TPW Commission

Commission Meeting, January 26, 2023


TPW Commission Meetings


January 26, 2023






CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for making the effort to come out this morning. This is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Thursday, January 26th, 2023, Meeting.

Before we get started, I'm going to do a roll call of Commissioners present. Aplin present.








This meeting's called to order January 26th, 9:01 a.m. Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. -- Dr. David Yoskowitz has got a statement to make. David.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Thank you, Chairman.

A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda have 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 would like this -- for this fact to be noted in the official record of this meeting.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, David.

As a reminder, Commissioners, when you speak, please state your name and speak slowly for the court report.

First order of business is approval of minutes from the Commission Meeting held November 3rd, 2022, which have been distributed. I need a motion and a second from a Commissioner.



COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell seconds.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Bell second. All those in favor signify by saying aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.

Next is acknowledgment of the list of donations, which has been distributed. This is always an easy thing to get a motion for, donations. So I'll need a motion and a second. Maybe it's easy.




CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hildebrand second. All those in favor signify by saying aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, we'll accept the donations.

Next is consideration of contracts, which have also been distributed. Same thing, I need a motion and a second.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton moves for approval.




CHAIRMAN APLIN: Abell. All those in favor signify by saying aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Next is going to be always a fun part of our Commission Meeting or a special part. The retirements isn't fun, but it's special. Special recognitions, retirements, and service award presentations. David is going to make the presentations. David.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yes. Thank you, Chairman, Commissioners. There's no dogs in the audience today. There's just a lot of great, great people, great family members of the Department. I do want to take a minute if you would allow me, Chairman, to express my gratitude to the Commission, to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff family for making my transition into this position seamless and successful and helping put me and the Department on the right track. So I wanted that to be noted in the record of that appreciation.

So I'm David Yoskowitz, Executive Director, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This is a great part of the Commission Meetings and process and we have a number of people we want to recognize today for their service to the Department and to the state and we also have a number of service awards of people that have dedicated their careers to Texas and to the Department.

First off is the 2022 Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency Officer of the Year and that is Brannon Meinkowsky.

(Round of applause)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Brannon is a second generation game warden, son of Larry Meinkowsky who graduated from the 25th game warden cadet class in 1972. Brannon graduated from the 48th Game Warden Training Center Academy in August 2002. He's a certified master peace officer, a TCOLE instructor, seated field sobriety instructor, a Simunitions instructor, and a field training officer.

During his career of 20 years as a game warden, Brannon has received the following awards: A Life Saving Director's Citation for his quick and effective actions in preventing an attempted suicide; a Director's Citation for an investigation on 18 subjects that poached over 27 animals, that included White-tailed deer and exotic species, and that resulted in 247 charges ranging from Class C misdemeanors to felonies with civil restitution owed to the State of Texas for an approximate $15,000; also a Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Teamwork during Hurricane Katrina. Brannon was also previously named the 100 Club Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for Montgomery County and in 2008, Brannon was named the 2008 Shikar Safari Officer of the Year.

This past year, Brannon displayed exceptional leadership qualities among his peers from conducting numerous media interviews with Houston area media outlets to providing exceptional conservation law enforcement services to our constituents to leading number -- numerous youth hunts and kid fishes. Brannon also led the Houston region in criminal citations and arrests this past year.

It is because of these great achievements that we recognize Brannon Meinkowsky as the 2022 Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency Officer of the Year.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next is the 2022 Shikar Safari Officer of the Year, Dyke McMahen. Dyke.

(Round of applause)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: For Dyke, being a game warden is a family affair. Dyke is the father of game warden Jake McMahen, who's here, and also the brother of retired game warden Luett McMahen.

Dyke graduated from the 43rd Game Warden Training Center Academy in April 1993 and was assigned to Matagorda County, where he served that community as their game warden from 1993 to 2003. In 2003, Dyke was transferred to Wilbarger County, where he continues to serve as game warden. He's a certified master peace officer, as active member of the Department's search and rescue team. Some of his notable cases in his 30-year career as game warden include the seizure of 27 160-quart coolers on Matagorda jetties which contained over 1,700 illegally caught Red snapper, the arrest of six suspects in Wilbarger County for poaching approximately 100 White-tailed deer at night, the seizure of 350 Mourning doves with assistance of Game Warden Matt Thompson that were hunted over bait, the seizure of over 20 grams of methamphetamine through the collaborative efforts during a North Texas drug task force response, and the recovery of a missing boy after searching Lake Kemp for 66 straight days that brought much needed closure to a family in pain.

This past year, Dyke and his partner rescued three victims from Lake Kemp during a storm that produced heavy rains and 75-mile-per-hour winds. Additionally, Dyke displayed exceptional leadership and teamwork qualities among his peers throughout year from sharing personal experiences to sharing professional experiences to young game wardens. Many of the thoughts and concepts shared by Dyke are quickly becoming a lost art, so we are extremely grateful to him for sharing what he has learned throughout his 30 years as a game warden.

It is because of these great achievements that we recognize Dyke McMahen as the 2022 Shikari -- Shikar Safari Officer of the Year. And I'd like to invite former Commission Chair Dan Allen Hughes up to the podium to say a few words.

CHAIRMAN EMERITUS HUGHES: Good morning, Commissioners and Chairman Aplin. Thank you for letting me be here today. I can tell you it's a pleasure to be back at 4200 Smith School Road. I spent six great years working with some of the -- some of you guys are still here, a lot of new faces, but it's a pleasure to be back.

Shikar Safari is group -- well, yesterday I was kind of thinking about what am I going to tell them about Shikar Safari, so I pulled out our roster and manual and I kind of looked at what it said and this is quote from first sentence I read: Shikar Safari Club International is a group of worldwide sportsmen, sportswomen who adhere to the highest level of hunting, ethics, and morals. And that's what it is. We're a hunting organization, worldwide hunting organization.

We're also a conservation group. We fund lots of conservation projects across North America and particularly in Africa. Most of our organization is based out of hunting and lot of hunting in Africa. Anyway, I appreciate you letting me be here this year. Congratulations to the officer. I met he and his son. Just it's always so pleasing to see generations of game wardens. They are -- they are really -- they do a wonderful job, as we know. And hopefully I will be here next year to give the 2023 Shikar Safari Officer of the Year. Thank you.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next up, we have our service awards and retirement.

First, we'd like to recognize Lori Matthews. Lori has worked at the Temple Regional Law Enforcement Office for 22 years as the office administrative assistant four. Lori has worked -- and I'm -- Lori has worked under five colonels, three majors, many captains, and five lieutenants. I got you. During several regional realignments, Lori worked in Region 9, Region 3, and most recently in Region 7. Great to keep track of all that, Lori.

Lori has seen many changes over the course of her career, but the one thing that stayed the same was her true servant's heart. She could deal with just about any situation at the front counter that she was presented with. Lori has always enjoyed assisting the public by answering questions about tagging, trespassing, poaching, boating, and the list goes on. Lori was always assisting the game wardens with their tasks and duties that made their lives so much easier.

Best -- best wishes, Lori, and thank you for your service. Retired after 22 years, Lori Matthews.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: And now onto the service awards, and you're going to notice a pattern here. I don't know if a big group of these individuals got together last night for a class reunion at all, but you're going to see -- you're going to see a pattern in these service awards.

First off we want to recognize Marco Alvizo. In October 1991, Marco began his career with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and reported to the Game Warden Academy. After graduating, he was stationed in San Patricio County, Aransas Pass station, where he dealt with both sport and commercial fishing and shrimping enforcement in Redfish Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, and Nueces Bay.

In 1996, Marco transferred to Val Verde County at the Comstock station, where he patrolled over 3,000 square miles of public waters that included portions of the Rio Grande River, the Pecos River, the Devils River, and Lake Amistad. He spent ten years in Schleicher County with wildlife resource enforcement. The county has the largest concentration of Rio Grande turkey in the State of Texas. I hope to visit that this spring.

In 2010, Marco was promoted to captain and became the district supervisor over the Law Enforcement Division in Region 1. District 1 provides enhanced public safety in state initiated special border operations. In 2012, Marco coordinated Operation Border Star and later Operation Stone Garden in 2014, followed by Operation Secure Texas in 2016. These are operations initiated by the Governor's Office promoting crime prevention that are conducted by Texas game wardens. He currently coordinates Operation Lone Star. With 30 years of service, Marco.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next we have Mark Fisher, manager out of Rockport, Texas. Mark began his career with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1992 as a data analyst with the Coastal Fisheries Division in Austin. In 2002, Mark was promoted to Science Director and transferred to the Rockport Marine Laboratory, where he oversees many programs like the Coastal Fisheries Resource Monitoring Program, the Texas Commercial Landing System, and the Perry R. Bass Marine Fisheries Research Station in Palacios.

He helped make these programs integral to resource management decisions and provide scientific guidance for Coastal Fisheries. He also serves as science editor for the Division. Mark is an Aggie with a BS in marine biology from Texas A&M University Galveston and a PhD in wildlife fisheries from Texas A&M University College Station.

He has published 28 journal articles and given over a hundred presentations to staff, academia, and government entities. Mark enjoys riding his bike to work every day and has ridden -- now get this -- 31,000 miles so far. With 30 years of service, Mark Fisher. I've known Mark for quite a while being in the Corpus Christi Coastal Bend area. Come on up, Mark. Congratulations.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next we have Michael Hanson. In 1992, Mike began his career with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with his appointment to the 43rd Texas Game Warden Academy. Upon graduating, Mike reported to his first duty station in Center, Texas. In 2012, Mike was promoted to game warden captain and is currently in Rusk, Texas. He currently holds the record for the most years of service while assigned to Shelby County. He continues to serve in Region 3 today. With 30 years of service, Mike Hanson.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next we have Calvin Harbaugh. Calvin graduated from Texas A&M in 1991 with a degree in rangeland ecology and management. A year later he entered the 43rd Game Warden Academy. Shortly after graduating, Calvin was stationed in Corpus Christi.

In 1999, Calvin was named Coastal Conservation Association Game Warden of the Year. Calvin was stationed in Karnes County from 2000 to 2005 and relocated to Fayette County, where he currently serves today. In 2018, Calvin received the Texas National Wild Turkey Federation Officer of the Year. With 30 years of service, Calvin Harbaugh.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next we have David Janssen. David began his career with Texas Parks and Wildlife in October 1992 as a cadet in the 43rd Game Warden Academy. After graduating, he was assigned to Galveston County, where he spent most of his time enforcing sport and commercial fishing regulations, as well as water safety inspections.

