TPW Commission

Work Session, March 22, 2023


TPW Commission Meetings


March 22, 2023






CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Meeting, March 22nd, 2023. Thank y'all for coming. Appreciate the effort.

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







CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. And I also understand Commissioner Patton is on his way. He'll be a little bit late, but he said he'd be here.

This meeting is called to order March 22nd, 2023, at 9:02 a.m.

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

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Thank you, Chairman.

A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agendas have been filed in the Office of Secretary 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.

Before we get going, I want to announce that Work Session Item No. 3, the Internal Audit Plan, has been withdrawn from today's agenda.

The first order of business is going to be approval of minutes from the previous Work Session, January 25th, 2023. They have been distributed. I'll need a motion and a second from Commissioners.




CHAIRMAN APLIN: Abell 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 Conservation, Resources and Conservation Recreation Plan. We're going to talk about Internal Affairs, staff recognition, crab traps, centennial celebration, Bighorn sheep, and the legislative update. Good morning, David.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Good morning, Chairman. Good morning, Commissioners. For the record, my name is David Yoskowitz, Executive Director of 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 customary, I will start off with Internal Affairs update.

Since my last update in January on Internal Affairs two months ago, no significant incidents have occurred. Internal Affairs staff remain busy in all capacities, including high impact investigations that are both criminal and administrative in nature.

Couple other items I want to touch upon. First one is exciting work that our biologist Mr. Shawn Gray who is with the Big Game Program and specifically overlooking Mule deer and Pronghorn antelope, for his work he was recognized this past February as Volunteer of the Year by the Mule Deer Foundation and that happened at the Western Hunting Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City. You know, Shawn has been recognized for this given his dedication to Pronghorn and to Mule deer. You know, he has provided a tremendous amount of assistance to landowners in producing habitat that is beneficial to these species. In fact, I was out with him in -- and the team in the Trans-Pecos this last fall and saw some of that work on the ground. He's done a tremendous job with that.

He also was recognized as having an important pact -- impact on leveraging dollars that we receive from the Wildlife Restoration Program, which is a federal program, but leveraging those dollars 3X to the amount that the Mule Deer Foundation has provided, which is in the amount of $226,000 to improve habitat, conduct research, and bolster Mule deer population in Texas.

So I just want to recognize Shawn and that whole team for the work that he's done to improve conservation with Mule deer and Pronghorn.

There we go. Another individual that we want to identify and recognize is Dr. Sara Wyckoff. She is one of our veterinarians here in the Department, and she had the opportunity to participate in the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow Professional Workshop in Georgia in February. This was sponsored by the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and was put on through the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the idea behind this workshop is to bring natural resource professionals to this -- to this gathering so they can understand the importance of diverse values and the role that hunting plays and its impact on conservation.

Given that Dr. Wyckoff is a veterinarian and she was the only one there at this workshop, she was able to share her experience with the importance of hunters identifying disease in the landscape and the role they can play in that. So appreciate Dr. Wyckoff and all the work that she's doing, along with our entire team.

Something that I'm -- just given my time on the coast, I'm intimately involved with and aware of is the Texas Abandoned Crab Trap Removal Program. This is 21 years this has been going on. Every February, about middle of February, 10-day closure of crabbing and so volunteers can get out into the -- into the bays and estuaries to remove these derelict crab traps and this event, since 2002, has -- have the numbers here -- 4,000 volunteers and over 42,000 lost or derelict crab traps have been removed from Texas bays and this is critically important because what happens with those derelict or lost crab traps is you get, you know, important estuarian and bay species that get trapped in them. And so over time, we've identified 40 different marine species that have been freed from these derelict traps and also 700,000 Blue crabs saved from ghost fishing.

So this year our partners were the Galveston Bay Foundation, Christmas Bay Foundation, and San Antonio Bay partnership and this crab trap removal would happened all up and down the coast. Over 1,300 traps were removed and 256 volunteers. So a great success this year in that effort.

If you hadn't heard, this is the centennial of our state parks. There's been a lot of activity around this early on in the year and, in fact, I number of us have spent a lot time at the Bullock Museum in the early part of -- in the early part of January through February. We had the opportunity on February 8th to do a number of things in recognition of the centennial celebration.

On that day, the Texas House and the Texas Senate both passed resolutions identifying and celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Texas Park State Park System. And the House of Representative, our former Chair of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, our Oversight Committee Representative Ken King sponsored that resolution and a number of House members supported that. And in the Senate our Oversight Chairman, Chairman Perry, sponsored that resolution in the Senate with a lot of verbal yeas from members of the Senate. With me that day were -- was Chairman Aplin, Director of State Parks Rodney Franklin, also Justin Rhodes, and Todd McClanahan.

And the day continued on. Later that evening at the Bullock Museum, a number of Commissioners were there and so I appreciate you showing your support to our State Park System. We had Governor Abbott provide the keynote address and he expressed very clearly his experience with the State Park System since he was a young man, but also the importance for the State Park System growing from Texas of today, but Texas of tomorrow.

And I want to quote what he said here: "We must protect the glorious parks that we already have and find ways to add new acreage of more parkland here in the great State of Texas. When we do that all together, we're going to be proud of what we call home. And that's the great and beautiful state of the great State of Texas."

So a great wrap-up to a long day at the Capitol, but we appreciate all the work that the Foundation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the staff here at the Department did to put that event together.

Just a quick update on the Bighorn Sheep Program. As you may know, every year we have the opportunity to donate a discretionary Bighorn hunting permit to our conservation partners and in the past, this has included the Wild Sheep Foundation, Texas Bighorn Society, Texas Wildlife Association, and Houston Safari Club. This year, the Department donated that Bighorn hunting permit to the Mule Deer Foundation for auction at the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City that I had mentioned earlier and that winning bid for this year was an incredible $175,000 for that permit. The highest winning bid that we've ever had before.

Now the nice thing about that is 90 percent of those proceeds come back to the Department and come back to support that program and the Mule Deer Foundation has been instrumental in supporting a lot of the work that the -- that the Department does, including water development, brush management, youth hunts, et cetera. So to know that we have 90 percent of those $175,000 come back to the Department to support that program is incredible. So we appreciate the work that they did this year.

And if you haven't heard, we are in Legislative session as of now, the 88th Texas Legislative Session. I want to give a brief update of where we stand at this point. So back in September, you remember the Department developed and put forward our Legislative Appropriation Request, or LAR, to a tune for the biennium of a little over 911 million dollars. House and Senate both filed their bills. HB 1, Senate Bill 1 exactly the same. So made the job for all agencies a little bit easier. There was actually a bump up in our LAR by a little over 2.3 million dollars and the reason for that was some pass-through moneys and some changing in priorities.

The process is continuing through. I'm going to update you on a couple of those items. As a result of the Legislative Budget Board doing its work, we had gone into the session in our LAR with five exceptional items. With the LBB doing, as I've said, some of its work and making some of its recommendations, we had to pull some of those items that we thought were critical into additional exceptional items. So we actually moved from five to nine.

Two things that I want to identify here -- and by the way, the process/the session is going very well on the budget side for sure. I want to give thanks to all the divisions and team members that have been available to respond to immediate requests from Legislative staff and Chairmen and Women from the various oversight committees, as well as the budget committees. So a tremendous effort from the team here. But two things I wanted to note here that I highlighted in yellow are capital construction repairs. This is our Fund 9 work. This is law enforcement offices, fish hatcheries, work on wildlife management areas. That has been -- on the House side -- moved to what we call Article 11, which is a -- described to me as a parking lot. That can come out and be acted upon or adopted or it may just sit in there and not be adopted. So we're keeping our eyes on it. This is critical. We need to update the facilities. We need to be able to do that construction in those non-state park facilities.

Also law enforcement and aircraft and vessels, law enforcement aircraft and vessels was not adopted at all. These are the two fixed-wings that are critical for our us meeting our mission objectives around the state and also 40 or so vessels that need replacement. That was not adopted at all in the House version of the budget.

Just some highlights from the supplemental bill, which would -- as when passed -- would provide funding in this fiscal year for us to go ahead and begin to move out some critical ideas, critical efforts. First off is park acquisition. This is something that a number the staff and the Chairman have been involved with. It appropriates $100 million of general revenue to purchase real property for use of state parks. That is moving forward. Also the salary increases. This is something that the Legislature is taking on writ large for all agencies, not just this Parks and Wildlife Department. So 5 percent bump, that would be effective July 1st or at least $250 a month, depending on your pay.

And finally, vehicles. Many of the agencies across the state were struggling with vehicles and purchasing vehicles and so they just wrapped all that up in the supplemental bill and so that also is moving forward as well. So that's important for us as we do a lot of work on the road and on four wheels.

Some other decisions that have come about that I want to highlight as part of the budget process. And remember, this is still on the House side. The Senate hasn't started doing its -- well, they started the work; but they haven't been voting on anything in particular at this point. Some good news. Coastal Fisheries research vessel which we desperately need for inshore as well as offshore operations has been adopted. So that's moving forward. And also we had -- we've had a lot of talk about moving our state park police officers from Schedule B to Schedule C to make them equivalent to our game wardens. That has -- that also has been adopted. So that is all very good news moving forward.

