap site, including Triple T's that are occurring between adjacent pastures on a property under the same ownership. Staff reason that in most cases these are independent populations and property ownership has nothing to do with disease management. And then, however, in the event that a trap site is unable to meet the 60 not-detected tests in this scenario, the Department may approve the trap site provided the permittee and the trap site owner agree in writing to the testing standards or other CWD management strategies prior to approval of a Triple T trap site. So give some flexibility there to those type of properties.

To date, or at least as of 5:00 o'clock last night -- I think the numbers are up this morning again -- but we received 191 comments. 4 percent agree with the proposed Triple T changes. 96 percent disagree. We received letters of opposition from the Texas Deer Association, the Deer Breeders Corporation, the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society, and the Texas Wildlife Association. I do want to point out that these -- all these organizations supported the use of Triple T as an important tool for landowners out there, but they just had concerns with the current proposal.

And so some of those reasons for disagreement include one commenter recommended that CWD testing requirements be based on the percentage of the deer herd that's being moved rather than 60 tests and 15 deer per year. Several commenters recommended that Triple T be shut down permanently, suggesting that movement of deer by private landowners amounts to privatization of wildlife or that it's too risky for the potential spread of the disease. Several commenters suggested it's premature to reinstate Triple T until the Department has a clear understanding of the risk associated with all the epi-linked facilities as a result of the discovery of CWD and the number of positive facilities this past -- past year. Several commenters suggested that the 5- and 10-mile buffers are arbitrary numbers and that also it could be problematic for them if they didn't know where those buffer areas might be if they're trying to plan for Triple T. So I think the way to summarize is there's a lack of public identification of these buffer areas. There was others that provided comment. They were concerned that -- about release site to low-fence properties. There was some that were concerned we were allowing Triple T from trap sites with other CWD susceptible species of unknown exposures, so like elk or Red deer from Triple T'ing from a place that released some of those recently. And then also there was some concern about the length of time in our current regulation that is five years that's required for Triple T on a deer breeder release site. It wasn't long enough. You know, current -- current rule is five years and they suggested that it be longer, up to ten years.

Now the vast majority of those in opposition, at least in the web comments that we received, cited three primary reasons and these were all -- these reasons, a lot of them, were echoed by the Texas Deer Association in their letter or the Deer Breeders Corporation. These reasons for opposition included thought that the proposed ear tagging requirement is redundant with the current Triple T tagging rules that require tattoo and RFID button tag, noting that those, at least the button tag, they suggest was a visible ID. Also noting that there's a lack of clarification in the proposed rule on the information that's required to be on the ear tag. Now the other two reasons for opposition are somewhat related and center around the different CWD testing standards between deer breeders that they currently have now and the proposed rules for Triple T, specifically noting that deer breeders are required to antemortem test prior to moving deer, whereas the proposed Triple T rules do not require antemortem testing prior to movement. Also the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society also noted in their letter that Triple T should not be instated until a rapid antemortem field test is available to be able to test deer and receive results before we move those deer.

So those are important points. And with the antemortem testing, staff have contemplated that that notion of how we would implement that, noting that there's some logistical differences, obviously, between antemortem testing in a captive setting in pens versus antemortem testing and how that might look in the -- for a Triple T trap site property out there. And if -- you know, one of the thoughts that we've kind of tossed around is that if we were going to antemortem test -- test, it might a model where on Triple T trap sites where obviously you catch the deer; at time of capture you've got them restrained; you collect a sample, antemortem sample; put them in the trailer; take them down the road; and turn them out on that release site obviously with that big ear tag out there so we could hopefully find them later if it was necessary. But that movement would not be contingent on those test results having them right then. Obviously, we would move the deer and get the results and if there's something of concern, we could come back and find those deer and address that issue. And so there's some options around that, but it's something obviously staff didn't have in the proposal; but we have thought about that.

And so that concludes my presentation, and I'll be glad to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners?

Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: I read in one of the letters that was submitted to the Commissioners that there are three companies working on an antemortem test that maybe -- this is maybe a little off topic -- but antemortem test that's fairly quick in nature. Is that -- is that true? Is there some new technology that's coming out for antemortem testing?