David later transferred to Matagorda County, where he spent many hours working with the commercial shrimping fleet monitoring and patrolling the Gulf of Mexico. He spent a lot of time on the back roads looking for poachers and ended up catching the most notorious poacher in Palacios. With 30 years of service, David Janssen.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next we have Robert Kana, Bobby Kana. In 1992, Bobby began his career with the Department as a cadet in the 43rd Game Warden Academy. A year later, he graduated and was assigned to Galveston Region -- County, Region 4. Bobby spent his entire tenure with the Department Law Enforcement in Region 4 protecting the state's resources and enforcing the laws regarding the Department's coastal mission in the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston Bay complex, and the upper Texas coast.

He made hundreds of arrests and confiscated thousands of pounds of illegal fish and game while protecting the Texas commercial resources such as oysters, shrimp, and finfish. Bobby spent many hours patrolling the public waters of the upper Texas coast, to include the -- that includes the Gulf of Mexico. In 2021, he was awarded the Midwest Fish and Game Warden of the Year. Bobby is one of the most senior wardens in the State of Texas and continues to serve as a mentor to other game wardens today. With 30 years of service, Bobby Kana.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next we have Robert Waggett. Robert graduated from the 43rd Texas Game Warden Academy 1993 and was first stationed in Baytown, Texas. During his 30-year career with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Robert has served as a field game Harris, Newton, and Galveston Counties.

In 2003, Robert was named Texas Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. In 2009, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant under special operations and was assigned to the Environmental Crimes Unit. In 2013, Robert was named Investigator of the Year by the Texas Environmental Law Enforcement Association and sat on the executive board for many years. In 2014, Robert had a part in developing the vessel turn-in program to rid Texas Gulf coast of abandoned boats and, in turn, received an Oil Pollution and Response Award from the General Land Office for his contributions.

Last year, Robert transferred to the Marine Theft Investigations Unit and is currently serving Region 4 as part of a six-man statewide investigative team. With 30 years of service, Robert Waggett.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: That's a -- that was a tall class at the 43rd. You guys must have had a good basketball team.

Next we have Roger Zane McGehee. In 1997, Zane began his career with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at Colorado Bend State Park as a seasonal grounds keeper two. He quickly moved to park ranger one and then to park ranger four lead ranger over the years. In 2003, Zane graduated from the Central Texas College Basic Police Academy and worked 80 hours a week for both the Department and his local community.

In 2013, he continued to serve his home park of Colorado Bend State Park. He earned his advanced peace officer certificate by completing over 1,900 hours of training and over 17 years of commissioned police officer with the State of Texas. He has proven himself to be dependable, hardworking, intelligent, and dedicated to serving the citizens of Texas, the Department, and visitors to our state parks. He continues to be a positive example for fellow police officers, coworkers, and park visitors. With 25 years of service, Zane McGehee.

(Round of applause and photographs)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Chairman, that concludes my presentation.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, David.

The recognitions are always a special part of Commission Meetings to get the opportunity to recognize people and what they do and what they've done for so long for this state and for our resources and for their families to come. So it's very much an enjoyable part of our meetings, so I want to thank everyone for coming.

I also want to suggest that at this time, I'd like to let everyone in the audience know it would be a good time if you want to leave. If you want to stay for the bulk of the meeting or the remainder of the meeting, we're more than happy for you too. But I'll give everybody a few minutes to leave if so desired.

So thank you for coming and we appreciate everything that you do for the Texas Parks and Wildlife and for the state. Thank you.

(Recess taken)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. After a little short break to let the room clear out, we'll get back started. We're going to start with Action Item No. 1, which is Local Park Grant Funding, Request Approval for Proposed Funding Recommendations, Urban Outdoor Recreation Grants, Non-Urban Outdoor Recreation Grants, and Small Community Recreation Grants, Mr. Dan Reece. Hello, Dan. Good morning.

MR. REECE: Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, Director Yoskowitz. Good morning. My name is Dan Reece, and I'm the Local Park Grants Program Manager. We're in the Recreation Grants branch in the State Parks Division. And I'm here this morning to present to you our funding recommendations for this year's local park grants.

Funding from a portion to the state's sporting goods sales tax combines with federal offshore oil and gas royalties to provide matching grants to local units of government for the acquisition, renovation, and new development of public parkland. Our available funding this year includes $1,142,582 in the Texas Recreation and Parks Account. In the Texas Large County and Municipality Recreation and Parks Account, we have available funding in the amount of 1.5 million dollars. And in the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, we have available funding in the amount of $7,254,597. We also anticipate the possibility of additional LWCF funding later this fiscal year, and this potential funding could also be used -- could be applied to local park grants.

We have our three outdoor programs up for consideration in the current grant cycle. The eligibility for each of these programs is dependent on the applicant's population. The urban outdoor recreation program serves all communities with a population of 500,000 or more. The nonurban outdoor program serves communities with a population of less than 500,000. And for all eligible jurisdictions with a population of 20,000 or less, we offer the small community program.

As of August 1st of 2022, we received a total of 52 eligible applications receiving -- requesting almost $25.8 million in matching fund assistance. Exhibits A through C rank the projects in descending order based on each grant program's scoring criteria, as previously adopted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

Staff recommends the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the following two motions: Motion 1, funding for projects listed in Exhibits A through C in the amount of $9,897,179 is approved. And at this point, I'd be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions for Dan?

Dan, we received 25 million dollars worth of applications?

MR. REECE: Yes, sir.

MR. PINALES: And you're awarding almost 10 million?

MR. REECE: Correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Pretty good percentage.

Okay. Hearing no questions from Commission, we have a few people that have signed up to speak on this subject. So are we ready with the teleconference?

The first one is Arnoldo Lozano. Is -- can you hear us, Arnoldo?

MR. JJ GOMEZ: Good morning.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good morning.

MR. JJ GOMEZ: This is Mr. JJ Gomez. I'm the Director of City of -- of Parks and Rec for the City of Laredo. Good morning, everyone. For the record, also with me is our Economic Development Director Ms. "Rue" Castillo, our Environmental Director John Porter, Arnoldo Lozano our Economic Development Administrator, and our Park Planner Elizabeth Carrera.

We want to thank you-all for giving us the opportunity to talk to you-all and be able to present -- be able just to show -- tell you-all we're really excited about this grant. The City -- you know, the City is being presented with a consideration would have positive impact to our ecotourism and recreation. The project will also protection for rare, threatened, and endangered species for the Rio Grande. This is a unique area on the river bend. It is a -- it is right where Mexico and United States meet up pretty much and it is located just south -- about a fourth of a mile from our Laredo Community College, which there's about 9,000 students that can be able to -- be able to use this area, this park that we wanted to build there.

As we you know, we currently have 110 parks here in Laredo; but we want to make that a unique one, a special kind of park that, you know, not only just the college, but a lot of people can go out there and, you know, all the birding and all the -- all the different -- all the different species that we can go out there and promote this -- promote this area. So I guess the geological location is a great area, like I said earlier, and we want to be able to promote it. We want to be able to make it an area where tourism/people come and check out and they can find a real beautiful location there right where the Rio Grande turns around.

So on behalf of the City of Laredo and the Parks Department and Environmental Department, we want to give you thanks and thank you for your consideration.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, sir. Thank you for calling in.

Next we have Mr. Matt Young. Matt, are you on? Can you hear us?

MR. MATT YOUNG: I am. Can you hear me?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: We can. So we're at the Commission Meeting. So, welcome and let us know what you have to say.

MR. MATT YOUNG: Okay. Well, thank you. Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Matt Young. I'm the Executive Director of Community Services for the City of Mansfield and on behalf of our Mayor Michael Evans, members of our Council Management Team and Park Board want to thank you for the opportunity to make some brief comments about the local park grant program today. I would have loved to be there with you in person today, but our Mayor is actually doing his State of the City address later on and all the City departments are preparing to support that in a public engagement opportunity.

But we are so excited about this opportunity to partner with Parks and Wildlife and deliver an outstanding new neighborhood park for Mansfield, Texas. James McKnight Park West, that we propose, opened in 1988; but has remained largely untouched. It's primarily a trailhead to access our Walnut Creek Linear Park trail system, which is one of our most popular amenities in the city.

According to the Trust for Public Land ParkServe Program, only 20 percent of Mansfield residents currently have access to a public park within a ten-minute walk. The surrounding neighborhood around McKnight Park West is actually the most economically disadvantaged in the City of Mansfield. It was the first planned housing development in the city and many of the homes are starting to show their age and similarly, many of the residents are older, they have some limited mobility and due to either physical ability or lack of transportation -- and currently, 68 percent of the population in this census tract have been identified as low/moderate income, including 37 percent of the children and 22 percent of the seniors living below the poverty line.

So while we have an existing park that provides some green space and access to the trail, there are no amenities to encourage play or fitness or even gathering spaces. So this proposed project and grant from Parks and Wildlife would create a safe and an easily accessible recreation destination for these residents. And as we learned during COVID, it's critical to supporting their health and well-being.

This project is extremely important for us. It not only serves a huge range of ages and interests, but it checks all the boxes for our organization's mission which is providing welcoming spaces for our residents that gather together, fitness opportunities to grow healthy families, preservation of precious natural green spaces and then lots of new exciting ways for residents of all ages to play.

And finally, for the past ten years, I've actually served on the Board of Directors for the Texas Parks and Recreation Foundation. And as I'm sure you know, this foundation assists communities across Texas by holding land in trust for them as they work towards submitting grant applications to agencies just like Texas Parks and Wildlife. So I have personally seen the impact that all of your recreational grants to local grant program provides on hundreds of communities across Texas, including my little hometown of Maypearl that received a small communities grant a couple of years ago and see the public using that in their historic downtown every day as I drive home.

So in conclusion, I just want to thank you and all the Department staff who have just fantastic assisting us through the grant submission process and everything that you do to assist communities across Texas and we really look forward to delivering a park for Mansfield residents where they can gather, grow, preserve, and play together. So thank you for your time today and look forward to a continued partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Matt.

We have some folks that registered, but did not wish to speak, but I will name them: Veronica Myers, Iliana Holguin, Christopher Tedford, and Stevenisha Cezar all signed up just to register to let us know that they were in favor of the park grants that we're working on.