Some bills that we're keeping track of that are important to the operations of the Department. The first one there -- excuse me -- you've seen this before last Legislative session. This is travel reimbursement for groceries that are purchased at the -- excuse me -- employee's headquarters. So individuals that are traveling to conduct their work would like to be able to purchase groceries near where they live and be reimbursed for that. Right now, we don't have that ability. None of the agencies have that ability. It just makes sense that that happens and so that's moving forward. Has bipartisan support and in both Houses.

Oyster certificates of location expansion, this is to increase our leases available, oyster leases available not only for commercial fishing, but also for restoration and so that is moving forward. In fact, that was voted out of the Senate yesterday.

Chronic Wasting Disease depopulation, this is something that both of our Oversight Chairmen have been working on together. This is to -- if the Department goes in and depopulates a positive facility, that the Department would then take on the expense of doing that rather than have the breeder pay the bill. That is for a good actor, somebody that has followed the rules, and so that is moving forward with our -- with both of our Oversight Chairmen.

Salaries, you see here salary schedule change for state park police officers. We wanted to make sure -- even though that's been taken care of through the Legislative or the budget process -- we wanted to make sure that we also had process through a bill in statute. So we have that. Representative Four Price is carrying that as needed. We don't think we need it at this point because it's moved through the budget process, but we have that as a backup as needed.

Senate Bill 811, Senator Kolkhorst. This is data sharing agreement. This is important for our relationship in working with the Texas Animal Health Commission, especially our work around Chronic Wasting Disease and other disease to be able to share data with each other as needed. Right now, we need landowner permission and it's critical that we go beyond that to be able to work quickly to address some of our most pressing issues. That was also voted out of the Senate yesterday.

And then finally here, boating while intoxicated with a child passenger. That just brings down that if you have a child 15 years or younger on your boat and you're intoxicated and caught, then it becomes a felony offense.

Just a couple of other bills of interest that are out there. There's been a lot of talk, you know, goodwill that has been produced by the work of State Parks, by the Department. There's a lot -- with the budget surplus, there's been a lot of talk about expanding and even accelerating the potential to purchase more parks and develop more parks and so there's a number of bills that are out there right now floating around that address that in various ways and so that -- you see four of those right there. That's still very much in process. And then finally a fee waiver. So we get a number of these every session that want to reduce fees or make -- waive fees for various stakeholder groups, whether it be veterans, first responders, et cetera. So we're working with the various authors of these bills to go ahead and figure out a way forward to look at all those fee waivers. So those are all still very much in process. And at that time, I'll take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions for David?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Chair, Commissioner Hildebrand.

David, on the park acquisition bills, any specifics on those? Is there any dollar amount that's being allocated or is it just general language that gives us the authority to do so?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yeah, there's a -- there's a number of different bills out there that are asking for different things. There are some bills that asking for just dollars directed to state parks. There are some bills that are asking for dollars directed to state parks and conservation easements. The dollar numbers that have been floated around -- and I haven't seen anything on -- excuse me -- on paper yet -- but anywheres of a billion to 2 billion to less than that. So it's still very much fluid and in progress.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: But it sounds like some good, positive conversations are occurring around the establishment of new parks.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Absolutely. I mean, I think this is great not only for conservation community writ large and state parks because the Legislature wants to do something. This would accelerate the opportunity for us to build out more parks and state natural areas and also bring conservation dollars on private land easement, conservation easements as well.



COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Commissioner Rowling. David, is there -- on this 5 percent salary increase, is -- that's just across the board? There's no discretion to be used to pay off the performers?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: That's -- yeah. So that's -- that 5 percent is across the board. But we also had adopted our targeted salary increases of 6.6 million dollars. That was adopted in the House. So that lets us target dollars to what we're looking at as those high turnover, high vacancy positions that we're having -- we're struggling with filling. So that was adopted and hopefully will move forward to allow us to do that.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: But on the increases for our current employees, do we have the ability to, you know, do a 4 percent increase for people who are at par and a 6 percent increase for those over performers or 7 percent or 8 percent? I mean, can we use discretion to let people know that they're -- yeah, that they're our high performers and we appreciate what they're doing?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: We -- yes, sir. And then that's what we want to do with those targeted dollars; but also we realize, you know, that we have individuals that, you know, they're high performers. We need to reward that. We want to hold them. Retention is an important thing. So we also have that discretion within the different division budgets.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other questions for David, Commissioners?

Thank you, David.

Next will be Work Session Item No. 2, Financial Overview. Good morning, Reggie.

MR. PEGUES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Reggie Pegues, Chief Financial Officer of Parks and Wildlife. This morning I will be presenting the financial overview through February. I'll be covering the following topics: Revenue summaries for hunting and fishing license, state park revenues, and boat/motor boat registration fees and also budget adjustments through February.

This first slide is the monthly comparison of license revenue through February. For the month of February, we had 2.9 million of revenues. This is 28 percent higher than the previous February, bringing us a year-to-date total of 82.4 million and you'll see the familiar seasonal pattern emerge.

This next slide is a five-year comparison of revenue and at 82.4 million, the revenues are slightly less than '21 and '22; but still historically strong compared to prior years, specifically '19 and '20. This next is a more detailed two-year comparison by revenue type. A slight decrease in revenues versus 2222[sic] for an overall small decrease of 2.6 percent.

Next we move on to state parks revenue. This first slide is the monthly comparison of revenues through February. February revenues of 5.3 million are 5 percent higher than the previous February, bringing us a year-to-date total of 29.8 million. This is also a five-year comparison of state park revenues. Very strong at 29.8 million. And as you can see, this is the second highest in recent memory and with '22 being a record. So revenues are still pretty strong post-COVID.

Next is a more detailed two-year comparison of park revenues by type. Overall, revenues were down 4.6 percent; but there was a slight increase in activities and concessions of 4.9 percent or 115,000.

Finally, we move over to boat revenues. Revenues of February of 1.4 million are consistent with the same amount for last February and you'll see the seasonal pattern emerge as we move into the warmer spring and summer months. Also our five-year comparison and similar to license revenue, FY '23 revenues of 7.4 million are slightly less than '21 and '22, but again historically strong compared to '20 and '19.

This next slide is the revenue comparison by type. Overall, revenues were down 5.4 percent; but again considering '22 was a record year.

Next I'd like to move on to budget adjustments through February. As of December 31st, we had an ending budget of 738.4 million. Between December and February, we've had the following adjustments I'd like to just kind of detail. The first adjustment for operational and noncapital UBs, these are funds that were appropriated in FY '22 that we brought forward in FY '23 and these are noncapital and nonfederal funds. The largest portion of that 11.8 million is 7.4 million relating to sporting good sales tax. As you may recall, we got additional appropriations for sporting goods sales tax based on the revenues and so this is carrying forward that revenue from '22 into '23. Also a small amount of donations, about 1.6 million, make up the 11.8 million.

Moving on to the next category, we had 19 million of federal and federal related UBs of this 19 million. 7.4 million was represented to recreational trail grants, just delays in getting those grants out the door. Wildlife restoration funds.

The next category is appropriated receipts of the 3.5 million and these are amounts that we bring in during the current year. Of this 3.5 million, 2.1 million of that is related to reimbursements relating to Operation Lone Star that the agent -- that Parks and Wildlife is participating in.

The next category are capital construction UBs. Of this 1.1 million, about 700,000 of that is related to unexpended balances relating to transportation items. As you may recall, there have been some delays with the supply chain of getting those funds expended and incumbent. So we had authority to bring that funding forward into FY '23.

And the last category are employee fringe and/or employment adjustments. These are adjustments that we do throughout the year based on salary actions, pay increases, vacancies, just to get those funds aligned properly. This brings total adjustments to 37.5 million, giving us an adjusted budget in February of 775.9 million.

This concludes my presentation. I'll be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, questions for Reggie about the financial overview?

Hearing none, thank you, sir.

Work Session Item No. 3, the Internal Audit has been pulled. So we're going to skip that and go to Work Session Item No. 4, Fishing Guide License Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Ms. Kerry Spears, good morning.

MS. SPEARS: Good morning. Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Kerry Spears and I'm an Assistant General Counsel in the Legal Division here at Parks and Wildlife and I'm here today to discuss the proposed rule change that would update the current freshwater fishing guide license rules to be consistent with our updated reciprocity agreement between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission that was approved and signed at our January meeting.

Our current regulation requires that a person operating as a fishing guide on or in the public freshwaters of the State of Texas hold either a valid freshwater or all-water fishing guide license. Our proposed rule would allow a Louisiana resident who holds a valid Louisiana license that is equivalent to the Texas freshwater fishing guide license to engage in business as a fishing guide on all Texas waters north of the Interstate Highway 10 bridge across the Sabine River that form the common boundary between the states of Texas and Louisiana.

We did have ten comments on the proposed rule. Nine of those were from license holders. One was not a license holder and they were all in agreement with this rule change. And that concludes my presentation, and I'm available for any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions for Kerry?

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: So I -- Foster. I have a quick question. Is Louisiana doing the same thing?


COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Are they reciprocating with us?

MS. SPEARS: They are.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Kerry, this -- this just applies to this area of the Sabine to Toledo Bend?

MS. SPEARS: No. It would be all of the common boundary waters that are between the two states. So we're talking about Caddo Lake and all of those all the way to --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But everything that is the Sabine. Okay.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: North of the --

MS. SPEARS: I-10 --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- I-10 bridge.

MS. SPEARS: -- bridge, yes.

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


MS. SPEARS: All right, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Kerry.

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

Work Session Item No. 5, Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Michael and Dakus. Good morning, Michael.

