TPW Commission

Public Hearing, August 24, 2022


TPW Commission Meetings


August 24, 2022






CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. We're going to roll right into what is going to be a very busy Annual Public Hearing for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on August 24th. We're going to get started at 2:09 p.m.

Before I begin, I'd like to take roll call again. Aplin present.







CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. This is our Annual Public Hearing and before proceeding with any other business, I believe Mr. Carter Smith has a statement to make and some comments about how the system works. Thank you, Carter.

MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioner. For the record, my name is Carter Smith. First, 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 Governments Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I'd like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting.

Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, I just want to join all of you in welcoming all of the folks who've come really from all over Texas to visit with the Commission today. It's a special day for us and the people have taken time out of their schedules to be here to talk to us about issues that are important to you and by virtue of the fact that their important to you, they're important to us and we look forward to hearing what you have to share with the Commission about any item of interest to you that's germane to the Department.

Just as a friendly reminder for those of you who are planning on speaking to the Commission, respectfully if you haven't already, please sign up outside. At the appropriate time, the Chairman will call you forward up to the dais. Everybody will have two minutes apiece to share your reflections or insights and observations with the Commission. Please share with the Commission your name and where you're so that they have of some sense of the geography and part of the state in which you call home.

But, again, welcome. Thank you for taking time to be here. This is important as we have a chance to hear from all of you, our stakeholders and constituents. So thank you for being here.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Carter.

We'll now hear from everyone who's signed up. I want to give you a little perspective on what we have going. We're going to ask everybody to just speak two minutes.

Are the lights working?

So you'll get a notice of a light when you get close to the two minutes. It would be very much appreciated if everyone would try to be prompt to the point and remain within the two minutes. We literally have over 100 people that want to speak. So this quite an undertaking. So if it seems like I'm moving it at a fast pace, it's because I'm trying to. And so I'm going to call out some names and give some people who are up to speak who's next, who's third, so you can even queue, if you will, and get in line. Just the sheer getting from the seat to the podium can take a lot of time.

So next thing -- and I may have to repeat this again because everybody is not in the room, there's no way we could keep this many people in one room -- is I may have to kind of repeat a similar discussion about this. But any time you get an opportunity as a speaker to agree or disagree with maybe what one of your fellow speakers has previously said, you can save some time by saying, "Thank you, I'm here in support of the last speaker." But I want to be crystal clear, you have two minutes and if you need that two minutes or feel like you want to use it, you have it and the Commission's here and we're listening.

Okay. We're going to get started. Number up first is Natalie Wolff, second is Ms. Chappell Carter, and then third -- I'm going to mispronounce a bunch of names -- Zoe Deuschle I believe.

Natalie, welcome.

MS. NATALIE WOLFF: Thank you. Good afternoon, Commissioners and Mr. Smith. My name is a Natalie Wolff and I reside in Lockhart and I have been the Executive Director of Texas Brigades since 2016 on behalf of hundreds of volunteers and a board of directors. I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today, specifically about the future of conservation, fisheries and wildlife, education and stewardship.

We value your continued and consistent investment on behalf of Texas' wildlife and in many ways, Texas Brigades carries a similar legacy in speaking on behalf of Texas' multitude of natural resource and we are grateful for your leadership in this space.

I grew up in the coastal plains of South Texas and have had the opportunity to develop a very deep connection land, livestock, and wildlife. My passion was cultivated by my family and our way of life. Just as most of you are most likely influenced children, nieces and nephews and grandchildren in your own life; but just as valuable, are those that are out of our immediate and personal reach and but not out of the reach of Texas Brigades.

Texas Brigades is creating opportunities for kids no matter their background, no matter where they're from, to cultivate their connection with conservation and our natural resources and equipping them with the means to share those opportunities across their communities. For 30 years, Texas Brigades has been developing conservation leaders in communities across Texas and we aim to keep those standards high.

We could not have done this without our partners, especially Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. We support -- when you support Texas Brigades, you are directly contributing to those connections. When participants learn from Parks and Wildlife biologists, specialists, and Texas game wardens, they are carrying those interactions and inspiration throughout their lives into their professional lives and we want to thank you for all of your support. It's an honor to introduce a few cadets from our camps this year and I'm looking forward to you getting to hear from them. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Natalie.

Chappell is up, then Zoe, then Isaiah Atoe if you could start lining up. Go ahead. When you get towards the time, you can go ahead and head up towards the podium.

Good morning. How -- good afternoon. How are you?

MR. CHAPPELL CARTER: Doing well. Hello and good afternoon. My name is Chappell Carter. I'm 15 and I go to Fort Worth Country Day School in Fort Worth. I'm here on behalf of Texas Brigades. For those not familiar with this group, they are a nonprofit organization that holds experiences and summer camps all across Texas to educate youth about wildlife and land conservation, as well as spawn the next generation of land stewards and advocates.

Started 30 years by the great Dr. Dale Rollins. It has grown exponentially since then and has inspired thousands of kids. I'm a former cadet of both the Ranch Brigade, an intense five-day camp that teaches cadets all about ranch management, cattle anatomy, land management and more and the Rolling Plains Wildlife Brigade, another one of the Brigade camps that teaches cadets all about quail diet, anatomy, habitat management, and much more.

Similar to most kids before attending these camps, I was a kid who liked to hunt, enjoy the outdoors, and raise cattle. But the Brigade has taught me that there's much more than just chases coveys and feeding cows. At the Ranch Brigade, I realized that my own ranch is way over carrying capacity. So we're bringing our numbers down. Also, it's made me much aware of how our grass is doing, if our pasture and ranch land is healthy, and what we are feedings.

Furthermore, the knowledge I gained at the Bob White Brigade has shown me what proper quail habitat looks like and how I can help support the quail on my ranch. But aside from teaching me what I can do, Texas Brigades has given me the tools to advocate for conservation.

The troop leaders of these camps doesn't just stop at learning about being proper stewards. It teaches kids to be leaders, speak well in public, have a good social media presence, and to get your voice heard. It also provides an expansive network of great friends met at these camps -- a few that you'll hear from in just a minute -- and esteemed conservation leaders from all over Texas. As Aldo Leopold, the great godfather of ecology once said, land is not merely soil. It is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. It is one of our highest responsibilities to conserve this beautiful land around us and Texas Brigades is equipping the next generation with the tools to guarantee that our great state's natural resources and beauty will be here forever.

Thank y'all Texas Parks and Wildlife for what you do for these camps and thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Chappell, thank you. At 15, you're already doing great at speaking. Thank you.

MR. CHAPPELL CARTER: Thank you, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Zoe, then Isaiah, then Madison.

Hello, Zoe.

MS. ZOE BARILLA-DEUSCHLE: Hello. It's Monday, June 27th, the third day of Brigade's camp. I'm swinging a rope above my head and thinking to myself I have no idea what I'm doing. My name is Zoe Barilla-Deuschle. I'm 17 years old and this past summer I attended the South Texas Ranch Brigade at Killam Duval County Ranch in Freer. I was raised in city of Chicago and moved to Austin five years ago. My interest in the outdoors grew when I came to Texas and started to explore.

The more time I spent outside, the more I realized this was something that I wanted to pursue. I applied to Texas Brigades to broaden my understanding of stewardship and land management in a setting I was unfamiliar with. I was nervous about participating in activities that I knew nothing about. We woke up early each morning and started in the fields, engaging in hands on activities such as observing and identifying grass types, measuring carry capacity, and vaccinating cattle.

Not only was I exposed to activities I was unfamiliar with, I collaborated with experts in land stewardship. Their multiple perspectives provided me with a well-rounded understanding of rangeland health practices, carbon sequestration, range ecology, cattle anatomy, and leadership. With my newfound knowledge and piqued interest, I am currently applying to university programs that include elements of stewardship, conservation, and ecology. I also implemented land management practices in an urban setting during my conservation term with AmeriCorps this summer where we built trails and contributed to assisting a sustainable model.

My commitment to stewardship will only grow from here. And in case you're wondering, I figured out how to use that rope. My partner and I won the cattle roping competition at camp and proved that city girls can rope too. Thank you, Texas Brigades, and thank you for your continued support of the Texas Brigades Program.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you Zoe. That's a good story. Thank you.

Isaiah, then Madison, Brandon[sic] Hicks after that.

Welcome, Isaiah.

MR. ISAIAH ATOE: Hello. My name's Isaiah Atoe. I go to Birdville High School in North Richland Hills, Texas, and I was a cadet at the Bass Brigades and the Coastal Brigades. First of all, I'd like to thank a few names who are sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Ms. Kyra Cong, Dr. Cynthya Fox, Mr. Alfred Hillman, Mr. Nicholas Griffin, and Mrs. Monica McGarrity. And if you're wondering who these people these are, these are a few of your great and generous volunteers who have helped with the Texas Brigades and in my life.

Without the Texas Parks and Wildlife, at the age of 15, as I am now, I'd be so much more far behind than I already am. I've learned so much. When you they say you learn -- you teach, the Texas Brigades have learned from teachers provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife. Such a great organization. And I would like to say without Texas Parks and Wildlife, the State of Texas, we wouldn't have as many young individuals who are ready to lead the future. And with young individuals ready to lead the future, it really shows why Texas is a great state and I would like to thank you for continually sponsoring us.

And also at my Brigades' experiences, I learned not only about aquatic biology and marine biology, I also learned about sampling methods such as passive and active. My favorite act of sampling method is electrical fishing or electric fishing. It's when you get electrical cables and you shock the fish and my favorite part -- I'm not going to lie -- is whenever they float to the top. And I wouldn't be able to do that without y'all, and I love being a volunteer. Y'all are so welcoming. Especially at the Athens Fish Hatchery. That's a true blessing for it to be such a great available resource to the public and I really pray that y'all continue to sponsor great youth like us and the more you learn, the more you teach. Thank you for all your help.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Isaiah. Thank you. Yeah, and you're right. The only way to do that legally is with us.

Madison, you're up. Then Braxton, then Abigail Williams.

Good afternoon, Madison.

MS. MADISON LUGO: Good afternoon. My name is Madison Lugo and I'm here to speak on behalf of the Texas Brigades -- the Texas Brigades. A program supported by Texas Parks and Wildlife and this is my second year being involved with them. I wouldn't be more -- I couldn't be more great grateful for the impact that they've had on my life.

Before I went to my first Brigades camp in 2021, I was very shy. I would hide behind my mom at any social event and I never imagined that I would be here speaking today. North Texas Buckskin Brigades helped me to be more confident in myself, which has led me to be successful in other areas. I became the president of my FFA Chapter and I started the first wildlife team at my school and received my work -- and I received state and national recognition -- recognition for my work in conservation education.

Texas Brigades has shaped me into a leader and has allowed me to pursue my passion for the outdoors. As a senior at Dobie High School in Houston, Texas, I am currently planning on studying wildlife conservation in college to help me prepare for a full career in helping preserve and protect Texas natural resources. I want to thank you for investing in programs like Texas Brigades, which have really changed my life for the better. Without them, I really wouldn't have been able to be speaking here today. As you can tell, I'm still a little nervous; but it's definitely an improvement on what I was before I attended this camp. Thank you again for all your support.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. Madison, you're doing great. Really, really good. It's impressive.

Okay. Braxton, you're up. Then Abigail, then Camryn Jamison.

Hello, Braxton.

MR. BRAXTON HICKS: How are you doing? Good afternoon. My name is Braxton Hicks. I'm the Field Operations Coordinator for the Texas Youth Hunting Program. We're part of the TWA. It's a nonprofit organization, preserving and continuing conservation and natural resources throughout the State of Texas.

The TYHP, takes -- we took this past year over 1,100 kids out hunting and teach them about conservation through hunting. That's what our program is meant to do is to teach the safe, legal, and ethical way to hunt and we could not do that without the support of TPWD. I brought -- I asked three of our hunters from this past year to come out and speak to you guys. So I'm going to be short and sweet and let them come up and tell you because they're the ones who this program's about. So I just want to say thank you on behalf of TYHP and the TWA for your support from all -- to all the Commissioners and Carter. Thank you. And right behind me is Abigail and after that Camryn and Logan. So thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Braxton. You finished still in the green. Good job.

Abigail, then Camryn, and then Logan.

MS. ABIGAIL WILLIAMS: Good afternoon. My name is Abigail Williams. I'm 17 years old. The TYHP program has been a very big part of my life, considering the fact that roughly three years ago we lost our hunting land and we got -- the owner decided to lease it out to cattle instead. So a year ago, I started with the program in late October and when my dad called me and said that I was able to go on this hunt, it was my first time in two years to do something that I had been doing my entire life.

So when I got more involved in the program, I decided that this is something I would like to continue doing, even volunteer later. But it's -- sorry, I'm really nervous.

It's a very good program for people like me who haven't had the opportunity or was born into a family that this is something that was a big part of their lives. They don't have the privilege of land or the knowledge of wildlife conservation and I find that this program is a very good way of getting others that have maybe not an extensive background in conservation, it's a very good way to involve others. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Abigail. You did really good.

Camryn, Logan, then John Shepperd.

Hello, Camryn. How are you?

MS. CAMRYN JAMISON: I'm good. Good afternoon. My name is Camryn Jamison. I am 17 years old. I am a junior at Hays High School in Buda, Texas. And I'm here to talk about my experience the past January. I went on a great -- a great hunt provided by the Texas Youth Hunting Program. There is a great -- sorry.

There are so many great moments at this camp -- I mean at this hunting program that will always stick for me forever. But there is one moment that I will always remember, the time that I shot my first Axis buck and he was 184 pounds and to be honest, he wasn't the buck that I wanted; but I'm still grateful that I got him. But there is a huge buck at this hunt that I really wanted. He was giant. He was a giant trophy buck. I waited hours for him and but, of course, there were rules to the hunting program that I couldn't shoot him; but he -- him and his herd moved along and he never came back. And then I went and got to shoot my first Axis.

He -- I was very nervous to shoot him. I got buck fever and -- but I was super excited afterwards. I ran up to him and I was just super proud of this buck and the Texas Youth Hunting Program has definitely taught me so many life -- long life things.

Sorry, this is one of my first times doing this.

So but I'm so thankful and honored to be out here and share my experience and I just want to thank y'all. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Camryn.

Logan, then John Shepperd, then Kevin Good.

Hello. Logan.

MR. LOGAN JENKE: How it's going? Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Logan Jenke. I'm 17 years old and I'm a senior at Churchill High School in San Antonio, Texas. I'm honored to have been asked to speak on behalf of the Texas Youth Hunting Program. I want to first off thank Mr. Braxton Hicks who invited me to come speak about my experiences from this program. This program has positively impacted both my hunting, as well as my life skills. TYHP has provided youth, like myself, from the city with an affordable opportunity to go hunting, see new country, make new friends, and harvest game.

TYHP has taught me a lot about hunting such as field safety, gun safety, and how to track a deer in different scenarios. While I've been hunting all my life, I prefer the TYHP hunt because the program has so much more to offer than just the hunting itself. At TYHP, I've learned communication skills that have helped me in my everyday life such as how to talk to people with respect. I've also learned how to practice patience and judgment and making decisions.

The program has also given me lots of memories that I'll remember forever. For instance, in shooting my buck in Harper, Texas, I've learned patience that it -- as it was a long day of waiting and watching. I've learned the trade off in decision-making as my dad guided me in the process of selecting the buck I harvested and I realized the teamwork that both my dad and I used to communicate while he was guiding me during this experience.

Lastly, I truly hope this program remains in the future such that when I am a father, I'll be able to pass down the same experiences that I've had with my dad to my kids. Thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Logan.

John Shepperd, Kevin Good, Sam Berman. So I may want to remind everybody because we have so many people here -- literally over 100 waiting to speak -- as you finish, when the opportunity arises, if you would exit the room so we can let the next group come in and speak. It would be very helpful. They're remaining outside until we make room. Thank you.

Hello, John.

