TPW Commission

Work Session, January 24, 2024


TPW Commission Meetings


January 24, 2024






CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right. Good morning, everyone. Before we begin, I will take roll. I, Chairman Jeffery Hildebrand, am present.

Vice-Chairman Bell?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Abell?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Doggett?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Foster?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Patton?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Rowling?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Scott?



This meeting is called to order January 24th, 2024, at 9:03 a.m.

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

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

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Thank you, Director Yoskowitz.

All right. Commissioners, as a reminder, please turn on your microphones and announce your name before you speak. Please remember to speak slowly for the court reporter.

The first order of business is the approval of minutes from the previous Work Session held November 1st, 2023, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: Commissioner Bell makes a motion for approval.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Is there a second?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All in favor, please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you.

Work Session Item No. 1, Update on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's progress in implementing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan.

Dr. Yoskowitz, will you make your presentation.

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

The Office of Internal Affairs is responsible upholding the best interest and confidence of the public and Department employees. They conduct and complete objective and independent investigations of alleged employee misconduct. Due to a recent retirement, a search to fill staff services officer position ensued. This position is a critical aspect to the units it supports and is responsible for providing advanced administrative support, managing daily operations, conducting information system and data management, as well as extensive coordination of staff, services, and other requests.

The Office of Internal Affairs and Internal Audit are pleased to announce the newest addition to their teams, Ms. Beth Hibbs, who joined the team to fulfill these important roles on November 1st, 2023.

Next I would like to officially and finally recognize -- where's Tim, Tim -- Tim Birdsong who took over the Inland Fisheries Division Director position effective November 1st. Tim is no stranger to leadership roles with the Inland Fisheries Division and performed admirably in the acting interim role since July of last year when Craig Bonds became Chief Operating Officer.

Tim's passion for fishing, aquatic resources stewardship, and building collaborative relationships is evident in each of his prior department Inland Fisheries roles, such as federal aid coordinator, habitat conservation branch chief, and then deputy division director, and now finally division director.

Tim is a 17-year veteran of the Department and brought valuable experience and insight with him from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Tim is a graduate of the National Conservation Leadership Institute, Governor Center for Management Development, Senior Management Program, and the Department's Natural Leaders Program. Tim's work has focused on collaborative partnerships, strategic and organizational planning implementation, program development and delivery.

His recognitions include recipient of the Fly Fishers International Conservation Award, National Fish Habitat Award, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation Award, and James A. Henshall Warmwater Fisheries Award, just to name a few. Tim has a knack for creatively planning and leveraging funding and other resources towards putting vision into action through collaborative teams. Please join me in congratulating Mr. Tim Birdsong on his new role within the Agency.

(Round of applause)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next we would like to recognize Cayley Birchfield, who began her job as a recruiter with the Department in Human Resources four years ago. She made it her goal to hire a workforce that is reflective of Texas. She started by looking at everything related to recruitment: What are the metrics, where are we recruiting, what are the colleges and universities that we're targeting, are the places that we visit showing any results, and who can we partner with to affect change.

Cayley took the lead in encouraging discussions that focus on these results and for that effort, she earned the 2023 Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency's Leadership Award. Cayley has focused her efforts on serving as a liaison for the Department's Al Henry Program, which is focused on recruit of minority students for internships. This is in partnership with funding support from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. The program has provided funding for student interns from Huston-Tillotson University. Cayley also is actively adding new universities such as University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Hispanic-Serving Institution, and is currently working with Prairie View A&M.

She leads the Agency's efforts on the SkillBridge Program, a program that provides military service members the opportunity to intern and transition from military service to the civilian workforce. Cayley and her team have worked to make it easier for the direct hire of veterans into positions at the Department.

Cayley is results oriented and committed to seeking out new opportunities to meet our future workforce challenges. Congratulations, Cayley, on serving as a leader at the Department and throughout the conservation communality. Cayley.

(Round of applause)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next we'd like to recognize some award -- some awards for Texas -- for Texas State Parks. In October of 2023, the Texas Travel Alliance named Texas State Parks the 2023 Heritage Award winner at their annual Texas Travel Summit. The Texas Travel Alliance is the primary advocate and voice for Texas travel industry in the state. The selection is based on the organization demonstrating a history of exceptional achievement, exemplary business practices, innovative corporate culture, and a commitment of excellence to their customers and their community.

One of the Texas State Park Systems key contributions to the tourism industry lies in its capacity to attract a diverse array of visitors both in state and out of state. Based on ZIP code data collected through the Park Business System, in 2022 state parks welcomed roughly 685,000 visitors from out of state. These included visitors from all 50 U.S. states and 51 other countries. The greatest international visitation came from Canada, England, and Germany.

