TPW Commission

Work Session, January 25, 2023


TPW Commission Meetings


January 25, 2023






CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Meeting/Work Session, Wednesday, January 25th, 2023.

We have several people trying to travel. Vice-Chairman got caught up behind a wreck, so he's a little bit late. But anyway, we're going to get started nevertheless. We have a quorum. So we'll take roll. Aplin present.





CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. This Meeting's called to order January 25th, 2023, at 9:04 a.m.

Before proceeding with any business, I believe Dr. Yoskowitz has a statement to make. David.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Thank you, Chairman.

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

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, David.

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

First order of business is approval of minutes from the previous Work Session held November 2nd, 2022, which have been distributed. I need a motion and a second from a Commissioner.




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

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Work Session Item No. 1 is the Update on Texas Parks and Wildlife Department progress in implementing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Land and Water Resource Conservation and Recreation Plan.

David, you're up. And Vice-Chairman Scott is here. So, welcome.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is David Yoskowitz, Executive Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I would like to provide you an update germane to the Land and Water related plan and functions inside the Agency. As is customary, I will start off on Internal Affairs update.

There we go. The Office of Internal Affairs team traveled to Fredericksburg, Texas, in December, where they had their annual fall meeting and conducted firearms qualifications and training. The team collaborated on case management strategies, current trends, fiscal year 2023 budget, team projects, and new initiatives.

In addition earlier this month, Captain Johnny Longoria and Major Mike Durand attended an investigation report writing training, which was developed for detectives and investigators. This was a great refresher and provided updated insight into current trends and expectations of courts and prosecutors.

While on the subject of activities our staff are involved in, I would like to recognize a few members of our Executive team who I believe are all in the room today. The Governor's Executive Development Program leads top executives in the Texas state agencies and universities in organizational strategy, infrastructure management, resource management, and personal effectiveness. The program is an intensive three-week opportunity. Requests for nominations are sent by the Governor of Texas each year to each state agency and university CEO and then a class is selected from that pool of nominations.

The Department had three individuals chosen for that program this past year: State Parks Deputy Director Justin Rhodes, Colonel Chad Jones, and Major Mike Durand of the Office of Internal Affairs. These gentlemen graduated from the esteemed program on December 8th, 2022. Congratulations to all three of you.

Moving on, I'd like to touch on a few issues also germane to the workings of the Commission. I want to talk a little bit about Recovering America's Wildlife Act, also known as RAWA. During the 117th Congress, which ended on January 3rd in 2023, the Act progressed further than it ever has. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support and passed out of committee in the U.S. Senate, where it garnered 47 bipartisan cosponsors there. The bill was supported by very strong national coalitions and by an alliance of numerous conservation organizations throughout Texas.

The bill focused on providing funds to recover our nation's imperiled habitats and the declining fish and wildlife populations that have no other reliable sources of funding. This would help prevent need to list them as threatened or endangered by ensuring the population, ecosystems, and habitats are healthy and thriving. And this would potentially have meant 50 million dollars to Texas each year to support those activities. The Department tracks over 1,200 species of greatest conservation need and several dozen unique habitat types that don't have access to dependable federal funds.

Unfortunately, RAWA was not included in the Omnibus Spending Bill that was passed earlier this month. The idea was very popular among both the conservation community and throughout private industry. It never had any opponents. We believe it did not become law not because of its merits, but likely because of political circumstances and really about timing. Just was not enough time to get it done. However, working in this next Congress, there is renewed effort to, once again, have this legislation put forward and the team here at the Department and in the state will be working on that.

Lesser Prairie chicken. So moving on to another topic of great interest for the Department, I would like to provide an update on the Lesser Prairie chicken. The listing under the Endangered Species Act will go into effect on March 27th, 2023. A 60-day extension from the original effective date, which was yesterday. This makes take of Lesser Prairie chickens or their habitat a federal violation. Incidental take refers to takings that result from, but are not of the purpose of conducting or otherwise lawful activities. So just as a note, incidental take protects landowners operating under approved management plans.

Under the final Fish and Wildlife Service rule, the northern distinct population segment -- and I'll provide a map here in a moment -- provides for incidental take exemptions for routine agricultural activities on cultivated lands, prescribed grazing conducted under approved plans, and prescribed fire. Landowners in the northeast Texas panhandle interested in receiving an approved prescribed grazing plan under the rule are encouraged to contact a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Certified Prescribed Grazing Planner to initiate enrollment into that plan. The Department will be sending out a press release with more details to encourage landowners to enroll in these management plans and get regulatory protection.

Over the last 16 years -- over the last 16 years, the Department has had a tremendous voluntary collaboration with private landowners and industry to conserve the Lesser Prairie chicken habitat and we reiterate the Department's opposition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing of the species during the final rule on November 25th, 2022.

The decision jeopardizes decades of voluntary conservation efforts, increases regulatory burden, and does not assure the recovery of the species. The decision affects 14 counties in Texas, listing the bird as threatened in some and endangered in others. A northern distinct population segment located in the northeast Texas panhandle where the bird is listed as threatened in seven counties and then the southern distinct population segment located in the southwest Texas panhandle where the species is listed as endangered in seven counties.

The Department stands committed to working with private landowners and industry to conserve the Lesser Prairie chicken and its habitat, just as we have for decades.

As for the Department's ongoing efforts, in 2006, the Department entered into a 20-year Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances -- so CCAA -- with the Fish and Wildlife Service to work with private landowners to manage and improve Lesser Prairie chicken habitat in exchange for assurances that no additional regulatory burden would be placed on participants if the species were listed. Currently, there are 91 properties enrolled in the program, which cover almost 650,000 acres across 19 Texas panhandle counties and they are exempt from take and habitat management restrictions while they operate under the Department's approved wildlife management plan.

Enrollment for the Texas Lesser Prairie chicken CCA program is open until the official effective date which, once again, is March 27th, 2023. Private landowners within the Lesser Prairie chicken range are encouraged to contact the Department's Panhandle Wildlife District Office prior to the effective date to initiate the enrollment process. And once again, we will be sending out a press release with all this information strongly encouraging landowners to take that action.

In 2023, the Department, along with State Wildlife Agencies for Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, developed a Lesser Prairie chicken range-wide plan. The plan was established for population goals for four Lesser Prairie chicken ecoregions in designated focal areas and connectivity zones to incentivize voluntary conservation for the species and its habitat. Under the direction of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, WAFWA, the range-wide plan also produced a CCAA for oil and gas companies to voluntarily mitigate for new development and operations across the species range. This CCA provides funding to private landowners to improve or maintain Lesser Prairie chicken habitat on their lands and provide net conservation benefit to the species and regulatory certainty for industry.

Since then, the Wildlife -- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also improved an oil and gas habitat conservation plan and renewable habitat conservation plan that provide additional opportunities for industry to mitigate for incidental take of the species.

The next item relates to our volunteer program that is of great importance to the Department, our volunteer management program and our volunteers. We cannot understate the importance of our volunteers in helping the Department meet our mission. In fact, as I have traveled around the state as much as possible meeting with our teams in all corners of the state in all various -- in all various roles, volunteers are always there and always present and always engaged. The Department reported over 11,000 volunteers who contribute -- contributed over a million hours of service in fiscal year 2022. A million hours of service. This is valued at almost 33 million dollars and is equivalent to approximately 528 full-time staff.

I'd like to acknowledge Kris Shipman's leadership of the Volunteer Management Program, as well as Brittany Zepeda, State Parks Volunteer Program Manager; Rob Owen, Director for Outreach and Education; Michelle Haggerty, Department's Wildlife Community Stewardship and Engagement Program Leader and the Texas Master Naturalist State Program Director.

Volunteers help the Department in a multitude of ways, including but not limited to hunter, angler, boater education programs that which help facilitate courses for the public to gain knowledge and skills to effectively participate in hunting, fishing, and boating activities. State park ambassadors connect conservation-minded young adults 18 to 30 years old with recreation and volunteer opportunities to foster new generation of state park stewards. Park host programs, park hosts are volunteers, supplement park staff and serve as representatives of the Department. Hosts assist park visitors and support the operational needs of the park. Sea Center Texas, each month a hundred volunteers donate their time to act as Sea Center ambassadors guiding tours, greeting visitors, and providing expert knowledge at special events. And mass -- Texas Master Naturalist, which develops core of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of our natural resources and natural areas in the State of Texas.

And pictured here in the bottom right-hand corner is Master Naturalist for the Gulf Coast Chapter, Kjell Lindgren, Commanding Officer of the crew for -- crew for mission to the International Space Station in 2022 and during that time at the International Space Station, he answered questions and talked about his viewpoint on conservation.

Approximately 120 Agency volunteers from all divisions across the state participated in the Department's biannual volunteer management conference in December. The focus of this gathering was to discuss strategies, to increase diversity of volunteers, share knowledge and best practices and highlight community partners and increase engagement. Speakers included OneStar Foundation representatives, Alex Bailey from Black Outside, and staff from across the Department.

Also a special thanks to Commissioner Bell for representing the Department's Urban and Outreach Advisory Committee and speaking to the importance of volunteerism and engaging new and diverse audience in the Department's programs.

Next I'd like to -- I'd like to talk about the America's with Disability Act ADA Branch that was stood up five years ago in the Support Resources Division. Since its inception, the branch has completed an ADA policy, initiated software to track accessibility at all facilities and sites, provided accessibility training, and completed site assessment at all state parks and facilities the ADA and facilitates the ADA Advisory Committee.

In addition, the Agency's ADA Coordinator Jessica Burke and her team work on with all divisions in the Agency in making our facilities, sites, and programs more accessible to all visitors and provides outreach to partners and stakeholders across the state. And so an example of this is last November, the ADA Branch staff partnered with McKinney Falls State Park right here to provide an assessable program to the Texas Workforce Commission's Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center.

The CCRC is an innovative, residential, vocational rehabilitation training center that serves young adults who are legally blind by helping them learn alternative techniques to prepare for, find, or retain employment, attend college, university, or trade school and live independently in community. Lead Interpretive Ranger Lauren Sweat engaged the group in innovative and intentional ways and provided ample opportunity for curiosity and discovery, assisted by Cole Johnson of the ADA Branch who is also legally blind.

TPWD's ADA Branch will continue to serve the disabled community by providing outreach programming and working with the park staff to develop custom, accessible, and inclusive programming services.

And finally, I would just like to provide a brief update on the 88th Texas Legislature, which has just kicked off. The Legislature began filing bills on November 14th, 2022, my first day in this position, with approximately 900 bills and resolutions filed for that first day. As of last Friday, there were a total of 2,143 bills and resolutions filed, of which we are currently tracking and monitoring 321 of those that could potentially have impact to the Department if passed.

While bills could be filed as early as November 14th, the Legislature did not convene until January 2023, January 10th, 2023. From January through August 2023, there are several dates that I want to draw your attention to and January 10th was the start of the Legislative Session. January 18th, the House and Senate -- so this was last week -- filed identical budgets for the Department. So filed identical budgets for the Department. February 13th will be the first chance that we have as the Department to go in front of the Senate Finance Committee. March 10th, 2023, 60th day, and that is bill filing deadline.

Now, just back up for a moment. We do not have a date set for House appropriations, but we expect that to be coming soon. On May 29th, will be adjournment and then June 18th, post-session, 20-day deadline for the Governor to sign or veto bills, and then August 28th is the date without bills with specific effective dates that would become law.

So just a few of the priority -- Legislative priorities that we have amongst a number of these. The Office of Governmental Affairs Executive team and key staff will be monitoring Legislative bills that could have an impact on the Agency, as mentioned before. The Agency has identified some of these priorities that would benefit the Department if passed. Examples include travel reimbursement for groceries purchased within an employee's duty station ahead of their fieldwork and travel. That currently does not exist and that is -- that is shared amongst all the agencies, so that would be a benefit to not only Department of -- Texas Department of -- Texas Fish and Wildlife Department, but others as well. Change in Salary Schedule B to Salary Schedule C for state park officer -- police officers. Take of wildlife for disease management and public safety reasons. Allow for data sharing agreements with the Texas Animal Health Commission, an important partner of the Department. Boating while intoxicated with a child passenger, among others. We'll continue to update these as we move through the Legislative Session and we're informed of bills of interest.

And with that, I conclude my presentation. I'm glad to answer any questions that you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, David.

Commissioners, any question for David?

Hearing none, thank you.


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

MR. PEGUES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Reggie Pegues, Chief Financial Officer for our Parks and Wildlife. I'll be covering the -- these following topics: FY '22 yearend revenue summaries, FY '23 revenue summaries through December, FY '23 budget adjustments through December.

And before I begin, I may sound repetitive as I go through this presentation because all of our revenue lines are tending to trend the same way. We had record years for 2021 based on COVID, so you're going to see a trend across all revenue lines. A slight decline, but pretty strong numbers.

First, I will begin with license revenue for the year ended August 31st, 2022. Overall revenues for the license year were 112 million. Again, slightly below the record numbers of '20 and '21; but still significantly higher than the pre-COVID years of '18 and '19 at 104 million each. Next is the monthly breakdown of license revenue. Again, this follows the typical seasonal pattern with approximately 70 percent of the revenues occurring between September and December, slight dip in the winter months, and then a leveling off of about 5.3 million for the remainder of the year to end at 112 million.

Next is revenue comparison between years by revenue type. A slight 2.7 percent decline from '21 to '22, but a slight bump in our nonresident activity for nonresident fish and nonresident hunt. The reason for this is even -- even though '21 was a record year, we were still recovering from some of the COVID affects, some of the travel restrictions. So what you're seeing in '22 is a relaxation of those travel restrictions and an increase in our nonresident activity.

Next we move on to state parks. We begin with a five-year comparison of revenue. FY '22 revenues were pretty strong at 64.9 million. Slightly below FY '21 record amounts, but significantly higher than '18, '19, and 2020, which was hit primarily by closures, which explains the slight dip.

Next we have a monthly comparison -- monthly breakdown of state parks revenue. Again, follows the seasonal pattern, with the peak activity in the spring and summer months of March through June. This is a two-year comparison by revenue type. Slight decline of 2.7 percent across all lines. A little bump in concessions. Just those parks that were open in '22 versus '21, there was a little bit more activity going on within those parks. Visitation was 9.6 million, slight drop. Paid visitation, again a slight drop to 6.3 million from the 6.7 million of '21.

Next we move on to boat revenues. For FY '22 overall revenues were at 24.5 million. Again, slight dip from our record year '21; but outpacing FY '18 through FY '20, which averaged to about 22 million per year. Monthly comparison of FY '22 revenue followed the traditional pattern, again with peak activity in the spring and summer months as should be expected. Here's the two-year comparison of '21 versus '22. 5.1 percent slight decline. Still pretty strong in comparison to the other years that we just recently looked at.

Next I'll move on to revenue summaries through December of this year. Five-year comparison of license revenue through December, we see a trend emerging where we're slightly behind '22 and '21; but overall shaping up to be another strong year. License revenue, following expected trend with the majority occurring as the season begins in September. Slight dip in October, November. And we expect a leveling off as we go through the remainder of the year if our traditional pattern holds. Side-by-side comparison, again a slight drop across all lines; but pretty strong when you consider we're comparing against a strong year in '22.

Moving on to state parks five-year comparison of revenue. Through December, we're at 18 million. Just a tad behind the FY '22 number of 22 point million[sic] and the FY '20 numbers. But again, FY '19 and '20, we're significantly outpacing those years. Monthly comparison, seasonal pattern emerging. We expect higher activity as we get into the spring and summer months. Side-by-side comparison, overall decline of 11 point -- 11 percent and pretty consistent across all lines.