MR. CAIN: Yes, there's several companies that are working on these rapid tests or rapid antemortem tests and, in fact, I think Mitch has been the lead on some of that research with Texas Tech University and then there's some other companies like MNPRO, I think they're trying to work on some stuff out of Minnesota there. And so there's other organizations. Those are in the experimental phase. Obviously, they're not proven methodologies yet; but hopefully that comes sooner than later because that would be a great tool if it was proven to be valid.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Do you know has there been pretty good correlation between the rapid test and the one conducted in the laboratory or is it just too early?

MR. CAIN: It's just too early, that I know of. Mitch Lockwood may have some additional comment on that if you'd like him to address that.


MR. LOCKWOOD: Good morning, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood, Big Game Program Director. Where to start here? Some of these early detection techniques, they're amplification techniques and so they're amplifying the prion. As you remember, the way this disease works is you start with a prion or two or three or however many; but then they recruit -- these misfolded proteins recruit normal proteins and cause them to misfold as well. And so once you have enough misfolded proteins, then you can detect it with a test; but as y'all have heard many times, you can have positive animals, infected animals, that don't test positive and it's because you don't have enough of those misfolded proteins yet, just to put it very simply.

Well, these amplification techniques they do that recruiting on their own. They -- they -- they replicate these misfolded proteins and so what they're actually finding with some of these techniques, is they're finding positives that the gold standard tests aren't detecting. And so the question is: Is are they false positives or are they the truly early detections? And so there's still some work to be done on that.

But having said that, we are very encouraged by the results we're seeing in some of this work with, I think as you put it, a strong is correlation. We are seeing correlations. I think for me and for us, for the Agency, the outstanding question is: Is what about these amplified positives that our gold standard tests aren't finding? You know, are they false positives or not? So we still have more to learn on that. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mitch, Jeff.

Anybody else?

Alan, let me go through a little -- kind of some thoughts I have on my mind and then we can talk about what you just suggested, which was this concept of live antemortem testing. For starters, we just talked about public comment. So when I look at the public comment, this one is overwhelming in opposition. As you peel that back a little bit, what you mentioned early -- earlier -- and I know because I read a whole lot of the comments and saw the commonality that they had in a lot of them. And so a lot of the comments seem to have came -- come from the deer breeder industry, as you talked about earlier.

One of the problems they have with it, the disagreement, is that they don't like the big visible ear tag. And so I guess it's beyond me to understand if we're going to Triple T and we've been doing it, why we wouldn't want to be able to identify that deer; but that's they're number one talking point is that it's redundant. And I'm not sure why that group really cares if it's redundant for the people that are Triple T'ing. But as I peel this back further and further, it says difference between the testing standards between Triple T and deer breeder, antemortem testing, testing costs.

So one of the subjects that has been broached recently is what if we discussed -- you have to go back out for public comment -- but what if we discussed adding a live testing, antemortem testing, to the Triple T Program. And this technology that can Commissioner Hildebrand asked about and Mitch spoke about. I mean, obviously we all hope that comes to fruition. It's not there yet. But we do have the antemortem test process that the breeders use that we could require the Triple T'ers to use. They would take the sample while they have their hands on the deer. It's not practical to hold that deer for three weeks, I don't believe. But this last past season, we allowed, when we were short of kits, for the breeders to test the deer, send it in, release the deer while we're waiting on the results and so we could discuss a similar thing for the Triple T Program, test the deer with a live test, send the results to the lab, put the big tag on the deer, release it, approximately three weeks later we have an answer, and then at that point we know statistically we've been doing this for 22 years, 21 years, 10,000 samples approximately and zero positives from this herd, from this Triple T resource. The statistics, in my opinion, are night and day difference from the other group; but nevertheless, that's the stats on it.

So if we put in antemortem testing requirement, which is what the biggest public comment disagreement we have from the breeders is, "You make us antemortem test, but not them," maybe that finds commonality among the people, among the group and keeps this tool, maybe it doesn't. To do that, we need to go back to public comment; is that true?

MR. CAIN: That's correct. That's enough of a change that we need to go back to public comment and republish the change.

MR. MURPHY: Yes, sir.