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

Staff recommends amending the CFL definition to clarify the waterbodies to which CFL regulations apply. The proposed change would replace the term "public park" with the phrase "municipal, city, county, or state park," to exclude federal parklands which are not regulated by the Department, and to exclude impoundments greater than 75 acres that are totally within the boundaries of state parks.

Current fishing regulations for CFLs follow the 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 continue 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 only by pole and line and/or employing no more than two pole and line devices at the same time for a variety of public waterbodies. Pole and line is a line with a hook attached to a pole. This includes rod and reel. The proposed change would continue most existing pole and line restrictions and clarify restrictions for CFLs and ten state parks 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 to distribute fishing opportunities.

The proposed changes to CFL rules require changes to catfish regulations for three state park lakes that would no longer be under CFL rules because of size. Biologists have indicated that these lakes require more restrictive catfish regulations due to limited natural reproduction. 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 CFL, 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.

For CFL proposed rules, a total of 501 public comments were received with 900 -- sorry -- 491 agreeing and ten disagreeing on the proposed rules.

Biologists have managed some public impoundments, rivers, and creeks consistent with CFL regulations for a variety of reasons, including their proximity to a CFL, angler use, and fisheries management survey data. The Pilant Lake, highlighted in red on the slide, was recently reassessed for lake size by biologists. The reassessment revealed Pilant Lake is approximately 100 acres and will not meet the definition of a CFL due to size. Because Pilant Lake is located within Brazos Bend State Park where Elm Lake and six other CFL lakes reside, biologists and State Park staff seek to maintain consistent harvest regulations on all lakes within Brazos Bend State Park. To maintain consistency with CFL harvest regulations, the proposed rule change would implement a daily bag limit of five all species combined, with one Black bass greater than 14 inches for eight public waterbodies listed on this slide.

A total of 656 public comments were received, with 644 agreeing and 12 disagreeing on the proposed rules.

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 dock and a 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 and a daily bag limit of five for Black bass and a 14-inch minimum length limit. The proposed rule change would implement a catch and release only regulation to protect initial year classes of Largemouth bass.

A total of 390 public comments, with 371 agreeing and 19 disagreeing on the proposed rules.

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 13- 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 show 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.

A total of 394 public comments were received, with 373 agreeing and 21 disagreeing on the proposed rules.

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

A total of 329 public comments were received, with 255 agreeing and 74 disagreeing on the proposed rules.

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 a special exception to 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 only 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 a special exception 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 only ten can be 20 inches or greater in length and no minimum length limit.

For Bellwood and Tankersley Lakes proposed rules, a total of 324 public comments were received, with 306 agreeing and 18 disagreeing on the proposed rules.

Blue and Channel catfish special harvest exceptions are in place for Choke Canyon Reservoir. 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 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 in 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 in the inflowing rivers.

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

For reservoir boundary proposed rules, a total of 309 public comments were received, with 303 agreeing and six disagreeing on the proposed rules.

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

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any questions for Mike?

Hearing none, thank you, Mike.

MR. TENNANT: Dakus will be up next to present the proposed saltwater fishing regulation changes. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good morning, Dakus.

MR. GEESLIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners, Dr. Yoskowitz. For the record, my name is Dakus Geeslin. I serve as our Deputy Director for Coastal Fisheries Division. Today I'll be presenting our statewide proposed regulation changes for license year 2023 and 2024.

Our statewide proposed regulation changes include changes that mirror recent changes in federal fisheries management. These changes are initiated through several processes, including Congressional legislation, through our Gulf Fisheries Council, then through National Marine Fisheries Service. The purpose of these changes is to reduce confusion for anglers that may be fishing in both state and federal waters and also make for consistent enforcement within state waters.

Now before -- before I dive into the species specific proposals, I want to emphasize to the Commission that there are several -- there's several fisheries that we manage and we manage well in state waters in which we do not mirror federal regulations and most noteworthy is our Red snapper fishery. We don't mirror the bag limit, and we don't mirror the minimum size limit. So I just wanted to throw that out there. We also have different regulations for Amberjack, Triggerfish, some other grouper species as well.

The first species I'll recommend for regulation change is the Shortfin Mako shark. We simply propose to add this species into the prohibited list of shark species for both recreational and commercial sectors. We very rarely see these in our landings. The stock is declining. We want to mirror that federal regulation of no retentions or harvest of this species.

Our next proposal includes a bag limit change for Cobia from two fish per person per day to one fish per person per day and also that vessel limit regulation of two fish per trip and you-all recall a very robust conversation related to that vessel -- vessel regulation change that we're proposing here. This change is proposed to address declining stocks of Cobia in the Gulf and really, again, facilitate the ease of enforcement with federal regulations.

This is a new graph. Now looking at our landings of Cobia per trip for both private -- that's the orange, the orange bar in this graph -- but also the party trips, those are the guided or chartered trips in the blue graph, we see that less than 5 percent, less than 5 percent of private fishing trips land three or more Cobia. You can also see within the party boat trips, than less than 7 percent of party boat trips land three or more Cobia. Additionally, our harvest monitoring program through our creel surveys has not intercepted a vessel with more than two Cobia since 2018. Furthermore, we haven't intercepted a vessel with more than three Cobia since 2016.

These facts just simply illustrate how rare it is in recent years to see a vessel with more than -- more than two Cobia, suggesting that the vessel limit will have an extremely limited impact to Texas anglers.

Our next species or group of species is our reef fish, which includes our Red snapper. This is brought on by Congressional legislation through the DESCEND Act, which applies to all boats, charter/head boat, private vessels fishing for reef fish. This simply requires anglers to have a venting tool or descending device rigged and ready to use. Research shows that this practice in catch and release really reduces the mortality within this suite of species, these deep-dwelling fish.

Other states -- here just recently, Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission approved state water proposal to implement not only that rigged and ready of those descending devices and venting tools, but also to use those within their state waters.

Just a couple of pictures of those venting tools and the descending devices and the baskets, any of which would satisfy those requirements of use in the catch and release practices.

We certainly recognize that any proposal that would require use of these mechanisms during release practices would need a significant and robust education and outreach effort. We're fully prepared to do that. In fact, in 2018 we generated an educational -- a flyer. But there's also programs in place already. ReleaSense at the Harte Research Institute partnered up with Shimano and CCA. Great resource. Also Return 'Em Right for the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. This is that organization where you can watch the training video, 10, 15 minutes, and apply for a free descending device, will be mailed to you so you have that ready to use when next time you go offshore fishing.

So our proposal would mirror that descending DESCEND Act by requiring reef fish anglers fishing in their state waters to have a venting tool or descending device rigged and ready, but to also to use that device when releasing a reef fish that's intended -- intended for release that's showing those signs of barotrauma and we've talked about those before.

In summary, our staff recommend including the following regulation changes. Simply adding the Shortfin Mako shark to the list of prohibited shark species, thus prohibiting harvest of this species. And for Cobia, the bag limit reduction of two fish to one fish per person per day; but also that vessel limit change to two fish per vessel. Also within the reef fish suite of species, use -- rigged and ready descending device or venting tools to be on board, but to also to use those devices when the intent is to release that fish in state waters.

As part of our efforts to gather that public input and comments on this suite of regulation changes, we had two in-person public hearings: One in Texas City and the other in Corpus Christi. We also held a virtual hearing through Zoom to allow any of our stakeholders to participate virtually. We also see -- met with our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee earlier this month. Just wanted to note that that advisory committee was fully supportive of these proposals. We also received one organizational letter from the Coastal Conservation Association and while they were generally supportive of all these suite of species, they did note that, you know, that the vessel limit change proposal for Cobia is a different approach than the Department's used in the past and they would suggest that we monitor the effects of -- if passed -- of that proposed regulation change on the angler satisfaction and the stock biomass of Cobia.

Our public comment summary for the Shortfin Mako indicates a high degree of approval with 74 percent. Of those that opposed, a handful of folks went ahead and provided some rational for their opposition. That included overregulation, regulation -- recreational fishing not causing the decline of this species, and a simple need for more data and the regulation should only apply to the commercial fishery. You'll see some of these comments in the other suite of species as well.

When you look at the Cobia bag limit, we had a higher degree -- let me back up. For Cobia, we split these out. We had the bag limit comment portal or the area to comment and we had the vessel limit comment. With the bag limit comment area, we saw a higher degree of support with 87 percent. Those same -- same theme of opposition with overregulation, recreational fishing not causing decline, the commercial fishery, and the need for more data. Now when we look at those -- the vessel limit, we still had a 73 percent of commenters in support. Little bit different opposition categories here. They only wanted the angler limit and no vessel limit. Again, the regulations need to apply just to the commercial fishery. And limits to the harvest, folks opined that limits to harvest for guided trips or those party boat trips and, again, the need for additional data.

For the DESCEND Act, relative to our -- relative to our reef fish suite of species, we saw a high percentage of support at 86 percent. Did have a 9 percent in opposition and two commenters opined that the state waters are shallow, so these devices aren't necessarily needed.

And with that, that concludes my presentation and happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Dakus.

Commissioners, questions for Dakus about proposed changes?

Okay, Dakus. No questions. Good job.

MR. GEESLIN: Thank y'all.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hearing no questions, I'll place this item on the agenda for Thursday's Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 6 is the 23-24 Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Mr. Owen Fitzsimmons, good morning.

