TPW Commission

Work Session, November 3, 2021


TPW Commission Meetings


November 3, 2021






CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good morning, everyone, to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Wednesday Work Session. I'm going to start by taking roll call.

Commissioner Rowling is on his way, but is detained shortly; but he's headed this was.

So we'll talk a roll call. Aplin present.








CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, thank you.

This meeting is called to order November 3rd, 2021, 9:03 a.m. Before proceeding with business, I believe Mr. Carter Smith has a statement to make.

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

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Carter.

Commissioners, as a reminder, if you'll announce your name before you speak and please remember to speak slowly for the court reporter, although she types really, really fast.

The first order of business is the approval of minutes from the previous Work Session held August 25th, 2021, which have been distributed. I need a motion for approval.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Scott approved -- I mean motion. Second?


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

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.

First order of business is the approval of minute from the previous Annual Public Hearing held August 25th, which has been distributed. Is there a motion for approval for the Annual Public Hearing meeting minutes?




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

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Opposed? Hearing none, motion carried.

Next, the approval of minutes from the previous Special Work Session held September 15th, which have been distributed. I need a motion and a second.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell makes a motion.



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

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Opposed? Hearing none, passes.

We're going to get started with Work Session Item No. 1, Update on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Progress in Implementing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Land, Water Resource Conservation and Recreation Plan, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I appreciate the chance to share a few words this morning.

Just as a point of departure and, of course, as required by law, I want to give just a brief update on our Internal Affairs related team and activities. Hopefully, all of you got the fiscal year 2021 annual report that Mike put together. It's a very thorough and comprehensive summary of the activities of that team, the cases that were looked into and the dispensation of them, and so I'd encourage all of you to take a look at that and if you have any questions about that, please don't hesitate to ask Mike or me about it.

Mike and that whole team continue to do a terrific job helping to modernize things and work on ensuring the team has the requisite resources. They've invested in some new software, Commissioner Bell, not unlike the auditors, that allows the investigators all to utilize a same electronic share point for, you know, seamlessly sharing files and so forth.

They recently digitized all of our archival files from Internal Affairs over the years, which was a huge project and so nice to see that come to fruition and continue to invest, obviously, in training for our officers just to make sure that we're staying up to snuff with all of the national standards on the Internal Affairs. So kudos to Mike and that team for their -- for their work.

The next thing I want to -- I want to share with you, you know, it's obviously not uncommon at all for our officers inside the Agency, our State Park police officers, our game wardens, even our park rangers to be regularly involved in lifesaving-related activities across the state. It's a weekly, if not a daily, activity I'm afraid; but it's not just limited to our officers. And I'm really proud of our Coastal Fisheries colleagues Robin and Dakus who were out doing oyster-related survey work. Derek York, Kimberly Jeffery, and Chris Steffen, a couple of weeks ago in Galveston Bay when they saw a Coast Guard helicopter circling repeatedly low, they knew they were looking for somebody or something. Got on the radio, understood that there was a capsized boat with three individuals that had been thrown into the water that was about a mile away and so they did a beeline to those coordinates and were able to find the individuals who were clinging onto the boat. Bring them -- brought them onto the boat, gave them medical attention. Got the Coast Guard to come take care of their boat and then took those individuals to shore for medical attention and so really proud of their work and those lifesaving activities and I just want to publicly acknowledge Derek and Kim and Chris for that. Really proud of our team for being prepared and acting when people need it most. So kudos to them.

This is a nice international recognition and, Craig, obviously a very prestigious one in terms of the Annual Conservation Award from the Fly Fishers International. Every year across the globe, they'll honor a person or an entity for their contributions to the management of fisheries that are important to the legacy of fly fishing and so I was thrilled to learn that our Inland Fisheries team was honored for really three decades of work on conservation and stewardship of our state fish, the Guadalupe bass. That little native Black bass that you find in those Hill Country streams and for almost three decades our biologists have been working to restore habitat on affected streambeds, helping to elevate awareness and public consciousness of the importance of that fish.

I think our hatchery program has produced a couple of million fingerlings to put back into Hill Country streams, some as restocking or restoration, some to reverse the affects of hybridization with Smallmouth bass. They've leased a bunch of areas so that fly fishermen have bank access are able to fish some of those Hill Country areas that, of course, as y'all know are largely all privately owned and have just done a terrific job with landowners on the stewardship and the outreach and education and, you know, we now see these, you know, local economies like around Round Rock there around Brushy Creek that, you know, who would have thunk it in terms of a really big focused activity there in Williamson County along that little creek focused on fly fishing for Guadalupe bass and that's no small testament to the work of our Inland Fisheries team.

And so, Craig, kudos to y'all for this very prestigious recognition. Very proud of it.

Speaking of awards, I think it was last meeting when we had a chance to honor Raj Ataya, Orange County game warden for being the Southern States Officer of the Year for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and, you know, that's a recognition again for that water safety related work, boater safety related work. You may remember, of course, that very own Cody Jones was the most recent President of that nationally and it was fun to see Raj get recognized regionally. He recently was recognized as the National Boating Safety Officer of the Year. So that's a big deal and proud of him for getting that recognition and just want to acknowledge that publicly and, Chad, thank him for his leadership and terrific contributions over there on the coast and beyond. So kudos to -- kudos to him.

Similarly, Cindy Aguilar, a game warden out in Tom Green County in San Angelo is our Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Officer of the Year. Very, very deserving colleague. Just does a terrific job out in West Texas interfacing with the ranchers and farmers and hunters and guides and the police department and sheriffs office and all the partner law enforcement related agencies out there and she's just a pleasure to work with and is a terrific ambassador for our Department in West Texas and so excited to see Cindy get this very well-deserved recognition. I know Chad and Ron and Jason Huebner, our Major out there, are really excited. It's well-deserved.

We've got another award for our Law Enforcement team that Robin was a part of helping to recognize through the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and this is our Marine Tactical Operations Group or what you'll sometimes hear as the MTOG for short and that's a five-unit game warden team that focuses on marine-related enforcement out in the Gulf. So it's, you know, commercial fishing, it's interdiction of transnational smuggling and criminal activity right there on the -- on the border. A big part of their activities is dealing with these illegal Mexican fishermen that come in in these little launches from Mexico and put out a long line and gillnet and just hammer our sharks and our redfish and trout and Red snapper and everything else.

Last year alone, as you can see, they confiscated over 120,000 miles of illegal long line in the Gulf, 2,500 miles of illegal gillnet put out there and whether that's across the mouth of the Rio Grande or out in the Gulf, these are just death traps for fish. You know, a couple of months ago they were able to apprehend two illegal boats that had, you know, a thousand pounds of dead shark that they'd caught. So our MTOG team, Chad, continues to do just an extraordinary job and, Robin, that was nice of the Council to publicly recognize them for their work and I want to acknowledge Captain Wesley Groth and Carmen Rickel, Matt Strauss, Shane Horrocks, and Travis Haug who are all members of that team and, again, doing a terrific job on the conservation Law Enforcement and the fisheries work out there.

I want to share a few words about our hatchery-related program on the coast. Y'all know that we've got five inland hatcheries, three coastal hatcheries that are there at Palacios and in Lake Jackson and then down near Corpus at Flour Bluff and each year our coastal hatcheries are producing upwards of 25 million fingerlings to put back into our -- into our bays and we had a tremendous milestone this year, Robin, with the 800th million redfish fingerling that was released there at Bird Island and, you know, that's the culmination of decades of success, going back to the foresight of the Commission and this Department to invest in that back in the 1970s when there was so much concern about the overexploitation of redfish.

And each year, our hatchery biologists and technicians are now putting upwards of 15 to 16 million redfish back in -- back in the bays and as I think Dr. Gold from Texas A&M, a geneticist that did some work for us, was showing that -- what, Robin -- 15 to 20 percent of the redfish that are caught in the bays have some genetic tie-back to the hatchery. So it works. But, of course, as you know colleagues like David Abrego will tell you that, you know, they're resting the -- or riding on the shoulders of folks like Gene McCarty this Mike Ray and Robert Vega and others that came before them and they're also doing a tremendous job with conservation and education and outreach at places like Sea Center and so their work really, really important to our fisheries on the coast.

And certainly that was an issue that we talked about pretty extensively with the Commission when we were talking about what were our post-freeze related management strategies what could we do to help accelerate recovery and one of which was, of course, to amplify the production and stopping -- stocking of Spotted seatrout and really proud of the team because last year essentially they doubled the number of Speckled trout that were produced from, you know, four, four and a half million to almost nine million and as you can see from this slide, around four million of those went in those lower bay -- the Laguna Madre, Aransas, Corpus -- several of which were hit the hardest from the freeze and so kudos to the hatchery team for responding with such expediency and helping with the recovery. Proud of their efforts.

I think as all of you know, one of the -- one of the locks that our folks are trying to unlock is how to successfully spawn flounder and our biologists have kind of cracked that code to a degree, but continue to invest in a lot of research on how to -- how to do that at less intensively and with greater scales and trying to figure out issues associated with larval growth and forage sources and production and can we, you know, get away from strip spawning which is very labor intensive. But we recently invested in some new production facilities there at Sea Center and then down at Flour Bluff, which we think will certainly help in this effort and there will probably half a dozen or so research projects going on with researchers at A&M and elsewhere to help us improve our techniques. And so excited about their efforts and will be, obviously, very important in the years to come.

Last thing I want to call your attention to is the annual stocking report and hopefully y'all have a copy of that. This is worth a -- worth a read. This is a terrific summary of our Fisheries and Wildlife biologists and their activities to help restore and restock fish and game and nongame in places all over the state and, again, whether we're talking about flounder or redfish, or trout or Largemouth bass or Striped bass, we're also talking about Pronghorn and Bighorn sheep and Horned lizards and Prairie dogs and a lot of other really cool things that our Fish and Wildlife biologists all over the state are doing to help ensure that our fish and wildlife populations continue to flourish. And so please take a look at that report. It will give you a nice snapshot or window on some of the activities of our Fisheries and Wildlife teams and appreciate their contributions very much.

With that, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, that concludes my remarks and happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Questions anybody for Carter? Comments?

Okay. Thank you for sharing that with us. Exciting information and stuff to work on.

We'll roll on to Work Session Item No. 2, Internal Audit, Ms. Brandy Meeks. Brandy, hello. How are you?

MS. MEEKS: Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Brandy Meeks. I'm the Internal Audit Director. And let me see if I can get this going. Whoop. There we go.

So this morning, I'd like to update you on the fiscal year '21 and '22 internal audit plans and update you on recent external audits and assessments. So this and the next slide are going to show you the status of our fiscal year '21 internal audit plan. As you can see, all of our performance and IT cybersecurity audits are either complete or in the reporting phase.

We did have ten fiscal control state park audits on our fiscal year '21 plan. Nine of those are complete and one of those is currently in the reporting phase and as was mentioned at the previous Commission Meeting in August, I do anticipate the completion of the fiscal year '21 internal audit plan by the end of this month.

The next -- this slide and the next two slides show the status of our fiscal year '22 internal audit plan. Two of those have started. One performance audit, the audit of selected contracts is currently in fieldwork, and we have also started an IT cybersecurity project, the CAPPS HR FR audit is currently in the planning phase. We do have 20 fiscal control audits on our plan this year. Ten for state parks, and ten for the law enforcement offices. We've started five of the state park audits. Four of those are currently in the fieldwork phase, and one is currently in reporting.

We were also involved and have completed some special projects and some administrative duties. We completed the Chapter 59 asset forfeiture review and as well we went live with our audit software on 9/1. According to Texas Government Code 2102, we also have to do an annual report, which is now complete. That was due on November 1st. And we are also filling an Auditor V vacancy.

As far as external audits and assessments are concerned, we have been notified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they will be doing a Title 6 on-site review this year and the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program Grant audit is still ongoing. There have been no external audits or assessments completed since the last Commission Meeting.

This concludes my presentation, and I'm available to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody have questions for Brandy?

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: I just -- I just have one quick question. On cybersecurity, I mean, that's obviously something that is on the front of everybody's mind and is constantly evolving. I mean, it says we're in the planning stage of that; but I assume that's kind of an ongoing -- I assume we're always auditing cybersecurity; is that right?

MS. MEEKS: We always have a project going on with cybersecurity. Our -- our Information Security Officer is always looking at the security within the Agency. As far as audits are concerned though, those are, you know, separate projects where we will look at even the controls of our information security office and right now currently, one of the major projects that we're working on is that CAPPS HR FR. But, yes, it's always -- it's an ongoing -- an ongoing battle to make sure that this Agency is secure.

MR. SMITH: Commissioner, just if I could, we recently completed -- there was an outside audit of our cybersecurity related efforts inside the Department. I know that Commissioner Bell saw that and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman got it. I'll make sure that you get it. It provides a really good snapshot of where we are, so I'll get that to you. Thanks.

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Brandy.

Work Session Item No. 3, Designation of Nonprofit Partners, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Ms. Brittney Zepeda. How are you? Welcome.

MS. ZEPEDA: Thank you. Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Brittney Zepeda, Texas State Parks Volunteer Program Manager, and I'm requesting the designation of nonprofit partners.

We have decades of partnerships dating back to the 1930s and in 1991, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation was established as the official nonprofit partner. One of the legislative guidances enacted in 2001 was that the Commission vote on the designation of nonprofit partners. While we work closely with many nonprofits, like CCA or Ducks Unlimited, these designated nonprofits are considered closely related nonprofit partners that exist primarily for the purpose of a specific facility or program.

Nonprofit partners must follow rules of federal and state law and they are to be organized as a nonprofit corporation and follow the Texas Nonprofit Corporation Act. Work must be consistent with Agency's mission and goals. There will be a written agreement between the nonprofit partner and the Agency and nonprofits are designated by the Commission in a public meeting. Groups may be removed from the list by the Commission. You can find the list of nonprofits in your agenda, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation as the official nonprofit.

Thank you so much for your time. Are there any questions?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Does anybody have questions for Brittney?

Thank you, Brittney. We enjoy the nonprofit partners that we have very, very much --

MS. ZEPEDA: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- and so thank you for everyone. I see Susan out. But thank you -- I see Joey. But thank all of you. It's a great, great benefit for us. Thank you.

MS. ZEPEDA: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 4, Coastal Thermal Refuge Area Closures, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Brian Bartram, you're up. There you are, Brian.

MR. BARTRAM: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Brian Bartram. I'm the Ecosystem Leader with the Corpus Christi Bay Ecosystem. I'll be presenting the results of the public scoping process that followed the proposed freeze closure rules and freeze closure area additions and changes that were presented at the August Commission Meeting.

As a quick refresher, the Department maintains a list of closure areas that the Executive Director may close to angling during freezing conditions. Back in August, we proposed the addition of new closure areas, as well as some changes to existing sites. We also proposed some changes to the Texas Administrative Code to better define the conditions that constitute a freeze and proposed criteria for reopening these areas after the threat has passed. And just a quick reminder, you'll see this item tomorrow when we -- we'll be seeking adoption.

So the changes we're proposing include clarifying the definition of an affected area. This proposed language gives us the ability to include other areas that will serve as a thermal refuge, but do not necessarily have bank access. The current definition limits closure areas to sites that have bank access. We're also proposing language that will define a freeze using lethal water temperatures as opposed to air temperatures. This threshold would be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and -- as this is the water temperature at which species like Spotted seatrout and Red drum begin to suffer cold-related mortality.

We're also proposing language that will allow the Executive Director to notify the public of forthcoming closures in anticipation of a freeze, rather than after a freeze has occurred. Now, we're also seeking to establish reopening criteria based on water temperatures as measured by select NOAA tide stations and once water temperatures have reached a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and are expected to remain above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 48 hours, the Executive Director may allow fishing to resume in those affected areas.

Coastal Fisheries staff, along with input from Law Enforcement, are recommending keeping 17 sites as is, adding 16 sites mostly on the lower coast, modifying two sites, and combining four existing sites with one new site to create large aggregate site. And just to make the distinction, these newly proposed areas are not part of the Code, but we do seek --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Brian. Will you look at your screen?

MR. BARTRAM: Oh. How did that happen?


MR. BARTRAM: Thank you. I must have skipped a couple. Thank you.

Just get make the distinction, these newly proposed areas are not part of the Code; but we did seek public input on these areas as part of the public scoping area effort.

Okay. So a virtual coast-wide scoping meeting was held on October 14th, 2021. And during the scoping meeting, the proposed changes to the Texas Administrative Code and maps with the newly proposed closure areas and also maps detailing any changes to existing sites were presented to the public. For the scoping meeting, we had six registered attendees and two that actually attended. The only comment received during the scoping meeting was a comment seeking clarification on a change that would be made to the Little Bay closure area map. The old map, which is no longer viewable on the public facing web page, showed only the canal subdivisions to the east as being closed and the new map will accurately reflect the text description of the closure site and it will include all waters of Little Bay in the closure site -- in the map of the closure site.