MR. JOHN SHEPPERD: Yes, sir. Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, my name is John Shepperd. I'm the Executive Director of the Texas Foundation for Conservation. I was encouraged to hear this morning so much robust discussion about Fund 9. And as a quick reminder, the fees collected from hunting and fishing licenses and boater registration fees, that's what flows into Fund 9.

It should not be a surprise to you that the hunting and angling community feels very possessive about this money and there's considerable consternation that the Legislature has not sent more of it back to 4200 Smith School Road to be put to use as it was intended. I think the current balance is something like $120 million and I hope that you-all will work with us in the upcoming Legislative session to get some of that money freed up and put back to work. Thank y'all very much?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, John.

Kevin Good, Sam Berman, then Maryann.

Kevin, hello.

MR. KEVIN GOOD: Good afternoon, Chairman Aplin and Commission members. My name is Kevin Good and today I'm speaking on behalf of Texans for State Parks. We want to express our thanks to the Commission for their -- and the Department leadership -- for their efforts over the past year. But in particular, I'd like to thank Rodney Franklin and the State Parks team for another outstanding year.

While there are too many accomplishments to list, I do want to highlight the efforts of the State Parks and Infrastructure Divisions to redevelop Galveston Island, making this popular site available once again. I also want to applaud the Agency for its partnership with the Battleship Texas Foundation, as it readies this unique depth of history for its impending voyage to Galveston. A trip that was many years in the making and one that will ensure that this treasure remains intact for years to come.

However, the real success of the Parks team is reflected in the millions of visitors that have entered the outdoors through the portals provided by state parks. The memories and experiences generated by these visits will be cherished for years to come and the conservation lessons and natural experiences gained by these folks will enhance their lives forever.

Texans for State Parks is excited by the Agency's efforts to expand existing parks which will help ensure the viability of these sites. Similarly, the upcoming opening of Palo Pinto Mountains is a notable achievement; but this achievement is long overdue, as it has been more than a decade since a new park was opened. During that time, the state's population has increased by more than $5 million people and parks are simply not keeping pace with our state's growth. We encourage the Agency the hasten the development of currently held properties and to seek out additional new park sites.

Along with all Texans, we look forward to celebrating the park system's 100th birthday in 2023. This landmark arrives as the park system enjoys a stable financial foundation that can ensure access to the outdoors is available for all Texans and examples of our unique natural resources are preserved for the future.

And then finally on behalf of the members of Texans for State Parks, I want to express our thanks to Carter Smith for his leadership and wisdom in guiding Texas Parks and Wildlife over the past 15 years. His enthusiasm and love of the outdoors have been infectious and invaluable and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors. Happy trails, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Kevin.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Kevin.

Sam you're up. Maryann on deck, David Zane in the hole.

Welcome, Sam. How are you?

MR. SAM BERMAN: Thank you. Good afternoon, Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Sam Berman and I am the Campaign Coordinator for the Million Acre Parks Project at Environment Texas. We are a nonprofit advocate for clean air, clean water, and open spaces, with about 30,000 members and supporters around the state. And last week, we released a new report on the Texas State Park System and I wanted to share some of our key findings.

The first thing is that our report found that Texas lags behind most in state park acreage per capita, coming in just 35th out of the 50 states. By comparison, we have 54 percent fewer acres than similarly sized Florida. And our state grow rapidly, our park system is bursting at the seams. We're struggling to meet public demand for recreation opportunities and protect the critters that call these parts home. Meanwhile, development continues to transform the state's iconic rural character that so many of us love, encroaching on beloved parks like Enchanted Rock and Brazos Bend.

The marking of the century of state parks presents us with a great opportunity to not only mark a program that has provided communities across our state with jobs and visitors, helping to bring endangered species back from the brink, and preserve the natural beauty that surrounds us; but to help to secure a future so that these traits can continue to grow.

I'm here today to ask the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to stand with me as we ask the Legislature for significant land acquisition funding this session. What better way to celebrate the legacy of our parks than a statement that secures their future. Thank you so much for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Sam.

Maryann, David, and then Allissa.

Hello, Maryann.

MS. MARYANN MARTINEZ OKHUYSEN: Hello. Good afternoon. My name is Maryann Martinez Okhuysen and I'm a senior at the University of Texas at Austin studying government and sustainability. I'm here today to speak to you about my love for the outdoors and the importance of increasing access to state parks for residents across Texas.

Growing up in Houston, outdoor walks were never enjoyable. The piercing heat can quickly fatigue an individual, while the occasional smell of petroleum can leave one gasping. Needless to say, I have become great friends with my treadmill. Yet over the summer going on hiking trips, I discovered just how enjoyable the outdoors can be. Learning to skip rocks and the feeling of fulfillment as I found a natural spring to swim in, are some of the invaluable outdoor experiences that cannot be replicated within the confines of a gym.

These are the stories I tell my friends and family. Stories I would not have without the great outdoors. I'm not alone in my enjoyment of nature. Almost 10 million people visited our state parks last year. With such a high demand for state park use, increasing the number of available state parks will help prevent overcrowding and protect our natural resources.

The Department has done great progress in growing the state park system in recent years, but there's still much work to be done. I urge the Commission to use your influence at the Legislature to secure major funding for state parks next session. We have a big surplus and we're celebrating a centennial. The stars are aligned. Thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Maryann, thank you very much.

David, then Allissa, then Tim Spice.

MR. DAVID ZANE: Good afternoon. My name is David Zane. I live in Austin, and I'm here testifying as a private citizen. I will speak today on water safety and drowning prevention. By trade, I'm an epidemiologist. So I like to look at data and statistics and I've seen your Agency data on the number of open-water drownings that occur each year in the state. It is very good that over the last 25 years, open-water drowning is trending down; but despite this progress, drownings continue to -- drownings continue to take many, many lives.

Over the last three years, nearly 200 Texans have fatally drowned in the state. Sadly, that's an the average of 60 per year. Sometimes it's important to have perspective on things. So I want to compare for you the yearly number of these drowning fatalities to the yearly number of hunting fatalities.

Tragically over the last three years, there's been one hunting fatality per year in the state. Now contrast that with the 60 individuals that have fatally drowned each year. To put it another way, in recent years for every hunting fatality, there are six -- 60 fatal drownings.

Despite the sobering data, we know that drownings is preventable. So with that in mind, I would encourage the Agency to do two things: Continue your excellent effort to educate boaters on the use of life jackets and continue to work with the water safety organizations around the state to prevent drownings.

In closing, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on water safety.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, David.

Allissa, Tim Spice, and then Kori.

MS. ALLISSA MAGRUM: Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Allissa Magrum. I'm the Executive Director of Colin's Hope, a water safety and drowning prevention organization. I am also a board member for the Texas Drowning Prevention Alliance and a co-chair for the Central Texas Drowning Prevention Action Team. So basically I do water safety and drowning prevention every single day.

And as you heard David speak some about the data, I'm not going to talk about that. I'm going to talk about the fact that, first of all, I want to say thank you for all of the work that Texas Parks and Wildlife does to educate people and boaters to access the water that is in our state. We have a lot of water in and around our state and it's an exciting time for water safety because the U.S. is about to have a National Water Safety Action Plan.

I, alongside other Texans, have been working on it at the national level and when that comes out in January of 2023, Texas needs to be ready to create a state water safety plan and that means that we need to align state agencies like Texas Parks and Wildlife, like Texas Education Agency, Texas Department of Health and Human Services, and many other state agencies to bond together with water safety advocates and organizations like myself, with families who've been impacted by drownings and water-related injuries and fatalities, get together and do more to prevent drownings in our state.

We have some amazing work happening. It needs to be aligned better. It needs to be aligned with the national recommendations that are coming out and I want to ask you: Are any of you familiar with this? This is actually a Texas Parks and Wildlife Aqua Smart videotape. I don't personally have a VHS player that I can play this on. But we have lots of great things in the State of Texas. Some of them need to be refreshed and there are many of us ready and waiting to do that, to step alongside Texas Parks and Wildlife to prevent the drownings that we can in our state and have people access the water in ways that we love them.

At my organization, Colin's Hope, our mantra is "Have the best day every," because that's what Colin like to say. So I wish you the best day ever and I thank you for all that you're doing and ask you to continue to do more and provide some funding too. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Allissa.

Tim, then Kori, then Shane.


MR. TIM SPICE: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Director Smith. My name is Tim Spice, and I'm here to talk about drowning prevention. I'm currently on the Governor's EMS and Trauma Advisory Council as part of the injury prevention and public education committee. Also working with NASBLA developing a K through 12 life jacket education American national standard.

This standard is part of the National Safety Plan that is in the final stages of development. Many Texas water safety professionals, some in this room, helped develop that plan. Although trend lines are down, or slightly down, a recent study of 2006 to 2020 shows that 360 people drown in Texas every year and 152 of those drowned in open water, non-boating related incidents. The number one leading cause of unintentional death for children under four years of age is drowning. The number three leading cause of unintentional death for teens is open-water drowning.

And the CDC calculates there are eight times as many people who have a nonfatal drowning incident that -- compared to drowning incidents. Drowning prevention programs are -- in Texas are disjointed. Most programs are run by local level nonprofits like Colin's Hope. They do a fabulous job here in Austin, but -- and the local hospitals also in their injury prevention program, unless it's a small hospital out in the rural areas and they don't have the resources.

TPWD and Department of Health and Human Services needs to help develop and implement the new water safety plan that's going to be rolled out, the National Water Safety Plan, the first part of next year. It will provide a roadmap for states, municipalities, and NGOs to combat drowning and nonfatal drowning. From 2006 to 2020, 2,278 people drowned in Texas public waters and we need to work together to drastically reduce that number for the next 15 years. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Tim.

Kori, Shane, and then Robert Hamilton.

MS. KORI DE LA PENA: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Kori De La Pena and unfortunately, my daughter was six years old -- so she's part of those statistics -- she was six years old when she died due to a drowning. So I'm here representing many of those families that have had loved ones and have drowned in our state.

As you heard before from one of our speakers, the National Water Safety Action Plan, we are fully in support that and pray and implement that hopefully Texas steps on and implements our own water safety action plan here. As I know that if those individuals, including my daughter, would have been wearing a life jacket, they would be with us here today. I really, really want to thank you and support you for promoting and teaching and educating the public on the use and the importance of using a life jacket out in open water. I really think we're going towards the right way. I just pray that we continue with our efforts and I want to thank you again for making water safety a priority here in our state as well. Thank you. Oh, and this is a picture of my little one. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Kori. God bless you. Thank you.

Shane, Robert, then Chuck.

MR. SHANE WILSON: Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I'm Shane Wilson. I reside on beautiful South Padre Island, Texas. And I drove up here last night staying at McKinney Falls State Park to speak right here. I know I have a very limited time. You also all received one of these. It's a little sticker. If you'd read the significance of the logo on the back when I'm finished or when you're done, it would be greatly appreciated.

I first and foremost want to say thank you, Carter Smith. Thank you. You will be deeply missed. Deeply missed.

So I reside on South Padre Island. For the last 20 years, I've been Chairman of the board of a small, little nonprofit down there called Sea Turtle, Inc. During that time I was an educator, I started found -- I founded Fishing's Future. Fishing's Future is a nonprofit organization that teaches families how to fish. I couldn't do a whole lot about it until I received co-op grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife and at that time when I received that grant, that's a reimbursement type of a grant. My wife and I took $100,000 and we stuck it into Fishing's Future and I said we're going to build this. So that was in 2007.

A long story short, we have 27 chapters in the State of Texas. It is national organization now. We do not charge for anything. We talk about family. We teach families how to fish. We teach families how to put on life jackets. We teach families how to spend time with their kids because if parents would spend time with their kids more, I think we would reduce a lot of the problems that we have. I retired as first grade school teacher. I do this full time. I do this on my own.

What I want to say is I have received three Texas co-op grants over the last 15 years. Currently I'm operating one right now. I took a 26-foot tri-toon boat and it's the only boat in the nation designed to take physically handicapped with mobility issues out on the water and what makes it so special is my boat has a lift. Now in order to get on the boat, you must go through TPWD angler education because I'm -- I have worked with Karen Marks and her wonderful staff for many, many years as an aquatic educator. But my boat puts them in the water with the lift if they want to experience the joys of swimming again and playing in the water. When they come out, we have a hand shower that they rinse them off with.

But what that has done -- and that's being operated right now under the co-op grant and I'm here saying thank you for that program. Because the City of South Padre Island, a legendary fishing destination -- I've been there 20 some years -- and because of what we have been able to do with Fishing's Future and because of the co-op grant, the city -- three city council meetings ago declared themselves and made a proclamation and proclaimed themselves -- now this is the City of South Padre Island -- the special needs sport fishing capitol of Texas. And it's all because of the co-op grant that you allowed me to have in 2007 when I started Fishing's Future.

I want to applaud each and every one of you. It's a lengthy reimbursement. You need to speed that process up a little bit because little organizations like me have to pull stuff out of the budget. But anyway, I drove up here last night from South Padre Island to stay in McKinney Falls to address you folks and I'm deeply honored that you will listen to me. I'm deeply saddened that I will miss you forever, but there's a nonprofit that you can run. I've got a good one.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Shane.

MR. SHANE WILSON: If you read this, please put it on your cars. I appreciate it. Thank you for the honor.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Carter[sic].

Robert, then Chuck Nasier, then Mark Valentino.

Hello, Robert.

MR. ROBERT HAMILTON: Hello. My name is Robert Hamilton. I'm a fishing guide in Rockport, Texas. I started this petition a couple of weeks ago to raise more awareness about the Texas Speckled trout limit. 600 people plus have signed this petition as of 9:45 last night.

The emergency move made by Texas Parks and Wildlife to change the Texas Speckle trout limit from five to three fish was not popular among coastal fishermen. Now the least popular part of the new policy was the slot size from 17 to 23 inches. I think most anglers would understand that temporarily reducing the limit from five fish to three because of the freeze. The slot limit has been the most trying issue, as numerous people, like myself, explained at the TP and W hearings last winter that this would be more detrimental than helpful. In some areas and during some times of the year, catching fish in this slot is very difficult. They either seem like they're just a little bit under or little over.

The result has been excessive handling of what would be keeper trout. This excessive handling kills many of the throw-back fish. They don't die from swallowing the hook. Many are immediately or eaten by dolphins that follow fishermen around. Now less visible predators like sharks can also be a problem at times.

Fishermen that target other species like Redfish and drum, often catch trout that are over 23 inches that swallow the bait and that are not fit to be released. I can testify that from March of 2020 -- excuse me -- 2022 until now, it's not unusual to catch 20 trout to keep three. I hear -- I hear the same numbers from other anglers. I promise that more fish are dying under the new slot limits than if just the first three trout were the limit. Fewer fish are reaching the dinner table as well.

A new slot needs to be considered. For example, 15 to 23. Perhaps tagging one trout over that length should be also considered. This tagged fish should not -- excuse me. This tagged fish could be part of the three-trout limit, not in addition to the three like in Redfish. Thank you.


Chuck, then Mark, then Hannah.

I want to remind everybody if you've finished speaking, that if you could make room for the next group, that would be welcome.

Chuck, howdy.

MR. CHUCK NASIER: You've turned on my red already. Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, you're going to like me because I'm going to say I'm from FlatsWorthy. I'm from Rockport and I support the closure of Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres Bay to oystering. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Chuck, you get an award for that. Thank you.

Mark, then Hannah, then John.

Hello, Mark.

MR. MARK VALENTINO: Try to make this quick. Thank you. I appreciate y'all listening to us. Of course, I'm on the other side of this gentleman's comments. I'm a third generation in the seafood business in Galveston Bay. My grandparents came to San Leon on Galveston Bay in the 1920s. They're some of the first people who ever shrimped in Galveston Bay. I've seen a lot seasons since the 70s that have been extremely bad oyster seasons, followed by extremely good oyster seasons.

I got to be able to study under Dr. Sammy Ray, not at college; but I proved that we could depurate oysters. In fact, the rules that regarding that -- regarding oyster depuration that are in the Parks and Wildlife book, were adopted. Basically I had to get a lawyer to put the rules in the book and we proved that we could depurate oysters. Unfortunately, the Parks and Wildlife wouldn't let us go get the oysters.

