TPW Commission

Work Session, November 2, 2022


TPW Commission Meetings


November 2, 2022






CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good morning, everyone. I want to welcome you to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Meeting for Wednesday Work Session, November 2nd, 2022.

Before we get started, I'm going to call roll call. Aplin present.






CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. We obviously have more than a quorum. This meeting is going to be called to order November 2nd, 2022, at 9:05 a.m.

Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Carter Smith has a statement to make.

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

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Commissioners, as a reminder if you'll state your name before you speak and speak slowly for the court reporter.

The first order of business is approval of the minutes from the previous Work Session held August 24th, 2022, which have been distributed. I would accept a motion and second.




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

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Opposed? Hearing none, motion carried.

First order of business is approval of minutes from the previous Annual Public Hearing held August 24th, which have been distributed. Same thing, a motion and a second.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell makes a motion.



CHAIRMAN APLIN: Rowling 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 the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Progress in Implementing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Land and Water Resource Conservation and Recreation Plan. Carter, good morning.

MR. SMITH: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. Again, for the record, my name is Carter Smith with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I would be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge David Yoskowitz, you know, our incoming Executive Director.

So, David, thank you for joining us today. Appreciate your -- your being here.

Chairman and Commissioners, as is customary, let me share a few words about matters germane to the Land and Water related plan and functions inside the Agency. As is customary, I will start off with just a very quick Internal Affairs update. Hopefully all of you had a chance to at least get -- probably not look at -- but the annual report that Mike and team prepared on all the activities of the Internal Affairs team. The information there is pretty self-explanatory; but please read that over and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to catch Mike or Jarret about that.

Mike is not here today. He's part of the Governor's Senior Executive Development Program. This is one of the leadership development opportunities inside state government for senior executives. We've got three colleagues actually going through that program right now. Mike is going through it; Chad Jones, our Colonel; and also Justin Rhodes, our Deputy Director for State Parks. And it's a terrific leadership development program that the Governor's Office does in concert with the University of Texas and LBJ School and so really pleased that we've got so many colleagues that are participating in that and we have a number of alumni inside the Agency that have participated in that over the years, so.

Always fun to be able to recognize colleagues and this is a big one for Jennifer Feliciano from our Infrastructure related team. Every year the Governor's Commission for Women will recognize a very, very small select group of outstanding women leaders and employees inside state government and so given that we have ten -- tens of thousands of them across state government, for a colleague to be the recognized in this way is a big deal and over the years we've had a couple of them from the Department and I'm just thrilled about Jennifer receiving this Rising Star Award. Certainly no surprise to Andrea and her team or really the Department as a whole that she was recognized.

She oversees all of our the contracting and procurement for our Infrastructure team. So the -- think about the hundreds of contracts that they're responsible for managing and a, you know, portfolio that is somewhere between a quarter of a billion to 300 million dollars in capital construction projects that are happening at any one time. Jennifer and her team are terrific fiduciaries of the state's dollars; but also do a great job making sure we're getting not only that best value, but we're getting the best product out there in projects all across the state. And she's a terrific leader. She's got a bachelor's from Colorado State, an MBA. She served in the Air Force. Worked for a number of state agencies before she came to the Department about five years ago and there was a wonderful luncheon a couple of weeks ago that Andrea and I had a chance to attend in which several ladies across state government were honored for their excellence and so anyway, it made us all proud to see Jennifer recognized, so wanted to just celebrate that accomplishment and recognition with all of you.

I wanted to mention a promotion, Kevin Winters who's our new Lieutenant of Wildlife Enforcement and Kevin has had a stellar career in law enforcement. Started off with the Converse -- City of Converse Police Department and then he was a Border Patrol Agent for a number of years and we've had a number of Border Patrol Agents that have ultimately decided that they wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement with Parks and Wildlife either as a game warden or state park police officer and that's exactly what Kevin has done.

He got out of the Academy, I think, back in 2016. Was stationed down in Webb County for several years and then was in Harris County. Made the Department's single largest case in commercial fisheries on illegal possession shark fins and obviously that's a serious issue with sharks being harvested, the fins being taken off and sold for aphrodisiacs or other medicinal purposes, soup, and so forth. It's been a real problem. So Kevin really distinguished himself in that area. Member of our Honor Guard, part of our Special Operations team, one of our K-9 handlers, and then recently promoted to this position to work with Stormy and Luis and the team here at headquarters on wildlife law enforcement. So we're excited about that promotion and great things that will ensue from his continued leadership.

Every year -- and I think y'all will recall -- we provide an annual stocking report and y'all should have a copy of this. This is a little bit of a snapshot of some of the terrific work that your Fisheries and Wildlife biologists are doing around the state, whether it's the work in the eight hatcheries, the three on the coast or five inland to, you know, produce upwards of 40 to 50 million fingerlings of trout and redfish and flounder and bass and catfish and bluegill and a wide variety of species that are used to stock our lakes and rivers and streams and reservoirs and bays or the work of our Wildlife biologists in whether it's stocking Bighorn sheep or Pronghorn antelope or maybe it's Horned lizards and Prairie dogs, you know, depending on what the -- what the needs are. But this is a nice summation of their work over the last year. Turkeys in East Texas. And so please take a -- take a look at this report. Again, gives a nice summary of the history of our stocking efforts across the state and then their work over the last fiscal year. The quality of it speaks for -- speaks for itself and I think will make a good read for all of you.

I want to talk a little bit about Chronic Wasting Disease. Obviously, we spent a lot of time on this topic at the last meeting with the surveillance zone that the Commission enacted down in Duval County and there were some really important takeaways obviously for that meeting, you know, not the least of which was the finite time period that the Commission put on that surveillance zone there in Duval County; but also the direction to our team to come back to all of you in January with some very clear science-based metrics for the size of zones, the triggers for which we would look at either expanding or contracting or eliminating new zones and what those metrics were in terms of probability of detection, as well as appropriate geographic distribution of the samples that were being collected. Our team is hard at work on that and will be back in January to have that much fuller discussion with the Commission on those zones. So again -- again, we've got a little more predictability that we can provide to the Commission on those zones when those have to be created around the state.

You may recall during those deliberations, you may have heard that we had some suspect positives at the time in facilities in Limestone County and Gillespie County and so unfortunately those were confirmed. In Gillespie County a deer breeder facility as part of the routine surveillance there, two 14-month-old bucks were detected with CWD. And then in Limestone County, five does in the same pen were confirmed to have CWD. And so now with the advent of general hunting season starting this weekend, there's a need to create surveillance zones around those facilities to monitor and see if CWD has potentially spread outside of those facilities inside the -- or into those free-ranging herds. And so our teams have been busily working on that.

Basically what we're proposing to all of you to do is through an executive order is to create surveillance zones in those areas that would essentially take us through this hunting season. An executive order, as you may recall from previous ones, can be issued either by the Executive Director or the Commission -- and/or the Commission and the Executive Director if there is a finding that there is a concern about harm obviously to the fish and wildlife that we're entrusted to manage. Those are time limited. An executive order can be issued for 120 days and then it can be extended for another 60 days. But the maximum timeframe that it can endure is for a 180-day period. So again, given the imminency of hunting season starting on Saturday, or at least rifle season, there's a need to create these two surveillance zones.

At the Gillespie County facility, the teams from Parks and Wildlife and Animal Health Commission are working with that deer breeder on a herd plan. Over in Limestone County, the facility owner is interested in depopulating that entire facility and pursuing indemnity related funds through USDA. So we're working with both facility owners in that regard.

Little bit more context or color on the proposed zones. This is in Gillespie County. You'll see Highway 290. For those of you who are familiar with that, the highway from Fredericksburg into Harper and then it extends over to I-10. The area that's shaded there in gray would be the proposed surveillance zone, again, of which any deer that's harvested from that area would have to be taken to a check station in either Harper or the community of Doss, which is kind of in the east central part of that zone. We'll also have drop-off points where people can leave heads and our biologists can come collect those and then take samples.

We have really good relationships with landowners in that area. We have a lot of Managed Lands Deer Permit related cooperators. We also have two very strong landowner wildlife co-ops there that our biologists work very closely with. Our team has held three public hearings in this area, very well-attended. We've had about 600 attendees at those meetings. By and large, the reports that we've got are that the support for the surveillance zone is very strong. Our team also estimates that we're likely to get potentially as many as 3,000 samples over the -- over the coming hunting season. So we're going to get a lot of samples and wide-ranging samples from this area and that will, I think, tell us a lot on the epidemiological front. So that's the proposed zone that we are looking to establish with this emergency order, again, for the course of this hunting season.

Moving over to Limestone County, little bit different dynamics over there in terms of landownership, deer densities, hunting pressure and success and so forth. Coolidge is a community right in the middle of that area in kind of the northern part of Limestone County. For those of you who are familiar with that area, kind of northwest of Mexia. This zone would take up a little bit of Hill and Navarro Counties as well, but the majority of it would be in northern Limestone County. Again, you don't have the deer densities. You don't have the kind of intense interest and focus on that like you have in the Hill Country, but obviously there is hunting and wildlife management going on over there.

Our team held a public meeting on this topic and the need to create additional surveillance to help us, again, look with the monitoring and detection related strategies. I think we had 22 people that attended that hearing, a couple of representatives from Congressman Sessions' office that were there that raised questions about impact on property values and so forth. To my knowledge, we didn't receive explicit opposition to the testing requirements that would come and I hope I'm not misstating that, John.

So the proposal in this area of dark gray would create, again, a temporary surveillance zone so that we could have mandatory sample collection from any hunter-harvested deer killed in that area. We also, just as an aside, have I think a really good testing history on the facility where we found it in the last couple of years through the normal and customary sampling that's ensued in that deer breeder facility. I think we had over 600 tests, I believe is the number. I'm looking at Dr. Reed and Mitch to confirm that. So we're not going to get near the number of samples from this area as we are over in Gillespie and then that limit bit of Mason and Kimble County that would be included in that zone, but we'll certainly get the best coverage we can.

So really with that, Chairman, I wanted to brief the Commission on the creation of these surveillance zones. Let you know that they would be time limited through the use of the emergency order. This would allow us, again, to collect the samples that we feel are really important from a detection and monitoring perspective; but it would also give the Commission time to have that fuller discussion that you asked for in January and to provide some continued direction to the team about how we continue to monitor and manage this around the -- around the state. And so you know really, Chairman, with your permission I'd like to just gauge the support for the Commission with pursuing these and make sure you're in agreement with that.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Carter.

Commissioners, we have a recommendation here. I feel like we need to move quick and we need to move with the emergency order because hunting season starts Saturday. And so as he explained, it's time -- has a timestamp on it. We're going to have substantial discussions at the next Commission Meeting and this will be one of the discussions, as well as some of the other counties. So I think it's appropriate. We have the ability to do it. Carter has the ability to do it. But I just wanted kind of all the Commission to hear about it and kind of understand why we're doing this emergency order to try to have a surveillance zone in this area. So that's what it's about if any Commissioners have any questions or comments. If not, I think we instruct Carter to proceed. Anybody?

Thank you, Carter.

MR. SMITH: Okay, you bet. Yeah. Thank you, Chairman. Appreciate that direction. Thank you.

I want to provide a quick update on the relatively newly formed Conservation and Recreation Planning Subcommittee. Y'all will recall that one of the recommendations that came out of the Sunset Commission's report on the Agency was to revise our statewide Land and Water Plan. And more specifically, they were looking for a couple of things: Some more quantitative related metrics to set goals for specific conservation and recreation related goals for the state and then secondly, they directed us to have the Commission create a committee to help oversee that process and to make sure that, again, the Commission was providing the level of engagement and oversight of the revision of that plan, which again serves as a statewide plan not only for us, but for, you know, many of our conservation partners around the state.

You may also recall that Chairman Aplin created a subcommittee with Commissioner Rowling, Commissioner Patton, and Commissioner Abell to represent the Commission on that. He has asked Commissioner Rowling to serve as the Chair of this subcommittee, which he has graciously agreed to do. Thank you. And the subcommittee, working with Clayton, have also contracted out with Dr. Roel Lopez and Dr. Gerard Kyle at Texas A&M AgriLife to help lead the process of revising this plan and so that will include engagement with the full Commission, you know, the staff of the Department, as well as our many partners and stakeholders around the state as ultimately the Commission reviews and deliberates and approves a statewide Land and Water Plan revision. So that work will largely take place in 2023, with the goal of completing that by December and then having that ready for rollout in 2024 and also to inform the Department's development of the Natural Agenda and y'all will recall that's another strategic plan that the Legislature mandates of the Department. It's a five-year plan. We update it every two years in advance of the next Legislative session and so having that plan completed which can inform, again, the plan that's submitted to the Legislature to help pre-stage what the Department is going to be most interested in budgetarily and programmatically in the next session. The timing on that will work well and we've very pleased about the leadership at A&M that's involved on this particular effort and, again, want to thank the Commissioners that have agreed to serve in that regard.

And so, Commissioner Rowling, anything you want to say about this as Chair? Anything you want to add to that?

Nothing? Okay. Okay, great. Thank you.

Not often that we get a new big lake in our state. I think the last big, new surface lake that was, you know, upwards or greater than 5,000 acres might have been Alan Henry in the Lubbock area. I don't know of one since then. But the new one created there in Fannin County in North Texas, Lake Bois d'Arc, that's still in the process of collecting rainwater, so it's not full yet. But this was at least a decade-long process by the North Texas Municipal Water District to work through permitting related requirements and ultimately the construction of Lake Bois d'Arc, which is almost 17,000 acres in size. Again, up in Fannin County. It will be a water supply lake for North Texas; but also it's going to provide, you know, important recreational opportunities on the fishing and boating and hunting related fronts.

And throughout this whole process, the North Texas Municipal Water District has coordinated very closely with Department biologists on in-stream flow, environmental flow, environmental related impacts from the construction of the lake. The District has acquired and set aside a nearly 17,000-acre ranch called the Riverby Ranch to serve as mitigation for the creation of the lake and our wildlife biologists and others have been very involved in some of the wildlife management plans and public hunting and public use on that front. Meanwhile with the creation of the lake, our Inland Fisheries biologists have had a very unique opportunity to provide influence on habitat creation as the lake was being built, as well as the stocking of the lake as you can see with these 2,000 selectively bred bass which were put into the lake and so I think it's safe to say our Inland Fisheries biologists have really appreciated the chance, again, to work with this lake on the ground up to help develop it into what we hope will be another one of our world class and premiere fishing and boating related lakes.

The District has also been really receptive to our Law Enforcement related team and has worked very closely on anticipating water and boater safety related needs and are providing boat slips and offices in places for our game wardens who will be patrolling that lake to be able to house employees and boats and other equipment. So it's been a really good partnership as that lake has gone forward.

There was a dedication ceremony a couple of weeks ago that Craig Bonds and others represented us on, but I wanted to make sure that we got that new lake on your radar screen.