We received 14 comments through the public comment portal on our web page. Thirteen that completely -- agreed completely and one disagree. I'll add here that CCA has voiced support of these proposals as well. As for the disagree comment, this individual stated that they actually agree with the proposals; but wanted to express their concern about detrimental impacts to marine resources from barge movement through the Intercoastal Waterway during freezing conditions.

And to that point, I want to emphasize that these suspensions of barge traffic are voluntary and temporary and our relationship with the Gulf Intercostal Canal Association has been very positive. They've been very cooperative and accommodating in previous requests for the suspension of barge traffic and ultimately the authority to issue a suspension of barge traffic lies with the Coast Guard.

So we'll be recommending the adoption of proposed changes to the freeze closure section of the Texas Administrative Code as published in the September 24th, 2021, issue of the Texas Register. And I'd like to welcome any questions at this time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Questions anyone?

I'd like -- you touched on it, but I'd like to make the comment. The barge operators are under no responsibility. They work with us. They work effectively with us. It's a huge deal because they really stir up the water which those fish are seeking and so I just can't say enough. I mean, that hits them in the pocketbook; but they're willing to do it.

And, Carter, I know you visit with them on a regular basis when we're in those situations and I just can't thank those guys and gals enough for cooperating.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, I agree completely, Chairman. I'm glad you and Brian highlighted that because it is a really good partnership and they are very advertent to the -- those activities and whether it's fish or turtles and the, you know, public concern about those activities and so, you know, we'll continue to work with them as we go forward when the next freeze happens. I think we've got good communication protocols in place now where we can trigger the voluntary closure very quickly and, again, we've -- by and large -- have had really good cooperation from the -- from industry on that front.


Hey, Blake.

If there's no further questions, I'm going to place this item on agenda for Thursday Commission Meeting for public comment and action and I neglected to say the same about the nonprofit partners. We're going to put that on the agenda for public comment and action as well. Thank you.

MR. BARTRAM: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 5, Digital Licensing/Tagging Requirements, Robin.

MR. RIECHERS: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Robin Riechers, for the record, and as it says here, I'm presenting to you a proposed adoption to allow digital recreational license and tagging for the pilot program that we discussed with you in August.

As we indicated in August, we would hope to get the pilot program up and running by August 15th of 2022 so that we have it in place for the full license year for 2023. The licenses will be -- or the digital license will be available only on our TPWD website and in the pilot program, we're going to focus on the super combination license, the senior super combo, and the lifetime super combo and then, of course, with that, that means we have to have a way to basically create a digital tag and so for deer, turkey, and Red drums, we would have those tags and we will be using our My Texas Hunt Harvest application to provide the tagging mechanism.

So while the exhibit itself -- and your Commission briefing book has three separate chapters that we're dealing with and thus, it's a little bit -- you know, has a little volume to it there. It's really quite simple. What we're really doing here is setting up the exception to the rule regarding a paper license and having to have a paper license on your person as you're doing your activity and then we're also creating how we digitally tag. So in Exhibit A, that's where we create that optional issuance of a digital license and tag by creating an exception to that physical license and so that will have to be with you so you'll have proof of receipt on either your smart phone, your tablet, or a similar device.

Under Exhibit B, that's in the Red drum area or the fishing area of the Texas Administrative Code and this is where we basically are setting up how we will digitally tag the Red drum. Basically you'll enter your harvest report. It will be generated immediately upon take and confirmation will be received after the report is submitted and then it will upload upon network availability. Now, for Red drum, as we indicated at the August Meeting, we will not have to place a physical tag on the Red drum because as we worked with Enforcement, the belief is that for fishing and with Red drum, they typically -- you're within sight distance of your animal that you have and you would be tagging.

So then Exhibit C basically allows for the digital tagging of deer and turkey. Again, the harvest report generated immediately upon take and confirmation will be received and if it's just -- if confirmation is received, then all you have to do is legibly write out on a durable medium of some sort and attach that to the carcass, just the confirmation number. If for some reason we are out of internet connectivity at that point in time, you would be asked to put a little more information on that hunter document, with your first and last name, customer number of the license holder, and the date and time of harvest, and then, of course, it will upload upon network availability.

In the public comment portal this time around, we received one comment in support of digital tagging. Five were in opposition. None of the opposition really told us why they would be opposing. I can only speculate that there may be some confusion that this would somehow be mandatory and it's not a voluntary system; but, again, that's just my speculation at the moment and certainly as we go to outreach this, we will make that abundantly clear that it's a voluntary opportunity.

With that, that would be the motion that I would be sharing with you tomorrow. So I'd be happy to answer any questions that you may have at this time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Questions for Robin?

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Just a statement.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Excuse me. I think you brought the point and you made it very clear, Robin, but I think it's very important that we do get that information out in plenty of advance notice time so that nobody can act like or think that they're not getting timely stuff and I know you pay very close attention to that, but I think that's very important.

MR. RIECHERS: We'll certainly do that.


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So two questions. One, you would -- you would enter the -- either the fish or the deer and it would send you back a digital number that you just affix by duct tape or any form of...

MR. RIECHERS: That's exactly correct. It will come back with a confirmation number. That will be the only number you have to write on there and whatever tag or mechanism you may use, then you attach that to your deer or turkey in this case.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Great. And are you contemplating doing this MLD permits?

MR. RIECHERS: I don't -- Stormy, do you want to help us with that one?



The answer's no. Sorry.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody else?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. On the -- I guess my question is more related to Red drum. So could you give me an example exactly of what the alternative medium is going to be that you're going to write the number? I'm just trying to figure out how that's going to work.

MR. RIECHERS: Yeah. For Red drum, we're not going to have any medium. If you punch it into your phone and you can show the warden that you've punched it into your phone, you don't have to attach anything to the animal.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, great. And then with respect to getting -- I guess you're entitled to then get a second tag after you burn your first tag in the paper scenario. I've never actually had the opportunity to do that. But how did you do that in the old -- or how do you do that on the paper medium and then I guess if it's digital, you would probably immediately be able to fish for a second big Red drum; is that right?

MR. RIECHERS: That is correct. Actually our ability to track that will be a little bit better in this digital framework, as well. They will -- you know, they will have to have submitted one, you know, report of one fish over 28 inches and then they could receive another. Currently they basically go to a license deputy and ask for another tag.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. And then I guess the -- I should know this, but is the -- and then you basically get two tags during the course of a time period, but I guess I don't know what -- is the time period a calendar year or is it through August 31st of your license year?

MR. RIECHERS: If you buy a regular license year license, then you would have -- it just runs from September 1 through August 31st. If you're buying a year-from-date-of-purchase, then it would run to the date of purchase.


MR. RIECHERS: I'm sorry?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I guess it depends?


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. Okay, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Robin, how are we dealing with stamps if there's no license? How are we dealing with duck stamp?

MR. RIECHERS: And we certainly had some discussion of that in August. The duck stamp does -- is problematic in this issuance as we talked about before. The exemption to having a duck stamp affixed to an actual license, it -- there's not an exemption.

There's 60 days, Stormy; is that correct?

MR. KING: Forty-five.

MR. RIECHERS: Forty-five days where you don't have to have that or show that. But then after that period of time, there would need -- you know, there would need -- it would need to be affixed somehow. The law basically would have to be changed, the federal law would have to be changed to create some sort of digital mechanism. And while the American Fish and Wildlife Association, which includes all of the state agencies who have -- you know, who are similar to us, are working to try to effect that change; but it's a work in progress.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So elaborate. You buy a combo hunting and fishing, you buy your federal duck stamp, the law's the law.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: What does that guy or gal do?

MR. RIECHERS: The most risk-averse approach would be to buy a paper license and affix it to the paper license.


MR. KING: Good morning, everyone. Stormy King, for the record, with Law Enforcement. Shoot that question at me one more time, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: You get a digital hunting and fishing combo, you want to go duck hunting, you need a federal duck stamp, duck stamp is supposed to be attached. I understand we're working on it, but what does the person in the field do and what is our thought on it? The guys -- the guy or gal's got the electric digital, they have their duck stamp; but it's not attached. Are we going to recognize that? Do we know what the federal game wardens are going -- what does that person do?

MR. KING: Well, first, there's no actual requirement that it be affixed. That's a bit of a myth, I guess, for lack of a better term. So as long as you have verification that you've acquired a federal duck stamp, you're good on our side. On the federal enforcement side, they allow a 45-day window to provide electronic verification. After that, they require you have the stamp on your person. As an enforcement practice, we honor that digital verification throughout the --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But it doesn't have to be attached? So the fact --

MR. KING: It does not -- it's not a requirement.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- that we no longer have a paper tag --

MR. KING: No, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- doesn't change that. You just need the signed duck stamp in your pocket?

MR. KING: Correct.


MR. KING: Or electronic verification to satisfy it. Now to satisfy a federal game warden after 45 days, they're going to want to see that paper stamp; but it -- I don't see this posing any challenges to us in enforcing that federal duck stamp regulation.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Any other questions by any Commissioners?

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

Work Session Item No. 6, Proposed Amendments to the Exotic Harmful/Potential Harmful Fish, Shellfish, Aquatic Plant Rules, Recommended Adoption Proposed Changes. Monica, hello. You're up.

MS. MCGARRITY: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Monica McGarrity and I'm the Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species Management in the Inland Fisheries Division. Today I'll be presenting on proposed amendments to the exotic harmful or potentially harmful fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants rules, which were presented to the Commission in August.

Aquatic invasive species harm ecosystems, recreation, the economy, and even human health and quality of life. Parks and Wildlife statutes establish prohibitions against activities involving these species and give the Commission the authority to regulate their legal possession and use. TPWD regulations for these exotic species, as is the case in most states, take the form of a prohibited species list and the primary focus is prevention. Only a few of the listed species are allowed for use. And ultimately the goal of the regulation is to prevent introduction or escape and subsequent impacts.

The proposed changes to the exotic species rules would clarify that the permits are specific to the ponds for which they were issued, instead of permit period of validity of 18 months for Triploid grass carp stocking permits. Currently those permits don't expire until all authorized fish have been purchased. However, recent rule changes that no longer require sellers to provide copies of their transport invoices to the Department, make it such that permit expiration can't be determined and thus these permits must be archived by the Department indefinitely. Having an expiration date will also prevent potential reuse of the permits, which are issued as a digital PDF and could potentially be reprinted.

The 18-month timeframe was selected to allow for adaptive management, as some fish can be stocked during the first year, followed by the remaining fish in the second year if needed. This applies to the permit period during which the fish can actually be stocked, after which the sales transport invoice and proof of their Triploid status that are required to be retained, provide that proof of lawful possession.

The rules also allow for and clarify the process for lawful transfer of these long-lived fish with the transfer of a property to new ownership, specifying that the documentation required for possession be transferred to the new owner. Under the current rules, there is no exception to allow for such transfers of Triploid grass carp, which are necessitated by property transfers. The proposed rules also clarify rules on harvest of Triploid grass carp from stocked public waters. The changes remove mention of harvest after permit expiration date because 18 months is not adequate for the fish to do their full work of aquatic vegetation management.

The changes also more accurately describe the process whereby the Department lists on the website waterbodies from which Triploid grass carp may not be taken because they're still needed for vegetation management versus specifically authorizing removal, as is noted in the current regulations.

The Department sought to solicit feedback from the regulated community through multiple actions. An e-mail notice of the opportunity to comment summarizing the proposed rules was e-mailed to nearly 5,000 individuals who had obtained Triploid grass carp stocking permits during the past five years, as well as to 35 permitted Triploid grass carp sellers. This same notice was also shared with pond managers, many of which are the permitted sellers via the Texas Aquatic Plant Management Society newsletter.

And finally, a presentation on the proposed rule changes was provided at the October 12th meeting of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Advisory Committee. A total of 26 public comments were received, with twenty disagreeing with the proposed rules, four agreeing, and two expressing no opinion. Specific comments received from 17 individuals primarily objected to the proposed 18-month period of validity as inadequate. The comments noted that longer time may be needed to determine the effectiveness of an initial partial stocking or that they implemented a phased stocking approach over the course of a longer period of time. It was also noted that some individuals had experienced delays, some longer than 18 months, in actually obtaining the Triploid grass carp to be stocked due to issues related to freeze or drought, which had exacerbated supply issues.

Two commented with concerns that existing permits should be exempt from the period of validity. We would note this is simply a misunderstanding as the proposed rule changes would not affect any existing permits. Only those issued after the effective date of the proposed rules. One individual commented that requiring transfer of Triploid grass carp documentation with the sale of the property to a new owner, reaped problematic as it would require verifying whether the fish are still alive. However, individuals in possession of these fish are currently required to retain this documentation for the life of the fish and so should have this documentation in their possession if this believe the fish to be alive. Thus, transfer of this documentation should be feasible and the intent of the rule is simply to provide a lawful means for these fish to be transferred to a new owner with property transfer that's not currently available to them at this time.

One individual commented that the economics of this proposal to private landowners is detrimental and not taken into consideration, without providing any specifics; but mentioning the potential refunding of the $2 per fish fee for fish not stocked during the permit period of validity. Individuals wishing to stock Triploid grass carp over a period longer than the permit period of validity, would need to obtain another permit at a base administrative cost of $27.

As I'll discuss in our proposed response to public comment, we believe that the possible need for multiple permits and associated costs can be addressed by reducing the -- reduced by addressing the proposed permit period of validity. With regards to refunding of the per fish fees, permit applicants will be aware of the period of validity at the time of application and so they will be able to seek a permit for the correct number of fish for that time period such that refunds would not be needed.

One commented related to the proposed change to enable Triploid grass crap to be lawfully transferred with property transfer, that there's not a need to retain documentation of lawful possession. However, this is not a new requirement and it's merely reiterated here for -- with regards to property transfers.

Of the 19 individuals disagreeing with the proposed rules, 17 provided feedback specific to the period of validity duration or provided details on how they stock these fish over time that we could use to generate an estimate of the time they believed a permit would be needed. Nearly half simply indicated that 18 months was inadequate without proposing an alternative and the alternative periods proposed ranged from two to five years. Feedback from the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Advisory Committee advised that three years is a reasonable duration and it was noted that pond managers typically do not advise extending the stocking of Triploid grass carp over a longer time period than three years.

In response to the feedback received on the proposed rule changes, staff recommend amending the proposed rule to extend the permit period of validity to three years. We believe this duration would take into consideration the state of need of respondents. Extending the period to two years was considered, but adding a six-month extension would likely only add fall and winter months to the permit period of validity, a time during which these fish are typically not stocked. The proposed addition -- change to three years, would add an another entire spring and summer stocking season.

The proposed amendment would both address administrative needs related to indefinite permit archiving and accommodate the needs of the regulated community, including reducing the potential need for multiple permits with that associated $27 fee.

That concludes my presentation, and I'd be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any questions anyone?

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

MS. MCGARRITY: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 7, Implementation of Legislation During the 87th Texas Legislative Session, House Bill 1927, Related to the Provisions Governing the Carrying of a Firearm, Request Permission to Publish in the Texas Register. Mr. Sosa, welcome.

MR. SOSA: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Luis Sosa. I am the Chief of Staff for the Law Enforcement Division. I'm here today to request permission to publish proposed amendments to the rules governing the possession -- sorry -- possession, display, and use of firearms on state parks, wildlife management areas, and coastal management areas in response to the passage of House Bill of 1927 during the regular session of the 87th Texas Legislature.

Under the provisions of House Bill 1927, a person 21 years of age or older who is not otherwise prohibited by state of federal law from possessing a firearm, may carry a handgun provided it is concealed or in a holster without a permit in any location where such possession is not expressly prohibited by statute or prohibited pursuant to statutory authority granted by statute. Under the provisions of House Bill 1927, the Commission does not have the authority to establish regulations to modify or prohibit the affect of this bill.

Provisions of House Bill 1927 impact current Department rules governing the possession and display of handguns by visitors to state parks, wildlife management areas, and coastal management areas. Regarding state parks under our current rules, it is an offense for a person to display a firearm, even if it is partially or wholly visible and holstered, in a state park unless the person is participating in a public hunting activity within the state park and has been authorized by the Department or the person is licensed to carry.

Regarding wildlife management areas under our current rules, it is an offense for a person to possess a firearm on public lands unless a person is authorized to hunt, conduct research in the area, is a commissioned peace officer, or is a Department employee performing official duties. Regarding coastal management areas under our current rules, it is an offense for a person to display a firearm except while hunting migratory game birds. Regarding all other Department offices and facilities, there is no regulatory action necessary for them.

The proposed amendments, which have been provided to you, would alter our current rules to the effect of ensuring the Department regulations regarding the possession and display of handguns in state parks, wildlife management areas, and coastal management areas do not conflict with the provisions of House Bill 1927. Thank you for your consideration regarding this proposal. At this time, I'd be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any questions for Luis?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: I have -- how do long guns fall into the House Bill 1927? Is it just handguns?

MR. SOSA: So right now we're addressing regulations that would prohibit the display of handguns and long guns in certain areas and we're separating the two. We're not changing our rules regarding long guns. Just handguns and the display of it.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. Do we have any information or record on incidents we've had at state parks with handguns that we need to be aware of?