So I'm against the closure of these bays and I wish y'all would table it until next year because I can tell you right now that what's happening with the rain and the saltwater and what happened down south, all the oysters died from freshwater once in a 200-year event; but we're going to be getting something that's never happened in the 45 years that I've been in the business, where you have a perfect storm. Sammy used to tell us a perfect scenario would be you would have high salinities, a great spat set, and then you would get rain and you'd get a good survival rate. He always said if you get medium salinity, a decent spat set, and a good survival rate, that's good. But we've -- but every year -- it's been never have we had what we have now.

We've had a great spat set. They'll tell you that it looks great for Galveston Bay, looks great for every bay up and down the coast. We are loaded, loaded, loaded with oysters, every bay, and we're going to have a good survival rate luckily to the rain we've been getting the last couple weeks. In the last few days in Dallas, most of that way rain is going to end up coming down the Trinity and helping Galveston Bay.

So if y'all would table not closing three more bays and wait until next year because in November of 2023, there won't be many boats down south oystering. They'll all be in Galveston Bay.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mark.

MR. MARK VALENTINO: Thank you. God bless.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hannah, then John, and then Brad Boney.

Hello, Hannah.

MS. HANNAH KAPLAN: Hello. Good afternoon. My name is Hannah Kaplan and I founded Barrier Beauties with my father Joe Kaplan two years ago. Barrier Beauties is the second permitted farm in Texas through the cultivated oyster mariculture program and the first to harvest Texas farm-grown oysters. We lease a 10-acre site in East Galveston Bay off the coast of Port Bolivar.

We planted our first crop of oysters in October 2021 and harvested our first crop this year, May 2022. During our time, we've had plenty of challenges and learned quite a lot. We have had gear -- gear malfunctions, leading to loss of gear and oysters, extremely high winds preventing us from accessing the site and heat negatively affecting the oysters during the past few months, to name a few.

On challenge we now face relates to harvesting practices. Current TPW Code states that oysters must be harvested on the water within the permitted GPS coordinates. Harvesting on the water is the current regulation as it stands for all oyster farmers, wild and farm-raised. This code is limiting for us because it does not take into account the different business operations between wild and farmed oysters. Wild oyster farmers can fish in any bay that classified as opened, which actually adds to the reasoning behind the regulation of the oysters being bagged and tagged on the water where it was harvested, so as to reduce any confusion of where the oysters came from. Wild oyster farmers also have much larger boats and can operate in more difficult weather due to this.

Both of these factors are very different on the farm side. Oyster farms tend to have smaller boats, such as the 24-foot Caroline skiff that we use. We use smaller boats to navigate between the gear we have in the water. To give you an example, the lines that hold our bags are set 25 feet apart and we need to be able to navigate through those even in moderate and wind and wave conditions.

We are also not allowed to farm in any area except our permitted GPS coordinates. Meaning that our bay will either be classified as open and we can harvest or closed and we cannot harvest or operate anywhere else. This regulation will further inhibit our harvesting practices as get into hurricane season and there are higher winds. We are not able to safely work our site in winds greater than 15 miles per hour. This significantly impacts our ability to harvest oysters in a timely manner. As the longer we let our oysters sit in the water when we could be harvesting, the risk of losing them increases.

For these reasons, I'm asking the Commission to reconsider this regulation and allow off-bottom oyster farmers to harvest at our permitted on-land facility, creating a differentia between the harvesting practices of wild versus farmed oysters. As this is a start of a new industry with the cultivated oyster mariculture program and as the program grows, I hope that the Code and the regulations can grow with it. Thank you for taking the time to listen to me about my experience today.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Hannah.

John, then Brad, then Jose Cruz.

Hello, John. How are you?

MR. JOHN JURISICH: I was just going to pass this out real quick.

By the way, the industry supports Hannah fully. Good afternoon. I'm John -- Johny Jurisich, a fourth generation oyster fisherman. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to listen to our concerns regarding Texas oysters. Thank you for suggestion -- suggesting an oyster workgroup. It was a great idea. I was invited to the regulatory meeting and was able to sit in to the restoration.

Tomorrow, Texas Parks and Wildlife will report on the success or perhaps failures of these meetings. Many beneficial topics were discussed, like license buyback programs and new certificate of locations. Both would help reduce harvest pressure. Less wasteful restoration practices will grow more oysters. And on all these topics, there seems to be an overall consensus that changes would be needed to keep our industry strong and Texas oyster population thriving.

Industry, conservationists, and biologists express to the Department that these talks need to continue. I'm sure Robin Riechers will report tomorrow that we failed to come to an agreement on the decision of the future of the three bays -- Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres Bays -- because we needed more time and accurate studies. Leading up to the meetings, I was optimistic that finally we will work together alongside TPWD to make changes. But like previous advisory meetings in years before, they just dismissed our suggestions and continued with their narrative.

I'll explain. Managing the bays by trip tickets would be the most logical and most accurate way to manage the resource. Trip tickets are our daily reports of sacks caught by vessel and harvest area. We should agree on a daily catch average and if we fail -- fall below, close that area with intentions to reopen after an agreed amount of time. That idea was recommended and triggered an automatic dismissal by the Department.

TPWD presented a graph to us which was supposed to compare oyster sampling for the traffic light method to trip ticket catch amounts, but the graph made no sense because dates and locations were left out. In other words, they were just showing us a fancy graph to make people think the traffic light method is working; but all -- but we all know it's not. We wouldn't be here if it was.

A week or so ago, I witnessed TPWD sampling in a location that never had oysters and never will. Just another zero to keep the bay closed. Research on Saint Charles Bay, a sanctuary reef closed by HB 51 in 2017, was also presented at the meeting. The graph showed impressive oyster abundance in 2018 and 2019 thanks to the industry cultivating these reefs. But 2020 and 2021 were not included. Why? Because it would show the oysters died. The oysters died from overpopulating and suffocating themselves and now are silted over. Yet --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: John, please, let's wrap up.

MR. JOHN JURISICH: Well, you have a copy.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Yeah, we'll read it. I'm just trying to keep --

MR. JOHN JURISICH: Yeah, okay, I understand.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- everyone on time.

MR. JOHN JURISICH: Y'all read it, please.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, John. Thank you so much.

MR. JOHN JURISICH: And just -- just say really quickly, I'm against the closures and all the mismanagement. Thank you.


Brad, then Jose, then Jacob Sanchez.

Hello, Brad.

MR. W. BRAD BONEY: Good -- good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners. Enjoyed the ride up this morning. It was a little bit wet. It was nice to see some rain.

I was here in March. Felt good -- and thank you for the -- putting the workshop together. I think that's an important -- an important step. I think it's important. I believe in collaboration and I think working together, that getting more oysters in our bays can be accomplished.

The other thing I wanted to add is in this discussion about trip tickets, in HB 51 there was a discussion about VMS. VMS is vessel monitoring system. Most vessels offshore have a vessel monitoring that identifies the vessel. In conjunction with trip tickets, at any point in time by encouraging and having oyster boats use it, you can track the realtime where oyster boats are, where they've been, and where they're going and I think that would help add some more data to it.

But thank y'all very much for your time. Keep up the work. God bless.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Brad.

Jose, then Jacob, the Homer.

Hello, Jose.

THE INTERPRETER: Hello, I'll be translating for...

MR. JOSE LUIS CRUZ: (Through Interpreter) My name is Jose Cruz. I've been a fisherman for 32 years, and I came here to give my opinion. I'm worried about the bays that they want to close. And we don't know what we're going to do with these surprises and the economy. It's going to be really hard on us. The closing of these bays, it's going to be really hard on us. We are really worry about the closure of these bays. I've been working for 32 years and I've never been so worried. And I would ask y'all to please listen to my opinion.

The closing of the bays, we don't know what's going to come in the future if they do close and we got our hands tied. And thanks for listening. That's all I wanted to say.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. Thank you Jose.

THE INTERPRETER: I'll be translating for anyone that --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: That's fine.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Jacob, then Homer, then Grahame Jones.

MR. JACOB SANCHEZ: Hi. I'm Jacob Sanchez and I'm the son of a commercial fisherman and I just want to say I don't approve of the closures. I learned so much about oysters this year, and I don't really see any anything good happening if we close the bays. I don't approve of it. If they close the bays, all I see is families struggling, having a hard time to help the kids, take care of the family, pay the bills. Everything's expensive right now.

And we're getting blamed for so much bad stuff happening in the bays, and I just feel like it's not right. We shouldn't be fighting over it. We should be working together to benefit both sides. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Jacob.

Homer, then Grahame, and then Eduardo Torres.

Homer, hello.

MR. HOMER MUNOZ: (Through Interpreter) My name -- my name is Homer Munoz. I'm here because I'm worried. I'm worried because all the regulations that are being passed are against the fishermen, and I'm really worried what's going to come next. I would like that we al come to agreement so we can all benefit from the next regulation.



CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Homer.

MR. HOMER MUNOZ: (Through Interpreter) That's all I have to say.


Grahame, than Eduardo, then Felipe.

Hello, Grahame.

MR. GRAHAME JONES: Hello, sir. Chairman Aplin, Commissioners, Mr. Smith, good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to be here today. First and foremost, I want to congratulate Mr. Smith on his upcoming retirement. I'll just simply say for now that Mr. Smith's conservation legacy at Parks and Wildlife will unlikely ever be matched.

I serve as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Depart -- I served as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Law Enforcement Director, as a past state board member for CCA, and as a current Chairman for the Texas Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. I'm also honored to serve on the Oyster Regulatory Working Group and appreciate that.

The mission of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, as we all know, is to manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas to provide hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. If there is one natural resource that exemplifies this most important mission, it's the oyster. It's the oyster reef.

From the Querechos to the Spaniards to the early Texas settlers along the Gulf Coast and beyond, Texas oysters have played a pivotal role not just as a food source; but as mere survival. With that said, the Department's proposal to permanently prohibit the harvest of oysters in Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres Bay is already a compromise. More importantly, by closing the Mesquite Bay complex to oyster harvest, we are protecting an ecologically sensitive and unique oyster habitat and living up to the Department's mission for present and future generations. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Grahame.

Eduardo, then Felipe, then Mr. Reyna.

MR. EDUARDO TORRES: (Through Interpreter) I'm here today because I'm worried about the closure of the bays. I've been a commercial fisherman for 30 years. Each boat relies on four people and if y'all lower the limit of the sacks or change anything, then we're not going to be able to pay the people on the boat.

I have two kids that are American citizens that we like fishing -- commercial fishermen. But if you add more regulations, closure of bays, then they're not going to have a future. So we really need to think about what we're doing, and we're really affecting our kids. They're the ones that are really being affected by all these regulations. So please let's find a better solution because all these rules are really affecting us. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Eduardo.

Felipe, then Mr. Reyna, then Veronica.

MR. FELIPE BUENO: (Through Interpreter) I'm against the closure of the bays. So my kids are being affected and they're in the university right now and if y'all close these bays, then that's going to affect their future. So please think about what you're doing. You-all have great jobs, but this is our job. This is what we do, and the only thing we know how to do.

If y'all close these bays, how am I going -- going to maintain my family? I'm the only one that works and I need to provide for them.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Felipe.

MR. FELIPE BUENO: (Through Interpreter) I hope y'all can understand this and thank you.


Mr. Reyna, then Veronica, then Jose Lozano.

MR. AUSENCIO REYNA: Okay. My English is very little.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: That's okay.

MR. AUSENCIO REYNA: Ah, yes. Good afternoon. My name is Ausencio Reyna and I'm a fisherman, shrimp and oysters, for 40 years or a little bit more and I would like you know -- I represent the shrimp and oyster fishermen and I would like for you to know say that I'm here -- they're going to close to these areas, you know, I would like for y'all to keep it open. You know what I mean? Because a lot of people live out of there, the oyster fishermen. You know, oysters and everything, you know, so. And I was thinking that the leases, you know, the private leases, I don't think it would be a good idea, you know. It's not really for me because I'm already -- you know, I'm already -- I do a lot of time in the shrimp and oysters and just for the future, you know, for the grandkids and for the future -- you know what I mean -- is what I'm thinking. So I'm sorry, that's all I can say.


MR. AUSENCIO REYNA: Thank you very much.


MR. AUSENCIO REYNA: Uh-huh, bye-bye.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Veronica, then Jose, then -- Jose Lozano -- then Jose Herrera.

Hello, Veronica.

MS. VERONICA BRICENO: Hello. Hello, Commissioners. My name is Veronica Briceno and I'm a resident Calhoun County and I'm a daughter of a commercial fisherman. I spoke to you previously in March about the three bay closures.

Being a fisherman is challenging and I have seen firsthand the challenges and the obstacles each fishermen face. I'm here today to speak on their behalf. The oyster industry was cut short last season to the mismanagement of the traffic light system. TPWD did not fully analyze the economic affect of closing these bays would have on our region. Many distraught fishermen are facing hardships due to the short season. Most of them weren't even able to make the yearly repairs on their boats. Some families weren't even able to pay for the children's college tuition, and that's most of the people that are here today.

Oyster -- oyster fishermen have lost so much in these past few years. Texas bays have been impacted by sea level rises, hurricanes, and floods, which highly impacted our reefs; but yet commercial fishermen have been blamed. Please take our concerns and continue to table the closures of Ayres, Carlos, and Mesquite Bays. These oystermen's livelihoods depend on these bays. Sanctuary bays should not only discriminate against commercial fishermen, and I am against the closures of the bays. Thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Veronica.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Jose, then Jose, then Michael.

MR. JOSE LOZANO: (Through Interpreter) Good afternoon. My name is Jose Lozano. I do not approve the closure of the bays because they are affecting my family and my family needs me to provide for them. So we should look at all the parts of the situation. So I've heard that this is our fault that all this is happening, but you have to look at our point of view of what is going on. I do not believe in the traffic light because I've seen so many boats in one bay, and it just destroys it.

So it's going to affect climate change and it's affecting our bays, not just us and thank you and God bless y'all.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Jose.

Jose Herrera, Michael Ivic, Mauricio Blanco, I believe.

MR. JOSE MANUEL HERRERA: (Through Interpreter) Hi. My name is Jose Manuel Herrera. I've been in the oyster fishing for 35 years. Thank you for taking into account for the program that's called Restoration of -- Restoration Oyster Program. There's something I want to ask y'all. Please don't close those bays because there's a lot of families that are going to be affected by it -- by these -- I have a lot to ask, but we know we don't have a lot of time; but I will ask y'all next time. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Jose.

Michael, then Mauricio, then Scott McLeod.

MR. MICHAEL IVIC: Dear, gentleman, thank you for opportunity, for giving me opportunity to talk. My name is Michael Ivic. I own Misho's Oyster Company. I am -- since 1978, I am involved with the oyster lease program in Texas.

First leases were awarded to me in a time when Mr. Leon Roberts was Regional Director and he was explaining that the Oyster Transplanting Program helps enhance spawning every season. We were doing it in May and we were doing it in September, taking oysters from closed water to our leases. Usually we were taking oysters from shallow water and low salinity to deeper water and higher salinity. That made oysters feel that the end is near. They would put extra effort into producing new generation. With all this activity, oysters that were not transplanted, they would get excited too and year after year, Galveston Bay was really main producer of oysters.

Last seven years because of conflict with storm, we stopped transplanting and everything -- then Galveston Bay is really falling behind in oyster production. Some years even Copano Bay produces more than Galveston Bay does. So I would really like that we continue that again, you know, and I realize what is going on. Areas that we were transplanting from, they didn't benefit at all.

I talked Ms. Christine Jensen and she said that reefs in closed waters are in worse shape now than they were seven years ago. So I would really like that you encourage Parks and Wildlife to start this program again so we could rehabilitate these reefs and this is -- these are resource for State of Texas, just it's going to -- it's going to produce new generation of oysters year after year like it did before. I did it for 40 years. I really believe it will be sad to let it disappear. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Michael.

Mauricio next, then Scott, then John Eads.