This diverse appeal of our state parks has led to over 9 million annual visitors, driving year-round visitation and providing a substantial economic boost to nearby communities. And, in fact, in 2018, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation commissioned a report called the Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks. And what the research showed was that state parks generate more than 891 million dollars in sales activities throughout the state and had 240 million dollar impact on the incomes of Texas residents and supported an estimated 6,081 jobs throughout the state.

It is this award announcement of the Texas Travel Alliance noted that Texas State Parks stands as a testament to the interplay between tourism, conservation, and cultural heritage. Congratulations, Rodney and team.

(Round of applause)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Next I'd like to talk about a opportunity that has presented itself to the Department as a result of legislation that occurred last session. During the 88th Legislative Session, House Bill 4018 passed and became effective on September 1st of 2023. This legislation allows the Department to enter into agreements through an innovative conservation model providing both conservation and carbon credit-based revenue to the Agency.

It also authorizes the Department of nature-based structures on land primarily used for game or fish conservation protection or management. Additionally, projects may be constructed on Department land primarily used for parks, recreation, and historic sites as well.

Multiple divisions -- and in particular, Robin Riechers and Tammy Dunn led the charge to develop the first solicitation for the construction of a nature-based carbon sequestration infrastructure project on TPWD property. Private money may fund construction adjacent to select public lands and the Department will deposit any funds received for that purpose to the benefit of either state parks or game and fish management, depending upon where the project is located.

We are preparing to move as quickly as possible to secure additional partnerships that will benefit Texas and help support our mission. We appreciate the opportunity to -- provided by HB 4018 and the leadership of Chairman Trent Ashby, Senator Lois Kolkhorst, and Governor Abbott who signed the bill into law on June 2nd of last year.

The Department expects partners to fund all construction costs, maintain and repair structures for the life of the agreement, and share in generated revenue as a result of the carbon credits. An example would be the JD Murphree WMA Shoreline Project in the Salt Bayou Unit, which is currently in the solicitation phase and that solicitation closes on February 15th.

The request for proposals will then spur on action in which we generate additional revenues to the Department through protecting shorelines and also capturing carbon credit revenue.

Next I'd like to talk and give updates on the Land and Water Plan and the progression. With the approval of the Department's Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan at last November's Commission Meeting, I'm going to be giving these updates at every Commission Meeting going forward.

Staff are developing a dashboard for reporting our progress, and that will be coming soon. We'll provide graphical analysis of our progress, as well as numeric metrics. For the first quarter of fiscal year 2024, which is September 1st through November 30th of 2023, I would like to highlight the following items. Action Item 1.7, the goal is to stock 41 million fish fingerlings annually in Texas public waters. While most of this public -- this stocking will take place in the summer months, so far we have put in 5.8 million fingerlings throughout the state. 5.4 of those have been in coastal waters and 356,000 in inland waters. Action Item 3.1 add 82,000 acres to the state park system by 2033. Infrastructure Division's Land Conservation Program staff closed on land acquisitions at Lake Brownwood State Park and Goliad State Park in November of 2023. The Lake Brownwood acquisition added 869 acres to the park, including a significant amount of shoreline, almost more than doubling the acreage. And the Goliad State Park acquisition added 40 acres to the park, eliminating an important inholding that separated two parts of the park.

Additionally, Action Item 11.5 to introduce 2,000 Texans to the camping and outdoors through the Texas Outdoor Family Workshops. We have a total of 1,088 Texans who were introduced in the first quarter of last year. Eleven public camping workshops served 220 youth and 212 adults were hosted. Twenty-one commuter -- community partner camping workshops served 359 youth and 297 adults were hosted.

And then finally Action Item 14.2 complete 30 local park construction projects annually supported through the Recreation Grants Program. Eight projects were completed in the first quarter of this past -- this past year. Examples include the Heritage Park at Leon River in Belton, the Trevino Park in Beeville, and Paradise Pond in Port Aransas.

And with that, Chairman, that concludes my presentation and I'll take any questions.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Thank you, Director Yoskowitz.

Any questions or comments by the Commission?

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. One question, David. On the last item on 11.5, the campers exposed.


VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: I just wanted to make sure -- I'm aware of that, but I wanted to make sure that we have a tie-in for the Urban Outreach Committee because they've been put -- and I don't know if some of the activities there are captured here. They probably are. But I just wanted to make sure that we capture those activities as well so that your numbers are --

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Reflect that.

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: -- are reflecting that. And again, they may be included there. I'm just not aware. Maybe David -- David might know or someone else.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yeah, I'll follow up on that, Chairman.