MR. SOSA: Not with me, sir. Now, we can -- I can ask our colleagues with State Parks to see if they have any information; but we have reached out to 21 other states with similar rules, and they have not seen an increase in complaints or incidents related to the display of a handgun.

COMMISSIONER BELL: I mean, I just wanted to make sure we're just being cautious and careful.

MR. SOSA: Yes, sir. Absolutely.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: If no further questions, I'll authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

MR. SOSA: Thank you.


Work Session Item No. 8, Chronic Wasting Disease, Disease Detection and Response, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Mr. Mitch Lockwood. Hello, Mitch.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood. I'm the Big Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. Tomorrow, staff will seek adoption of proposed amendments to the comprehensive CWD rules and these amendments are important because as you've heard on a number of occasions, the epidemiology of the situation that we've been dealing with since the spring suggests that our comprehensive CWD rules that were adopted in June of 2016 were not effective at achieving our goals of early detection and containment of this disease.

We believe that many of the shortcomings can been addressed by enhancing surveillance requirements for deer breeding facilities. And as you know, we've had several stakeholder meetings over the past few months to discuss this situation and how we might enhance the program to reduce the probability that we'll end up here again in the future. Over the course of five meetings with the CWD Task Force, as you can imagine, many ideas surfaced on how we may accomplish this, which led to the publication of the proposed amendments that we'll discuss this morning.

Now, I'll begin with a group of amendments that are intended to increase the odds of early detection of this disease and to further reduce the likelihood of exposing additional deer breeding facilities to CWD. For starters, staff recommend the requirement of two tissues for CW -- to the diagnostic lab for CWD testing. The current rules require deer breeders to submit either the obex, which is the brain stem, or medial retropharyngeal lymph nodes for testing; but because of differences in the test sensitivity between these two tissues, we now recommend that both tissues be submitted.

Staff also recommend to reduce the timeframe from the death of a breeder deer and reporting that death and submitting those tissue samples to the diagnostic lab from 14 days to 7 days. Also proposed is an increase in the minimum surveillance requirement from 3.6 to 5 percent of the test eligible herd and to increase the requirement for testing test eligible moralities from 80 to 100 percent and to reduce the test eligible age from 16 to 12 months. In addition to helping us achieve early detection and containment of this disease, all of these amendments -- if adopted -- would provide consistency now between our rules and Texas Animal Health Commission's rules for their CWD Herd Certification Program.

Now, following a recommendation of USDA's Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health, we propose to increase the antemortem substitution rate from three to one to five for one. Now, what this means is if a deer breeder fails to test a test eligible mortality, then five not-detected antemortem test results for deer that are in the facility may be substituted for that missing postmortem test result. And I'll -- to reiterate an important point that I shared with you in December, we do not intend for anyone to ever intentionally miss a mortality, to ever intentionally not test a test eligible mortality. Understanding that there will be some extraordinary circumstances that make this impossible to achieve for some. Therefore, antemortem substitution can be utilized for those circumstances and only for those extraordinary circumstances.

The proposal would allow the Department -- the proposal would allow the Department to refuse renewal, permit renewal, to individuals who demonstrate a pattern of relying on antemortem test samples as substitutions in lieu of testing their mortalities. Specifically we propose that anyone who has to use antemortem substitutions for more than 30 percent of the mortalities for more than two years be in jeopardy of not having the permit renewed. Also, anyone who intentionally avoids postmortem testing any test eligible mortality would be in violation.

Staff also recommend that the test eligible age for antemortem testing be 12 months as well, with one exception that I'll address in the next slide, and to limit antemortem testing of a deer to one time within a 12-month period. Now, the current rules limit antemortem testing a single deer to one time within a 24-month period; but we're reducing -- we're proposing to reduce that to 12 months with three exceptions. First of all, any time a whole herd test is required, then the whole herd must be tested. So that would include deer that have been tested within the past 12 months. Another exception would be if there are not enough deer in the facility to otherwise meet the antemortem testing requirements, then they would be allowed to test deer that were tested within the previous 12 months; but, again, not before testing all other test eligible deer in the facility. And finally, and likewise to that previous exception, we also propose to allow deer as young as six months of age to be tested to help achieve these testing quotas; but, again, that's provided that all deer at least 12 months of age have been tested as well.

Now, when whole herd testing is required, the emergency rules allow for up to 10 percent of the test results to be inconclusive and now this would typically happen for samples that don't have a sufficient number or lymphoid follicles and we -- and this 10 percent allowance, if you will, applies to any facility that has more than ten deer in the facility. We propose to maintain that allowance in the comprehensive CWD rules.

Now, a component of the emergency rules and a component of this proposal without a doubt that have drawn the most opposition has been a requirement for a not-detected antemortem test result to be submitted for any deer that's to be transferred to a release site. As you know, staff believe this to a critical component of this proposal, as the two index facilities from this past spring were already following all of the proposed amendments that I just shared with you, with one exception. One of those facilities did not submit samples for testing as timely as we proposed; but regardless of the fact that they were meeting all those other proposed changes here, this disease still went undetected in those facilities for -- in the previous permit year and at least some exerts on this suggest for even a longer period than that. This antemortem testing requirement of deer prior to release almost certainly would have detected this disease much sooner in both of those facilities.

Now, the one exception, on the previous slide I mentioned that we propose a test eligible age be 12 months not only for postmortem tests, but also for antemortem tests and I mentioned there would be one exception and that comes to this -- this component of the proposal here, when testing deer for release. Deer as young as six months of age can be tested when they're to be transferred to a release site.

Another measure intended to close some of the CWD surveillance gaps in the program is to consider escapes as mortalities and, therefore, be factored into the equation when determining how many postmortem test results are required. Something that the CWD Task Force felt very strongly about was limiting the number of breeding facilities that a nursing facility could receive fawns from in a given season to one. Co-ming -- co-mingling of deer from different facilities has long been a concern of this Department, as well as Texas Animal Health Commission. We also recommend to maintain the management strategies for trace and Tier 1 facilities that are currently in the emergency rules.

Additionally, we recommend some housekeeping amendments. Most notably would be the deletion of the Transfer or TC categories for breeding facilities and the comparable status for release sites. Now, when we published this proposal, we believed most -- we believed those to be obsolete, but we've since realized that's not the case across the board and you'll see some recommended corrections to the proposed rules with my next slide.

Now, moving away from rules pertaining to deer breeding, many stakeholders have recommended a suspension of the Triple T Program until it can be thoroughly evaluated and determined if the program may resume without adding risk for disease transmission. Staff do concur with this recommendation; but as we've discussed, we are committed to dive into this into the very near future with plans to come back to you with recommendations prior to next year's Triple T season, potentially as early as January and certainly no later than the March Commission Meeting.

Another recommendation heard from many stakeholders, which staff agree with, is prohibiting what is commonly referred to -- commonly referred to as the DMP Rent-a-Buck Program. Meaning that a breeder buck would not be allowed to return to a breeding facility after being utilized in a DMP facility, but rather released to the adjacent release site. I'd like to step back to two bullet points on this slide, if I may, and I realize that I overlooked this bullet when discussing the Triple T Program.

We do propose to -- the current -- the current rules prohibit the transfer of deer by a Triple T permit from any site that's received breeder deer within the previous five years and because of this concern that we have that this disease has gone undetected in these facilities for quite some time and the concern that this disease quite likely has been released out there onto some release sites, we believe that that five-year timeframe is insufficient and we do propose to not allow Triple T's from sites that have received breeder deer in the past.

Now, finally, you're all aware that we have carcass movement restrictions for CWD zones. We'd like to encourage similar precaution statewide and staff intend to embark on an education campaign to encourage hunters to follow responsible carcass disposal methods and to facilitate this, we propose changes to the proof of sex requirements to allow for the sex organs accompanied by the tail to serve as proof of sex and species for does. Now, we chose to focus on doe deer right now because it's simple to address in the short term; but later this morning in a statewide purview of the potential White-tailed deer regulation changes, Alan Cain will share with you a potential proof of sex option that would apply to bucks, which might be considered in the spring.

Finally, staff recommend the proposed amendments be adopted with a few corrections because as I stated in the previous slide, we noticed some inadvertent omissions from this proposal. The elimination of those Transfer categories for breeding facilities and the associated statuses for release sites that we made as part of some housekeeping changes, that created a void in these rules. The preamble captures our intent; but there is an inadvert -- an inadvertent omission in the rule text. The recommended adoption -- the recommended adoption includes corrections to address this void, specifically the surveillance requirements should apply to trace-in facilities as well, not just the trace-out facilities and Tier 1 facilities, and should apply to all sites currently classified as Class 3 release sites.

The proposal -- the proposal would prohibit the movement of deer from facilities that receive a CWD -- that -- excuse me. It would prohibit the movement of deer from facilities that receive a CWD suspect test result and this should be clarified to include facilities that receive a CWD positive test result as well. And staff -- staff do though propose an exception to that prohibition. We recommend that the proposal be amended to allow for herd plans to authorize exceptions to that.

And finally, staff would like to clarify that the 30 percent limit on the use of antemortem test samples as substitutes apply only to those substituting for test results -- apply only to those substituting for test results not obtained for mortalities and does not apply to those who do test all their mortalities, but they still need some antemortem substitutes or antemortem test results to meet that 5 percent minimum testing requirement. That's based on some feedback that we received from deer breeders who were reviewing this proposal and we thought that was some really good feedback and we proposed to make this clarification to the proposal as well.

Now, as I just a few minutes ago -- this slide that I have before you regarding public comment is going to constantly be outdated. We're receiving comments hourly or actually by the minute and just as few months ago -- minutes ago, we had 1,849 comments on this proposal, with 60 percent completely agreeing with this proposal, 29 percent completely disagreeing with this proposal, and 11 percent disagreeing specifically on some component of the proposal.

Now, obviously, this is just to provide a pretty broad level overview of the comments we've received. On my next few slides, I'll show you some common themes, if you will, for reasons for opposition. But as far as specific comments made, I believe each of you received the raw comments that we've received through the weekend, I believe Monday morning, and I believe there's a plan to make sure y'all receive the balance of comments that have been received since then prior to next morning's meeting.

Now, as I shared on a previous slide, you know, this proposed amendment that's drawn the most opposition is the requirement for a not-detected antemortem test result for deer prior to being released. Some outright oppose this requirement. While others oppose it under specific circumstances, such as when releasing deer to an adjacent property under the same ownership or when the source facility is not a trace-out or Tier 1 facility or when the source herd is considered to be a closed herd -- in other words, hasn't brought deer into the facility for several years -- or when the source herd has a certified status with Texas Animal Health Commission's Herd Certification Program.

And, of course, the two index facilities this past spring were not connected to any other positive facilities. They had been closed for several years. And they did have fourth-year and certified status in Texas Animal Health Commission's Herd Certification Program, which has a lot to do with these proposed amendments that we're going through this morning. Also since the emergency rules with this particular requirement went into effect, antemortem testing did lead to the discovery of this disease in a seventh deer breeding facility this year and a thirteenth deer breeding facility overall and that particular deer breeder was preparing to release deer onto his own adjacent property.

Some have expressed that they need more time for submitting samples to the lab and for removing CWD exposed animals from the herd. Some have expressed that the 100 percent testing of mortalities in the facility is overly burdensome and that this requirement and other requirements within this proposal are too costly. Then there have been several who were not opposed to the rules pertaining to enhancing the surveillance requirements or reducing the risk associated with the breeding facilities, but who objected to some other component of the proposal. In fact, about 25 percent of those who disagreed -- as of yesterday -- of those who disagreed with specifically with some component of the proposal, actually were not opposed to the components that were enhancing the surveillance requirements for the deer breeding facilities. A good number of them opposed the temporary suspension, the proposed temporary suspension, of the Triple T Program. And then some also proposed that -- I mean, commented that Triple T should be allowed from breeder deer release sites.

It seems that some of these commenters believe that the -- that this proposal with regard to the Triple T is an elimination of the program. And as I shared with you this morning, that's not staff's intent at all. This is intended to be a temporary extension -- excuse me, suspension until we can develop some program rules to reduce some risks that currently exist out there. But, again, we plan to come back to this Commission prior to the next Triple T season and we believe no later than the March Commission Meeting with some recommendations there.

Then there were some commenters who object to the proposal because they simply object to the practice of deer breeding. More specifically, some believe or object to the release of pen-raised deer into free-ranging populations where they my co-mingle with native deer. And then there were some commenters who actually think the Triple T Program should be suspended; but not just the Triple T Program, but the TT Program -- TTP Program as well. And then there were some comments that visible IDs should be required for liberated breeder deer.

Now, we've received letters of support from at least 25 conservation organizations around the state and around the country. I won't name them all; but as I advance through these next few slides, just to give you idea of where this support is coming from. I'm not aware of any letters of opposition that we've received from any conservation organization.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my presentation. I'll be glad to entertain any questions that you might have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mitch.

Who wants to start?

I'm assuming you got a bunch of -- we got letters from the -- in support from the conservation groups and you listed them. I'm assuming we also got letters not in support from the official breeder groups, correct?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I have not seen those letters, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Well, I'm certain that's how they feel. So anyway, maybe we didn't get a letter; but --

MR. LOCKWOOD: We -- I do know for a fact, Mr. Chairman, that representatives and leadership for those organizations, for both Deer Breeder Corporation and Texas Deer Association, did, indeed, individually submit comments in opposition to the proposed changes.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Yeah. And I see John and Kevin, so I know. I just wanted -- wanted everybody to hear that.

Who's got questions for Mitch?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: All right. Patton. Patton. On the -- with respect to Triple T, the -- the use of the word -- and I didn't really see this until I made my own public comment, which I thought was a useful exercise and wish I had done prior to this issue, but seeing the language inserted of not -- and I guess it's only going to matter if it's not suspended or if it's brought back, but proposed language that we're not going to -- this Department is not going to allow Triple T from land where there's ever been a breeder deer, is -- that was kind of news to me. It seemed like a new addition and a good use of the word "ever," as opposed to a limited timeframe.

Can you tell me where that came from or how it originated or -- I -- quite frankly, I was surprised when I read it.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Sure, Commissioner. I don't recall the time in which that was -- that -- that first started being discussed. It certainly has been discussed for quite some time though and the reason for that is, as I shared with you, we have a lot of concern that this disease -- that the likelihood that this disease has been released onto release sites is pretty high. And the fact is, is that last we checked, about three-quarters of all trace-out deer just from this spring's situation, have not been tested and likely almost all of those won't be test -- I'll just say a high percentage of those won't be tested because they're not available for testing anymore. They were placed on release sites. Some of them were harvested. Some of them died of natural causes. Some of them still live, but don't have identification except for potentially a tattoo. And so we do believe that there's -- not just from this year, but potentially even in previous -- from the past, this disease very well may be on some -- released to release sites and the five years, really there's no science to support that five-year limit. In fact, the reality is, is that for any release site where the disease exists, six years later is a much greater risk of spreading that disease than one year later and every year that passes, the risk increases and increases and increases because the prevalence increases through time if it's left unmanaged. And so just simply put, the longer we wait, the more risk there is to transmitting that disease from a release site.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. Well, and part of, I guess, another related aspect of this is, you know, you certify that there's no economic impact to the proposed change of the rule; is that correct?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Department staff did certify that. Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: If someone can't Triple T from a property forever, whether they knew or didn't know that breeder deer were released there, seems to me would cause an economic impact. Do you -- do you agree or disagree with that?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, I -- Commissioner, I don't share that same perspective; but, I mean, I certainly respect that perspective. I just -- I don't share that perspective.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Is there any number -- you kind of gave us some general, I guess, maybe percentage of percentage; but how many comments specifically related to Triple T were in favor of not suspending -- I don't want to use double negatives. Basically in support of Triple T versus those that were not in support of Triple T, can you -- can you be that specific?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I don't know that number overall; but of the 11 -- as of yesterday afternoon, it was about 12 percent of the commenters that disagreed specifically on some component, 12 percent of those were opposed specifically to the suspension of the Triple T Program.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So is that kind of 12 percent of 1,800?

MR. LOCKWOOD: No, sir. It's more like 12 percent of 12 percent of 1,800.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. All right, thank you.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: 25 percent -- so I was a little confused. The 25 percent of the people that commented totally opposed or specifically opposed were referring to something other than antemortem testing?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Specifically opposed.


MR. LOCKWOOD: Opposed specific -- to some specific component.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. So there's your 25 percent of 11 percent?




CHAIRMAN APLIN: So that takes the 59 or 60 to 62 or three or somewhere in that range. Okay. You know, Bobby brings up the -- just stay on it before I ask any other Commissioners if they have any other questions; but he brings up the -- the Triple T Program in general, we're discussing putting that on hold, if you will, until we can come up with a new and improved better Triple T system. I think most people acknowledge that it's a good tool. But the prohibiting of Triple T from -- from ranches that have received breeder deer in the past, it used to be five years and now it's indefinite, at least that's your proposal.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: And then you told us the risk actually goes up. I think I'd like to understand that. I mean, with Commissioner Patton, forever is a long time. I was there was a way to let those people get out of the trap if they're there; but we're going to have to elaborate and discuss that because that may take some thought.