We also have some speakers that are here in person, I believe. I'll call you up, if you'll come to the mic and tell us what you have on your mind. We ask that you keep it to three minutes or less. For starters is Jeff Jordan from Kaufman and then Chris Hensley will be after Jeff and then Joe Vega.

Jeff, good morning.

MR. JEFF JORDAN: Mr. Chairman, Commission, thank you for your time. My name is Jeff Jordan. I currently serve as the Mayor of Kaufman, Texas, and you have before you a grant request from the City of Kaufman.

I've been in this position and on Council long enough to remember when I look at the budget reflected, we were just happy to get the light bill paid back then and now we've been able to move forward and take care of some quality of life issues for the City of Kaufman and near the top of that list is parks. So I'm proud to say that myself and the current Council, as well as all the staff, put a high priority on improving the existing parks and adding to our available opportunities for parks and recreation in the City of Kaufman.

As evidenced by that, we are about to cut the ribbon on a over 1-million-dollar upgrade to one of our existing parks, Shannon Park. Texas Parks and Wildlife, in fact, is currently helping us with another park, City Lakes Park, which -- broadly speaking -- we envision to be more of a small state park than a large city park and we're looking forward to that.

We've also adopted a master loop trail that circumnavigates the entirety of our city. I can't prove this, but I think don't think there's another town in the world our size that has accomplished the forward-thinking initiative of making an entire loop trail and we've actually completed the first leg of that. Which brings us to Kings Fort Park, which is what the application is for. It's in the fastest, by area, growing area of our city; but it's completely underserved at this time by parks. The developer has committed a hundred -- excuse me -- 1.4 million dollar matching on top of the $750,000 requested and we have pretty big visions for this park as well.

Kings Fort, the name, is from William P. King who settled the area, who settled Kaufman in 1840, which you might know predates the settlement of John Neely Bryan. It was the first settlement in the three forks region of the Trinity River. So, you know, Dallas may be -- they may have left us in the dust as far as size, but we were actually there first back in the day. So the nod will be given to William King. His first construction was a fort and this will have a fort theme kind of to it, be able to tell the history, and we want to revitalize the area around that park with native grasses and native trees so that hopefully it looks just like it did when the settlers -- from Holly Springs, Mississippi, is where they came from -- originally settled the area.

The park will include links to that master loop trail. It will have it's own park trail within it and then I mentioned the prairie grasses, the trees, and the links to that. I know I'm up against it here. I did want to take a moment to not only thank you for your consideration, but thank you to those game wardens who you recognized earlier. I'm sure during their career they've heard every story and every excuse from everyone they ever talked to; but I'm reminded of a story my father-in-law tells when he was dove hunting with an individual. I won't even call him a friend. Game warden came up to them and said, "I need to see your hunting license."

The gentlemen said, "Well, I don't have that."

He said, "Well, let me see your driver's license."

He said, "I don't have that."

He said, "Well, what's your name, sir?"

He said, "I don't know. I don't keep up with that kind of stuff."

Thank you for your consideration.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mayor.

Chris, you're up. Then Joe, then Commissioner Garza. Good morning, Chris.

MR. CHRIS HENSLEY: Good morning. My name is Chris Hensley. I'm the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Bridgeport and we are a small 6,000 population in Wise County, just outside of Fort Worth. We are actually a small communities grant that is not on the recommended list. So I'm here to kind of just give you a little information on that.

We have a playground that was built about 15 years ago that is close to one of our creeks. It doesn't rain right now a lot; but when it does, we do get heavy rains, it floods, and costs our community about $15,000 in labor and supplies in replacing the woodchips that are contaminated. So our request is actually to build a new playground that will be away from the creek that won't flood.

Again, we have been blessed by the Parks and Wildlife -- excuse me -- Parks and Wildlife Commission on numerous small communities grants and recreational trails grants. That's probably the one we get most. So we appreciate all the work that you do. If there is more money allocated available, we would appreciate to be considered for that. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Chris.

Joe. Good morning, Joe.

MR. JOE VEGA: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, our new Director Yoskowitz. I'd like to thank y'all for giving us an opportunity to be here. My name is Joe Vega. I'm the Parks Director for Cameron County.

Cameron County is the southern most county in the State of Texas. We're by the border and by the sea, close to the Gulf of Mexico. I want to thank you for the funding opportunity for the Bejarano-McFarland Memorial Park. This park is named after two Vietnam veterans from the Laguna Madre area who died while serving their country during the Vietnam war. And this beautiful park is located right in the Laguna Madre Bay. It's a beautiful gem.

New improvements coming to the park with the funding assistance from Texas Parks and Wildlife, with the partnership, and it's going to do -- improving the native trail that we have there, doing some nice wetland restorations, expanding the bird watch overlook, building a nice pavilion, also building a covered basketball court area, and having some more recreational and educational opportunities there at the park. We're very excited for this funding opportunity and for the partnership.

I want to thank your staff. Your staff is second to none. I want to thank Dana Lagarde and Dan Reece, and Megan Nelson. We work closely with your grant staff, and we're very appreciative. I also want to thank our former Director, Carter Smith, who done a -- did an awesome job for Texas Parks and Wildlife and we welcome now Dr. Yoskowitz to Texas Parks and Wildlife. I'd like to thank you again. God bless all of y'all, God bless Cameron County, and God bless the State of Texas. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Joe.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioner Garza and then Jared Hockema.

Commissioner, good morning.

COMMISSIONER DAVID GARZA: Good morning. Hi. How are you? Mr. Chairman, Dr. Yoskowitz, really nice to be here before you again today and I say again. It seems that Cameron County is before you a lot. We have partnered with Texas Parks and Wildlife on numerous opportunities, boating ramps, grants. We've partnered with you on indoor grants and outdoor grants and today we come to thank you for being listed on your nonurban outdoor grant program.

Joe described what we have in store, planned for that particular park. That park has been a gem in the community. It's a colonia area. Very, very low socioeconomic area. But it's one of the most used parks in Cameron County, if you can believe that, you know. It has been fantastic for that community. We intend to move that park and we've bought some properties already next to it so that we expand the footprint and the county has been very supportive. But on behalf of Commissioners Court, I want to thank you for always being there to support our projects in the county.

I want to tell you that back in November of 2018, this Commission had a field hearing in Mission, Texas, and one in Brownsville and a Commission Meeting in Brownsville. They had the meeting over there. Commissioners went over there. They had the meetings there. We hosted the meeting at our Commissioners Court and I presented a concept at that time for an Ecotourism Center in Laguna Vista, another small community that's on Highway 100 going towards the Island that has daily traffic count of about 18,000 cars a day.

So we developed this concept. I presented it to the Commission then. We got an indoor grant and an outdoor grant that you helped us with. The place is celebrating its first year anniversary of being open this Saturday and I want to take an opportunity to invite you for a field hearing out there or a meeting. The Ecotourism Center has a place where you can have a meeting and meet. You can have a place indoors or outdoors because of what we did. But you have 48,000 native plants planted there. We have on overlook that oversees Space X.

Yesterday they had their first static test on the Starship that they say they're going to send to Mars, you know. They're looking to send it off hopefully next month, according to Elon Musk's tweets, if you can believe that, you know. But they're there, you know. The location that we have at this Ecotourism Center is an ideal place to observe those launches and those opportunities and it all happened because of your partnership with us.

So I invite you, Executive Director Yoskowitz. Think about having another field hearing down there. We'd love to host you, we'd love to have you there, and anything that Cameron County can do to accommodate that, we're here for you. So I thank you in advance for your actions that you will take, in the positive. Our grant is the first ranked grant on your list for the nonurban outdoor grants. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you Commissioner. Thank you for making the effort to make the trip. Thank you.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Jared, good morning.

MR. JARED HOCKEMA: Good morning. Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. Good morning, Executive Director. My name's Jared Hockema. I'm the City Manager of the City of Port Isabel and I'm here on behalf of the second ranked project on your list. We appreciate your consideration.

The Laguna Madre Park is a park -- it's actually the second phase. We previously received funding for this park. It is creating playing fields, baseball fields, and soccer fields that will serve not only the City of Port Isabel, but the surrounding area, including the Laguna Vista, South Padre Island, and Laguna Heights. It is the closest recreational facility for all of those areas and will become a regional sports facility for our area.

We've appreciated the partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife over the years. As Commissioner Garza and Joe Vega -- who's actually our former mayor -- mentioned, the Bejarano-McFarland Park is actually located in Port Isabel even though it's a county park and we've previously used funding from you to build -- about ten years ago -- a walking trail when Mr. Vega was our mayor to connect that park to the Galvan Park, which is a park that you helped us with which is our coastal park in Port Isabel. And so thanks to Texas Parks and Wildlife, we've really been able to transform our area. We appreciate the investment that you've made, the confidence that you've reposed in the City of Port Isabel and it's paid tremendous dividends.

It's really been transformative to have coastal parks along the water there. The only access that's available in Cameron County to the public to be able to reach the Laguna Madre from the mainland and, of course, this facility that we are rank for today will be the only sports facility near our area within any distances. So it will provide a tremendous recreational opportunity for our youth and for our citizens in Port Isabel and the surrounding areas.

So thank you again for your consideration, thank you for the confidence you've placed with us in the past, and we appreciate your favorable consideration. Thank you again.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Jared. Thank you for making the trip.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: That's all I have scheduled. Has anyone else made the trip that would like to speak in person that I do not have notice on?

Okay. Seeing none, we always appreciate the comments and hearing from the communities. Dan --



COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Quick question. Just can you go through very quickly, minute or less, how do you score these various projects and what is the allocation between urban, nonurban, and small community I believe? Just a little bit about the methodology.

MR. REECE: So, absolutely. The scoring for the applications is all done internally within our team. We have an approved scoring system that was presented to the Commission and approved in the summer of 2019. We -- prior to that Commission Meeting, we had gone through about two years of public input and developed the current scoring criteria at that time. The scoring criteria is set up to encourage sustainable design, to encourage accessibility, to encourage conservation practices, and more than anything it encourages public input and projects that identify a documented community gap and fill that gap with a proposal traditionally very well.

Generally, about every five years we update the scoring criteria. So we will start rolling out some of that new public input later this year, so you'll probably all see us about this time or sometime next year as we introduce, you know, potential changes to the scoring criteria at that time.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And -- sorry. And do you allocate -- I mean, do you say, well, 30 percent of the funds are going go to small community, nonurban or is it just it's a straight, you know, analytical whoever scores the highest gets the money?