MAURICIO BLANCO: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Mauricio Blanco and I've been a fisherman for 35 years and I was here last March and I'm against the closure of the bays. Actually, I would like to -- and I'm against it. But the jail time for undersize oysters, that's making families, a good person a criminal. They go from Class A to Class B -- I mean from Class C to Class B. And I would like to see an increase on our bag limit of croakers and other kinds of croakers from 1,500 fish to 5,000 fish per day, gulf boats, kill millions, and single drags. So I think it's time to utilize what God gives us. That's all I have to say. Thank you.


Scott, then John, then Terence.

MR. SCOTT MCLEOD: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners, and Carter Smith. It's a great privilege to work for all of y'all. My name is Scott McLeod. I was a game warden in Rockport, Texas, for 28 years. Stayed my whole career in Rockport, Texas. I worked with the commercial industry a lot every year. I know a lot of them by name. They're great people. They're hard working people, but something needs to be done.

I recognize this and I've tried to join the support with y'all, the biologists who see this through. During my tenure in Rockport, I personally witnessed many of the reefs be depleted just from large reefs down to -- over 28 years -- to many of them to nothing, to shell on the bottom of the bay. And something else needs to be done with the management system that we currently have.

During my last year as a game warden in Rockport, there was -- it was reported over 761,000 sacks of oysters were harvested in Texas from our public reefs. Of that amount, 621,000 were harvested in two counties: Aransas County and Calhoun County. That is way too much. The management needs to be changed. That percentage equates to 81.6 percent of the total harvest in those two counties. So it needs to change.

I am the proponent for Texas Parks and Wildlife, the biologists, for the sanctuaries of the Mesquite Bay complex, Aransas -- or Ayres Bay, Carlos Bay, and Mesquite Bay to be closed as a sanctuary. It is a very important biologically sensitive area, and I support that. I also support the continuing of the red light/green light system. As a game warden, it seems to work. When we see a reef that was depleted, it started to come up on of the scene of the biologists and it was shut down. It worked.

That's all I have to say. Thank you for your time and consideration and everything y'all have done in the past and future. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: What were the two counties? Aransas and?

MR. SCOTT MCLEOD: Aransas and Calhoun, which is basically Seadrift. So it's the county to the north of Aransas and Aransas County.


MR. SCOTT MCLEOD: 81.6 percent.


MR. SCOTT MCLEOD: And that was in the 2020 and 2021 harvest season. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Scott.

We have John Eads, then Terence, then John Blaha.

MR. JOHN EADS: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, thank you very much for this opportunity. My name is John Eads. I live in Houston, but I'm a property owner in Rockport. So out of respect for your time, I will say simply this. That the five reefs in question are guardian reefs for both sides of Mesquite Bay, the estuaries, the marshes that are there. And I went down Saturday to personally really have a look at myself at how this is and the damage that I saw is so much more significant than any aerial photo. I was really amazed at what I saw.

The other takeaway I would like to leave with you is this. That I spoke with Jim Blackburn yesterday. He has a company that is interested in building 250 miles of live reef. If we can stop the damage in this area, these three bays, we can fix these reefs. I appreciate your consideration and I look very forward to further discussions. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, John. Jim Blackburn from Houston?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, John. Thanks for making the effort.

Terence, then John, then Shane.

MR. TERENCE COURTNEY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. And again, as you said, my name is Terence Courtney. I'm the Director of Cooperative Development with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which is a regional organization of cooperative businesses and I'm here today to stand in solidarity with the commercial fishermen of Calhoun County. Just like in last March, I stood with those fishermen who came here at that time to express their opposition to bay closures and we're here again to say that same message.

Back in March, fishermen did some important things. One thing I want to highlight is they made the public understand that this narrative that they're just greedy fishermen exploiting the bays for their own enrichment is false. They also made it clear that the real problem isn't just them. They recognize that overharvesting is taking place; but I think it hasn't been said enough that the policies passed by Parks and Wildlife itself has contributed to that problem, such as the red light/green light traffic policy, such as the 300-foot shoreline policy, and the closures of numerous bays way back in 2017. We believe that that is part of the problem as well. When you close off so many areas, you force people into smaller and smaller places, creating the conditions for overharvesting.

So the fishermen have been explaining to me that they believe the solution is to keep the bays open -- Mesquite, Ayres, and Carlos -- but also to open those bays from 2017 because by this time, many of those oysters have grown to maturity and they are in a good place to be harvested. We also want to put forth other policy changes such as the removal of this red light/green light policy, the 300-foot shoreline, and felony charges for ticket violations.

So we're glad to be here. We think you made the right decision this past March. Continue to make the right decision. Keep bays open. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Terence.

Then John, Shane, then Mario Silva.

John, how are you?

MR. JOHN BLAHA: Doing well. Chairman Aplin, Commissioners, thank you for very much for the opportunity. My name is John Blaha. I'm a resident of Aransas County and recreational fisherman. Thank you for the opportunity to provide my comments to the Commission today.

I stood before you in August of 2017 to voice my concerns for oyster reef systems up and down the Texas coast, just a day prior to Hurricane Harvey landfall dead center into the Aransas and Mesquite Bay complexes. Just as Hurricane Ike damaged the Galveston Bay system in 2008, Hurricane Harvey also damaged many of the oyster beds in Aransas County -- I'm sorry, in Aransas, Copano, Mesquite Bay systems.

From a recreational angler's view and from one that spends many days a year on the water, the tops of the reefs were knocked off and the vertical relief of the reefs were damaged. The difference between the Galveston and Aransas, Copano, Mesquite systems is significant. The Galveston Bay reef systems suffered over 50 percent kill and approaching 80 percent in East Galveston Bay alone after Hurricane Ike. Why was that?

The reefs simply did not have the vertical relief in them due to overfishing and were smothered and killed from silt and sedimentation pushed by Hurricane Ike. The Aransas, Copano, Mesquite reef systems fortunately had the vertical relief to take the force of Harvey; yet the force also ultimately gave the industry the opportunity to access areas not easily accessed before. The amount of take from these areas since that time is devastating to watch for someone that cares so deeply about the ecosystem.

A healthy ecosystem is a basis for a strong community in Aransas County and we must protect our ecosystems up and down the coast. Now is the time to act to protect these critically important reef systems in Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres Bays from the same fate as Galveston reef systems. The science and common sense backs this proposal first put forth in March and I hope you will move it forward in the near future. Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, John. Good to see you.

Shane, then Mario silva, then Emily Barry.

Shane, welcome.

MR. SHANE BONNOT: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Shane Bonnot, and I'm here representing CCA Texas. CCA remains resolute in our support for the closure of the Mesquite Bay complex to oyster harvest, recognizing the unique roles that those oyster reefs within that system serve as habitat and ecological values that they -- those bound structures provide along that coastline.

I've had the opportunity to participate in that regulatory workgroup that was mentioned and we were charged with not only discussing the proposal to close Mesquite Bay, but also look at opportunities and management options to increase the sustainability of the fishery. And what stood out to me the most -- and this probably should be no surprise -- is set our lens that we use to evaluate the fishery drove our thought process and it all comes down to what we value. Do we value the harvest or do we value the habitat? Do we value the market oyster or do we value the oyster reef?

And I think there's many people here today that actually value both. And fortunately for us and for the public oyster reefs, there's opportunities to get oysters to market without degrading the habitat. Respectfully I ask the Commission to bring the tabled proposal back up for consideration and allow the regulatory workgroups to continue working towards finding ways to build generational sustainability for the fishery. And to that end, you have my personal commitment to see this process through for the habitat, for the future, for this generation, and for the next. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Shane.

Mario, then Emily, then Dave Barnett.

MR. MARIO SILVA: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners. So I'm here to give ideas about our new future. I've been in a lot of meetings the past couple of years and it seems like everyone is blaming the fishermen and they -- they're blaming the fishermen and think it's their fault. Well, it's not.

We work with the licenses that Texas Parks and Wildlife sold us on the reef in the bay that Texas Parks and Wildlife approved of that year. The mismanagement of -- of Texas Parks and Wildlife is that reason that everything is happening the way it is. There have never been regulations that benefit the fishermen. It's always bring down sacks, raise -- bring down the percentage, jail time, felony, et cetera.

So I'm here today to just give some ideas of something that could benefit us. Taking out the 300 yards, the regulation for 300 yards where the boats can't get close to the shore. The boats can't -- they cannot get close to the shore anyway. We can't work on land. We don't have wheels. They're -- it's nonsense. The boats are going to go only where they can go. And raise the 5 percent to 15 percent again like it was because we're not machines and we don't have a grinder or something to clean off the oyster one by one.

If you want -- cutting days is not going to work. Cutting days is going to bring you more problems. Raise the croaker limit from 1,500 to 5,000. Any bay closed commercial fishermen, that has been closed, will be closed to recreational fishing. No skiffs, no wade fishing, no kayaks on those -- on those bays; so it's even for everybody. No recreational fishing on the bays that are closed. And a lot of fishermen voted for me to say that we do not encourage leases from Matagorda Bay to Copano Bay. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mario.

Emily, then Dave, then Dan Hepker.

(Inaudible speaker)


MS. EMILY BARRY: Hi. My name is Emily -- oh, is the mic on? Is it on?


MS. EMILY BARRY: Oh, good. Sorry. Hi. My name is Emily Ivic Barry and my family has been cultivating oysters in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1860s. That's about 160 years of family experience heritage. This is our legacy. We've been doing it sustainably, effectively for this long.

In 2011, there was a study published stating that the world's oyster reefs were close to just complete decimation, except for the Gulf of Mexico. Our oyster reefs, despite all the manmade disasters, despite all the hurricanes, we have been able to manage and maintain and cultivate our oysters doing things that we've been doing for decades, for centuries.

Every square acre of Texas is unique. The one-size-fits-all approach does not work for every acre. Closing one bay and leaving it fallow may help generate oyster reefs on a particular site; but closing another and leaving it fallow can kill the entire reef. It is extremely site specific. The information I've shared with you, one of them is from the United States Department of Agriculture. It's what other states are doing now to help restore reefs and it basically reinforces what my father Michael Ivic from Misho's Oyster Company also states, that transplanting, using a dredge to maintain and cultivate, to clean algae and sediment off of oyster beds is beneficial. That's how other states are doing it.

I know the lights are coming off. The other study is from NOAA and it also states the affects of dredging. I have highlighted the ones that are particular for the mechanical dredging of oysters. I just want to say from my time in the oyster industry, we've always worked effectively with Texas Parks and Wildlife. Very helpful in relationship where we help them, they help us and I'd like to see that continue. I am against the proposed bays. We haven't gotten any information still about the previous bays that were closed. So it just doesn't feel justified to close these. So thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Emily.

Dave, then Dan, then Foster Daly.

Hello, Dave.

MR. DAVE BARNETT: Hello. How are y'all today?


MR. DAVE BARNETT: So my name is Dave Barnett and I am from Goliad, Texas, and I've come here today as a change of pace here for you guys to comment on our recreational oyster fishery. I'm a retired physician with a degree in biology from UT Austin. We've had a family vacation home in Rockport since 1954, and I've been recreationally harvesting oysters my entire life. My goal there -- here today is to ask the Commission to separate the recreational harvest from the commercial harvest.

When we harvest oysters, we wade in clear waters 6 inches to knee deep, picking up individual oysters that usually take less than a 5-gallon bucket a couple times per year. In discussions with your coastal fisheries biologists, I found there's been no survey of recreational harvest except for ongoing creel surveys at boat launches. These have revealed very few landings of recreational harvest in the entire state, with amounts ranging from 4 to 20 pounds per vessel. In recent years, regulations were changed. They greatly handicapped recreational efforts to harvest oysters.

These have to do with regulation to not harvest within 300 feet of any shoreline or channel and clumping the recreational take in with the commercial take. We do not harvest oysters in the same areas that the commercial fishermen do. We represent no threat to the vertical height of the reef or the abundance of oysters.

These changes this last season prevented us from taking oysters the last four months of the year. I'd like to ask for the following changes: Allowing oysters to be harvested by wading within any distance to the shoreline; do not shut down the recreational take when the commercial take has exceeded a safe limit, as we are not after the same oysters; and allow recreational harvest on any day of the week. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Dave.

Dan, Foster, then Sylvia.

MR. DAN HEPKER: Chairman, Commissioners, Executive Director Smith, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and I sincerely respect your dedication to Texas and Texas Parks and Wildlife. My name is Dan Hepker. I'm owner of Texas Nuisance Wildlife Relocation out of Bastrop.

In years past, I've always been available to Texas Parks and Wildlife to help in any kind of regards to trapping issues in Texas. I was selected by Texas to participate in the county BMP study and I was honored when Texas Parks and Wildlife selected me to represent Texas during the United States/Mexico Borders Governor Conference. I had a seat at the wildlife roundtable. I also worked with your staff in 2006, from invitation, regarding trapping regulations.

As a professional trapper, I can testify that the number of livestock and wildlife predation problems are on an all-time high. Our trapping association in Texas consists of over 600 members of which over half are now performing predator control work. We have a serious concern regarding individuals desiring to eliminate tools we need to protect Texas wildlife and its livestock. I'm always available to work with your staff in any way possible regarding future trapping related issues.

In closing, in remembrance of the late Commissioner John Parker, there's no other Parks and Wildlife Department in the nation that holds a candle to our own Texas Parks and Wildlife, its Commissioners, directors, and employees. Thanks again for this opportunity to speak.

And, Executive Director Smith, congratulations on your future retirement. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Dan. I think we agree. Nothing compares. Thank you.

Foster, you're up. Then Sylvia, then Bill Applegate.

MR. FOSTER DALY: Howdy, y'all. Good afternoon, Mr. Smith, Commissioners, Chairman. Thank you so much for what you do here. Texas parks and Texas wildlife, I mean, those are the two biggest reasons why I love this state. You know, I even got engaged recently this year in one of the state parks at Big Bend Ranch. And now in that same park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, a team of researchers put together a study where they were going to collar and track mountain lions. They were able to put collars on 16 of them, which is no easy feat, right?

One of those mountain lions was shot and killed and the other 15 were all trapped and died. All 15. Fifteen and sixteen, right?

So in a similar study in the Davis Mountains, researchers were able to uncover some more data to show that there was an unsustainable 50 percent mortality rate. Again, almost entirely due to trapping. Now some trappers then sell these cats in canned hunts. I don't think "hunt" is really the appropriate word, much less is "shooting fish in a barrel" is deep sea fishing. But, you know, there are ethical trapping standards in the State of Texas for furbearers, right? But these rules do not apply to mountain lions.

So in the State of Texas, it is required that traps are examined once at least every 36 hours to ensure that animals do not die from exposure, dehydration, and the elements, right? And in doing so, what they're doing is providing an ethical standard there. But this only applies to animals like raccoons, skunks, nutria, and not lions for some reason.

So there was a study on the subject of public sentiment towards mountain lions and the overwhelming majority of people support the idea that traps should be checked at least daily, if not every 36 hours. Of those respondents, only 1.1 percent of people believe in the State of Texas that there should be no trap check times. I support trap check times. Thank you for your service. I appreciate it.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Foster.

Sylvia, then Bill, then Kirby Brown.

MS. SYLVIA SALYER: I am here to ask the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission to change your permitting practices for wildlife rehab facilities and prevent them from being located in residential neighborhoods. My name is Sylvia Salyer, and I am from Corpus Christi. The neighborhood I live in is the second oldest in Corpus Christi. It is a historic neighborhood and recently a wildlife rehabber moved in and is consistently taking in wildlife animals like possums, foxes, bats, and skunks.

We believe that she is releasing them into our neighborhood too and not taking them elsewhere. Our neighborhood has never had a problem with wildlife, but now we see the exact same animals she has publicly accepted into her house roaming our streets at night. Our neighbors' pets have been sprayed by skunks and there has been an increase in fleas and we are afraid of catching typhus.