Anybody -- anybody CWD questions? James?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: No. Abell. I agree with you. I think -- I think we need some alternative to forever.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So, Hildebrand. A couple of questions on Triple T. One is what data -- if you can kind of walk me through, what data are you going to use next year that would give you the confidence that you could continue the Triple T Program? Just, as you know, once a regulation is put in place, very seldom does it come off and so what is the vehicle or the mechanism whereby we can restore Triple T? What data are you going to use?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I think most recognize -- and thank you for that, Commissioner. I think most recognize that requiring 15 not-detected test results in a single year from a trap site really does not provide a lot of confidence that we would not be permitting the transmission of this disease from a site. I think some of what I've heard -- and I don't want to speculate on, you know, some of the input we might receive from stakeholders as we revisit this discussion here in the next several weeks; but some ideas that have surfaced, as you can imagine, I have -- I received a lot of input over the phone on things like this too and I think enhanced surveillance for those trap sites is certainly going to be a component. I think -- and "enhanced" might mean more than 15 samples in a year. It might mean successive years and I should say "and/or." It might mean successive years of surveillance because a single year isn't providing the confidence and/or there certainly has been some recommendations coming to the Department for some antemortem testing requirements prior to release and there could be some other ideas that surface; but I definitely think it would involve some enhanced surveillance over the current rules.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Well, I mean, specifically the Triple T, those are breeder sites that you're speaking of, I assume; but you're not increasing your testing of free-ranging deer at all and so there's no ability to determine on a ranch as to what's -- what is the likelihood of CWD. So I just I don't understand how you're going to reinstate it at some point because you're not really using any data from these ranches -- not breeder sites, ranches -- that depend upon Triple T for deer management techniques. So can you help me with that?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I may not understand the comment, Commissioner. Perhaps I've done a poor job of helping articulate where the surveillance would come from. These aren't breeder release sites. In fact, we propose that breeder release sites not be eligible for Triple T. But these are ranches. They may be high-fenced. They may be low-fenced. And keep in mind that the release sites where they go to, may be high-fenced, may be low-fenced and in some of the cases that we've heard about, some of the more common comments that we've received has been to help individuals or properties in which -- you know, that have suffered severe outbreaks of anthrax, for example. And so in places like that, in large part, these are going to low-fenced sites and so that elevates that risk. If this disease is being transmitted, it's elevating that risk to not only that immediate release site; but all the neighboring sites as well.

There's some pretty -- you may be impressed with some data that's been published from Triple T projects and show the movement of these deer when they're not confined by high fence. Large-scale movements of these deer and in many -- some cases, you know, back to the trap site many miles. So I digressed a little bit.

So back to the surveillance requirements, they would come from the trap site and currently the requirement of 15 deer is from that site. So basically what we're talking about -- and forgive me if I misunderstand the question -- but is enhancing that number to provide some more confidence that that trap site does not have CWD. You know, I think a good example and this ties back into the other comments received about the concern for an indefinite period of time in which this would not be allowed for a breeder deer release site, you can have deer -- as we've discussed before, you can have deer that are released that have been exposed to this disease that don't yet test positive and it may be next year, it may be a couple years later before they're going to test positive.

Now, let's say one deer was released and let's say that deer was harvested in the first year and it was shedding this disease; but the other deer in that population begin to get exposed through that environmental contamination through time. They're not going to test positive next year and I'd be willing to bet a steak dinner they're not going to test positive in the next five years; but as time passes, you have more animals getting exposed. You have the prevalence of this disease increasing and then through time, the likelihood that the animal tests positive increases.

So it could be -- back to your question about what would this look like, what would these enhanced requirements look like if we considered an alternate to the current proposed restriction on breeder deer release sites, it might be that the surveillance requirements are substantially higher for a site like that than they are for other trap sites in the State of Texas to address that elevated concern.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Mitch, Commissioner Bell. Just it seems that -- is there a way that we could maybe put -- let's call it triggers on both ends, that we could say a facility that had the absence of the detection for -- and let's determine a period of time or a frequency -- that they would be clear for movement? The flip-side of that would be another trigger that would say if we have X amount of activity or any kind of detection in any proximity, that that would limit that; so that there's not -- because the one end of this just -- it doesn't -- it seems like never ending store. We can't -- we really -- the explanation, while I appreciate it, seems like it's making it difficult to say anything other than, you know, eventually something is going to happen and so because eventually something's going to happen, we're going to stop all of this other activity. Which, I mean, on one hand that's wise and prudent; but it doesn't seem feasible for people that are trying to do operations and if we're trying to balance this out because we're not 100 percent certain, what could the -- some people -- I mean, the popular term now, "the science," what would the science say on one end about if we have some detection, let's limit it; if we haven't had detection for a period of time, let's -- let's -- let's open things up. Is that -- does that make sense, the question or the comment?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, it does. And it's -- basically, you bring up really what's been very difficult through this whole process in developing this proposal because we look to the science and so many expect us to base this on science. But the reason this is so difficult is because we're trying to come up with a program that the science really doesn't support. The movement of animals creates risk and in some cases, substantial risk; but as you alluded to, we're not going to settle on a zero risk approach, at least that's been our approach to date. And so it's what level of risk are we willing to accept and so that's -- I guess that's kind of the crux of the situation, but the science certainly indicates that there's a lot of risk with -- when we're putting hands -- deer in trailer and moving deer around the state. And so we've developed a program to try and -- we've developed a proposal, rather, to try and enhance the program to reduce that risk as much as possible.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: If I may. It really kind of -- part and parcel to what Commissioner Hildebrand said and Bell and others maybe have said or thinking; but, Jeff, I don't know what they're going to come up with, but I believe that we've asked staff to go off with posthaste and try to figure out a new and improved Triple T Program because it is a highly valuable tool. It's a great way of stocking ranches that have had -- by disease or whatever that have lost most of their animals. It's just a wonderful program.

So to accomplish that, we've asked Mitch and group to report back as early as January and no later than March so this thing doesn't become ever green. I don't know what he's going to come back with, but I'm hopeful that we can come back with an overall inclusive plan that makes the Triple T a safer and better tool.

So I guess my comment to you on that would be I'm hoping in January we're sitting here hearing what they think. Not three Januarys from now. The coming January or March at the absolute latest.

One thing that I think they're going to come up that's really important in my mind is to get the message out, is all of those people that have and ranches that have been doing their postmortem testing, to remain current and to be available in the Triple T Program and have been doing this 15 deer a year. I would encourage anybody if they can wrap their mind around continuing testing, even though the program is temporarily suspended, to continue because it's going to really give us a comfort level and database when you stack year on top of year on top of year of ranches that have tested; but there's no obligation and we don't know how many points that puts you in the good category. But I look at it as a -- as a -- as good data.

And in regards to data and this entire disease -- and it's just a terrible thing -- but in regard to all of that, we've also asked the group, the scientists, the epidemiologists, Texas Parks and Wildlife, what can we do to expand the data statewide, not just Triple T, not just breeders, what can we do to gain even more data to help keep us focused and keep this thing from spreading? And so I hope to hear recommendations in January also about that. Where can we bring other groups, other parties, whether it's a voluntary, mandatory -- as you know, we -- I don't know if they know or not. Has anybody seen the -- we put out a survey and there's quite a few people -- as a matter of fact, 27 percent of the tests that we have now -- am I right, 27 percent?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Came voluntarily from people that are in the MLDP Program. So there's a good group already that are willing to voluntarily do it and so we want to kind of skin that cat and see if we can figure out some ways to expand the database, whether it's voluntarily or not, through whichever group of people. So I think we're committed to bring all that back to us very, very soon.

And who else? Blake?

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Is that 27 percent number this year or is that a historical number that 27 percent are coming from MLD holders?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Last -- last year, 27 percent of all samples collected of all samples from road kills and hunter-harvested deer came from MLDP properties. I don't know what the annual -- what that number is on an annual basis, but that's last year.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: And what was the feedback that y'all received from the survey that was sent out from -- that was sent out, I guess, a month or two ago?

MR. LOCKWOOD: About 54 percent indicated they would support -- they would voluntarily provide samples and about 25 percent indicated they already have been providing samples. So about a quarter of the participants have provided samples, which is a little different than 27 percent of the samples come from ML -- last year came from MLDP properties. And --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But it's mixed, Blake. I mean, the majority said they would -- they would participate and there were some that said, no, you're asking too much of us, we don't want to do it. But the majority said they would participate.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: I would think some form of continued encouragement -- I mean, just speaking personally, I responded that we would do it and we would and will; but it's not the most convenient thing and I don't know how we continue to encourage people that they really are helping by doing so.

MR. LOCKWOOD: One -- one of the -- one of the encouragements, if you will, that we've considered and we even alluded to in this survey was to allow this to serve as one of the three required practices. Based on the responses that I recall, it didn't seem to be a carrot that a whole lot bit off on. But I think just it wasn't adding much -- I don't think it was going to add much, many samples, to what would already voluntarily be provided; but we'll -- it's a good point. We need to consider additional ways that we might be able to get some additional sampling there.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And, you know, the MLDP is a great tool for the rancher. It's also a great tool for the environment and for the resource. I mean, there's commitments, responsibilities to be in that -- in that group. And we -- and there's a bunch of them. I mean, the number is giant. There's 12,000 plus or minus. So those are things that they can look at.

And then, of course, tomorrow we're going to have public hearing. So we're going to hear comments and, you know, circle back and we'll have our meeting tomorrow and see how everybody feels and what everybody thinks.

Any other questions, comments for Mitch?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: I was going to jump on the bandwagon with this. Just, I think, anything we can do to increase the testing on the free-ranging population and MLDP. I'd look at, you know, waiving the MLDP fees for, you know, if you reach a certain percentage of testing and, you know, I'd like to look at what can we do to increase testing just in the general public. I mean, could we work with some of the deer processers to have that option available to submit that animal for testing? Because like Jeff alluded to earlier, I feel like that's where we lack a lot of data is what's just generally out in the low-fence population.

MR. LOCKWOOD: I appreciate that. As y'all recall from previous meetings, there's been a lot of effort to increase that surveillance over the years. We've been really proud of the numbers we've been getting; but every year we continue to think about how can we get more efficiently get additional samples out there and we're -- it seems like constantly having these conversations on how we can get additional surveillance, but more efficiently and we will continue to have those discussions.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Just one other comment also. I remember from the last meeting, you know, one thing that sort of raised a lot of concern I think for a lot of us was the euthanizing the deer or, you know, especially when it applied to a whole herd. I'd like to have a little more thought into what an alternative to that would be. You know, how would a deer breeder get out of that situation whether it's, you know, not moving anything for five years or whatever; but, you know, look at it from a perspective of what if that weren't an option, what would be the next best thing?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes. There's been quite a bit of discussion on that front as well, and there's more to come. I appreciate that.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Commissioner Abell.

Anybody else?

Mitch, thank you. Good job done.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Item No. 9, 22-23 Statewide Recreational/Commercial Fishing Proclamation Preview. We've got -- Monica, you alone or is Dakus going to help you?

MS. MCGARRITY: I'll be presenting on the freshwater fishing, and then Dakus will follow with the coastal saltwater.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Very good. Thank you.

MS. MCGARRITY: Great. Good morning again, Commissioners, Chairman. For the record, my name's Monica McGarrity and I'm the Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species in the Inland Fisheries Division. As I mentioned, I'll be presenting on potential freshwater fishing regulation changes for 2022-2023.

To the give a quick overview --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hey, Monica. Can I interrupt you a minute?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: I neglected -- I'm sorry and Commissioner Bell reminded me -- Work Item No. 8, that we just finished with Mitch, Chronic Wasting Disease, I'm going to place that item on Thursday's Commission Meeting for public comment and action. So I wanted -- I needed to get that little housekeeping out of the way. Pardon me. Please continue.

MS. MCGARRITY: Certainly. To give a quick overview of the potential rule changes I'll discuss, these include delineating upstream boundaries for two reservoirs, establishing Largemouth bass harvest exceptions for a newly created lake, return to statewide standards for Walleye and Red drum for lakes where they're no longer present, modifying Alligator gar spawning season restrictions for Lake Texoma for reciprocity with Oklahoma, and extending invasive carp prevention measures to areas with recent detections.

Sam Rayburn Reservoir is a reservoir on the Angelina River in Jasper County. The location within the state is shown by the black box on the inset state map. Blue and Channel catfish special harvest exceptions are in place for the reservoir and Law Enforcement has identified a need to establish the upstream reservoir boundary to delineate where those exceptions apply.

Under current regulations, there is no delineated upstream boundary for Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The potential rule change would be to delineate the upstream boundary as the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge to differentiate between the reservoir where the special exceptions apply and the inflowing river. TPWD Law Enforcement has determined that this is both a readily identifiable landmark for anglers and an enforceable boundary. The location of that boundary is indicated on the map with the yellow line.

Lake Texoma is a reservoir on the Red River on the Oklahoma/Texas boundary. Special harvest exceptions are in place for Striped and White bass and Channel, Blue, and Flathead catfish. An upstream boundary delineation was requested by Law Enforcement to differentiate between the lake where these exceptions apply and the inflowing river. Although boundary coordinates are currently listed in the Outdoor Annual as a guideline, it is not definite -- defined in TPWD regulations and, therefore, is not enforceable.

Under current regulations, the upstream boundary of Lake Texoma is not delineated. The potential rule change would be to delineate the upstream boundary between the lake where the special exceptions apply and the inflowing river, seeking reciprocity with Oklahoma to the extent possible. Sycamore Creek was identified as the landmark that would be recognizable to anglers and enforceable. Sycamore Creek was also noted by Oklahoma in discussions as the upstream boundary and this location is also consistent with the lake upstream boundary identified in the Red River Compact relating to state jurisdictional boundaries. The location of that upstream boundary, Sycamore Creek, is shown with the yellow line on the map.

Bois d'Arc Lake is a newly created lake on Bois d'Arc Creek in Fannin County in North Texas. The Department has stocked offspring of selectively bred ShareLunker Largemouth bass with trophy potential in ponds in the reservoir footprint during construction and additional fish are being stocked in the lake as it fills. The TPWD ShareLunker Program selectively breeds Largemouth bass to have trophy potential using angler donated 13-pound or larger fish as broodstock.

The fisheries management goal for Bois d'Arc Lake is to develop top of the line fishing opportunities and maximize the quality of fishing over the reservoir lifespan. It's important to provide protection to those initial year classes of stocked bass, which will have already grown beyond 14 inches, as they have the greatest growth potential and are the most valuable spawning stock.

Current Largemouth bass regulations for Bois d'Arc Lake follow the statewide standard, with a daily bag limit of five for Black bass, 14-inch minimum length limit, and no maximum length limit. The potential rule change would consist of a daily bag limit of five for Largemouth bass, 16-inch maximum length limit, an allowance for temporary possession of 24-plus-inch Largemouth bass for weighing.

Lake Texoma, again, is a large reservoir or the Red River on the Texas/Oklahoma boundary. Walleye were last stocked in the lake in 1977 and they've not developed a self-sustaining population, nor are they managed as a sport fishery. Fisheries management surveys in recent years have not detected this species, although there have been isolated angler reports of catches of Walleye that are believed to have dispersed into the lake from upstream reservoirs between on Oklahoma tributaries.

The current regulations consist of special exceptions with a daily bag limit of five and minimum length limit of 18 inches. The potential rule change would be to return to statewide standards, as special exceptions are no longer needed and would consist of the same daily bag limit and no minimum or max leng -- maximum length limit and a bag limit of two fish less than 16 inches in length.

Historically, Red drum were stocked in some Texas reservoirs, including Coleto Creek and Fairfield. Coleto Creek Reservoir near Victoria was last stocked with Red drum in 2001. Fairfield Lake, located east of Waco, was last stocked in 2011. Fisheries management surveys have not detected this species in recent years, nor have there been angler reports and it's been determined they're no longer present in these lakes.

Current regulations for Red drum for these lakes consists of a daily bag limit of three, minimum length limit of 20 inches, and no maximum length limit. The potential rule change would return to statewide standards, as the special exceptions are no longer needed, which consist of the same daily bag and minimum length limit and a maximum length limit of 28 inches.

Also for Lake Texoma, there are potential modifications to regulations regarding harvest of Alligator gar during spawning season. Upstream areas on Lake Texoma offer important spawning habitat during flooding and harvest is currently restricted in May and selected upstream areas. Due to regulation changes in 2021, Oklahoma now prohibits May harvest of Alligator gar statewide, including all waters of Lake Texoma. This poses an issue for law enforcement for both states, as it's difficult to pinpoint where a fish was harvested on the lake.