Last but not least, a wonderful event here in Lake Jackson at Sea Center Texas and, again, I think this just kind of epitomizes these public places that we all steward in providing access and opportunities for people of all backgrounds to be able to get out and enjoy our wonderful outdoors and this was an event that our Coastal Fisheries team there at Sea Center did with Special Olympics. It was the first -- first statewide fishing tournament that the Special Olympics in Texas have ever did. And so there were 50 athletes that came to Sea Center and participated in that fishing tournament and I think almost everybody caught a fish. Clearly, everybody had a ball as you can see from these -- from these pictures. And, again, just a wonderful role that places like Sea Center and the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center play to be able to expose people from all backgrounds to the outdoors and give them opportunities to participate in the things that we love.

And so a wonderful event, Robin, and kudos to the team for hosting that and putting that on.

With that, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, that concludes my presentation and I'm happy to take any questions that any of you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Carter.

Commissioners, any questions for Carter?

Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 2, Fiscal Year 2022/Fiscal Year 2023 Internal Audit. Good morning. Good morning, Brandy.

MS. MEEKS: Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Brandy Meeks. I'm the Internal Audit Director. This morning I'd like to update you on the fiscal year '22 and '23 internal audit plans, as well as external audits and assessments.

So this and the next slide are going to show you the status of last year's audit plan. Progress made since the last time we met is under the IT and cybersecurity projects. We have now moved the CAPPS HR FR audit project forward from the fieldwork phase to reporting. So you'll be seeing that report soon. And we've also started the IT contract clauses advisory project.

We have completed all of our fiscal control audits for last year. The ten state park fiscal control audits and the ten law enforcement office fiscal control audits.

This and the next slide are going to show the status of this year's internal audit plan. Under administrative and special projects below, we have started the state park continuous monitoring project. We completed the Chapter 59 review. We completed the fiscal year '22 annual internal audit report that's due to the SAO on the 1st, so yesterday. That has been completed. And then unfortunately we are having to fill two internal audit vacancies. Shortly after I introduced my whole team last meeting, a couple of my auditors went to take positions elsewhere for higher pay. So we're working on it.

As far as the fiscal control audits are concerned, we have 18 on this year's plan. We have started our state park fiscal control audits. Two are in the fieldwork phase and one is in the reporting phase. And we have not yet started our law enforcement office audits, but those will be commencing actually this week. And then as far as external audits and assessments, new since the last time we met are No. 4 and 5 under ongoing external audits. Department of Public Safety is performing a criminal justice information system audit and Texas Workforce Commission is performing a six-year personnel policy and procedure system review.

Completed since the last time we met is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Sport Fish Restoration Program Grant audit. The SAO has also completed their fieldwork on the capital asset audit and we are in the process of responding to their recommendations.

And that concludes my presentation. I'm open for any questions that you may have.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Brandy, I just have a -- I should have asked you last time. I forgot to ask you a question. But I've noticed on all your reports when you say, you know, the work has all been -- and everything's okay and everything. But there's been a statement added about law enforcement or enhancement. I notice that statement has been added to every one of your deals. What was that? I'm just curious.

MS. MEEKS: Yes, sir. At the recommendation of Commissioner Bell, he was like your conclusion paragraph is just so generic and it really was. We would, you know, just say everything was generally in compliance with their controls and so we wanted to make it just a little more specific so you would know what areas were good, what areas need to be improved upon in that conclusion -- is that the paragraph that you're talking about? The conclusion statement?

So just to make it a little more clear so that you didn't have to necessarily go down and read the whole body of the report to see. That last sentence is going to tell you these are where, you know, we can improve --


MS. MEEKS: -- in those areas.


MS. MEEKS: So any other questions?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Brandy.

Commissioners, any other questions for Brandy?

Thank you.

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Work Session Item No. 3, Electric Bike Use on State Park Trails, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Hello, Aaron.

MR. FRIAR: Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, members of the Commission. For the record, my name is Aaron Friar, Special Assistant to the State Park Director. I'm here today to present on electric bicycle use on state park trails.

State Parks Division would like to be able to manage electric bicycles on our trail systems and so we've proposed language in the Texas Register and received comment and we're here to bring that back in front of the Commission for discussion.

So to start us off, yeah, electric bicycles are becoming more popular on state park trails not just in Texas, but nationally as well. Our colleagues at the National Park Service are also dealing with electric bicycles and they've been managing them on a park-by-park basis, as well as, you know, other state park systems throughout the United States. We've surveyed other park systems and we received 18 comments from other state park systems and of the 18, 14 of those have started to allow electric bicycle use and of the four that have not, three of those are planning to enact a policy to allow electric bicycles on their trails as well and so there's really an increased need and demand for electric bicycles on trail systems and park systems and that's really because there's a lot of benefit to those.

There's -- it helps folks that may be older or maybe have some physical limitations. It gives them opportunities to get on the trails, gives them some extra assistance in order to be able to, you know, climb hills or take longer rides or even to ride with their families and friends. And so there's been a real increased need and a demand for parks. But currently under Texas Administrative Code, in state parks electric bicycles are considered a motorized vehicle and so right now, they're not allowed on trail systems. They're really only allowed on our roadways, our parking areas, paved surfaces, and currently they're not allowed on our trails. And so that's why we believe that in state parks, if we have a structured policy to where we can manage for electric bicycle use, that we can allow this type of -- different type of use and do it in a good, reasonable manner. So that's what we're proposing.

And in those proposes, first before we can even start managing for e-bikes, we need to define them and so the definition we would like to use is in the Transportation Code Section 664.001. That defines what is and what is not an electric bicycle and it also defines the different classes of e-bikes. And then with that, we would like to be able to allow e-bikes, but really we want to be able to say which trails they are allowed, which ones they're not allowed, and then what classes would be allowed on those trails. And so that was the proposed language that we put into the Texas Register.

And I know last time we had a lot of questions from several Commissioners about what is an e-bike, what is not an e-bike. So we thought we would go through the Transportation Code to be able to show you those definitions so that you understand what is and is not an e-bike.

First, there are three different classes of e-bikes. The first, Class 1, that is a pedal-assisted bike. So the user has to pedal in order to engage that motor to assist them and those can go up to 28 -- or 20 miles per hour. Okay? Class 2 e-bikes, those e-bikes they still have pedals; but they also have the ability to switch on and use throttle assisted. So basically the user can just push a button or a throttle and that bike can get up and go and those types of class of e-bikes can go up to 28 miles an hour before that motor will stop assisting the rider. Class 3 e-bikes, those again are pedal-assisted, meaning the rider has to pedal in order to engage the motor; but those e-bikes can go up to 28 miles an hour before that motor will stop assisting the rider.

An electric bicycle, it again has to have fully operable pedals and they have to be less than 750 watts. Which 750 watts equates to about one horse power, just as a comparison. And then top assisted speed of 28 miles per hour or less is what is classified as an electric bicycle. And again, top assisted speed is when the motor ceases to assist the rider. Okay?

So that is the definitions of what an e-bike is in Transportation Code. We did publish in the Texas Register and we did receive 39 comments. Twenty-nine of those comments were in favor. We did have ten comments that were opposed and some of the reasons why were, you know, the Department is not going to be able to control who uses an e-bike. There was also concerns about destruction of natural resources, safety threats to other visitors, it can reduce the enjoyment of other visitors, impact their user experience. There was also recommendations that we should impose size and weight restrictions on the classes of e-bikes. There should be an age restriction or maybe adult supervision requirement. Proof of a safety course was also recommended and then speed limits was also a recommendation or a concern.

So with that, I will pause -- well, the request is to put this on to tomorrow's agenda for public comment and action. So with that, I'll take any questions that you may have.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Aaron. Can you clarify, is staff recommending all three class bikes be approved? Class 1, 2, and 3?

MR. FRIAR: So with the proposed language, they -- we can allow all three, but really we're not really proposing that. Our rule -- we're going to take a conservative approach with this. This is a new technology and safety of our visitors is paramount in everything that we do and all of our decisions. So we want to take a conservative and measured approach to this. So really while the language would allow all three classes, the way we plan on implementing this is to allow Class 1 only to really get us started and so we can monitor and see how this is going to impact our trails and our visitor experience. So really we're proposing Class 1 to start off, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But this approval -- if we process it -- would allow Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 and the park itself would decide whether it's a one, two, or all three would be available?

MR. FRIAR: Yes, sir. That's correct. We could do this on a park-by-park basis and a trail-by-trail basis and that would be done through printed instruction and then have it posted which classes are available.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So we had a little bit of discussion, Commissioners, last time and I wanted to bring this up again. We do have a recommendation. I have a bit of trepidation about it. Someone buys a bike. It sounds like it could be a bit confusing. If I buy a three, I can't go to one park; but I can another and it's quite an investment. So we're not deciding on which class. We're kind of giving them approval and letting state park by state park decide if it's a Class 1, Class 2, or Class 3. I mean, I'm not dead set against it; but I just felt like we ought to have some conservation.

This is bit of a game changer because it's becoming very popular and more and more I'm seeing people on electric-assisted bikes that are not doing much pedaling and they go pretty fast and take them in a lot of places. So I don't know where any of the Commissioners are. I'm a little uncomfortable with each park having -- and maybe even different trails -- having different rules with communicating that. How would one know if it's 750 watts? I don't know. Is it printed on the engine? You know, I don't know.

So let's have a little discussion. How does everybody feel about electric -- Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Commissioner Rowling.


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Aaron, I'm not familiar with e-bikes. When you buy one, is it abundantly clear if you're buying a Class 1, 2, or 3? I mean, is that a very well known thing when you purchase one of these?

MR. FRIAR: Yes, sir. Actually in the Transportation Code, that manufacturer that produce electric bicycles, they have to stamp that bike whether it's a Class 1 or a Class 2 or a Class 3. And so that's how we'll be able to distinguish which classes they are.


COMMISSIONER FOSTER: I have a couple of them and not a clue what class they might be. So, you know, I would have the same concern. If I show up at a park and I'm ready to get on and you say, oh, well, you know, your friend can go, but you can't. I think we're going to have some challenges with that. So I hope we kind of go through this judicially. It's not our objective to upset our park customers, but we still want to maintain a safe and healthy environment out there so I don't know what the right answer is, but I don't think it's that clear.

MR. FRIAR: Uh-huh. Yes, sir. And I -- maybe just for some clarification as well, so they are classified as a motorized vehicle now. So e-bikes are allowed in the parks. So Class 1, 2, or 3 currently are allowed to ride on the roads and paved surfaces in trails. So it's not like they're just not going to be allowed in parks period. It's really focused on trails and we want to focus on the human power aspect of it at least to start and roll this out and so the Class 1, which is most common e-bike purchase and available right now, those are the ones we want to start with and they inquire -- they require human power and they have the lowest amount of miles per hour capability. So that's how we want to start this.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioner Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So, you know, a clarification. So we do allow electric bikes, but on paved surfaces only currently?

MR. FRIAR: That is correct.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay, I like that. That makes all the sense in the world. I'm with the Chairman and several other Commissioners that have spoke. I think it's a slippery slope. I've got them. They're fast. They're dangerous. Kids are going to get on them and it -- I think it has a negative effect on people walking trails, people riding trails. You now have basically motorized vehicles on gravel trails. I think it's a mistake. I think that we should do some additional due diligence on this before we do anything and if you're going to do something, at minimum you restrict it to pedal-assisted only; but I think that's going to be complicated because we're not going to have enough staff to verify if it's Class 1, 2, 3, 28, 20, 750, 1500 watts. I mean, it's complicated. So I would -- I would pull back and just say we need to do some more due diligence to see what the real effects of the park experience is for the other people because I think it's going to be detrimental to that.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Jeff.

You mentioned how many -- you mentioned state parks in other states are doing this. Do we have much history or is it a relatively new thing?

MR. FRIAR: It's a relatively new thing, but we did ask them if they had been seeing any kind of enforcement issues or concerns with other users and at this time, the ones we received -- the 14 -- they said they have not. And so we haven't seen a lot of concern from other state park systems. But as you mentioned, this is a relatively new use and policy. So it's --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So we do have somewhat of a beta test going out there if we want to see.

Any other -- Commissioner Hildebrand shared kind of his thoughts. I think I've alluded to mine, the conflict of walking down a trail and then around comes a bike, which happens because we allow old-fashioned bicycles on many trails.

MR. FRIAR: Uh-huh.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: This is possibly next level in my mind.

Any other Commissioners have any thoughts?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. I -- basically, I would say I'm against it. But I would say if we are going to allow it, I would want the rule to say that it was just Class 1 to start with and I'd like to see maybe if we rolled it out to just a handful of parks for a year to test it out and see what happens before we go statewide with it.

MR. FRIAR: Okay.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. I'm with Commissioner Abell on that in the sense of it almost seems like the slippery slope here is it becomes a little mini motor-cross if you're not careful. Right? And people that will want to just go do things on the hard surfaces, easy enough. I mean, I've been mountain biking. It's bad enough when you face plant yourself on a mountain bike, but if you -- if you go around a corner and you're running into someone, you face plant both people.

MR. FRIAR: Uh-huh.

COMMISSIONER BELL: That's -- and if it's motorized, it's going to be that much worse. So I would ask the other question of those other state parks, are they real -- are they doing the off-road piece or is their experience with the motorized bikes like ours, the on-road piece? Because the on-road piece seems fairly clear, fairly understanding and it's kind of like ATVs. You know, I've got an ATV. It caps out at 30 miles an hour. That keeps my wife safe and her friends, but there are ATVs out there that will go 45, 60, and, you know, depending on who's driving it and -- and we'll head for that because these bikes will improve, they will get faster, and people will want to do neat things with them, if that makes sense.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Sounds like you're losing support.

Any other Commissioners?

MR. FRIAR: That's okay. And it's all great points, and we value the Commission's feedback.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Commissioner Rowling. I agree with the group's generally negative sentiment. It seems to me the real justification for them is for older people who potentially can't keep up with their family on a trail. So that only complicates it more as Jeff was saying is where are you going to restrict these things. I mean, if there was going to be a restriction, it may be an age restriction that over a certain age you can use them and in theory, those people are going to be more mature and not as dangerous on those things anyway. But that seems to be the only justification in my mind is for older people.

MR. FRIAR: Well, and you bring up a good point actually. In the literature it does mention that the folks that do purchase e-bikes are typically older, they have experience riding trails, and so the -- that -- they do have experience on public trails and managing the other users and so there is that experience, but you're right that it is typically for older users and that kind of a deal. That is in the literature. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Vice-Chairman.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Yeah. I just say I agree with the Chairman and all my fellow Commissioners. I'm on board with what they're all saying.

MR. FRIAR: Okay.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Has everybody said what they want to say?

Reading the tea leaves, I don't think this has support at this moment. I don't know if I want to instruct you to research it more or not; but we do have different states doing tests now, beta tests. We could talk about this. I think everyone has kind of shared their concerns and although it would be very nice to give a small -- this certain group the ability to more access, we also have to realize the conflict of all of the people that are walking the trails. So I don't think you have support from the Commission today --

MR. FRIAR: No, I --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- with this proposal.

MR. FRIAR: Yeah, I get it. And, no, this is great feedback and we will come back and report to you with some more findings.


MR. FRIAR: Yeah, thank you.

MR. SMITH: So, Chairman, I think with that direction, we'll pull this down for consideration tomorrow. That's abundantly clear.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I think that would be good idea.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. Okay, thank you.