We have approached our city management about this and our ordinance prohibits these Texas animals from residents. However, since she has a permit with Texas Parks and Wildlife, the city and our local game wardens could not do anything about it. We ask you, please change your policy to disallow and discourage wildlife rehab facilities from being located in residential neighborhoods. Residentially zoned properties have families, children, and pets and we -- and are no place for nuisance wildlife to be roaming freely.

We are limiting types of animals and quantities until a resolution into a 12 -- we're wondering how many more animals can she fit into her 1200 square foot home. We need your help thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Sylvia.

MS. SYLVIA SALYER: And congratulations on your retirement.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Bill, then Kirby, then Janice.

MR. BILL APPLEGATE: Bill Applegate. Commissioners, it is a true honor and pleasure to be here with you today and I do not come to criticize the Department for the fine work they have done or to try to dictate management, practices, and procedures to you. I come here to praise you and the Department for the fine work that you have done and to encourage you to continue to base your management decisions on sound science and tempered with sound common sense.

I hear constantly from sportsmen and sportswomen from coast to coast their frustration with their state game department which make decisions that are based on public outcry and all I can say is that on behalf of my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, myself, my children, my grandchildren, and generations to come, express our sincere gratitude for what you have done for us here in Texas. And if at any time I may be able to provide some small service for the Department, then consider it my honor to lend a helping hand. And may God bless each one of you and each one of your staff members and all of the wildlife in the great State of Texas.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Bill. Thank you very much. Great State of Texas. Thank you.

Kirby Brown, good luck following that.

MR. KIRBY BROWN: Ditto and I'd say my great-great-grandfather too. But, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, staff, thank you-all for your service. We appreciate what you do enormously. I'm Kirby Brown. I'm with Ducks Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited is the largest wetlands organization in the world and on behalf of our more than a million members and supporters and our 60,000 members in Texas, we just want to thank you for the long-term partnership that we have with this Commission and with your staff. Just a wonderful opportunity to leave the Department and go to work somewhere like this for me, so I've enjoyed that.

Here in Texas, we're working today on projects with TPWD in the panhandle on the playa lakes, in North Central Texas. We're working in Northeast Texas. We're working all the way through the pineywoods and the bottomlands of East Texas. We've worked the whole coast and the mid-coast prairies and the southeast coast prairies. It's just a great partnership to work with your staff on these areas.

My old stomping grounds at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area where I was a boy biologist, it was a lot of fun. We enjoyed ourselves. It was hard work in that heat, as you know very well, Commissioner Scott -- excuse me, Vice-Chairman Scott. I apologize for that.

But we are getting ready to celebrate what has happened in Jefferson County with the partners that have come together and I'll include the people here on your staff that have been part of that and Robin Riechers and the Fisheries staff and, of course, the Wildlife staff. And we've got GLO in the mix. We've got TCEQ. We've had folks from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries. A huge partnership that's come together to really work with Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick and through the salt bayou marsh restoration project, a watershed of 139,000 acres, we've been able through the last ten years to put projects on the ground that really restore that marsh south of the Intercoastal Canal, which creates storm surge protection for the areas of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and remember what that area is.

That's one of the critical areas not just for communities, not just for people, not just for the refinery complexes, but critical national security infrastructure that's there. So we're very pleased to be a part of that and have that happen. And right now, we have sand going on the beaches to actually put dunes back in place that were destroyed during the past hurricanes. And those dunes will be incredibly important to keep that saltwater from flowing in high tides into the marsh.

So these are all important pieces and parts and I just wanted to come here to thank you and tell you that we're here behind you on any of your migratory bird stuff that -- especially the stamp dollars that have been too long and we're behind you also on the Texas Farm and Ranch Land stuff. Thank you again for your service. We appreciate you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Kirby.

MR. KIRBY BROWN: Thank you, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Janice, then Bill -- I mean Ben Schmidtke, then Fred Williams.

Hello, Janice.

MS. JANICE BEZANSON: Hello. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. I've been coming before the Commission for 30 years, and it is -- I always look forward to the annual meeting because it's my opportunity to say a huge thank you for the tremendous work that both the Commission and the Department are doing.

I'm especially excited about the land acquisition that's happened in the last few years. Everything from great, big pieces like Powderhorn Ranch and Palo Pinto Mountains down to the 6 acres that hopefully will add to Government Canyon tomorrow.

I think you've done an amazing job in handling the Chronic Wasting Disease problem. I know that was really, really tough. And to be fair, to be -- and to protect the deer herd is so, so important. If the people of Texas really understood what the game wardens do, I mean they would be on every hero list in Texas. People just really don't understand that. We're very pleased that you've appointed the Mountain Lion Working Group or you're about to. I think that's a gap in some -- in the level of protection. This magnificent animal -- and hopefully this -- this is going to lead to the kind of solution that y'all have been famous for finding.

I especially wanted to emphasize the work the Department has done on the Recovering America's Wildlife Act. This is federal funding that would bring 1.3 billion dollars a year to Texas for wildlife projects, specifically for species of greatest conservation need. I have been working with the Department. My organization has partnered to coordinate 175-member coalition, organizations and businesses, to promote this and I've gotten to see up close in person how well Parks and Wildlife staff have done. They've convened working groups with their fellow agencies, they've been praised nationally for their information, done great interviews.

Carter Smith was on a, you know, a national committee and a special shout out to Chairman Aplin for his op-ed piece in the "Houston Chronical" about it. If you could just do one more thing for me now. If you could please clone Carter Smith for when you hire the next Executive Director, we would appreciate that very much too. Thank you.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I think we're all good with that.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Janice.

Ben, then Fred, then Mia.

Hello, Ben.

MR. BEN SCHMIDTKE: Good afternoon. How are y'all? My name is Ben Schmidtke, and I represent the Silverhorn Ranch in Duval County. I'm here today to express my opposition to the proposed CWD Surveillance Zone No. 8. These surveillance zones cause many -- cause many concerns for the landowners within them. We are concerned about the burden this mandate will have on our staff. We are concerned about how this will impact the hunting commerce in our area. We are concerned about the duration of the zone and it never going away. We are concerned about the Department's reaction if CWD is detected, and we are concerned about the impact this has on our property values.

I was happy to see the Department reduce the size of the zone this morning in the proposal, but we still have some concerns. Through me talking to numerous landowners from the area, it has become abundantly clear to me that a better job of outreach and education could have been done last hunting season regarding the voluntary sampling. I truly believe that another year of focused voluntary sampling would yield an adequate number of samples. But even more importantly, please consider implementing an expiration date on these surveillance zones. I appreciate y'all's time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Ben.

Fred, then Mia, then John.

MR. FRED WILLIAMS: Good afternoon, Commissioners. I appreciate your time. My name is Fred Williams. Don't be fooled by the boyish good looks. I've been a veterinarian for 27 years. I am with Ben on all of that stuff, but I have some information that I just found out through the Freedom of the Information Act that I would like to present and I'm going off script; so bear with me.

The course of prion disease going through a White-tailed body is well established. It affects the lymphatics first and eventually getting to the brain stem at the vagal nuclear body. Okay? That's the brain stem. So the last tissue that becomes positive is the brain stem. So what I found out today, that the first -- the first deer that was tested back in September, obex and retropharyngeal lymph nodes were positive by IHC, the gold standard of testing. The second deer that became positive was retropharyngeal lymph node positive only, without obex being positive. The third deer that was positive by IHC was also only lymph node positive.

Now the seven samples that were tested with PMCA -- PMCA stands for Protein Misfolding Cyclic Amplification. So what that does is it takes a very minute amount of prion; takes it through several, several cycles; and then amplifies it. It's like turning the volume up on a stereo. And, you know, it's not a certified test; but I don't doubt that it's a real test and most of the scientific papers now use that.

But what I'm saying is, that those seven -- those seven deer that were found, could have been early, early exposures, within four months. It's been established that four months, the retropharyngeal lymph nodes could become positive after an LD 50 dose of Chronic Wasting Disease. What this tells me is that the testing that Texas Parks and Wildlife does works. You caught it early. We can find it through the pen. We isolate it, and then we're able to reduce the burden on landowners surrounding this. I know I've probably forgotten something, but I went off script; so I'm sorry and I see that my time is up.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Fred. Thank you for coming. Thank you for sharing your point.

Mia, then John, then John True.

MS. MIA BONIN: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commission members, and everyone else in attendance. I hope I have your full, undivided attention. My name is Mia Bonin. I have been a veterinary technician for both large and small animals since 2006. However, in 2015 I had my first encounter with the White-tail industry and have since dedicated my life and my career to their well-being.

Today I am here to provide witness testimony about the genocide that I personally experienced at the hands of Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Animal Health Commission, and the USDA. Now if you stood in my shoes and saw and heard the things that I did, I believe that you would understand why my testimony seems very aggressive.

In March of 2021, Texas Parks and Wildlife announced that CWD positive deer were detected in Uvalde and Hunt County. After trace-outs from the original facilities were conducted, the Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Animal Health Commission arrived on site of WB White-tail Trophy Ranch on May 17th of 2021 and slaughtered 221 innocent deer. Now I wish I had more time to explain and defend their innocence; but I can tell you that watching the herd that you have poured your blood, your sweat, and your tears be captive bolted and suffocated simultaneously, then decapitated, and tossed into a dumpster trailer is one of the most horrific things that you could imagine as a farmer and I do not want any other farmer to have to experience what I did.

During a herd plan meeting for WB White-tails, mistakes were confessed by members representing Texas Parks and Wildlife, as well as Texas Animal Health Commission, and those mistakes may have caused the CWD event that we experienced in 2021 to be as out of control as it was. Had their Departments watched and reported records more thoroughly, we might not be in the situation that we are in today. And again, I would elaborate on that, but two minutes just isn't quite long enough.

But to compare in the veterinary industry, if you do not document and maintain accurate records involving heavily regulated substances and services, you would lose your license. You would lose your practice. You would lose your livelihood. However, in the instance of government agencies making mistakes of the same type, there are absolutely no repercussions to their faults. If the current staff of these agencies who are paid to be experts in their field are unable to do their jobs accurately and effectively, then it's my opinion that CEOs and lawyers should not have the authority to pass judgments and laws about an industry of which they are not properly educated.

Therefore, I personally deem Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Animal Health Commission unfit to completely regulate the White-tail industry in Texas. It is also my opinion that it is illogical to consider captive White-tailed deer as a public resource, as captive deer herds are by far the safest in terms of disease detection compared to the wild population. But I will leave you with this thought: It is not ironic that Texas Parks and Wildlife is more concerned about Chronic Wasting Disease in restricted captive White-tail which are heavily tested at -- heavily tested at the expense of farmers whom are on the leading edge of solutions, while the free-range population remains unchecked and unregulated? I implore you to read the thesis developed by Wendy Schmidt as it raises excellent, valid, thought-provoking arguments. Thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mia.

John Boger, John True, West Miller.

MR. JOHN BOGER: I'm here representing former WB White-tail Trophy Ranch, Permit No. 2219 back in 2005. Two average American citizens, one serving his time as a Marine and the other as an Eagle Scout, decided to put this breeding idea on paper. With the help of our family members, friends, capital farm credit, and others, we were able to purchases and develop 133 acres in Van Vleck, Texas.

It is the same story for so many others. You start cleaning the land and building the pens, the alleyways, the barns, and all that good stuff. And after six years, my partner and my just-graduated son moved in and decided to educate themselves and to become successful in raising deer.

2017, Uncle Harvey -- Harvey -- Hurricane Harvey stopped by and dropped over 4 feet of rain in our pens and we had to open gates and let the deer fend for themselves on the ranch. They survived. Surprisingly, most came back to their pens. The last year, T -- Texas Parks and Wildlife notified us that we had purchased a deer -- a bred deer from a ranch that had this disease CWD. We followed all Texas Parks and Wildlife's instructions. Killed the specific deer and 19 more that were in the pen with it. We sent the heads off per instructions and the result came back 19 negative and one positive. Texas Parks and Wildlife then set up a meeting with us and for five hours of torrid debate, we were instructed to kill everything on the ranch, 251 of them. 50 percent of them were one month from full term.

The results were 250 negatives and one positive. I don't have enough time to tell you the emotions that went on in that meeting. I came here a year and a half removed and still listening to the same horror stories that are out there. The only real education has never -- has not been decided on. I've read something from Wendy Schmidt that is pretty knowledgeable. I can't understand why I couldn't live test my deer and why does it take me five years to bring the family of my pets back to my family. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, John.

John True, West Miller, Murray Bass.

Hello, John.

MR. JOHN TRUE: Good afternoon. Chairman Aplin, members of the Commission, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. For the record, I'm John True. I'm President of the Texas Deer Association.

I'd like to start by updating you-all on where we are as an industry. Since the first emergency order of 2021, we've continued to lose countless breeders across the state. We've gone from 980 breeders to 763 currently. We've lost over 22 percent of our breeders in a little over a year.

Another number I'd like to point out is really just a clarification. I've heard it reported to you by staff and I've seen it in writing to some of our members that there is concern over the fact that only about 70 percent of our breeders turned out deer to release sites during the last year. The talking point seems to be the fear of having to using the live testing requirement. I looked into this point through an Open Records Request and found that last year, in fact, 69.7 percent of breeders turned deer out to release sites. But the year before that, a year that did not include CWD on the landscape, a year that did not include a live testing mandate on any released deer, only 72.98 percent of breeders released deer to pasture. 69 percent versus 72 percent a year before with no requirement.

I thought that was pretty interesting. It makes me wonder why it's not reported to you that way. Since June of '21, as I've said, we've been under a mandate to live test prior to movement -- to any deer going to a release site. Currently there are the around 65,000 White-tails that are in pens in the state. Over the last year, we have tested nearly 45,000 of them prior to being moved with zero positives.

We've all witnessed over the last 18 months that we need a new playbook when it comes to CWD detection in a deer pen. We're encouraged by what's happening down in Uvalde County. We're hopeful to continue to be a part of writing new protocols to come up with options that can be used if and when CWD is detected not only in a deer breeding pen, but on a high-fence or even a low-fence setting. There should be nothing political about how we handle this disease once it's found.

The last thing I'll say is just more of a request than anything. Dr. Chris Seabury is the nation's leading expert on CWD on White-tailed deer and he's right here. He's at the Vet School at A&M. Please utilize him. Invite him to come testify here. Invite him to sit on important committees such as the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee, CWD Task Force. It's paramount that you get his input on all things CWD related, whether that's surveillance zone goals or his genetic susceptibility or the viability of all approved testing options. That seems like a pretty relevant point of discussion today. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, John.

West Miller, Murray Bass, Kevin Davis.

MR. WEST MILLER: My name is West Miller. I'm from Dallas, Texas. I grew up in Corpus Christi. Thank you, Commissioner -- Chairman, Commissioners, for allowing me to speak. I'm here as a hunter, not a landowner or a breeder. Wanted you to kind of understand it from my perspective what we're -- what the challenges we think -- and I think I don't know it as well as you do, but read up on it and what I know is we hunt on small 1500-acre, high-fenced MLD Program ranch.

We have to harvest 40 to 50 animals. We're weekend and holiday hunters. So the logistics behind it we think will be pretty challenging. We're -- we have a program where we take our carcasses and meat to a charitable, needy set of families in Orange Grove, which is outside the surveillance zone. And by the way, we're in the surveillance zone that's proposed. So we're -- I'm 100 percent behind Texas Parks and Wildlife. I grew up in Corpus Christi. I get the TPW goals and game and fish management. Been involved in it. Was on the Texas 200 back under Governor Clements' governessy. So I'm -- we want to do whatever the TPW biologists and Commissioners tell us we need to do, but I'm hoping maybe we can suggest some type of percentage of sampling, some type of confidence level testing, something that will ease our ability to curb just the logistics, issues, and the challenges we'll have in those number of animals on such a small place, even though we're contained.

So with that, the only thing I have to say is maybe -- I haven't heard of any type of exit or sunset. I'd like to see maybe some discussions about how long it will take us to get through and understand and be able to monitor and understand CWD because I don't think any of us fully understand it. But I'm here to -- as a hunter -- to help any way I can and offer any help I need to just from a hunter standpoint. But appreciate everybody's involvement under CWD -- with regards to CWD and hopefully we can get through it and hopefully sooner or later we can understand it better and -- but wanted you to understand the challenges from our standpoint. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, West.