Under current TPWD regulations, May harvest of Alligator gar is prohibited in the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and from US 377 upstream to I-35. Roughly the areas encompassed by the yellow boxes on the map. These areas were consistent with Oklahoma regulations until their recent rule change in 2021. The potential rule change would expand the no-harvest area for May to include all other waters of Lake Texoma for reciprocity, as well as including Texas tributaries of the Red River and upstream areas where these flooded areas/tributaries may be used for spawning.

Lastly, I'll talk about invasive carp prevention. Nonnative Silver and Bighead carp, collectively called Bigheaded carps, have been found in some Texas waters in North and East Texas. Bigheaded carp are filter feeders that compete with native fish and can have negative impacts on fish populations and Silver carp are known to leap up to 10 feet out of the water when startled by boat noise, sometimes striking boaters and causing a significant hazard.

A Bigheaded carp population assessment is currently in progress on the Red and Sulphur Rivers, working with Oklahoma and Texas and several researchers and as a result of both this project and recent angler reports, Bigheaded carps were documented in 2021 in all sampled Red River tributaries. Which although not previously documented, is not surprising given their presence in the Red River.

There are currently regulations in place to prevent the transfer of these invasive carp via bait bucket transfers. When they're small, these carp are very similar in appearance to shad and they can easily be misidentified as shad and transported as live bait. Introduction via that pathway into Lake Texoma where they could potentially become established and problematic is a significant concern.

Current regulations prohibit live transfer of nongame fish from waters of the Red River below Lake Texoma to the Arkansas border, Sulphur River below Lake Wright Patman and Big Cypress Bayou below Lake O' The Pines, including the waters of Caddo Lake. The potential rule change would be to add tributaries of the Red River and those counties along the Oklahoma border to the list of designated waters from which live nongame fish may not be taken.

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

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions?

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I've got one. Scott.

Monica, out of curiosity, a lot of -- a lot of the stuff that we're looking at on Texoma, obviously, we have to deal with an agency in Oklahoma. What agency do we deal with?

MS. MCGARRITY: We deal with Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, both, you know, working with their Inland Fisheries Division Director and their biologists as well as their law --

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Kind of our counterpart over there.

MS. MCGARRITY: Their law enforcement as well. Yes, sir.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: How well are they to work with? I mean, you're bringing up some pretty -- pretty big issues here. I mean, what's your read on how well we -- they cooperate with us and vice versa?

MS. MCGARRITY: I'll defer to Craig Bonds if he'd like to comment on that.

MR. BONDS: Yeah. Thanks, Monica.

For the record, Craig Bonds, Director of the Inland Fisheries Division. Great question, Mr. Vice-Chairman. And actually, we have an annual meeting with our Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation counterparts -- both, as Monica mentioned, Inland Fisheries and Law Enforcement -- each December. And so we have a full day meeting to coordinate and mostly talk about shared border waters, but also statewide issues. And so I think the cooperation is really good.

In addition to that, our staffs interact through professional societies like the American Fisheries Society through the Southern Division and Texas and Oklahoma Chapters as well.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Good, I'm glad to hear that. I have a lot kinfolk still over there in that state. So I'm just wondering how they're acting.

MR. BONDS: The coordination is pretty close.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: You can be proud of your kinfolk it looks like.

Anybody else have any questions for Monica?

Okay. Hearing none, Dakus, you got something for us?

MR. GEESLIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Dakus Geeslin. I'm a Deputy Director here in Coastal Fisheries. It's good to see y'all again in person. Today, I'm going to be presenting our coastal fisheries statewide proposal. Probably more importantly, I'm going to be seeking permission to publish our staff recommendation regarding Spotted seatrout regulations on a large portion of the coast. Our intent is to initiate the statewide process so we can bring an adoption item back to you in January and I'll get -- I'll get to the purpose and the reasoning for that accelerated process here in just a moment.

And you-all will recall several presentations, briefing presentations, related to the February 2021 freeze. Back in March, our Division Director Robin Riechers presented the briefing item describing the fish kill assessment. Then he came back again in August and really described the impact of the fish kill on our game fish populations primarily and with specific emphasis on Spotted seatrout. We all know that trout are more susceptible to cold water events, and they really took it on the nose during this last freeze event.

Just as a quick refresher related to the freeze. An estimated minimum mortality of 3.8 million fish, 160 of those -- 160,000 of those were Spotted seatrout. About 90 percent of those came from the Laguna Madre system. As a result of that fish kill and impact on the low -- Laguna Madre system, you'll recall back in March we came before you with emergency action to discuss and that emergency action became effective on April 1st, 2021. Specifically, that enacted three-fish bag limit, harvest restriction or a slot limit of 17 to 23 inches and that was specific to the Laguna Madre system there below the JFK Causeway down to the Rio Grande River and 500 -- 500 yards out from the beachfront. That expired, the 180 days. We extended that once from 120 days to 180 days and that expired on September 27th, 2021.

You-all have seen this slide before, but I'll go through it quickly. One way we evaluate our sport fish populations is through our coast-wide spring gillnet catch rates. Just to orient you quickly, on the Y axis you have our catch rates, which is a number per hour. On the X axis, you have the time series in years. And that orange horizontal line, that is the ten-year mean catch rate. We feel that the mean -- the ten-year mean is more representative of our current regulatory structure and it's a great look-back to see how catch rates compare in more recent times.

You'll -- couple of things to note. You'll note the absence of a 2020 data point there. That is due to our COVID pandemic there where our folks weren't able to get out and sample. That's kind of the anomaly in our long-time routine resource monitoring data. Indicated there in the gray box, that point over to the very far right, that's our 2021 data point and indicated in that gray box you'll see that the 2021 coast ride -- coast-wide catch rate was 20 percent lower than the ten-year mean and coincidentally, it's also lower than the 20 -- the 2019 data there right along -- that data point is right on that ten-year mean right there on the orange horizontal line.

You've also seen this graph before, but I'll run through it. This shows the differential in the 2021 catch rates to the previous -- that ten-year mean for each individual bay system. Notable and significant declines were observed in the Laguna Madre system, but also in Matagorda and San Antonio. As discussed in previous presentations, you'll also note that Corpus Christi Bay actually increased in the catch rate and that's probably because it's a little deeper bay system, deeper waters, and possibly served as thermal refugia during that freeze and relatively low fish kills resulting in catch rates that actually increased in our spring gillnet sampling.

All right. This graph is new. What this shows is the mean rove counts by bay system for the period of April through September. That's what we had to deal with, you know, for the emergency action that was effective April 1 until here recently through the end of September. So a six-month period looking back the last six years. And just real quick, our roves are part of our harvest monitoring program where our teams go to boating access sites, which are boat ramps, harbors, marinas, and they actually physically count boat trailers. So that -- for us, that is a great indicator of pressure within the system and then we aggregate those counts per bay system and that's what you're seeing here. So I want to point out a few patterns in this graph, if you will.

First, you'll notice that observable increase in pressure during 2020. We saw that in license sales. We saw that anecdotally in our park visits and from our biologists along the coast. That's that COVID increase. It's nice to see that borne out in our data here. But you also see a decrease in pressure from 2020 to '21 all across the bay systems and we didn't include Galveston and Sabine here as the freeze impact in those bay systems were negligible.

Third pattern I'd like to point out is a very similar pattern kind of in that upper -- upper group of bay systems. You'll see similar patterns in Aransas, that's that top one; Upper Laguna Madre, that's the blue one; and the San Antonio Bay, that's that kind of yellow one. And likewise on the lower end, you'll see similar patterns in the Lower Laguna Madre and Matagorda. You'll also note that that -- kind of that mint green color, that's Corpus Christi, and that decreased the least of those bay systems. And I want to -- I want to recognize some previous discussions here in the context of the Commission; but also internally that we've had amongst our team and that is the concept of a shifting pressure that you may see or you may expect to see when you have a differential in regulations. And being that the emergency action was implemented on the Laguna Madre system, the thought could be that you would expect an increase in pressure in those near by bay systems.

So I want to talk about that for just a second. So in that case, you may expect to see a decrease in pressure from the Lower Laguna Madre system, but an increase in pressure by near by -- in near by or adjacent bay systems. And while we do see a minimal increase in the Corpus Christi Bay system, we don't see -- we simply don't see that pattern of a large scale shift in pressure from one bay system to the other. So I think that's key to note that we just didn't see that shift in pressure or that marked shift in pressure that you may expect.

Okay. So today, we're seeking permission for -- to publish the staff recommendation to the Texas Register. This accelerated timeline compared to our normal and traditional statewide cycle, will allow us to bring this item back to you in the January Commission Meeting. Specifically, staff are recommending the past emergency rule provisions of three -- the same three fish bag limit, that 17- to 23-inch slot limit with no fish over 23 inches; but the spatial extent would be from the Lower Laguna Madre north through the East Matagorda Bay system. My next slide, I've got a map depicting that geographic extent. We're also recommending the rule to expire on August 31st, 2023, and revert back to the previous rule of the coast-wide five-fish bag limit, 15- to 25-inch slot, and one fish over 25.

What this is will do, is the purpose of this, this will allow us two spawning seasons under these more restrictive harvest regulations and to really accelerate that recovery, that two-year recovery, and if you'll remember based on those historic freezes, those baseline/benchmark events in '83 and '89, that's what we saw. We saw two- to three-year worth of recovery in those -- from those events. So we're hoping to achieve that same level of recovery through this regulatory action.

As -- as -- I need to note, we gathered our Coastal Resource Advisory Committee in this room on October 12th, and while we didn't describe the full descriptive conditions of this recommendation, generally they were very supportive of extending up the coast to include San Antonio and Matagorda, just based on those reduced catch rates that we shared with them; but also they were supportive of the conditions that were enacted as part of the emergency action and keeping those consistent with the angling community as those were, you know, very publicized. Folks were aware of those. So they were supportive of us moving forward and coming to you today with a staff recommendation.

So here's -- here's that map I promised you. The larger -- the larger map on the left, if you'll focus in on that, shows the full extent of the area being recommended under this -- under this regulation proposal. If you'll start with me at the very south and moving south to north, we'll start at Rio Grande River. This would include the waters of the Lower -- Lower and Upper Laguna Madre Bay systems, Corpus Christi Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, and Matagorda Bay, and waters of the Gulf of Mexico extending 500 yards from the beachfront.

Now, if you'll shift your focus over to the right, that is kind of a zoomed-in portion to illustrate the lower boundary of the Rio Grande River there in Cameron County. Just south of that last little blue pocket there is South Bay and you have the Brownsville Ship Channel, but the bay front side would extend -- or the beachfront side would extend down to the Rio Grande River just like it did in the emergency action. Now, the top right map, that is the proposed northern boundary of FM 457 and that's in Matagorda County and this is the -- that's the previous boundary. If that sounds familiar, that's the previous boundary of that five-fish and ten-fish bag limit prior to 2019.

In 2019, we -- that license year started the five-fish coast-wide regulation; but that prior boundary upstream or north of that boundary was previously ten-fish bag prior to 2019. So with that, I will stop and entertain any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, questions?

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Scott. I've got -- I've got a question for you there, Dakus.

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I was looking at this yesterday and correct me when I'm wrong, the purpose of doing this deal is to -- is to get two years of spawn, right?

MR. GEESLIN: That's correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: So if that's the case, I'm just curious, do we need to do a full 24 months or would 18 months be sufficient? You're going to get your two spawns, so I'm just curious what your thoughts are about that. Perhaps we don't have to go the full 24 is all I'm saying.

MR. GEESLIN: Well, that's a -- that's a great question and let met clarify the timeline. Conceptually, if we came back to you in January and you supported the adoption and we enacted -- we were able to put this regulation into place let's say sometime in March, that would be prior to the initiation of that April to September spawning timeframe. So there'd be one spawn. That would be 2022. And then you'd come back and you'd have all of '23, that same April through twenty -- April through September of 2023. So you'd get that spawn. So there's two, and then it would expire on August 31st.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: So you really need the full 24 months to get the full two spawns.

MR. GEESLIN: If I'm doing my math --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: It's not 24 months. It would be --

MR. GEESLIN: Yeah, it'd be -- it'd be about 18. It'd be something like that.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: It ends up being about that?

MR. GEESLIN: Yeah. If that regulation went into effect in March...

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Yeah, it's 18.

MR. GEESLIN: There we go. And you'd --


MR. GEESLIN: -- still get your two spawns out of that.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Right, Carter? It's 18?

MR. SMITH: Yes, it's 18.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Because it ends --

MR. SMITH: More or less, yeah.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- in August, but it doesn't go into effect until March.


MR. GEESLIN: That's correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I'm with you, okay.

MR. GEESLIN: Yeah. And that really is why we're pursuing that accelerated timeline here today.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: No, I agree with the two spawns.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other comments, questions?

Thank you, Dakus. It's -- it's hard to look at that bar chart and see those giant declines. It's big.

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir. It is.


MR. GEESLIN: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. There's no action item or nothing needed there.

MR. SMITH: Chairman, I do think with respect to that particular, we do need your permission to publish it if we're going to go out and get public comment on it.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Absolutely. I think we should.

Commissioners, y'all good with that?

Yeah, please proceed.

MR. SMITH: Okay, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Item No. 10, 2022-23 Statewide Hunting and Migratory Game Bird Proclamation. Good morning, Alan.

MR. CAIN: Good morning. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Alan Cain. I'm the White-tailed Deer Program Leader and this morning I'll be briefing the Commission on a preview of possible changes to the statewide hunting regulations pertaining to White-tailed deer, as well as changes -- possible changes -- to the general provisions pertaining to certain tagging requirements, proof of sex, and cold storage facility regulations.

One change staff will be considering is a result of petition for rule-making that the Department received this summer. The petitioners, Dr. Harry Jacobson and Tim Condict who work with properties in Grayson County, had requested that the Department allow the take of White-tailed deer by firearm in Collin, Dallas, Grayson, and Rockwall Counties which are identify in red on the map and also fall within Deer Management Unit 21, which is the yellow polygon there on the map.

After reviewing the change or the petition, staff agreed with the request and recommend pursuing a change. Currently, these counties are -- allow harvest by archery equipment only during all seasons, including general season and MLD.

So a little history about the White-tailed deer regulation, as it's important to understand the background behind this petition and why these counties do not have regulations that concern method of take with a firearm that would be similar to the rest of the state. So in 1961, the Texas Legislature closed the deer season in Grayson County in part because of some of the complaints from landowners around Lake Texoma with lake houses around there. They just simply didn't want the discharge of firearms in the near by area where folks may be hunting. And then in 1984, this Commission adopted rules to allow deer hunting on the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge that borders a portion of Lake Texoma and Grayson County and restricted to hunting at that time to archery only equipment.

And then 15 years later, the Commission came back again and adopted changes to rules that open a deer season county-wide to all of Grayson County; but restricted take to archery only during all seasons, although there was no biological justification to restrict to archery only during that particular time period. And so by this time, the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge was known for producing some exceptional bucks that would have met Boone and Crockett minimums and because hunting was closed in much of the county, you had a well-balanced age structure.

Obviously, this would have been an area of interest for hunters that are pursuing these quality bucks out there. Especially archery hunters over the number of years. And then in 2008, the Department received a petition again to allow the take of deer by firearms during the general season and we've continued to receive either requests or petitions since 2008. And then in 2012, staff opened -- or received a petition to open a deer season in Collin, Dallas, and Rockwall Counties, which have been closed for a number of years and the Commission adopted staff's proposal to open a deer season; but with the same regulations that were applicable in Grayson County. Because those other three counties fell within the same deer management unit, we want to keep the regulations the same in all those counties. And it's noted we continue to receive requests almost every year or a petition every now and then asking the Department to allow harvest by firearms in these counties.

Now, allowing take by firearms during the youth or general season in Grayson County has been a divisive topic among hunters and landowners in this county, with a diversity of reasons for and against such changes. Those in opposition to such a proposal perceive possible issues that include increased poaching if gun hunting were allowed, safety issues with a discharge of firearms, or the fact that they perceive there may not be a healthy deer population to allow harvest through firearm or there could be a depletion of that resource should firearm season be implemented, could be an impact on the buck age structure or the trophy quality deer up there, or simply that there's a tradition for archery only hunting in these counties.

On the other hand, those supporting take by firearm including the petitioners' request, cite a number of reasons, including giving landowners a choice to decide whether firearm hunting should be allowed on their property. Also noting that firearm harvest is a necessary and efficient tool to manage deer populations, especially on high-fenced properties. And, in fact, the petitioners are working with high-fenced properties enrolled in ML -- MLD Program in Grayson County and they have no other way to manage the deer population in that county other than with archery harvest, which proves to be difficult in their situation.

With CWD present in nearby Hunt County, allowing the take by firearm could be a very important CWD management tool to help reduce the spread of the disease or contain the disease should it be present in the free-ranging population in that area. Additionally, firearm hunting expands the opportunity for more hunters that don't use archery equipment to enjoy hunting, which is also an important part of our R3 efforts. And lastly, firearm opportunity allows those landowners to generate revenue from their hunting enterprises and operations out there, to expand that hunting base to firearm hunters.