Next we move on to boat revenues five-year comparison. FY '23, we're currently at 4.8 million. Again, strong year when you consider the records in FY '21 and '22 and, again, outpacing those pre-COVID years. Monthly pattern, we see the traditional pattern emerging as we go into the winter months, a slight decline with an expected uptick in the spring and summer months. Revenue comparison, two-year comparison by revenue type. Slight decline across all lines, 8.9 percent.

Next I'll move on to budget adjustments through December for FY '23. We begin with the approved budget that the Commissioners approved back in August of 44 -- 442 million dollars. At the time, we also mentioned that this was just a starting point and as we move throughout the year, there will be items that we identified at the time that would be realized as we went through the budget year. And also I would like to point out that this is the second year of a biennium. So we have authority to bring any unexpended balances or unspent funds from FY '22 into '23. So that, in part, accounts for the higher number. In other words, there's no lapse for fiscal year '22.

Various categories -- operational, noncapital, UB -- these are those funds brought forward under that provision. About half of that is relating to local park grants about -- a little over 12 or 13 million that just we couldn't get out the door at the time. About 8 million of operating and state parks. Of that 8 million, about five and a half of that is related to additional sporting goods sales tax that we got as a result of the biennial revenue estimate for FY '22.

The next category, federal and UB, we have authority to bring federal funds forward between years and increase our estimated amounts. Of this amount, about 50 million of that is also related to local park grant activity. This time the federal side of it. Just issues, again, with getting those grants out the door, just fallout from COVID, powering, just construction related delays.

The next category are appropriated receipts and UB. About half of this are donations that the Agency receives. We have authority to carry those amounts forward. Next are our capital and construction UB numbers. Now the majority of that is related to capital construction, but we also have -- also included in capital are UBs for transportation, equipment, IT items that are considered as part of this capital number.

This next category is additional sporting goods sales tax. I mentioned in our UB that we had additional sporting goods sales tax for FY '22 that we got in FY '23. We also had an additional amount of 20.9 million that was appropriated in FY '23 that increased our budget. And so I wanted to itemize that to just specifically point that out to you.

The next category we have are employee, fringe, unemployment. These are calculations based on salaries actually throughout the Agency, retirements. This is kind of a moving number each year. It's just based on our payroll activity. Those adjustments subtotal to 296.5 million, bringing our adjusted budget on December to 738.4 million.

This concludes my presentation. I'll take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Reggie.

Commissioners, any questions about the financial overview?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Yeah, a couple of questions. Commissioner Hildebrand. You know, every time I look at this -- help me understand. I mean, we set a budget of 442; but then you've got adjustments within really a very short period of time of another 300 million dollars. Why are we not incorporating those adjustments into the original budget so we can actually manage to a budget versus just always ipso facto adding to our budget as we feel appropriate?

So it's -- it's the magnitude of it that I've brought up before. 300 million dollars on a 442 budget. I mean, that's almost double and that's just adjustments, so.

MR. PEGUES: Yeah. In our prior meeting, our comments were that those estimates we tend to -- during the budget process, we can come up with estimates of what those amounts might be; but those estimates, even if we come up with certain amounts, those amounts are going to change at some point during the year. So we -- the policy was just so wait until those -- we knew what those actual amounts were. And then in some instances, the sporting goods sales tax, at the time we did our budget in August, we had no idea that those -- that those funds were going to be made available. With the construction, just expected delays. It's hard to calculate exactly, you know, what projects will be carried forward. So it's a combination of just realizing, waiting for the actual numbers versus going with the estimates that would subsequently be revised and then just those other factors that hit our budget, like the additional sporting goods sales tax, which we got that information late July last year and into the early part of the fiscal year.

And then with the federal funds, those are based on apportionments and we typically don't know the final numbers until, say, February of a -- within that year. So we begin with the estimated numbers. The fringe numbers, again, those are -- that's an estimate based on expected payroll activity and through the year, we will shift those numbers.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. I mean, this is not the right forum to really discuss the intricacies of how we modify our budget; but I would, David, really like to grind down on this because it's all about financial accountability and when you double your budget, I mean, you just load it with the kitchen sink and who knows if we're managing to the budget or not. So let's just set it aside. I don't want to get in a public debate on this right now.

And then secondly, have we made any progress -- I know a bit outside of your purview -- but this notion of recurring revenue and automatically renewing our licenses on an annual basis, like you do a Netflix subscription or -- I mean, the world is all about just renewing memberships. And so this seems like just a no-brainer to me to try to add consistent revenue to the Department.

And the other element too, just on a revenue -- once again, this is not the right forum -- but I would just ask you guys to think about this and respond to me maybe at some point in time. But the other is as well is do we have park passes where for $300 for the year gives you access to every park or do you just have to incrementally pay your fees on a per visit basis? Because once again, that seems like an interesting revenue item to say, hey, for $300, $250, you can visit any park on an unlimited basis for the year, so.

MR. FRANKLIN: That's a good question Commissioner. For the record, my name is Rodney Franklin and I'm the Director for State Parks. As far as an annual pass, we do have an annual pass --


MR. FRANKLIN: -- for Texas state parks, $70 and it gets you and your family into any Texas state park for a year and you can renew that pass on an annual basis.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And is that used much? I mean, in our revenue calculations, do lots of people apply for that?

MR. FRANKLIN: Yes, there's quite a bit of usage for that pass. It's quite a bargain at $70.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: You bet. Well, it makes it incredibly affordable for citizens of Texas. That's great.

MR. FRANKLIN: Exactly, so. And then you can also just pay your entry fees on a per visit basis if you choose to, or you can have that annual pass.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Great. Any answer on the renewable licenses or not in your area?

MR. FRANKLIN: No, no, that's not exactly in my purview.


MR. FRANKLIN: I'd have to defer that question.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Understand. Just so I don't want to take up any more time, but those are the two issues: The renewable license and then more -- more granular look at the budget that we'll have some more discussions about. All right, thanks.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yeah. Commissioner, we'll get back to you on that for sure, yeah.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Great. And last question. If we don't use any capital dollars in our budget, we roll it over into our new budget; is that correct? We don't ever give anything back to the State?

MR. PEGUES: So for the second year of the biennium, everything moves forward, including capital. If we have any unspent capital in FY '23, that will go back to the State since it's the end of the biennium. The only thing that crosses biennium are certain construction funds.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So at the end of the biennium, do we actually roll any unspent capital over to the new biennium or do we give that back to the State?

MR. PEGUES: It basically -- the authority basically lapses back to the State. Any -- any capital for the new biennium would be what we were appropriated, with that limited provision for any construction funds to cross over the biennium.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: I understand. Okay. And, you know, just in business, I mean, budgets are great; but one of the things that we really look at a lot is budget or plan versus actual and then variances and then we explain the variances as to why. So we need to start thinking about that. It's: How are we doing relative to our budget? Are we up or down and why? Okay, thanks.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Jeff. Good questions.

Anybody else questions for Reggie?

Thank you.

We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 3, Internal Audit Update. Good morning, Brandy.

MS. MEEKS: Good morning. Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Commissioners. This morning -- well, for the record, my name is Brandy Meeks. I'm the Internal Audit Director. This morning I'd like to provide an update on the status of our fiscal year '22 and '23 internal audit plans, discuss recent external audits and assessments, as well as discuss the formalization of the Audit Subcommittee.

This slide shows the status of our fiscal year '22 internal audit plan. Change since the last time we met are in yellow above. We did complete the CAPPS HR FR cybersecurity audit and we are currently in the fieldwork phase for the IT contract clauses advisory project. We have completed 22 of 27 projects on fiscal year '22's internal audit plan and we have four projects that we need to start.

This and the next slide show the status of our fiscal year '23 internal audit plan. Since the last time we've met, we have made significant progress under the administrative and special projects on -- where -- the state park continuous monitoring research project and we also were able to fill one of our two vacancies in Internal Audit. Our new team member has prior IT audit, as well as financial audit experience and we're very excited to have him. His name is Nadim Kathree. We are also working on finishing up last year's follow-up items.

As far as the fiscal control audits on this year's plan, which we have 18, two of our state park fiscal control audits are in the planning phase, two are in the reporting phase, one is complete. We are also well underway for our Law Enforcement Office audits. We have one in the fieldwork phase and three in the reporting phase.

And then I would like to discuss our external audits and assessment. Completed since the last time we met are the civil rights reviews done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Homeland Security. The SAO also completed their audit of capital assets and we will be following up on all of those items and all of those audits. Ongoing is the CJIS audit; the six-year personnel policy and procedure system review; as well as the dual employment audit.

And then lastly, I would like to discuss the formalization of the Audit Subcommittee. So the Sunset Advisory Commission recommended that Texans Parks -- Texas Parks and Wildlife formalize this de facto or informal subcommittee. It's existed since I came on board. So well before the Sunset report was issued -- or I say well before -- about a year before the Sunset report was issued and the subcommittee was formalized yesterday by our Chairman by signing the Audit Subcommittee Charter. So thank you for that.

The members of the Audit Subcommittee, the Chairman has appointed Commissioner Bell as Chair, Commissioner Abell, Chairman Aplin, and Vice-Chairman Scott.

And this concludes my presentation. I'm available to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Brandy.

Commissioners, any questions?

Thank you for your presentation.

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: We'll move on to Work Session Item No. 4, the 2023-24 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Good morning, Mike.

MR. TENNANT: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Michael Tennant. I'm the Regulations and Policy Coordinator in the Inland Fisheries Division. Today I'll be presenting proposed freshwater fishing regulation changes for 2023-2024.

To give a quick overview of the proposed rule changes I'll discuss, these include modifying the definition and fishing regulations for community fishing lakes, returning to statewide standards for Largemouth bass on Lake Nasworthy, implementing a catch-and-release regulation for Largemouth bass on Lake Forest Park, removing fishing regulations for Gibbons Creek Reservoir, modifying harvest regulation for catfish in two reservoirs, and delineating and clarifying upstream reservoir boundaries for three reservoirs.

Community fishing lakes are public impoundments 75 acres or smaller located totally within an incorporated city limits or a public park and all impoundments of any size within the boundaries of a state park. Currently the Department recognizes over 850 CFLs, 70 percent of which are in major metropolitan areas. The proximity to urban areas and ease of access leads to heavy fishing pressure.

The Inland Fisheries Division formed the CFL Committee to evaluate angler participation and preferences and concerns of angler confusion related to fishing regulations. The goal of this evaluation was to develop simplified regulations that would be easy to understand and to enforce, while enhancing fishing opportunities and to address angler preferences.

The CFL Committee designed and conducted the statewide CFL angler survey from March 1st to June 30th, 2021. The survey resulted in 887 angler contacts. The points on the map represent the 152 CFLs where angler survey responses were obtained. The CFL angler survey revealed these angler preferences. Catfish and Largemouth bass were the most preferred species among CFL anglers, while many CFL anglers indicated that they preferred to fish for any species of fish that would bite. Catfish and Rainbow trout anglers were the most likely to harvest, while most fishing for Largemouth bass and sunfish is catch and release. This suggests that harvest-oriented anglers are primarily focused on species stocked by the Department, such as catfish and Rainbow trout. Over 60 percent of anglers were satisfied with their catch rate of targeted species and CFL anglers who indicated intent to harvest typically desired three to ten fish.

Staff recommends amending the CFL definition to clarify the waterbodies to which CFL regulations apply, such as within incorporated city limits or a municipal city, county, or state park. Current fishing regulations for CFLs follow statewide standards with special exceptions for catfish, bass, and sunfish. Special exceptions include catch-and-release only, minimum/maximum, and slot length limits for bass. The proposed rule change would implement a daily bag limit of five, all species combined with one Black bass greater than 14 inches for most CFLs, and continued catch-and-release only exceptions for five CFLs. We are hopeful that this new regulation will enhance the overall fishing experience for CFL anglers by reducing regulatory complexity and enhancing and diversifying fishing opportunities.

Current pole and line restrictions allow game and nongame fish to be taken by pole and line and/or employ no more than two pole and line devices at the same time for a variety of public waterbodies. The proposed change would continue most existing pole and line restrictions and clarify restrictions for CFLs in ten state park lakes that would not be defined as CFLs and add restrictions for Deputy Darren Goforth Park.

Pole and line restrictions are recommended where fishing pressure is intense to minimize angler conflicts and distribute fishing opportunities. Biologists have managed some public impoundments, rivers, and creeks consistent with CFL regulations for a variety of reasons. To maintain this consistency, the proposed rule change would implement a daily bag limit of five, all species combined with one Black bass greater than 14 inches for the waterbodies listed on this slide.

The proposed changes to CFL regulations require changes to catfish regulations for three state park lakes. Biologists have indicated that these lakes require more restrictive catfish length regulations due to limited recruitment. The proposed rule change would implement a daily bag limit of 15 and a 14-inch minimum length limit. This proposed change would apply an existing catfish exception. We're not expanding the types of exceptions.

Biologists reassessed the size of Dixieland Lake at 57 acres in fall of 2022. Dixieland Lake now meets the definition of a community fishing lake, reassessed at less than 75 acres and within a city park. The proposed rule change would implement a daily bag limit of five, all species combined with one Black bass greater than 14 inches.

Lake Nasworthy is a small reservoir on the southwest side of San Angelo in Tom Green County. The Largemouth bass population has a long history of slow growth, poor size structure and body condition. In 2015, a 14- to 18-inch-slot length limit was adopted intending to improve size structure and body condition. Over the past seven years, creel data show low harvest and fisheries management survey data show no changes in bass abundance, condition, or growth. Harvest of Largemouth bass under the slot length limit is needed to restructure the population. Also bass tournament anglers have increasingly voiced displeasure with the slot length limit and angler opinion survey data showed most anglers prefer a return to statewide regulations.

The proposed rule change would return to statewide standards, as special exceptions are no longer needed, which would consist of the same daily bag limit and a 14-inch minimum length limit.

Lake Forest Park is a 15-acre community fishing lake located in the City of Denton's Forest Park. Lake Forest Park has recently been renovated to improve the fishery and provide quality urban angling opportunities. Renovations include dam replacement, silt removal, a pedestrian bridge, shoreline access including a dock and kayak launch, fish habitat, and fish stocking. The fisheries management goal for Lake Forest Park is to develop a quality, self-sustaining Largemouth bass population. It is important to provide protection to those initial year classes of stocked Largemouth bass to achieve the fisheries management goal.

Current Largemouth bass regulations follow the statewide standard with a daily bag limit of five and 14-inch minimum length limit. The proposed rule change would implement a catch-and-release only regulation to provide protection to the initial year classes of Largemouth bass.

Gibbons Creek Reservoir is privately owned and no longer open to the public following closure of the coal-fired power plant. Therefore, the reservoir boundary special gear restrictions and exceptions to statewide standards for Largemouth bass are no longer necessary.

Bellwood Lake is a small reservoir on the west side of Tyler in Smith County. The catfish fishery has low to moderate angler utilization. Because of the limited use of this fishery, it is unnecessary to maintain special exceptions to the statewide standard regulation. The proposed rule change would return to statewide standards as special exceptions are no longer needed, which would consist of a daily bag limit of 25 in any combination, of which ten can be 20 inches or greater in length and no minimum length limit.

Tankersley Lake is a small reservoir on the northwest side of Mount Pleasant in Titus County. The catfish fishery has low angler utilization and limited recruitment. Because of the limited use of this low density fishery, it is unnecessary to maintain special exceptions to the statewide standard regulation. The proposed rule change would return to statewide standards as special exceptions are no longer needed, which would consist of a daily bag limit of 25 in any combination, of which ten can be 20 inches or greater in length and no minimum length limit.

Blue and Channel catfish harvest exceptions are in place for Choke Canyon Reservoir. Law enforcement has identified a need to establish an upstream reservoir boundary to delineate where these exceptions apply. The proposed rule change would delineate the upstream boundary as the State Highway 16 bridge on the Frio River, including all waters of San Miguel Creek downstream from the State Highway 16 bridge to differentiate between the reservoir where special exceptions apply and the inflowing rivers.