Murray Bass, Kevin Davis, Charlie Eckel.

MR. MURRAY BASS, III: Thank you, Chairman, Commissioners, for the opportunity to present testimony today. My name is Murray Bass. I own property in Duval, Live Oak, Jim Wells County. I'm a current user of the MLDP and DMP Programs and have participated in the Triple T in the past. I've managed wildlife on family ranches for 36 years and I appreciate the partnership that I've had with the Department in the past and plan on continuing with that partnership going forward.

I disagree completely with the use and ideology behind CWD containment and surveillance zones and mandatory testing. The state has deployed a Draconian strategy in attempt to control a disease whose prevalence can hardly be measured. Whole herds have been euthanized over a single positive prion test, only to discover zero or one positive result from the euthanized deer. A second test should be required for all positive prion tests to verify the result; otherwise, the science is flawed.

With respect to the containment/surveillance zones, the amount -- this amounts to significant burden to landowners and thousands of licensed hunters. The current situation with the proposed Surveillance Zone 8 is unnecessary. I understand two deer tested positive using the prion test and were located within a high-fenced scientific facility instead of a high-fenced ranch of substantial size. Reasonably thinking, that -- I probably would say that was contained. Also these zones are established to be perpetual in nature. They have no goal or strategy other than to test as many deer as possible for as long as possible and expand the zone at every opportunity.

At the very minimum, the zones should have an expiration date. A time limit that is reasonable in duration. If no positive result prion test with a second verifying and definitive test, then the zone is terminated. The Executive Director is given power to expand zones. I just question as to why there's no mention of process to shrinking or terminating zones.

From everything I've ready, CWD appears to be random in nature and can pop up anywhere and disappear just as fast. Maybe it's the testing method that is flawed and should be justified with that definitive second test. The landowners and hunters deserve a clearly stated and transparent plan, quantifiable testing results, and clearly defined rules regarding reasonable zone time duration and termination.

Also I feel a voluntary sampling would be more appropriate versus mandatory testing and I would be agreeable to offering a handful of samples. Thank you for your time today, and I appreciate it.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Murray.

Kevin, then Charles Eckel, then Frank Marino.

Hello, Kevin.

MR. KEVIN DAVIS: Good afternoon, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Smith. Thank you for the opportunity to talk here today. For the record, my name is Kevin Davis. I am the Executive Director of the Texas Deer Association. And, you know, I'm not going to belabor all the points that were made earlier in the day; but I do want to echo the kudos to Mr. Smith. I can't say any better than my friend and retired Colonel Grahame Jones said it, but I echo that. Congratulations, sir.

I want to talk about the things that I'm encouraged about over the past year or so. First and foremost is the things that are playing out in Uvalde County right now. You will remember that myself and the executive leadership at TDA have advocated for something other than wholesale pop -- depopulation of positive herds and I think it takes cooperation. I think it takes good science. When I say cooperation, I believe the landowner/permit holder needs to cooperate with the Department and the Animal Health Commission and work towards a better outcome and I see that happening right now and we're very hopeful that the outcome of -- at that facility will map a way around wholesale depopulation of positive herds and actually provide a way that we can certify a herd as being clean from CWD. So that's good news.

I'm also encouraged by the discussions today regarding the zones, particularly the discussions of the Commission itself in listening to what's going on around them with respect to private land/private land issues. If there's one thing we've faced differently than the western states around us, is that we face -- we're 98 percent privately owned while they're mostly publicly owned and so every regulation that involves some type of stipulation on a landowner, it is important to listen to the landowner component of that regulation. And, you know, we could argue about methods and means and the way people like to hunt or the way people like to manage herds; but in reality, two of the most important components in that discussion is the landowner and the hunter and we are hoping that we can remove a negative connotation to zones in the future -- and I know my time's up, just let me finish real quick -- by maybe looking at other measures. Maybe like what Commissioner Abell said earlier today, let's look at our CWD management strategies.

Maybe we implement the MLD Program. Maybe harness the MLD Program to provide samples. It doesn't have to be 100 percent. It could be 5, 10, 15 samples. We increase our knowledge around the state. Maybe we incentivize hunters through the Big Time Texas Hunt. I think that would be a feel-good thing for the entire Agency and hunters in Texas. With that said, I appreciate your time. Thank you for listening.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Kevin.

Charles, then Frank, then James Foulkrod.

Hello, Charles.

MR. CHARLES ECKEL: Good afternoon, Commissioners, Mr. Smith. My name is Charles Eckel with Lyssy and Eckel. Now last year, we had the opportunity to speak before you about the effects of copper on prion protein diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease. Since this same meeting last year, we have started and completed the first and most important leg of research and it proved that copper and zinc have a profound impact on the misfolding of prion proteins.

We have continued our statewide on target program, which is testing native browse and we have yet to find adequate amounts of copper or zinc in the browse. We have also learned with the Borderlands Research at Sul Ross, that along that New Mexico border, you don't have a lot of copper; but you also have increased amounts of my libdeno. Well, that also exacerbates that copper deficiency.

We did want to applaud Texas Parks and Wildlife on submitting and receiving funding for 200 plus thousand dollar USDA grant for more zinc and copper amino acid research with Kleberg Research -- Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research and Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach and Craig University. This grant has a wonderful opportunity so change some lives and make generational impacts. Prion protein diseases are like a three-legged stool: Genetics, environment, and nutrition. If we bypass one of those, we cannot sit upright. Thank you again for your time, and thank you for joining us in carrying the flame for more research. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Charles.

Frank, then James, then we're going to let everyone take a five-minute break. If we can keep it down to five and get right back rolling, but two more people -- Frank and then James -- and then a short break.

Welcome, Frank.

MR. FRANK MARINO: Welcome. Good afternoon, Chairman Aplin, Commissioners, Mr. Smith. My name is Frank Marino. I live in Dallas, and I am the President of the Deer Breeders Corporation. We appreciate the White-tail Advisory Board, the Breeder User Group, and the CWD Task Force for allowing us to be part of the rule-making process.

We support our members not only as deer breeders, but as hunters and landowners. We encourage decisions and rules based on the science and practicality. We strongly oppose overreach, pulling, and burdensome rules based on opinion and preference. Deer Breeders Corporation will continue to work with integrity, honesty, and we'll do what we say we will do.

Our industry has taken a huge hit from the recent antemortem testing rules. We just ask that you be considerate of our animals, our livelihood, and show some compassion for the amount of time and money we have spent complying. We ask that you involve us when making rules and consider our input based on experience and knowledge of this industry. Deer Breeders Corporation will continue to support research to assure preservation of Texas White-tail. Thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Frank.

James, and you're the last before intermission.

MR. JAMES FOULKROD: Thank you for your time. I'm here to oppose the Surveillance Zone 8, Duval, on the Chronic Waste Disease. One of the big problems is that there's never been a zone established that there's been an expiration on. Once started, it continues to go on.

Most of us in that area did not know that the Texas Parks and Wildlife was looking for the volunteer testing. There's a group that has already come together to supply, in agreement, of more than 500 tests amongst us. We're asking that you would postpone this and have another year where we're contributing this so that we can, Lord willing, document that we do not have a problem.

The thing I do find interesting is so the breeders, the costs that we're dealing with and all the live testing, I don't know why over 4,000 samples from the breeders being turned is not carrying some weight. That's an awful lot of testing. We're talking about we've only got 100 and some tests, but the breeders are putting in thousands of tests. So I don't -- I don't understand why that's not being taken into consideration.

I feel like the Chronic Waste Disease is a COVID of the deer business right now. There's a lot of view points on all of that. The one thing I do want to remind us all is that Texas is number one and everybody knows it and we're proud of it. We want to keep it that way. We don't want hunters going to other places. So let's all work together and let's not be getting rid of the breeders. They bring a lot to the table for the entire state. Thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, James.

Commissioners, audience, want to take just a few minute break? We'll get back right here as soon as we can. Thank you.

(Recess taken)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hi, everyone. Thank you for allowing a little, short break there. We're going to get right back into it. It's -- I don't know -- 4:29. Same process as before, two minutes. I'm going to give everybody kind of a get-in-line so we don't have to wait too long.

Up first is Gary Barton, second Kent Anschutz, third Ryan Trimble.

Gary Barton, you're up. Good afternoon.

MR. GARY BARTON: Good afternoon. Thank you for letting me speak today. I am Gary Barton, and I have land interest in Texas. I'm asking you to reexamine the use of traps to capture mountain lions in Texas. You know already that nontarget animals also get trapped in these devices. Just last year, a coyote was trapped on a property next to ours. Her leg was broken in the metal trap just above her paw and she was in terrible pain and so we put her down immediately just to end her suffering. Mountain lions aren't so lucky.

Currently there are no requirements to check traps in Texas. At least -- at least trap owners should be required to monitor active traps daily at the very least. If a hunting dog or a hiker or a child accidentally steps on an active trap, they can easily suffer a long, horrible death from exposure like mountain lions. This archaic device has no place in our landscape today. Ethical hunters adhere to a code of responsibility that no animal needlessly suffer.

Mountain lions help maintain ecological balance, which is critical to a healthy community and environment. This majestic animal is one of our most iconic Texas species and deserves strong conservation policies, as well as our admiration and respect. Please give mountain lions legal protection so that they can live full, healthy lives. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Gary.

Kent, then Ryan, then Robert Hibbitts.

MR. KENT ANSCHUTZ: Howdy, Commissioners. My name's Kent Anschutz. I'm a native Texan. I just want to give a brief personal mountain lion story. I was in Arizona a short time ago and I went to a national park where rangers were giving a talk on mountain lions and I don't remember how it came up, but one of the rangers said that, oh, I'm embarrassed to admit this; but I'm from Texas. And he said Texas is the only state with a population of mountain lions that not only does not protect them, but they don't have any management of them at all.

Now this was a group of tourists from around the U.S. and outside the U.S. There was a round of hisses and boos. These are people with tourist dollars to spend in states and places maybe where they think they would deserve it. So another young fellow speaks up. He says I'm from Texas too and he says I'm ashamed to admit that. He says in my opinion, Texas state officials could care less about mountain lions. He said it seems like given the treatment and what's allowed in Texas, he said it seems like officials in my state are proud of their ignorance and their cruelty.

Now I did not step up and admit that I was also from Texas because at that point, I was embarrassed. And that experience led me to then do some greater research and look into the subject when I came back and I'm here today to ask you-all to prove that young guy wrong and I'm hoping that we can enter the 21st century and that you-all can serve as stewards of this magnificent animal that the Creator put here along with us and not be enablers in its extermination. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Kent.

Ryan, Robert, then Warren Wallace.

MR. RYAN TRIMBLE: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I'm Ryan Trimble from Dallas, Texas. I spent about a decade working up the street at the Legislature. Made it out unscathed. I currently live in Dallas. Work for a group called Allyn Media running their conservation practice group and I know you've been hearing from more people about mountain lions today and I know you've heard about them for several months now probably. I wanted to share a little bit about my interest.

I recently published an article in the "Star-Telegram." I submitted it to staff. If you have trouble sleeping tonight, feel free to take a look at it. It should be in your packet there. But I wanted to come to you today simply to encourage you to move forward with the formation of the Mountain Lion Working Group so we can formalize how the mountain lions are managed in this state. It's critically important, I think, at this moment to do this as Texans so that somebody else doesn't swoop in and do it for us.

You know, the South Texas population of our lions are shrinking and becoming further separated from other source populations due to habitat fragmentation and other boundaries, highways, border walls. You know, while this population isn't quite as in dire straits as the Florida panther, with our population growth continuing up to 50 million people in the next few years, next several decades, you know, I could see -- I don't think it's too farfetched to think that the South Texas population could be listed as endangered at some point. In which case, we might not have the opportunity to regulate.

Good news, lot of states know how to manage these things; but we're Texans. Let's do it the Texas way. There's a lot of smart, capable, knowledgeable people here. I think they're reasonable. I think there's an opportunity here to work together and find solutions and give all stakeholders an opportunity. Thank you again for your time. Really appreciate your service to our state. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Ryan.

Robert, Warren, and then Ben Jones.

You're up Robert. Welcome.

MR. ROBERT HIBBITTS: Thank you. Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak. I want to briefly touch on the recent petition that was submitted by the Texans for Coalition -- or Mountain Lions Coalition. There's a few topics of interest in that petition.

First of all, canned hunts are already illegal. So anybody that participates or conducts part of their outfitting business with those opportunities, they should be punished. We should all not be held accountable for their actions. I do want to state that harvest reporting, I think, is a good idea. That's called data and any time -- any way we can acquire data to help in our decision-making process, I think that is very important.

If -- I do encourage the formation of the working group, but I highly encourage that participants from all parties are allowed to participate in that -- i.e. hunters, houndsmen, nonhunters, sportsmen, conservationists, where we all are in some manner. I just want to have a seat at that table so that we're better informed on how these decision process -- or decisions are made.

With that being said, we talked -- there has been lots of comments on the trapping. So, you know, I spent 20 years on active duty in the United States military and prior to that, I grew up on a ranch in Edwards County and I'm a fifth generation Texan. My grandfather taught me to how to trap and it's a time-honored tradition and I think is a very good quality activity that we should be able to do at our own choosing. So as a new ranch owner or a new rancher and there's a mountain lion problem, how is somebody else supposed to be able to tell me how I should protect my livelihood, whether it be utilizing steel traps or not? And that's all I have. So thank you for your time and...

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Robert.

Warren, Ben, and then Clay Richardson.

MR. WARREN WALLACE: Thank y'all for having us. I'm Warren Wallace. I'm a sixth generation rancher in Sutton County. I'm also a houndsmen and I'm here today to talk a little bit about mountain lions and some of the misperceptions that seem to be floating around due to recent propaganda and films.

I'd like to briefly just mention that I'd like to thank the Texas Parks and Wildlife for their handling of the mountain lion. I think that there's been no issues with the way that they've been handled in the past and that this should be considered and move forward in the present with the same -- same types of methods. And so far, in my opinion -- and this is just my opinion -- the populations have remained stable and/or are increasing. So there is still ample opportunities for people to hunt them as far as the -- you know, the general public still has the opportunity to hunt mountain lions. However, there's not been a substantial increase would affect the wildlife populations and/or livestock populations.

So at the -- in my opinion, the current status quo is just fine. However, I would be -- as Robert Hibbitts mentioned, I would be in favor of the working group being formed as long as there was ample hunters, livestock interest such as Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers and Texas -- and Southwestern Cattle Raisers would be represented on that, as well as, you know, other -- other wildlife such as the Texas Bighorn sheep. That's something that the State of Texas worked very hard to get their populations to a sustainable level and mountain lions can wreak havoc on a Texas Bighorn. So that's something that we need to watch out for if we do try to implement new regulations. I'm about out of time, so thank y'all.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Warren.

Ben, Clay, Cable Smith third.

Hello, Ben.

MR. BEN JONES: Hello. Chairman Aplin, Commissioners, and Director Smith and Department staff, I'm Ben Jones. It's an honor to stand before you as Executive Director of Texas Conservation Alliance whose board and members and staff I represent today, including my predecessor Janice Bezanson whose shoes I'm really still trying to fill.

For over 50 years, TCA has worked to protect Texas wildlife and wild places for future generations of Texans. We've worked for decades with Parks and Wildlife on a host of issues, including securing state funding, state park fundings, and leading the Texas Coalition to deliver Recovering America's Wildlife, some 50 million dollars a year that would help recover over 1,200 species in Texas. While we're not counting our Prairie chickens before they hatch, we look forward to celebrating victory on recovering with you-all this fall.

Texas Parks and Wildlife has included the mountain lion, America's lion, as one of those species of greatest conservation need and has recently come to light -- I'm really -- they definitely need help and I'm really grateful to the makers of "Deep in the Heart" -- some are present here today -- for highlighting and illustrating the reality of mountain lions in our state so vividly. Shameful canned hunts, exposure, heat exhaustion, dying of thirst.