Current regulatory surveys conducted in Deer Management 21 -- again, that area in yellow on the map there -- estimate the deer population to be 11,300 deer, with a density of about one deer for every 80 acres. Statistical confidence intervals provide a range of that population or that density estimate ranging from a -- on the high end of deer to every 18 acres, on the low end a deer to every 356 acres. Obviously, the areas with high deer densities probably have much better habitat around the lake and then as you move south towards Dallas in that deer management unit, you have a lot more fragmented habitat, so lower deer densities in those particular areas; but it ranges around that.

Additionally, this density estimate in DMU 21 is comparable, if not better, than other deer management units in the state that currently have a firearm season, including Deer Management 22 just to the west there in green, or Deer Management 20 and 19 north, which are directly south of Deer Management 21. Fawn production this year was estimated to be at 19 percent and the adult sex ratio was 23 and a half does for every buck out there. Additionally, we don't have a lot of harvest data from this particular DMU; but being that there's antler restriction regulations in place in Deer Management 21 and it's similar to the surrounding deer management units, we expect that age structure to be similar. And, in fact, in DMU 22, 66 percent of the harvest is comprised of bucks three and a half years of age or older and we -- and generally, the same in 19 north in the counties -- or deer management units to the east or south.

With this information in mind, staff will be considering bringing a proposal forward in January to allow for take by firearm during youth and general seasons and on MLD properties during the MLDP season. We will retain antler restrictions regulations which are currently in place in hopes of maintaining the age structure of that buck population. We'd explore the possibility of limiting doe days -- doe harvest to specific days during that general season and require mandatory reporting of bucks and antlerless deer similar to what we have in the 21 counties in the Post Oak region to monitor impacts of this regulation change on that population out there.

The next change staff are considering is to change the term "buck deer" to "antlered deer" and clarify that deer with hardened antlers or velvet covered antlers are considered an antlered deer. This change provides clarification for hunters and law enforcement and helps to ensure hunters are using the correct tag which would correspond to an antlered deer or as we already have now antlerless, rather than a buck which most hunters often associate with a male deer; but in reality a buck is defined in regulation as any deer that has hardened antlers. And so occasionally, we do have antlered does that are obviously female deer. We had one this year show up in Duval County. It's been floating around the internet.

And then also we have harvested -- or shed-antler bucks that also lead to confusion among hunters about tagging requirements and so "antlered" is a term that aligns better with how tagging should apply and to all harvested deer.

And the next change staff would be also be considering January is a modification of the proof of sex requirements for buck or antlered deer if that were to be changed. And, obviously, we're not able to incorporate in the possible changes in Mitch's proposal concerning proof of sex for antlerless deer. The staff are still trying to work through the options for the diff -- the proof of sex for bucks and address law enforcement concerns pertaining to bucks.

After discussion and feedback from the stakeholder groups, we will be considering a change to allow the hunters to retain only the skull cap and antlers attached as proof of sex rather than the whole head. Obviously, that would allow somebody to leave the most infectious parts -- the brain matter -- back at the site of harvest or at some place of disposal.

Some suggestions have been made to include only male sex organs. However, this is problematic for law enforcement, especially when it comes to antler restrictions in 117 counties. Obviously, they don't have the head to be able to check that if it was sex organs only and the fact that buck fawns and shed-antlered bucks are considered antlerless deer and should be tagged as such. So a game warden expecting a quartered carcass and male sex organs has no way of discerning whether the animal was tagged correctly and if antler restriction requirements are met with just those sex organs.

So additionally by human nature, we expect the vast majority of hunters will keep antlers regardless whether it was a spiked buck or a trophy deer and so the skull cap, unskinned skull cap with antlers attached and the tail would be what we would consider.

A couple of other changes staff are considering concern cold storage processing facilities, tagging requirements, and retention of proof of sex at those facilities. These possible changes are considered -- all considered interrelated; but ultimately center around the tagging requirements and when they cease at a cold storage facility, which in part dictates when the proof of sex ceases at those facilities. And it's also dependent on whether that harvest has been entered into a cold storage record book that is required to be maintained at these facilities.

Current regulations state that proof of sex requirements cease once a tagging requirement cease. And at a cold storage commercial facility, they cease once the deer has been quartered and the appropriate information for that harvest has been entered into the cold storage record book. We'd like to simplify when the proof of sex requirements and tagging requirements cease at a commercial cold storage facility, such as a brick-and-mortar business, somewhere that you take the deer to get processed.

So part of the reasoning behind this is we run into a couple of issues that hunters have at these locker plants and in some cases, the locker plant itself. So you can have a hunter show up at a locker plant with a quartered deer, like in the back of his truck. He's got the head, the tag, and the quarters there in the cooler and he's going to drop that deer off at the locker plant. Once that locker plant enters the harvest in that cold storage log, that hunter can take -- and it's already quartered, so that hunter can take that head and leave immediately right then. However, if I'm a hunter that shows up with a whole carcass, gutted, but just hang -- back of my truck, it's tagged properly, I can't take that head nor can the locker plant separate that head from the carcass until it's been quartered and entered in the cold storage record book. So they enter that harvest in the cold storage record book when the hunter shows up immediately, but it has to be hanging in a cooler until they get ready to quarter that deer and so it doesn't allow that hunter to take that head or the locker plant to remove that head from the carcass.

This change would remove the unnecessary disparity between the two scenarios and allow a hunter to take his head home if desired at time of drop off, allow for cleaner storage of skinned carcasses of deer that are hanging in the locker, and aids our staff potentially in age and antler data collection when the head is separated from the carcass and stored in the locker in a more convenient location for sampling.

So staff would like to make the specific change to tagging requirements applicable only to commercial cold storage facilities that are businesses, these brick-and-mortar places around the state. For cold storage facilities at a ranch that are required to maintain a cold storage log, staff would like for tagging requirements to cease only at final destination or final place of storage, rather than having the tagging requirement cease once the harvest is entered in the cold storage log.

Now, hunters could quarter the deer or debone the animal at these ranch locations and the proof of sex would cease once all that information is entered in the log; but the tagging requirements would still remain. The difference is when the tagging requirements cease between the two cold storage facility types is necessary for, again, law enforcement purposes. The distinction between these two allows law enforcement to discern that a hunter carrying a cooler full of meat back down the road Houston or wherever has the proper documentation about that harvest, so they don't necessarily have to go back and check a cold storage log at that ranch that could be a hundred miles away and it just allows that that deer is properly tagged.

To distinguish between these two types of cold storage facilities and when tagging requirements cease, staff will need to either distinguish in regulation or create a definition for a commercial cold storage facility and a cold storage facility that's on a private ranch that's required to maintain that cold storage log.

So before I turn it over to Shawn Gray, that concludes my portion of the statewide. I'll be glad to answer any questions if y'all have any.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions for Alan?

Thank you, Alan.

MR. CAIN: Thank you.


MR. GRAY: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Shawn Gray and I'm the Mule Deer and Pronghorn Program Leader and this morning I would like to provide an update on the current experimental Mule deer antler restriction in the Panhandle and brief the Commission on potential proposals to Mule deer hunting regulations for this January.

This map illustrates our current Mule deer seasons in the state. The yellow and blue colored counties have a 16-day general season that starts the Saturdays before Thanksgiving, with a special archery season. The red colored counties have a 9-day general season that starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving, with no special archery season. The blue colored counties are where we initiated the experimental Mule deer antler restriction in 2018 and it's in those six southeast panhandle counties and in 2019 in Lynn County, which has provided data for three hunting seasons southeast panhandle counties and two hunting seasons in Lynn County. In the Trans-Pecos, the green colored counties, we have a 17-day general season starting the Friday after Thanksgiving, with a special archery season. And all general seasons are buck only.

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

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

Because the average ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread on panhandle Mule deer bucks is 21 inches, staff propose to use a restriction with an outside spread of the main beams of 20 inches to protect younger age bucks and it closely matched the distance between ear tips when a buck is standing in the alert position. The outside spread is estimated in a similar manner as the inside spread, but by using the outside measurement of the antler material.

Again, to test this, staff proposed and this Commission approved an experimental Mule deer antler restriction in six counties in the southeast panhandle and Lynn County, colored blue in the map. These illustrations will be used to demonstrate what type of buck could be harvested or those that were protected during the experiment -- or experimental Mule deer antler restriction. Using the average ear-tip-to-ear-tip measurement in the alert position as a guide, which is 21 inches shown by the blue dashed lines on the -- both buck drawings, the buck on the left would be legal for harvest with an outside spread of 20 inches or greater. It would not be legal to harvest the buck on the right because the outside spread is less than 20 inches and even young deer have an ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread of 21 inches.

Unbranched antlered bucks with an outside spread of less than 20 inches would also be illegal for harvest, as shown in these examples, and this is different compared to our White-tailed deer antler restriction regulations. Our main goal was to get more Mule deer bucks into older age classes and most unbranched antler bucks are yearlings and allowing more yearlings to be harvested can significantly impact future age structure, especially during drought. Mule deer populations are much more -- much lower than White-tailed deer populations and can be more sensitive to overharvest.

Data suggests that the antler restrictions with the outside spread of 20 inches, protected at least 80 percent of one-and-a-half to three-and-half-year-old bucks and about 80 percent of bucks four and a half years of age or older were harvestable. At the three to four check stations we have staffed within the southeast panhandle counties during the experiment, the number of bucks checked has increased annually. Staff believe this may be correlated with the number of harvestable bucks on the landscape in each year. In addition, staff get reports from hunters who check their animals and these reports seem to validate this idea.

Also, notice the pink ear tags attached to this buck. This buck was part of our multiyear Mule deer project within the panhandle to study the influence of agriculture on Mule deer movements, habitat use, and survival. The buck was captured, ear tagged, and radio collared as a fawn in 2016. Therefore, we know exactly how old the buck was when he was harvested. Pink 20 was a four-and-a-half-year old buck with an outside spread of 21 and six-eighth inches. These known age, researched deer have proven invaluable during this experiment.

Data from our check stations in the southeast panhandle are providing more evidence that the buck age structure of harvested animals is becoming older and more natural. This graph demonstrates -- demonstrates that the prior -- prior to the experiment, over 20 percent of the harvest was comprised of one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half-year-old bucks, with only 33 percent being five and a half years or older. After three years -- after three hunting seasons of the experiment, only 1 percent of the deer checked within the young age class, which is the one and a half to two and a half year olds, and 50 percent were in the mature age class, the five and a half -- or five and a half years of age or older.

This graph illustrates data collected from winter helicopter and ground count surveys. Information collected from 2005 to 2018, which is prior to the experiment, estimated a sex ratio of 4.7 does per buck, which is an indicator of intense buck harvest. During the next three years of the experimental antler restriction, the average sex ratio was 2.9 does per buck. Substantially more bucks were observed during 2019 to 2021 postseason helicopter surveys and ground counts than in years past. The improvement in sex ratio during 2019 to 2021 is further evidence that the experiment is having positive population impacts.

Results to date look very promising and staff are excited to see how the 2021 season and following postseason surveys turn out. So far, data indicate that the antler restriction is working and support the continuation of the restriction within the current counties. Staff have considered different scenarios regarding moving forward with the experimental antler restriction and know it is not perfect, but think we have developed an appropriate regulation proposal by using a common sense approach founded in science. Also, staff are currently seeking constituent opinions on the experimental antler restriction and potential expansion through an extensive online and mail opinion survey. These results will be summarized in the next month and presented at the January Commission Meeting.

Just to refresh your memory, this is the map of our current Mule deer seasons across the state, including the antler restriction counties colored blue. Now added to the map is a black cross-hatched area that is one of several panhandle Mule deer monitoring units. This is a scale at which we survey and collect Mule deer data. The current antler restriction counties in the southeast panhandle encompass most of this Mule deer monitoring unit. However, staff believe we should incorporate seven additional counties that would almost completely contain the monitoring unit.

This map shows how the potential Mule deer antler restriction change would look in the southeast panhandle, which would include 13 counties instead of the current six. Another consideration would be to expand the antler restriction out from Lynn County into all the current 9-day counties and extend the season to 16 days, as well as include the special archery season. The main idea is to provide more hunting opportunity, while using the antler restriction to maintain or improve Mule deer sex ratios and buck age structure.

The new map illustrates how these two potential Mule deer regulation proposals would fit with the current Mule deer seasons. The potential proposal would be all 15 nine-day counties would be proposed to change to a 16-day season, with a special archery season, just like the yellow colored counties; but would be under the new antler restriction. The other potential proposal in the panhandle would be to implement the antler restriction in 13 counties instead of six in the southeast panhandle. Staff believe the potential Mule deer antler restriction proposal should not apply in any CWD zone, which are delineated in this map by red cross-hatching -- this is a containment zone -- and purple hatching is a surveillance zone. Therefore, portions of Parmer, Randall, Lubbock, and Lynn Counties within the CWD zones would not be subject to the potential antler restriction. Current sciences indicates that increased buck harvest will reduce CWD prevalence rates in bucks and may inhibit natural CWD expansion into new areas.

The last potential Mule deer regulation change would be to add an experimental antler restriction to a portion or the entirety of Terrell County, which is light green colored county in the map. In the lower third of Terrell County south of US Highway 90, intense buck harvest has skewed sex ratios and severely reduced buck structure even more so than the primary experimental antler restriction counties in the panhandle. In this part of Terrell County, there are numerous small acreage tracts where Mule deer hunting pressure is high.

The opinion survey that I mentioned earlier will better inform staff on their -- on the recommendation to either propose implementation of the experimental antler restriction just for the area south of US Highway 90 or for the entire county. Staff would monitor the experiment in Terrell County through an incentive-based voluntary check station in Dryden and annual postseason helicopter surveys.

To summarize, providing that we receive positive feedback from the opinion survey, staff would like to propose in January to make the antler restriction permanent in the current seven counties and expand to an additional 21 counties in the panhandle. In addition to proposing the antler restriction in the 15 counties in the southwest panhandle, staff would like to extend the 9-day season to 16 days with a special archery season.

Staff would also like to test the experimental Mule deer antler restriction in part or the entirety of Terrell County. With this potential proposal, any buck with an outside spread of 20 inches or greater would be legal for harvest. Thus, any buck with a spread of 20 inches or less would not be legal to harvest, regardless of unbranched antlers. The antler restriction currently does not apply to MLDP properties and staff would propose this to continue.

As part of the MLDP Program, TPWD sets property-specific bag limits for which Mule deer are generally conservative. Staff would also recommend that the antler restriction not apply in any CWD zone. Staff would monitor success of the experimental antler restriction in Terrell County using population surveys -- for example, sex ratios -- and a voluntary check station to collect more antler and ear measurements, as well as buck age structure. Staff also plan to send out opinion surveys to evaluate landowner and hunter support before and after the experiment in Terrell County.

And before I pass it on to Shaun Oldenburger, I'd like to take any questions that you might have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Who has questions for Shawn Gray?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. Is there any vehicle that we can maybe get at these check stations CWD data or currently, do we? Do we take any of the tissue samples or set up to do any of that?

MR. GRAY: Yes, sir. Appreciate the question. Yes, we do. We ask the hunters if they would like for us to take samples. I don't know the percentage of it, but it's pretty high that we do pull CWD samples from these experimental antler restriction check stations as well. It's been a pretty good vehicle for testing in that immediate area for sure.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: All right. And additionally unrelated to your presentation, but for maybe my interest, maybe some Commission interest, I guess we've concluded our first extended Pronghorn season; is that right?

MR. GRAY: That's correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: If it's possible, if you come back in January, I'd love to hear a report or, you know, any information that you may have picked up from the impact or result of the extended Pronghorn season.

MR. GRAY: Yes, sir. Be happy to do that.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody else?

Okay. Thank you, Shawn Gray.

Shaun Oldenburger.

MR. GRAY: Thank y'all.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: You're welcome.

Shaun, we going to talk about ducks?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, let's do it.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Good morning, Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. I'm the Small Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. I'm going to be discussing potential changes that we'll bring forward to you in January to the statewide hunting proclamation and the migratory game bird proclamation.

First, we're going to talk about potential changes to upland game bird regulations underneath the statewide hunting proclamation. Before I get into this proposal, I just wanted to update everybody. The reason for this proposal is our continued expansion of our wild turkey restoration project in East Texas. Since 2014, we have released somewhere in the neighborhood of about 1,600 wild turkeys East Texas. That's about a thousand Eastern wild turkeys and about 600 Rio Grande turkeys. Those 1,000 Eastern wild turkeys all come from other state agencies and other states that trap those for us so we can actually relocate those to East Texas.

East Texas does remain one of the areas in the United States that does not have a strong turkey population. The 600 Rio Grande turkeys are actually trapped off private property or other areas that landowners donate those to the state for that restoration effort.

So getting back to this proposal. Ellis County currently is one of six counties in the state that has a spring only Rio Grande season where you can only take four, basically, gobblers in the spring. The reason for that is because it traditionally has a very much reduced population of birds. In fact, in the eastern part of Ellis County, according to our TPWD biologists on the ground, it's been nearly a decade since we've actually observed wild turkeys on the ground in this area.