Largemouth bass special harvest exceptions are in place for O.H. Ivie Reservoir. Inland Fisheries staff and law enforcement has identified a need to establish the upstream reservoir boundary to delineate where these exceptions apply. The proposed rule change would delineate the upstream boundary as the FM Road 129 bridge on the Colorado River and Amos Creek on the Concho River to differentiate between the reservoir where special exceptions apply and the inflowing rivers.

The Department has determined that there is an error in the upstream boundary defined for Lake Conroe in the Texas Administrative Code. Existing Department publication reflect the correct road name and, thus, conflict with enforceable provisions currently in the Texas Administrative Code. Special harvest exceptions are in place for Lake Conroe.

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

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions for Michael? Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: One. On the CFLs, I applaud your desire for simplicity on five fish. When you fish in a CFL, does that require a license, I assume?

MR. TENNANT: Yes, it does.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: It does. Okay. And so essentially on --

MR. TENNANT: However, if fishing within a state park, there are some CFLs that are totally within the boundaries of a state park and then you would not need a license within a state park.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Really? You don't need a fishing license in a state park?

MR. TENNANT: Correct.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. When you find -- when you do your survey and looking back, I mean, do most people fish -- well, this is probably too broad of a statement. In the CFLs, do most people fish for pleasure or for harvest?

MR. TENNANT: There's some of both, but CFLs are kind of a gateway fishery. There's a lot of beginning anglers that use CFLs. So reducing the regulatory complexity for beginning anglers is an advantage because most of these anglers are new to fishing.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Yeah. But I would suspect that their real preference is they want to take the fish home and eat them, don't they? I mean, being in --

MR. TENNANT: Some. As indicated, folks that fish for our stocked species --


MR. TENNANT: -- specifically Rainbow trout and catfish, there's more harvest with those species. However, in our angler survey, folks fishing for Largemouth bass and sunfish were more catch and release as they indicated in responses from the survey, so.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right. Well, once again, I applaud the simplicity. Thank you. Secondly, pole and line. What is that? Just a cane -- cane --

MR. TENNANT: Rod and -- rod and reel.




MR. TENNANT: Correct.


MR. TENNANT: Pole and line or rod and reel.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Well, isn't there only rod and reel and cane? I mean, what else is there.

MR. TENNANT: Yeah, it's -- it's the same thing. Pole and line or --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: No trotlines, no jug lines --

MR. TENNANT: -- rod and reel.


MR. TENNANT: Correct.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So pole and line is --


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: -- fishing with a -- with a --

MR. TENNANT: Like you said --


MR. TENNANT: -- with a cane pole and a line on it or a reel on a rod.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. So you're clarifying that. So that does not relate to trot fishing or long -- what do all these new regulation -- restrictions not apply to?

MR. TENNANT: So -- so in a CFL, you would only be allowed to use a pole and line device. You wouldn't be able to use a jug line or a trotline or other devices. You can only fish with a pole and line device.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: I understand. So that's why you give a distinction versus...

MR. TENNANT: Correct.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: But trotline is not considered fishing, is it?

MR. TENNANT: Yes, in some reservoirs that's a legal means and methods to --


MR. TENNANT: -- use a trotline. Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right, thank you. Keep it simple.

MR. TENNANT: You're welcome.

I wanted to add, Dakus Geeslin will present the proposed saltwater fishing regulations changes.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I actually have a question. Patton, please. Just for my clarification, every lake in a state park is considered a CFL; is that right?

MR. TENNANT: It is currently, but we are modifying the -- there are some waterbodies that are over 75 acres within the boundaries of a state park. Based on this new regulation if adopted, those waterbodies will no longer be defined as community fishing lakes.


MR. TENNANT: We're making it clear that a waterbody 75 acres and less within a municipal city, county, or state park is defined as a CFL.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. Okay. And to your knowledge within state parks or wildlife management areas, has Parks and Wildlife ever developed like from scratch building a dam, you know, impound -- have we ever created, you know, a reservoir that you know of?

MR. TENNANT: I am not -- I'm not aware of one. Craig or Rodney?

MR. FRANKLIN: I'm not aware.

MR. BONDS: For the record, Craig Bonds, Director of Inland Fisheries. The only example that I can think of that comes close, closest to what you're asking for, Commissioner Patton, is Purtis Creek State Park. There's a -- what is that, Rodney -- 200-, 300-acre reservoir.

MR. FRANKLIN: Yeah, yeah.

MR. BONDS: We didn't -- to my knowledge, we did not construct that lake; but the primary use for that lake, the purpose for constructing that lake is primarily for fishing and recreation. But I think that's as close as we can get to your question.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. And really I'm getting at, you know, in future going forward is it ever, you know, worth looking at developing whether it's a CFL or any other type of lake, but impounding water for enjoyment in some of our currently owned state parks, the WMA, SNAs, whatever the case may be. Developing a water resource, I was just wondering if we ever looked at that period.

MR. FRANKLIN: For the record, my name's Rodney Franklin, State Parks Director. It could be worth looking at. To my knowledge, we haven't really pursued that in the past; but certainly something we'd be willing to look into and consider.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: You know, as a private landowner, it isn't unusual a lot of people buy, you know, some property and one of the first things they do is let's go build a stock tank and it adds value. And I just kind of wonder if it isn't something we should look at as a Department to add value in the same line of thinking. But that's topic for another conversation, I guess.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But it's a good topic, Bobby. So thank you for bringing that up.

David, let's bounce that idea around. I'm kind of surprised we haven't already actually.

Anybody else have questions? Any Commissioners for Mike?

Thank you.

MR. TENNANT: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Next we're going to hear from Dakus. Good morning, Dakus.

MR. GEESLIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, fellow Commissioners, Director Yoskowitz. For the record, my name is Dakus Geeslin. I serve as the Deputy Director in Coastal Fisheries. I'm going to take you the big water. Not these small waterbodies. We're going to go out to the big water today and I'll be presenting our coastal fisheries -- coastal fisheries proposed regulation changes for this next license year. You'll remember I previewed these back in November.

There we go. Our statewide regulation changes for this cycle are really mirroring recent regulation changes at the federal fisheries level. Those regulations that are enacted and implemented at the federal waters nine nautical miles out to 200. Those are initiated through several different processes: Congressional legislation which resulted in the DESCEND Act; the Council process which we have a seat at the Council that resulted in a Cobia, Cobia change; and the National Marine Fisheries Service resulted in a change to Shortfin mako shark. And really the purpose of our attempt to mirror those regulations is to reduce any confusion with our angling community; but also ease of enforcement as folks that are fishing that big water as they're coming back into state water, it eases the enforcement process for our game wardens.

First species I'll hit is the Shortfin mako shark. This species is in decline unfortunately as many of our sharks are, in decline across its range both in the Atlantic and in the Gulf Coast. Earlier this summer the National Marine Fisheries Service enacted a rule prohibiting the harvest of Shortfin mako. We're simply proposing to add that shark -- Shortfin mako -- onto our no-retention list of sharks. Unfortunately, we've got 22 sharks that are on that prohibited list right now. Fortunately, we've got 16 sharks that our angling community can still harvest out there. So that's a simple change. As of note, going back through our creel -- creel surveys, we haven't seen any Shortfin mako harvest through our creel surveys within the past ten years. This is primarily a big open water fish. Anglers will chum up behind bigger boats and then cast, cast into and catch Shortfin mako and then they release them. So not a big harvest fish anyhow.

Next change or proposed change is Cobia or Lingcod as I like to call them. The proposed change there would be a reduction in bag limit from two fish to one fish per angler. No change in the minimum size. But here's the kicker with this one is a vessel limit, a vessel limit, and that could be head boat, private boat, party boat, any size of boat you're limited to two fish per vessel. So looking back -- again, looking back through our creel surveys and really thinking about, okay, we can look back at per angler how many they've harvested; but we can also look back at that vessel limit. And when we did that, speaking to a private boat, less than 5 percent of private boat trips landed three or more Cobia. When we're speaking party trips, that's a charter for hire trip, less than 7 percent of the party boat trips landed three or more Cobia. So really infrequent landings of three or more. So that vessel limit may not be as problematic as we initially may have thought. In talking and conferring with our law enforcement, our game wardens, they assured that's easily enforced. Of course, there would need to be some education and outreach with these new proposed regulations; but they assure us that is easily enforced.

Now I will move on to primarily Red snapper, but also -- also our reef fish complex. That includes, oh, several different species of snapper, grouper, tilefish, triggerfish, amberjack, and that whole kind of reef fish complex. In this, the DESCEND Act -- and I want to speak specifically to the DESCEND Act for a minute. It attempts to address the issues of barotrauma and I described this at the last Commission Meeting as those deep dwelling fish are brought to the surface, their air bladder expands, causes all kinds of problematic issues physiologically with the fish. Leads to -- it can lead to a high rate of mortality. If you're discarding the fish, or high grading as we like to call it, in returning the fish and it's exhibiting barotrauma, oftentimes leads into mortality.

So the DESCEND Act passed at the Congressional level, passed in 2020 and then implemented earlier this year, January 2022, it requires vessels, any vessels -- and we're talking charter, head boat, private vessels -- that are fishing for reef fish to have a venting tool or a descending device rigged and ready. And I want you to hold onto that rigged and ready because I'll revisit that here in just a minute.

Really this -- what this attempts to do as I suggested, is reduce that level of discard mortality. Our research along the Gulf Coast shows that depending on the depth and the -- the depth and the water temperature, you can reduce that mortality as much as 42 percent. Various studies have shown, you know, at the low end 20 percent survival rates there. As a side note, I have been in consultation and frequent communication with our colleagues over in Florida. They're going through the same exercise right now. They went before their Commission in December. Went through kind of this two-step process where they sought permission to publish the proposed rule. They're going out right now for public comment and they'll come back to their Commission and seek final action in February. So it's good to know that we're not the only ones going through this -- going through this process.

So I just wanted to show you a couple of -- couple of pictures if you're not familiar with these devices and these are -- you know, catch and release is certainly not new; but this is kind of a novel way to release those deep dwelling reef fish. A venting tool -- a venting tool is essentially a sharp, hollow needle that, once trained, you can insert into the air bladder and reduce pressure within those fish by penetrating the air bladder allowing the gas to escape. The descending devices there on the bottom of that white background picture, these are weighted tools that release fish at a predetermined depth. You'll recognize Boga grip looking device there on the bottom left. It latches onto the fishes -- the fishes' lower jaw and you set the predetermined depth. They recommend you release those fish at about half the depth at which they were caught and then it releases that. And also something as simple as a weighted basket or a cage that an angler would then trigger the release on the top of the panel will also suffice as a descending device. So I just wanted to show -- show the Commissioners that -- these devices.

Certainly with, you know, catch and release, not anything new. Took the bass -- bass world and trophy tournament world by storm back in the 80s. Certainly not new for reef fish. But some of these devices and that practice of attempting to reduce barotrauma with the hope of reducing release mortality, we saw this coming. So as of -- gosh, as of 2018, your Department and Texas Sea Grant put out informational brochures for the public. We've passed these around at different angling events. We certainly recognize the need for, you know, a new practice or a relatively new practice and somewhat -- somewhat, you know, a level of training needed for to accurately or appropriately, you know, implement these devices. We recognized that need for some education outreach not only to recognize the signs of barotrauma, but to bring awareness to the angling community of the benefits of descending these fish and really reducing the release mortality and just the appropriate use of these descending devices and the tools.

And fortunately, we collaborate with many of our partners and we wouldn't necessarily need to reinvent the wheel when we think about our education and outreach. Our partners there at the Harte Research Institute, specifically Dr. Greg Stunz, has been forefront in not only with the reef fish, but partnering with Shimano and coastal conservation associates and they've got a great website in training videos not only for inshore fish, but I just screenshot the website here for the reef fish and deeper fish. Also our partners over at the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission and Florida Sea Grant and NOAA have a -- have a -- other resource and that's return them right. This is a -- this is a collaborative effort and this is a site where you can go -- and I did it just the other day -- and watch about 10- to 15-minute training video and they will send you for free a descending device, a descending device and a venting tool free of charge.

So earlier I mentioned rigged and ready. Rigged and ready, that's great. That has anglers having these, you know, dedicated either pole, pole and line with a descending device on it ready to use. We'd like to take that a step further actually requiring not only anglers fishing in state waters to have a venting tool and descending device rigged and ready, but to actually use that descending device or venting tool when releasing a reef fish exhibiting those signs of barotrauma. So that's taking it that next step from rigged and ready to actually using those devices.

Florida, as a note, Florida is doing the same thing. They're actually moving that that next step and requiring -- require -- or proposing to require their state water anglers to use these devices.

A good thing about the Texas coast and our state waters, many of our reefs are pretty shallow. Our state water reefs down off the coast of South Padre, only about 60- to 70-foot deep. Up in Galveston and off Freeport, our reefs, state water reefs, about 40- to 50-foot deep. So the probability of reeling up those fish from those state water reefs and exhibiting barotrauma, it may be -- it may be lesser than some of the other states that have those deeper water state fishing grounds. So we've got that working for us too. But I just wanted to point out that rigged and ready plus use here in our proposal.

So in summary, we're seeking permission to publish the following proposed regulation changes within the Texas Register. As you-all know, that will initiate the formal public comment period. Again, Shortfin mako shark we're simply proposing to include them on our prohibited list of shark species. The Cobia or Lingcod and that bag limit reduction from two fish to one fish per angler, but also that vessel limit of two fish. Those are -- the Shortfin mako and the Cobia are direct mirrors of the more recent federal regulations out in federal waters. Now the reef fish, again, we just went through it. Using the -- having the descending device and venting tool rigged and ready, but actually requiring anglers to use those when they catch a reef fish exhibiting signs of barotrauma and their intent is to release it. If it's going in the box, it doesn't matter. But if you're intending to release that fish and you see signs of barotrauma -- and again, we've got to educate our angling community of what barotrauma is and what it looks like, but we feel that's a necessary strep -- step in the conservation of these fish, ultimately play out in many of the management strategies and how we manage our Red snapper and reef fish communities.

And with that, Commissioners, I will take on any questions you may have.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Questions for Dakus?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton, question. Are there any other game fish species currently that are subject to this vessel limit?

MR. GEESLIN: No, sir. Not in Texas. That --


MR. GEESLIN: -- would be a new one for us.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So, I guess, I'll make -- this maybe isn't a question. But I think this is a really -- whether it -- you may have said something like it doesn't affect too many people or too many bag limits of Ling or Cobia; but, to me, this would be a really -- the beginning of a really slippery slope -- I may have to come up with another term for that -- but of doing something that kind of, in my mind, feels like a taking of your rights under a fishing license holder. If you're an angler and you buy a fishing license, you should be able to harvest a fish. So I'm personally very reluctant to start this process on a vessel limit. It seems like there's a lot of, you know, unintended consequences. If you have three people on a boat and they catch three fish and they can only catch two, who gets the ticket? The first, last, or middle angler?

MR. GEESLIN: No. Good point, Commissioner Patton. And I'll try to address two of those points. Your last one is, yeah, somebody's going to have to raise their hand and say, "I got caught that third one," and then it becomes maybe a --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Oh, yeah. Well, that would be a good one.

MR. GEESLIN: Yeah. But to your point about the vessel limit, you're correct and it could be extremely problematic in head boats, right? So you've got more than just a party trip; but a head boat having 20, 30, sometimes 50 anglers out fishing off in state waters and two anglers catch Cobia and the other 48 anglers don't have that opportunity to harvest that Cobia. So you're right in pointing out that issue there.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Vice-Chairman.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Kind of a follow-up to Bobby's point. So if this -- if this is done on the venting and that tool, what is the penalty if they go and they don't have those devices? What is that going to cost them?