MR. CAIN: And so I believe we could come back in May with -- or put out for public comment, come back in May and consider for adoption at that time if the Commission would like to move that direction.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So this is a new concept kind of everybody is just now hearing for the first time. You haven't had much time to digest that.

Would it be appropriate, Carter, for me to put this on the agenda for tomorrow and then let's have that discussion or should that be done today?

MR. SMITH: Well, I think if you want to get additional public comment on the proposal as it is now and hear the context for people's support or concerns, it'd probably be best to continue with the discussion tomorrow because you wouldn't have that. If you want to add this concept that you're talking about now, you could direct us to do that. We could skip tomorrow and go, you know, out for public comment and come back in May; but I suspect the Commission might benefit tomorrow from just hearing some of the public discussion about this matter and that might inform any other ideas you might have if you're thinking about going back out for additional comment on something. Does that make sense?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Yes, it does make sense. Other than Alan's comments, the overwhelming majority of the responses are about those items that I suggest we probably don't go forward on, which is if we're going to follow our percentages, I mean it's 90 something percent is against it; but they didn't contemplate what if there was antemortem live testing.

MR. SMITH: Well, that's correct and you may get some comments on that tomorrow. You know, people obviously may be listening now and may be attuned to this concept and they're talking about the Triple T regulations, may have some feedback for you that might further inform what you want to do.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, fair enough. Well, information is good. We have it on the agenda or it's planned to be on the agenda. We'll put it on the agenda and hear the comments we have and we can dig deeper into this concept of antemortem testing, like the other group that moves deer does, similar tests. And, of course, we're all keeping our fingers crossed for this rapid new test that's being worked on now feverishly as I understand. So, okay, very good.

Thank you, Alan.

MR. CAIN: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Then if there's no other comments, then I'll place this item on the agenda for Thursday for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 13, Briefing, Chronic Waste Disease (CWD) Sampling Strategy Efforts From Free-Range Deer and Managed Lands Deer Permit (MLDP). Dr. Reed, good morning. How are -- is it -- yeah, it's still good morning.

DR. REED: Yeah, yeah. Almost there. Good morning, good afternoon, whatever you want it to be, Chairman and Commissioners. But I am Dr. J. Hunter Reed, Wildlife Veterinarian for Wildlife Division, and I'll be giving you a briefing today on CWD sampling strategy and efforts from free-range deer and Managed Lands Deer Program.

So when I think about CWD in Texas, the epidemiology behind it, I like to categorize it into two different cycles of population. One being our sylvatic cycle or our wild cycle and the other being our domestic or captive cycle. Both of these populations can be infected through live and dead animal movement, as well as through environmental contamination.

With our captive cycle though, we have to be cognizant of other introduced sources of contamination possibly through feed, veterinary practices, or reproductive technologies. And both of these populations don't act in isolation and they can communicate or the disease spill over between the two populations through escapes, fence line contact, runoff, scavengers, and invertebrates. But both of these populations have a different capacity for disease amplification. Due to a higher degree of movement, higher densities, and a smaller area of which to disperse contamination in our captive settings, we have a higher capacity for amplification and a higher chance of persistence of that infection in that population than we do in our free-ranging populations.

Despite a lower capability of propagated and maintaining infections in our wild -- wild populations or free-ranging populations, the Department has a risk-based state surveillance program for the entire State of Texas, divided up amongst 44 DMUs or Deer Management Units and each of these DMUs is categorized or given a risk level of essentially low, medium, and high risk. Depending on the risk level attributed to each of these DMUs through a variety of different factors, they might have a sampling goal for our low risk DMUs between 60 and 112 samples; for our medium risk DMUs, 112 to 300 samples; and four our high risk DMUs, 300 plus samples. This is -- this is an annual goal that we try and achieve every single year.

Now the types of populations and samples that go into meeting those goals include road kills, which account for around 2,500 samples; hunter-harvested samples off of our wildlife management areas, state natural areas, and state parks, which account for around 900 samples; and within our zones, which account for an additional 4,300 samples in this past sampling year. But by and large, the largest segment of our samples come from our hunter-harvest and submitted samples, with around 3,500 -- or in total, there's around 11,600 hunter-harvested samples, with 3,500 or 30 percent of them coming from MLD or Managed Land Deer Program cooperators and an additional 8,100 non-MLD cooperator samples.