So I'll go to the next map. So the potential here would be to close the eastern half of Ellis County east of -- basically east of eastern 35, Interstate 35, to close that to a spring only season. Here you can see a map in front of you, the outlines there in red where the closure area would be. In the gray are the blocks where we actually currently have occupied wild turkeys in Ellis County. Those gray blocks you actually see on the eastern side of toward the Trinity River watershed area, those were actually not occupied prior to TPWD releases in the area on private land. So you can see the release areas there are actually the green circles. Those actually occurred there in Kaufman and Navarro Counties. So those are released areas and so those turkey populations since release have expanded into those areas.

I would also -- should state that TPWD biologists band all these birds. So every bird that is released into this area does have a leg band on it, a metal leg band on it. So this last hunting season, we actually had a number of birds that were harvested in Ellis County. That harvest did not occur prior to our releases. So this would be very consistent to previous proposals and previous regulations that the Commission has passed with regard to closure of areas where we do restoration for Eastern wild turkeys and Rio Grande turkeys. And then also to note too, the eastern -- the counties to the east of here do currently have closed seasons as well.

So here's just expanding that area a little bit and you can see there all the green sites where we actually had releases of Eastern wild turkeys -- or Rio Grande wild turkeys along the Trinity watershed since -- in the last three winters. In the last three winters, we have actually released 359 turkeys into those upper green dots; but overall, it's about 600 wild turkeys released altogether in all those seven release sites. So this is to actually get continued wild turkey populations up and down the Trinity River watershed. So closing Ellis County would basically give a shot in the arm basically to this population to allow no harvest to occur for this population to be restored prior to possibly opening hunting seasons in the future.

All right. Moving into migratory game bird regu -- proposed changes that we may come forward to you in January. Just to give you guys a little bit of update as well, this last summer it was the second consecutive year that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service did not conduct a May breeding waterfowl survey. This was actually due, obviously, due to the pandemic due to different territorial, provincial, state, and federal regulations regarding the movement of people in and out of those areas and quarantine areas and so it just was not feasible for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service staff to conduct those surveys.

Luckily, Fish and Wildlife Service did -- was able to do some modeling effort to actually predict proposed -- predict estimated duck populations. And so once again, for 22-23 waterfowl hunting season, we will have a liberal hunting season. Which means basically in Texas, that means 74 days of duck hunting. Except in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit where we get a little more opportunity up in there.

So at the end of August, the Central Flyway Council did meet in New Mexico and then once again, the Service Regulations Committee met at the end of September. The Service Regulations Committee is basically Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Directors that get together to discuss proposed regulations regarding migratory game birds. Migratory game birds are controlled by Fish and Wildlife Service due to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. So at that time, we did look at the regulations. The Central Flyway Council did support a couple changes to basically regulations for next year and once again, we have made -- and I'll self admit this -- we've actually made waterfowl hunting regulations somewhat complicated over time with daily bag limits and everything. So with regards to the R3 effort, we really look towards things that we can actually really simplify and make simple, especially for various starting duck hunter or a novice duck hunter.

One of the things that's been in regulations for a number of years is actually the restriction on Hooded and Mergansers and the daily bag limit is you can currently take two of those. This is basically a holdover from the day when actually Wood ducks and Hooded and Mergansers were actually depleted across the eastern third of the United States. Since then, those populations have actually been restored and expanded quite a bit. So we are going to propose the elimination of the Hooded and Merganser daily bag limit in January. Also we took -- discussing about combining the Merganser and duck daily bag limits into one. Currently those are separate, but that would just simplify regulation so you can go out and shoot six Mergansers and ducks in any combination thereof and that's your daily bag limit for the day.

So those would be all the changes to potential federal regulations that are mandated. This next one is with regards to some federal legislation. Would be the addition of veteran waterfowl hunting days during the 22-23 duck season. Basically underneath the John Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2018 which was signed by former President Trump, that allowed basically armed force veterans and active duty members, including National Guard, to actually take a special hunting opportunity during migratory to game bird seasons. Unfortunately under state statute, there's a restriction here in the State of Texas where the only special opportunity we have beyond fair and equitable is youth seasons, where those under 17 can hunt. So this required a change in statute.

Senator Kolkhorst out of District 19 proposed SB 675. That was signed by the Governor and so that actually allows us the opportunity to have this special opportunity for our armed force veterans and so in January, we'll probably come forward with a proposal to have those concurrently with youth only waterfowl seasons. That would allow more opportunity during that one weekend we before or after the hunting depending what zone we're talking about and that would allow more opportunity on the landscape for those veterans with hunting.

Also within that bill, in 675, was actually allowing the Department to establish a proof of veteran status and so we'll discuss that internally as well and bring forward a proposal in January for that proof of veteran status.

Other than that, we'll just require all federal framework changes, which there is none. I mentioned it's going to be a liberal only season -- liberal again season again for next year. And then also right now currently, we're predicting probably calendar progression for season dates for all migratory game bird seasons.

With regard to the potential changes that we'll bring forward to you in January, the current -- Ellis County closure staff proposed and have discussed and that was approved by the Upland Game Bird Technical Committee, as well as the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee last week. As far as the migratory game bird changes, staff -- staff will actually meet in December to go over those changes and then the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee will also meet in December to go over those potential changes. So with that, I'll be happy to take any questions if there are any.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Shaun.

Commissioners, questions for Shaun?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. One question, Shaun. On the -- you said looking for a simplified way to determine veteran status, are you thinking about, you know, on the driver's license? If you're --

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah, they put veteran --

COMMISSIONER BELL: -- a veteran, you just have -- is that easy enough or are you looking at something a little more complicated than that?

MR. OLDENBURGER: We're probably looking for something simple. I know Stormy and I have sat down and chatted about this beforehand and we looked at the number ways that you can actually show proof that you're a veteran and, obviously, the driver's license one is a very simple one. I did ask my friends who are veterans and it seems about 50/50 on that one, with folks that bring in that paperwork to get their driver's license; but there's other ones. Obviously, with your VA card and other things too.


MR. OLDENBURGER: So there's a lot of -- a lot of liberty that we could take there, but just to that make it very simple. And then also, you know, another thing that's in that bill is to make sure that if there was ever a citation, that those folks could bring proof, you know, to the court and basically get that, you know, thrown out. So just making it very simple is kind of what we're looking and hopefully, you know, make it just as easy language as we can.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Okay, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody else?

Thank you, Shaun.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Carter, do you need any direction or are y'all good?

MR. SMITH: I think we're good right now. We just wanted to brief you on these ideas and then we'll come back with more specific, concrete proposals in November. So, thanks.


Work Session Item No. 11, State Parklands Passport Rules, Request Permission to Publish in the Texas Register, David Kurtenbach. Hello, David. Welcome.

MR. KURTENBACH: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. Thank y'all for your time. My name is David Kurtenbach. I'm the Business Manager and Program Director for in the State Parks Division and today I'm here to talk to you about our Parklands Passport Program.

State Parks offers a wide variety of different passes. They offer different benefits, different costs, different requirements around them. One aspect of that is being our Parklands Passport Program. This involves four different passes and it offers an entry fee that's either waived or free for people to get into state parks if they meet the eligibility requirements around it. That eligibility is established in our Parks and Wildlife Code and then as well in our TAC. It provides guidelines for the pass benefits issuance and the verifying documents that you need to get in. A benefit of that passport holder, as I said, is that reduced entry fee to get into the parks; but it also extends to one additional person, which allows for a 50 percent entry fee for one person accompanying a pass holder.

So the Parklands Passport Program overall, as I said, is four different passes with three different categories. There's a senior pass, as y'all can see, is split into two which is a full and a partial; a disabled veteran pass; and a disability pass. These offer different benefits. So our senior full is 100 percent entry fee waived. So it's free entry for somebody holding one. Our senior partial is 50 percent entry. Disabled veteran is 100 percent entry into a state park, and our disability passport is 50 percent. And for each of these passes, one person can join them and accompanying with that 50 percent entry fee to come in.

The program been wildly successful. It's offered a ton of public value. It's gotten people into the parks. It's gotten people to see what the outdoors are all about. What we are recommending to change is that 50 percent for the accompanying person, is to extend it a bit further to drive greater value so the accompanying person would have the same benefit as the primary pass holder. This would directly affect the senior full passport who has 100 percent entry and a disabled veteran who has that free entry and be extending that same benefit to a person accompanying them. And we see this as, again, just a benefit overall for getting people into the outdoors to see all that -- everything that state parks is all about, but it also simplifies our operations. It's an easier program, it's an easier process, less time for our staff to learn and explain it to the public; but also to know it a little bit better and able to implement it in an easier and faster manner overall. And that is the -- concludes my presentation. Happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. You really kind of drug that out, but thank you.

Anybody got a question for David or a comment?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. I have one question.


COMMISSIONER BELL: I had someone ask me not long ago about foster kids and I didn't know if there was any -- maybe it's not this program. But if there's anything that we could look at that might be an option for foster kids to attend?

MR. KURTENBACH: It's something that we have discussed before in the past very briefly. It hasn't been driven very far, but it's an idea that we can certainly look a little bit further into. We do have a youth group annual pass that might be something that can lean towards it or --

COMMISSIONER BELL: Maybe it could piggyback on that? Okay.

MR. KURTENBACH: -- could it might also be a benefit that -- yeah, depending on the details within it.



COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Quick question. When you say match the benefit of the pass holder to the accompanying person, does that mean person/persons? I mean a carload of people go into a park, do they get the same -- do they get in free? Do they...

MR. KURTENBACH: Great question. Thank you, sir. It's one additional person --


MR. KURTENBACH: -- that gets the benefit. So if I show up to a park as a disabled veteran with a disabled veteran passport, then I could -- and I get in free, free entry, and I could extend that same benefit to one additional person. So right now, they would currently be paying 50 percent and the change to this would be they would have free entry as well.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And just curious. What's the difference between senior full and senior partial?

MR. KURTENBACH: It's the requirements around it. So the senior full passport is for eligibility requirements, you need to be born before September 30th -- or September 1st, 1930. And then for a senior partial is anybody who's 65 or older and a Texas resident.


MR. KURTENBACH: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody else?

Thank you for recognizing the benefit of the parks and getting people out there and if this benefits the park operations and the complexity and it gets more people out there, I think it's a neat deal. So thank you for that.

MR. KURTENBACH: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: If there are no other questions, I'm going to authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public commenting period.

Next, Work Session Item No. 12, Briefing on Diversity and Inclusion Goals. David, welcome.

MR. BUGGS: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is David Buggs and I'm the Chief Diversity Inclusion Officer at Texas Parks and Wildlife and we're here today to talk a little bit about diversity inclusion at Parks and Wildlife and some of the goals that we're trying to establish.

So first thing I wanted to do is just talk about what diversity inclusion means here, and we actually have an explanation out on our diversity inclusion web page which is out on the TPWD site. But when we talk about diversity inclusion, we're talking about differences that add value and bringing those differences in house and helping those differences outside so that they add the benefit to the whole. And in response to that, they feel appreciated, feel valued, feel accepted, and are fully engaged.

Excuse me. So one of the things that we also want to do is make sure that what we do is relevant to all of the citizens of the State of Texas. So we developed diversity inclusion programs that make sure what we do is increasingly important to all those citizens, make sure that we're sustainable, that our Department is important to all those that are inside as well, and it also continues to contribute to our economy.

So one of the things that we all know is Texas is not changing. It has changed and will continue to change and when we start looking at some of those changes -- and this is some other information that you probably have seen -- we are one of the fastest growing states and if you live in this Austin area, you know that very well. We're actually adding people at more than twice the median rate of other states. Also when you start looking at the demographics of the State of Texas, we're 60 percent nonwhite, 51 percent female. The median age has actually dropped from around 37 to 34.6 and the fastest growing group in the State of Texas is in that age range between 25 and 29. We're also 85 percent urban. So all those things affect what we do and how we program.

We participated in a Nation of American Study about three years ago and what that study told us was that one quarter of adults in the State of Texas say their past time and hobbies are outdoor oriented. That means that 75 percent, their hobbies and other activities are not outdoor oriented. Also we participated a couple of years ago in what they call the Wildlife Value Study that was done by University of Colorado and what it says is even though inside of our agencies, we still have traditional values when it comes to wildlife -- which means that we believe we have dominion, that we hunt, we fish, we do other things to make sure that we're containing wildlife -- that most of the folks in our state don't necessarily believe the same thing. They have more of a mutualist perspective, which means we still protect it, we still appreciate wildlife and the outdoors; but they're not focused on the hunting and fishing part of it to manage it.

So we have a lot of different things and what that causes when you have that different perspective -- first of all, we know that when it comes to hunting asking fishing, it's a multibillion dollar enterprise. It's supported a lot by duck stamps, by fees, by licenses, and so forth. But we've seen a decline in folks that are hunting, especially adults that are hunting, for a number of years. Also when we start talking about fishing, it's been ebbing and flowing, but somewhat stagnant for quite some time. And when there's fewer hunters and fewer fishermen, it affects our revenue.

So one of the things or just a few of the things that diversity inclusion does to help attract folks to us, it makes sure that we have the talent that's needed to do those things that make sure our mission is sustained, it attracts new customers, it helps us with innovative approaches, it drives political influences in a lot of areas, also the recruitment of new hunters and fishermen to our particular Agency is beneficial to our bottom line.

One of the things we did a few years ago, we actually created what we call a strategic plan in our diversity inclusion and in that strategic plan, we focused on two areas: Our present, where we are currently, what are we doing towards engaging employees; and also externally, what do some of the programs look like that we're doing to serve the broader needs of Texans.

We're also looking at future things within that strategic plan, what can we do to enhance the appreciation of our employees for our Agency and creating what we call that welcoming environment. Also as society changes, as the demographics change and the trends are changing within our society, what can we do to make sure that everybody feels that what we do is relevant to them.

So within our strategic plan, we have three pillars. One is recruitment, the other is retention, the other one is outreach and education. One of the things that you may have heard about are some of the actions that are required by us by Sunset. Three of those that I will point out to you, first of all, is within our diversity inclusion strategic plan that we start tracking more of those measures. We also make sure that we're modifying those as we go along throughout the years. And the last one is making sure that we report whatever those successes are to the Commission on an annual basis. So one of the things we did to help with some of those measures and getting some of those actions done is to ask each division to develop what we call diversity inclusion goals and each division has put those goals out on their web page. If you can go out to our TPWD internet[sic] site, you can look at some of those division goals.

But in those goals we ask that they focus on a few things that are our version of smart goals. They had to be strategic. They had to be measurable. They had to be achievable, accountable. They had to be relevant to our mission, and they had to be time bound. So these are just a few examples of some of those goals. These are not the overall arching goals for all of the divisions, but these are some that we pull from. First, when it comes to recruitment, we looked at increasing the recruitment of diversity of highly skilled folks into our Agency, bolstering some of our internship program to be more inclusive of women and minorities from those -- minority and women -- women serving institutes. Also implementing actions from two manuals that we recently created, a recruitment strategic plan, and also best a practice around interviews and -- interview processes.

So an example of some of our retention goals is to make sure that we're looking at the staff and different work environments, making sure that we're creating an environment that is comfortable and flexible where possible. Also making sure that we create a retention plan for some of our particular divisions where there are career ladders. Examining some current practices, make sure that we're not excluding anyone based on gender or religion.

Some of our external goals have a lot to do with partnerships. Especially partnering with some of our nongovernment organizations to establish more programs that have improved different things in the outdoors, different activities for different groups. Also creating new and diverse fishing and aquatic outdoor recreation opportunities. Establishing partnerships so that we can develop what we call outdoor urban classrooms as well.

Now, a few of our accomplishments -- and I won't read all of them -- but one of the major things is we establish what we called an Employee Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee and they've been extremely helpful in vetting some of the different ideas that we've had across the Agency. We also looked at -- well, we've also established what we call a Recruitment Representative Program, where we actually have 60 employees that volunteer on an annual basis to go out and help us with recruiting across the state. We've established -- again, and I talked about earlier -- a web page that talks about some of the things that we're doing and on that web page, we also have a definition of what we believe diversity inclusion means at Texas Parks and Wildlife and we started establishing some nontraditional university partnerships. Partnerships with historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic serving universities, and women serving universities.

Some of the things that are underway and we're very proud of some of these things, the first one is the Urban Outreach Advisory Committee, which we're very thankful that Commissioner Bell helped us to established. We've established a diversity inclusion dashboard. We've done one internally, but we're working on one externally and we're very thankful to the State Parks group that is helping us develop that as well. We're also very proud of establishing this Urban Youth Engagement Program and we're going to do a little more work on that and you'll hear more about that in the future and we're looking at establishing a few more nontraditional university partnerships.