MR. GEESLIN: Vice-Chairman, I can't speak exactly to the cost of that or what level of infraction; but in talking with -- in talking with our Law Enforcement Division, there would be a fair amount -- and I don't want to tie them to a time -- but a fair amount, heavy use of discretion at least for some period of time and really trying to education versus cite the angler. So I can't speak to what the cost of that would be. I'm not sure where that would fall within the penal code structure.

MR. CASTERLINE: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Les Casterline. I'm the Assistant Commander of Fisheries Enforcement here at Texas Parks and Wildlife. In response to that question, that would be a Class C misdemeanor. The range would be $25 to $500, and that would be set by the judge.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Well, me personally, I think that needs to be delineated a little bit. That seems like a pretty severe penalty if it's 25 to a thousand. I don't know. I question like Bobby's --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Les, is it per fish? Per infraction?

MR. CASTERLINE: It could be. But depending on the situation, that would be up to the discretion of the officer.

But just to clarify, it's $25 to $500, sir. And that's actually set in statute. The Class C misdemeanor range is actually set in statute. That would be -- a Parks and Wildlife Class C misdemeanor, across the board that's what the range would be. So it wouldn't be specific to this infraction. It would be overall since it's categorized as a Class C misdemeanor, which is our lowest level. It would be a $25 to $500 range.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Okay, thank you for that information.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Now back to you.

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Have we spoken with any of our very good partners, such as CCA? And, I mean, where do -- where do the people that are going to be affected the most, where do they stand on this issue?

MR. GEESLIN: No, absolutely. Good question and the answer is an affirmative, we have. We've spoke with different angling organizations, both those that you listed, research partners, angling outdoor journalists that edit provide written content for various media outlets. We will also be meeting with our Coastal Resource Advisory Committee on March 1st to really solicit their input. But back to your initial question, Mr. Vice-Chair, they've all been supportive of these proposed regulations. Yes.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Dick. I think Blake had a question.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Commissioner Rowling. What are the signs of barotrauma, and how apparent is it to your novice angler?

MR. GEESLIN: Excellent question. Some are more evident than others, Commissioner Rowling. Here you'll see a stomach. That's not an air bladder; but as the air bladder inflates and it gets bigger, it extends and pushes out the stomach. That's -- that's pretty evident. Others are protruding intestine out the anus. That's pretty evident, right? Distended belly, you may think it's just a bloated belly. So that's a little different. That's a little bit harder to detect. Others include bubbling scales. That gas that's expanding actually tries to come out of, you know, the fish's micropores along its scales. So there's about five different distinguishing characteristics of barotrauma, but you're exactly right. The point being that a high degree of education outreach is needed to, you know, show our angling community what that looks like.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: But I guess as far as enforcement goes, if somebody says I didn't see any signs and complete ignorance, then I don't know how we enforce that, but...

MR. GEESLIN: Yeah, good point.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. As a practical matter in state water, is -- do you ever even really -- do we have any state water deep enough that it would occur?

MR. GEESLIN: Excellent question, Commissioner Patton. In talking with all of our -- all of our regional -- regional or our district biologists, if you will, our ecosystem leaders all the way from Port Arthur to Port Isabel that, yes, we do see -- it's a pretty small percentage, but it really depends on how deep that fish is. If the water column -- if the depth is at 70-foot and that thing's hanging on the bottom and you reel it up pretty quick and it's in the summer during the high use season of our reef fish season, Red snapper season, it may have a higher probability of incurring barotrauma than if it was hanging at mid-column off a reef structure at 30-foot. So while it is small within state waters, it still does -- it still happens, according to our regional and district biologists.

MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman, for the record, Clayton Wolf. I would like to go back to Commissioner Patton's comments about the vessel limit. I was talking with James and, you know, our -- this is permission to publish, you know, in the Texas Register and then we can seek comment. And so if we leave the vessel limit at as proposed, the Commission would still have the latitude to not adopt. If we take it out now before we go to Texas Register, we don't have that latitude. And if we do that, that will give us time, our Legal team time to look at the federal regs versus state regs and we can also visit with law enforcement just to better understand the enforcement implication.

So my recommendation would be we leave it in -- but we do hear you, Commissioner Patton -- and that would give the Commission the greatest latitude in March, should we have -- should you have the authority to go that direction and you choose to do that, you could still not adopted the vessel limit.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, I understand.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners?

Clayton, thank you for that kind of clarification. That was going to be my question or comment on a multi-tier on this subject. I think the venting tools or the descending devices and the fishing community learning how to use those and becoming normal standard practice could be very beneficial. As you said, it's hard to enforce. Most of the state waters are not as susceptible as federal, but this is going to be or is it already a federal regulation?

MR. GEESLIN: It's already a federal regulation.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So it's already -- I'm fine with encouraging it or possibly even mandatory in state waters just as part of the process. We lose a lot of fish to releasing that have this trauma.

I, like Commissioner Patton, have a little concern about a party boat, 20 people, the first two people keep a Ling, and no one else. So I was going to make the comment that this is going to the Texas Register. We can gather information. But just sitting here already, I'm a little concerned about Bobby's position that this is the first and only time we've had a vessel limit on a species; is that correct, Dakus?

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So, Bobby, if you're good with letting it go; but I think we have the next meeting and we certainly look at it.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I'd like to be on the record I'm not really good with it, but -- and I don't think gathering any information is going to change my mind and I also feel like I've fallen for this Texas Register deal before and it didn't work out too well. So I don't --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I -- I'm on the record. I'm against the restriction --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I apologize. I'm not -- I wasn't aware you fell for the Texas Register.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: For the record, right now I'm uncomfortable with that as well.

But any other Commissioners have any comment? Conversation?

So if I understand this right, we're going to go in with the venting tools and the vessel limit and a bag limit?

MR. GEESLIN: For Cobia, we would have a bag limit change. Yes, sir. I'll go back -- somebody's helping me out here. We --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: To one fish from two?

MR. GEESLIN: That is correct. A two to one bag limit change, but also a vessel limit of two fish.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: For state waters?

MR. GEESLIN: That is correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And are we -- does our data show us that the Cobia need a bag limit reduction?

MR. GEESLIN: They do. They do. Our landings have been decreasing over ten years. They're decreasing across their range within the Gulf. They need a little help. Whether the two-fish vessel limit will straighten that up or not, yet to be seen; but that is -- that's what the federal regs look like right now is that one-fish bag limit and two-fish vessel limit.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody else?

Jeff, you've got a thought?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Just real quick. So the fed limit on vessel limit, is that primarily directed at the big charter operators where you may have 15 people on a boat?

MR. GEESLIN: Commissioner Hildebrand, it applies -- technically it applies to everyone. If you and I went out on our private boat, we're still held to that two-fish vessel limit or if we went out on a charter boat, a head boat trip with 50 folks, we're still held to that. As I described earlier, it's much more problematic with those bigger boat and those bigger charter for hire trips, those head boat trips.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Is it still a 40-inch minimum?


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Yeah, good luck having a charter vessel of 15 people, someone fess up as to whose fish it is, so. But, you know, I'd say on record too as well that the vessel limit is problematic for me.

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir. Duly noted.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So Hildebrand, Patton, and myself have shown --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: The Vice-Chairman. So, I mean, let's discuss this, Blake, Anna. I mean, if we're leaning towards we're really uncomfortable with this vessel limit, let's talk about if we really want to go through all of the issues to go to the Register and get a -- I mean, Blake, you got a thought or are you neutral?

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: I mean, I don't have a strong opinion on it. It sounds like you guys do. No reason to move forward with it if we're going to shut it down in March.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Clayton, there's no issue with restating the proposal to remove the vessel limit, is there? James?

MR. WOLF: Doesn't look like it. We can -- the answer would be, no, we do not see that right now. But, you know, in the upcoming hours, we'll look at that and definitely have a solid answer with what to go to the Texas Register. But if you were to instruct us to remove -- you know, remove that vessel limit, that's what we will try to achieve unless there's some barrier that I'm not aware of.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Mr. Chairman, the only issue I would have is are we going to collect more data between now and then to make this -- to have more clarity on this? Because it's easy to say, you know, we don't want any vessel limits and I generally intuitively agree with that. But any data?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Do you see a way to collect more data?

MR. GEESLIN: Absolutely and we will continue to do that. Traditionally, just to be on the record, this is a really kind of data deficient species where we see over -- declining landings both in the recreational and the commercial sector. In the last -- in the last ten years within the recreational sector, we've seen, you know, declines from a thousand fish down to 500 fish. That's just the number of fish we've seen come across at our creel surveys. Commercial landings have continued to decline over -- you know, average ten years ago was five and a half thousand pounds of Cobia from the commercial sector. That's declined to about 2,000 pounds.

But to answer your question, Commissioner Hildebrand, absolutely. Our creel surveys will continue. There's also federal efforts there that are continuing to monitor that fishery. And it looks like Robin is --

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: But I'm saying between now and the time we need to make a decision.

MR. RIECHERS: For the record, Robin Riechers, Director of Coastal Fisheries. Yeah, between now and the time we're making the decision, the only thing we would do is get the opinions based on a public hearing type of approach based on the publication in the Texas Register. We would get feedback from our stakeholders, our anglers, et cetera. But if -- as suggested, if you're uncomfortable with even going out to receive that feedback, if you don't think you're going to vote for it even if that feedback comes back in a way that would suggest maybe some are in favor of it, we can certainly remove it now from the proposal.

MR. GEESLIN: Thanks, Robin.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I've just got a quick question. Excuse me. How long has that two-fish bag limit been in place?

MR. GEESLIN: Gosh, I'd have to go back and look. But it's been an ever evolving -- probably at least five years, Commissioner Scott. There was a minimum size change about three years ago that I proposed and we ultimately adopted; but that has been one of these, you know, slippery slopes within the federal reg structure that we have had more restrictive Cobia regulations over time, just due to that declining stock that we've seen in the Gulf.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: You know, Commissioners, we -- I mean, Bobby put it well. You buy a license. We have bag limits; but then you go fishing and, you know, someone catches the two fish before you. I have a problem with that. The next thing is, you know, we're cutting the bag limit in half with this already, which is a big move. Now any Commission can do anything they want, but I'm reluctant to go out with pretty much kind of a heavily weighted Commission that doesn't think that the vessel limit is the right thing, so.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Mr. Chairman, just clarifying. Do -- are there any other game fish -- you may have answered this before, I didn't hear it -- that we have a -- the vessel limit is different than the bag limit?

MR. GEESLIN: No, sir.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So this is it. So in many ways, it's really a philosophical discussion around, as Bobby said, the taking of rights and the feds coming over the top of us, so.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But the federal regulation is putting a vessel limit?

MR. GEESLIN: That is correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: What is it? The same limit?

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir. The bag limit one fish and the vessel limit of two fish.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So this is a fed thing. We're just talking about --

MR. GEESLIN: In state waters.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- if we can do it in state water?

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Which most of those fish are caught in federal water.

MR. GEESLIN: Absolutely.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, this is Patton. Is that really true that Cobia and Ling are all caught in federal water?

MR. GEESLIN: No, not all of them; but the vast majority are caught --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, from a percentage basis, what are you -- what's your vast majority breakdown?

MR. GEESLIN: I would have to look at that, Commissioner Patton, and get back to you. I would say -- I don't want to hedge a bet -- but I would say more than half are caught in federal waters.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Nobody asked me; but I would think it would be, you know, leaning that way. Of course, there's more water federally. But you can catch -- you can catch Cobia/Ling in state water certainly.

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, you can.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. So that was something I just realized. The federal regulations are there and wherever possible, it's nice to match the state. So we're not talking -- so we're -- the boats that go out into federal water, they have a two -- the party boat that goes in federal water has a two boat -- two-fish limit if there's 50 people on the boat.

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir. Or a private boat. Any boat.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. That knocked a chink in me there.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: As a little follow-up to the Chairman. If -- who -- who regulates federal waters?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Commissioner Scott, could you turn on your mic? I don't think your mic is on.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Who actually regulates in the federal waters? Obviously, we know who regulates in the state water, but...

MR. CASTERLINE: Good morning again, Commissioners. For the record, Les Casterline, Assistant Commander of Fishing Enforcement here at Texas Parks and Wildlife. When we're talking about enforcement of the federal regulations in federal waters, that would be accomplished either by the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement, or game wardens that are operating under our deputizations through our JA agreement for federal fisheries enforcement in federal waters. The cases would be filed -- whether it be a referral from Texas or the Coast Guard, those would be filtered through the legal division at know NOAA OLE and that's the process that would take place if there would be a violation on Cobia.


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Commissioner Rowling. I assume the group who has initial issue with the vessel limit, would still be in favor of changing the bag limit to match the federal. If we pulled it from the Register, we could still -- do you see where I'm at?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I would support the bag limit based on the -- the bag limit reduction based on what I'm hearing is that the harvest are fewer and fewer. I mean, I think the bag limit makes total since.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: I had a problem with the vessel. I'm now realizing that if we don't enact that, then we'll have different guidelines than the federal, which is where most of the fishermen as soon -- get in a boat, they head --

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- to federal waters.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: So why don't we do this, everybody? Why don't we gather as much data as we can, we'll make this decision in March, and we'll have this debate? I think all of us are aligned we have an issue.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: But if we don't do that, we will have a separate...

MR. GEESLIN: We'll be inconsistent --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Inconsistent with the fed regulations. Okay?

All right. Any other Commissioners any comments? Questions?

MR. GEESLIN: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Dakus, if there's none, I will authorize staff to publish the rules in the Texas Register.

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good conversation, everybody.

Work Session Item No. 5, 2023-2024 Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, Request the Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Good morning, Shaun.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Good morning, Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. I am the Small Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. Today, staff are requesting permission to publish recommended changes to the 23-24 migratory game bird proclamation in the Texas Register.

As a reminder for this next hunting season, there are no recommended changes to the statewide hunting proclamation. That covers big game, upland game birds, and squirrels. And just a sidenote, on Saturday was National Squirrel Appreciation Day. So I hope you celebrated.

(Round of laughter)


But anyway, moving on. All right. First, as you recall from the November Commission Meeting, we spent some time discussing the Light Goose Conservation Order -- sorry, I got one slide ahead there. That was established as a management tool to reduce the population of light geese, that's Snow and Ross' geese, in the mid-continent population. As a reminder, this is not an established hunting season. We discussed that the established management tool did not reduce the population of light geese. Since it is a management tool, that's why there's different regulations with method of take and hunting hours basically from the Conservation Order to the established regular season.

After additional discussions with staff and input from our constituents, we have decided to delay any staff recommendations on the Conservation Order. Basically there are some other options that we want more further discussion of both our Technical and Advisory Committees. We would like to have those discussions regarding these options before staff bring any potential recommendations forward to the Commission. Additionally, we would like to develop education materials and presentations to inform our constituents reasoning for potentially looking at changes or elimination of this management tool.

All right. Moving on to staff recommendations to the migratory game bird regulations for the 23-24 hunting season. Basically recommended changes to the migratory game bird proclamation are just calendar progressions to the hunting season dates. There are no recommended changes to daily bag limits either. The Fish and Wildlife Service did not establish any changes to federal frameworks, which we must follow. So, therefore, we -- we'd recommend just maintaining consistency with this past hunting season. As a reminder, the Department must follow all established federal frameworks when it comes to migratory game bird hunting seasons.

We do have a slight recommended change when it comes to the Federal Sandhill Crane Permit. This is a permit that was established to actually determine who is out there Sandhill crane hunting across the Central Flyaway. When this was issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, it was initially called the "Federal Sandhill Crane Permit." So you can go to Oklahoma, hunt Sandhill cranes and get what they call a Federal Sandhill Crane Permit. You can come to Texas and get a Federal Sandhill Crane Permit. We had a number of hunters this year that actually thought if they registered for the Federal Sandhill Crane Permit in Oklahoma, that it applied in Texas. That is not the case. So we're just basically making a tweak, clarifying intention to the language to say "Department issued Federal Sandhill Crane Permit," and basically this will follow the intent of the original language in the regulation.