MR. FITZSIMMONS: Good morning, Chairman. Good morning, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Owen Fitzsimmons. I'm the Webless Migratory Game Bird Program Leader for the Wildlife Division. Today I'll be presenting the proposed changes to the 2023-24 statewide migratory game bird proclamation for recommended adoption.

For 2023-24, there are no federal framework changes. And as a reminder, the Department must follow all established federal regulations when it comes to migratory game birds. All season lengths and daily bag limits are maintained, and all proposed season dates are calendar progressions from the previous season. We do have a proposed clarification to the federal Sandhill crane permit language. Crane permits are state specific and we had issues with hunters attempting to use crane permits obtained in other states, which are not valid in Texas. So the language update would specify that hunters must have a federal Sandhill crane permit issued by the Department to legally hunt cranes in Texas. This is just a technical clarification that follows the intent of the original language.

As you are aware, we work closely with the Department's Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee when we're developing proposals and I just want to point out that all staff proposals for the 23-24 migratory game bird proclamation were unanimously supported by the advisory committee.

We've received 28 public comments. We actually received another one last night. So 29 total. More than 60 percent are in complete agreement and we had ten comments specifically that disagreed on specific items. Of those ten that disagreed, we had seven that disagreed specifically with federal frameworks. We had one that disagreed with dark goose and crane season dates. We had one that disagreed on light goose daily bag limit and we had one that disagreed specifically on duck season dates.

And that concludes my presentation, and I would welcome any questions or discussion.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Owen.

Questions for Owen, Commissioners?

If there's no further questions, thank you, Owen. I'll place this on Thursday's Commission Meeting item agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 7, Chronic Waste Disease Detection and Response Rules, Amendments to Surveillance Zones and Delineations, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register, Dr. Hunter Reed. Good morning, Hunter.

DR. REED: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Dr. J. Hunter Reed, Wildlife Veterinarian for Wildlife Division and I plan to update you today on proposed modifications to existing CWD zones, as well as the establishment of new CWD zones in response to positive detections solely in breeding facilities.

As Mitch Lockwood introduced last Commission Meeting, we are modifying our strategy as it relates to zone development and sampling approach at the direction of the Commission. CWD detection solely in a captive breeding facility will see significant changes in terms of zone establishment. As an example, I will use the current Duval County zone now being displayed. First, a containment zone will be established or a CZ will be established around an infected premise through a THC hold order or quarantine order. Then a surveillance zone will be established 2 miles from the perimeter of the infected premise, as indicated by the yellow line here. In practice, all properties that are partially or wholly encompassed by the surveillance, designated by the yellow line, will be subject to mandatory testing and carcass movement restrictions.

This surveillance zone will be in place until certain conditions are met. These conditions include: The infected deer breeding facility must be depopulated or quarantine lifted by Texas Animal Health Commission; second, minimum of three hunting seasons must have passed since the day of depopulation or lifting of the quarantine order; three, area sampling has been completed to satisfy a 95 percent detection probability; and four, area sampling is well distributed across the zone.

As you may remember, the 95 detection prob -- 95 percent detection probability and sample distribution metrics are determined by an agent-based model using Texas specific data. This model is created Dr. Ani Belsare of Auburn University and provides a much more realistic perspective of how CWD within different populations in environments may spread, as well as what sort of sampling effort would be needed to detect the disease. I'd also like to say we're grateful for the support of the Safari Club International Foundation in sponsoring these modeling efforts.

Some of the sampling techniques that might be used or will be used in order to satisfy these sampling requirements would include some of the typical players in our surveillance zones. This includes check stations, drop boxes, pick up by individual biologists on individual ranches that are encompassed by the zone, as well as this road kill surveillance that staff is currently performing as part of a general surveillance model across Texas.

To demonstrate how this approach would work in practice, I've outlined two hypothetical scenarios. In this first scenario, CWD has been detected in a captive breeding facility and a surveillance zone including all properties partially or wholly encompassed within 2 miles of the infectious -- infected premise has been created. From the first day of the surveillance zone, mandatory carcass movement restrictions and CWD testing will begin. Shortly after the CZ is created, depopulation of the infected breeding facility occurs. From the date of depopulation, the two-year clock starts to begin. During this time, sampling is mandatory; but it does not count towards the release of the zone. After two years have passed, the number and distribution of samples would begin counting for the surveillance zone release. For this hypothetical scenario, there's a high degree of cooperation, which meant the sample and distribution goal outlined by the agent-based model was met in a handful of sampling seasons with no CWD detections. Consequently, the zone could then be released.

In the second scenario, it is very similar. CWD was again detected in a captive breeding facility. A surveillance zone with mandatory movement and sampling requirements was established. The breeding facility was depopulated expeditiously, and two years has passed since the day of depopulation. Unfortunately in this situation, a free-ranging detection of CWD occurred and consequently the C -- the C -- the SC will remain in place.

For clarity, I will briefly demonstrate what this approach will look like in currently existing surveillance zones. As a reminder, the yellow shaded area outlines the current surveillance zone. And as you can see here, this is the current Duval County surveillance zone.

The new surveillance zone, what is being proposed today, is the yellow line and all properties that would be affected by the surveillance zone subject to carcass movement restrictions and mandatory testing are shaded in gray. For Duval County, the number of affected landowners through this zone, the new zone now in gray, will reduce the amount of affected landowners by 97 percent. It should be noted that the current surveillance zone for Duval County has a sunset date in October 2024.

Next is Limestone County. This is a depiction of the current Limestone County surveillance zone. Using the new approach, the number of landowners affected by the Limestone County surveillance zone will be reduced by around 76 percent.

Third is Gillespie County. Using this new approach, the number of landowners affected by the Gillespie County surveillance zone will be reduced by 91 percent.

And fourth is the Uvalde County extension of the south central zone. In this situation, we have two affected breeding facilities relatively close together within that zone. One facility has been depopulated, and one is under a research plan with the Department and Texas Animal Health Commission. The number of affected landowners within the zone will be reduced by 69 percent.

Unfortunately after staff had outlined its initial proposed amendments, five additional positive breeding facilities were detected just in the past couple of weeks. Three of which have been confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories or NVSL, and two are pending confirmation by this same lab. Three confirmed detections in Zavala County, this first star, Washington County, the second star, and Gonzales County, the third star, were detected through antemortem testing. Two of these facilities detected infected deer to satisfy antemortem testing requirements for release, while the other facility was detected via whole herd antemortem tests that was specified in the trace-out herd plan.

The two unconfirmed detections, but will likely be confirmed, are located in Hamilton, the first yellow star here, and Frio County, the second yellow star. One detection occurred while satisfying antemortem testing requirements for release, while the other facility detected CWD through baseline surveillance requirements for breeding facilities. It should be noted that the rule requiring a not-detected antemortem test before release is set to sunset in December of 2024.

In light of these five new detections, staff propose three new surveillance zones at least for the facilities right now with confirmed detections and to establish these zones using the same approach as outlined previously for Duval, Gillespie, and Uvalde County. Surveillance zones are only being proposed right now for the cases that have been confirmed.

The first here for Zavala County, as I have mentioned -- or was detected after deer antemortem rectal tested for release. This resulted in three positive detections. This zone is in Zavala County and encompasses 22 people or properties.

The breeding facility in Washington County -- right here -- was detected after deer were antemortem rectal tested for release. This resulted in a single positive detection. This zone in Washington County encompasses 555 properties.

And then lastly here -- oops -- is Gonzales County surveillance zone. This breeding facility in Gonzales County was detected after deer were antemortem tested to meet the requirements of a herd plan. This resulted in one antemortem positive, but also an additional two and -- or postmortem positive samples have also now been submitted. This zone in Gonzales County encompasses 104 properties.

Thank you for your attention as we outline this new approach for positive captive facilities. As a sidenote, for detections in free-ranging populations, high or low fence, few changes will be made to our approach. However, we'll be -- we will investigate whether periodic sampling approaches could be applied to reduce the burden of CWD sample collection and we hope to get back to you with more specific recommendations on that subject in the future.

I will emphasize though that we are not proposing -- what we're proposing today is not our response strategy, how we determine which properties are encompassed by a zone or what our free-ranging strategy will ultimately be. Those changes are going to be updated in the Texas CWD Management Plan and not written into the rule.

For today, staff are seeking permission to publish proposed amendments to rules establishing disease management zones. These proposed amendments seek to do three things. First, establish those new delineations for the zones in which a CWD detection has occurred solely in a positive breeding facility, of what I presented today. Second, is to allow for the formation of check stone -- check stations outside a surveillance zone if necessary. Some of these zones are much smaller now and they don't encompass the city limits where our check stations have typically been held. And then third is to allow hunters to take a head to a check station outside a surveillance zone. Now because those check stations may be outside of that surveillance zone, we'll need to allow those hunters to bring those heads or essentially leave the surveillance zone in the most direct route to that check station in order to get their animal tested. And then lastly, as I had mentioned before, the surveillance zone for Duval County is currently scheduled to sunset in October of 2024. I'll defer to our Legal team to best describe the appropriate steps for the Commission to take as we request your support for permission to publish these zone delineations in which a CWD detection has occurred solely in a breeding facility.

And with that, I end my presentation.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners -- Hunter, to be clear, what you're requesting is authorization to publish these rules in the Texas Register --

DR. REED: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- that's what we're talking about today?

DR. REED: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And then we would have you back in front of us when?