So those are some of the things that we are doing to make sure that Texas Parks and Wildlife is relevant to the broader diaspora of folks within our state. And with that, do you have any questions?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Who has a question?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: I've got one. Going back to your map, I'm just trying to understand what the terms mean. Hold on. Wildlife Value Study, so what is accelerated mutualism versus stable traditional?

MR. BUGGS: Well, when you start talking about mutualism, mutualism is the belief that hunting and -- is not the way to go when it comes to managing wildlife. It's people that are more watchers versus hunters. They don't necessarily believe that we, as people, have dominion over wildlife. We are to be partners to protect to work together. And we're having more folks adopt that believe versus having what we call a traditional mindset of what we have here, hunting and fishing and maintaining habitat, maintaining the wildlife by take.

Now, that doesn't mean they have no appreciation for outdoors and for the wildlife. It just means they have a totally different perspective when it comes to especially hunting and fishing.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Does that surprise you that Texas and Florida are to the right, full right, and blue states, I mean, relative to hunting and fishing? That just -- it seems counterintuitive to me.

MR. BUGGS: Well, but you start -- you have to look at the population change. They're getting younger. You've got different demographics that are living in those states and they have a different appreciation. A lot of them may have not grown up hunting and fishing as a tradition they way we have as the folks that grew up in the State of Texas. Our population has changed tremendously in the last few years and we've got folks coming here from other states for IT jobs and other types of careers and they just have a different focus.

They still have an appreciation for the outdoors; but as far as having a tradition of hunting and fishing, that's just not their forte.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Shocking. 4.4 percent of the adult population hunts in 2016. That's really an incredibly low number and we should certainly work on that as it relates to minorities, youth, female. I mean, that's a big issue to us.

MR. BUGGS: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we have a strong RT -- RT -- R3, I have to get -- all the T's were killing me earlier. We have a strong R3 Program that we're developing that is inclusive of how we engage that broader audience in some of the activities as well. So we're very excited about all the things that we're trying to do to make this change.

COMMISSIONER BELL: I had a comment, Chairman.

Commissioner Bell. Hey, David. The -- what's interesting and since I've had the opportunity to participate with the outreach group and when you run down some of David's statistics, you know, the one thing I'd be interested in and when we talk about the decline in hunters, part of it is I think the change in population base; but it would be interesting to see if the decline is from a base number that says we had ten and now we have six or whether we had ten, we still have ten, but because our population is now 20, so to speak, that that has fallen off.

So we may not have any difference in the absolute number of hunters that we've historically had; but as a percentage of population with all these folks coming in -- because the other thing that Texas and Florida have both done, I think for about that past 17 or 20 years, Texas and Florida have been number one on business development, business creation, and creating jobs and bringing people into the state. So this has been -- Texas -- Texas has just been kind of a mecca of opportunity for a lot of people, so they've come here trying to -- you know, for one reason; but then trying to figure out how to adapt and in some cases, you might say some people bring the things they like with them and maybe try to say maybe we should have that in Texas -- and by the way, we're very appreciative in Texas and we do like the diversity of ideas and we do like to consider those things. But there's a reason why people are coming, so we're trying to encourage them to embrace what they came here for.

But the other -- the other thing in terms of maybe the youth movement that I've observed, is a lot of people follow what they know. So if you have not been exposed to something, you're less inclined to do it. And that's one of the things that as we start on this ultimate goal with this Outreach Committee we've established, which is -- which is 24 individuals now from all over the state representing different kind of groups, all different kind of backgrounds, participated in parks, hunting, and whatnot -- is to try to create some exposure for people in other communities that might lead to them wanting to participate more in what we all tend to enjoy. And I can understand one thing. I would say this. You know, my daughters love the outdoors; but I probably, you know, don't fish as much because I -- well, I'm allergic to fish. But if I'm a fisherman, I catch -- I would catch and eat and my daughters, when they were little, they were "Daddy, daddy. Throw him back. Throw him -- you know, don't -- don't hurt the fish." So, you know, you have to deal with -- there's -- we might have more of a catch-and-release crowd in this state than a catch-and-eat crowd, if you will. So that's part of our change in demographic too.

But I do think that COVID has helped us with one thing, believe it or not, and that is people who were less inclined to be outdoors, are more inclined to be outdoors now and I think that's an opportunity for us, especially in the state park -- if not hunting and fishing, definitely in the state parks realm. And with that, I'll be quiet for a second.

MR. BUGGS: Thank you for that. One of the things we did notice, even in our revenues, you know, our revenue has started to decline for especially our resident and nonresident hunters; but during COVID, we had a slight uptick for that, for hunting and fishing. So we hope that trend continues, but we've got to do our due diligence to make sure that happens as well.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Oliver. And I know -- I know that you're actively involved in this.

Any other?

I want to -- we want everybody, but I think you're focusing at the right place. I agree with Commissioner Hildebrand, 4 percent, that's just kind of a shocking surprise number. But if we're 85 percent urban, doing your Urban Outreach Advisory Group appears to me to be the point of the spear. So I commend y'all for working on that. And I know you're also working on the youth, but don't forget the 25 to 29 is the largest and the fastest growing group and -- but getting those people out of the big cities and out in the wood is priceless. So thank y'all for what you're doing.

MR. BUGGS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: If nobody else, we'll move along to Item Work Session No. 13. It's a briefing on Cast Netting in Fayette County Reservoir, Mr. Craig Bonds.

MR. BONDS: Good afternoon, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Craig Bonds, Director of the Inland Fisheries Division and today I'm going to provide you an update on a fisheries management issue that's been percolating recently at Fayette County Reservoir, relevant to conflicts between rod-and-reel bass anglers and people cast netting for Tilapia.

So first to orient you, Fayette County Reservoir is a 2,400-surface-acre manmade lake located in Southeast Central Texas about halfway between Houston and Austin and near the town of La Grange. The reservoir and its two parks and operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority and it was opened to fishing in 1979. Its primary purpose is to serve as a power cooling reservoir for a coal-fired generating station. Its warm water allows nonnative Tilapia to survive winter. Tilapia were not introduced by TPWD, but were likely bait bucket introductions in the late 1980s and their population has persisted since then.

The lake supports a very popular Largemouth bass fishery, known for high angler catch rates and quality size fish. 96 percent of the directed fishing effort at the lake is for Largemouth bass. Aquatic vegetation and to a lesser extent flooded timber and rock riprap serve as the reservoir's primary form of fish habitat.

A cast net or a throw net is, as depicted in this picture at another Texas lake, is a circular net with small weights around the edges and a cinch line used for catching bait fish in most applications in Texas freshwaters; but at Fayette County Reservoir, fishers use this gear to target and harvest Tilapia primarily for human consumption purposes. Tilapia are exotic or nonnative species that are temperature sensitive and typically don't survive the winter in Texas unless there's a thermal refuge. For example, a heated effluent from a power plant. A cast net up to 14 feet in diameter is a legal means to catch nongame species in Texas with a general fishing license.

On May 6th, 2021, staff received a petition for rule-making from a concerned bass angler who frequently fishes Fayette County Lake. The petitioner attributed cast netting activity to, number one, a decline in submerged aquatic vegetation through physical disturbance by repeated deployment and retrieval of the nets and to some degree, to cast netters wading through the shallows; number two, a perceived decline in 16- to 24-inch Largemouth bass due to stressful encounters with the net, additional handling, and illegal harvest; number three, reduced survival of age zero or young-of-the-year bass due to destruction of spawning beds and fertilized eggs.

The petitioner requested the Commission to take action to, number one, limit harvest of Tilapia to five fish for noncommercial fishers. And it's important to note Tilapia are exotic species and extremely prolific. They compete with and at higher densities can negatively impact native fishes such as sunfishes and bass. For these reasons, the Department staff has encouraged anglers to legally harvest as many Tilapia as possible and these -- and those locations where Tilapia are currently found, the native fish communities can benefit from the harvest of Tilapia.

Limiting the harvest of Tilapia is not in the best interest of the state's aquatic communities and further where Tilapia are present in large numbers, they're likely a prey species for Largemouth bass. Cast netters may help restructure the size distribution of Tilapia by cropping off the larger Tilapia, which can grow too large to be eaten by most bass, leaving a larger proportion of small Tilapia available as prey. So long story short, we want to encourage harvest of Tilapia at Fayette County Lake.

The second request, to prohibit cast netting during the bass spawn, provided the impetus for staff to collect additional data as the petition alleged direct impacts to habitat and the fishery were occurring as the result of cast netting. And relevant to the petitioner's third request, I should note that current regulation requires persons fishing for commercial purposes to possess a commercial fishing license and a permit for commercial harvest of nongame fish.

From a law enforcement standpoint, it is difficult to determine upon encountering cast netters whether the fishing is commercial or recreational in nature unless the fisher has a commercial license and/or permit. Currently, there have been no commercial licenses encountered by game wardens at Fayette County Lake, nor have there any permits issued for selling Tilapia from Fayette County Lake. So these individuals that are deploying these cast nets are either using them for personal consumption needs or if they are selling the fish, they would be doing so illegally.

And staff's response to the petitioner's fourth request, we noted the stocking is not a regulatory matter; but simply a fisheries management action. And after receiving staff's response, the Commission denied the petitioner's request for rule-making under the condition that staff would collect additional data pertinent to this issue and circle back this fall for a briefing update and here we are.

As a continuation of the analyses of historical data, staff undertook additional data collections to provide the following updated information. The 2021 fall electrofishing survey provided the latest Largemouth bass population information for comparison with previous surveys. A 2021 angler creel survey revealed angler satisfaction and catch statistics relevant to the bass fishery and enumerated the number and spatial distribution of cast netters on survey dates.

Staff reviewed aquatic vegetation survey data, dating back to 1993. A 2021 late summer/early fall vegetation survey was conducted to provide up-to-date vegetation coverage for the lake. Other data sources and types were collected and reviewed, including water temperature data dating back to 1986, to note any possible temperature trends that could have affected plant communities over the years; documented fish kill data -- and I will mention that we do have documented five fish kills at Lake Fayette. I would say mild to moderate in nature. And these are not out of the ordinary for heated power plant lakes that have artificial inflated temperatures. They're nutrient rich. In the late summer/earlier fall, you have a lot of algal production and it can spike biological oxygen demand and at night, we can experience low dissolved oxygen kills and we have seen that. Over 1,500 total bass across those five kills and over 700 of those fish within that 16- to 24-inch slot have been documented succumbing to those kills. So it is -- it is a factor, as well as we've looked at TPWD law enforcement data to provide insights into other possible variables potentially affecting fishery and influencing angler concerns.

Now, this picture or figure depicts Largemouth bass population data gathered during electrofishing surveys conducted from 1993 to 2021. Catch rate is defined as the number of fish collected per hour of electrofishing. The blue portion of these columns represent catch of small Largemouth bass, less than eight inches in length, which can indicate the strength of bass reproductive success that year. The green portion of the columns represent catch of intermediate size bass measuring 8 to 16 inches. And the orange portions represent bass measuring within 16-to 24-inch protected slot length limit.

Notably, the 2021 electrofishing survey showed the highest overall Largemouth bass catch at 386 fish per hour relative to all previous electrofishing surveys on Fayette County Lake. Of these, the young bass less than 8 inches were more abundant than all previous surveys performed on the lake, which indicates that reproduction is really not an issue of concern for us, at least at this time. And further, catch rate for slot size bass, 16 to 24 inches, at 30 fish per hour was twice the rate of the 2019 survey. Slightly less than a long-term average, but well within the range for prior years.

The aquatic vegetation coverage at Fayette County Lake has been variable among years. The predominate aquatic plant, Marine Naiad, began appearing in the mid 1990s and continued to expand until 2007. In 2019, Marine Naiad had nearly disappeared from the reservoir. However, in its place another aquatic plant, American Pond Weed, began expanding. And in our 2021 survey, it indicated that Marine Naiad was once again expanding. And during the angler creel survey, cast netters were observed widely distributed across lake shorelines and shallow waters. Areas with high density of aquatic vegetation, including Marine Naiad, often had high concentrations of cast netters as well. These vegetated areas do not appear to be adversely affected by the cast netters, at least at this time.

There are many factors that can influence the distribution and coverage of submersed aquatic vegetation. For example, excessive rain and cool weather in the spring in some years can combine to inhibit plant growth by reducing sunlight penetration to bottom sediments. Likewise, the heated water discharge temperature and circulation from the power plant can vary, possibly influencing plant growth and species composition. However, an examination of lake water temperature data from 1986 to 2020, did not show any clear trends. Water temperatures did vary among and within years. However, there's no clear evidence exists to link any causal relationship between cast netting activity and aquatic plant community dynamics.

Cast netters were frequently were encountered in our angler surveys at the lake, averaging 7.2 encounters at any single daily count and their distribution was fairly evenly spread throughout all shallow, shoreline areas of the lake and across spring and summer seasons, with higher effort on weekends compared to weekdays. More cast netters fished by wading into the shallows, while almost 40 percent fished from boats.

Bass anglers on the lake were satisfied or very satisfied with the current quality of fishing at Fayette Lake. Overall, bass angler effort and catch rates on Fayette County Lake were similar or better in spring and summer of 2021 compared to spring and summer of 2005, the last time an angler creel survey was performed. And to put these into greater context, bass angler catch rates approaching one fish per hour are really considered pretty good in public waters in Texas and especially those that have high angling pressure like Fayette County Lake.

So in summary, Largemouth bass reproduction is good and relevant -- relative abundance of intermediate and larger size bass has improved over recent electrofishing surveys. Submersed aquatic vegetation has been variable among years, with the most recent survey exhibit slight increases back closer to historical averages. Our 2021 summer -- spring and summer creel survey indicates fishing is as good or even better than past years, although angler catch on individual days may vary due to a number of factors that may influence fish catchability. Bass angler satisfaction remains high when analyzed at a fishery level, despite concerns expressed by a few individual anglers who may regularly frequent the lake.

The take-home message is that there does not appear to be a strong biological justification supporting regulatory intervention at this time to curtail cast netting activity at the lake, despite relatively high effort and robust Tilapia harvest. Our most recent data support and affirm your decision this past summer to deny the petitioner's request. However, we don't want to be dismissive of the anglers' perceived conflicts at Fayette County Lake, nor does it mean that we will do nothing.

One issue for anglers and cast netters may be poor understanding of the bass slot limit and cast netting regulations prohibiting the take of game fish with this gear. We designed this bilingual sign to help anglers understand the rules. The signs have been printed and we will coordinate with the Lower Colorado River Authority to be installed at the parks at Fayette County Lake in the coming weeks. TPWD law enforcement is committed to continuing their patrols at Fayette County Lake. Game wardens issued 80 citations to cast netters from 2018 to, at this point, in 2021 for illegal harvest of sport fish, mostly bass.

Our conversations with game warden colleagues confirm that illegal harvest of Largemouth bass does occasionally occur. The addition of the signage to explain the fishing regulations, continued law enforcement presence at the lake, routine monitoring of the Largemouth bass fishery and aquatic vegetation community, better understanding of dynamics and occurrences of late summer/early fall fish kills, these will best serve to address the issue and inform future management decisions.

In closing, the issue appears less about biological impacts to a fishery resource and more likely, in our opinion, related to social conflicts among competing users and time and space on a highly utilized small public waterbody. As we continue observing and working to recruit and retain more diversified fishery users on our public waters, there may be more competition for those outdoor spaces. New users may desire different ways to experience fishing and may encroach on or overlap with more traditional methods of fishing.

As fisheries managers, we have been and will continue to be challenged to meet the desires of diversifying constituency base, as we try and avoid a zero sum approach to partitioning resource allocation. We will likely be faced with more scenarios like this one, that challenge our ability to expand the tent, so to speak, to include a diversifying suite of angler interests, to adapt our fishery monitoring management and engagement strategies to accommodate a broadening suite of specialized groups, and to preserve quality experiences and conserve a broader suite of resources for both traditional and developing niche fisheries into the future.

And with that, I'll be happy to take any questions that you have on this issue.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Craig.

Anybody got questions for Craig?

Looks like you're good. Thank you.

MR. BONDS: Okay, thanks.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: We'll go to Work Session Item 14 through 18, will be heard in Executive Session.

At this time, I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meeting Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meeting Act, seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meeting Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation, deliberating the evaluation of personnel under Section 551.074 of the Texas Open Meeting Act.

We will now recess for Executive Session at 12:27 p.m. and we will return as soon as we can. Thank y'all.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay, we're back in session. I'd like to reconvene the Work Session November 3rd, 2021, at 3:00 p.m.

Before I begin, I would like to take roll call. Aplin present.








CHAIRMAN APLIN: All right. We're now returning from Executive Session where we discussed the Work Session Real Estate Item No. 14 through 16, Litigation No. 17, Personnel Matters No. 18.

I will authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process for Items 14 through 16.

Regarding item No. 17 and 18, no further action is needed at this time.

Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its Work Session business. I declare us adjourned at 3:01.

MR. SMITH: Thank you.

(Work Session Adjourns)



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

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

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


Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: January 31, 2023

2223 Mockingbird Drive

Round Rock, Texas 78681


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