DR. YOSKOWITZ: I would imagine they are, but let me follow up -- or, Vice-Chairman, let me follow up with that. Yep.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Any other questions? Any other questions?

Dr. Yoskowitz, on carbon sequestration, that -- give us a little more detail on that. That is a submittal that any individual or agency can make?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Well, so it's a request for proposals currently for that project at the W -- at the Murph -- the -- companies can make that proposal, bid on that project; but it's going to take substantial resources to do that because we're talking over 39,000 linear feet of living shoreline that will have to be established. So that's what we're looking for at this time.

I don't know. Robin or Tammy, do we have any proposals that have been submitted at this point?

MR. RIECHERS: (Shakes head negatively).

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Okay. So we're looking for established companies that have enough capital to enter into these.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: I see. Isn't Jim Blackburn doing something of that nature? Building -- trying to build reefs and to protect wetlands, which then has a whole calculation as to carbon sequestration; is --

DR. YOSKOWITZ: That's correct.


DR. YOSKOWITZ: That's correct.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And so he -- a group of his may submit for that type of application?



DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, they're available to do that as well as anybody else.



CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. And then just secondly on the Recreational Park Program that we've got, which I think is just fantastic, that is a much beloved program, I suspect. And kind of elaborate a bit on that. How helpful is that to these communities and are the vast majority of them, they just don't have the budget to kind of -- because this is generally around an enhancement of an existing park?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Well, it can be enhancements of existing recreational facilities or new city or county parks. So the amount that the Department pushes out every year varies, but let's say about around 25 million; but that can go up or down depending on budget and other needs. It's incredibly impactful, especially for those small communities that want to improve parks, get new parks in there.

The challenge that we also find though is that some of those -- a lot of those smaller communities need some hand holding from the Department, which we provide to get them through the application process. But it's really impactful. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: You know, as we think about the use of the Centennial Fund moving forward, I think a really exciting opportunity is with these resource-starved municipalities who have acreage available that somehow can partner with TPWD where maybe we take a lease, we acquire the acreage, we agree to install the infrastructure and run it.

I mean, it could be a really kind of quick hit on how do we expand the park system in the State of Texas. And so that's an area that I really want to work on is with mayors of all these big and small towns that really just don't have the budget to build and/or maintain these parks. I mean, I see it in the city of Houston right now. They just don't have any budget for parks and they're starved for them. So it's an area that I just I really want to focus on because I think, you know, it could just be such an enhancement to small and large cities.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Agreed, sir. Yeah.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right, let's see. Work Session Item No. 2, Financial Overview, Mr. Reggie Pegues -- Peg -- how do you pronounce that?

MR. PEGUES: Close enough. Pegues.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Pegues. Okay. No, it wasn't close at all. Sorry.

MR. PEGUES: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Commission members. For the record, my name is Reggie Pegues, Chief Financial Officer. This morning I will be presenting the financial overview covering the following topics: Fiscal year revenue summaries, FY '24 revenue summaries through December, and FY '24 budget adjustments through December. And these summaries will cover the primary revenue sources for the Agency: License revenue, state parks revenue, and boat revenues.

First, we have license revenue. Final FY '23 revenues were 111.1 million dollars. About 1.6 percent behind the final numbers for license year '22, but still strong compared to the pre-COVID years of LY '19 and before.

Next is a monthly comparison of that license revenue. Following the typical seasonal pattern, about 70 percent of the revenues occurred at the beginning of the season through -- from September through December and then a leveling off for the remainder of the year for the total of 111 million.

Next we have a two-year comparison by license type. You'll see a slight decline across all lines for a total variance of only 1.6 percent.

Moving on to state parks, final FY '23 revenues for state parks were 62.6 million. Slightly behind the record pace of '21 and '22, but still far in excess of the pre-COVID years of FY '20 and FY '19.

Next we have a monthly comparison of state parks revenue. And you'll see the typical seasonal pattern with the most revenues occurring from March through August in the busy peak periods.

Next we have a two-year comparison by revenue type. You'll see a 5.8 percent increase in activities and concessions, offset by a slight decline in other revenue categories, ending at a total variance of 3.5 percent.

Next we move over to boat revenues. Final FY '23 boat revenues of 23.7. Slightly behind again the record years of FY '21 and '22, but still outpacing the pre-COVID years.

Next is a monthly comparison of boat revenue. Once again, you'll see that the peak activity is in the spring and summer months from March through the end of the fiscal year August.

Next we have a two-year comparison by revenue type showing the distribution of the slight decline across registration titles and retained sales. Again, a variance of 3.4 percent.