MR. REECE: Generally, it's that. We -- so we do have both state funding and federal funding. We try to fund the majority of the small community projects with state funding. They're smaller projects with the state funding. We can get them started a little bit sooner. The federal funding does take an extra bit of coordination with the National Park Service before we can get those started. The Legislature does determine the two balances within our state funding accounts, which is our the sporting goods sales tax. So they determine what goes into the Urban Account, which funds only the projects in the urban outdoor category and then the Texas Recreation and Parks Account can fund both nonurban projects, as well as small community grants.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Great. You know, just last comment. Just a personal bias. I mean, you look at all the small communities that are not urban and then small community, their availability to funds is going to be, you know, severely diminished relative to El Paso, Fort Worth, San Antonio. So just from my perspective, these small towns, these parks can be the life blood of a very small town and they have no funding whatsoever. So I'm not sure -- it's just, once again, personal bias. I'd like to see, you know, the majority of the money go to smaller communities because Houston and Dallas have got plenty of benefactors that are going to give to parks. And so anyway, thanks.

MR. REECE: Yeah, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Commissioner.

Any other Commissioners have any questions for Dan?

No one else to speak. No other comments. Dan, your recommendation is in the form of two motions, correct?

MR. REECE: Correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. So, Commissioners, the first motion, I'm looking for a motion and a second is Motion 1, which is the funding of projects listed in Exhibits A through C in the amount of $9,897,179. I need a motion and a second.



COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell seconds.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Bell second. All those in favor signify by saying aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Second, Motion No. 2 is the funding for all projects listed in Exhibits A through C is approved in the amount of additional a Land and Water Conservation funding -- fun funding -- that is made available in the current fiscal year. Once again, I need a motion and a second.




CHAIRMAN APLIN: Rowling [sic] second. All those in favor signify by saying aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Thank you, Dan.

MR. REECE: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Action Item No. 2, Approval of Recreational Fishing Reciprocity Agreement Between Texas and Louisiana, Mr. Les Casterline. Good morning, Les.

MR. CASTERLINE: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. For the record, my name is Les Casterline. I'm the Assistant Commander of Fisheries Enforcement here at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I'm here today to present an overview and request approval of the recently updated recreational fishing license reciprocity agreement between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission.

The current agreement that we hold provides reciprocity benefits in waters designated either as state regulated waters other than common boundary waters, as well as common boundary waters. The new reciprocity agreement will maintain all current reciprocity benefits. It will update two fishing license exemptions, which are the Louisiana youth license exemption, as well as our Texas senior license exemption which will be updated to what is now shown in the Parks and Wildlife Code, the date of January 1st, 1931. And it will also add one additional benefit, which will be reciprocity for our freshwater fishing guide license on boundary waters. This will be limited to common boundary waters north of Interstate Highway 10 bridge across the Sabine River. That is because that is the delineation point between fresh and saltwater when we look at licensing in the State of Texas. Louisiana also agreed to that location because of that delineation point.

Just for the record, we received two online comments for this agenda item. Two were in favor and agreed with completely. One disagreed completely. The reasoning given for the disagreement was the individual felt that there were too many guides already and that we -- we should increase guide license fees as well.

Thank you for your time. This concludes my presentation of Item 2, the Recreational Fishing License Reciprocity Agreement Between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission. Staff requests Commission approval of this reci -- reciprocal fishing license agreement between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission. I'm available for any questions that you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Les.

Commissioners, any questions for Les on Action Item No. 2?

We do not have any anyone signed up to speak online. We have no one in person. Christopher Tedford registered in favor of this item, but does not wish to speak. If there's no comment from the Commission, then I'll accept a motion for approval.




CHAIRMAN APLIN: Patton second. All those in favor signify by saying aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Thank you, Les.

MR. CASTERLINE: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Briefing Action -- Briefing Item No. 3, Resource Inspections at Ports of Entry with the United States and Mexico. Mr. Torres, welcome. Good morning.

MR. TORRES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Santana Torres. I am a sergeant game warden in Cameron County for the Law Enforcement Division. Today Sergeant Pinales and I are here to present Texas Parks and Wildlife's port of entry enforcement efforts that deal with the illegal importation of aquatic and wildlife resources in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo sectors.

Just to give you a little background of how we got to where we were today. TPWD started conducting IUU -- Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated -- patrols back in 2018 alongside our NOAA partners at the port of entries in the Rio Grande Valley. During these inspections, we not only noticed the large amount of -- large amount of aquatic resources that were being imported, but the number of dealers in Mexico that were doing business not only in Texas, but throughout the United States. After several port of entry inspections at Veterans International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas, both agencies discovered various state and federal violations that mainly dealt with Red snapper and federal permit violations. This was an eye-opening event that captured the attention of all agencies directly involved in at our port of entries in the Rio Grande Valley.

Not long after that, our federal partners were also finding large quantities of aquatic resources coming through passenger lanes without proper documentation at our POEs. This led to an enforcement plan that was created in Cameron County that involved saturation patrols, operations, and game wardens responding to calls for service by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspectors.

Since then, a more diverse workgroup has been formed that is made up of multiple agencies, such as TPWD, NOAA, U.S. Customs Border Protection, CJIS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, HSI, and the FDA. Texas Parks and Wildlife has also implemented its port of entry enforcement efforts up the border into Laredo, Texas.

So how does this illegal importation of aquatic resources at our PO -- port of entries relate to the illegal activity that we see in our area of responsibility? Being that we share the Gulf and the Rio Grande River with Mexico, it is a challenge when it comes to commercial fishing enforcement. Types of illegal fishing gear such as gillnets and longline, like the one seen in the picture above, or equipment like vessels they call "lanchas" and desired aquatic resources drive the Mexican commercial fishing industry.

The resources harvested by illegal means and methods in waters that we share have a high demand and high monetary value. Red snapper, Spotted seatrout, Red drum, snook, tuna, shark, and oysters are just some of the more common resources that are targeted. Unfortunately, these are also most common species of aquatic resources that are being illegally imported at our port of entries.

So how is TPWD trying to accomplish its mission of protecting our natural resources at our port of entries? We will continue to work IUU inspections. We will conduct more joint operations with our federal partners and Texas Parks and Wildlife's port of entry enforcement efforts that include more saturation patrols and operations, along with a plan that has been created with U.S. CBP that targets any aquatic product making entry without documentation.

During the fiscal year 2021-2022, game wardens have conducted 190 POE inspections in both Cameron County and Laredo. These inspections have led to 131 violations and approximately 4,100 pounds of aquatic resources seized with over 600 pounds of them being oysters. This is an example of an illegal importation of aquatic product at the commercial cargo area at Veterans International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. This entry included a large shipment of Red snapper that contained undersized fish from a dealer coming from Mexico. This is an example of a passenger lane illegal import of aquatic product without proper documentation. As you can see, this inspection is a lot different for the fact that the passenger lane entries contain various species of aquatic product.

One thing game wardens have noticed during these inspections is the type of packaging that the product is in, especially oysters. Oysters are being imported in clear bags with no labeling attached. This does not allow any traceability, especially if someone falls ill by consuming the product. These illegal imports are what we are seeing in our commercial fish houses and local restaurants throughout the state, especially near the border.

And now I'll hand it over to Sergeant Pinales.

MR. PINALES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Arnold Pinales. I am a sergeant game warden in Laredo, Texas, for the Law Enforcement Division. Over the past several years, uncertified illegal Mexican oysters have been making their way into Texas, primarily from the Gulf state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. These oysters are being smuggled through the passenger lanes of the ports of entry and ending up as table fare at private residences, local markets, and restaurants.

The appeal of these oysters is that they can be purchased at a fraction of the cost compared to oysters harvested in Texas. A gallon consisting of approximately a hundred oysters in Texas is priced at about $100. While in Mexico, a gallon of oysters is priced at approximately $10 or less.

As a means to increase profits, businesses throughout the Rio Grande Valley are mislabeling these illegal oysters and serving them to their customers as certified Texas oysters. Once these oysters are mislabeled, it is difficult to prove the true origin of these oysters without conducting a thorough investigation or lab testing. Due to the unknown harvest and sanitary conditions of these oysters, the lives and risk -- excuse me -- the health and lives of our citizens are significantly at risk.

In the past four years, there have been five known -- and this is only known, we don't know how many unknown, unreported have been made -- but five known hospitalizations of individuals who consumed these illegal oysters. There was two in 2018 in Brownsville. Two in 2021. These were Edinburg residents who consumed these oysters in Mexico and later developed symptoms once they were back in Texas. And then we had one in 2022. This was a Laredo resident who ate these oysters in Mexico and later developed symptoms once they were back in Texas.

The Rio Grande Valley is where most of these illegal oysters are encountered. During most of 2022, monthly oyster seizures averaged about 14 pounds; but when Texas oystering season closed in April, illegal oyster seizures at the ports of entry significantly increased to 127 pounds in April, 166 pounds in May, and 132 pounds in June.

This is an example of an oyster seizure at a port of entry in Brownsville. Each of those bags contains an approximate gallon of oysters. As you can see, it is just a clear blank -- excuse me. It is just a clear plastic bag with no labeling, no markings, and of course no certification number as to trace where these oysters are coming from.

This is an example of cases made in the Rio Grande Valley. This is a case from Mission, Texas. Involved a father and son who were serving illegal oysters at two different restaurant locations that they owned. The son admitted that he would buy a pail of certified Texas oysters and once those oysters ran out, he would refill the pail with illegal oysters. Not only was he cutting costs, but he was also avoiding any suspicion from the local health inspectors whenever they would conduct their inspections.

The case in Donna, Texas, involved a restaurant which had been previously inspected by game wardens, but left them with a feeling that something wasn't right. After further investigation and help from Texas Parks and Wildlife Special Investigative Unit, a follow-up inspection was conducted and although the employees denied serving these oysters at the restaurant, illegal oysters were found in a small ice chest underneath the kitchen sink. All three owners were arrested on Class A misdemeanor charges.

We have reached out to local health departments to help educate them about these illegal oysters and the risks that they pose and what clues to look for during an inspection. We have presented twice at the annual Texas Environmental Health Association South Texas Chapter Conference, as well as the Texas Department of State Health Services Manufactured Foods, and we've also presented to the City of McAllen Environmental Health and Code Department.