You know, 40 years ago my dad taught me and my brother to hunt and trap in the deep pineywoods and there's one lesson among many that went down deep and even as a distracted kid, I'll never forget it. Boys, we never let an animal suffer the needlessly.

Scores of our TCA members have been writing and calling, Ben, what's going on mountain lions? I hear their concerns and I'll let them know the issues being addressed. I'm here today to thank you for doing just that, for addressing the matter. We hope you'll convene a working group to study and remedy the situation on mountain lions and we trust you'll right this wrong. What a great honor it must be to witness the heroism so many of our Department staff have from y'all's position. I just want to thank you for taking action for wildlife and for your service to Texas. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Ben.

Clay, then Cable, then Dr. Craig Nazor.

MR. CLAY RICHARDSON: My name is Clay Richardson. I'm from Ozona, Texas. I'm a sixth generation rancher, houndsman, conservationist, and I'm a lion hunter. It's important for everyone to realize that, more than likely, no one in this room dislikes mountain lions, hunter or nonhunter. In fact, it's probably safe to say that most people in Texas like lions.

The only difference is that some of us must deal directly with the damage caused by lions and others do not. The Texas mountain lion is personally my favorite animal. I have no desire to destroy it or see it vanish from the Texas landscape. In fact, I hope it's here for generations. However, hunting lions and having the ability to take lions is an important part of our ranching operation. I've had my own pack of hounds since I was 12 years old and for the last 28 years, I've been tracking and following lions known as Texas predators. This has led me to realize the Texas mountain population is thriving.

We are consistently seeing mountain lions in places never seen before and in numbers never seen before. It is also important to understand how our geographical relationship with Mexico and New Mexico affects our resident lion population. Both the state and the country are overwhelmed with mountain lions. New Mexico has recently upped legal harvest to one lion to two lions and opened lion hunting season year-round. This is a big move, particularly New Mexico mountain lion population's out of balance. I also have several friends in Mexico that lose most of their colts each spring to lions.

I personally own 4,000 sheep and goats. Americans eat half a pound of lamb a year. This means my operation is feeding roughly half a million Americans. Lions eat approximately 5 percent of my herd each year, or the equivalent of 24,000 people. In October of 2016, a lion moved in and killed 70 of my bred ewes in 30 days. When we take into account the lambs they would have had and the sheep kept to replace the dead ones, it was a loss of 210 head or $63,000 in one month by one lion.

Currently we have a balanced give and take relationship with the Texas mountain lion population. Lions are under control, yet they are growing in numbers and showing up in new areas, suggesting a healthy, thriving population. Therefore, I'm against the regulated harvest of mountain lions. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Clay.

Cable, then Dr. Nazor, then Jeremy Harrison.


MR. CABLE SMITH: Commissioners, Director Smith, nice to see you guys. Thanks for the opportunity. My name is Cable Smith. I host a weekly radio show and podcast known as the "Lone Star Outdoors Show," which is primarily focused on what's going on within the Texas hunting community. Interviewed some of you over the years. Had some great conversations. I think we have the best state wildlife management agency in the country.

But the mountain lions in Texas need regulatory protection. To my knowledge, there is no scientific data to support any need for regulation. They've been listed as a nongame animal since 1973 and somehow they're still here and appear to be thriving. And the request that Texas Parks and Wildlife form a Mountain Lions Advisory Committee, Texans for Mountain Lions suggest that animal -- animal welfare organizations have a seat at that table. This is a rhetorical question. Do you know what that is? That is the likes of known antihunting organizations such as PETA, Humane Society of United States, Defenders for Wildlife. That's the definition of animal well for -- animal well for -- welfare organizations. They have no place in wildlife management because they don't adhere to the North American sustainable use model and with recommendations such as this, to me it's very clear that Texans for Mountain Lions doesn't adhere to that either.

Researchers Mark Elbrock and Patricia Harveson in their recent paper "It's Time to Manage Mountain Lions in Texas," readily admit that there is an absence of requisite data to create a successful management plan for mountain lions. One of the founders of Texans for Mountain Lions has been quoted as saying there aren't naturally occurring deaths of mountain lions in Texas. They all get trapped. There's a mountain lion somewhere right now stuck in a trap.

In my opinion, this type of language is only meant to serve the public about a perceived cause for immediate regulation. The leadership of this organization has long been on record as saying they are against predator hunting contests as well. The underlying message from groups demanding regulations is that Texans are relentlessly trapping and persecuting these incredible apex predators, which is an absolute fallacy.

I believe Texans want mountain lions on the landscape. I know that I do, but this organization's attempt to strongarm Texas Parks and Wildlife with a petition that calls for strict management and quote us without sufficient scientific data to support it simply can't be tolerated. Texas doesn't manage its wildlife based on emotional whims of a small faction that seems to want to yell the loudest. Management requires data. It makes me proud to live, hunt, and trap in a state that doesn't have a history of pandering through antihunting or animal rights activism that is so rampant in so many other states.

If a Mountain Lion Advisory Committee or Stakeholder Group is to be formed, I encourage Texas Parks and Wildlife to make sure that the hunters who fund conservation in our great state have the largest representation and furthermore, reject the notion that any welfare -- animal welfare group whatsoever has a seat at that table. Thanks for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Cable.

Dr. Nazor, then Jeremy Harrison, then Marianne Ortiz.

DR. CRAIG NAZOR: Hello, Texas Park and Wildlife Commission. My name is Dr. Craig Nazor, and I live in Austin. I am the Conservation Chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, a position elected at large from our two -- 20,000 plus Texas membership. I'm here to ask you to support more action to preserve healthy Mountain lion populations in Texas.

In 1991, the Sierra Club came before this Commission with a request to at least assess the mountain lion population. In the intervening 30 years, 31 years, virtually nothing has been done. If the least you can do now is form a stakeholder group, then we ask that the Sierra Club be included in that group.

Mountain lions are essential apex predators in wild Texas ecosystems. They're our first line of defense in dealing with diseases of wild deer, including but not limited to CWD. They help manage feral hog populations and other escaped nonnative species. Right now, people are free to kill mountain lions any time, any where, and in any way they would like, despite the fact that we still have little information about their population dynamics except to know that they have been wiped out of the vast majority of their former range in Texas. People are now free to do that.

There's a famous Texan once saying, "Freedom is just another name for nothing else to lose." Think about it. Let's pay a little attention to Texas mountain lions before it's too late. Thank you very much.


Jeremy, Marianne, Colleen Murray.

MR. JEREMY HARRISON: Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission. My name is Jeremy Harrison, and I'm here to speak about the recent mountain lion petition. My family's been in the ranching business, Trans-Pecos region, for around a century. I also orchestrate the West Texas Big Bobcat Contest, which constitutes the largest, self-financed predator control group in the world. I mention the contest because a lot of the people that submitted this petition are the same activists that demonized us for organizing a hunt.

I am concerned with the data presented along with this petition. More importantly, with the observation, bias, and classification of mountain lions concerning the petition. The recent data and research collected from the Borderland Research Institute has been heavily referenced throughout the petition. I would like to bring light to the fact that all six of the petitioners have direct ties to the Borderlands Research Institute and were implemental in the research itself.

I understand that it is the Commission's intention to form a stakeholder advisory group and that brings me to my point: Perception is everything. To collect real unbiased data and to collect real mountain lion population, you'll need the support of private landowners which compromise 93 percent of the State of Texas. For landowners to willfully participate, the perception cannot be that the game is rigged or predetermined. Landowners perceive petitions like this as a direct threat to their livelihoods and ability to raise livestock.

Landowners have the most important role in our ecosystem. Contrary to popular belief, we care. We are the stewards of the land. It's no secret that you don't -- you don't have to be a biologist to understand why the population of mountain lions in this state is concentrated in West Texas. Ranches in West Texas have quickly become wildlife's last stronghold. The sheer average size of private lands in West Texas keep the human population at bay and gives wildlife of all types a refuge to thrive.

Proposed regulations in this petition present another hurdle for ranchers to overcome. If ranchers cannot produce livestock, they'll be forced to sell. If these large ranches are forced to sell, they're often divided into smaller parcels which equates to more people and less wildlife. Ranchers pump life-giving water to the Trans-Pecos region where water would not exist otherwise. The life sources it provides is for livestock and wildlife of all kinds that simply would not exist without it. Please consider this when you -- when compromising a stakeholder advisory group so that all voices will be heard. I appreciate you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Jeremy.

Marianne, then Colleen, then Damon Harrison.


MS. MARIANNE ORTIZ: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Marianne Ortiz from Allen, Texas. Unlike others that you may hear from today, I do not work professionally with animals or have any background in biology. I just simply love the wildlife we have here in the great State of Texas. In fact, I've spent a few years learning from groups such as Texas Native Cats and meeting with other like-minded individuals who've educated me about the plight of the mountain lions and pouring over their research.

Mountain lions bolster biodiversity and support healthier ecosystems and human communities. Better said, they're important to help maintain the balance of Texas' plants and animals. We all love Texas plants and animals. They keep our deer herds on the move so they don't overgraze and they often feed on diseased prey and can help reduce the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, which I know you've heard a lot about today. The carcasses the mountain lions leave behind create a rich resource that support entire insect communities and benefit hundreds of other species across the state.

But Texas is the only state that can't see the value that this creature brings to our environment. Other states have found a way to manage mountain lions against the priorities of different groups of people. You've heard from some of them today. Even in Florida, they bred our Texas mountain lions with Florida panthers to help build a more healthy and robust population and have been working to create a management plan that appeals to everyone, including hunters, trappers, and community members, as an example of how to do it right and if Florida can do it right, why can't Texas?

So Texans for Mountain Lions has put together what seems to be a fair list of requests, despite what you're hearing today. So while I understand that you're getting significant pressure from other audiences who don't want to see any rules put in place to protect these cats, I'm begging you today to please act quickly to put together the stakeholder act -- the stakeholder group and take action now to establish a management plan that can work for everyone so we can ensure that these the animals that have called our beautiful terrain home for centuries have a future.

We aren't asking you to ban hunting and trapping. We're just asking, you know, to establish a management plan that includes the voice as well. So thank you so much for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Marianne.

Colleen, you're up. Then Damon, then Ben Masters.

MS. COLLEEN MURRAY: Thank you for the opportunity today. My name's Colleen Murray. I live in Dallas, Texas. I've spent most of my working life as a veterinarian. I'm here to talk today about one of our beloved native cats, the mountain lion, also called the puma, the panther, the cougar.

I believe in all the natural resources, living and nonliving, and Texas has been blessed with many; but as we see in the world today, nothing is endless. Nothing. Everything we do has consequences. We have great responsibility when it comes to our resources. The days of another great plain, pristine valley, might river are over. We must refocus on what we have, who we are, and what we want the future to look like.

It will be tragic if the only mountain lion that young Texans see is the logo on their football helmet and jersey. I searched for Texas high schools represented by wildcats, cougars, pumas, mountain lions. Over 105. That does not include colleges, universities, middle schools, grade schools, private schools, professional organizations, and businesses. The University of Houston posted an obituary three weeks ago when their mascot Shasta the sixth passed away. Shasta was a cougar. His life and death mattered.

Honorable Commissioners, you are all successful in that you've built your businesses on data and common sense approaches to managing time, talent, and treasure. How can we not give the same to this Texas native cat? I understand the need for balance, many people and places to consider. Change is hard, but change is essential. Honorable Commissioners, you are asked to consider a petition that requests six directives and regulations. Please make time for this. It is fair. It is timely. It is about respect. Texas has much to be proud of, including this magnificent cat that is at home in our great state. Thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Colleen.

Damon, then Ben, then Sharon Wilcox.

MR. DAMON HARRISON: Hello. Good afternoon. My name is Damon Harrison and before I start, I would like to ask about the TVs right quick. We've been in a holding room back there and the idea was, I believe, that we had TVs and a speaker and some people signed up to observe. The TVs haven't been on all this time. They're just like these in this room. So I didn't know whether y'all were aware of that, but I wanted to let you know those people that were here to observe, probably didn't get much out of it.


MR. DAMON HARRISON: Okay. I'm here to talk, of course, about the mountain lion. The Harrison before happens to be a relative of mine. I understand that we've got a so-called stakeholders group that has put forth some proposed regulation. Stakeholder to me is a person that gets up in the morning and looks out the window and says, oh, golly, I like mountain lions. Stakeholder can mean just about anything to anybody.

You like them because they're beautiful. You like them because they're big. You like them because they have sharp teeth. You can like a hummingbird. You can be a stakeholder in a hummingbird. But I am the last thing you would ever call a stakeholder. I am what you call a shareholder. I've got money on the line.

My family has been ranching in the Trans-Pecos area in Terrell County for 94 years. Over that 94-year period, I've got over 12 and a half million dollars invested in livestock in feeding mountain lions. I of all people love mountain lions more than most that I'm willing to put out that kind of money for them and the slap in the face I think with this proposal is that the stakeholder group doesn't propose that they do anything. It's all back on the landowner. The landowner is going to need to do a 36-hour check. The landowner is going to have to get a permit. The landowner is going to have to turn around and hand the carcass over. You can't keep putting it on the landowner. Without the landowner, we don't have a Texas Parks and Wildlife.

When those mountain lions finally get to me to where I say I give up and move my goats, they're going to eat the deer. They eat the deer, that's less that they're going to have to hunt and bring in revenue to the Texas Parks and Wildlife. So it's all related. It all comes from the one thing. I'm asking y'all to take a serious look before you make any changes to that. Just because a stakeholder group wants to change the status quo doesn't mean it will end up well for any of us, including the mountain lion. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Damon.

Ben, you're up. Then Sharon and then Pam Harte.

MR. BEN MASTERS: Thank you, Commissioners. My name is Ben Masters. I'm a fourth generation Texan from a ranching family and a member of Texas for Mountain Lions Coalition. I guided hunts in southwest -- in South Texas and West Texas to pay for my wildlife degree at Texas A&M, primarily on a ranch just east of Laredo. My passion for wildlife led me to filmmaking, where I recently directed the movie "Deep in the Heart, the Texas Wildlife Story."

I come to you today as the father of two Texans. By the time my kids are my age, the human population will have increased from 30 million to 50 million people. In South Texas, where lions are most likely at risk, the ranches and landscapes are becoming increasingly fragmented. It's also possible that when my kids are my age, there will be a border fence that stretches along South Texas that would prohibit migration of mountain lions into Texas.

The long-term survival of the South Texas population is not guaranteed. The research that has been conducted shows high mortality, and it also shows genetic isolation. Personally, in the last ten years of guiding and extensive camera trapping across South Texas, I have never seen or gotten a trail cam photo of a mountain lion. In contrast, I have gotten thousands of photos of ocelots and I've gotten hundreds of mountain lion photos in West Texas.

There are many others that are very concerned about the South Texas mountain lion population. So on behalf of my children, I encourage you to consider the proposals that we've put in place and to create a management plan that ensures that healthy mountain lion populations always roam both South and West Texas -- both South and West Texas. Thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Ben.

Sharon, then Pam, then Ross Blackwelder.

Sharon, hello. Welcome.

DR. SHARON WILCOX: Hello. Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Sharon Wilcox and I am the Senior Texas Representative for Defenders of Wildlife and I speak today as a representative of that organization. I hold a PhD from University of Texas at Austin with a specialization in the human dimensions of wildcat conservation. I have lived in Austin for 18 years.

Defenders of Wildlife is a premier U.S. based national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species in North America. We are not an animal welfare organization. We represent 105,000 members and supporters here in Texas. Recent research lead by Defenders and partner organization Panthera, reveals how important the mountain lions are to ecosystems in the U.S. Our peer-reviewed study published this year in the "Journal of Mammal Review," found that mountain lions interact with hundreds of species across a range of habitats.

Mountain lions bolster biodiversity and healthier ecosystems through their interactions with prey and other carnivores. Defenders supports scientifically informed management of predators. To that end, we join in the call for research and monitoring to better understand the distribution and health of mountain lions in Texas. We enthusiastically support the formation of a diverse stakeholder advisory group to bring the voices of Texans into the processes of creating a management plan.