Next we move on to the FY '24 summaries through December 31st. First, we have a five-year summary of license revenue through December. Year-to-date revenues of 74.9 are tracking strongly with FY '23. There's about a half percent variance between the two years.

Next is the monthly comparison of license revenue through December. December revenues of 6.7 are about 2 percent higher than the same period this time last year.

Next we have a license revenue comparison by type. 5.2 percent increase in resident hunt, offset by small declines in other licenses for .4 percent, again less than a half percent variance.

Moving on to state parks, we have a five-year comparison of revenue. FY '24 revenues year to date of 19.4 million. We're actually outpacing FY '23 by a million dollars.

Next is the monthly comparison of state parks revenue. December revenues of 4.7 million outpaced last December by about 9 percent.

Next is a two-year comparison of state parks revenue. You'll see an increase across all lines for a positive variance of 5.6 percent.

Finally moving over to boat revenues, we begin with a five-year comparison of boat revenues through December 31st. Total revenues are 4.3 million. Declined from FY '23 and this is the one area that we're kind of back towards the actual pre-COVID numbers. You'll see FY '20, we're on track with FY '20 so far through this fiscal year.

Next is the monthly comparison of boat revenue -- revenues of 700,000 for December are 15 percent behind the same period last year.

And finally a two-year comparison of FY '23 and FY '24, just showing the decline across all lines: Registration, titles, and retained sales tax.

Next up are FY budget adjustments through December. I'll start with the number that you approved in the Commission -- August Commission Meeting of 1.96 billion dollars, which includes a billion dollars for the Centennial Fund which passed, so that remains in our budget. Since that -- since that time, we've had some small tweaks to the budget. About a 3 percent variance versus the original budget. We've had 29.3 million of adjustments since the August Commission Meeting for FY '24. In order of amount, the largest increase was 24 point[sic] million for employee fringe. This covers amounts such as retirement, Social Security, and insurance. These are estimates based on payroll activity throughout the year. And the thing about these adjustments is that yearend, whatever the final expenditures are, we adjust the budget to equal actual expenditures for that. So this number will change as we expend funds throughout the fiscal year.

The next category is appropriated receipts of 11.9 million. The majority of that are donations made on behalf of the Agency, credit card fee recovery costs, and about 3.2 million of cost recovery is related to Operation Lone Star down at the border. And then some small adjustments for federal funds and capital constructions. Again, total adjustments of 29.3 million, giving us an adjusted budget at December of 1.98 billion.

This concludes my presentation. I'll take any questions at this time.


Any questions or comments by the Commissioners?

The only question I've got is have we, in terms of recurring revenue on licenses and automatic renewals, have we made any progress on that, Dr. Yoskowitz?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Chairman, yeah. So we -- the team is going through the process of streamlining -- first off, streamlining the licenses. So consolidating licenses where it makes sense, eliminating other licenses that don't make sense to have any longer. And then once that process is done, then the next step will be to ingrate that automatic renewal opportunities and other options. Yes.



CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: When do you think that might happen? By next hunting season?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: So I think we have a -- we have a little bit longer -- go ahead, yeah. Please, Jamie.

MS. MCCLANAHAN: Good morning. Good morning, Chairman. For the record, my name's Jamie McClanahan, IT. We are working with DIR to ensure that we have everything in place to do that. We right now have just started that conversation with them. So it may be not this next fiscal year, but the following.


MS. MCCLANAHAN: Oh, Department of Information Resources with --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: A state agency, yeah.

MS. MCCLANAHAN: -- the State of Texas.


MS. MCCLANAHAN: Which involves Texas by Texas and the processing -- the vendor that processes that is through DIR.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Well, just as, you know, quickly as we can expedite that, that would be great. I mean, it would be wonderful if we could get it by next hunting season, but --

MS. MCCLANAHAN: I understand. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- push hard. Okay.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right, thanks.

And then the last is do we have a program for state parks where you can buy a pass that gives you admittance to every park for -- I don't know -- a hundred dollars gets you kind of visits to all the parks? Do we have that program?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Well, we have an annual State Parks Pass Program and then variations on that. I'm going to let Rodney address that. I don't know if you're asking about gift cards or --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: No. I'm just saying if I want to visit every state park in the State of Texas and that would cost me X to do it individually, can I just go buy a pass for 200 bucks and --

MR. FRANKLIN: Yes, sir. For the record, Rodney Franklin, State Parks Director. We do have a Texas State Park Pass. A lot of -- very popular program. It is $75. I think we're looking at a price increase on that coming up in the fall, but it will be about $100, $95. But it gets you and your family or you and everybody in your vehicle into any Texas state park for free for a full year.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Okay. It might be good to include that in your automatic renewal program.