In addition to aquatic resources, Laredo is encountering wildlife resources being imported illegally into Texas. The game wardens, working together with U.S. Customs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have intercepted various native species such as Texas horned lizards and Texas tortoises. Even endangered Mexican spider monkeys were intercepted when an individual who is linked to a primate smuggling organization out of Houston attempting -- attempted to conceal them in luggage while crossing the Laredo port of entry.

Thank you for your consideration. At this time, we'd be happy to answer any questions.


Commissioners, comments/questions for these gentlemen? There is no action item on this. This is just a briefing. So any questions/comment?

These -- the snapper is even more of a challenge, but are these oysters actually coming -- are these actually oysters that are coming from Mexico? They're not coming to Texas and harvesting Texas oysters. They're harvesting there and then importing them in, smuggling them in; is that correct?

MR. PINALES: Yes, sir. That is correct. They're coming -- they're harvested in Mexico. We don't know exactly where. We just know that it's from the Gulf state of Tamaulipas, which is -- you know, they have a large portion of the Gulf of Mexico, a lot of bay systems and that's where the majority of these oysters are coming from.



CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Do you -- do you think that this is just individuals kind of one off illegally importing fish and wildlife or is this part of a concerted cartel issue? I mean, obviously, they're doing drugs and people. And so any larger effort here by the cartels, do you think?

MR. TORRES: After attending the various meetings with the HSI and other federal agencies, everything is tied together. If there's money to be made, you know, everyone's involved. We don't know specifics or whatnot, but we do have ongoing investigations that are looking into some certain aspects, I guess. But there are certain people that are doing it individually and there are certain people that are tied to other organizations.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So as a Department, we ought to, you know, make people -- you know, the Legislators -- know what's going on in terms of the illegal importation and maybe this is -- you know, it's just one more negative aspect about the open borders that we have. So anyway, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: What -- I think I understood the story in the restaurant. What these people are doing is is they're buying the $10 oysters, bringing them to Texas, and selling them in their restaurants as if they were, you know, Texas oysters that were safely harvested and monitored. So that's what they're doing. They're lowering their food cost, so to speak, or personal use, whatever; is that correct?

MR. PINALES: Yes, sir. That is correct. So what some of these restaurants are doing is they'll go to, you know, a local seafood market. They'll buy a pail of oysters. This oyster pail has, you know, all the labeling, certification numbers. You know, it could say it comes from, you know, whatever bay here in Texas, and has a certification number, that's where it's harvested, that's where it's coming from. They'll put that in their restaurant in their refrigerator/freezer. They'll use that to serve the customers. Once it runs out, all they're doing is buying these $10 gallons of oysters from Mexico and dumping them in there. That way whenever a health inspector comes by, he'll look at the oysters, see -- okay -- certification number, looks good to me, and they won't dig into it any further. When --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Is it -- is it legal to -- I guess it's not. But they didn't say -- they didn't admit that they were serving them to the customers; but it's a problem to even have the illegal oyster on the premises, correct?

MR. PINALES: Yes, sir. That is correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Is that a finable offense?

MR. PINALES: That's a jailable offense. They go to jail for it.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: What's the -- what's the rate here of the penalty for --

MR. PINALES: It's a fine up to $4,000 or up to -- and/or up to a year in jail.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: How much in jail?

MR. PINALES: A year.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Are the District Attorney -- of course, it's probably hard to catch people. Are the District Attorneys working with you?

MR. PINALES: Yes, sir. So on these two cases, I actually worked when I was stationed in Hidalgo County. We actually had to -- because at the time this was new, we had to have a meeting with the District Attorney and his staff and explain to them what we were looking at and what the risk was to the community. And once they found out exactly what was going on and the potential risk to the community, they -- by all means they said y'all go ahead and do this. Y'all -- y'all have our blessing.

So, yes, sir, they're working with us.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Very good. Thank you.

Any other Commissioners, any questions/comments for these fellows?

Thank y'all.

MR. PINALES: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Have a good day.

Briefing Item No. 4, New State Park and State Natural Area Development Plans. Hello, Justin. How are you? Good morning.

MR. FLEURY: Good morning, Chairman Aplin, fellow Commissioners, Director Yoskowitz. For the record, my name is Justin Fleury and I'm the Lead Park Planner for Texas State Parks and today I'm going to talk to you about our new development strategy for new state parks and state natural areas.

What an exciting topic in our centennial year to be talking about new park development. We all get to be a part of this and I see it as a new era kind of harkening back to the 70s or 30s when you really saw a birth of new park development. So we're pretty excited to be talking about this today and here is our plan to address getting public access to properties we've had that some refer to sitting in our system, well, they're not going to be sitting anymore. This is our active plan to get public use to them.

So what we have on the screen is our state park properties in order of development over the next 12 to 15 years. So that's one new park every two to three years. It's where we get our range of 12 to 15 years. And so I'll go through the list in order of development. We'll talk a little bit more on Palo Pinto. This is a lot of information. Can talk for an hour on each one of these properties. Do have additional information at the end should we want to circle back and talk more, we can do that. But for now, I'll kind of go through the list and we'll touch up more on Palo Pinto.

So Palo Pinto Mountains in North Texas, 70 miles just west of Fort Worth, will be opening in 2023. Our next property is Devils River State Natural Area Dan A. Hughes Unit in 2024. That property is about 20,000 acres on a pristine river. One of our most renowned sites for the natural resource. So we're pretty excited about that one. There is another additional unit called Del Norte already open today. Our third park, one we're actively working on today, plan to open in 2026, Albert and Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area, just outside of Boerne, Texas, north of San Antonio. And that's just under four -- about 4,000 acres and it's one of our most pristine sites that's been protected over the last few decades for rare and endemic natural resources. Our next property is Powderhorn State Park and Wildlife Management Area. To be clear, the wildlife management area is already open and functioning. We're talking about the state park portion. This is going to be a pretty unique property where we're going to show off that divisional -- cross-divisional collaboration and the unique public use experience. Going to be a wildlife paradise for the resources that are there. Pretty excited to be opening that one up. So we're actively working on that one as well on our planning side. You'll see it potentially opening in 2029. This is where the asterisks start up on the screen. So we're tentative to change as we bring those more into design and construction. Fifth on the list Chinati Mountains State Natural Area out in Far West Texas. This is just west of Big Bend Ranch, about 40,000 acres. And, you know, comparable to size, that's a boundary that stretches about 8 miles north and south, 4 miles wide. Awesome mountain range. Really feels like you're entering Big Bend National Park. The basin kind of surrounds you and mountains. So pretty excited for that one in 2032. And Davis Hill State Park ironically enough is the property we've had the longest in our system, but it's last on the list. One of the reasons for that and an issue that we look at with all of our properties are inholdings that may prevent public access or legal restrictions that may restrict some public use that we're still working through.

So just a reminder of why are we here today? It's all possible because of the sporting goods sales tax. We didn't have money before, simply put, to make this possible. So when that passed, this is why I say it started us on this new era of opening future state parks and state natural areas.

So what we have on the screen here is typical project duration of what it takes to open a new park. In yellow is the standard six years for planning, design, and construction. The red bar in front of you is our public use planning effort. That's where we've done some public meetings. We do conceptual development. There's quite a bit of work leading up until we pass it off to the Infrastructure Division with architects and engineers.

So what's important here is the bienniums. When we, you know, take on funding and when we ask for funding. And so for these new parks, we ask for an additional seed funding that we call advanced planning funding and that is where we might be doing flood studies, additional geotechnical studies, making sure our master plan or public use plans are feasible as they move in further into design and construction.

So then when we've passed off the plan to our architects and engineers in Infrastructure Division, that's when we're going to ask for our first big chunk of money for design and construction funding in that first biennium. It's showing on there as before the biennium. We just need to make sure we anticipate that funding request that our plan is sound and moving forward so when we have that money, we advance rapidly. And so for that third last two years is primarily additional construction funding to push the project over and get it open. This is typical sequence. Not every project is going to have this flow and so there is always going to be nuances to what the project sequence looks like.

So when we lay this out on a screen, starting back in FY '18 when we started with Palo Pinto, the six-year cycle and lay that out with Davis Hill on the bottom, that's where we get to FY 32-33. And here's our schedule. Real goal of this process is also should we acquire an additional property, we have a process for how this would work on -- how we would add and then what that funding sequence and process for planning would look like. What's important about this slide is looking at the green dashed lines as they come down and you'll see, you know, towards the end there looking at Powderhorn or ABK, as that line comes down, it's touching three parks at once. So even though we're only opening one park every two to three years, we're working on three parks at once, whether that be in planning, design, or construction. So it's quite an effort not only to, you know, the village it takes to build a park, as well as the village it takes to operate a park.

And so that's where we are today with ABK. As you see coming down that we got additional construction funding to finish up Palo Pinto, Devils River. ABK was a big -- started the design build process and see some additional seed funding for Powderhorn State Park. So Powderhorn State Park is where our planning team is most actively going to be engaged this year moving that plan forward.

So just general so you have an idea of our public use planning process. We don't come up with these plans out of the air. It's not one person deciding and not a lead planner. It's a huge team of experts we have here internally. So we start that project looking initially at deed restrictions, legal constraints, and then that blends into landscape analysis where we have, you know, our natural culture resource specialists, historic preservation specialists, planners, park management specialists all start to look at the landscape and talk about recreational opportunities. And so just a reminder for those unaware, but we really stick it to the classification of the property, being a state park or a state natural area. Generally speaking, a state natural area prioritizes resource protection and conservation and has a smaller footprint than state parks. Though our general strategy, you know, and modern park planning, even our state parks have small footprints. Just relative state parks, state natural areas have a conservation priority.

And then that moves to conceptional development where internally we'll work on different scenarios, concepts. I also like to push out bad ideas, as I call them, or ideas just to make sure we've talked through everything. My previous supervisor would say if we hadn't come up with an idea or someone asks us a question we haven't thought through, we haven't done our due diligence thinking through the potential scenarios of the site. So lots of internal review, but then we do go to the public typically two rounds. That's where we'll show a few concepts initially, get some feedback, make some adjustments. Go to the planned -- public again, showing we've listened and we'll -- sometimes we'll do multiple cities with multiple rounds because our parks will have multiple stakehold -- community stakeholders and we will do that as much as necessary until we feel confident in our plan to get to our public use plan.