MR. FRIAR: Perfect. Thank you, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Aaron. And by the way, it had nothing to do with your presentation. I just --

MR. FRIAR: No, I get it.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Don't take it personal.

Work Session Item No. 4, Aerial Wildlife Management Permit Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Stormy, good morning.

MR. KING: Good morning, everyone. Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, I'm Stormy King, Assistant Commander of Wildlife Enforcement for the Law Enforcement Division. I'm here today to revisit a proposal to amend ariel wildlife management permit regulations regarding the use of unmanned ariel vehicles, UAVs, or drones.

As discussed during staff's request to publish these proposed changes for public comment during the August Commission Meeting, the availability of both UAVs and thermal cameras to the general public has increased significantly over the last few years. The use of these products can be very effective in the control of feral hogs and the damage associated with their depredation, particularly at night when they are most active.

Current regulations prohibit any activity involving take under an ariel wildlife management permit from occurring at night, which is defined as between one half hour after sunset and one half hour before sunrise. The amendments proposed by staff would specifically allow the use of UAVs to locate feral hogs at night for take by gunners on the ground. The amendments would not allow the take from any drone mounted weapon systems, nor would they apply to any other species.

The Department received input from a total of 65 individuals by an online comment. 51 percent are in complete agreement with the proposal, while 37 percent completely disagree. 12 percent disagreed on a specific issue. Of the 65 respondents, 37 provided written comment. The most common comments in opposition which were germane to the proposal mentioned concerns that it would legalize the use of drone mounted weapon systems and that it would increase the likelihood of overflight over other's property to hunt with drones. In reality, the proposal limits the use of UAVs to the location of feral hogs for take by gunners on the ground and explicitly prohibits any means of take from the UAV itself. In regard to the overflight issue, it is noteworthy that there are provisions that limit overflight while conducting permitted activity under an aerial wildlife management permit and there are no such restrictions applicable generally to UAVs. There were also several comments addressing concerns with fair chase and hunting ethics.

That being said, tomorrow staff will plan to recommend the adoption of these proposed amendments and I'm happy to take any questions at this time.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Stormy, question. Does the recommendation speak to -- I don't know what your terminology is -- but any form of herding or...

MR. KING: The proposed amendment requires -- refers to location of feral hogs.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So that restricts the intentional herding of them?

MR. KING: That's the way the proposal written. Yes, sir.


Commissioners, any questions?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. Stormy, just along those lines, do you have any concerns from a law enforcement perspective on whether or not people are using it to observe or to push or are using it to locate other species, you know, other than exotics, just how you would enforce that? How you would know that? How you would prove that?

MR. KING: There's always concern that someone is going to go through some sort of, you know, malicious use of circumvention of the regulation. I think the most obvious point right now is if they want to do that, they're doing it anyways. In a way, you know the fact that they would be doing it under the provision of a permit actually gives us some more enforcement ability, some further restrictions on overflight, things like that. It also has, you know, a requirement that they report that activity and probably would allow us in some ways from an enforcement perspective to maybe keep a closer eye on them than someone who's just doing it, you know, without a permit altogether.


COMMISSIONER FOSTER: So you said on some of the comments people were concerned about drone mounted weapon systems. I assume we don't allow drone mounted weapon systems?

MR. KING: No, sir. We do not, and we will not.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: As much fun as that might sound like, it doesn't sound like a good idea.

MR. KING: Yeah, I think there would be some safety concerns with that probably; but that was a recurring theme in the comments among some folks I think that just didn't quite -- probably didn't read the proposal and understand that that wasn't something we were proposing to allow.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Hildebrand. So you will allow -- because I've seen some videos of what occurs and essentially the noise from the drone herds the hogs into an area and then for the ultimate kill by the hunters. That's legal you're saying now under this proposal?

MR. KING: Well --

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Because it has a pushing effect. I mean, it's like --

MR. KING: Coincidental probably to the location would probably occur, some manner of whatever you would want to call it. I guess the noise could carry and, you know, the boundary on the -- or the sideboards on the proposal were that we would allow the use of the drones to locate hogs for feral -- for take.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: I understand. I mean, I'm not taking offense with it.

MR. KING: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: But it is like herding cattle and that's what's going to happen in this process, which once again I've got a feral hog problem and this sounds like a really unique way to resolve that problem, so.

MR. KING: I think as long as we're careful and continue to limit this to feral hogs, which are pretty widely accepted to be a nuisance and you don't even need a hunting license to hunt anymore and keep them separated from other types of, you know, exotic livestock or wildlife, I don't think it will be a concern. No, sir.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And do you know of any is civilian available mounted -- gun mounted drone?

MR. KING: I don't know of one that's commercially available. I have seen some videos with Glock pistols mounted on drones and things like that. It's -- you know, it's out there.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Wow. That sounds like a really bad idea.

MR. KING: If it's out there, somebody is going to do it.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Stormy.

Any other Commissioners for Stormy on Item No. 4?

MR. KING: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Hearing none, I'll place this item on the agenda for Thursday's Commission Meeting for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 5, Williamson County Regional Habitat Conservation Plan Citizen Advisory Committee and Biological Advisory Team -- that's a mouthful -- Appointment of Members and Delegation of Appointment Authority to the Executive Director. Good morning, Richard.

MR. HEILBRUN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Richard Heilbrun, the Wildlife Diversity Program Director. This morning I'm addressing a request from Williamson County to amend a permit that they received the from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018. This will be a permit developed between Williamson County and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our state codes require that we get involved to guide the conversation on two different public committees.

When a regional habitat conservation plan is being developed, they must form two committees: A citizens advisory committee and a biological advisory team. Our Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 83 requires the Commission to appoint representatives to those committees. This regional habitat conservation plan will allow Williamson County to continue economic development and simultaneously preserve wildlife habitat as mitigation. With this process, they are issued an umbrella permit that they then issue to developers in exchange for that mitigation.

The citizens advisory committee assists the local government entity in preparing the plan. The committee is made up of citizens, landowners, partners, and at least one member appointed by this Commission. The applicants must also appoint a biological advisory team to assist them in calculating harm to the species to be covered by the plan and then determining the size and configuration of the habitat preserves for those species. The Commission must appoint the presiding officer of this team.

The applicants are requested that you expediently appoint representatives, which consists again of one member to the citizens advisory committee and at least one member to the biological advisory team, with subject matter expertise in one or more of the covered species or with expertise in the development of these plans. The applicants would like to amend their permits to cover these additional covered species and most of these species are subterranean invertebrates that live in caves.

They're -- staff recommends the Commission appoint the following Parks and Wildlife staff: Derrick Wolter to serve on the citizens advisory committee. He's our senior biologist in the Williamson County area. Dr. Elizabeth Bates to serve as the presiding officer of the biological team, as she is the leading expert on these plans within the Wildlife Division. And Dr. Paul Crump to serve on the biological advisory team as the subject matter expert on three of the six additional species on the previous slide that I showed. And finally, that the Commission delegate appointment authority to -- excuse me -- delegate appointment authority for this regional habitat conservation plan to the Executive Director of Parks and Wildlife to simplify and shorten the appointment process to seek committee members and avoid vacancy periods if any of these appointees need to be replaced for any reason.

In conclusion, we request that this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comment and action. And I'm happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Richard.

Commissioners, any question, Work Session Item No. 5 about Williams -- Williamson County? Comments? Questions?

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

Thank you.

Work Session Item No. 6, Statewide Oyster Fishery Proclamation, Closure of Oyster Reefs and Temporary Closure of Oyster Restoration Areas in Galveston Bay and San Antonio Bay, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Good morning, Robin.

MR. RIECHERS: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. Stated for the record, my name is Robin Riechers, Director of Coastal Fisheries, and as you just indicated, this is a proposed adoption item that would move to tomorrow for adoption if you so move it.

First, I'd like to contextualize a little bit the fishery as a whole. I think we've talked about this in the past, but I think it's worth taking a step back and doing that for a moment here as well. When we think about the eastern oyster and the eastern oyster fishery, used to in the early 1900s, Chesapeake Bay was really the heart of that fishery and through time though, Chesapeake Bay started losing landings and by the 1960s through the late 1980s, it basically was just a shell of its former self, landing less than 3 percent of its historic peak. And so what started happening is that shifting pressure started moving to the Gulf and since the 1990s, basically the Gulf has been over 90 percent of the landings for eastern oysters -- eastern oysters throughout the United States. And, of course, some of Chesapeake's issues can be attributed to overfishing, habitat loss via dredging, introduction of MSX through nonnative oyster introductions as well. So a lot of different factors; but, again, they ended up having only a small amount of oysters left at this point in time.

We kind of now look in the Gulf a little bit. Again, unfortunately we're not the only ones dealing with oyster issues and there I list Florida and Florida's largest bay system for producing oysters, Apalachicola Bay, which basically produced 90 percent of their oysters has been closed since 2020. And it is supposed to reopen in 2025. They are attempting to do some restoration of that bay and create a management plan. I don't know if it's going to open or not, but they are certainly working towards that.

When we look to Alabama there, you can see that in 2018 and 2019 basically they had zero harvest days. And since then, they've had not 36, 47, and 79 respectively for the seasons after that. They are a tonging-only fishery now when they open up and it's only six sacks per day per vessel. And to give you some ideal[sic] of the scale of their fishery, they're about a tenth of what we normally harvest in our public reef system.

Unfortunately for Mississippi, many of you remember the flooding in 2019 where the Bonnet Carre Spillway, basically a flood control spillway where it had to open up on the Mississippi River for an unprecedented amount of days. Basically the freshet that that created there off of Mississippi killed all of their oysters and they have not had a season since then.

When we look to Louisiana, unfortunately you see 20 -- in 2021 landings were 70 percent below their historic average. Now they are mostly a private lease fishery as opposed to a public reef fishery. But when they do open their seasons now, they have a 25-day sack limit with an 8-day season on their public grounds and sister lake. And over in Calcasieu, they had a 10-sack limit when they opened, it's tonging only, and it was only open for a few days last year. So, again, we're not alone as we try to deal with many of the issues surrounding oysters.

When we look to the season opener, which opened yesterday, and of course we were -- have been out doing sampling to determine which areas will open and close, basically by statute all of the areas that we closed during the season last year reopen unless we sample them again and find that they were below the metric for us not to reopen. When we did all that sampling, we unfortunately found that only nine of the 29 were above -- were able to be opened. And I'll go through how we actually got to that. That's 31 percent of our Department of State Health basically shellfish harvesting areas and when you think about those areas, out of those nine, only four of those basically never closed and we don't sample them. They basically have de minimis or no landings at all anyhow. So we ended up opening five areas.

Unfortunately only one of those areas actually met our threshold metric to open up and that was in Galveston Bay Texas 1 and so it was, you know, obviously going to open. But what we didn't want to do is force all the boats into that one area and so we started looking for other ways to get more area open and our first option then was to look at inside of these big Department of State Health Service zones, there will be different reef groupings and so we were looking at options where we could look at those groupings and see are there other reef complexes that actually meet that threshold. Unfortunately as we looked across the suite of our sub-reef options, there was only one other reef that met that reef threshold and it was in Texas 29 in Aransas Bay. And, in fact, we're using the bottom boundary of the Carlos Bay closure that we're considering as that boundary because we felt like -- enforcement felt like that was an enforceable boundary.

So then even still beyond that, we started looking at those areas and unfortunately none of the other areas or sub-reefs met the metric to reopen as we've had it set and used in the past years; but we were looking for a way to possibly open some of those areas. And so what we ended up doing, frankly, was looking to areas that might have some higher levels of reef abundance on some of those sub-reefs; but then would have some that might not -- might not be even close to the metric. And so there is some sacrifice for those areas that may not be close to the metric and we realize that. We were willing to live with that biological risk in working with the Executive Office and the Chairman and we opened up Texas 5 in Galveston Bay, Texas 12 and Texas 19 in Matagorda Bay and obviously all this is an attempt to still balance the protection of oysters, but also recognizing the need for harvest opportunity and then trying to spread the fleet out some.

We're going to continue to do our sampling for the metric. When we reach in those areas -- when we reach that lower threshold metric, we plan on closing those. In addition, some of these areas that we didn't open are somewhat close to reopening and may grow into an opening during the season. Remember the season runs from November to April. And so if they grow into that opening, we'll be able to open those as well. But again, this is the lowest amount of open area we've had since we started using that metric, that threshold metric.

Just wanted to update you kind of on those to contextualize where we are here as we approach both a three bay closure and the temporary restoration closure. The three bay closure as we're going to refer to it is, again, the closure of that area in Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres that we talked about in January and again in March. And then the temporary restoration closure is basically those areas listed here in San Antonio Bay and Galveston Bay and then in upper Galveston Bay and Trinity; but those are basically when rest -- when we go in make a restoration project where we're trying to basically close those reef areas for two years. That allows for two spat sets. It allows for the reef to get some level of structure before it's fished again and that -- that -- we believe we then can open it up for harvest; but we want to make sure if we're going to spend the money to make these restoration projects, that we, in fact, are protecting them enough so that they will have some durability and so, again, these are being asked to be closed for two years on those in San Antonio and Texas 6 Galveston Bay and then we have an extension for one year of a project that wasn't performing as well and that's the one in Trinity Bay.

Next we'll turn to the three bay closure. And I do apologize. Y'all have seen much of this in the past; but we're going to go back over much of it again, of course. The reason for the three bay closure is really that ecologically important sensitive habitat that we have there in that area that we're talking about. It's nursery habitat for fish and invertebrates. It's near the Cedar Bayou tidal pass which brings in an egress of saltwater. It's a -- it's a -- those reefs cross that bay system. They perform a baffling that basically deals with the hydrological movement of that water through there and, of course, there's other benefits such as water filtration, benefits to that aggregate of salt marsh and seagrass that are around that bay system.

We also, you know, have to note the increased harvest pressure as part of the reason for this closure as well. Certainly some of that harvest pressure may be associated with impacts of drought, flooding, hurricanes in other areas. Of course, Hurricane Harvey also impacted this area as well. But this area has just seen unprecedented levels of harvest and/or boat activity as compared to what it historically saw and we'll talk about that a little bit more here as we move forward.

This is the area of closure here. It's a little bit hard to see, but we wanted to show you really the red area is the outline of the closure area. Inside of that, you can see the green shows where the salt marsh habitat is. You can see it kind of fringed all around that area. The yellow color there indicates seagrass and you can see how it's fringed around the area and right next to those oyster reefs as well. And so that's part of the reason this area just has such high value for biodiversity and for our healthy ecosystem down in that local area.

So when we talk about the harvest pressure as we've talked about before, this is roughly 2,100 acres. Makes up 2.8 percent of our coast-wide oyster habitat. When we think about landings, it's typically -- or at least from 2019 to 2021, it made up during that 3-year average about 9.6 percent of our overall coast-wide landings. And, of course, I reported to you in August that as we closed out the 2022 license year, it made up 30.4 percent of the total landings as we finished the year in April last year.