DR. REED: That would be in May to discuss the other side of the approach. Yeah.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. A lot of information there. Commissioners, any questions, comments, thoughts?


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. On the key points of the CWD SZ strategy, No. 4, the sampling needs to be well distributed, is that a subjective determination of what is well distributed or is there a more objectively determined well distribution?

DR. REED: Yeah. So that has been a more difficult point to articulate because there are some areas that are more rural, have active deer hunting on those properties, and that sampling goal can be satisfied and if there are requirements for each individual property, they likely could be made or satisfied. But as we talk about more urban or suburban environments where hunting might not be present and if we were to require those properties to harvest or have some sample submitted, it may be difficult to meet that metric. So we're trying to come up with a reasonable approach of whether you're over a certain acreage or if there's been a history of hunting in the past where we can have some ability to get good coverage, but not have a requirement that subjects all properties that may likely not hunt in order to release that zone. So I need to articulate that more clearly, and I hope we can get back to you on a later time about that.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: But at the end of the time period, every -- we are talking about 100 percent of the deer harvested or if they're dead, I guess they could be found on the roadside. So it's hard to get 110 percent sampling distribution, right? I mean, if you're only going to sample the dead deer and you're sampling all of them, how -- how -- you can't -- you can't get more -- well, I mean the distribution is geographical, right? So, I mean...

DR. REED: Yeah. I think the intent there is to make sure that we don't want specific or isolated pockets of the zone to really make up the bulk of the surveillance and pull the weight of other ranches who may or may not choose to participate.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Right. But it is 100 percent, right?

DR. REED: Yes. Yep.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: That's why I kind of wonder if you're going to endeavor to try and get this even distribution maybe -- hypothetically, I guess, theoretically a landowner that maybe doesn't hunt or doesn't hunt often, if they knew what the goal was and let's just assume they don't want to be in a surveillance zone, they might -- but they own a quarter of the area, all of a sudden they might be incented or certainly encouraged to go harvest deer for the purpose, the sole purpose of meeting, again, I guess a subjectively determined distribution or, you know, what's going to satisfy someone down the road. That was kind of a rambling comment, but I think people have got to have some guidance. I feel like that's what we're trying to -- and what I think you've done a pretty good job of, you know, narrowing the zone and at least setting out some specific criteria to remove it; but that -- the last one seems to be kind of the hook. You know, it's like someone might decide, well, you met everything else, but we don't think it's properly distributed.

DR. REED: Yeah. No, that has been a point we've struggled with. The -- I think what we're -- what was happening before with those zones is we would get a lot more samples, but it's not as focused. And now we're really trying to focus that surveillance in the surrounding area. So we have been able to free up a lot of different properties that maybe are not as helpful in terms of providing the picture of is CWD -- has it -- is it in the free-ranging population getting into a captive population or is it in the captive population getting into a free-ranging population?

So I don't have the answer right now. I certainly think that we can work to get a more definite criteria for that, but I know that that is something that I still have questions about in terms of making sure that this is as explicit as possible in moving forward.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And then I would have asked the question regarding are we ever going to lift anything in the Trans-Pecos zone, but this is really just from a -- from deer breeding. It's not -- and that was -- that would be a free-ranging, however many decades ago it occurred. So it's not applicable to this, right?

DR. REED: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: All right. Are y'all working on any type of similar parallel plan to lift these surveillance zones that occurred as a result of free-ranging positive?

DR. REED: Yeah, so that is on the docket. We have been focusing now, in light of the last two weeks, trying to get more definitive criteria on the captive breeding facilities. But in terms of the panhandle, the Trans-Pecos, and even in Val Verde, being able to transition to a periodic approach after a certain sample number of confidence where we have a good picture of that prevalence on the ground. That is going to be the next line item of what we pursue because those zones have been contributing and have been very helpful in providing really substantial surveillance for many years and we want to be able to transition them over into an approach where you can get helpful information, but not have that consistent requirement of sampling which can be burdensome.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Bobby, good question.

And, Hunter, may suggest this subjective conversation that Commissioner Patton brought up. As y'all try to define that, one suggestion you might try, if you can't delineate it -- and I understand it's very difficult. It is subjective. When the time comes to decide if it's been reached or not, that may be an opportunity for staff with expert witnesses to come back before the Commission and discuss if it's met the criteria or not since it's subjective and that might help, have a good discussion at this level, and the people that are still in the mousetrap, if you will, can see that it's not just coming from the Agency, but it's coming from the Commission and the Agency combined.

DR. REED: Absolutely.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: That would be a -- just a possible suggestion.

Commissioners, any other questions?

MR. WOLF: Chairman. Clayton Wolf, for the record. One thing that Dr. Reed hit on and if with your permission, I'd like to ask James Murphy to provide a little clarification is this -- the sunset that we have for Duval County and the fact that we've -- you know, we've come -- we are coming to the Commission with something before that sunset period, we need to get a little clarification from you and some direction on what we put in the Texas Register and how it's tied to that sunset. So I'd like to ask James to come up and try to explain that complication or that nuance so we can get some direction from all of you before we go to the Texas Register.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Clayton. We need -- we'll hear from James and then we need to have a little discussion about this particular issue that is caught up in this overall new proposal.

Good morning, James.

MR. MURPHY: Good morning. Thank you. For the record, James Murphy, General Counsel to the Department. And on that topic, you do have in Duval County a bit of a different approach in that we put in a sunset that expires on October 1st, 2024. That would make Duval County different than the other surveillance zones that we are proposing here that would be subject to this new Belsare model approach. That would be determined based on the sampling distribution, the amount of samples over time to determine when a surveillance zone might cease.

So the question before you today is if you'd like to address that expiration of the zone or that sunset of the zone now. You could do that. Have it fall under this new Belsare model approach or if you would like to wait to the future to make that decision after perhaps more samples have been collected and we have a clear picture next year. That one approach would be to address that today, to eliminate or instruct staff to eliminate that sunset or if we would like, we can wait until next year. If we were to wait until next year, we'd be looking at a permission to publish item no later than May, with an adoption no later than August of 2024. So that would give you more time to think about whether or not that sunset should be eliminated or you'd like to move forward with that.

So that's the question before you today: Either act now, wait to act on that sunset. And I'm available to answer any questions on what those processes would look like.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: James, will you tell us what would happened in this county if we rolled it into this new thing? What would that do to this particular --

MR. MURPHY: Correct. So what it would do is in all likelihood -- and I can't speak to the outcomes. That would be more of a Dr. Reed question. But it would be a sampling distribution over a multiyear period, at which point they'd have the confidence. They'd achieved that 95 percent confidence level that there was no longer CWD present. And so that may mean that -- I think chances are -- and Dr. Reed could speculate on that I think better than me. I don't think that we would have that sampling distribution and the number of samples in Duval by October 1, 2024, that the Belsare model would suggest is appropriate for determining whether or not a zone can cease. And so I think in all likelihood -- and I'm speculating -- you'd probably be looking more in the 2025-2026 range when enough samples would be collected. And again --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So would it be fair to say if we put this particular Duval County in this new model, that it would extend past the sunset date?

MR. MURPHY: I think practically speaking, that is the most likely outcome. There is, I suppose, a possibility that enough samples are collected and it's distributed appropriately, that we get to 95 percent by October 1, 2024. But based on the samples that have been collected to date, I don't think that enough samples will be collected by that time period.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Is that even possible, Hunter? Isn't there the time period also?

DR. REED: Yeah. So that facility was depopulated by the facility owner in April of 2022. So that would mean that two years from there, April 2024 would be -- that would be the date at which samples collected after that point would count towards the release of the zone. From the initial modeling that we've done, suggests that at the earliest within two sampling seasons they would likely be able to meet that requirement.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: What does that mean? Would it extend past the --

DR. REED: So it would be two years from April 2022. So April 2024 would be the two-year block of time. And then based on current sampling, if that were to be maintained over time with an adequate distribution, that that zone would meet its sampling requirement four years after that zone is created; but essentially within two years after it became eligible.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Before the -- before the sunset date of October 2024?

DR. REED: It would not meet that requirement by October 2024.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: It would need how much longer?

DR. REED: It would probably need another year and a half or two sample seasons, including the 2024 sampling season and then the 2025 sampling season at minimum.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So the reason I want to bring this up is -- I don't remember. We did this sunset a couple years ago? Does anybody remember?

MR. MURPHY: Yeah. Yes, sir. Correct. It was last year.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And so the purpose of it was to see what the data was, but we wanted to have to make a decision. I just -- you know, we wanted it to end. This new model would cause issues with that sunset date. This new model is way more focused. It drops many, many people out of the mousetrap, if you will. In some instances, it was high as 90 something percent reduction; but it causes an issue with this sunset. That's why I wanted to discuss it.


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, yeah. Patton. I think for me -- and I'm considering the affect if we were to vote today to drop the sunset, we're -- I'm looking at it on my computer. I guess call it certainly more than half, maybe two-thirds of Duval County in the yellow is currently in a surveillance zone and I think -- I feel some obligation since we voted on it and, you know, maybe they have some reliance on that or faith that it will sunset and if we remove that sunset protection today, there's no guarantee that they're going to get reduced. Because I do think there's a benefit to the people in the yellow, the ranchers in the yellow that aren't in the gray that they get out of the mousetrap.