So just a comment, quick diagram. Not going to go through all those words. But kind of a note from our Infrastructure Division, I've heard they refer to state parks as the cast of 50. The amount of people, the experts to coordinate through a state park development. So large range of specialists. Lots of coordination between divisions -- State Parks, Infrastructure, our Support Resources, Executive Office, Communications Office -- public input to get to our public use plan.

And so as I mentioned, have kind of a slide show that could walk through each of the parks if you want; but really only have time to go through Palo Pinto today. So I'm going to kind of just walk you through a project that's had its full planning, design, and construction completed. So we're in construction. We're projected to open Palo Pinto Mountains in 2023. It's about 4,400 acres. Expected visitation between 75,000 and 100,000 and we initially acquired the property in 2011. And, wow, what a lake. What an opportunity to have a full body of water within a state park. You know, the opportunities that provides both for recreation and conservation. And so this is an image taken from a drone of Tucker Lake, which will be one of the primary resources for recreation, fishing, paddle boating, and other wildlife viewing opportunities.

So if you're not aware of Palo Pinto Mountains, it's there in red. Right? 70 miles from Fort Worth. 70 miles from Abilene. And what we're seeing here is the full 4,400 acres of the park. Kind of a reminder of scale, that's 6.8 miles across. And when we look at what our facility development is, it's about 175 acres. So that's where we get that much less than 5 percentage, closer to 2 percent of facility development. So that's looking at utilities, roads, trails and calculating that against untouched acreage.

And what you'll see off to the screen on the right there is the entrance road. That will pass by maintenance and residents and take people to this larger development area where I'll zoom in here. So you see coming off to the right Visitors enter -- the Visitors Center. That's where they'll get their information. Get to know if they're equestrian, you know, visitor for day use or overnight. They'll make that first turn you see as they move through to the developed campground area. If you're an overnight guest, that's where likely you'll be going, either to the RV sites or we do have further down the road tent camping opportunities, as well as backcountry camping opportunities should you decide to hike a few miles into the trail system and a boat ramp for day use and additional trailhead at the end of the road there.

So just a summary. What I like to say is how do we capture -- what is the visitor experience of Palo Pinto? And it's we're excited to show off that modern state park. What does modern state park planning look like? You know, we've critiqued a lot of our old parks for being too crowded, too congested, too large of a footprint and feel we've gotten to show off what does modern state park look like. So great visitor experience, great spacing, thinking through all the lessons learned over the last couple decades.

So a number of campsites, 59 picnic sites of various sizes. The main building is our headquarters, a group pavilion, restrooms, and maintenance buildings and we have about 20 miles of trails planned for first phase of hike, bike, and equestrian. So there's an image of Palo Pinto Creek leading into Tucker Lake, woodlands that are going to form the campground for RV sites. This is a rendering of the Nature Playscape Playground. Let's see, picnic areas. This is a group picnic pavilion. You can see some sustainable methods there of water re-catchment and solar panels on the roof. Tent campsites. And then the part for me that is a little terrifying I'll say, but when it moves into construction, when we're starting to build roads, the utility footprint and so this is, you know, active construction site if you were go to the park today.

And so like I said, I do have additional slides at the end if you had a particular question about another state park property; but due to time constraints, that's all I have for today. If there's any questions or comments, please let me know.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Justin.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: The Dan Hughes park, 20,000 acres on the Devils River; is that correct?

MR. FLEURY: I said about 20,000. It's closer to 17,000 if we want to get to the exact acreage, but --

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And did the Hughes family give the Parks and Wildlife Department that land?

MR. FLEURY: I believe so, but will defer to my -- to Rodney here.

MR. FRANKLIN: Yes. For the record, my name's Rodney Franklin, State Parks Director. My understanding, the funding was facilitated by the Dan Hughes family to acquire it.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: The funding to acquire it?

MR. FRANKLIN: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: It wasn't land that they owned?

MR. FRANKLIN: It -- yeah, it was land that they helped us purchase, as I understand it.


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: This is Commissioner Rowling. When we receive a piece of property, how do we determine or what are the determining factors on whether we want it to be a state park or state natural area?

MR. FLEURY: So a lot of that comes from our experts looking at the condition of a site. We'll look at the region. Is there a state natural area already here? But specifically the case of ABK, it didn't have a lot of ranching pressure on it and it had the ability to let the resource kind of grow and protect itself, so that one just kind of made sense with the unique resources we found and the site inventory, we do have to require that it be a state natural area. But I believe that gets set very early on from our executive leadership.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Justin, Palo Pinto is the next one we're going to open and if you don't have, y'all can get us these numbers. But do we know what we're going to have spent when we get Palo Pinto open? Land --

MR. FLEURY: For sure we --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- improvements --

MR. FLEURY: -- will. We will know that. I don't know if we have a final estimate right now to share. Oh, we do?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Ballpark would be handy and if you don't have it now --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- if you'll -- if you'll get it to us. Do you have something ballpark now?

MR. FLEURY: Yeah, we can share that.

MS. LOFYE: Hi. Thank you. Andrea Lofye with Infrastructure Division. It's difficult because there were multiple partners who participated in this project. The city of Strawn is doing the water utilities. The Foundation is working on the vertical construction with the exception of the maintenance building, which Infrastructure Division has taken over and we have a contractor who's working on that. That's a $2.5 million project. TxDOT has done the roads and utilities with the exception of the water out there and that's about $10 million that they have contributed toward the project. So a variety of partners. Some of those projects are still out to bid and in progress right now and as we get further on, we can give you a more precise number for the total for that.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: TxDOT did the roads?

MS. LOFYE: They did do the roads.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Do they go anywhere? Just to our park or do they go somewhere other than just the park?

MS. LOFYE: Leading into the park and throughout the park and a lot of that was grade work because it was a brand new area. Also while we had them opening up those -- you know, doing the trenching and doing the grade work out there, we had them do the utilities as well.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I think it could be helpful for the Commission just to understand kind of the magnitude. You know, obviously we have great partners everywhere; but it would be interesting to know just the totality of what it takes to create something like that. Especially when we go visit it and it's open, we can wrap our -- and I understand every park can be different, but that could be valuable to understand that.

MS. LOFYE: Yes, sir. I believe the original estimate was 25 million. That was pre-COVID though. And as many of you know, the cost for materials, the cost for labor has fluctuated wildly in the last three years. So it ultimately probably will exceed $25 million by the time everyone contracts out their work. In addition to that, both TxDOT and the city of Strawn had issues with contractors who could not complete the project and were removed and replaced. So there have been a number of challenges in the last three years related to COVID.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So it's a 4,000 some odd acre, 25 million plus because COVID got us and in general inflation. Okay, very good.

Justin, obvious question, I guess. How can we do more faster? What can this Commission do to help you guys with the process from the initial idea or concept to completion and getting it open? You already commented we're celebrating our centennial, which is a really big deal, 100 years and a lot of excitement around that. We also know the population growth that's happening here in Texas and we know we're already behind on state parks. We had a conversation yesterday at length about the very disappointing possibility of losing a state park. We can't lose one. We need to add to them substantially. And, you know, I appreciate the chart because it shows how you get there. It shows what you're doing. You have three going at one time. But -- not but. In addition, how can this Commission and can we help you? In addition to funding. I know everything starts with funding. But how can we speed up the process and reduce it from a kind of five- to nine- or ten-year deal and consolidate that? Because everybody at this dias is committed to trying to figure out how to build more parks and so I don't think there's any doubt about that. But how can I help? How can we help you?

MR. FLEURY: So I'll say it's a challenging question to answer, but might be simple as, you know, engage -- engage with us, you know, in venues like this. Don't get opportunities, don't know if we'll get another opportunity to walk y'all through the additional state park plans we've had. I think y'all being aware of the effort of the plans gets people excited and y'all being excited about it, talking about it will connect with various individuals. Knowing the nuances like at Davis Hill that might have a particular deed restriction or legal constraint that we've just been struggling to get through I think would be important for y'all to be aware of just some maybe constraints or issues with each property.

Regarding, you know, speeding up the process, that's going to be a lot of the LAR funding and what that total chunk request is. It's not cheap to buy -- to build a new, you know, state park. I like to frame it as a village or a rural town that we're building from the roads, utilities, to even considering the operational staff that we have to think through on the LAR request. So it's a big funding. How that -- if we were to increase the funding and pace of state park development, what that would do to other priorities. So we are also working through holistic state park development where we're addressing large-scale issues in some of our parks, going in once and doing several projects. It's almost like a new park development in some sense where we're -- the level of work we're addressing in some of our existing parks.

And then talking -- working with us on, you know, land acquisition strategy for where we need new parks, what could after Davis Hill. Right now, we don't have that answer. So that will also help this plan. I don't know if Rodney wants to add anything on...

MR. FRANKLIN: For the record, Rodney Franklin, State Park Director. I appreciate the question, Chairman Aplin. And as we've talked about, I think one of the biggest challenges in Texas is the opportunity to have more land. And so I think if we want to continue to meet the demand of public access and outdoor recreation, I think it's imperative that we continue this effort of land acquisition that we now have the ability to do. I think that's going to be the next big challenge for us and I think the Commission can certainly help us with that continued support for land acquisition so we can -- as JJ put it -- consider the next one after Davis Hill.

The process itself takes -- it takes some time and as JJ mentioned, plenty of -- there are some challenges that we might be able to get some help with, with regard to inholdings or some challenges like that; but I think the process itself is a good one because it's thoughtful. I think the biggest challenge for us -- you mentioned besides funding -- but just that continued effort of land acquisition is going to be key and I don't know if Dr. Yoskowitz has anything to add to that as well, but that's where I see a lot of help could be had.

I mean, we've had some of these properties for quite some time and we now because of Prop 5 and the funding have the ability to contemplate getting these open; but we're going to need to continue this effort over the long term as we consider the next 100 years of state parks.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Yeah. So, you know, nothing -- nothing happens if we don't have the land and we're going through now what can happen if we don't own the land.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: So nothing happens without the land. I get it. But there's a million moving parts and I know you guys are working with it. And if there's anything we can do as an example -- you said just having this dialogue here -- if it could be helpful to have a group of this Commission that kind of champions this and works directly with y'all towards just kind of understanding at a deeper level than we can at this entire meeting, if that could be helpful, David, we could give that some consideration and I could get a -- you know, some input from Commissioners that would enjoy being on the Commission task force, if you will, that works directly with y'all to try to see what we can do. Because we are Texas Parks and Wildlife and parks is big and the timing is perfect. It's 100 years and I say we need to double down and I know all my Commissioners agree with me.