Here we show you Texas 28 Mesquite Bay. We've talked about this before. It's its own reporting area from Department of State Health Services' perspective and so it's really easy to look at the vessels that are inside of it or who have reported some number of landings inside of it. And, of course, when you really look from 2008 to about 2015, you can see a relatively low number of vessels there working in that area. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or less typically. But then after that time period, you can really see those peaks up and you might note that in 2018, there were no vessels because it hit the metric and we were closed for that entire year. And then as you really look to 2022, an unprecedented amount of vessels, over 140 vessels in that area during the year.

As you would expect, of course, the sacks or the landings from that area mirror very much that number of vessels as you look through time. And you can see there really that peak in 2017. Again, unprecedented number of landings. Almost five to sixfold of what it typically would have and then last year you saw that again as well.

We're next going to just quickly talk about the economic value or the direct economic impact to those bays. And, of course, Mesquite again, as I said, is in and of itself a reporting area; so it's pretty easy to discern what's been reported there with an X vessel value of about 254,000. When you look at Carlos and Ayres, we basically have to divide the landings out in those two larger zones and give you those landings proportioned by the amount of oyster habitat in those larger zones. And you see there that total basically equates to a little over $2.5 million in X vessel value that comes from that area. Represents a little over -- as we talked about before -- 9.6 percent. And then vessels there that are listed are unique vessels landing in those areas -- again, Carlos and Mesquite -- basically proportioned out. But I will say those aren't unique in that they are not unique -- the 71, 71, and 112 will have duplication amongst them in this slide here. But again, obviously we do recognize that direct economic impact to value; but we also recognize that these resources also provide value in many other ways as well.

We've talked about the ecological values. Certainly the ecological value comes in water filtration, comes in basically wave attenuation, shoreline protection, and again supporting that ecological diversity that is so rich in that area that also helps support our sport fish rest -- our sport fish fishery and our ecotourism fishery that is very large in that area and we're talking millions of dollars when we talk about both the ecosystem support services, as well as our sport fish fishery. Hundreds of million dollars actually.

When we next move into the presentation, I want to really talk about some of the themes that we heard in March of this last year, as well as some of those that came before you in August at the August Public Hearing and really two of them can be summarized in the need to work a reef or it will not be productive and then the other one is we hadn't sampled our six reef areas that we closed in 2017. And so the two items I'm going to show you next are really going to cover both of those items in concert with one another.

So I'll just remind everybody -- because some of you were on the Commission, some of you may not have been -- but in Christmas Bay when we saw this unprecedented harvest which, of course, you saw on the graphs in Mesquite Bay, but in Christmas Bay, which is up around Galveston, these are the kind of activities that we saw and you can see there not only the harvesting with the four-wheelers and sacks and people out there wading, basically hand -- handpicking these oysters, but you can also see that salt marsh and the areas around the bay system that have been impacted there as well. And so those were the kinds of things we were seeing in these six bays that we closed and it was really unprecedented because typically many of these areas had not been fished or if they had been fished, they certainly hadn't been fished to the extent that we were seeing them in 2017.

We were fortunate because we got out right when we closed those bays and we did a pre-closure -- or right at the time of closure -- analysis of Christmas Bay. And so here just recently in the last -- as we were doing our season sampling, we also went and sampled in the those six bay areas or four of those six bay areas. We did not sample South Bay. We did not sample Hynes Bay, relatively unproductive from an oyster perspective; but we sampled the other four and I'm only going to show you two of those here and the reason I'm showing you those two is they have pre-closures and they also have a comparison to a fished and non-reef fished area.

So the pre-closure there you can see was done in '17. This is overall total density of live oysters and you can see there with the post-closure density, it's almost 100 percent increase in that closed area as we sampled it here just recently. Just to give you a little bit of that sampling, it's quadrant sampling. We do that a little bit differently than our dredge sampling. We either do it with a diver -- many of these areas are very shallow, so we may have to take a diver in and do a quadrant sampling or we may have to -- or if we can, we may get a -- get in there and we use a patent tong, which is basically a device that goes and does a grab sample as well. A little bit different sampling than you may use -- have been used to, but it's a way for us really to look at both the density of oysters, but also the density of shell and the health of the reef as well.

So when you break that down, because obviously there can be differences, if you're just looking at overall oysters, we wanted to also break it down in the same way that we typically talk about our oysters when we talk about opening and closing seasons. And so first, we look at those oysters from one to two inches and then we look at those from two to three inches and then we wanted to break it down by those greater than three inches which is a legal and marketable sized oyster. And when you look at the two to three inches and the greater than three inches, almost an 80 or 90 percent increase from the pre-closure timeframe to now after it has been closed for quite some time since 2017. And then when you look at the 1.2[sic] inches, it's about a 50 percent -- well, about a 35 percent increase over the premarket closures.

Next we'll turn to St. Charles Bay and oyster sampling and as I just mentioned before, this one basically allows us to take the closed area in St. Charles, the non-harvested reef, and in this case we're comparing it to a harvested reef area which we call a "reference reef site" and it allows us to basically make that comparison because what we would expect is, at least for the most part, those conditions dealing with flooding and other events are going to be very similar, having those areas in close proximity to one another and so it allows you to go in and look at this. And certainly we heard some of that criticism at our August Meeting because we had presented this -- we had presented a previous study from 2017 to '19 that Dr. Jennifer Pollack and one of her students had done in St. Charles Bay. They indicated that we may have only stopped at 2019 because we just chose to stop at 2019 as we presented that to them. That study basically showed that the non-harvested area, both in abundance in small market and those medium oysters, all got larger through time. The abundance grew through time. That study actually the student -- the study ended. It ended in 2019. But in addition to that, we went back out and we decided to sample this area again as well.

When you look at this, basically the oyster under one inches, it basically shows that we had almost 20 percent more oyster spat then -- from the unharvested reef to the harvested reef. So basically from that reef in St. Charles Bay where it's been protected to the reef where it's been fished out in the open waters there. When you look at the submarkets from 1 to 1.9 inches, you can see there it's basically a sevenfold increase in those submarket oysters.

When you look at those middle size oysters, the 2 to 2.9 inches, it's about a 17.5 and almost an 18 times when you get to those that are over market size. So clearly while we certainly do recognize that lease holders do some activities on their leases, maybe are pulling shell up out of the mud or the silt to get some spat set substrate up out of the water, but clearly the oysters don't need to be worked in order to grow and be productive and that's what really these two studies highlight to you.

Again, we've talked about this with those oyster reefs out there, that habitat, those ecological values that as you get more of that complex reef structure, you'll also get greater faunal density surrounding those reef structures. You'll probably also get greater sport fish and other things as well; but here, it just shows you a measurement of that faunal density in that St. Charles area as well and as you can see from the fished to the non-fished, you see those same sorts of increases that we saw in regards to oysters as well.

So again, just as a reminder, this map's in here in again. You've seen it before earlier in the presentation with the habitat included, but I just wanted to remind everyone as we near the end of this discussion of what that closure element looked like. Of course, this bay sits between Aransas Bay and San Antonio Bay and, of course, really is a complex of bays that are really tight to one another, Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres.

Next I'll turn to the temporary restoration closure that we've talked about. So again, basically these temporary restoration closures, we have the authority to close when we're restocking a reef or when we're trying to restore it in some way. And, of course, I've already talked to you about how we try to do that as far as that two-year timeframe. I won't go back over that. Just to remind everyone, since Hurricane Ike, the Department has been involved in over 1,700 acres of restoration of some sort. That does include some restoration of bagless dredging that occurred right after the hurricane in Galveston Bay. We've heard people talk about that as well that we sometimes allow that and we certainly did after that. That's if it's just barely silted over, you might be able to get some material back to the top. But, again, basically 1,700 acres; but a reminder that we lost over 8,000 acres in Hurricane Ike.

So the first area that we have there for the proposed two-year closure is Josephine's Reef in Espiritu Santo Bay within the San Antonio Bay system. Unfortunately the oyster abundance on this reef is significantly lower than the other reefs in the system, so we're really going to try to in there and establish some stable bottom material to start getting some basically cultch and spat set and to allow those oysters and that oyster reef to reestablish itself and be healthy and the site is about 48 acres.

Next we turn to Dollar Reef and that is a -- it's in Galveston Bay. It's a mitigation site for the construction of the Houston Ship Channel expansion project. It was basically already constructor -- being constructed under a contracted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and it is 80 acres and that's what we're proposing to close there for two years as well. Now I might add that our sites of closer are slightly larger because as these areas aren't square, we try to create boundaries our -- the closure sites that we're giving you are slightly larger than some of the acreage of actual restoration.

And then finally, this is the one up in Trinity Bay and we've talked about it before. It's a Texas Nature Conservancy project. Unfortunately in 2021, low salinities led to a very low recruitment year in that location. They saw very few live oysters in November of '21 and they approached us to approach you about extending that closure for one more year and so that's what we're asking here. This would be a one-year extension of that previous two-year closure.

Next I'll turn to the public comments and the public activities that we've been involved with since we proposed this rule. And we had our in-person public hearings on October 20th. We held one in Texas City. Had 58 attendees. And Aransas Pass, we had 90 attendees. In Port Lavaca, 57 attendees. We also took this -- and I'll -- those comments will be included in the summary of comments that I'll present in a moment. We also took this to our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee on October 28th. As a general rule, obviously we're going to show how many supported and opposed; but there was support for the three bay closure, with 12 supporting and two in opposition. And then for the restoration closures, there were 14 in support of that restoration closure.

As we look to the three bay closure -- Carlos, Ayres, and Mesquite -- you can see there we had over 80 -- 8,000 comments at this point in time. 6,600 of those support the proposal, 13 or almost 1,400 don't support the proposal. Basically gives you over 80 percent support and there's a small amount of neutral. When we talk about the reasons for the opposition, it's regarding the economic impacts that the closure may cause. It's also suggesting that working a reef is good for the reef as part of one of the opposition reasons. It suggests that the closure would not be permanent -- or should not be permanent and then it also says the closure's not supported by data or science.

When we look at the organizations -- and I'm going to go ahead and just read them out in here -- in support, we had Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries, Guadalupe Trout Unlimited, Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, CCA Texas, Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society, San Antonio Bay Partnership, PEW Charitable Trusts, Friends of the Rio Grande Valley, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Flatsworthy, International Crane Foundation, got a letter from Captain Tommy Moore from the Aransas County Navigation District, the Texas Wildlife Association, and last night we also received two different letters. One letter is a group letter and listing the groups that are supporting that letter, it's in favor of the closure -- that we're not already listed -- is Audubon Texas, Plateau Land and Wildlife, Safari Club International Austin Chapter, Safari Club International Houston Chapter, Saltwater Fisheries Enhancement Association, and the Texas Foundation for Conservation. In addition to that letter -- I said we had two -- we also got a letter from the Nature Conservancy supporting both the temporary closures, which I'm going to give you those comments here in a second, but also supporting this three bay closure.

Letters in opposition that we've received as we proposed this rule-making, are from Prestige Oyster Company and Miller's Seafood Company.

Now we turn to the restoration closures and as you can see here, we've had somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,600, almost -- almost really -- almost over 5,000 comments. But a bunch -- about 46 that had an opinion one way or the other. Almost 800 of those neutral. In the support category, we're now at 64 percent. Were opposed at 21 percent. I might add that you would have received a summary of this that would have had more in the support column. As we basically looked back through in double-checking our work yesterday on that, we found that we had been including a postcard that spoke to only the three bay proposal and it did not speak to these restoration closures and so those have been removed. So your total of support here is less than a previous summary you might have received.

Again, the opposition reasons on this one is the economic impact the temporary closures may cause. The closures should be longer some people believe and use a metric for reopen. Basically a more ecologically metric is what that one talked about and certainly we've had discussions with stakeholders about that and the workgroup about that. And then some of the other opposition suggest that the closure will not be temporary as stated.

Letters of support for the closures have come in from CCA Texan, San Antonio Bay Partnership, PEW Charitable Trusts, Backcountry Hunter and Anglers, and Flatsworthy, as well as the one I mentioned just a moment ago from the Nature Conservancy.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I'd be happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Robin.

Commissioners, any questions for Robin after his presentation?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. I guess my question regarding the three bay closure, is there any current plan for -- move -- how we're going to monitor the bay after -- if the closure does pass? If it does close, what are we going to do in term -- is there a plan for remediation? For monitoring? You know, in going back to the graph you showed -- and now I can't remember if it was St. Charles or not, but you showed the post-closure in the yellow bar, but I think it was over like a five-year period. So I didn't know how many -- how many monitoring samples there were. Was that an average over the five-year period or was it just one or most recent? So I would like to know what generally we're looking at in a world after we may or may not pass this.

MR. RIECHERS: Okay. Well, first let me address what you did see on those graphs because I want to be absolutely clear about that. That really was 2017 and the 2022, kind of go back and look at that. Short of the study that was done by Harte Research Institute Dr. Jennifer Pollack who did have a continuation going from 2017 to 2019. We do have and we did go back and look at our own samples in those six bay areas as well. Some of those because of their very shallow nature and the smallness of them, we do a random grid kind of selection process and a couple of those had -- really didn't have enough landings or samples to tell us much, but some of them did.

That sampling will go on in this area as well. Our routine sampling. And so we will -- that is a normal routine thing that we do. But in addition to that, I think there's also an opportunity here and I think we should avail ourselves of that opportunity to also look at really what that restoration looks like, maybe try to measure more through time what that means to that local area and the -- both the oysters, as well as the other critters that inhabit that area there. And so I think we're prepared to start working with some of our partners and think about what that study could look like and what it could look like moving forward.

And we also have a habitat monitoring team that routinely monitors our various habitats and they will be looking at that through time as well. So there's ongoing monitoring that will catch some of it, Commissioner Patton; but then there's additional monitoring that I think we could and are prepared to help support.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Bobby, good point. I mean, one thing we could talk about if we proceed with this -- because we've all discussed how critical this habitat this is -- but some of the more degraded reefs that are in these three systems. We could also work towards a restoration program with the conservation community and with our own resources. Over time if we get the right weather, we hope it will heal itself; but it may not hurt to give it a little boost from a restoration standpoint on these critical baffle reefs. So that's a good point, Bobby.

Commissioners -- Hildebrand.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Robin, thanks. Great presentation and you've enlightened me. Talk a little bit -- it seems -- is it a fair assessment to say essentially shellfish harvesting has just moved down the coast from Chesapeake Bay then to Florida with the closure -- closure in Chesapeake Bay, closure in Florida, closure in Alabama or a significant reduction, Mississippi closure. I mean, it seems as -- are these harvesters, you think, coming to Texas from these previously now closed states?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, certainly we've had a moratorium on our licenses since 2007. So they -- if they're coming, they're getting an existing license that is over here and we probably don't know that for certain; but they're -- so our total number of licenses have not increased. But what I can say and we've shown you that graph before, the number of active licenses did increase through time. And when I say "active," they're reporting some level of landings. That has increased through time and we know the demand for the product's increased because the price has been going up, the demand for the product has increased. People can't get that product from other sourcing, which they would have typically got it from in Florida and Mississippi and Alabama and certainly up the eastern seaboard and so the demand for the oyster coming out of the Gulf and the demand for the oyster coming from Texas has certainly grown.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. Couple of other questions. So the reefs that are open are Texas 1 Galveston, Texas 5 Galveston, Texas 29 Aransas, 12 and 19 Matagorda. Are those -- is that the only reefs that are open in Texas?