All right. Moving on to -- also discussed in November was the harvest information program. It continues to cause some data issues regarding over-certification and currently does not meet the original intent of the program. Staff from Wildlife and Financial Resources and Law Enforcement plan on coming on back to you possibly in May to discuss options for hunters to become HIP certified if we were to remove HIP certification from third-party vendors and that just means basically from non-TPWD sites, from your big box stores to your sporting goods stores where they have a point-of-sales location. The presentation would outline processes from super combo to lifetime license to ensure there is proper marketing and communication and resources for our migratory game bird hunters to become HIP certified.

All right. Moving on to input from Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee. We did have our meeting in December. We did move -- remove the staff recommendation to eliminate the Light Goose Conservation Order after that meeting. So, therefore, there is no staff recommendation at this time with regard to that time; but they did unanimously vote to eliminate that from regulation. They also requested a further reduction on the daily bag limit of light geese from ten to five, but there is no staff recommendation at this time. Basically, we made that change a year or so ago. Staff always like to collect a few years of data looking at daily bag limits from the federal harvest diaries to actually see if there was any change there as well, so there is no recommendation from staff on that recommendation from Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee. They did support all the remaining staff recommendations and they also unanimously supported removing HIP from the third-party vendors.

And with that, I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Shaun, are you saying that y'all are pulling the Conservation Order suggestion for light geese?

MR. OLDENBURGER: That's correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And when we will address this again?

MR. OLDENBURGER: We will address it next year through that process in November when we come to the briefing item, we hope to give you what would be staff recommendation at that time and as we move forward into the January Commission Meeting next year.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So we'll have another season --

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yep. Yeah, we'll have another season that just mirrors this -- regulations of this year with the regular season and then following into the Conservation --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Including the --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Including the extended?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yep, including the --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And the bag limit and everything?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yep, everything maintains from this hunting season.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: What -- what made you -- what happened?

MR. OLDENBURGER: So when you actually look at the regulations, one thing we are allowed by federal regulation in the frameworks, we're allowed 107 days to harvest geese. Okay? So when we implemented the Conservation Order -- before the Conservation Order, there was a season that went into February. And so we don't utilize all 107 days because we switch right to the Conservation Order, which we can extend it to March 10th, which we currently do. And so when we look at that and we also don't utilize any segments in our current regular hunting seasons with geese, so we do have some additional tools out there and additional possibilities where regular goose hunting season could go into February.

One thing we did not do as staff, we did not bring this to Technical Advisory Committees. It was kind of an oversight. We just kind of looked at the elimination of the Conservation Order. And after some constituents talked to us after the November briefing item, we really -- we didn't really put all the options on the table and discuss those thoroughly and we want to make sure as staff -- before we bring anything forward to the Commission -- that we really vent[sic] those and then also additionally, if we want to move forward potentially with a recommendation next January, we want to make sure we have some meetings on the coast to really look at this and get some additional input from hunters as well.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I think that's good you're getting more input from hunters.

Commissioners, any other questions for Shaun?

Seeing none, thank you, Shaun.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 6 -- excuse me. With no further questions, I'll authorize to publish rules in the Texas Register.

Work Item No. 6, Approval of Recreational Fishing Reciprocity Agreement with Texas and Louisiana. Les, you're up.

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

The current -- the current agreement provides reciprocity benefits in two categories. The first of which is on state regulated waters other than common boundary waters. In those waters, Texas residents under 16 years of age may fish in all Louisiana waters without a license. Texas residents 65 years of age or older possessing a valid Texas fishing license may fish in all Louisiana waters as well. Louisiana residents under 17 years of age may fish in Texas waters without a license, and Louisiana residents 65 years of age or older possessing a valid Louisiana recreational fishing license may fish in all Texas waters.

The other designation is, of course, the common boundary waters. In common boundary waters, residents of Texas or Louisiana who meet the licensing requirements of their state may legally fish recreationally on all waters that form a common -- common boundary between Texas and Louisiana inland from a line across Sabine Pass between Texas Point and Louisiana Point. Persons who have in their possession a Texas or Louisiana valid nonresident recreational fishing license may legally fish recreationally on all waters that form a common boundary between Texas and Louisiana inland from a line across Sabine Pass between Texas Point and Louisiana Point.

Texas residents under 17 years of age may legally fish recreationally in common boundary waters without a recreational fishing license. Louisiana residents under 16 years of age may legally fish recreationally in common boundary waters without a recreational fishing license. And a Texas resident born prior to January 1st, 1930, may legally fish recreationally -- may legally fish recreationally in common boundary waters without a recreational fishing license, provided their age can be established satisfactorily when checked by enforcement agents.

Moving forward to the reciprocity agreement that we're moving into that takes effect February 1st. This reciprocity agreement maintains all current reciprocity benefits. It allows for two updates to fishing license exemptions which include the Louisiana youth license exemption age, which is going to be updated from under six -- under the age of 16 to under the age of 18 and then the Texas senior license exemption that will be updated to January 1st, 1931.

In addition, it adds one additional reciprocity benefit, which is for freshwater fishing guide licenses. This -- the difference in this one is actually the reciprocal waters will be identified as the I-10 bridge where it crosses the Sabine River north and that is because that's where we delineate between freshwater and our saltwater here in the State of Texas, so we chose that boundary because that's where our freshwater fishing guide license would actually be valid.

Thank you for your time. This concludes my presentation of Item No. 6, the Recreational Fishing Reciprocity 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?

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: So do we update the senior exemption every year to basically be exempt if you're 90 years old or older?

MR. CASTERLINE: No, sir. That's -- what's happening on those right there is both the youth age for Louisiana and that date was updated in the state regulations. It was a change during a prior session for us. So we're actually just updating that to what's now in the Parks and Wildlife Code.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners, any questions for Les?

Okay. Thank you, Les.

If no further questions, I'll place it on -- this item on Thursday's Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

MR. CASTERLINE: Thank you, sir.


Work Session Item No. 7, Fishing Guide License Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes, Texas Register, Les.

MR. CASTERLINE: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. Once again 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 a proposed rule change that would update the current freshwater fishing guide license rules to be consistent with the recently updated reciprocity agreement between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission.

Current regulations -- current regulations require that a person operating as a fishing guide on or in the public waters -- freshwaters of the state hold either a valid freshwater or all-water fishing guide license. The proposed change would allow a Louisiana resident who holds a valid Louisiana license equivalent to the Texas freshwater fishing guide license to engage in the business as a fishing guide on all waters north of the Interstate Highway 10 bridge across the Sabine River that form a common boundary between Texas and Louisiana.

Thank you for your time. This concludes my presentation of Item No. 7, Fishing Guide License Rules. Staff request the permission to publish this proposed rule change in the Texas Register. I'm available for any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions for Les?

Seeing none, thank you, Les.

With no further questions, I'll authorize staff to publish the rules in the Texas Register.

Briefing Item No. 8, Chronic Waste Disease (CWD) Management, Potential Regulatory Strategies, Mr. Mitch Lockwood. Good morning, Mitch.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood. I'm the Big Game Program Director for the Wildlife Division and my presentation this morning is in response to your request during the August Commission Meeting for staff to develop some clear guidance regarding the establishment and the duration of CWD zones in Texas.

My goal is to share with you a process for deciding what CWD zones will look like moving forward -- in other words, how these zones are delineated -- and then deciding how long they'll last or at least provide some recommendations for some criteria on dissolving these zones, which has been referred to as an exit strategy. This morning we're going to focus on CWD that has been detected only in deer breeding facilities. Our response in these situations will continue to be different than our response when detecting this disease in the wild because the factors compromising CWD containment strategies differ significantly between captive and free-ranging CWD. And then we intend to -- we intend to return to you in March to continue this discussion and spend some more time on how we manage CWD in the wild.

Our response to managing CWD found only in captive settings has been less consistent as compared to managing CWD in the wild because the disease risk between those captive situations varies wildly. Managing CWD found only in captive settings also has been more contentious than managing CWD in the wild and we receive quite a bit of feedback on this from affected individuals when we proposed the surveillance zone for the Duval County area last summer. And that, of course, led to this process of developing these guidelines or standard operating procedures regarding the creation -- the creation and duration of these zones.

Now for this morning's discussion, I'll use this table to summarize three different situations that we face in captive settings. And, again, these situations vary in risk from relative -- relatively row -- excuse me -- relatively low risk to severe risk. First, I will address a situation that comes with relatively low risk and that involves -- that occurs in situations where we have, first, very early detection of this disease; second, having a very good understanding on how the disease enters this facility or did enter the facility; third, prompt action to depopulate the facility; and finally, evidence that the disease did not compromise the adjacent or near by native deer population.

That very generally describes what happened in the CWD positive breeding facilities in Lavaca, Matagorda, and Mason Counties and staff believe that the decision to not establish a containment zone or a surveillance zone in those cases was and still is appropriate.

Next is a situation that we consider to be severe risk to native deer populations and that's when CWD has been detected not only in breeding facilities, but also on adjacent or associated release sites. In these cases, staff believe that the establishment of both containment zones and surveillance zones is imperative. And this is the case that we currently have in Medina, Kimble, and now Kaufman Counties. But in situations where CWD has been detected only in a deer breeding facility, staff believe that it is still appropriate to allow a Texas Animal Health Commission quarantine order to serve as the containment zone and to establish only a surveillance zone around the infected premises. But moving forward, staff propose a different approach for the delineation of these surveillance zones where CWD has been found only in the permitted deer breeding facilities, which would -- excuse me -- which would be similar to the approach utilized by Texas Animal Health Commission when managing at least some diseases such as cattle fever tick and that is the focus on the properties within two miles of the premises where the disease has been detected.

So what this means in the case of Duval County, for example and on this slide before you that -- I'll refresh your memory, that area shaded in yellow is the current surveillance zone that was adopted by this Commission in August. But if we focus -- if we identify the area within two miles of that infected premises, which is delineated with a red circle more or less on this slide, and then we focus on the properties that intersect that two-mile area, we would have a surveillance zone that is approximately 33 to 34,000 acres as opposed to the 185,000 acres of huntable land that is within the zone that is currently in place.

The number of infected parcels decreases from approximately 741 to 60 with this approach. So this would result in an 82 percent reduction in the acreage affected and a 92 percent reduction in the number of parcels affected in this particular area. So obviously this two-mile approach would affect far fewer landowners and hunters and it should be more manageable by our staff and it would allow us to focus on the area of highest risk, which should help us with the other goal before us which involves establishing criteria for dissolving the zone altogether in the event that CWD is not detected outside of the infected deer breeding facility.

Now to do that, we'll utilize an agent based model to determine the surveillance intensity needed to obtain a 95 percent detection probability. So what is an agent based model? Well, to put it simply, it's a bottom-up simulation technique where we analyze a system by its individual agents that interact with each other. And I'll touch on more of that in a bit.

But like many of our colleagues around the country, we've previously utilized a more simple model that is appropriate for diseases that are randomly distributed within an homogenous herd or flock, as is the case with some livestock diseases where the population is clearly defined and all animals are interacting with each other. But that's not the case with CWD, which means that such a model could give us an inflated detection probability or perhaps a false sense of security when receiving no positive test results after achieving our sampling goal.

Well, Dr. Ani Belsare, an epidemiologist with Auburn University, has developed a much more realistic model for CWD, which is what I'm referring to as this agent based model. It factors in realities such as the cluster distribution of this disease in a nonrandom sample -- fashion to our sampling. And we've been working with him for the past several months to tweak his model to make it even more relevant to managing this disease on the Texas landscape. For example, this model will account for the effects of high fencing on sampling strategies. We're utilizing real population and harvest data at a very fine scale to help make this model very realistic and applicable.

Now as we all know, early detection is critical for successful disease containment; but we also recognize that finding the first positive animal in an area is very difficult. In some cases unlikely. Now I'll use a graphic published by Dr. Belsare to try to address this relationship between disease prevalence and surveillance requirements and to highlight the differences in the surveillance goals resulting from the more simplistic model versus the more realistic agent based model.

I want to emphasize that this illustration that I'm going to use in the next couple of slides is not representative of Duval County or any situation that we have here in Texas, but it's simply intended to help explain the challenges of detecting this disease. Now I have several animations on these next couple of slides, and so it might be helpful if I direct your attention to the screen behind me as I advance through these slides.

This blue dot represents the introduction of this disease into the population and each following blue dot represents the disease prevalence in that population and how it changes through time, with time or years being on the X axis there on the bottom and with CWD prevalence on the left-hand Y axis. Now you can see that the prevalence increases at a very slow rate for the first several years and this is a disease phase that Dr. Belsare refers to as the pre-establishment phase, which again could extend for several years. The disease prevalence during this phase is still less than 1 percent and, therefore, it could be very difficult to detect.

This black dashed line that just entered the slide represents the sampling goal necessary with that more simplistic model to achieve a 95 percent detection probability at any given prevalence. Now if we want to see the sampling effort required at a prevalence of 1 percent, we would find 1 percent there on that left-hand side on the Y axis and we would then draw a line due east until it intersects -- until it intersects with that blue dotted prevalence curve and then we would draw another line due north to the sampling goal line and then another line due east to the right-hand Y axis, where you'll see a sampling requirement of approximately 300 samples.

But since we're aware of the false assumptions that are associated with this model and we understand that 300 not-detected test results can give us, again, a false since of security, if you will. To address this, we run the more realistic agent based model and we extend the line north from the prevalence curve to this more realistic sampling goal line and we find that we really need between 22 and 2300 samples in this particular population to achieve that 95 percent detection probability.

Now we'll move into what is referred to as the transition phase, which compromise -- in this example -- the next three to five years of disease progression and it's characterized by an increasing prevalence and then consequently, it's accompanied by a considerable decrease in the sample size requirement because there's so many more infected animals in that population.

This relatively short phase is followed by the endemic phase, which is characterized by rapidly increasing disease prevalence and a corresponding decrease in sample size requirements for CWD detection using these realistic assumptions.

So designing a surveillance strategy to find this disease during that pre-establishment phase would be intensive and it wouldn't be sustainable on a statewide scale. But on the flip-side, designing a strategy to not find this disease until it reaches the endemic phase would be a disaster and containment would become much for difficult, if not impossible, at that point.

In addition to proposing a significantly smaller surveillance zone when CWD is detected only in a captive deer breeding facility, staff suggest a surveillance strategy -- suggests this strategy to also result in the elimination of a surveillance zone altogether in the event that no positive test results are received. Staff believe such a surveillance zone could dissolve if and when enough surveillance occurs to achieve 95 percent detection probability. This would be a strategy to detect the disease during the pre-establishment phase.

Now I must spend just a little bit of time discussing a critical assumption of this model and that is that the time of exposure to that free-ranging deer population has been sufficient to detect the disease. In other words, you know, as we've talked before, detection of this disease in the very early stages is a whole lot more difficult. And so we recommend that we follow a model that's established by Texas Animal Health Commission and how they have drafted their herd plans for properties that have been issued CWD hold orders by requiring a specific number of samples to be collected at least 24 months post-exposure.

Sampling within the first 24 months is critical, of course, to increase the likelihood of early detection and determine if infected deer -- if infected deer in the wild actually transmitted the disease to deer in the pens. But if our sampling goal is 2300 samples, we would have a false sense of security in the event we have no positive test results and those samples were all collected within that first 24 months post-exposure.