So, Blake.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Yeah, one more question. I respect the fact -- I respect the fact that we don't want to put a lot of structure on the parks and, you know, the density and leaving the land alone; but as we're trying to grow parks and we need more capacity is the most efficient way to do it not to add some density to the existing parks so we can, you know, provide amenities to more people? I mean, new land is hard to come by and it seems we have -- we're really touching very little of these parks and I get that that's what we want to do. But as we're trying to grow, it seems an efficient way to grow would be adding to what we have.

MR. FRANKLIN: No, that's a fair question and it is something that we consider. I mean, obviously, some of the priority -- the main priority, we've been hyper-focused on developing the land that's undeveloped. But at the same time, there may be opportunities at existing parks -- if I'm understanding your question -- at existing parks to expand recreational opportunities. That's part of what -- our calculous as well and where that fits in the overall construction scheme, it's something that we do consider.

Our focus has -- to this point -- has been opening new areas of Texas and new parks; but at the same time, when we add these bolt-on properties that we've been able to do from time to time, part of that is re-developing the public use plan to consider what that footprint is going to look like and it may be more camping opportunities. It may -- more than just trails. So we consider that in some of our existing properties too. But the priority up to now has just been these properties that haven't been open. But it's a good point and it's something we'll continue to look at. Does that make sense?





COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Question for you. Have we ever looked at like case studies out there? The quickest way to get a park built is the private sector to get it done and then turn that over to a state agency. I mean something equivalent to what you've done at A&M where you have a private/public partnership where a private entity actually comes and builds the park? I'm just curious if there's been any examples of that around the country that might be a template that we could at least look at? Just some creative ideas versus buy it and nine years later, we get a park. I mean, we're all going to be gone. So how do we accelerate that with some creativity around the private sector? It's just a question.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Great question, Jeff.

Do you know of anyone that's been done that way through the private sector and then turned over to the...

MR. FRANKLIN: I can't think of any off the top of my head. I do know that we do have several parks that were built by other entities that we did acquire, either through a city -- it once was city park, for example, and then was turned over to us. I don't know -- I can't thank of any examples of -- I know we use private contractors to build our parks, but I can't think of any examples quite like the Commissioner --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: This could be one of the first things, Jeff, that this group -- if we have a Commission group -- could look into and study with the staff. And, you know, you're right. That can be a very efficient way to get things done.

And so by no means does anybody take this as a slight against everybody's not peddling as fast as they can. It's just if we can figure out a way to help. And I also -- you know, Blake's comments were interesting as well. We -- you know, we should look at any opportunities where the low-hanging fruit is to add opportunities for the existing parks that we have as well. And I'm not insinuating y'all aren't either, but that's a good point.

Any other Commissioners, any questions?

Commissioner Bell.

COMMISSIONER BELL: One comment and it follows Blake's comment and Jeff's comment. I recently had the opportunity to see kind of a -- you might say a private sector venture in creating their own parks and it's -- I didn't realize that this world -- I call it the RV world, but I think other folks like to refer to it as the luxury motor coach world. But there are actually park-like developments that are starting to be created around the country. I think COVID has spurred this, but where -- and this relates to maybe the infrastructure on a park and the facilities because I do know that the one -- the one thing I hear from folks is that there's just not enough places for them to stay overnight. But just the idea of building or creating more pavilion space or camp space. It's not really fully built out infrastructure, but it's enough infrastructure that if someone had their -- if they're going to spend the night there, it's -- they've got all the other extras that they need. But there may be an opportunity to do a public/private partnership as Jeff mentioned and I think there -- while there may not be any existing models, there's the -- I'll call it the existing theory that could move forward there. So it's probably worth us thinking about.

MR. FRANKLIN: Thank you for that, Commissioner Bell. And there is one -- a couple of things that I will mention about that. One of the things that Parks Division is entering into is this notion of concessionaires that help us add amenities to parks where they come in -- for example, there's an organization called Tentrr who will come in and build these platforms for these tents that are more like cabins. They're kind of luxury cabins or luxury tents, if you will. You may have heard the term "glamping," but we're entering into that conversation with those concessionaires where they go in and they'll add those facilities to existing parks. We have it at Galveston and Brazos Bend currently. And what that offers is folks that don't have tents or don't want to get fully into the overnight camping, but they want to experience it, they don't want to spend the money on the equipment, we provide that equipment there for you at the park and you just rent those facilities through Tentrr, so. And that is an enhancement or a service, overnight enhancement at an existing park that we didn't have before that we're using concessionaires to help us do. So it's a great model and we'll continue to look at that. I think it's a great point as well as we look at new park development, we will continue to look at our existing public use and see where we can expand. I appreciate the conversation.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. Great report and when you look at it, I mean, y'all -- you're busy. You have five. You know, you're busy. And we may even in addition -- you may already have plans for this, but we may find a good way, much like you have here, to communicate to the public all the balls that are in the air to try to get additional parks. I mean, I would think that lot of people would be encouraged by this, what you have going. So thank you for the presentation.

Any other Commissioners, any questions? Comments? Okay.

MR. FLEURY: Thank you-all.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Justin.

Briefing Item No. 5, White-Nose Syndrome. Not quite as much fun as parks, but...

DR. FULLER: No, I can say it's not.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But, Nathan, it's your turn.

DR. FULLER: All right, sir. Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, Executive Director Yoskowitz, for the record, my name is Dr. Nathan Fuller. I am the state bat biologist in the Wildlife Division. Is there a clicker that I'm...

MR. FLEURY: It's in my pocket.

DR. FULLER: Thank you. Three years ago, Jonah Evans in his role as the state mammalogist presented to the Commission about the risk of White-Nose Syndrome to bats in Texas. At the time, little was known about the susceptibility of our bats to White-Nose Syndrome, but the looming threat of this disease pushed TPWD biologists and our partners into action. Today I'll present information on the status of White-Nose Syndrome in Texas and summarize our research efforts to better understand and potentially mitigate White-Nose Syndrome.

Texas has the most bat species of any state. We have recorded 35 species and most of which -- most of those eat insects. We also have a few species that specialize on nectar and provide valuable pollination services to native plants. Some species are quite rare and known from only one or two localities. Others, such as the Mexican free-tailed bat, are widespread and form colonies of several million individuals.

Bats play a significant role in our economy. Researchers have calculated that Mexican free-tailed bats contribute $1.4 billion annually to Texas agriculture by eating crop pests. But our urban residents also directly benefit from bat tourism as large crowds gather to see bat flights in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. While bats provide significant value, their populations are vulnerable because bats are long-lived and reproduce very slowly, often only have one pup per year. This means that threatened populations may take decades to recover.

I've highlighted here in order of increasing concern threats to bat populations in the state. Habitat loss threatens both hibernacula, which is where bats hibernate, and maternity roosts, which is where mother bats will gather to raise their pups. Wind turbines, while critical in our efforts to expand renewable energy, pose a significant collision risk to most bat species; but migratory -- migratory bats are especially at risk. And the topping of my briefing today, disease, is a significant challenge for hibernating bat populations.

White-Nose Syndrome was first discovered in New York State in the winter of 2006. During a cave survey, wildlife managers in New York observed a few bats with mysterious white growth on their wings and muzzle. Within three years, bat populations in the northeast had declined dramatically with piles of dead bats found on the floor hibernacula throughout the region as a result of the strange condition. We now know this condition as White-Nose Syndrome. It is caused by the cold-loving fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructan, which I'll refer to from hereon as Pd or the fungus. It is important to distinguish between the presence of the fungus, Pd, and the disease that it causes, White-Nose Syndrome, as the fungus can occur on bats without causing illness and I will switch between the two throughout the talk.

The disease affects hibernating bats, causing them to burn through their fat stores too quickly, which leads to starvation. Migratory bats, such as the Mexican free-tailed bat, do not appear to develop White-Nose Syndrome. However, we are concerned that migratory bats can move the fungus long distances to new areas and species. The disease is one of the worst ever recorded in wild mammals, with some hibernating bat populations disappearing, others declining over 90 percent. As an example, a site in Vermont which was once the largest natural bat hibernacula, at one point held an estimated 300,000 Little brown bats. After White-Nose Syndrome, the population declined 99 percent to just 3,000 individuals.

This is a map of the national status of White-Nose Syndrome showing its progression from first detection in 2006 to today. The colors on the map starting in blue in the northeast represent the year of detection of either the fungus or the disease or both and as you can see, the fungus has moved rapidly across the United States, most likely moved by infected bats and has been detected in all but four of the lower 48 states. As a direct result of White-Nose Syndrome, three once common bat species are now under consideration for federal endangered status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

TPWD was aware of the impending threat of White-Nose Syndrome and began active surveillance of large bat roosts in 2012. Because of our early surveillance, we detected the fungus in Texas in 2017 and this was likely the first introduction to the state or around the first introduction of the fungus to the state. We also conducted statewide efforts to identify our most at-risk bat populations. And as you can see on this map, Texas has the southern most detections of White-Nose Syndrome, which is something that we hoped wouldn't happen due to the mild winters at low latitudes.

While we were cautiously optimistic that White-Nose Syndrome would not manifest in Texas, we were discouraged when we were sent this photo from Fort Hood in February of 2020. This is the first known record of a Texas bat with signs of White-Nose Syndrome, visible signs of White-Nose Syndrome. Soon after, we received calls about distressed bats in several central Texas counties. Each report was traced back to a dead or dying Cave myotis, which was -- at the time -- the second most common species of bat in the state. We collected some of these dead bats and collaborated with Department of State Health Services to send carcasses from the rabies lab for White-Nose Syndrome testing at the National Wildlife Health Center. From these tests, White-Nose Syndrome was confirmed in Texas for the first time in March of 2020.

This map illustrates the current status of White-Nose Syndrome in Texas, detailing the outcomes of our survey efforts. As a reminder, there is an important distinction between the presence of the fungus, Pd, and -- or which can be found on the bat or in the environment and these tests will detect both -- and the disease that it causes, which we refer to as White-Nose Syndrome. The blue on the map illustrates counties where we have -- that we have surveyed since 2019, but have not found evidence of the fungus or disease. Orange is -- orange is where we have detected just the fungus, and red illustrates where the disease has been confirmed from dead bats. There are a lot of counties on this map that have not been surveyed because most do not contain caves or other known roosts.