MR. RIECHERS: Currently as of yesterday when we opened up the season, those are the reefs and, you know, there's an aggregate number of reefs in there in some of those zones. In some of those zones, there's more than just a reef. There may be two sets of reefs inside of a larger geographic area. But unfortunately those are the only ones who both either met the metric or as we were looking to find a way to get more areas open, we saw enough abundance that we felt like we could open some of those areas.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So you're clearly going to see intense pressure on those five reefs. How big an aggregate from an acreage size do you think those five reefs are, plus or minus?

MR. RIECHERS: I -- and we really -- we would have to go back and look at the habitat mapping. I really don't have that kind of aggregate reef acreage figure for you there.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: But I guess what I -- importantly, are we going to monitor the take, obviously, off of those reefs and if we see a problem, that we're going to take corrective action quickly and not wait until the end of the season?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes, sir, Commissioner. We're going to -- and, you know, that's certainly as we opened up areas that didn't met[sic] the metric -- that did not meet the metric. To our conservation partners we made that indication to them that we're going to be still using that bottom metric and when we sample and those areas fall below that metric, we're going to be closing those areas.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Got it. Couple of other things that's interesting. The three -- the three bay closures, 2.8 percent of the land, 30 percent -- a third of the landings. Amazing. But is this number right? If you take all -- the gross revenue associated with oyster harvesting on those three bays, it's two and a half million dollars a year of gross revenue?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: And I -- so the boats, it's 154 boats and I'm not sure it -- those are additive. Those are probably -- you've got 71, 71, and 112. That puts you at about 254, excuse me. It's -- are those 250 separate boats you think or the same boat is fishing same bays?

MR. RIECHERS: As you saw by that map, those areas are really tight to one another. There's no real distinction as you move from Ayres to Mesquite to Carlos hardly. And so I think those are -- that -- there's duplicity in that, in those boat numbers. And so -- and not to mention that some of those boats may have come from Galveston Bay. They may not even be local boats down in the local area. In fact, I can almost assure you it has not been. That's where that fleet moved to as we went through last year.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: You know, look, two and a half million dollars is a lot of money. I understand. But, I mean, if you take the small of 71, it's $35,000 a boat per year of gross revenue and then all the costs, you know, I suspect that the recreational value and impact to the fisheries is much more substantial than two and a half million dollars in those bays. Would you agree with that?

MR. RIECHERS: Yeah. The recreational value from those areas is probably -- is more in the 200 million dollar value from those areas.


MR. RIECHERS: Per year.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So you think two and a half versus 200 million. Wow. Okay, thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Good point, Jeff. The number actually I read was 251 million from a recreational value. So, you know, 100X. But you bring up a really good point. We've watched this problem go from the Chesapeake all the way down and we're kind of the last area on the Gulf coast. You see what's happened to Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana. You see that Louisiana has taken it down. They're only open eight days. They're only allowing eight sacks. Alabama is only allowing tonging. And between the -- between all of the aspects, we're opening nine out of 29 and we really had to kind of stretch to do that. And four of the nine are inconsequential, if you will. We're really opening seven out of 29. It's 17 percent of the reefs. So that's going to congregate even more.

But you asked a good question. To be crystal clear for everybody, we're still going to maintain that base metric that says when a reef gets to this level, we shut it down instantly. The Executive Director has the ability to do that, and so it happens fast. We don't have to get together. Because it's going there. There's no -- make no mistake, with this many fishermen on these few reefs, we're going to hit that bottom and we're going to hit it quick. Which tomorrow we're going to have public input. We'll have opportunity for much more discussion and we'll have opportunity to talk about maybe some ideas to improve the direction that this is going because it's clearly -- if we don't do something, we're going to look like all the other Gulf coast states.

Any other questions?


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Just as a point of reference, what some others have said, my understanding is that now we are exporting more crab to Chesapeake. They don't have enough crab anymore either. So in effect what we're looking at and was brought up, starting up there at Chesapeake and coming on down, the resource is just flat going away. It's too much pressure, and I think these numbers clearly show that. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other questions, Commissioners, on Work Session Item No. 6?

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

Thank you, Robin.

Work Session Item No. 7, 23-24 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation Preview. Good morning, Michael.

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

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

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

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

The CFL committee designed and conducted the statewide CFL angler survey from March 1st to June 30th, 2021. The survey resulted in 887 angler contacts. The points on the map represent 152 CFLs where angler survey responses were obtained.

The CFL angler survey revealed these angler preferences. Catfish and Largemouth bass are the most preferred species among CFL anglers, while many CFL anglers indicated that they preferred to fish for any species of fish that would bite. Catfish and Rainbow trout anglers were the most likely to harvest, while most fishing for Largemouth bass and sunfish is catch and release. This suggests that harvest-oriented anglers are primarily focused on species stocked by the Department such as catfish and Rainbow trout. Over 60 percent of anglers were satisfied with their catch of target species and CFL anglers who indicated intent to harvest, typically desired three to ten fish.

Staff is recommending amending the CFL definition to clarify waterbodies to which CFL regulations apply, such as within incorporated city limits and public parks. Current fishing regulations for CFLs follow the statewide standards with special exception for catfish, bass, and sunfish. Special exceptions include catch-and-release only and minimum, maximum, and slot length limits for bass. The potential rule change would implement a daily bag limit of five, all species an aggregate, 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 employ no more than two pole-and-line devices at the same time for a variety of public waterbodies. The potential change would continue existing pole-and-line restrictions and clarify restrictions for CFLs and ten state park lakes that would no longer be defined as CFL and add restrictions to Deputy Darren Goforth Park Lake.

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

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

Lake Nasworthy is a small reservoir on the southwest side of San Angelo in Tom Green County. The Largemouth bass population has a long history of slow growth, poor size structure and body condition. In 2015, a 14- to 18-inch slot length limit was adopted, intending to improve size structure and body conditions. 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 shows that most anglers prefer a return to statewide standards. The potential rule change would return to statewide standards as special exceptions are no longer needed, which would consist of the same daily bag limit and a 14-inch minimum length limit.

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

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

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 potential rule change would delineate the upstream boundary as the State Highway 16 bridges on the Frio River and San Miguel Creek 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 potential 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 is 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 enforceable provision currently in the Texas Administrative Code. Special harvest exceptions are in place for Lake Conroe.

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

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Michael.

Commissioners, any questions for Michael, Work Session Item No. 7? Okay.

MR. TENNANT: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Hearing no questions, we'll move on.

Work Session Item No. 8, 2023-24 Statewide Hunting/Migratory Bird Proclamation Preview. Good morning. You're not Shaun. Good morning.

MR. GEESLIN: Good morning.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Huh? Oh, I skipped -- that explains it.

MR. GEESLIN: Yeah, we've got something a little saltier for you this morning on our coast.


MR. GEESLIN: There we go. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Director Smith, Director Yoskowitz. For the record, my name is Dakus Geeslin. I serve as our Deputy Director in Coastal Fisheries. This morning I'm going to present to you our Coastal Fisheries statewide preview. I'm also going to take a little bit of time to catch y'all up on a couple of our sport fish, primarily flounder and Spotted seatrout. Give you some of the population metrics that we've seen over the last few years following some management actions that were taken by the Commission in more recent times.

Our first item I'll be discussing today is in the theme of federal regulation changes. These are regulation changes initiated through different processes, either congressional legislation or that come through the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, in which myself and Director Riechers sit on that counsel. The purpose of these changes is really to reduce any confusion between anglers fishing in federal waters and then moving back into our state waters. It also eases enforcement and I want to give a shout-out to our Law Enforcement Fisheries Law Administrator Assistant Commander Les Casterline and Lieutenant Carmen Rickel as we collaborate and really think through these regulation changes throughout the year with our law enforcement partners.

So our first species that we'll think about as far as recommended regulation changes is Shortfin Mako shark. Earlier this summer, the National Marine Fisheries Service implemented a rule prohibiting the landing or retention of Shortfin Mako. We simply propose to add this species to our existing prohibited shark species that we have. We've got 22 shark species on that prohibited list, while we do have 16 sharks that anglers may harvest within various size limits.

Next species I want to talk about in matching federal regulation is Cobia. I grew up calling them Ling. Currently we have a two-fish bag limit with a minimum size of 40 inches. Federal regulations have recently changed that to one-fish bag limit per person and a vessel limit of two fish per trip and that would be included on any of the type of vessels, both commercial and recreational fishing per Ling caught.

The next species I'll talk about is Red snapper and generally the reef fish complex which includes other snapper species, grouper, Amberjack. And this was legislation passed by Congress called the DESCEND Act in 2020 and recently implemented earlier this year in January of 2022. This would apply to any commercial, charter, head boat, or private vessel fishing for a reef fish such as the Red snapper. And what this would do is it would require anglers in an effort to reduce barotrauma and discard mortality associated with bringing up these deeper fish from the bottom and as they are brought to the surface what happens is their air bladders expand, causes all kinds of physiological trauma, often resulting in their mortality. And what this would do is require anglers to have either a venting -- a venting tool, which is essentially a hollow icepick where you could insert into the fish at the appropriate spot and vent the fish or require to have a descending device rigged and ready to use. That descending device is illustrated in this graphic to the right of this slide. It's set onto the fish just much like a Boga Grip and a weight drags the fish down underneath and when it reaches a preset depth that you've determined, it releases that fish. So we feel that that's a prudent step in the conservation of these reef fish, particularly Red snapper and, again, to reduce some of that discard mortality.

And before I move on, I wanted to call out an item that is in your briefing books and that's Amberjack. I had planned to bring an item to you today to discuss structuring of seasonal closures with Amberjacks; but last week sitting around the Council table there in Biloxi, Mississippi, it became very apparent that that is -- that season structure discussion is a moving target. It's simply too fluid right now. So I felt it was best to pull that item instead of seeking out regulation changes and having to come back possibly within the year and seek additional changes. So I wanted to pull that back, but did want to call your attention to that.

Now I'd like to spend just a few minutes, update y'all on a couple of our prized sport fish following recent management actions. First one will be flounder, and the next one will be Spotted seatrout. Just as a quick reminder, here recently as far back as 2020, we implemented some management actions where we increased that minimum size limit from 14 inches to 15 inches and we implemented a fishery closure from November 1st to December 15th and that was delayed a year. That went into effect in 2021. So effective yesterday, that fishery of flounder, cannot retain any flounder within Texas waters. That lasts for about six weeks and what does, if y'all remember, that allows those females to escape our bays, get out into the Gulf, spawn to increase reproductive capacity and recruitment into the population.

And you-all have seen this graph before, but just as a quick reminder. Our gillnets obtained through our routine monitoring program, we really rely heavily on those to evaluate trends in our adult sport fish populations. If you remember, gillnets primarily catch our adults and subadult fish. Over time -- you see the graph, you've seen it before -- declining trends there in our Southern flounder populations, but I really want to draw your attention to the far right end of that graph. You'll see somewhat stable catch rates in the -- in the fall data. That's that orange line. In our spring data -- and, again, we don't have 2020 data due to COVID -- due to COVID -- but I like what I'm seeing there in that last couple years from 2021 to 2022, that increase in catch rates. Again, it's a little early to attribute that increase specifically back to these regulatory and fisheries management actions; but it certainly didn't hurt. So I like what I'm seeing. It's just a little bit premature to associate all the increases to those management actions. We hope that trend continues.

Also look at our bag seines. Our bag seines are -- those catch young-of-the-year trout and really are a metric we use to assess recruitment in any fisheries population. This is a-catch-per-unit effort over a given area as our teams drag their bag seines through different coves and types of habitat areas. You can see the declines over time, much as we saw in the gillnets; but what I like to see -- what I'm seeing here is a stabilization of that recruitment and those young-of-the-year fish. Certainly we've had the highest or near the highest in about five to six years. Again, a little early; but I do like -- I do like the trend, and we certainly hope that continues.

Next I'll move on to Spotted seatrout. That was near and dear to everyone's heart here. You-all will remember the recent regulation changes we sought as a result of Winter Storm Uri back in February of 2021, widespread fish kills, really hammered the Spotted seatrout in some of our bay systems. That started in March where we came to you and sought and worked with Director Smith and sought that emergency -- emergency regulation to get that out in front before the heavy fishing season and get out in front before the next spawning season. If you will recall, we did seek that out for 120 days and we came back and sought that out for another 60 days. That's the longest we can enact an emergency regulation.

So that went on for 180 days. That dropped the bag limit from five fish to three fish and narrowed that slot limit from 15 to 25 to 17 to 23 and we just proposed that for the Lower Laguna just based on our fish kill assessment at the time that our folks did as a result of Winter Storm Uri.

And following that, we did spring gillnet sampling and we noticed that we also found some decreased catch rates also in San Antonio and Matagorda. So we came back to you-all with an abbreviated statewide process to reduce those -- to keep those emergency regulations, extend those really into a statewide -- statewide regulation process, but it put a sunset on those on August 31st of 2023. So at the end of that sunset, we'll really have had -- these fish will have had three spawning seasons under that reduced harvest restrictions.

Now I'll hop over into the data. Again, our spring gillnets, this graph's a little different. So I'll show you that zero line, that indicates -- on kind of the right-hand side of the graph, the zero line is our ten-year mean catch rate in gillnets for each of the different bay systems. And what you see is moving over to the left is a departure from that mean in a reduction and moving over to the right is an increase. So you will see in 2021 that we saw -- we saw decreases in our catch rates following Winter Storm Uri, as predicted, except for Corpus Christi Bay and I'll talk about Corpus Christi and what we're seeing there here in just a second. So fast-forward to 2022 and comparing those years directly right after the storm and the year after, what you'll see is improvement in catch rates in Matagorda, San Antonio, Aransas, and the Upper Laguna Madre. You see some pronounced increases in Aransas and Corpus Christi.

I want to explain what I think's going on there is we see Corpus Christi Bay is a little deeper bay and we saw in spring of 2021 high catch rates as fish -- we believe fish moved into that bay seeking a little bit of that thermal shelter during that freeze event. They probably resided there, took up residence in Corpus Christi Bay, and then they probably moved back out to those adjacent bay systems and that's probably -- I'm speculating -- that's why you see those increased catch rates in Aransas Bay. So I just wanted to call that to your attention.

Again, our bag seines, indicator of recruitment and as we target young-of-the-year fish, our young-of-the-year trout show up in our bag seines anywhere from June through November following a really long batch spawning. They spawn multiple times throughout the summer, April through the October really. So as expected, if you look at the graphs, coast-wide is the blue bar, orange is Lower and Lagune Madre. As expected, that 2021 recruitment extremely low comparatively to 2020 following the freeze; but, again, I like what I'm seeing here as far as coast-wide recruitment of Spotted seatrout in our 2022 data. That's a good sign. Moving in the right direction. That's kind of the theme here. You're seeing some good trends. Probably a little early to point all that or associate all that to our management actions, but I do like what I'm seeing here. The Lower and Laguna Madre system, a slight increase. Not as much as I would have hoped to see; but, again, we're going to continue looking at that and hope it continues moving in the right direction.