I might feel personally better or maybe a voting capacity to drop or vote in favor of dropping the sunset once I knew that the properties in the yellow were going to be dropped. I think those people certainly would like to know that they're going to get out of the mousetrap, so to speak. Does that make sense? So, because right now they're not. They're hopeful that because they're outside of the gray area that they'll be out, but...

DR. REED: If I could add?


DR. REED: So if this new surveillance approach were ultimately adopted, they would -- they would immediately fall out. So the sunset, if it's in there, it could confuse the properties that would be still encompassed by this approach, if that makes sense. But those outside that zone would be immediately dropped once this --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Well, so they got -- people in the yellow in this picture would out if this was approached?

DR. REED: Yes.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: The problem is the people that are within the gray are contemplating a sunset in October and this new proposal would extend that sunset past October and so that's the -- but, Bobby, all those people in the yellow would go away. But the people in the gray that were hoping to be sunsetted would not be and so there's the dilemma as I see it.



COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: You know, I don't know if we have to act today, I mean.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Which is, I think, one of the comments.

Mitch, you have something?

Yes, I don't think -- James said I don't think we have to act today; but I wanted to make sure that we had good discussion with all the Commission so everybody understood this.

Go ahead, Mitch.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Mitch Lockwood, Big Game Program Director. It seems like we could end up with some conflicting interests, so to speak here, because if the Commission were to adopt this new approach with the 2-mile zone, et cetera, yet we maintain the sunset of 2024, it may leave this false sense of hope, if you will, for the people in the gray because there's no way the goals for the new zone that this Commission may adopt can be accomplished by then.

And so an alternative might be considering maintaining a sunset, but potentially pushing it back to a date where there's a more realistic timeframe of meeting the goals that Dr. Reed discussed today, which would be at least four years after the spring of 2022. That would be the earliest it could possibly be considered to have, you know, met the sampling goal and potentially be dissolved at that point. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. Do we know approximately what percentage of landowners would be released from the current situation if we got rid of the sunset?

DR. REED: So you're talking about Duval County?


DR. REED: Yeah, so I have that number in here. Number of landowners affected would be reduced by 97 percent with this new approach.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: It seems to me like when we voted for the sunset, we were just -- we were trying to do something different that, you know, that showed those landowners that there was a way to get out, you know, at some point. I'd be -- I think the new proposal accomplishes that as well, but with better data. I mean at the time, we really were sort of stabbing in the dark to, you know, to come up with a sunset. I'd be comfortable, you know, rolling those -- rolling Duval County into the new proposed regulation. I think it would -- you know, it would benefit -- if it's going to benefit 97 percent of the landowners in that current area, I think they would appreciate that.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, James.


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Hi, Hildebrand. Mr. Chairman, it does seem to me -- and, again, I think I was the one that proposed the sunset and that was purely just a stopgap measure until we came up with some proper methodology and I'm hopeful that what we're talking about today can potentially be that consistent application and it seems as though if you have sunset one and not the other, absolutely confusing. And so consistent regulation is -- I would certainly be an advocate of. But can I talk a bit about -- just to understand the chronology of all of this. Let's -- I'm going to make it simple. Okay? So January the 1st, 2023, a facility is depopulated. So walk through the timeline as to when that area could potentially be released from an SZ zone.

DR. REED: Yeah. So January 1st of 2023, you would have to go two years from that date of populate -- date of depopulation. So that would be January of 2025.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: You essentially take no tests during that period of time, or those tests are irrelevant?

DR. REED: So the tests are not irrelevant. So the mandatory testing during that period is essential in a sense if CWD is already within a free-ranging population and if that is the cause for infecting a captive deer breeding facility, we would expect and we should surveil for the disease during that time period. But in terms of evaluating whether the disease has left the captive breeding facility and entered the free-ranging population, we want to make sure that we're not using tests that are premature for evaluating that metric.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And premature you would define as zero to two years?

DR. REED: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Got it. Okay, so keep rolling.

DR. REED: Yeah. So at that point in January 2025, the tests would begin starting. That would be kind of the abbreviated sampling season, but -- so it would likely take at least in the case of Duval County a 20 -- 20 -- or sorry -- a 2026 season and then a 2027 season based on current sampling numbers, at minimum.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So after the two-year timeline, you then have to -- one, it's a minimum of three hunting seasons, correct?

DR. REED: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: From date of depopulation?

DR. REED: It would be a minimum of -- so it's a minimum or three hunting seasons in total. I was including the two that would not count, but be satisfied in the third --

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: From date of depop -- yeah, got it.

DR. REED: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So, but post two years, what's the timeline in order -- if there are no further positive tests, what would be the timeline to be able to -- that area being released?

DR. REED: So if they satisfied the sampling requirement in the first sampling year, they could be -- the zone could be released.


DR. REED: But based on the numbers we have right now, it looks like it would take at least two.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. Describe -- I don't know what that means. What are the numbers that we're looking at?

DR. REED: So based off of the current sampling intensity that we received this past hunting season, we've used that sampling number and distribution within the model, in the agent-based model, to see, hey, with that sampling effort, what is our detection probability that we would have detected the disease with 95 percent confidence at 0.5 percent prevalence.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So you used a number, an aggregate number from the State of Texas?

DR. REED: Yeah, we used actual --

MR. LOCKWOOD: No. For that zone.

DR. REED: Well, yeah. We're using Texas sampling data from that --

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: I'm not talking about Duval County right now. I'm talking about -- I mean, I'm just -- an example of -- fine. Use Duval County. Okay, great.

DR. REED: Okay.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: All right. So, but the tests that you took from Duval County would predict that it would take an additional two years?

DR. REED: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Post two years after depopulation?

DR. REED: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: You can see why this is going to be incredibly complicated. I mean, well -- all right. Keep trying to explain to a layman as to when someone gets out of a CZ zone.

DR. REED: So --


DR. REED: Yeah. So in a nutshell, we start the zone from the -- and then we -- until that facility is depopulated, that could be in a matter of months, as we've seen in other counties it's taken longer. But from that date of population, we take two years until the next date. That is -- from two years from the date of depopulation, that is when the samples begin to count. And then from that point forward, whether it is one-year, two-year, or three-year, how -- it doesn't matter how long after that point. If you reach that sampling goal and it satisfies our detection probability requirement, that zone could be released within one sampling season or two sampling seasons or more sampling seasons. It just will take a minimum of at least two years and if you satisfy that requirement in the subsequent year, then that zone could be removed.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And so will landowners in an area know how many data points are going to be required? Because clearly they're going to want to get out of that zone as quickly as possible. So would you -- are you going to publish Duval County after two years in the third -- needs 475 tests? I mean, is that something that's quantifiable that the landowners can all contribute to and be a part of the solution?

DR. REED: Yes, that is something that we can make an effort to get out to those individual ranches and make sure that they know exactly where they are on that timeline and if they want to satisfy that requirement and intensify harvest, then that would be an option and I think that they would be better and able to do that.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: See, that's the kind of positive incentive that people will need in order to adhere to, you know, what's going to be a complex regulation. So, all right, I think that's -- last question. Where did the -- of the five facilities, we're assuming the two that are TBD are positive. Were those all recipient facilities from contaminated sites?

DR. REED: So one facility, the one in Gonzales County, is a trace-out or received exposed animals from an index facility in Uvalde County in 2021. That one is within the trace period, very likely related to that transaction. But of -- the other facilities appear to have unrelated links to other positive facilities, at least through our initial five-year trace-back investigation right now. So we do not have any clear line of how those facilities became infected.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Wow. That's -- that's troubling.

DR. REED: Very.


COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell, one more. That last point was what I was going to bring up about the -- about publishing to the SZ where we are, where they are in the process. And I think if we can get to a point where that information was, say, on our website, like on all the different zones and, you know, now sampling has started, it's going to take 500 samples to get there, show geographically where those sample -- you know, where that sample distribution is so you can see if there's big holes somewhere and likely it wouldn't meet the distribution challenge, I think that would go a long way towards, you know, those landowners feeling like they're part of the process.

DR. REED: And I think Alan Cain and others in the Department have been working on kind of like a public facing CWD drop page where maps and check station locations and all of that could be much more readily accessible. So that might be an avenue of which we could broadcast that more clearly and transparently.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So what this proposal does basically is it really narrows the focus and the Duval County just illustrates it well, the yellow, the circle, the gray. It just really focuses. But we need intense testing in a specific area to get the results and the two years comes from the data, comes from the research that we know it takes time for the disease to show itself. That's why we just have to sit there and wait. That doesn't mean we're not testing everywhere; but as far as the data points, we've got to wait two years until, you know, it's had time to show itself. And then after that, there's no set period. It's just however long it takes to get the appropriate amount of samples and distributions to give us the 95 percent comfort level based on the model.

So we think that this takes a whole lot of people out of the affected and in some instances as high as 90 percent, but it definitely still draws a circle around where the problem was and tries to narrow that focus. And as we're hearing today, you know, everybody on this Commission was here when we did this antemortem, this live testing before you transport a deer and, you know, we've heard a lot of comments about that; but that appears to be now showing itself in -- showing deer that are positive before they get moved, so. And it's disheartening to have five so fast come and so this is -- by no means is this problem over with. It's -- we have a long road ahead of this. But I applaud y'all and I think this metric, this design from this professor from Auburn, I think maybe hopefully will really help shed some light on this.