So far, we have only confirmed the disease in Cave myotis and found the fungus on three other species; but we expect up to nine species of bat are at risk, including species that have been hit very hard in other states. It's difficult to know the true impact of White-Nose Syndrome because colonies are difficult to locate, access is challenging, and sick bats usually fly onto landscape where they die and are picked up by scavengers before they are reported.

In summary, as you can see on this map, White-Nose Syndrome is present in 20 counties that we know of and Pd has been found in 37 counties. However, given the spread of the fungus, the severity of the disease witnessed in Central Texas, and the difficulty of finding bats in remote areas, we believe the fungus is likely statewide.

This graph shows the impact of White-Nose Syndrome on Cave myotis populations in Central Texas. These are estimates of historical population counts in the light blue bar versus direct counts conducted by TPWD in the summer of 2021 and those are the dark blue bars. And 2021 is the year after White-Nose Syndrome was confirmed. You can see here that populations have declined dramatically at these roosts between 70 and 80 percent.

In addition to that, we do know that some known maternity colonies have been wiped out, including a very large and well-studied maternity colony at Fort Hood that has been closely monitored for 22 years. You can see that the average population was -- before White-Nose Syndrome -- was around 25,000 individuals and slowly increasing and two years after White-Nose Syndrome was confirmed, as you can see as the red line goes across that graph, there are no bats present in this roost. I stated earlier that the Cave myotis was at one point likely the second most common species of bat in Texas; but given these results, I no longer believe that to be the case.

Given the threat of -- given the threat that White-Nose Syndrome pose -- poses to bats in Texas, we have dedicated significant effort toward understanding White-Nose Syndrome spread and quantifying impacts on bat populations. We launched statewide and targeted surveillance efforts in 2012 in partnership with Bat Conservation International and Texas A&M and we've maintained that effort since. We are conducting a statewide acoustic survey to quantify the seasonality, abundance, and distribution of bats and those data will be shared with national partners on a large scale. This is in a partnership with Texas State University.

Given the impacts -- and then finally, given the impacts on Cave myotis, we've launched two projects to understand the population genetics and movement ecology of the species through partnerships with Montana State University and Bat Conservation International. We hope that through this work we will better understand how bats move Pd, move the fungus around the state.

We are also interested in understanding how bats use human infrastructure and how we can protect bats while advancing our infrastructure needs. To accomplish this, we have partnered with Texas Tech and the Texas Department of Transportation to survey highway culverts for hibernating bats and White-Nose Syndrome in East Texas.

Finally, we are working with partners to evaluate some of the more promising experimental treatments. Nationally, researchers have developed techniques to knock back the fungus using antifungal treatments in the roost or on the bats themselves. TPWD, in collaboration with Kennesaw State University and Texas A&M, receive funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to test several White-Nose Syndrome treatments in highway culverts that -- I'm sorry -- have received funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to test several White-Nose treatments in highway culverts and that project concludes this spring. In fact, I am leaving from this Commission Meeting to go do that field work immediately.

And we have also partnered with the National Wildlife Health Center to deploy an experimental White-Nose Syndrome vaccine at Cave myotis roosts and we have vaccinated to date around a thousand bats. We have been a national leader in testing treatments, and other states are watching our results as they plan their own responses.

In conclusion, White-Nose Syndrome has been confirmed in Texas, despite our hope that bats at southern latitudes could avoid it due to brief, mild winters. Indeed, the impacts we have recorded are more severe than we expected, given that some large bat colonies have disappeared. Nationwide, the impacts have been severe enough that some bat species are undergoing review for endangered species protections. And in Texas, we have gone to great lengths to prepare for White-Nose Syndrome, monitor its spread, locate at-risk bat populations, and identify key intervention opportunities.

Given the effort spent on this issue, we now know more about Texas bats than we ever have before. However, we do need to continue to gather data and monitor bat populations to better understand White-Nose Syndrome and work toward recovery strategies in collaboration with local and national partners.

Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, Executive Director Yoskowitz, thank you very much for your attention. I'm happy to answer questions you have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Dr. Fuller.

Commissioners, any questions? Comments?


COMMISSIONER BELL: Just one. You mentioned that the source of this is a fungus. Has there been any -- is there any opportunity to develop a topical response that would neutralize the fungus, therefore not have any transfer to the bats? I'm assuming that's underway and under discussion, but just what's happening in that space?

DR. FULLER: Sure. So the treatments that I referenced are -- there's a bunch of different ways, bunch of different mechanics as to how you can get a treatment onto a bat or into the environment because there is an environmental reservoir of the fungus. It stays in the colony and will affect the bats as they come in to hibernate. So people have experimented with spraying stuff on bats. People have experimented with spraying stuff in the roosts. People have experimented with pulling the bats off the walls and rubbing things on the -- on bat wings.

But one of the big issues here is that fungi, as you know, fungal diseases are very difficult to treat and often takes multiple treatments over a long period of time and the compounds that are used to kill fungus often are very good at also killing vertebrates. And so we have situation where we have to put chemicals that may not be appropriate to put into an environment, one, because it could have negative impacts on the bats; it could also have negative impacts in the environment of the cave itself. So we have to consider that. But then we also have to consider that bats are affected by this disease while they hibernate. And as you can see on the picture here, bats are warm-blooded animals; but when hibernate, they drop their body temperature down very, very low.

If we go into the cave and disturb them far too many -- more often than we should to apply topical treatments regularly during the hibernation season to effectively knock back the fungus, we may be doing more harm than good. We may eventually cause the bats to wake up from hibernation too often, burn through all their fat, and they die and that is the same mechanism by which White-Nose Syndrome acts.

So the shorter answer to your question is the research has been done. The research is ongoing. The federal agencies are very interested in applying treatments where appropriate and there are places where treatments are appropriate that we are experimenting with in the state right now, which include areas that are, you know, not really natural cave environments that you could damage inadvertently by spraying compounds in there or if you have a critical roost, a roost of 3,000 individuals, for example, of a bat that exists nowhere else or of a bat that is otherwise rare in the state, we will do what we can to protect that population.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Dr. Fuller.

Anybody else?

Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Thank you. Hildebrand. 1.4 billion for Texas ag. What's the interplay between a bat and agriculture?

DR. FULLER: Sure. Yeah. So some of the research out there -- and so that number that I cited, $1.4 billion, is associated with the Mexican free-tailed bat and we all know the Mexican free-tailed bat forms huge colonies. The largest colony in Texas people have said is 25 million individuals down in Bracken Cave. There's some discussion about the actual size of that colony, but it's a large number of bats. There's probably a million or more at the -- in the bridge in Austin. Those bats, each evening, they emerge from their sites and they go up into the atmosphere and you can see them on the Doppler radar as they fly up because they are in such density. The bats will forage up around -- I don't know -- three to 5,000 meters. Pretty high up in the sky which is where migratory crop pests, migratory insects are moving across the state. So the bats, lactating female bats specifically, will eat up to half of her body weight in insects per night, which times 25 million bats times however many nights, that's a lot of insects. Otherwise, those insects would be landing on crops, eating corn, causing farmers to purchase pesticides to treat. That's the mechanism by which bats provide economic gain. And then, of course, that 1.4 billion is specifically for agriculture. It has been estimated that the bats in Austin, the bridge in Austin, bring $10 million annually to the South Congress area just through tourism.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Got it. So let's just round up. $2 billion of impact, 600 million for tourism. Have we done -- and you mention it here. It's a little off -- off focus. But wind turbine collisions, can you talk to me just for a moment about the negative impact of wind turbines? Because this is something we do not hear much about, the impact to wildlife and it's something that I'm keenly interested in.

DR. FULLER: Sure. Yeah, and thank you for that question. The -- so in the -- there is a long -- there's a lot of research right now being done on the impact of wind energy expansion on wildlife in general. Not just bats, also migratory birds, eagles, and species like that. Bats are -- like I said, pretty much all species of bats do run a risk of being -- of colliding with wind turbines and being knocked out of the air. Migratory bat species specifically. Migratory bats are not so much affected by White-Nose Syndrome because they don't hibernate. They a migrate. But because they travel on these sort of circuitous paths from southern Mexico to Alberta each year, they interact with wind power build-out as it happens across the Great Plains and in Texas, of course.

And so Hoary bats, Red bats, Silver-haired bats, Yellow bats are -- appear to be attracted to wind turbines in some capacity and as a result of them going to examine those structures, they get knocked out of the sky by the turning blades.

There is a large community of researchers out there working on wind power and trying to mitigate wind power's impact on bats. There is a pretty broad agreement among wildlife biologists that renewable energy is something that we need to -- we need to push forward with, but to meet all of our power needs. But at the same time, we need to be very cognizant of the impacts it has -- the unintended impacts it has on wildlife. The -- there may be further discussions among the regulatory agencies about endangered species listings and other things like that following impacts being quantified. And honestly, I mean, this is -- this topic is a topic that deserves its own briefing.



COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And I'd actually, Director Yoskowitz, at some point in time I'd love to get maybe access to the research or a presentation on it because, you know, this will continue to be an ever-expanding resource in the State of Texas and I think our Agency is the one that clearly has got the mandate to protect wildlife. And so I'd like to see some more detail around the impact of wind turbines, the wind energy, and degradation of wildlife, both aerial and on the ground as well, I mean. So, thank you.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yeah. Commissioner, we can -- we can look into that and prepare some briefings for you and the Commission.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners questions/comments for Nathan?

Thank you.

DR. FULLER: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I have nothing else on the agenda. If any Commissioners have anything. If not, David, do you have anything on your...

DR. YOSKOWITZ: I don't have anything, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Dr. Yoskowitz, this Commission has completed its business and I declare us adjourned at -- maybe a record -- 11:14 a.m. Damn.

(Commission Meeting Adjourns)

In official recognition of the adoption of

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


Arch "Beaver" Aplin, III, Chairman


Dick Scott, Vice-Chairman


James E. Abell, Member


Oliver J. Bell, Member


Paul Foster, Member


Anna B. Galo, Member


Jeffery D. Hildebrand, Member


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


Travis B. Rowling, Member



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, 2025

TPW Commission Meetings