And last but not least, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge really our hatchery efforts and enhancement efforts to supplement those populations of Spotted seatrout -- both Spotted seatrout and flounder. You'll see -- and I want to draw your attention to, oh, that blue -- blue line because really our hatchery folks did a gangbuster job following the freeze. Not only did they double-down their efforts, they almost triple-downed their stocking efforts. You can see almost 3 million trout, roughly 3 million stocked in 2020. In 2021, we almost got 11 thou -- 11 million fingerlings in the water. That's a tremendous effort of behalf of our hatchery staff, so I want to acknowledge that. We're going to continue to really focus -- be strategic and focus our efforts on Spotted seatrout.

And then our flounder, while we underwent a short and abbreviated downturn in 2021, if you look at that green bar, that middle bar in 2022, that's almost 100,000 flounder that we've been able to stock this year. That's the most we've been able to do. So we're going to continue to really focus efforts on flounder, Southern flounder enhancement as well.

And with that, Commissioners, I'd be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, questions for Dakus?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. To clarify, on the Ling, are we looking to drop the 40-inch minimum requirement?

MR. GEESLIN: No. Good question, Commissioner Patton. No, that will stay the same.


MR. GEESLIN: Minimum length will stay the same. We'll just drop the bag limit from one -- from two to one.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And would we mirror the vessel limit too if --

MR. GEESLIN: That's right.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- you have three anglers on your boat to --

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.


MR. GEESLIN: Correct. And that's something new for the Department. I wanted to --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, so it's new. There's no other vessel limitation on any other game fish --

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- on the coast?

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So this will be groundbreaking. All right.



MR. GEESLIN: There was many deliberations between myself and our law enforcement. It's -- as far as the enforceability of that. To your point though, I did want to point out that when we look at our creel surveys, over 98 -- whether you're on a party boat or a private boat, about 98 percent of our anglers only catch one fish. We have very few, 3 percent or less, that catch their two-fish bag.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: This is the same -- this will be in federal waters as well?

MR. GEESLIN: Correct?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: We're just mirroring the federal waters?

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Thank you, Bobby.

Anybody else have any questions/comments for Dakus? Trends are nice after the freeze.

MR. GEESLIN: Moving in the right direction.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Keep our fingers crossed. Okay. Thank you for your --

MR. GEESLIN: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- presentation, Dakus.

Now we'll do Work Session Item No. 8, 23-24 Statewide Hunting/Migratory Game Bird Proclamation Preview. Hello, Shaun.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Hello. Hello, Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. I'm the Small Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. Today I'll begin with a preview of the 23-24 statewide hunting and migratory game bird proclamations. You'll notice Alan Cain and Shawn Gray are not here. Currently we do not have any proposals coming in January for big game regulations, but that is always subject to change. Also we do not have any current proposals for upland game birds.

So I'll be moving on. Two subjects I'll be talking about and giving some background information on are the Conservation Order of light geese and also the harvest information program. For a little background here on the Conservation Order of light geese, that would be a change to the migratory game bird proclamation. Staff do plan on bringing a proposal to you in January with regards to that. And then also the next one is not a regulation change, per se; but also just wanted to give an update on harvest information program and where we're at and where staff are considering some potential changes and seeking input from the Commission on how to do that maybe in the next year or two.

So I'll move on to Conservation Order of light geese. Staff will be proposing to eliminate the conservation of light geese in January to the Commission. You'll see here this is the same John Cohen painting from a hunt near Eagle Lake that he was on. It's actually "Regs to Riches." If you think about that, it's kind of cool because Texas regs and Snow goose hunting, Texas really did invent Snow goose hunting when we look at it traditionally in the last 60 or 70 years and the amount of effort that folks in the Gulf prairies put together and so a lot of information here and obviously goose hunting has changed dramatically since this painting, but pretty cool to start off with this painting here.

And so we move on to the Conservation Order of light geese and so just to kind of give some background on the Code of Federal Regulation here, it -- the Conservation Order is a special management action that is needed to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in preventing overabundance of the population. So really quick, the Conservation Order on light geese is not a hunting season. This was a special amendment to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that was done. Basically this allows basically the Fish and Wildlife Service to authorize states to allow additional opportunities. This is when we introduced electronic calls, introduced no possession or bag limits. We actually took -- we can hunt a half an hour after sunrise. You can't do that with any other hunting season. And then also unplugged shotguns, remember you have to have a plugged shotgun to hunt migratory game birds, whether you're talking about ducks or doves. And so this took all those regulations away and allowed more freedom. At the time it was thought if we could actually improve hunter success, we could actually decrease populations of light geese. That was the ultimate goal, as it says here towards the end, is to reduce and stabilize various light goose populations. That includes Snow geese and Ross's geese. So that's what we're talking about.

And where this comes from, if you can look there on the left on those two pictures, those are pictures from Lacroix Bay. That's on the southern Hudson Bay. If you're familiar with Manitoba, that's kind of east of Churchill, Manitoba, and you can look at there when populations were increasing in the 80s into the 90s, they started seeing this major impact on basically subarctic tundra and so this is the regards -- this was Snow goose, they were showing up and this is also a staging area, as long as a breeding area. And so these geese were grubbing and grazing this area and, obviously, there was fear of ecological collapse here because of this overpopulation of Snow geese and what was going on on this area along Hudson Bay.

And these were pictures that were presented starting even in the late 80s, early 90s, and so this is when we actually had a fairly small population of light geese; but they were continuing to increase very rapidly based on the monitoring we have. There's a large effort, concerted effort, across a lot of researchers, management folks, Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service to actually get Snow geese and then eventually Ross's geese considered to be overabundant. And what that does -- a nation does by the government, it allows you to have these traditional measures that I talked about, which is the Conservation Order.

One key thing that was produced out of this is the arto -- artic ecosystem is imperiled. That's out of the Artic Goose Habitat Working Group. And basically what that did, it showed population models of what could be done for Snow geese. What it showed at the time is if we could impact adult survival and decrease adult survival by harvesting more birds, we could actually stabilize the population of Snow geese.

At the time also Ross's geese were growing considerably too because those geese have continued to spread across all four flyaways where traditionally it was just a Pacific Flyaway bird.

So also in Texas, change was -- changes were also happening as well and we've showed this before with regards to past changes with regard to Snow goose bag limits. And so you can see here in the blue, that's the number of light goose estimate with our coastal surveys and these are done in December by a plane along the Gulf and the rice prairies and the bays along the Texas coast. And there you can see in green, that is basically the rice agricultural base and acreage through time as well. And so you can see traditionally, obviously, Texas coast had a lot of rice base. We were pushing over 600,000 in the 50s and, obviously, that's precipitously declined to around about 200,000 acres today.

And so just to put this on there -- and this was not a cause and effect by any means -- but when you look at the Conservation Order when it was introduced into the late 90s, we've actually seen a substantial decrease on populations on the Texas coast since the introduction of the Conservation Order. Like I said, it's not a cause and effect because at the same time we actually had habitat decrease especially along the mid-coast area. If you think about that painting that we showed earlier in the Eagle Lake area, that area in general -- the mid-coast area -- has seen a large decline in agricultural base and flooded acres in the wintertime and a lot of folks that have driven around that area recently have probably noticed complete changes in the decades since then.

And so we've seen this large decline in light geese here in Texas as well. At the same time, I'll just point out there in 1980 -- there's the number there -- we had about 1.2 million on the coast. So that's a good point to think about in your mind, 1.2 million in 1980. And then you fast-forward to say the early 2000s and say we had about 500,000 in our early 2000s. And I'll show a graph later that shows kind of how changes in Texas and the whole mid-continental goose population changed.

One thing too I should say is that degradation issue I showed within the South Hudson Bay. That's where they stage and also some birds breed. That's the most southern breeding area. But there's farther north breeding areas and that's in the Central Canadian Artic. This is Queen Maud Gulf. If you draw a line to where Manitoba and Alberta come together, go straight up to the Arctic Ocean, this is what you'd find there at the end. So this is traditionally there -- you can see red, those areas in red, that is all the known nesting colonies we have in Queen Maud Gulf, which is a small area in the Central Canadian Arctic. If you look at all the area there in green, that's potential tundra that could be available for nesting habitat. So this is some recent work that has been done by the Canadian Wildlife Service to show where goose colonies are and where they're not in the Central Canadian Arctic. And once again, this is just a small portion of the Canadian Arctic.

So fast-forward to 2020. We're at, you know, basically population data up until then. These are mid-continent Snow goose population estimates. What we have seen in the last decade is a sharp decrease in populations. If you look there in 1980 when we had 1.2 million geese on the Texas coast, we had somewhere in the neighborhood of about 3 million Snow geese is what we thought we had in the mid-continent area based on these estimates and this is a retrospective analysis, so we didn't have this information then. That population increased substantially up until 1990 when we started seeing degradation basically occur in the Hudson Bay area. And there you can see in 1990 we're pushing 5 million geese. So that's a considerable number of geese using that area for staging. And then populations increased substantially all the way until about 2005 and then we've seen declines since then.

And so the Snow goose, you can see there -- obviously, if you remember back in about 1998/1999 is when we introduced the Conservation Order. Populations have continued to increase, have stabilized around about 20 million in the mid 2000s, have declined since then to about 10 million, and so have reduced in half since then.

So one reason we have seen this is productivity of light geese. So populations used to be low. They used to have high productivity. Now we have high populations with extremely low productivity. So what we thought would control the population has completely changed based on these population models. We've actually seen pretty much a crash in reproduction in the last 10 or 15 years in the Canadian Arctic and Subarctic.

And so there's been a lot of peer-reviewed science. The good thing is we've been marking these birds since the 1970s and even the 1960s in a number of locations. We've been able to get into the Arctic. A lot of these breeding colonies were not discovered until the 1950s post-World War II, but fortunately a lot of researchers have been able to get into the Canadian Arctic and actually mark a lot of birds there and also in Alaska and so there's been a lot of peer-reviewed science on population dynamics of these birds in last 20 years.

So when we look at the Conservation Order and what has happened with Snow geese say in the last 20 years or so, we grossly underestimated the number of Snow goose populations. We used to think we had a few million of these birds. We probably at that same time probably had close to 10 million birds and so there was a lot of Snow geese that were on the landscape that we didn't think we had because it was really difficult to inventory these things in the wintertime and even on the breeding grounds it's difficult to monitor these.

Also we probably underestimated carrying capacity: What this landscape can hold, how many geese it can hold. The realization is when we saw those pictures from Lacroix Bay up near Hudson Bay, those are not indicative of what's going across the rest of the Canadian Arctic. That's just a small snapshot of one location. That is not occurring across a large area in the Canadian Arctic by any means.

The Conservation Order did not lower adult survivals. As I stated earlier, that was the point of the Conservation Order was to reduce the adult survivals and actually bring down the population. Adult survivals actually increased during the Conservation Order based on science that's been done from 87 percent to 90 percent. So 90 percent of your adults are surviving from year to year. So we did not lower the adult survivals; so, therefore, that population increased.

Recruitment has declined in the last decade and we've seen that because of the mismatch when these birds are arriving with regards to browse habitat when they're nesting. Just a few days can throw these breeding cycles off in the Arctic because there's really a small window there. And currently the recruitment is the primary driver in population growth rates. So much different than what we thought when we started the Conservation Order. It's growing the population or it can decrease the population pretty rapid. It is adult survival that is really driving this.

So, you know, you think about -- we could -- we thought we can control adult survival because we thought we just a few million geese and we had a lot of hunters. Turns out we had a lot more geese and we weren't taking that larger percentage. And so really the Conservation Order is not accomplishing the management objective it was set out to.

So for these reasons, in January the proposal will be in front of you to actually eliminate the Conservation Order on light geese in Texas.

Are there any questions before I move on to the next subject?

All right.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So adult survival rates are increasing. The number of geese in Texas is lower. Help me understand that. I mean, it seems that's contradictory.

MR. OLDENBURGER: So the way I put it is Texas coast used to be it. Right? We used to winter a majority of the population on the Texas coast. That's where light geese used to come, at least mid-continent Snow geese. Ross's geese would go to the Pacific Flyaway in the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley. So we used to be it. But since then, agriculture has moved west. We've seen an increase in Snow geese. There's a lot more areas -- I mean, we have wintering Snow geese now in Nebraska, in Kansas. Geese are not coming as far south as they used to. We've seen a decrease in Texas in number of geese we have wintering here basically.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: But your Slide 8 shows that mid-continent Snow geese -- Snow geese population is declining as well.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah, yeah.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: So you've got more survival, but where are all the geese going? I mean, because Texas and mid-con the numbers are dramatically less.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah, and so they dropped here substantially mostly we believe to the habitat base decrease and the agricultural base. They've decreased in the Arctic basically due to recruitment. And basically those geese are going to other locations now. Right? And so you think about it, if you're not recruiting anything and you have a 90 percent annual survival, you're effectively decreasing your population size by 10 percent if you don't have any newborns, right, coming into the population and so that's why you see that sharp decline there. There's very -- been very minimal recruitment in the last ten years and so you see the sharp decline of the population kind of not crashing per se, but really decreasing substantially. But at the same time, we have not -- even during this growth period up until 2005, we didn't see an increase in Snow geese coming to Texas coast. We saw a decrease. Right? So the geese aren't coming here anymore. We have reservoirs staying -- you know, staying open. These birds can roost places. They're getting into corn fields, all this excessive of basically waste grain on the landscape and so these birds are just choosing to go to other locations, whether it be Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, or Nebraska.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: All right, last question. So is the population of Snow geese across the U.S. increasing or decreasing?

MR. OLDENBURGER: At this time, substantially decreasing.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Substantially decreasing.


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay, got it. And recruitment, just for the layman, that's --


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: -- just the ability to recruit a species to a location?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Well, sorry, I should have -- that's basically the number of young in the population. So --

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Number of young in the population.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Us biologists say silly things sometimes. So, yeah, that's basically the percentage of young in the population. So that's what recruitment means when we think about it from a population standpoint is -- so they're going up and nesting, they're laying eggs; but they're just not being successful bringing those goslings off of the tundra and flying south with them.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Sorry. And last question. So U.S. population is decreasing because the recruitment is much lower?


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: Okay. And is that a reversible trend?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Well, I mean, if conditions improve in the Arctic. So, for instance, like if you have a late spring -- you know, that's the way we always thought, like spring thaw was always considered like when I worked on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, that was a very good indicator of how much recruitment or how many birds you would produce that year. Right? And so that's what's happening in the Canadian Arctic. We've had some late winters that have produced unfavorable breeding conditions. We've also had some early winters where -- or early springs, I should say, where birds are getting up there and mismatching and the food just isn't there. So they're basically -- you know, a very narrow window there to produce goslings.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: By the way, I used to hunt in Eagle Lake when I was kid. And today, I mean, the sky would be lit with Snow geese. There are -- there are no geese there today.


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: It's really quite amazing.