Considering that, the MLD Program accounts for about 21 per -- or the har -- the MLD Program accounts for around 21 percent of the harvest. They're submitting a disproportionately high rate compared to the rest of hunters, with 30 percent of overall samples coming from those cooperatives.

Now in 2021 to 2022, this last sampling year, we acquired around 14,000 samples in total. And if we were to plot the median number of samples acquired in each Deer Management Unit according to risk level, you'll be able to see that we have -- we achieved our target goals in each of those risk categories. For our low risk DMUs, we achieved around 110 median samples per DMU, which gives us a detection probability of around nine -- it's a 95 percent confidence that the disease does not exist at a 3 percent prevalence or higher. For our -- oop, sorry. For our medium risk DMUs, we achieved around 260 samples, median samples per DMU, which is 95 percent confidence the disease does not exist at a 1.5 percent prevalence or higher. And then for our high risk DMUs, around 450 samples, median samples per DMU, which is around 95 percent confidence the disease does not exist at a .75 percent prevalence or higher.

This is assuming -- this is using a model that assumes random disease distribution, random sampling, and also free-flowing populations within that study area. But obviously across Texas and every part of Texas, these assumptions are not necessarily always upheld. So one example of this we can see at Kerr Wildlife Management Area up in the Hill Country where you can see that the vast majority of these samples are concentrated within the wildlife management area and not area -- the general area surrounding it. This means most of our samples are more -- are well described in a certain population compared to the general population. And the degree of high fencing in that Hill Country can mean that those populations aren't nearly as free-flowing as they otherwise would be, also tempering some of our confidence the disease may or may not be there.

Another limitation can be disease clustering. Especially early in an outbreak when the prevalence is very, very low, you can have only a very small area that has a cluster of cases. And if you're sampling intensity is not high enough because it might have been a recent introduction in a low risk DMU with a lower sampling goal, we may miss those infections at very low prevalences. Additionally, if you do not have random sampling distribution and it's concentrated in a certain area, you may also miss these small clusters.

And then lastly, in certain areas of the state such urban San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, where we might have small deer populations or little to no landowner participation, you can have very few samples submitted, tempering our confidence that we could have detected or not detected the disease in that certain area.

To overcome some of these challenges though, the Department is actively engaged in several fronts to try and increase our probability of detection across the state. One of these being through what we previously discussed, antemortem testing or amplification technologies. And the Department has submitted just in the past year around 4,500 samples for the development of these RT-QuIC, PMCA, and Biomarker assays with -- through a variety of universities: Texas Tech, University of Texas, USDA, University of Minnesota, and my alma mater Cornell University. These can all assist in the individual animal detection of CWD, but they -- they ultimately could have population level detection capabilities, as well as environmental sampling detection capabilities.

Next one is the Department is also engaged in trying to pursue CW -- or pursue and promote CWD modeling efforts. This is to come up with science-based sampling goals across the state that are better targeted for different ecoregions. So in parts of Texas such as West Texas where we might have extremely low densities and concentration of resources, this can have significant effects on the overall persistence of CWD but also hamper our ability to detect it. Additionally, in other parts of the -- of Texas, like the Hill Country, we might have dramatically different situation in terms of live deer movement, that can also influence the risk of CWD entering an area and how it magnifies itself.

And then lastly, Big Game staff, as well as some of our GS -- GIS specialists within the department have been actively engaged in creating a CWD dashboard, which has been especially critical in terms of mapping the prevalence and distribution of positive CWD cases throughout the state. But also it has extremely important implications in terms of reconsidering zone delineations, as well as informing some of our epidemiological risk assessments that we might take part in certain other programs within the Department.

All three of these technologies, future directions, are going to play a critical role in the future management of CWD; but after almost 20 years of surveillance and 100,000 samples submitted by our biologists and staff, we're confident that there is not a high undetected presence of CWD in Texas and with these future technologies, we hope to keep it that way. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Dr. Reed.