The key to this has to do with when the 24-month clock starts ticking, so to speak, which doesn't occur until the last day of exposure. So what this means is that CWD in affected -- in an infected -- let me rephrase that. What it means is that a CWD infected deer breeding facility must be vacated before that 24-month clock starts ticking. This also means that the duration of a surveillance zone would be at least three years. But that, again, would depend on how soon the infected facility is depopulated and thereby removing exposure to the neighboring deer either directly or indirectly.

Now as I approach the conclusion of my presentation, I'd like to shift your attention to areas where the disease has been detected in the wild. Our the disease containment strategies may not allow for these zones to dissolve; but we do intend to use this agent based model to help us refine those zone delineations, including reducing the size of some of these zones when possible and we've discussed even moving to a cyclical or periodic surveillance strategy once we understand what the prevalence and geographic extent of the disease is. So we would continue to sample every year, but the mandatory sampling might occur only, say, one out of every three years, for example, with voluntary sampling in the other years.

Now as I shared with you earlier in my presentation, we do intend to return to you as early as March with some ideas on what that might look like and then using the CWD zones in the Trans-Pecos region as an example.

So in summary today, we have ten CWD zones established in the state and staff recommend refining the delineation of at least four of those zones prior to the next hunting season, with these refinements resulting in surveillance zones to include properties that fall within two miles of the infected premises. And while the containment zones are likely here to stay, staff also plan to utilize the agent based model to consider refinements of other containment and surveillance zones and to determine when we can move away from mandatory sampling on an annual basis and perhaps implement mandatory sampling on a three-year cycle.

But we emphasize that these models assume that no property is closed to sampling while under a mandatory sampling phase. But this more focused approach that I've shared with you this morning will allow us to spend time determining where that surveillance is less than desired and begin working on strategies to increase sampling in those areas.

Now much of what I'm presenting this morning does not and will not require rule changes or regulation changes. Rather we intend to document these changes in our CWD management plan; but we do, again, anticipate returning to you in March with some proposed amendments, specifically those that -- the rules that actually delineate -- have the X/Y coordinates delineating these zones. If we're going to shrink some zones down, we're going to need to modify the rules to change those X/Y coordinates. But again, much of what we're talking about would be documented in our CWD management plan.

I'd like to close this presentation with a brief update on staff's surveillance efforts from this past hunting season, which actually is still continuing for some. Staff broke another record this year by already collecting more than 16,500 samples. They continue to do a phenomenal job of providing us more confidence that this disease is not well-established throughout most of this state. And we feel like we had a pretty good first year in Duval County, where the number of samples collected is currently at 1,351, with more than a month left in the MLDP season. But you can see on this slide that there are some gaps. That the sampling distribution here is a little less than desired and some relatively large areas there where we have voids in sampling. And that's what I was referring to on a previous slide when I discussed taking this more focused approach to help us identify these gaps and determine how we're able to get the surveillance that we need in those areas of greatest concern.

I think this final slide gives a good illustration of that as well. You know, in Gillespie County we had a really good first year, with 1,900 samples collected so far and the landowners and the hunters in these areas are commended for their efforts. But, again, if you look in the approximate center of this map, this is a screenshot off of our CWD dashboard that we have and so that red text there that's hard to read because of its size, it basically says Gillespie surveillance. The Gillespie County surveillance zone. But if you look right in that area, while we have really good sampling we think here and a pretty good distribution of sampling, the area of greatest concern happens to be right there around that text in the center of this map, which happens to be where we have one of our bigger voids. Right? So this would help us, again, focus our attention on that area to address the area of greatest concern.

Nonetheless, you can see -- I mean, with this map, it does appear unlikely for these breeder deer in these facilities to have gotten infected from the native deer population; but in both of these cases, in Duval and Gillespie Counties, it is very important that we acquire adequate surveillance on the infected premises and to do so soon to build more confidence that this disease has not leaked out of those deer breeding facilities, exposing the native deer populations.

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

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mitch. You're just kind of trying to bring us up to speed on what you're working on, correct? There's nothing going in the Register. Nothing to do today. You're just bringing this up, and then we're going to have another visit in March?

MR. LOCKWOOD: That is correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Would it be fair to say what you're trying to do is reduce the size of the net that we throw over a problem and focus on a smaller defined area with a more intense management?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Certainly when we find the disease only in a deer breeding facility, in a captive setting, that is exactly one of our goals here is to focus on an area on properties only within two miles of that infected premises. But as I didn't elaborate on today and we'll visit more in March hopefully, we would suggest when the disease is in the wild, that we not narrow the scope as much as we're proposing to, say, captive CWD because we have a lot greater risk when it is in a free-ranging population.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Sure. Yeah, you have a greater risk. But as far as the captive audience, then you're trying to narrow the scope, affect less landowners, and get more, I guess, better data and really surveille the area tight around where we have a problem and currently the majority of our positives are out of captive. So this would lean towards reducing the net, if you will, on a lot of properties.

Commissioners, thoughts? Questions?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. Are you at liberty to -- or say or identify the four to six zones that you're looking to refine?

MR. LOCKWOOD: So, yes. We anticipate returning to this Commission in March with a proposal to refine the zones for the captive surveillance zones, I'll refer to them, and those being in Limestone, Gillespie, Duval, and -- what am I leaving out?

DR. REED: Uvalde.

MR. LOCKWOOD: And Uvalde County. Thank you. That western-most two cases that we have in Uvalde County. And then I put on that slide potentially a couple of more zones would be reduced and those are where we have CWD in the wild. And as you know, Commissioner Patton, we have longstanding great cooperation from our landowners and hunters out in the Trans-Pecos region who have been dealing with this since 2012 voluntarily and then not voluntarily and we want to use the model to see whether or not we're to the point now where we have achieved the surveillance necessary to where we can potentially reduce the size of the zones there again, because we've done it once, but potentially reduce again; but even more likely to go ahead and entertain the idea of a cyclic or periodic mandatory testing strategy to where it's not every year. So we're thinking about that right now for the Trans-Pecos region and we're thinking about that potentially for Del Rio already. Even though we haven't been in it very long there, we've had a lot of good surveillance and we also have really good information that I didn't touch on this morning that that is a very, very focal, isolated case there.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions of this kind of information --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- if you will? Blake.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Mitch, it sounds like you're wanting to switch kind of the model to this agent based model on which we decide a number of tests that we need in order to get a confidence level. You may have said this, but tell me what the thought is behind kind of switching how we're calculating where we get comfortable.

MR. LOCKWOOD: So the model that we've used, the one I'm calling this more simplistic model that we've been using since, heck, 20 -- 2002, I guess and like I said, many of our colleagues still use today -- really wasn't developed for this disease. It was developed for -- sometimes I use the phrase more conventional diseases. Diseases that are, say, randomly distributed on the landscape and I could go through the different assumptions here. But the point is is that the assumptions for that model are not the same assumptions that we have -- or not the reality, I should say, when dealing with CWD.

So as a result, that more simplistic model gives us an inflated detection probability and a false sense of security and so the concern is is if we use that and we say, okay, we've reached our sampling goal and we don't have any positives and we pull out and we say, okay, now we can dissolve the zone, we really think it would be premature because it was a flawed model to begin with for this, managing this disease.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Yeah, I guess that gets to my point that, you know, any model is only as good as the inputs and assumptions. And, you know, I would just like to understand more of this, the one developed at Auburn and kind of what are the assumptions. Everything we've heard over -- at least since I've been around for the last two years is there's so much unknown that there have to be a ton of assumptions that go into it. And, you know, the graph that put up there follows this exponential growth and where is that coming from and how does he draw his conclusions, I guess, because clearly we're moving in a direction that we're saying we need more samples in order to get comfortable, not less. It would be great if we had a model that said the opposite. It would just be less work for staff and we'd have a comfort level sooner. But we're -- looks like we're moving to a model that's saying we need more and more testing prior to withdrawing or pulling back. So anyway, it would just be helpful to understand the assumptions that go into that.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, good question. Good point rather. And I think that could be something that could be incorporated into the presentation in March to kind of touch on those assumptions. You know, a couple that I mentioned today was this model does factor in that this is a focal or cluster disease. It factors in that our sampling is not random. In other words, hunters aren't very random in how they harvest deer. It factoring in high fences into the equation, which is very challenging because those are independent populations of their own, you know, so you kind of need a sampling goal just for each of those. But we're trying to utilize the model to not go to that extreme.

And so we can -- I can try and incorporate into a presentation a slide to address some of those assumptions or all that we are aware of. But one thing I would like to focus on or make sure I emphasize here, Commissioner Rowling, is that I don't think what's presented here today is suggesting an increase in sampling from where we currently are because as Commissioner Hildebrand pointed out at the last meeting and the whole reason for developing these SOPs is because we really haven't had an end game to date. We haven't had a target number of samples to withdraw. And the reason we haven't is we've always had that more simplistic model, but we've always known about the false assumptions and so we always knew that we weren't comfortable using that; but now we're working on one that we have much more comfort in utilizing so that we can pull out, so to speak.

You have a great point. Models are only as good as their inputs and I think it's very important that everybody involved in this is aware of what those assumptions are and it's -- that we're just really transparent about that.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Commissioner Rowling, at the very least what we can do in the meantime before March, is get a briefing document to the Commission and let them see what's -- you know, what we're talking about in terms of assumptions and model parameters and so forth.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Okay. That would be great.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Vice-Chairman.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Mitch, what -- you're using some -- a new guy that's kind of doing this model; is that accurate?

MR. LOCKWOOD: New to us.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: What is -- what information has changed -- and, Clayton, you mentioned it yesterday. Who is -- you're following a different model or trying to incorporate it in our overall thinking; is that accurate?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Okay. What was his name?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Dr. Ani Belsare. Well, the first name's much longer than that; but B-e-l-s-a-r-e, Belsare is his last name.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Belsare. Okay, I'm just -- the reason I ask that question, if we're looking and listening to somebody else, I guess I would like to have some more information on his background and on, you know, why are we thinking that what he has is relevant to Texas? Where is he actually from?

MR. LOCKWOOD: He's -- he's currently at Auburn University. Prior to that, he was at Emory University. And he's worked in some different areas. One thing that I didn't elaborate on is his published work on this. He does have multiple publications in utilizing these models for a couple of different state agencies. Missouri being one. Michigan being one. And so I definitely can provide the Commission -- perhaps in that same document that David referred to -- a little bit more information on this individual's credentials, if you will, his background. He's an epidemiologist and specializes in -- in -- well, just that. And not just CWD, but disease epidemiology in general.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I'm just -- I'm just trying to understand and piece together and I think all my fellow Commissioners, if we're listening and paying attention to somebody, I think additional information on him, I think, would be interesting. I mean, we need to be able to understand why he's somebody that we've kind of changed over to and that's all I'm curious about.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, again, one thing I'd like to focus on is until now, we don't have a model applicable to managing this disease in Texas. So I guess in a way I referred to this as a change because we've utilized more of that what I'll call that livestock kind of based model for helping us come up with general surveillance goals. But, again, it was not really a model to manage this disease, especially in this state. So we're really kind of going from scratch, if you will, to this. And so I think you have a good point. We'll be glad to provide you some information that kind of helps us all get a better understanding of the background, if you will, on how we come up with this approach.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mitch.

Commissioners, any other questions? Comments? Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: You collected 16,000 samples. Do we know how many positives we've had this year in the 16,000?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I don't know offhand. I'm going to say less than a dozen. We have had some in the -- we had a few of them in the northwest panhandle up there where it's established and we've had two to three now in that Medina County area -- well, actually -- actually a couple more than that on the actual infected premises. But I'm going to say around a dozen.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. So, I mean, safe to say that we're getting pretty good coverage you think on testing now generally. And 16,000, we've got a dozen or so; but more to follow, I understand. We're not finished with the season, so. But that's about right? About the right characterization?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes. Focusing only on hunter-harvested and road kill samples. Not focusing on what's in the captive and the deer breeding settings. Yes.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Right. Okay. So low, severe, and unknown. Low, no -- no indications of CWD in the wild or in a pen; is that correct? I'm just trying to -- and then severe is you found it in the wild?

MR. LOCKWOOD: So in low --

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Or free-ranging, sorry.

MR. LOCKWOOD: In low, we have it in a pen; but we know where it came from.


MR. LOCKWOOD: And so I'll give you three examples, the only three that we're aware of. A breeder bought a deer -- you know, we have an infected facility. We find it for the first time at a new facility and then we do the trace-out, the trace-back report and --


MR. LOCKWOOD: -- the spider web and then we go look at all the people that they sold deer to or bought deer from. Well, there were three cases where we were able to identify that they actually sold a CWD positive deer to one of these -- each of these three facilities. And in those three cases, the deer weren't there long. We knew where it came from. The deer were depopulated timely and we -- and no deer had left that facility and the risk to the native population or other populations we believed was really, really low. And so in those cases, we recommend that we continue not establishing a zone.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Got it. Okay. So Point A to Point B, but no deer went from Point B?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Correct.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. Severe is in the pens and in nature or in free-range?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Or just in free-range, either --


MR. LOCKWOOD: All of -- yes.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: -- free-range. Yeah, certainly. And then unknown, surveillance zone only -- which by the way, I really applaud your more measured approach on Duval County. That's really fabulous. I mean, that's -- at least you guys are thinking through it. But that is surveillance zone only, so that was Point A to Point B, right, in a deer breeder pen?

MR. LOCKWOOD: We don't know where Point A is. We know where Point B is.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Oh, that's right. Point B was the pretty --

MR. LOCKWOOD: We found the disease --


MR. LOCKWOOD: -- but we don't know where it came from --


MR. LOCKWOOD: -- and so we don't know where it could have been transferred to at that point and we don't know what the risk is immediately outside of the pens either.


MR. LOCKWOOD: We can't quantify it.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So -- and further in March, you're going to put a bit more meat on the bone in terms of how long you think you want to leave a surveillance zone in place, is that correct, or --


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: -- more to follow on that or help me with that.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, Commissioner Hildebrand. We -- we're starting with Duval County and so we certainly hope to have a specific recommendation to you for Duval County not just with regard to the delineation of the zone that I shared with you this morning, but also a target surveillance that we would want to achieve in order to dissolve the zone. Our next priority is going to be Gillespie County. Our next priority after that -- well, I shouldn't commit to that. But as I shared with Commissioner Patton, the Trans-Pecos zone is a very high priority for us. The Del Rio zone is a very high priority for us. And we're just going to hit each zone as we go, knowing that this modeling is very labor and time intensive and consuming and so we're not sure how far we'll get to that -- you know, how many of these situations we'll get through by the March Commission Meeting, but we're going -- we are going to come to you with a much more specific proposal for the zones we've completed.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: All right. And then last, I bit to Commissioner Rowling's -- Rowling's comments. You know, look, through obviously history of mankind there's been all kinds of pandemics and this is all around epidemiology and there's a model for every day of the week I'm sure on this. And so it sounds like we've really just been kind of spread-sheeting it and not following a real epidemiological model prior to this and you're saying now we are going to adopt this particular epidemiologist's per -- or his thesis on all of this? I'm just trying to get an understanding because it is -- this is just -- it's COVID. It's no different than a pandemic and so do you feel comfortable that we are now honed in on using the right epidemiological model to try to counteract this?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I'll go so far as to say I think that we're going with the best that we have available to us. It's -- but as -- you gave a pretty good example there, but we could also show how it's very different than COVID, you know, and that there are no therapeutics for this disease. We don't know all the ways that this disease is spread. It is impossible to eradicate, and it does kill every single animal that it infects if something else doesn't kill it first. So very, very challenging indeed.

But definitely there's so much that we still -- like COVID -- so much that we still have to learn about this and I think we're utilizing a model that's the best available resource that we have available to us at this time.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Great. Thanks. And finally, I applaud you. You're going in the right direction now. So I appreciate the efforts.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you. And for the record, I was pretty far off. Time's flying by, I guess, with this year and how many positives that we have. And so for the record, I'd like to correct one of my responses. This year we've had 26 free-ranging positives and then 169 total positives, which would include those in captivity as well.