COMMISSIONER FOSTER: So I have a question. What is our objective? What would we ideally -- what are we trying to accomplish with --

MR. OLDENBURGER: Well, so I mean staff proposal in January would be to eliminate the Conservation Order on light geese and so we would take, you know, that hunting season -- even though it's not a hunting season -- away just for the fact it hasn't meet[sic] its management objective. The management objective of the season was actually to reduce the population, right, by hunters being in the field by pulling the trigger. The reality is that has not happened. We don't see a decrease in the adult survival. Hunters are not impacting this population like we thought they could and so there just isn't a need for this.

Also additionally what we see in a biological stance looking at the Texas Gulf coast, it also reduces disturbance on the landscape. We have a much decreased population of basically -- have decreased agriculture base, we have decreased flooded agriculture in the area. At the same time, we still have a lot of hunters on the Texas coast. And so by decreasing that disturbance on the landscape, what we are hopeful to do with our habitat management -- and, obviously, we are not going to increase agricultural base, but we can help with some flooded areas and things like that and put more water on the landscape or at least think that as an objective through say the Gulf Coast Joint Venture, but it's also to bring Snow geese back to the Texas coast.

And in reality, it's kind of a -- it's kind of a catch-22 is we think we decrease pressure, we might actually improve hunting over the long term on the Texas coast because the average hunter doesn't harvest more than say a few birds a hunting trip and so we want quality experiences on the Texas coast. We want to bring that back to the Texas coast hopefully at some point and so that has decreased through time. So by eliminating this, it just hasn't meet[sic] the management objective, but also decreasing the disturbance in landscape after basically end of January after duck season.

And so I should note too with the Conservation Order, we can't have -- we can't have overlapping hunting seasons occur either underneath the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service laws. So basically that's why the Conservation Order occurs after the regular goose season because all migratory game bird seasons have to be closed before the Conservation Order opens.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Shaun, I think one of the problems is you said that the population is reduced because of recruitment, because of babies, but your gray Conservation Order on the graph sure looks like that had something to do with it because that's when the decline absolutely started. So it seems just at a glance that it really worked.

MR. OLDENBURGER: It seemed like it, you know -- well, yeah, whether it worked or didn't work, however you want to look at that. But, you know, the one thing too is, you know, we decreased -- you know, decreased habitat base, rice agriculture from 300,000 to 200,000. You know, did we meet some optimal level where birds just dropped off at that point?

Obviously, we would like to see more light geese on the coast, not less, for our hunters. So -- but it does seem a little bit of cause and effect where it did -- as soon as the Conservation Order did start, we did see a decrease on the Texas coast.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: But y'all's belief is it's because of the habitat and the nesting grounds and --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- the timing of weather and recruitment?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah. And so that's why overall mid-continent wise when you look at throughout the United States or at least the mid-continent part of the United States, that's why populations decreased. We probably think that's primarily habitat issue on the Texas coast why populations have decreased. And when you go from 600,000 to 200,000 acres of rice, that's going to have some major impact on your wintering waterfowl abundance.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I guess we'll hear about this in January. Any other Commissioners comments?

Okay, proceed.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. So the next thing on the list is the harvest information program. If you folks hunt migratory game birds, obviously you have this on your hunting license now and you had it before dove season. So there on the left you will see the questions we ask. Basically if you go online and purchase your license, those are the questions we ask to get HIP certified. And then if you're lucky enough and get randomly selected by the Fish and Wildlife Service, you either get a diary survey in an e-mail now or you would get in the parks collection survey, which you have there on the right, and that's where you would, you know, send wings, a duck wing so basically the Fish and Wildlife Service to help hunt -- help estimate harvest.

The harvest information program is not a hunter survey per se. It is not used to estimate -- basically hunt -- we have this fallacy that it's actually used -- those questions actually get to harvest estimates. It doesn't. What this does is produce basically a sampling frame. So this gets to be the known population of migratory game bird hunters in the state. So this is where the Fish and Wildlife Service can pull random names from and send you a harvest survey and ask you what you hunted and then you can actually use that information to estimate harvest at a state level and then a continental level as well.

So that's what the harvest information program is. It was started in 1999. This is going -- been going for a long time. The reason it was implemented is prior -- basically harvest is -- harvest were estimated in a different way. If you remember, I remember going to the Post Office and getting my first federal duck stamp, if you remember way back in those days where you had to go to a Post Office. You were randomly chosen by the Post Office, U.S. Postal Service, to actually get a harvest survey at that time. So basically you had to be a duck hunter to basically -- or a goose hunter -- to be into the harvest surveys. Right?

Well, in Texas we know here we have a lot more dove hunters than we have duck hunters. Right? So we're pushing 200,000 dove hunters. And so the reality is those harvest surveys were not working for your webless migratory game birds and so the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies started pushing the harvest information program. It was adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Service and actually became active in 1999.

So we do have some data issues that we're going to go through with the harvest information program in Texas. This is not unique to us. This has been an issue with a large number of states where we have these over-certification issues. Basically in Texas, about one -- over 1.2 million people on an annual basis, both residents and nonresidents, get a hunting license. Those are potential migratory game bird hunters if they go get their harvest information and program certification. Currently we're registering about 700 to 800,000 people a year with HIP certification. So we're mass over-certifying people that we -- that are migratory game bird hunters.

And so the Fish and Wildlife Service, we send them every two weeks from August 15th to September 1st to September 15th, we send them in our license database the pool of folks that get HIP certified and then those people are randomly chosen for harvest surveys throughout the hunting seasons. And so early on, as you know in Texas, we give a -- starting license sales on August 15th, we produce a lot of harvest information program service -- certifications really early in the season. That starts dropping off about August 15th, but we continue to register people all the way into March when there's no reason to even actually have a HIP certification. So this kind of compares the hunting licenses, the HIP registrations, and then the dove, duck, and goose harvest hunter estimates from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Showing basically we're vastly overestimating folks and the reason that this is occurring and this has been identified by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and also the Fish and Wildlife Service is because your point-of-sales' locations. Right?

When you go into a retailer and you ask for a license and say, "Yeah, just give me the super combo and give me everything," you're usually probably getting HIP certified as well just because that is everything. Right? And so they move on, get you HIP certified even though you're going deer hunting and you're going to go catch redfish and that's your only plan for the year. So you're getting certified as a migratory game bird hunter, but you're not a migratory game bird hunter. You're a deer hunter. So that's the issue we're having currently here in Texas with our license system.

Also one thing we do see as far as the data quality goes is we see some differences between (inaudible) at the point-of-sales, i.e. the retail locations, and also the internet locations. In the first slide I showed you, that was the questions online that you go through our internet website and you actually enter your information on an annual basis. You don't go through a clerk per se. So you are being -- you know, the system is asking you the questions, you're answering them hopefully truthfully into the system and then that's getting HIP certified.

And so what this shows here is when you actually say you're a dove hunter, the question that should be ask to you is: How many have you harvested the previous year? Was it zero? Was it 1 through 30? Was it more than 30? And so what we see is there's a big difference between the point-of-sales' locations and our internet answers. So if you look here, basically if you go on and get your license online, only 58 -- on an individual level, 58 percent are saying they didn't harvest any. Whereas you go to the retail, it's 77 percent. Just so you know, these are coded -- when you go to the retail location -- zero, one, and two. Zero is zero. So if someone is just pressing zeros, you automatically get thrown into the zero category. Whereas, you know, your 1 through 30, if you look on that, your point-of-sales' locations, 32 percent of folks are identifying themselves as harvesting 1 through 30. Whereas it's only 16 percent at your point-of-sale's location.

So what staff are thinking about in the next year or two is removing the harvest information program away from the point-of-sale's licensing system. This is very similar with what we did with the federal Sandhill crane permit a number of years ago. We used to certify approximately about 110,000 people in federal Sandhill crane permits, when we actually knowingly at the time only had about four or 5,000 Sandhill crane hunters. So that was an issue we had a number of years ago. We fixed it by removing the federal Sandhill crane permit from the point-of-sales locations. So you can go online now, you can go to your LEO, or you can go 1-800 number to get your federal Sandhill crane permit.

And so we're considering basically a very similarly approach basically to our harvest information program. We probably think there's somewhere in the neighborhood of 350,000 migratory game bird hunters in Texas. And so they would have to go somewhere beyond a point-of-sale's location to actually get HIP certified, whether that be online to get their license, if we had a 1-800 number, if we had a QR code that brought them to a separate website or if there was a texting option. So we're investigating all those options right now.

Unfortunately with processes and how things work with our license vendor, you know, we almost have to think about the previous hunting season for things to be implemented the next hunting season. So we're talking about those things right now. We don't have a very clear path right now. Although there are some options in play. But this is something we're possibly proposing to do in the next hunting season or in a couple hunting seasons at this time. So just want to make sure the Commission's aware of this potential step and to fix and have high quality data so we can actually estimate our harvest well in Texas. And the reason for that is we have a number of species management strategies when it comes to the Fish and Wildlife Service in how seasons are set. That does depend on harvest data. So, for instance, how many Mourning doves we estimate we shoot here in Texas matters to hunting seasons in Minnesota and Montana because it all goes into the harvest strategy to estimate the number of Mourning doves that are going to be in the next year's population. So what we do in Texas impacts other hunters.

And so this was an issue that was brought about a number of years ago. It was also an issue in Louisiana and Arkansas recently. Two big other migratory game bird hunters. In the last couple years, they actually did this as well. They removed their harvest information program from their point-of-sale's location.

So that just kind of gives you a little summary as far as what staff are thinking about in possible proposed changes to the harvest information program. Nothing's set in stone at this time, but we wanted to make sure that you're aware of what staff are thinking. So with that, I'll be happy to take any questions about the harvest information program as well.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Shaun, will a dove hunter be able to hunt dove if they don't fill out the hunter information program if you take it away from the point-of-sale?

MR. OLDENBURGER: So -- so basically a dove hunter by law would have to have HIP certification to go dove hunting. So if you went to a point-of-sale's location and didn't get HIP certification, what we would hope is we would have some -- either a poster there or little business card handouts where they could go on say -- and this is just an idea -- do a QR code that takes you to a separate website, you answer your six or seven questions, and two minutes later you're HIP certified and you're moving onward and you're legal to hunt doves.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Don't -- don't make me an illegal hunter, Shaun.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Well, yeah, that's what we're --

CHAIRMAN APLIN: I mean, if you're going to -- if you're going to sell me a license and then make me go somewhere online and HIP, I mean, I might as well get handcuffed now. You got any better solution than that?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Well, you know, I think, you know, if you purchase your license online, obviously that -- that's probably the best approach to maintain -- you know, just currently, thinking about this currently, if you just go online and answer those questions online. That's why an independent website, if you went there and just got your license, it automatically asks you those questions and you'd be certified on your license and you'd be good to go.

But the reality is, you know, HIP certified is the first thing that shows up on your license. When you get it, it says HIP certified. I mean, we're over-certifying, you know, somewhere in the neighborhood of 350, 400,000 people on an annual basis. That reduces that sampling frame. Right? That creates a lot of statistical issues when estimating harvest. And so what we're trying to do is get quality data to manage the resource to the best -- best way possible.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: And I like that idea. I just want to think out that we're not making it difficult for our customers and putting them in an unknowing awkward position of not being HIP certified when they're on their -- on their --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- dove hunt.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah, we definitely want migratory game bird hunters to be HIP certified. We've got to find a way to make that the easiest way possible for them. If we potentially removed it away from the point-of-sale's location, obviously that creates another step in the process. But just want to make sure that we make that the easiest way possible for them to get HIP certified and have a number of options where they could do that.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND: On a lifetime license, do -- because right now, you don't have to fill out anything. You just -- you get the license.

MR. OLDENBURGER: So by -- by -- I may have to have Stormy come over. But based on federal regulation, state regulation you would still have to have HIP certification to hunt migratory game birds.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Here I am illegal again.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: And I'm with Jeff because that was my question. What about us lifetime? How do we get -- I don't want to go to jail like Beaver does.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioners, any other thoughts, comments?

Bobby, you got something?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, I also have a lifetime license and in the past years, I would go get paper tags and I would get HIP certified at retail. This year with the online aspect of it, I actually didn't do that now. I'll go on record, I haven't -- I haven't shot a dove. So I'm not -- but I'm currently not HIP certified kind of because I didn't take that step that I have in previous years because I could have the convenience to do it online, which maybe I'll go do this afternoon. But I think the -- you know, I echo the same. Adding that step is really, you know, problematic I think.

And I think I heard something today too I didn't know. You're supposed to have a federal permit for Sandhill crane harvest too? How long has that been around?

MR. OLDENBURGER: A couple decades. So there -- so we call it a federal Sandhill crane permit. This was the same issue. It's actually in our suite of licenses. You can get that either online --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: For a -- for a lifetime license holder, how does that work?

MR. OLDENBURGER: I would say it's the same as harvest information program.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: You're supposed to -- how do you do that?

MR. OLDENBURGER: You would have to go online and get it through our licensing system, call the 1-800 number and get it through our folks over at licensing branch, or you can stop at law enforcement officer[sic] -- over at the building you could go get it and get your federal Sandhill crane.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I'll stop that questioning. Thank you for that information.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Anybody else?

Sounds like you have some concerns over, you know, what is the effect of doing what you're contemplating or discussing doing and how does that impact the hunter that is not aware.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah, and we're not naive to think that, you know, there are wouldn't be some issues. And that's why, you know, over a couple years' period, hopefully this would gain momentum and then it wouldn't be like a forethought in a couple years. Whereas, you know, initial year we would have lots of flexibility with our folks and make sure it's an education campaign rather than an enforcement campaign, for instance. That's the way I see it because, you know, once again like Kentucky did this. They went completely online and did the same thing, like the point-of-sales' locations, removed it from them and amazingly they had great success. They actually had -- I think they're at 95 to 98 percent compliance is what they're law enforcement folks said when they made the switch from one year to the next.


MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah. So -- and obviously I realize that's a much smaller state with the number -- a lot smaller number of migratory game bird hunters; but the reality, other states have done this and shown success and getting higher quality harvest estimates and hunter estimates as well.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. Well, I guess you're coming back to us in January or a subsequent meeting and so try to address those to any --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- extent you can. I think we're -- Paul?

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: I do have one more quick question that just occurred to me. So who -- what agency -- do we enforce compliance with federal licensing or is there a -- do they kind of cede that to us to enforce or -- because there's not a -- I mean, you don't have federal people out there enforcing these rules.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah, yeah. I hate to talk about law enforcement issues when we have law enforcement folks in the room.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, Stormy, thanks.

MR. OLDENBURGER: So I'll let Stormy get up here.

MR. KING: Good morning again. For the record, Stormy King with Law Enforcement. Question again, Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: I'm just curious. It really didn't occur to me before, but when Bobby asked the question about having a federal permit for Sandhill crane, who -- what agency enforces that? Do we do that?

MR. KING: We do. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has game wardens as well that enforce federal regulations, but many of these are adopted by reference into our regulations and/or specifically spelled out within our regs that you must be in compliance either generally with federal law or with certain aspects. Like the HIP is actually it written in our regs. You have to be HIP certified to hunt migratory birds. So in a way it's federal and state law.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Any other questions?