Commissioners, questions, comments, statements, thoughts?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Hildebrand. I would say that's fantastic that -- of those results and seems like good statistical data, 15 -- 14,000 samples. So that's nothing but positive news and I think that allays certainly my fears in many ways that we were putting too much emphasis on deer breeders and not on free-range. So thank you for enlighting us on that.

DR. REED: No problem.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: This chart's interesting. Thank you for that. Will you speak a little bit -- you know, Mitch said he hopes it's coming, has no idea when, be great if it gets here. Are you in that court? You have no idea when?

DR. REED: Yeah, we're pursuing it on multiple fronts and, I mean, we're having conversations weekly with universities all across the United States because this is a huge --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Well, you mentioned everything but Texas A&M and I don't know how -- I don't know how you're going to get it done if you don't get an Aggie.

DR. REED: We try our best; but, you know, there's always room for improvement.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: One time. One time that A&M wasn't mentioned.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Dr. Reed.

DR. REED: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself.

Okay. Work Session Item No. 14, Briefing, Recreation Grants Overview. Dana, how are you? Grants, this is always a nice part of the Commission Meeting.

MS. LAGARDE: Good afternoon. My name is Dana Lagarde and I'm the Director of Recreation Grants. Today I'll be giving you a briefing about recreation grants branch and the programs under it.

The recreation grants branch is under the State Parks Division and we have five major programs under the recreation grants: Boat grant programs, community outdoor outreach programs, local park grant programs, recreational trails, and target range grant programs. Our purpose is to manage federal and state funding that comes into the Agency and we both use it internally and externally by providing grants to cities, counties, nonprofits, and a variety of other entities across Texas and we do this -- the focus, as our name implies, recreation grants, is to help increase access to recreation opportunities across Texas.

Our funding comes from both federal and state. You can see that we get funding from the Land and Water Conservation funds, Sport Fish Restoration, Wildlife Restoration, federal highway, and the state funding we get is sporting goods sales tax and a small amount from the off-highway vehicle decal sales. Anticipated grant funding for this biennium of 22-23 is approximately 89 million. Some of that has already been received by the Agency and some of the federal funding comes in by apportionment.

The federal funding can be used internally for opportunities such as with our state park system or WMAs. The state funding is only for pass-through grants. All of our programs are reimbursement. And with the federal grant funding, there is fed -- we cannot use other federal funds to match.

So the first program I'm going to talk about is the boat grant program. Under the boat grant program, we have three different grant opportunities. The -- and these are all federal. The first one is the boating infrastructure grant or we also call it the BIG. The boating infrastructure grant basically assists marinas and other entities in Texas to build boating infrastructure for transient boaters, which transient boaters can stay up to two weeks or 14 days and then move on to the next place that they're going. So this is a nationally competitive grant through U.S. Fish and Wildlife. There's a 25 percent match requirement and we can request up to 1.5 million per grant application.

We -- the next deadline for this is to be determined, but it's typically in the fall and we wait to hear from the federal government before we announce our pass-through grants. Here's a couple of photos of some of the BIG projects in Texas. One Pelican Rest and one at Corpus.

The next one is the boat access grant and the boating access grant is to helping build basically boat ramps, as well as boat ramp facilities. It could be fish cleaning stations or bathrooms, as long as it's right there within the -- that it's serving the boat ramp. And this is just a picture of cofferdam where they're building a boat ramp and how they displace the water so that they can go ahead and build that. This is also a 25 percent match and comes from U.S. Fish and Wildlife funds. The grant ceiling is 500,000 per grant application and, again, we will propose the next deadline as soon as we hear from the federal government. Here's a couple of boat ramps we funded. One in Travis County. One in Willacy County.

The next is the clean vessel grant. Not one of our most glamorous, but it does actually do a wonderful job of cleaning our waters. So the clean vessel grant provides funding up to 1.5 million per grant application, 25 percent match requirement to get rid of boat sewage in our -- so that it doesn't go into our waters. Here's a couple of other photos of some of the CVA grants that we have funded.