On this particular subject, if -- we're going to go publish the rules and hear about this. But on this particular subject, the discussion becomes on this one county that has a sunset. Commissioner Hildebrand why he suggested that sunset and we all agreed. On this one, if we keep the sunset, then these rules that we're trying to apply in this new metric don't have time to work in this particular instance. And so what's the downside of publishing the rules and gathering more information? What's the pros and cons of deciding today versus deciding -- when did you say it has to be done by? By the May meeting or the August meeting?

MR. MURPHY: Yeah, it would be the May of next year, Chairman, that we would have to have a permission to publish item to --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: May of next year?

MR. MURPHY: -- to take action before the sunset.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So what would be the -- what would be the negative? Would it just be the confusion that Duval County does not have this? What would be the confusion?

DR. REED: Yeah. So it is very unrealistic -- I'm avoiding impossible, but very improbable that they would satisfy the sampling requirement by that time. So it -- essentially if it were to be kept in place, it may give people a false image of how long the zone may be, especially --


DR. REED: -- if --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So our discussion is do we rip the Band-Aid off now and say there's just no way and although the sunset time hasn't gotten here with information we have before us, we know that when the time comes, we're going to have extend the sunset, which this Commission has the ability to do, or kick the can down the road and if there's false hope there is and deal with this in a year? That's the -- what do y'all want to do?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, Patton. If we were to lift the sunset, could we shrink the current surveillance zone to the anticipated new zone?


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Today? Like we vote to lift the sunset, but simultaneously shrink the yellow to the gray?

MR. MURPHY: Yeah. So that is the -- that is what we would be --



MR. MURPHY: Yes, Commissioner. So that -- it is not effective today, but it would be permission to publish and go in the Register. It does include the shrinking of the Duval zone as you described.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Would the lifting of the sunset be effective today?

MR. MURPHY: No. The lifting of the sunset would also be effective in May if, in fact, you do adopt. So this is a proposal that would go into the Register. If you were to eliminate the sunset, you would receive public comment on that and then take action in May.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: 90 percent of the people in Duval County will like it and there will be some that won't and we're trying to avoid the confusion. Anybody else?


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Hildebrand. I just say, Mr. Chairman, I mean if we believe the best science is the new strategy that has just been discussed, then I mean I think clearly you want to drop the sunset element to it, reduce the amount of acreage, and apply good consistent science to a smaller, but more intensive focus on where we should be doing our sampling. So I would be an advocate of dropping the sunset and as Commissioner Patton said, obviously along with that goes a reduced footprint of affected landowners.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And so the publishing would speak to that. It would speak what we're trying to do, who it affects, and it would speak to this issue, the sunset. Any other Commissioners? Everybody kind of what they're -- what they're suggesting is, is that we would publish the rules that would submit this proposal and it would also just address the sunset. It's just rules being published. We're not going to -- nothing's happening today except we're publishing rules that will address this sunset and take most of the people in the county out of the box and some of them that are within the gray area and as you can tell from this map, what happens is the gray area are landowners that touched the yellow circle and these are big landowners in this county.

So, James.

MR. MURPHY: Yes, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Do I need a motion or can I just --

MR. MURPHY: No. This is at a permission to publish stage, and so this is your prerogative to instruct staff to publish in the Register. I did want to clarify one additional thing, which is that staff is asking for authorization to publish the creation of surveillance zones for any confirmed positive facilities that are confirmed prior to going to the Texas Register. So prior to April 10th when we would file this with the Texas Register, if we receive any more confirmed positives, we are asking for your permission to include in that rule proposal that goes out for public comment any zones that would be associated with those confirmed positives as of that date, so that way we're making sure that -- because this is happening very rapidly right now where we're receiving additional test results pretty much weekly.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Yeah, I understand. We've spent a lot of time -- and Duval was a good example, but --

MR. MURPHY: Correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- this is not just Duval. It's in multiple counties and we have two suspected and if they get confirmed before publishing -- and I guess that's the best you can do. If they're suspected, we can't publish?

MR. MURPHY: We do not recommend at this time creating zones until confirmation from the National Lab, correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But we can communicate publicly that --

MR. MURPHY: Correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- we have suspicion and that it could come.

MR. MURPHY: Correct.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. So I believe after hearing good -- Dick, you got anything?


CHAIRMAN APLIN: I believe after hearing good dialogue from everybody, that that's what we're going to do. We're going to publish the rules for this new approach and part of that is that the sunset that was placed by this Commission earlier, would not happen in Duval County as a result of this overall new proposal and what we think is better science and takes a whole bunch of people out of the shotgun approach and focuses on the rifle approach.

So have we accomplished established everything you need?

MR. MURPHY: Yes, Chairman. I did want to just put one other item on your radar, which is another sunset provision that you put in place related to the antemortem testing on release sites. We did have a three-year sunset on that as well. Staff is not asking for any action on that today, but more as a reminder. The value of the release site antemortem testing has really been shown through these last detections and Dr. Reed can go into the specifics, but some of these facilities have been detected with antemortem testing at release sites. And so I believe there's some consideration for future Commission discussion about whether you want to extend that sunset on release site antemortem testing, but I don't think that needs to be a discussion --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: When's that three years?

MR. MURPHY: We have some time on that, Chairman. We have until December 2024. But I did want to just mention it because I think the value of that -- of your decision on requiring that has really been proven out of late and so I just want to make sure that we all, you know, keep that in mind that there is a sunset on there as well.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Well, thank you for that.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: And I do think that it seems to be working, this testing. But the very nature of the sunset is we're going to wait until we get --

MR. MURPHY: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- closer to that date and take all the information we have --

MR. MURPHY: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- and the Commission make a decision then. So I don't want to -- I don't want to lean in either way. It's a sunset, it's been established, and the Commission will look at it at the appropriate time.

MR. MURPHY: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners, any comments, questions?

Thank you, James.

Thank you, Hunter.

Work Session Item No. 8, Digital License and Tagging Requirements, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Chris, hello. Good morning. Good -- yeah, good morning.

MR. CERNY: Good morning still, Chairman and Commissioners, and thank you for your time today. For the record, my name is Chris Cerny and I am the Business Analyst for the Wildlife Division. I'm here to provide a briefing on the digital tagging program, which is now more than halfway through its pilot year.

With fall fishing, fall turkey, and all of deer season complete, Agency staff have had an opportunity to review the initial implementation of this digital tagging program and I'm glad to share that the staff assessment is very positive. Based on the popularity of the digital offering and some of the feedback received thus far, I will also request the Commission's permission to publish proposed changes to regulations that would authorize four additional fully digital license and tag options for the next hunting season.

To begin, I would like to provide a brief overview of the digital license and tagging program. An important point to recall is the difference between digital proof of license and fully digital tagging. During the 2019 Legislative session, the Legislature authorized customers to present digital proof of license. Meaning that if you're in the field and had either one of our apps that shows your license or even a photo of your license on your person, that would satisfy your license requirements. However, that did not provide a fully digital tagging option for that customer. So that person, if they had a paper license at the time, they still had to have that paper tag when they harvested an animal.

It was during the 2021 Legislative session that the Legislature authorized the Commission to adopt rules that created fully digital tag options. And so we are in that pilot year at this time and we went into the pilot year using three license types: The resident super combo, senior super combo, and lifetime -- excuse me -- lifetime combo licenses, which were made available through online purchase only. So you can't walk into a point-of-sale and purchase one of these. You have to go through the website.

Digital tagging is accomplished using the My Texas Hunt Harvest app and staff developed resources to make available to customers to provide instructions, including a video on how to accomplish this process and that's all available online.

So to execute a digital tag, a license holder must immediately complete a harvest report using the My Texas Hunt Harvest application as soon as that harvested animal has been taken into possession. In addition to a harvest report, deer and turkey specifically also require that a handwritten document be attached to the carcass. Oversized Red drum do not that attached document. So if data service is available when completing that report, a confirmation number is provided, which you see on the screen there, and that is all that has to be added to the document. So whatever kind of document, you want to add duct tape, a tag in a bag, you add that confirmation number on there and attach that to the deer or the turkey.

If a confirmation number can't be delivered due to lack of data service, then the hunter simply adds their name, their customer number, and the date and time of harvest to a tag that they affix to the animal or a document they affixed to the animal until such time as they return to data service, then they receive that confirmation number and that gets added to the document at that time.

One other point to make, as the digital tagging does satisfy mandatory harvest reporting requirements in those counties that have such for deer and turkey and I do want to point out that our game wardens have partner apps to help support enforcement in the field.

So we begin looking at some of the data for this pilot year. As of this March, as of last week, we have currently sold more than 78,000 digital licenses as one of these flavors of licenses: Regular super combo, senior super combo, or lifetime hunting tags. And these represent -- these sales -- is better than 78,000 licenses, represent better than 13.6 percent of all of those types of licenses sold to date for this season, so from August 15th to March 15th.

You'll see that while we're at 13.6 percent overall, the bulk of those licenses sold were through the regular super combo and we've actually sold better than 15 percent of those digitally. So it is a very popular option. Obviously we need additional seasons to determine trend data, but we are very excited at the adoption of this during its initial year.

To begin review of harvest reporting, I do want to first highlight comparison of this season's data to previous seasons' data. So what you're looking at on screen here are those species that were available to report that now have an option for digital tagging, comparing what we received for all of the '21 and '22 season to what we received thus far for the 22-23 season, knowing that spring turkey is just getting underway. And you can see a substantial increase in reporting. Nearly fourfold. So in all of 21-22, we received fewer than 8,000 harvest reports for these species. At the end of deer season, we had received better than 28,000 reports. And obviously the vast majority of that is driven by digital tagging, and we still have spring turkey to go.