CHAIRMAN APLIN: So do you automatically become -- if you buy a license, do you become HIP certified?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Automatically?



CHAIRMAN APLIN: So one of your problems with that is you get data that's not very accurate because everybody that buys a license isn't going to hunt ducks --


CHAIRMAN APLIN: -- or doves. So that's your problem/concern?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah. So I'll use myself as an example in looking at point-of-sales' locations. I think I purchased a hunting license there from a point-of-sale's location eight times. I think I've been asked HIP questions twice. So I automatically get registered for HIP. You know, it's the reality of the situation. You know, especially when you've got, you know, 10 or 20 folks standing in line and waiting for things. So a lot of times folks automatically get HIP certified when that is not their intention by any means.

So, yeah, it's part of the licensing system and it's been an issue for a longstanding -- we've know about it and various states have dealt with it. For instance, like some states actually charge for harvest information program. I think Montana is one of those states. That's something we weren't in favor of because we don't see that putting another dollar figure on something to solve this issue doesn't seem the best approach either.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Okay. If you can come up with the best recommendation for all the issues that have been raised.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Any other Commissioner got any questions for Shaun?

Thank you, Shaun.

Work Session Item No. 1 -- I mean, No. 9, the Briefing, Diversity/Inclusion Goals, David. How are you?

MR. BUGGS: Good morning, Chairman Aplin, Commissioners. For the record, my name is David Buggs, Chief Diversity Inclusion Officer at Texas Parks and Wildlife and I'm here today to do a briefing on the actions that we've taken concerning increasing inclusion at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

So most of you-all are familiar that last year's sunset audit asked us to provide a little more information around diversity inclusion at Texas Parks and Wildlife. They asked us to increase our tracking measures when it came to different activities we were taking in conjunction with our strategic plan. They also asked us to do an annual evaluation of our workforce and I really appreciate Patty David and her HR team getting involved with that and they've done a really good job.

And the last thing they asked us to do was to provide a report on some of our success measures to the Commission and we're here to do that, but I want to share something else with you-all. As many of you-all know, this is not something that is new to us when it comes to being engaged around increasing inclusion at Texas Parks and Wildlife. We actually look at it as a business imperative. Something that we have started taking actions on under the guidance of Director Smith some years ago and we're very excited about some of the things what we're doing and we're going to share a little with that -- about that today with you.

One of the things we recognized a while back, that our demographics in the State of Texas is not changing. It has changed. We've been the second fastest growing state for a number of years. Also when you start looking at the demographics of our state, we have been what they call majority minority for actually 15 years. We also have a majority female population. Our demographics is also skewing a lot younger than it used to a few years ago, and we've become extremely urban.

The Nature of Americans Study, which was done a few years ago, also looked at the folks that were engaging in the outdoors across the State of Texas and one of the findings we thought was a little shocking, but as we get around, we're finding out there's truth in it that a lot of adults in the State of Texas aren't necessarily outdoor oriented. A few years ago, back in 2015, there was a blue ribbon panel that was engaged by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to just study the relevancy of fish and wildlife agencies to this growing and changing population. Not just in Texas, but nationwide. And what they were finding out, there wasn't that much of a knowledge of some of the things that we do or an appreciation for it.

So in 19 -- in 2019, they adopted something called a relevancy roadmap and we had the good fortune of being able to participate on developing that strategy and it focuses on how we engage this changing demographics and some of the things that we do in support of our mission.

So a give quick overview. One of the things that we're focused on and it's how to make Texas Parks and Wildlife relevant to this growing and changing demographic inside of the State of Texas and continue to support our mission. Most of you-all may be aware that we've already had a five-year strategic plan that was published out on our external website and we're in the process of updating that plan for the next five years. Right now we have a draft of it, but we also are waiting on some input from our incoming Director before we publish it.

In that particular document, there are three different pillars that we look at. We look at recruitment: How we're doing as far as being engaging in our recruitment, what are we doing as far as retaining folks once they come to Texas Parks and Wildlife, and what are we doing as far as our external customers and constituents as far as outreach and education or engagement?

So presently, some of the things that we're focused on are how do we create this more welcoming environment internal. How do we create an environment where future talent will want to come and work at Texas Parks and Wildlife and the current talent wants to stay? The other thing that we're focused on is how do we create these engagement programs so these different growing demographics will appreciate some of the things that we do and want to be engaged.

In the future, we want to continue to look at some of those same opportunities to bring in new talent. There are more folks that are becoming interested in getting into conservation careers than before, but we want to make sure that they find a landing spot here at Texas Parks and Wildlife. We also want to continue to look at the demographic changes and the statistics that are coming out of our society and understand how we can bring folks in to continue to support our mission.

So one of the organizations that we created a few years ago, we call it the Employee Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee or the EDIAC. We don't necessarily like that name; but, hey, look, it works. So it is composed of members from each one of our divisions and they help us develop different strategies around how we can create more inclusion at the Agency. Some of the past projects that were developed by the EDIAC that are currently in place are, first of all, we developed something called a Recruitment Representative Program where we have ten people in each one of our six major regions that are actually going out and actively talking to people about who we are, what we do, and participating in recruitment events across the state. We also created some tools for employees to do some self-evaluations to find out what are some of the things they can do to help develop their own skill set and move around in the Agency.

We development a dashboard for the diverse -- for the diverse -- for the division directors -- I had to look at that DD -- the division directors to understand what their divisions look like, what are some of the areas where they can improve when it comes to recruitment, what are some of the things they can do to make sure that everybody feels like they're included within the Agency. We created -- and this is something that I thought was extremely exciting. We created an award that's a part of our employee recognition award that focuses on those folks that are doing outstanding things when it comes to being leaders for inclusion within Texas Parks and Wildlife and we also added some enhancements to our people facing, our outward facing diversity inclusion web page that talks a little bit more about events that we're engaging in, give some more information on different documents that we're creating that talks about how we create that welcoming environment, and share a little information on some of the things that they can also do in their particular organizations to create a welcoming environment. So we're very excited about that.

Some of the current projects that we're working on through this EDIAC group is creating a little more diversity within our social medias when it comes to images and stories about different cultures. Creating more inclusion within our volunteer program, our volunteer management program, because people want to see other people that look like them when they go to different places. Also we've broadened our Agency recruitment strategy. So we're actually posting information on websites beyond just the Texas State website. And we're also focused on how do we engage the broader diversity of youth in some of the things that we're doing and we're looking a scorecards so we'll know who we're taking into account when we create these different programs and also who we're missing so we can focus on those things in our marketing efforts.

Now one of the other things that I'm very excited about is each one of our divisions has taken time to establish diversity goals and actions within their divisions. How can they get involved in making sure that we're creating this sense of belonging, this sense of welcoming at Texas Parks and Wildlife? So I can't give you all of the information that all of the divisions did. We'd be here for the next two or three hours. Although you'd probably love that, right? Right? I'm just kidding. But I'll just share a few -- a few highlights.

First of all in our Communications Division, not only are they doing more to put diverse faces out on our external site, but they also started increasing recognition of different cultures and how they contribute to our mission and we're very excited about that. Within our Support Resources group, they developed a policy around limited English proficiency, which gives the Agency guidance on how we provide interpretive services. They've also brought in a new ADA Manager so we can make sure that everybody that wants to have access to the outdoors has the ability to do so.

Our State Parks Division continues to knock it out of the park with going out and creating a -- bringing in applicants for our co-op grants that those funds are going to go back to these diverse communities and build outdoor facilities or help develop some outdoor programs for folks that are normally nontraditional users of some of our activities. Also State Parks has created some inclusive signage at some of the parks. If you look at the one in the middle, this is at Brazos Bend where they've actually put the language that they need to navigate the park in six different languages and this is very exciting.

Our Wildlife Division has gotten engaged with the organization called 100 Ranchers and some of you-all may be familiar with 100 Ranchers. And we've gone out and had some engagement with them, talked with some of the youth that these ranchers are bringing out and they're engaged with Prairie View A&M University, so we've had an opportunity to get in front of those ag and natural resource students and talk about some of the things that we do and hopefully for some of them they're going to change their majors and start looking at some of the careers within Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Our Human Resources group -- and there's no way we can talk about all of the things that they're engaged in -- but just to highlight a few things. They've updated again their recruitment strategy to post careers in places beyond just on the Texas Workforce site. They've added diversity and inclusion aspect to their successful first line manager's training because when you start talking about bringing in different folks and different cultures, it's more than just doing the same old same old. You've got to make sure that you meet folks where they are and guide them where they are so they can contribute to the organization. They've also expanded what we call our Al Henry Internship Program, where we're reaching out to diverse youth that are in colleges and universities that are majoring in some natural resource related career. And here are just a few pictures of some of our Al Henry interns and we're very excited about this and we're looking at expanding that program. We'll talk a little bit about that in a future slide. But we've had some outstanding students participating and one of the things that I like to hear is after they do their end of internship project and presentation, we hear managers saying we want to have them working for us because they've done an outstanding job. So we're very excited about that.

Also our Coastal Fisheries Division has gotten -- got engaged with the GOMA Project, which is the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Internship Project where they're focused bringing in diverse college students to do internships with us as well and we're very excited about that, as well as the Inland Fisheries. They are not to be left out. They're actually engaged with the Hutton Scholarship Program, where they're bringing in high school interns and doing work with them during the summer and actually this is the second summer in a row where they've brought in at least two high school students to do internships with us. So that is outstanding.

Here are some other actions that we're engaged in. And the first one is the Urban Outreach Advisory Committee and I'm very appreciative of Chairman Aplin setting that up, along with Commissioner Bell, and the support that we're getting for that program and it's been outstanding. They've been giving us some excellent feedback on different things that we're doing and how we engage in the community. We're also working on a youth engagement program and we've done a survey throughout the Agency on what are we already doing because we don't want to try and reinvent the wheel, but maybe there is a way for us to expand some of the things that we're already doing to engage some of the folks that we haven't traditionally engaged.

We're working on a fellowship program through the Wildlife Division to bring in a recent college graduate to come in and work on some different projects through our wildlife program. We're also looking at increasing our nontraditional university partnership. As some of you-all may be aware, UTSA, University of Texas San Antonio, is a Hispanic serving institute. So we're working with Fish and Wildlife Agency to get some additional funds so we can create some internships through UTSA. And the last thing, but certainly not the least thing, is we're also working with our new R3 coordinators to find out how we can engage some of these broader audiences in some of the R3 activities, which is focusing on hunting and fishing and boating and some of the other shooting sports and we're really excited about some of the things that they're doing.

And with that, I'm happy to answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, David.

Questions? Commissioner -- Oliver.

COMMISSIONER BELL: I've got -- Commissioner Bell. Just a couple of items because, one, I don't think the Agency gets enough credit for the work that they're doing to encourage Texas of all walks of life to, one, seek employment opportunities here and also to engage in the outdoors. And so there -- you know, there -- there's a saying on the farm a poor dog won't wag his own tail. So maybe we need to do a little bit more advertising in that regard. But there are clearly -- while there are some success stories, obviously there are things that we can do better. But as we've seen post-COVID, there are changes in some use, for example, in state parks. So there -- we've had, you know, record park attendance the past couple of years; but that should be spread across the board. When we're looking now at Texas being 85 percent urban and 75 percent of people basically saying they don't have an outdoor experience or they're not outdoor oriented, that's a heck of a market opportunity to bring people to the outdoors, to bring them into parks, to bring them into hunting and fishing.

And the one thing though is with this new experience, what I would like everyone to kind of be aware of -- and where's Rich Heilbrun? Is he still here? One -- he --he came to -- when you were at our -- the Urban Advisory Committee meeting, there's been -- in several of those meetings, there have been comments about just what's been the experience of people who are about to get out and anecdotally someone says I'm thinking about -- someone who looks like me says they're getting ready to go to a state park, but their experience is they're going to go to someone who looks like you and then all of a sudden they don't feel comfort -- for whatever reason, they don't feel comfortable in that experience because they're a little bit worried that someone's going to second-guess them or they just don't feel welcome, how do we make people feel welcome and encourage them and I think that these efforts that we're doing inside are doing that and we've even had some staff who have said -- who have been out working on these programs, who have said it's not quite comfortable for me talking to someone who doesn't necessarily look like me, but I'm out there engaging and everybody's finding out that everybody wants to talk to each other. Everybody wants to have a part of this. Everybody wants to be involved in the state park piece or the hunting piece.

So I guess I'm saying I applaud this effort. And with this new experience, it's not about race. It's not about gender. It's not about age. Although it is because we've got this large youthful population that is popping up that doesn't have an outdoor experience. They have a Nintendo. Well, actually that's wrong. We'll call it video games. Right? But they don't do -- they don't have the outdoor experience. We have -- I'm glad to see we have more women participating in the outdoors. So this has gone -- this is going very well.

But you mentioned 100 Ranchers. I'm actually part of that group too. I was glad to see Kim's picture in there. But that's a black ranching group across the state and there are several either African-American or Hispanic organizations that are very aware of the outdoors that would like to participate. They're just looking for a link. And all of these efforts and -- at least with my experience on the Commissions -- it started with our past two Chairs and continues with Chairman Aplin to say let's go out and let's try to touch Texans and bring them into this program.

And I will just leave you kind of with this single thought. If we're going to do this well, it's keep -- keep the lines of communications open. Keep going out and talking to people because we have a former poet laureate Maya Angelou who said this: People may not remember what you said, they may not remember what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

So if we make everyone coming to our parks or hunting opportunities feel welcome, we're all -- we're all going to benefit. And Texas is on the leading edge of all this. We have the largest African-American population in the country by number. We have the second largest Hispanic population in the country. Right? So we need to -- we need -- we need to be -- and by the way, and we have the best people in the country across the board in Texas. So we just all need to get together and push forward and do the right things for Parks and Wildlife and other things in the State. With that, I'll be quiet. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Commissioner Bell. You've done a great job, by the way, on that.

Anyone else have any questions or comments for David?

David, thank you for your presentation.

MR. BUGGS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Have a good day.

We're going to move on to Work Session Item No. 10 through 14. They will be heard in Executive Session.

I have a little business first. At this time, I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 the Government Code referred to as the Open Meeting Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meeting Act, seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meeting Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplating litigation, deliberating evaluation of personnel under Section 551.074 of the Texas Open Meeting Act. We will now recess for Executive Session straight up noon, and we will be back shortly. Thank you for your time this morning, and we'll be back.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Welcome back from public[sic] session. We will now reconvene the Work Session, November 2nd, 2022, at 1:37 p.m.

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








CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you. We're now returning from Executive Session where we discussed Work Session Real Estate Items 10 through 12, Litigation Item No. 13, Personnel Matter Item No. 14.

If there are no further questions from the Commissioners, I'll place Items 10 through 12 on Thursday's Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Regarding Items No. 13 and 14, no further action is needed at this time.

I believe that's all the business we have to conduct today. Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its Work Session business. I declare us adjourned at 1:38.

MR. SMITH: Thank you.

(Work Session Adjourns)



I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand

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

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such

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

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my

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


Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: January 31, 2023

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