And our next one, community outdoor outreach program, this is the only program we have under recreation grants that is not construction related and this one is state funded. It comes from sporting goods sales tax. There's no match requirement, and we allow a $60,000 grant application. We have a -- our next application will be November 1st, and we do it on an annual basis. The purpose of the community outdoor outreach program or COOP is to provide outdoor recreation such as camping, hiking, TPWD type style recreation to citizens of Texas that haven't had the opportunity or haven't been the focus of Texas Parks and Wildlife in the past. And here's a few pictures of some of our COOP program recipients. There's one in Laredo, El Paso ISD with archery in schools, and on the right -- the far right is a group of kids with the Buffalo Soldiers museum who's also working with our own Buffalo Soldiers Program here at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

So the next one is our biggest program. It's the local park grant program. And this one is divided into outdoor recreation grants and indoor recreation grants. It's also funded by both federal and state funding. So this one gets a little more complicated. You can see that we have four grant opportunities under outdoor recreation and two grant opportunities under indoor recreation.

We'll first do the -- I'll discuss the urban outdoor recreation. So urban outdoor is both state and federally funded and it is -- it does require a 50 percent match. The -- they can -- cities and counties are eligible and can request -- I'm sorry. Cities and counties with 500,000 or more in population are eligible and they can request up to 1.5 million in matching grant funds. We have an annual deadline of August 1st. The next deadline is August 1st, 2022. And you can see a picture of Lady Bird Lake there. That's -- we've actually funded Lady Bird Lake many, many times. So, but that's just one nice picture of it. Here's a couple in Dallas from our urban local park grant. Elm Fork Athletic, Bachman Lake. A couple more, there's El Paso and a couple of pictures from Fort Worth and there we have Harris County and the City of Houston and San Antonio, Bexar County.

So the next -- the next local park grant is the nonurban outdoor recreation. Nonurban is similar to the urban. It's just for populations under 500,000 and it's to acquire and develop parkland. It also is funded with federal and state funding and has a 50 percent match require. This grant, the ceiling, the current ceiling is $750,000 and it is also August 1st deadline. And here we have another example of nonurban park grant that we funded in Lake Jackson. Couple more nonurban. You can see the types of facilities and opportunities we're able to fund. We've got Kilgore and Wimberley.

And then we will go to our small community grant. So our small community grant is a grant for under 20,000 in population for cities and counties and special districts and it is funded -- it can be funded also from state or federal funds, 50 percent match just like the others, and the grant ceiling for this is up to $150,000. The purpose of the small community grant was to help with smaller projects for these smaller communities that couldn't compete against these bigger, larger communities. And so here's some examples of small communities. There's this really nice amphitheater that we funded for Kilgore. We've got a couple -- I guess I don't have anymore.

But the next one would then be the outdoor recreation legacy program. So this one's a nationally competitive grant. We wait -- it's to be determined on the next grant deadline because we wait for the National Park Service to put out the notice of funding opportunity and it does change from year to year. However, this last time they actually raised the grant ceiling up to 5 million dollars and anyone or any communities over 50,000 in population are eligible to apply. It is a 50 percent match requirement and it was established in 2015, so it's a somewhat newer grant program; but it also comes from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Then we have our indoor -- our urban indoor recreation grants. The urban indoor is for populations again over 500,000 and again a 50 percent match. We have a $1.5 million grant ceiling for applications and this one is strictly supported by sporting goods sales tax by the State of Texas. And we do not currently have a grant deadline placed. When -- the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 24 states that if we have 14 million in sporting goods sales tax or more, then that's when the indoor grant program kicks in and we haven't quite gotten to that this last year. But here is an example Phil Hardberger Ecology Center is one that we funded through this program.

And then we have our indoor recreation grant for nonurban, which is the same as the urban, just for smaller -- under 500,000 and again 50 percent match. We have a $1 million grant ceiling and the same goes for this. It is state funded with sporting goods sales tax and will kick in at the 14 million dollar mark.

All right our next program is the recreational trails program and there are three different components to rec trails program. The -- the -- excuse me. The rec trails program has a recreational trails grant component that is open to nonprofits, cities, counties, and it also has -- it's further broken down into motorized trails and nonmotorized trails. It is funded -- it has been funded for many years through the Federal Highway Trust Fund. This last session or this -- this fiscal year is the first time that sporting goods sales tax has been appropriated for this program and so that is listed under its funding and we hope to see that continue in the future. It has a 20 percent match requirement and currently the nonmotorized cap for grant ceiling is 300,000 and the cap for the motorized or off-highway vehicles trails is 600,000. Our next grant deadline is February 1st. You will actually be presented with recommendations in May for the last deadline. So they're reviewing applications right now. And I forgot to mention that tomorrow you will be hearing recommendations for our local park grant program for our three outdoor recreation programs. Couple of examples of our trails program grants. Here's one at Eisenhower State Park, an OHV trailhead. Another one in New Boston, a regular trail.