MR. LOCKWOOD: Twenty-six of --


MR. LOCKWOOD: -- the free-ranging positives. So hunter-harvested --


MR. LOCKWOOD: 169 total --


MR. LOCKWOOD: -- 26 free-ranging.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right, thanks.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Can you elaborate on where those were, free-range?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, again, we had -- I know of three that were in the Medina County area in very close proximity to the zone -- I mean, to the infect -- the few infected premises that we have there. And then we had some up in the northwest panhandle. Several. Most of which on the same property or same couple of properties. I'm going to turn and look over my shoulder. Am I leaving any out that y'all recall? We did have some in the Trans-Pecos region as well, and exist -- these are all existing zones. Nothing new.



MR. LOCKWOOD: No new areas.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Mitch.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you.

All right, Anna.

COMMISSIONER GALO: First of all, I would like when looking at reducing these zones, you're going to look at -- depending on active cooperation and participation by all affected parties and I would assume that that would include where the CWD are being found, these positives are being found. But you did mention that Gillespie is maybe second on your radar; but on this chart right in the middle where it's most concentrated, we have the least, I guess, amount of samples or we have a gap in sampling.

So I guess just keeping in -- when reducing these zones, that we do have that cooperation and participation, especially by the landowners where these CWD positives are found and that they cooperate with staff when you are looking at this. Because, you know, in some instances we've had, you know, a deliberate attempt to conceal, which doesn't help anyone. I know we're moving into shrinking these surveillance zones and, you know, I think that's good, especially in those areas where they've been longstanding for many years, you know, for those landowners. And so I just applaud you for what you're doing, but I do hope that we are going to look at those that cooperate and participate in containing this disease.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you, Commissioner Galo. And I want to make sure that I didn't say anything misleading. I'm very familiar -- I'm close to the Gillespie County situation. I hunt in that zone.


MR. LOCKWOOD: And so I know that community quite well and I'm very proud of the efforts that they've put forth here. To see these gaps in sampling doesn't necessarily indicate noncompliance or full cooperation. You know, some of these places don't hunt. And so what we -- what we're going to be able to do with this more focused approach is dedicate more time to identifying where we have these gaps and then determining amongst ourselves how we're going to be able to get the surveillance that we need to fill in those gaps.

COMMISSIONER GALO: Well, thanks for clarifying that because where I come from everyone hunts, so.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Commissioner.

Thank you, Mitch.

Commissioners, any other questions?

Mitch, thank you for your presentation.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: We're going to move on to Briefing Item No. 9, Survey of Employment Management, Matt Kennedy.

Matt, I have a bit of a schedule. So move through as quickly as you can; but by all means, if any Commissioners have any -- so, thank you.

MR. KENNEDY: Yes, sir. Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commission, Dr. Yoskowitz, good morning. My name, for the record, is Matt Kennedy and I am the Manager of the HR Project Team in the Human Resources Division. Today I'm going to give y'all a briefing on the 2022 survey of employee engagement, which was conducted across the Agency between mid March of 2022 and late April of 2022. I do want to point out to you that this survey is the first survey of employee engagement that our Agency has taken since COVID-19 has become a part of our reality.

A few things we'll do today, I'll give you quick overview of the SEE for those of you who aren't familiar with it, talk about our general results, areas of strength and opportunity, a few additional areas that we like to dive into, and then tell you what we're doing with the results of this particular survey.

So first, what is the Survey of Employee Engagement? Most simply it's an organizational climate survey that we take every other year. It's legislatively mandated for state agencies to participate in some kind of climate survey or engagement survey of this type. And this one happens to be conducted by the Institute of Organizational Excellence at the University of Texas at Austin. It's a great opportunity for our employees to be able to give feedback on how our leadership and Agency is serving them and how they're able to engage with one another. All regular full- and part-time employees are eligible to participate, and there are a lot of different entities that have the ability to see our survey results.

There are several legislative entities that you can see listed here on this slide. Several executive entities. Obviously, you-all the Commission are being briefed on these results today and then, of course, all levels of our organization have an opportunity to see and digest the results from the Survey of Employee Engagement.

So how does it work? There are 40 primary statements that are written by the University of Texas at Austin that are scored into 12 different topic areas or the survey likes to call them constructs and those are these 12 constructs that you see here. There are an additional 22 questions to the survey that are written by TPWD, but they are not scored as a part of any of these constructs; but we'll take a look at a couple of those additional items today as well.

So how does it work? Our respondents or our employees respond to every single one of those questions on a Likert scale, strongly disagree to strongly agree. Those are translated into scores between 1 and 500. So anything that has an overall score of under 300 points is considered concerning for us on the survey. 300 to 349 is average. 350 to 400 is strong. Anything 400 and above is really the standard of excellence in this particular survey and pretty much everything that you'll see today is going to fall into either that strong or excellent category with one exception.

So first, we take a look at survey response rate. Our Agency had a response rate of 82 percent. A nice 3 percent increase compared to the previous survey. And actually this survey response rate is quite high for an agency the size of Texas Parks and Wildlife. We had an opportunity, Commissioner Hildebrand, based off of some comments that you provided in the previous briefing to get comparative data and found that our response rate is actually higher than the average of a lot of agencies, even those who are smaller than ours as well.

That 82 percent response rate correlated to an overall score on the 2022 SEE of 383 points. Only a one point increase compared to the previous survey. But remember, that is really in that strong category, getting really close to the excellent category in terms of overall score. So the Agency does very well in terms of overall perceptions and employee engagement.

Speaking of levels of engagement, we had 57 percent of our employees fall into the categories of highly engaged or engaged. That is the same percentage that we had in 2020. One difference though is that we moved 3 percent of our employees from that engaged into the highly engaged category. So our employees became even more engaged with our workforce in the last couple of years.

The survey asked a couple of questions around how long employees intend to be here or their eligibility to retire and 5 percent of respondents said that they do not plan to still be at Parks and Wildlife within one year. Now we have no idea why they might be leaving. All 5 percent of that could be retirement. The survey does not delineate that for us. However, there is a question that asks employees if they are eligible to -- they are eligible to retire within the next two years and 15 percent of survey respondents said that was the case for them. Now our workforce data indicates that 19 percent of our workforce is currently eligible for retirement in fiscal year 2023. And when we forecast that out five years to fiscal year 2028, we go up to 37 percent of our workforce that is eligible for retirement.

So these are all of the scores on all 12 constructs in the Survey of Employee Engagement. That bolded gold line that you see there is 350 and that's that threshold from average to strong and excellent on the survey. You can see that every single construct falls into the strong or excellent category with the exception of one down there at 237 and that's the construct on pay and we'll talk a little bit more about that here in just a minute. But what's really nice is that four of our constructs are above that standard of excellence at 400 points. We continue to do really well here.

But to give you the bottom line on where our biggest shifts were in our scores, our single largest increase on any one construct was the information systems construct, which increased 24 points in one survey. This is traditionally a bottom three construct for our Agency; but because of a single year increase of 24 points, it no longer is a bottom three construct for TPWD. Internal communications had a seven point increase. Also historically a bottom three construct. It still is, but that's really misleading when it's an overall score of 374. We had a three point decrease on employee development and a 13 point decrease on the pay construct from 250, which wasn't a good score to begin with, down to 237. So we're really struggling in this particular construct as an agency.

So our areas of strength for the Agency really haven't changed much over the last several surveys. They're strategic, supervision, employee engagement and to be perfectly honest with you, all three of these constructs are very closely tied to one another and we'll see that as we take a look at each of these more in depth.

So these are the five statements that make up the strategic construct and that overall score of 409. I'm not going to go through all of these with you; but what I will point out is this one item that says "I know how my work impacts others in the organization," which had a really nice three point increase. That's a really important statement for our Agency to do well on because of the diversity of jobs that we do across this Agency to protect our natural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities.

The same kind of thing shows up here on the supervision construct. In this top item, which had a five point increase, "My supervisor provides me with a clear understanding of my work responsibilities," means that we are providing the strategic direction that's needed for our employees to be mission successful. You'll see some of those statements show up here on employee engagement because this construct pulls from the other 11 constructs. But one that I really wanted to point out to you is here on this second slide, "I trust the people in my workplace," a seven point increase, which is really great to see given how difficult COVID-19 made the work environment in the last couple of years. People really leaning into each other in a way that shows that our Agency is quite resilient.

So let's look at our areas of opportunity. And they're pay, internal communication, which are typically in our bottom three, and then benefits had a one point decrease and for the first time is a bottom three construct for our Agency. The first one we'll take a look at is pay. And this is how our Agency has scored on this construct over the last several surveys dating back to 1998 and you can see here that we've had some dips and some spikes. Those things can be attributed to a lot of different things, like legislatively mandated increases, some specific salary actions that we've been intentional about within the Department over time as well. A 13 point decrease is extremely sharp in one survey and at 237, we are now tied for our second lowest score ever on this particular construct.

So where did that biggest change occur? And that occurred here on the top statement "My pay keeps pace with the cost of living," which had a 20 point decrease. Simply put, employees are responding to the survey to say that our paychecks cannot keep up with the rate in which the economy is inflating.

So another area of opportunity for us is internal communication. And honestly a score of 374, we do very well on this construct. It just happens to be one of our three lowest scoring constructs. But what's really great to see is this ten point increase on "The communication channels I must go through at work are reasonable." It means that we're finding new ways to communicate and collaborate in the current work environment and it's really benefiting our workforce and the end product quite a bit.

Finally, we have benefits, which had a one point decrease. Now by and large, based off of these statements, there's not a lot that our Agency has control over when it comes to this particular construct. These are usually legislatively mandated or dictated. However, this bottom one that had a four point increase, "Benefits can be selected to meet individual needs," we think is probably attributed to some specific direction and changes that we have made to make sure that we're communicating our benefits to our employees in new ways that are more meaningful and more immediate to when they first come on board with the Department.

So next we'll take a look at two additional areas. These are not constructs in the survey, rather there are several different statements throughout the survey that speak to these two topic areas. And the first one we'll take a look at is diversity. And what these scores on diversity tell us is that, by and large, our employees really buy into the necessity of diversity, equity, and inclusion amongst both our workforce, but also our customer base in order for us to be mission successful. However, they see some additional areas of opportunity where we might be more effective in those particular efforts.

Finally, we take a look at trust here. Trust is a really important survey -- or a construct or topic area for us. And there's two different statements here. One is workplace trust. "I trust the people in my workplace," a seven point increase, which is really great to see. Not surprising to have a high score of 398. We tend to have a lot of trust in our immediate work teams. But what's even more inspiring to see is this nine point increase on "There is trust between Divisions," moving that score up to 340. Still not quite where we want it to be, but it's had a very dramatic increase of 18 points in the last two surveys and I think that speaks to some of the intentional efforts that we have made as a Department in several different areas, the See being one of those.

So what are we doing with the SEE? Here's a general timeline for you of kind of how things have played out, but I'm going to draw your attention to this November to December 2022 bullet here, where we conducted 62 focus groups across all 13 Divisions of our Agency during that timeframe. We're still working on crunching some of the specific data that has come out of those focus groups and providing briefing reports to each of the Division directors and our executive leadership and we'll be doing that next month in order to develop some action plans that are tailored specific and relevant to the workforce in every single Division so that we have some time to communicate and move on that feedback that our employees have so graciously provided us before we re-administer the survey in early 2024, so that we continue to focus on one of our most important natural resources and that's our human resources.

So with that, that concludes my presentation and I'm more than happy to take any questions from the Commission.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Matt. Good data, good trends. Thank you very much.

Commissioners, anybody have questions for Matt about the employee management survey?

Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Just not knowing, what is the policy in terms of adjusting salaries either merit or inflation adjusted at the Department? I assume there's some general policy.

MR. KENNEDY: Yeah, I mean, there's -- there's several different methods that we are able to take as an Agency, whether that are equity adjustments or one-time merit bonuses or merit increases to that salary over time. And some of that is dictated directly by our budget and what is available within every Division.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And I understand that. It's going to be largely be dictated by the Legislature. But in general, would you say that a game warden who's worked here ten years and inflation's raging at 6, 7, 8 percent per annum over the last year or two, will that game warden receive a cost of living adjusted increase in his or her salary at all?

MR. KENNEDY: The short answer is that depends.


MR. KENNEDY: And that's on both internal and external factors to the Department. You're right. A lot of that is legislatively mandated as well, which is why, you know, obviously a big part of our Legislative Appropriations Request was to address some of those inequities in salaries across the Department for some of those positions that are particularly difficult to recruit and retain.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Good. I mean, just generally, it looked like a good survey. I mean, the one big area is salary and benefits and I don't think I've ever seen an employee survey where the employees applaud the pay scale of their companies. So, you know, it's somewhat natural.

MR. KENNEDY: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: But it's so low relative to the other numbers, it seems like there is an issue.

MR. KENNEDY: Yes, sir.

MS. DAVID: Patty David, Director of Human Resources. I do want to add for the game warden salary C schedule, while there are proposed cost of living increases in front of the Legislature this session, they also can move along by years of service through their salary schedule.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Great. I was just using them as an example, not specifically focused on game wardens. But in final, I'd just say, look, I mean we all understand this. I mean, if you want an engaged versus a disengaged, which you had 9 percent of the people not engaged -- if you want an engaged workforce, you've got to pay them and you've got to keep -- we've got to keep up with inflation and provide, you know, a fair day's work for a fair day's dollar.

And so, David, you're the new Director. You should focus on this because it's -- you've got to have great moral at this organization and that's one way you're going to do it. Pay for the people that are actually doing the work.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yeah. Thank you, Commissioner. I absolutely agree with you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any other questions for Matt?

Thank you.

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Moving on, Work Session Item No. 10 and 11 will be heard in Executive Session and then we will reconvene after.

So we're going -- I'm going to make this announcement. At this time I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 the Government Code referred to as the Open Meeting Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meeting Act, seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meeting Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation.

We will now recess for Executive Session at 11:52 a.m. and be back as fast as we can. Thank you.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good afternoon. As required by Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meeting Act, let the record that we are recommencing on January 25th, 2023, at 1:10 p.m.

Before I begin, I need to take roll.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Your mic, Chairman. Your mic.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Oh, I'm sorry. We're going to take roll. Commissioner Galo's here, but she just stepped away. She'll be right back, but I'll acknowledge her when she gets here. But Aplin present.





CHAIRMAN APLIN: Galo present.

David, I think you have a statement to make.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yes, Chairman. Thank you.

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

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Thank you, David.

So we're reconvening after Executive Session. We -- Work Session Item No. 10 and 11, Litigation No. 11, were discussed.

We're going to hear in open session, we're going to discuss Work Session Item No. 10, the Briefing of the Fairfield State Park, Mr. Rodney Franklin. Hello, Rodney.

MR. FRANKLIN: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Rodney Franklin, State Parks Director and I'll be visiting with you today a briefing on Fairfield Lake State Park.

First, a little background. Fairfield Lake State Park was originally constructed and originally called Big Brown Creek Reservoir. It was constructed in 1969. And since 1971, Texas Parks and Wildlife has leased Fairfield Lake State Park from Big Brown Power Company, LLC. The park officially opened to the public in 1976.

A little bit about the ownership because you'll hear several names for Big Brown. They -- several energy companies consolidated and became TXU in 1999. TXU conveyed the property and the real estate to Luminant in 2001 and in 2007, Luminant essentially became Vistra. So you'll hear the term Vistra. You'll also hear Luminant. We referred to them as Luminant for a while, but you might also hear the term Vistra, Vistra Corporation.