To take just a little bit more detailed look at that harvest data, I would like to highlight for those reports, there's better than 28,000 harvest reports received to date, how many of those were actually related to the execution of the digital tag and so on your screen here, you see those species that are eligible for digital tagging. Eastern turkey is not displayed because it's just getting underway. So this is only what we have available thus far. And you'll see that except for Red drum, nearly two-thirds to three-quarters of all reports received are due to the execution of a digital tag. Red drum is an outlier, with only approximately 40 percent of those reports coming in being due to that digital tag execution. Staff have taken note of this. It is something we're looking into to try to understand why so many of those reports coming in for Red drum are not in relation to the execution of a digital tag.

So, again, overall we're very happy to see the success of the app in supporting the digital tagging process with better than 60 percent of all reports received again related to the execution of a digital tag. So based on the popularity of these digital license offerings in the pilot year, based on feedback from customers and the ability for our system to support this option, staff would like to propose creation of digital offerings for the four license and tag types shown here on your screen for next season. That would be the youth hunting license, the exempt angler Red drum tag, lifetime hunting tags, and lifetime fishing tags. And what you're looking at would be the total volume sales for these four options, these four catalog items for the entire '21 and '22 license year. Then projecting, assuming a 13.6 percent digital conversion rate if that was to remain the case, the total expected digital addition of licenses would be approximately 18,000 more licenses.

Staff are very comfortable that the system that's currently in place can support this expansion of the offering, along with continuing to support the available super combo options.

These licenses are being proposed for several reasons that I'd like to highlight. First would be for the youth hunting license. Staff did receive feedback from a number of customers who had gone out to purchase their digital super combo for themselves and their spouse and then went on to purchase the license for their children, only to find there was no digital option for that youth license. And so they wound up having to carry a paper license even though the family wanted to go digital. So we certainly want to provide those folks with the option or the opportunity to go completely digital if they choose.

The exempt angler Red drum tag has a similar reason. They are customers who otherwise don't need to carry a fishing license who would still have to go purchase a Red drum tag to harvest that oversized Bull Red and so we want to make sure that they can go fully digital if they would like.

And then finally, we want to add those lifetime tag combinations or tag options to round out all of the offerings for the lifetime license types, especially given the low volume that's expected.

So in conclusion, staff request this Commission's permission to publish proposed changes in the Texas Register to the Texas Administrative Code Chapters 53, 57, and 65 as specified here to create and implement provisions for our digital youth hunting license, exempt angler Red drum tag, lifetime hunting license tags, and lifetime fishing tags.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I'm happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Chris, with the proposed changes, what's -- because the other one, we're already doing lifetime. So what's the lifetime hunting tag and fishing tag that we didn't do last time around?

MR. CERNY: So what we proposed in this pilot year and what we adopted is for the lifetime combo, which provides both your hunting and fishing. So you get both your hunting tags and your Bull Red tag. What we're proposing is that there are lifetime hunting license options that would give you only your deer and turkey tags or also including that lifetime fishing for those customers that only have that type of lifetime license.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: After you do this, what will be left that hasn't been done digital?

MR. CERNY: Quite a bit. There are a total of 45 recreational licenses that are available for sale. Thirty-eight of those provide a tag of some sort, whether that be hunting, fishing, et cetera. If this proposal is adopted, we would have now seven of those 38 available with a fully digital tagging option, leaving about 30 or so licenses left. We do want to continue expanding, but we want to go in a manner -- or a controlled fashion to ensure success of the rollout for our customers. We're still in the pilot year. As you see, we have some potential confusion that the Bull redfish maybe highlighting about who is eligible to digitally tag. So we want to address those issues. We're working on updates to our process right now that we want to test in the next year and make sure those are working and as we make sure that this is supportable, that our law enforcement is comfortable with it in the field, we intend to begin expanding those options, focusing on resident license types first most likely and the beginning to expand on to nonresidents. But we do intend to address that remaining balance of 30 licenses as we move forward.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Nonresidents is not available on digital. Does that mean they have to go buy it in person in paper?

MR. CERNY: Or buy online and request fulfillment of the paper license that's mailed. But, yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. And so, yeah, we want you to do it right and not make mistakes; but I do think it would be very advantageous to roll this out as fast as we can. I mean, if you're traveling from out of state and coming to hunt, so what you do is you go on and you can buy your out-of-state hunting license, if you will; but then you have to mail them the tags?

MR. CERNY: If they purchase online, that's correct. Otherwise, they can come once they arrive in Texas and stop and buy at a point-of-sale location.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: They purchase online, we mail it. It passes in the mail while they're in the plane flying to Texas, what happens?

MR. CERNY: They could to -- I believe I may need to defer -- Justin's not here. My understanding -- this is more on the license sale's side, which I'm not as familiar with. My understanding is that they could go to a point-of-sale and request a lost license replacement at that time. I believe that would be the avenue for that hunter.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Commissioners, any questions, comments?

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Hildebrand. I understand the -- not simple, but federal duck stamps, migratory, do the -- is it -- my understanding, the federal game wardens will not -- they don't believe a digital license is valid?

MR. CERNY: So the federal duck stamp requirement -- again, being at the federal level -- they, as I understand it, will recognize that 30-day window or maybe it's 45 -- it's either 30 or 45 days post-purchase where you can show digital proof of that duck stamp because that stamp is still being physically mailed. But beyond that expiration period that the federal rules specify, a federal game warden will enforce the need for that physical duck stamp.

MR. WOLF: Chairman -- and maybe Stormy King can answer this -- but I know the feds have a proposal here to update that process for that, that digital expiration.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hello, Stormy.

MR. KING: Good morning, everyone. For the record, Stormy King with Law Enforcement. Yes, there's a proposal before Congress at this time, I believe, that would make the Federal E-Stamp a permit valid for a year, as we've been discussing for a couple of years now; but I hope we may be soon to get that problem resolved.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Great. Thanks. And just as an add on to Chairman Aplin, just as quickly as we can roll this out I think to all of the other, you know, detailed pieces of the fishing and hunting license is going to be advantageous to us and then the world has gone digital and it's not coming back and so we need to be a part of the solution in this regard. So as quickly as we can, I would be an advocate to roll this out.

MR. CERNY: Understood and agree, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioners, comments, questions?

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Commissioner Rowling. Chris, I think someone suggested last as we rolled this the digital platform out, the potential for an auto-renewal. Has there been any progress on that or thought put into that? It seems like, A, a lot of people would like that feature and, you know, it could increase revenues pretty significantly if people opt into that and it auto-renews every year.

MR. CERNY: Yes, sir, Commissioner Rowling. I've not been a part of the team that's investigating that. I do want to clarify that there is nothing in this current proposal related to auto-renewal licenses. But we have begun investigating that process at the Commission's direction. Nothing in our system currently supports the storage of payment card information. So that's the most significant hurdle to get past is how do we accomplish a secure digital wallet. The State of Texas Department of Information Resources has a vendor that has a solution. We've begun discussions with them to investigate how that might work, but they do not support any sort of auto-renewal payment at this moment. My understanding is they're willing to consider the business case and potentially build that out, but this is a work in progress. We certainly intend to continue pursuing that option.


MR. WOLF: And, Commissioner Rowling, we -- our team and our IT and others put together a little white paper. I know Commissioner Hildebrand has it because he inquired last time, but we'll share that with the entire Commission just to kind of let you know some of those statutory and regulatory constraints and how we hope to be able to navigate them to get to auto-renew.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. In lieu of that or while we take the time to investigate that, certainly not as good as auto-renew, but just, you know, an e-mail link to pay for your license for next year that's auto-populated with everything you did last year would probably catch a bunch of people too.

MR. CERNY: And our Communications team does have an awful lot of that available already. They send out reminders every year prior to August 15th rollover saying it's time to purchase your license again and the license system will support your purchasing what you did in the previous season.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good questions. Good point. Let's make it as easy as possible for people to get outdoors.

Commissioners, any other questions?

Thank you, Chris.

MR. CERNY: Thank y'all.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: We're going to now move to Work Session Item No. 9 through 14, which will be heard in Executive Session.

At this time I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 of 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 551.072 of the Open Meeting Act and seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meeting Act, including advice regarding pending and contemplated litigation. We will now recess for Executive Session at 11:04 a.m. and we will return as soon as possible. Thank you.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good afternoon, everybody. We're going to reconvene the Work Session on March 22nd, 2023, at 1:00 p.m.

Before I begin, I'll take a roll call. Aplin present.








CHAIRMAN APLIN: Very good. Thank you.

We're now returning from Executive Session where we discussed Work Session Items, Real Estate Item No. 9 through 13 and Litigation Item No. 14.

Commissioners, is there any further questions? Anything anybody would like to discuss?

Seeing none, I'll place Items No. 9 through 12 on Thursday's Commission Meeting agenda for public comment.

Regarding Item No. 13, Fairfield State Park, no further action is needed at this time.

Regarding Item No. 14, Litigation Update, no further action is needed at this time.

David, this Commission has completed its Work Session business and I declare us adjourned at 1:01 p.m. Thank y'all.

(Work Session Adjourns)



I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand

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

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such

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

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my

hand and seal this Turn in date ______ day of _________________, ________.


Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: January 31, 2025