MR. FRANKLIN: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: It'd be nice to just be able to renew it automatically every year.

MR. FRANKLIN: Sure. Yes. I think currently -- just to speak on that a little bit, there is a notice that you have your card, you can go online and renew it and just keep the same card, so.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: But we might want to do it for them and just -- so.

MR. FRANKLIN: Thank you, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right. All right, thanks.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. Just one.


COMMISSIONER ABELL: We were talking about -- a few meeting ago, I think we had a conversation about an option for a lifetime state parks license and maybe the option of adding it to the lifetime hunting license, just sort of a super-super combo. Are we anywhere on that?

MR. FRANKLIN: Yes, sir. We do have a lifetime annual pass. Currently our rules permit the Executive Director by approval to issue that pass. We don't currently sell that pass. It was -- there's some history behind how that was developed, but there is a Gold Texas State Park Pass that can be issued at the behests of the Director, Executive Director. We've issued it in special circumstances for special needs for the Department. So we do have that and we can explore options to sell it if that's what you're looking at.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: I think that would be good to put that up for sale.

MR. FRANKLIN: Okay. We'll -- we will look into that as well.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right, thanks very much.

Work Session Item No. 3, Internal Audit Update. Ms. Brandy Meeks, please make your presentation.

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 our fiscal year '23 and '24 internal audit plans, our recent external audits and assessments, as well as introduce you to the peer review team who conducted our external quality assurance review.

So this slide show the status of our fiscal year '23 internal audit plan. Please take note of the yellow font under the status to the right. Those are the projects that have progressed since the last time we've met. We are currently in the reporting phase for the TAC 202 cybersecurity audit and we have now completed all 18 of our fiscal control audits. So this plan is pretty much done.

Our current audit plan, we've also made some progress on. If you'll notice under the advisory projects, we are now in the fieldwork phase for the infrastructure change order process advisory and in the reporting phase for the Sea Center point-of-sale inventory advisory. We are also working to follow-up on any audit items due for remediation during the two first two quarters of this year. We have also attended one meeting for the BRITS rewrite and we hope to attend many other meetings that we're invited to so that we can just be a fly on the wall during that project. And then we are also working to fill two internal audit vacancies at this time.

As far as fiscal control audits are concerned, we've made progress with our Law Enforcement office fiscal control audits. We have completed four of those and we are currently actually in the fieldwork phase now for the Corpus Christi Law Enforcement Office. As far as external audits and assessments are concerned, the same three projects that were on the slides the last time we met are still ongoing. Nothing's been completed since the last time we've met. We've got the Deepwater Horizon Texas Trustee Audit of the statement of receipts and expenditures for fiscal years '20 through '22, the Office of the Governor's Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund Project is still ongoing, as well as the Comptroller's Post-Payment Audit.

So this concludes my internal audit update. If there's any questions, I'd be happy to take them before I move on to introduce our peer review team.


Any questions/comments by a Commissioner?

All right.

MS. MEEKS: Okay.


MS. MEEKS: So now I'd like to introduce Ms. Melvin. She served as our Peer Reviewed Team Lead on our current quality assurance assessment. She is the Chief Auditor for the Texas Department of Public Safety. She has over 25 years experience as the Chief Audit Executive for various state agencies. She is a certified public accountant and certified internal auditor. She's also a respected leader in our internal audit community. She served as Vice-Chair of the Institute of Internal Auditors International Public Sector Guidance Committee, which issued guidance for governmental auditors worldwide. She currently leads the Internal Audit Leadership Development Program for state agency, as well as serves as the recorder for the state agency Internal Audit Forum and she also recently completed a six-year term as an elected trustee for the Texas Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees. She has also led numerous peer reviews for a state agency internal audit functions.

Mr. Boles served as the peer review team member on this assessment and he is an Audit Manager for Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He has over 22 years experience as an internal auditor for state agencies. He has conducted performance, compliance, management control, and advisory service engagements during his 20 plus years in government auditing. He's a certified internal auditor and a certified government -- government auditing professional.

So I feel very fortunate to have had these very knowledgeable leaders in our community to audit our audit shop.

So with that, I'd like to welcome Ms. Melvin and Mr. Boles. Welcome back to TPWD.

MR. IAN BOLES: Good morning, Chairman and Commission. Thank you for your time this morning. As Ms. Meeks mentioned, we have recently concluded a peer review. For those of you who are not familiar, essentially the auditors periodically have to be audited by other auditors. It's just to ensure that they are in compliance with numerous internal auditing standards, the IIA, federal standards, as well as Texas Government Code, and the most restrictive of these is a three-year period. So it has to be conducted each three years.