So a little about where Fairfield is located. It's right along that I-45 corridor between Houston and Dallas and, of course, we get a lot of visitors from both of those big metroplex. You'll also see that it's in the Post Oak Savannah region of Texas, which accounts for a lot of the big sprawling oak trees you'll see in some of the photos later. Also right next to the Pineywoods ecoregion and the Blackland Prairie. So it's perfectly situated between two metroplex areas, but also in a great area of Texas for nice big trees and beautiful landscape.

The property itself, Fairfield Lake state Park is just over 1,800 acres and is sitting on a lake that's about 2,400 acres, for a total of 5,000 acres and we'll talk a little bit about the amenities we have at the park in just a second. So the infrastructure there, we have water, electric, campsites. We also have primitive campsites, fish cleaning station, boat ramps, a group hall with a kitchen in it. We have about 12 miles of trails, the park headquarters, two residences, maintenance buildings. Of course, all the roads and utilities are there at the park as well.

So the recreational opportunities at Fairfield Lake State Park. It's really a fantastic recreat -- for recreation and the outdoors. Lots picnicking takes place. Lots of folks come for day use to picnic. They hike. They bike on those 12 miles of trails. We also have equestrian riding at the park. The big event -- or group hall is perfect for family reunions and weddings. We've had weddings there as well. Lots of people come and have their gatherings there because as I mentioned, it's right in-between Houston and Dallas, so it's a great place for families to get together and meet. 130 RV campsites and tent sites.

And one thing I want to point out here that I think is -- would be of interest to all of you is Fairfield Lake is the third highest ShareLunker lake in the State of Texas. We all know Texas has great fisheries, lots of great fishing. So in the State of Texas, you have O.H. Ivie, you have Lake Fork, of course, and then right behind that is Fairfield Lake. So for a lake of this size to be third in Texas and produce nearly 40 ShareLunkers is quite impressive and explains some of the popularity that we have in fishery.

We have -- I want to talk a little bit about the events. Because of that, we have our kids fishing event at -- we have that at a lot of our state parks, but Fairfield is connected to the community. There are a lot of businesses that spend time and donate to help pull off a great kids fishing event. You see some of the smiling faces there in the photo. We work with Prairie Hill Children's Home who bring a lot of kids out for that event and others. So really a great a place to recreate in the outdoors. And then I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the public hunts that take place at Fairfield as well. We have two youth hunts and an adult hunt that do very well as you'll see a little bit later too.

The conservation value of Fairfield Lake State Park is fantastic, and these are some of those photos I was talking about. You saw the zone of where Fairfield Lake sits. Diverse habitats, flora, and fauna. And I also want to point out the nearly 14 miles of shoreline that we have in the state park, which is really large, a lot of shoreline. And one interesting thing about that shoreline is you don't see a lot of development. If you're canoeing or paddling or walking along the shoreline, you're just seeing all nature because it's really undeveloped land there. Lots of White-tail deer and as I mentioned, plenty of big sprawling trees for shade.

A lit bit about the visitation. We've talked about in the past, the visitation at state parks is just really going through the roof in the last several years due to COVID and some other things; but we continue to see this exploding population in Texas and they're all looking for places to go in the outdoors and Fairfield is no exception. 40 percent growth over the last few years; but if you'll look going back to 2009, it's nearly doubled in visitation to peak last year at 82,000 visitors. So it's quite popular with the people of Texas and beyond.

So a little bit about what's happening and what brings us to today. In September of 2018, Luminant notified Texas Parks and Wildlife that they would be terminating the property lease effective October 20th and that was provided under their terms of the lease and in March of 2020 -- we've had several meetings with Luminant and, of course, made some inquiries because we're looking to make sure that we could continue to have public access to the park; but we have asked on occasion to see if they would carve out the 1,800 acres of Fairfield Lake State Park to give us an opportunity to put together a package or buy them out over time potentially or use partners to acquire that so we could continue. But Luminant made it clear that they were not interested in carving out a piece of the property. They wanted to sell the property as a whole. And as you will recall, we haven't always had land acquisition authority. That's just in recent biennium that we've had that. And then for the hundred -- the cost of that property, we didn't have the funds to really partake in that at that time; but over time, we wanted to see if we could possibly take them out and preserve the state park.

TPWD continued to work with Luminant and entered into an agreement to expand or extend that lease until December 2022. And in July of 2022, Luminant came to us and wanted to extend that and basically the current lease we're working on has a 120-day termination notice. So once the give us notice at some point, it would be -- we would have 120 days to vacate the property.

In late summer of 2022 -- and I will say that there was a hope that, you know, whatever potential buyer that came up would want to continue working with the park. But in late summer 2022, Texas Parks and Wildlife learned that the potential buyer did not intend to extend the lease with the park as part of their purchase. And since that time, Texas Parks and Wildlife officials have engaged in multiple meetings and conversations with the seller and prospective buyer to try preserve -- explore options to preserve the park and, quite frankly, even extend the park if that was a possibility so that we could continue to provide that public access that's so popular at Fairfield Lake State Park.

So where were today, we continue those active conversations to try to find options to help preserve the park for sure; but should we get -- if we -- if Texas Parks and Wildlife receives the letter from Luminant giving us the hundred -- we would have 120 days to vacate the property, but that would also trigger a few things that we would have to do as stewards of that property and that includes starting to let the public know and cancel some of our reservations that are already in hand, some 700 plus reservations would have to be canceled. Of course, we'd want to take care of our employees and find spots for them. Divest -- dissolving the friends group that is currently in place. Canceling contracts, closing bank accounts. I just wanted to let the Commission know that there's a whole host -- and this is just a short list of some of the things that we'd have to start to initiate in that 120 days in order to properly prepare to vacate those premises.

So that concludes my presentation. I wanted to let the Commission know that and I'd be -- I'd be happy to answer any questions that you might have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Rodney, thank you for sharing that depressing news.

A few comments. I have a few letters to read from some Legislators and then we actually have Chairman King here in person that would like to approach and visit with the Commission about this. This is a public meeting, but we're not going to have public comment; but, obviously, the Legislators and Chairman King rise to a different level because he's our Oversight Committee Chairman in the House, so he'll have the opportunity to speak.

You know, Rodney, you talk about the processes of closing the park and some of the things that come about with that and as you said, that's just the tip of the iceberg. This is a phenomenal park for this state and 80,000 plus visitors and it's just -- and it's just an incredible piece of property. So this is a relatively new understanding that we are absolutely clearly in dire straits of losing our park. This has been -- this process has been going on for some time, but we actually had a lease and we're providing services as we have for the last, you know, five decades. But now it has been made clear to us that the buyer intends on canceling the lease and the seller is under contract. So what we can do and accomplish is somewhat challenged because there is a contract, but we've made it very clear that given the opportunity to find a way to salvage this wonderful state park, it's all hands on deck. It's very important to us. And the irony here of this being our Centennial 100th year celebration and losing one of our gem state parks is just -- just absolutely unacceptable to me. So everyone has my word that we will work as hard as we can, but we can only deal with the cards that we've been dealt and so...

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, just -- we know who the owner and stuff is. Do we know who the buyer is?


As a matter of fact, Rodney, I was going to ask you. You know, we -- I hear Luminant and I hear Vistra. I guess it's the same thing. I use Vistra more often in my conversation, but it's Luminant. Vistra is the owner. They're a utility here in Texas that are selling. The buyer is out of the Dallas area. It's the Todd Group. And so they are developers, and they're the ones that have it under contract.

So I want to read these letters and then open this up to the Commission to talk about. But, quite frankly, we've been working tireless to try to salvage this; but as of yesterday, we do not even remotely have an agreement that would salvage the state park. So it's time to discuss this. We will continue working and negotiating, but this will affect a whole lot of people. And so the rumor has somewhat leaked out; but I think, you know, it's time to be very clear about this.

I've got a couple letters I'm going read. One thing I should let everyone know, I spoke with the County Judge, Judge Linda Grant in Freestone County. I spoke with the County Precinct 1 Commissioner Andy Bonner. It's his area. I spoke with Angela Oglesbee. Angela is the lady that created the save the -- keep our state park group in Fairfield. They all very much want to keep their state park and actually wished us luck in finding a way to keep their state park that they love.

As a backdrop, everyone should know these parks are so important; but the statistics are really incredible. The rural state parks provide more bang for the buck for the community than anything else that we do. 85 percent of the people that visit a state -- a rural state park, this 80 some odd thousand people, 85 percent of them are from out of town. They're traveling. And when people travel, that's a good thing. They go on vacation. They spend time. They spend time -- they spend money in the community. And so, you know, the latest data that we have researched shows that state park funds spent range from $4 to $12 a -- X per dollar. Every dollar spent on a state park generates 4 to 12 times the revenue here in the state. So it's a big, big deal. And, you know, we want to try to keep it to any extent that we can. But I've spoken with the local people. They're very interested in it.

I've had meetings in person with Senator Perry; with Senator Schwertner; with Cody Vasut, State Representative; with Chairman King; with Vistra; with the buyer the Todd Group. But as of yet, we've -- you know, we've made no progress. So I want to -- Senator Perry asked me to write -- to read his letter that he submitted before this Commission.

"Dear Chairman Aplin, thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff. As Chairman over the Senate Committee on Water, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs with jurisdiction covering many issues that come before TPWD, including Fairfield State Park, I have vested interest in how the State preserves our parks. My goal and the goal of the 181 members of the Legislature is to not lose a park to development. Our state parks are treasures and should be treated as such. I urge the Commission to act with confidence when protecting Fairfield State Park and know that you have the full support of the Legislature. Chairman Charles Perry."

Chairman Charles Schwertner, who by the way this park is in his senate district. "Dear Chairman Aplin, thank you for the recent opportunity to meet with you and your team to discuss the efforts to protect Fairfield State Park from private development. As you know, I have the privilege of representing Freestone County in the Texas Senate and have a vested interest in preserving Fairfield State Park for future generations to visit and enjoy. To that end, I offer my full support to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as you work to prevent the forfeiture of our cherished park and its value -- valued natural habitat."

Representative Orr, who has a representative here in the audience, wrote to me. "Chairman Aplin, I regret that I'm not able to address the Parks and Wildlife Commission in person today, but I want to thank you for allowing me to submit this letter of support. As State Representative for House District 13, which includes Freestone County and Fairfield State Park, I am eager to implore -- explore all avenues to preserve this precious park. As you well know, nearly 95 percent of the land in Texas is privately owned, making public parks like Fairfield State Park even more essential to our Texas family. I visited with numerous residents in the Fairfield area and beyond who shared heartwarming stories of the family reunions and memories made by multiple generations at the state park. Losing this gem of assessable green space would be a devastating loss for the county and the visitors across our state. I join the Fairfield community, the park visitors everywhere in respectfully urging the Commission to act boldly and quickly to preserve this state treasure. I want to thank you and the Commission for your tireless efforts to protect and expand our parks across the state. I want you to know that you have my full enthusiastic support," signed State Representative Angela Orr.

And if that's not enough, even better than that, we have Chairman King in person.

Chairman, would you please come up and tell us what's on your mind. I think I know. You and I visited, but...

REPRESENTATIVE KING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Commissioners, thanks for having me. I just want to reiterate what my colleagues said in writing. Since I became Chair of the Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee -- we no longer call it CRT for obvious reasons -- I've made it my mission to visit every state park in the State of Texas. And by the way, there's a lot more of them than I thought there was when I made that promise, but I haven't found a bad one and Fairfield is at the top of all of them.

I had the opportunity to go down there and tour it and do a little fishing last summer and that's when I first became aware of what was going on here and we started the process through Carter and then Chairman Aplin and myself having conversations about it. We've uncovered a number of things that I think will come out publicly. I'm very disheartened that we don't have a deal. That there's no room for negotiation on this. And you have my commitment through the 88th Legislature that this my priority to save this state park or raise a lot of hell in the meantime.

So what I will tell you that I believe that needs to be known, when this park -- when the 5,000 acres was purchased by Texas Power and Light, Texas Power and Light was a regulated utility. Vistra is now going to sell the property they've acquired since. They are not a regulated utility and they're going to sell it for upwards of $40,000 an acre. There's almost 70 million dollars of taxpayer-funded improvements on this property. If they were still a tax -- a regulated utility, that money would have to go back to the rate payers. It's not how this works now. They're going to make a huge profit at the expense of the State of Texas.

I think it's categorically wrong, and I'm going to fight it the whole way. So with that, it's my commitment to you. There's probably more information that's going to come out as we move -- as this moves forward. But if the answer is just no, that's not going to be the answer from the Legislature. So anyway, if there's a question for me, I'd be glad to entertain it.

Yes, sir, Mr. Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. When the original utility acquired it, did they invoke eminent domain as a utility?

REPRESENTATIVE KING: So I cannot find -- we worked all summer long to uncover that evidence. It's amazing that there's no files on this. Now personal testimony from family members that still -- their family still own land down there and their families lost land, I've been -- I am very convinced that the threat of eminent domain was used. There is no evidence to show that it did happen. But I will tell you when I called Vistra into my committee to testify, one of my charges was the health and welfare of all state parks. So I thought it was a good idea to have a hearing and ask Vistra: You know, why are you selling our state park and not giving us a chance to continue this?

Vistra took the attitude -- and it's no secret, it's public record -- they took the attitude that Texas had a sweetheart deal for 50 years and Vistra, you know, gave all to Texas. You know, that Vistra didn't get anything out of it.

Well, I believe they did use the threat of eminent domain to buy the property for pennies on the dollar in the 60s. They've consume 70 million dollars worth of improvements. And by the way, they operated a coal-fired utility and they partnered with the State of Texas to keep the EPA off their butt. I think they got their benefit out of it, is what I think. So I know that's a lot of answer without an answer, but I cannot -- I cannot prove eminent domain, but I definitely believe the treat of it was used.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Good. I'm on your team.

REPRESENTATIVE KING: Yes, sir. Thank you.

Anyone else?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: He's a good person to be in the foxhole with, I'll tell you that.

REPRESENTATIVE KING: Well, anyway, Commissioners, Chairman, thank you for giving me a moment to speak to you. If you have any questions about what we're working on in our office to take this fight to the next level, feel free to reach out any time. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Chairman King. Thank you very much.

I believe that's all of the Legislators that I have to read comments about. You know, this is a -- this is a tough, tough thing. But I think we're all aligned that we would very much love to save this park and figure anyway we can. So we're hopefully that the buyer and the seller will find a way to put us in the middle and let us keep Fairfield State Park and they know that. I've expressed that numerous times. So this is nothing new, but I felt like it's time to share it with everybody to know that we are absolutely -- the threat is absolutely clear and present about losing our Fairfield State Park.

This is more of an information. There's no action to take, other than we're going to continue working hard to try to find a compromise.

Commissioners, any questions, comments, thoughts? I'll open it up to the floor.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Commission Rowling. Yeah, I would -- as Representative Orr said and everyone in this room knows, being a 95 percent private landowner state, you know, it comes with some good and some bad. One of the bad things is definitely we don't have enough parks and places to recreate for the public. And, you know, we've seen an explosion in park visits since COVID. With the influx of population coming here, you know, we talk about it every meeting, we need more state parks, not less. And this particular park in ten years had less than 40,000 visitors. It had over 80,000 in '22. Anyway, we can't afford to lose another state park, and I think we just need to do everything we can to keep it.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Blake.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I'd just like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the staff. I know there's been a lot of effort put into this and we're not finished. And we certainly appreciate the Legislature's support. Having that, we hope to get something done. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody else?

Okay. Thank you.

That was Action Item -- or Work Session Item No. 1. Regarding item No. 2, there's no further action needed. So at this time, if no one else has anything to bring before the Commission, then, David, this Commission has completed its Work Session business and I declare us adjourned at 1:37 p.m. Thank you. Thanks everyone for coming. Appreciate it.

(Work Session Concluded)



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

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