So the second component of the trails program is funded with the federal money, but it's a little bit different than our other programs in that we actually have a couple of staff members that train and manage a crew through American YouthWorks. So we have a cooperative -- a cooperative agreement with American YouthWorks. They bring together a trail crew and two of our staff oversee the trail crews across -- for the state park system. And these are just some pictures of those trail crews and our staff in various state parks.

And finally there's the OHV program. The OHV program was established I think back maybe in 2006 and it was established by the Texas Legislature to provide OHV sites across Texas so that OHV users have a safe and environmentally feasible place to ride their vehicles. It also created an OHV decal, so that decal system is managed in the State Park Division and the funding from that decal goes into -- into a pot that can be used for safety courses across the state, OHV safety, as well as administration of managing the OHV decal system and it also -- any leftover funds can be used towards grants to help build OHV trails. So this -- although it's not a lot of funding, the state funding from the OHV decal will be added to the federal funding for the OHV program.

And finally we come to our target range program. The target range program provides grants to all sorts of entities. It can be for profit or nonprofit, city, state to build and construct both archery and shooting ranges and to promote hunter education. It is funded through Wildlife Restoration Fund. It has a 10 percent match requirement and a $1 million grant ceiling. The next deadline is August 31st and you can see a picture of a -- this is an indoor shooting range that was funded in Cedar Park by our program. And here's another example of a program that was funded to the City of Houston. It was an archery range and that also received target range grant funding.

So this is the culmination of all the different programs. Just wanted -- it can get a little confusing. So I tried to show you how we have five main ones and they all break down into smaller little programs. In 2021 -- so as I said earlier, some of our funding goes internally to use for own state parks and WMAs; but also the majority of our funds or over half of our funds are pass-through to other entities: Cities, counties, nonprofits, and various other organizations. So in the last biennium, we had 433 grant applications submitted, requesting over $104 million, and we were able to fund 197 of those or 45 percent and we awarded over $55 million in the last biennium.

For those who would like to apply -- well, first this is our website, our TPWD website. This can provide more information to the public. And in order to apply, they can click on the "Apply Manage" and it will bring you to our recreation grants online portal. This portal was -- we initiated this portal in September of 2019 and it has been extremely helpful in managing our applications and our managing the grants once they're funded for all of our pass-through entities.

We also have a newsletter. It's the Agency grants newsletter that we utilize quite often and have thousands of people sign up for this newsletter. So if anybody would like to sign up for our grants newsletter, this is a great way to get information about deadlines and opportunities available to the public.

And this is my last slide. It is just the main staff right now and our contact information. And that concludes my briefing.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Dana, thank you.

Commissioners, any questions for Dana?

Thank you.

MS. LAGARDE: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hearing none, Work Session Item 15 through 20 will be heard in Executive Session.

At this time I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be heard at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meetings Act or seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplating litigation. We will now recess for Executive Session at 12:26 p.m. and return as soon as we can. Thank y'all.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, everybody, we're returning from Executive Session. We'll reconvene this Work Session 2:38 p.m.

Before I get started, we'll take a roll.

Aplin present.









CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, we're all here. We're now returning from Executive Session where we discussed Work Session Real Estate Items No. 15 through 19, Litigation Item No. 20. If there's no further questions from the Commission, I'll place Items No. 15 through 18 on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Regarding Item 19, I will authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process.

Regarding Item 20, no further action is needed.

Mr. Smith, I believe this Commission has completed its Work Session business. I declare us adjourned at 2:39.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(Work Session Adjourns)



I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand

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

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such

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

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my

hand and seal this Turn in date _____ day of ________________, ________.


Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: January 31, 2023

2223 Mockingbird Drive

Round Rock, Texas 78681







TPW Commission Meetings