With that, I will give you Ms. Melvin to provide the results.

MS. CATHERINE MELVIN: All right. Sorry. I fell behind on my clicking duties.

MR. IAN BOLES: I might have went too fast.

MS. CATHERINE MELVIN: Absolutely. Before we give you the final results of the peer review, I always like this slide, just to kind of pause here, and just to kind of reinforce that a review of the internal audit function is not just a review of your Internal Audit Director. It's really looking at three components and how well those work together because it really takes a governing board, executive management, and your Internal Audit -- Audit director to work in concert with one another to have an effective internal function. So we really looked at how those three things work well together.

And with that, our -- unfortunately, our standards limit the language that we can use and so while this sounds a bit underwhelming, please trust that that is the highest of three possible ratings. Internal auditors are -- you know, we are risk adverse. But, yes, our conclusion is is that your internal audit function does reach the highest level of possible ratings.

Just a couple other things we have. Ian and I looked at a lot of things. As he mentioned, Job 1 was to look at compliance and to ensure that your internal audit function meets all the standards. And so that was definitely a yes. But we also looked at some best practices and was there anything maybe within our combined experience that we could share with you-all and, of course, with Ms. Meeks about you might improve things or enhance things, if you will.

And so start with some of the highlights. These are some of the comment that we heard over and over again and in our review, we were very impressed with too. So, No. 1, the risk assessment process. I know you-all are very familiar with that. Mr. Scott, I think you spoke a little bit about this, about how each person -- or each member of management has the opportunity to provide input and ultimately leading up to that audit plan and so that audit plan is really reflective of the vision of senior management and, of course, of the governing board of what you want the internal audit function to be focused on.

The second thing was that the team was very professionally staffed. While not large -- and we'll talk more about that later -- four of the five members carry professional certifications. So that is very important. No. 3, consistently in surveys and in interviews, your internal auditors are very well regarded. So we had very positive comments consistently, again, both in interviews and in surveys about Ms. Meeks and her team as well.

And then lastly, we just wanted to commend Ms. Meeks because she is a recognized leader in the internal audit community, which you may not be aware of; but certainly in the circles that we run with, she is very well respected. She is the current Chair of the State Agency Internal Audit Forum. It's a two-year term and so she's very, very well-thought of there.

All right. And then we just have a few enhancement opportunities that we included in our report. These are not compliance requirements. They're certainly -- these are just, you know, some things we noticed and it's something that might be helpful to you-all. And the first is, is to address the adequacy of the Office of Internal Audit Resources. And so just looking at the size of the shop, looking at the turnover that they've had. At the time of our review, five out of seven positions were staffed. I think that's where they're still at now. And so if you think about that, that's -- you know, they're operating at two-thirds capacity and so imagine any of your divisions running at two-thirds capacity. You know, it could certainly have an impact.

The second recommendation we have is to clarify the reporting relationship and this is more about ensuring the independence of the function and I'll -- you know, we're internal auditors. So we have a lot of -- and the independence of your internal audit function is what makes your internal audit valuable. So that's really important for both management, for you as governing board, is that you need your internal auditor to be independent so that whatever they say -- if they say positive things or they say enhancements are needed, you can rely upon that work.

Independence is not something that the Internal Audit Director can create or, you know, make for themselves. It's something that can only be granted by you. And so only the governing board can provide that independence and ensure that independence and so the things that you do, including, you know, approving the audit plan, you know, signing the charter, conducting a performance evaluation or reviewing her compensation, you know, staffing, resources, those types of things are the things that you do to ensure that independence.

And then the last is just to update charters and this is a little more administrative; but we noticed the last time the charter was signed, there was a different Chairman and a different Audit Subcommittee Chair. And so since you want to update the charter, it's a good opportunity to go through and ensure that it carries the language and specifies the responsibilities that you want for your internal audit function.

Okay. And then with that, I think that's all we have. We'd be happy to answer any questions.


Any questions?

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. Not a question, just a comment. One, I just wanted to thank both of you for the work you did there and the interaction you had and I know you spent a significant amount of time and also the time you spent interviewing Commission members and other staff to make sure you had the right information. So we appreciate the input.

MS. CATHERINE MELVIN: Thank you very much.

MR. IAN BOLES: It's our pleasure.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Just a question. So you're on DPS and TCEQ. So the internal audit, what -- you'll take different agencies, the auditors from those agencies and you'll audit another agency and so who audits you?

MS. CATHERINE MELVIN: Right. So it can't be Brandy now, so she's out. And it can't be Ian because we worked together on this project. But I'll -- like when I'm -- I'm due for a review next year and so I'll be seeking somebody in the internal audit community to come and review, ensuring that we kind of round-robin to ensure independence.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. And so I assume it's State law that our auditors have got to be audited by someone else?