We do not oppose hunting. We do support responsible administration of hunting through reasonable and ethical measures like the 36-hour trap check and particularly because trapping is a significant cause of mortality for lions in Texas. We support harvest reporting requirements that will require crucial information on population distribution and trends in the state. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Sharon.

Pam, you're up. Then Ross, then Caitlin.

Hello, Pam. Welcome.

MS. PAMELA HARTE: Hi. Hi, everybody. Esteemed Commissioners, Texas Parks and Wildlife staff, thank you for having me here today. I'm Pamela Nelson Harte. In 2010, Will Harte and I purchased the Caldwell Ranch in the Davis Mountains in West Texas. In 2011, we experienced subzero temperatures and a wildfire that burned 18,000 acres. Almost half of the ranch. It was devastating. With little rain for three years, grasses and trees were stressed, food sources were depleted, tanks were dried up, and wildlife was disappearing.

Helicopter and spotlight surveys and tours with Texas Parks and Wildlife Phil Dickerson shared -- showed us the scarcity of all wildlife. Then someone gave Will and me this book that documented the great panther and bear hunts on the Caldwell in the 1890s. We were horrified, but also learned that our ranch is a suitable habitat for lions and bears since the pioneers were killing sometimes three to four bears and lions a day.

Will and I are caretakers. We created a mission to make the ranch a sanctuary for all animals. Not really a popular idea in West Texas, but important to us to bring homeostasis back to the landscape. We -- well, boy. That was quick. So I'm asking you guys to listen to Texans for Mountain Lions. I'm part of the group, and I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Pam. Thank you for coming. You made a long trip.

Ross, then Caitlin, then Monica.

MR. ROSS BLACKWELDER: Thank you guys for letting us come up here and speak. I'm not going to repeat what Clay and Robert and Warren and Cable and a few of them other guys said. I will say I grew up in West Texas. Live in West Texas. Been hunting there for probably 30 something years, but there are a lot of lions in West Texas. I can't tell you what's in South Texas, but can just tell you that there are a lot of -- lot of lions all over West Texas right now and look forward to working with you to prove that data. So just here to help. Thank you, guys.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Ross.

Caitlin, then Monica, then Mark.

MS. CAITLIN CAMP: Good afternoon. My name is Caitlin Camp and I'm here to explain why Texans should have a science based management plan for state's needed mountain lion population. I recently graduated with a master's in range and wildlife management from Sul Ross State University in West Texas. During my graduate program, I got the opportunity to do a camera trap study on the mammals of Big Bend National Park with Dr. Harveson and Borderlands Research Institute.

My thesis is the distribution and co-occurrence of mammals, which included mountain lions in the park. Mountain lions have long attracted visitors to the park because of their elusive and mysterious nature. Studies have shown that they also hold ecological value such as increasing the biodiversity and help with our ecosystems. Over a five-year period, my study got an idea of the distribution and daily activity patterns of mountain lions in the park; but due to the limited detection of the species, further research was needed on other questions such as their interaction and their proximity to high human use in these areas. Big Bend is a sanctuary for mountain lions. However, outside of the park, they are unprotected.

Currently in Texas, there is no limit to the number of mountain lions killed and of the killed, it is not required to report it. We do have good research and information from past and current studies, but it's important that Texas Parks and Wildlife collects harvest data to better understand mortality across Texas. If Texas had a monitoring plan for this species where we could identify their abundance and distribution, we could create a management plan that could balance the need for Texans, as well as protect the species that is part of our Texas heritage.

Every state that has a breeding population of mountain lions, has a management plan for this species except for Texas. The goals of these management plans are to maintain a healthy mountain lion population, but also to ensure the safety of humans, help guard the economy, and help maintain other wildlife populations. With help of the public, landowners, ranchers, wildlife biologists, and Texas Parks and Wildlife, I do believe we can create a science based management plan for species that is both ecologically and culturally significant. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Caitlin.

Monica, then Mark, then Patricia Harveson.

MS. MONICA MORRISON: Good afternoon, Commissioners. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Monica Morrison. I'm a founder of Texas Native Cats and a coalition member of Texans for Mountain Lions. Today marks my third visit to present on mountain lions. Until recently, nothing has changed.

Our mountain lion's nongame status has remained untouched for 50 years. People don't know it has no protection or that it can be trapped and left to die because there are no trap check times. They don't know that South Texas population has declined by as much as 50 percent. They don't know what the population is or that the West Texas cat population likely persists because of immigration. They don't know that nobody is required to report a harvested lion, but they're learning now. They're learning thanks to the collective efforts of Texans for Mountain Lions and others publicly and privately who are standing up for this beleaguered predator. They're learning thanks to the many private discussions and public outreach that continue. They're learning because of "Deep in the Heart" and because of the opinion pieces and articles appearing in Texas publications and you have heard from enlightened Texans, individuals, sending more than 14,000 total letters to state officials of more than 1,700 individuals.

In the words of Veronica Carbajal, an El Paso mayoral candidate, about the 64-foot tall mountain lion mural in downtown El Paso, may she bring light to the struggle of mountain lions. May she remind us that humans are only one part of this ever complicated environment. May she inspire us to learn more, to innovate, to embrace our fears, and to fight harder.

Teddy Roosevelt said that the best science available will be used as a base for informed decision-making in wildlife management and that wildlife belongs to the people and is to be managed in trust for the people by government agencies. The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we will and we must. Let us not allow our mountain lion to follow the path of the jaguar and jaguarundi in Texas, extirpation. Let us act while there is time. Thank you for your time and attention.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Monica.

Mark, then Patricia, then Karin Saucedo.

Hello, Mark.

MR. MARK ELBROCH: Thank you, Commissioners, for your attention and the opportunity to talk today. I am a career mountain lion biologist, as I've been an ally of Texas Parks and Wildlife near 20 years when I was hired to train Agency staff that were conducting river surveys. I'm also a supporter of Texans for Mountain Lions and a contributor to the petition that was submitted this past June.

If there was one message that I would like you to take away today it is this: There has been more than enough research done on -- in Texas on mountain lions to know that they are in immediate need of regulated harvest. In Texas every study conducted by independent researchers and state wildlife professionals has shown the exact same pattern: Female survival is not high enough to maintain mountain lions in the State of Texas. The evidence is clear, and the time to act is now.

You already know that mountain lions are protected in every state in our great nation except Texas with regulated harvest seasons and quotas. But you may not know that in every other state that offers mountain lion hunting, they also protect females with dependent young. Females typically breed about the first time about two to three years old and then every other year thereafter and they have small litters. For this reason, states protect females with dependent young because their populations grow slowly and to ensure that they have sustainable populations for the future.

I'll leave with you this. You can hunt mountain lions and conserve them. You can branch in lion county with minimal problems and remove problem animals. There is a middle ground among different stakeholders. I ask the Commission to support our petition which outlines very reasonable first steps to build out mountain lion management in Texas and I ask you to please form a Mountain Lion Working Group of diverse stakeholders to move this forward. Thank you for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mark.

Patricia, then Karin, then Romey Swanson.

Hello. Welcome.

MS. PATRICIA HARVESON: Good afternoon, Chairman Aplin, Commissioners, and Mr. Smith. My name is Patricia Harveson and I'm from Alpine, Texas. For over 25 years, I have been working with mountain lions and other carnivores as a researcher. The last 15 years as a faculty member of Sul Ross State University and the lead carnivore researcher at Borderlands Research Institute.

Early in my career, I assisted the South Texas Mountain Lion Project in the Big Bend Ranch State Park Project that were funded by Texas Parks and Wildlife in the 90s. During the last ten years, I led one of the most comprehensive studies of mountain lions in Texas, focused on private lands in the Davis Mountains and public lands in Big Bend National Park. I have since left my academic post and I'm standing here representing Texans for Mountain Lions today.

As a researcher, I am obligated to let the Agency know when there are red flags and to suggest strategies to address these issues. There are quite a few red flags regarding mountain lions in Texas that require your attention and I'll briefly discuss three.

First, annual survival rates. In my research and research conducted by TPWD, we have chronicled some of the lowest survival rates in the U.S. On the private lands of the Davis Mountains in West Texas, half of our studied mountain lions survive from one year to the next.

Second cause of mortality, the same Texas based studies have shown that 90 percent of mortalities were human induced. Specifically trapping takes a significant number of mountain lions off the landscape and does so in a significant number of mountain -- in an indiscriminate fashion without regard to age, sex, or even species.

And third, genetic isolation. Researchers from Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute have shown that the South Texas population is genetically isolated and is vulnerable to local extinction. I am a scientist and I believe in science, but science only works when it is used to inform management.

Mountain lion management in Texas has been ignored for over 50 years. We are respectfully asking Texas Parks and Wildlife to consider the six items we requested in our petition. The science is available and should be used to develop a mountain lion management plan for Texas. Thank you for you consideration, and thank you for your service.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Patricia.

Karin, then Romey, then John Kinsey.

MS. KARIN SAUCEDO: Good afternoon, Commissioners. My name is Karin Saucedo. I'm on the Advisory Board of Texas Native Cats and a senior volunteer at In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Educational Center. Through that volunteerism, I've had hands on experience in working with big cats for almost 12 years and I've had the honor to care for and get to know over 27 individual captive mountain lions.

Did you know that they can purr when they greet with you? They're the largest feline that can purr and there's nothing else in the world like being greeted by a mountain lion's purr.

(Audio is played)

MS. KARIN SAUCEDO: I'm also a wildlife conservation photographer and partner photographer for Panthera and I'm incredibly honored to have my images used for their conservation efforts. I've photographed tigers in India. I've -- I've traveled to Brazil to photograph ocelots and jaguars and I'm also able to photograph bobcats right in my own backyard in Collin County. I hope to some day observe and photograph wild mountain lions here in Texas.

Without a proper management plan, the opportunity to do that may some day be gone. Tigers in India and jaguars in the Pantanal would surely be extinct if it wasn't for collaborative ecotourism and their respective countries. Those governments recognized the importance of the species and the value they bring to the local economies. That is potentially a great opportunity here in Texas.

Please help make a change for our Texas mountain lions. They have no say in any of this. So it's up to us to be their collective voice. I urge you to support putting a sustainable science based plan together to ensure a future for this amazing cat so that they can thrive here in Texas for years to come and maybe one day we can all be lucky enough to see one in the wild. Thank you so much for your time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Romey, then John, then Jennifer Warner.

MR. ROMEY SWANSON: Commissioners, Director Smith, I thank you for this opportunity. My name is Romey Swanson. I have worked as a private lands ecologist and in Texas conservation leadership for 15 years. I'm also a member for the Texans for Mountain Lions and a signer of the petition.

We need research and reliable data from which to make management decisions. I fully endorse this position and so did your predecessors 30 years ago when they chose to promote management decisions at that time for a public commitment to collect data, including mandatory harvest reporting if necessary. Today we stand mountain lion management on -- largely on unfulfilled promises. Fortunately, the 30 years have produced a mounting body of scientific literature. More than enough data exists to acknowledge the needs of and the concerns for this living embodiment of the wild.

I'm here to assure that Texas and Texans can live today and into the future knowing that mountain lions are sustainable managed. Our relationship with these creatures is complex and nuanced, which means everyone should have a voice; but as those that live closest to those animals -- ranchers, landowners, biologists, hunters, and conservationists -- they see the largest stakes in how we manage for that accountable and sustainable future.

Without landowner, rancher, and hunter cooperation, we risk losing the most important component of this assured future for lions: Keeping large open spaces viable and intact. This reality is a necessary north star in building a management framework. I signed the petition in June to outline six recommendations to provide a balance needed to monitor and manage lion populations, while keeping necessary tools within the hands of landowners and managers to address wildlife, livestock, and human conflict issues. The specifics can and should be further developed within the stakeholder working group and I hope to see that group composed of members whose aim it is to participate in good faith towards a workable solution with clear-eyed understanding of each others concerns and with grace and earnestness towards a management approach all Texans can be proud of. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Romey.

John, then Jennifer, then Allen Smith.

Welcome, John.

MR. JOHN KINSEY: Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity -- opportunity to address the Commission. My name is John Kinsey. I'm a certified wildlife biologist and have over a dozen years of experience in the field, nine of which were served as a biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Today I'm here as the President of the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society. The Texas Chapter is a scientific and educational organization made up over 900 members representing wildlife professionals in all areas of wildlife conservation and resource management. The Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society recognizes and appreciates that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department considers environmental, social, and economic factors when addressing wide-reaching issues such as mountain lion management in the state.

A part of the mission of the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society is to ensure that wildlife resource decisions are made with the consideration of the most reliable scientific data available in consultation with subject matter experts and with relevant stakeholders' input.

Our Chapter supports the formation of a Mountain Lion Stakeholder Advisory Committee to assist the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the review of existing information to determine the need or needs for management and policy regarding the sustainability of mountain lions. While the Department makes decisions on the matter, we offer our Chapter as a partner to the Department to serve as an additional voice for science. We further offer the Chapter's collective expertise where appropriate to support the collection and analysis of reliable scientific data to review the status of mountain lions and to determine the need for management actions. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, John.

Jennifer, then Allen Smith.

Hello, Jennifer. Welcome.

MS. JENNIFER WARNER: Hello, and thank you for letting me speak today. I'm a Texas based conservation photographer and certified master naturalist whose work primarily focuses on the ethics and human/wildlife conflicts. I work with big cat conservationists worldwide finding solutions for human/wildlife coexistence.

Mountain lions, like all apex predators, are a vital piece of our ecosystem, keeping our prey populations in check which provide ecological stability. Without these predators in our ecosystems, they -- the prey species quickly degrade and overrun our habitat. Through camera trap technology, researchers have found that mountain lions are intelligent, complex, social creatures who display a wide range of emotions and social behaviors. Cubs play with one another. Mothers cuddle their young, while adult males patrol their territory searching for females to sire their litters.

Although they once roamed throughout most of the United States, today the breeding populations of mountain lions are in only 16 states. All of these states except for Texas have some sort of protection for these cats. By listing mountain lions as a nongame species, even though they are categorized as imperiled, we provide this keystone species with little hope for survival in our state. I urge you to consider the importance of research being conducted to identify the size, status, and distribution of mountain lions in Texas; to require harvest reporting; to require the 36-hour camera trap -- or sorry -- trap check time; to prohibit canned hunting; and most of all, to give mountain lions the respect they deserve by listing them as a game species and give them some sort of protection in the State of Texas. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Jennifer.

Allen, welcome.

MR. ALLEN SMITH: Wow, it's been a long day. It looks like we're getting ready to wrap it up.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I probably shouldn't say, but glad to see you're the last. There may be someone after you, we're going to ask when you're finished. But welcome. You've got your time.

MR. ALLEN SMITH: Chairman and Commissioners, Director Smith, my name is Allen Smith and our family has had a ranch on the Rio Grande just north of the Black Gap WMA for the past 50 plus years and we've been involved in the restoration of the Bighorn sheep for over 35 years. And in addition, I have the great honor to be on the Bighorn Sheep Advisory Committee for Parks and Wildlife. So I come to you not as representing that group, but as a landowner to summarize a little bit of what that group has come -- after reviewing the petition and the majority of the members, which you can find in the report that was sent to y'all through the advisory committee, is that the majority of them oppose the petition because we feel like that it does not adequately represent the stakeholders in the State of Texas.

We feel like that the Parks and Wildlife Commission is in a unique position because of the great relationship they have with the stakeholders, landowners, hunters, trappers, and so forth, to be able to put together a group that can study this issue and come up with some pliable options and solutions so that everyone is a winner on this issue. I appreciate your time, and y'all have a great evening.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Allen. Thank you very much for making the trip.

We have reached the end of my list of people. Is there anyone that we've missed that would like to speak? You certainly have the opportunity if we've missed you.

Okay. Seeing none, this Commission has completed its business. I declare us adjourned at 5:24 p.m. Thank you all.

(Public Hearing 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

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