MS. CATHERINE MELVIN: Yes, it is State law. It's also in our standards. So it's a requirement both statutory and by professional standards that that happens.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right. Seems like a lot of work, but okay. Understood.

So, Director Yoskowitz, let's look at the enhancement opportunities that we have and let's rectify those. Okay?

All right, thank you.


MR. IAN BOLES: Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Next, Work Session Item No. 4, 2024-2025 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Spotted Seatrout Harvest Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Mr. Geeslin, please make your presentation.

MR. GEESLIN: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Dr. Yoskowitz. For the record, my name is Dakus Geeslin. I serve as our Deputy Director in the Coastal Fisheries Division. Today I bring you a proposal related to Spotted seatrout regulations.

I'll start off with a timeline. This is really kicked off -- and the reason I'm here today -- kicked off from the benchmark storm, kind of the largest winter freeze relate fish kill we've had since the 1980s. You-all will recall that storm impacted Spotted seatrout up to the tune of 160,000 Spotted seatrout succumbed to that winter storm coast-wide. Following that freeze, we enacted emergency regulations which took us through the fall of 2021. Then we enacted some temporary regulations, which really extended from Matagorda all the way through the -- through Lower Laguna Madre to the -- to the Mexican border. Those temporary regulations expired or sunset at the end of August 2023. And prior to that, we began hearing concerns from anglers about the need to keep those more restrictive harvest regulations in place to further accelerate some of the recovery that we did see in the some of the bay systems.

So with that, we -- we recognized that need. We went out and conducted public scoping to gather input from our angling community. We also contracted with Texas A&M University to conduct an e-mail based survey. From both that survey from A&M and both from the public scoping meetings -- and we talked about this in November -- we saw that the majority of anglers were in favor of more a restrictive or a smaller bag limit and a tighter slot limit.

I provided this summary to you-all in November and then together we formulated that current proposal which exists today: That three-fish bag, a 15- to 20-inch slot limit, with the ability to harvest one trout over 25 inches, that oversized trout per day.

You-all recall this familiar graph. This is our gillnet catch rates. This is how we look at our trout abundance within the population. This is our primary tool in evaluating -- evaluating stocks of our finfish. This graph shows the coast-wide average spring gillnet catch rates with the years displayed on the X axis and the catch rate displayed on the Y axis. That white line is the ten-year average.

The take-home here, as you can see in those last -- last three years after that COVID gap, take-home here is the catch rate's been less than the ten-year average and some of the lowest we've seen since 2009.

So again, our proposal today is a 15- to 20-inch slot limit, a three-fish bag, and one oversized trout and that will be over 25 inches allowed as part of the daily bag limit. The expected benefits of the proposal include several of the key components that we look at. That primary benefit being an increase in the spawning stock biomass. We've talked about that a lot. That's simply the cumulative weight of sexually mature reproducing female trout within the population. That's simply leaves more -- more of those females in the water to spawn, thus increasing our recruitment to the fishery and helping with getting those catch rates up.

When we add the benefit of the bag and the slot limit, coupled with that oversized fish per day, we'd expect a 25 percent increase in spawning stock biomass over a generation of trout. That's about seven years. But there's benefits along the way. Within -- within two years, we would expect about 70 percent of that percent increase to be realized and after about four years, we'd expect about 90 percent of that increase to be realized as well.

There's also -- also that added -- added benefit of an increase in fish greater than 25 inches within the water. If we're protecting that size class from 20- to 25-, you're allowing those to grow and presumably a reasonable expectation is those fish will enter into that greater than 25-inch size class. So I feel like that will give us a lot of the bang for the buck in achieving some of those bigger fish within the water.

So following our proposal development there at our November Commission Meeting, we hit the ground -- or hit the coast, rather -- and held six public hearings along the coast. We held all the way from the Louisiana border all the way down to the Mexican border. We also held a virtual public hearing and all sum and total, we had about 400 individuals participate in either that public hearing process in person or about 130 within the virtual -- virtual public hearing. We also developed a public comment portal on our website so folks can share their position on any of these regulatory proposals online and I'll talk about a summary of those public comments right now.

As of -- we submitted this slide deck last Thursdays. I wanted to just catch you up on a quick update. As of 12:30 p.m. yesterday, that total comment number -- you see it at 2280 -- that's jumped up to almost 2800. We're sitting right at about 27 and change and -- but the percentages, what -- the relative percentages to those various comment categories really hasn't changed that much. A percentage point or so. You'll see that 37 percent of the comments we received thus far in support of the proposal. Of note, our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee is in support of the proposal. They support the three-fish bag and the 15- to 20-inch slot. However, they do recommend that we prohibit the take of an oversized trout until we have such time -- until we have time to implement a tag system. So that would lead to one fish over 28 inches is what the committee -- the advisory committee suggested per year and that's similar to our Red drum tag that we have in place right now.

Also the Coastal Conservation Association, or CCA, is supportive of the proposal. They're supportive again of that three-fish bag, the 15- to 20-inch slot. They are supportive of a tag system as well and that we prohibit the take of an oversized trout over 25 inches until such time that we have an oversized tag system in place. They also recommend a forward-looking implementation date -- so the license year 25-26, that turns about in September 1 of 2024 -- for adequate time for our staff and the Department to implement that oversized tag system.

Those in opposition of the proposal compromise 62 percent and I'll really kind of unpack that category of opposition in these next two slides. One percent of the comments were neutral to the proposal.

All right. So within that category of opposition, I'll talk now about the varying degrees of opposition we received. Of all the comments we've received to date, 26.5 of those -- 26.5 percent of those completely oppose the proposal. All components of it. Wholly opposed to the bag, the slot, the oversized fish. And this group of commenters felt that their desire to maintain the current regulations, the regulations were a government overreach, and limits in the form of regulation negatively impact coastal sport fishing, and the fishing trip expense was no longer worth going out to fish, and the regulations were not needed.

So now I'll hop down to those that partially opposed, partially oppose the proposal. And this category of comments compromised 35.5 percent of the total comments. Now this category opposed just one or more of those components of the proposal: Either the bag, the slot, or the oversized fish. So you could also interpret this as this comment -- this category of comments partially supported some of the proposal. Okay?

So of those that partially opposed this, the proposal, the partial -- the partial opposition, the nature of those comments were the following: The desire to harvest at least one trout over 20 inches; the desire again for an annual oversized tag, as opposed to a daily allowance of one oversized as part of the bag limit. Now I will share that that was the most commonly shared specific category of opposition that we saw. Others felt that no retention -- absolutely no retention of an oversized trout whatsoever. They felt the daily oversize catch is excessive and the concern that our proposal targets the large female trout and productive breeding fish.

Now I will go -- with that, based on the -- based on our conversation here in November and based on the public comments that we received in opposition of the one oversized trout per day and as part of the bag limit and the number of comments we received in support of a tag system for an oversized trout -- much like -- again, much like the tag system we available right now for our Red drum -- our team performed some additional analysis related to that added benefit of a tag versus the daily oversized fish.

So what you see here before you with the three-fish bag and a 15- to 20-inch slot, one oversized fish per year, the benefits of the spawning stock biomass based on the various oversized classes here, you will see that a tag system of let's just say that 28-inch -- 28-inch oversized fish tag, one per -- one per year, would provide an additional 1 percent to the spawning stock biomass. That's in addition to that 25 percent that we talked about earlier.

And I'll go ahead and say this. I don't want to minimize the increase to spawning stock biomass, but there is a -- there is additional benefit and value of keeping those bigger fish in the water. As a -- as a fellow angler, if I'm -- you know, if there's more fish in the water, my odds of catching one of those bigger fish go up. A lot of folks are drawn to those bigger fish and that opportunity to catch those bigger fish within our bays and estuaries. That's simply -- simply an added benefit and an extra value in the way that our anglers specifically target those bigger fish.

And I'll go ahead and -- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this, Commissioners. And it's not included on a slide, but we experienced a -- we experienced a minor freeze last week. Last week. I feel like we dodged a bullet. Most of the fish kills that our teams observed coast-wide were in kind of small, back, isolated lakes: Pringle Lake, Vinsons Slough, Fence Lake. Those are the areas that are typically -- we know those are typically hit hard during those freezes. And while that freeze of last week wasn't near as impactful as some of the freezes -- more recent freezes -- I believe it does highlight the vulnerable nature of our trout fishery to those freezes and the need -- it really highlights the need to build resilience within that stock and be proactive with our management actions and enable those fish -- build a more robust trout stock and enable those fish to weather -- weather the storm, so to speak, so they can recover quicker out of the next freeze event. It's not a -- it's not a when if it's coming. It's a when.

So with that, I request this item be placed on Thursday agenda for public comment and action and happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Thank you, Mr. Geeslin.

So any questions or comments of Mr. Geeslin by the Commission?

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: This is Commissioner Rowling. Dakus, sorry. Maybe I didn't understand the previous slide. The -- is the baseline it's showing at the bottom if we did issue a tag? Shouldn't the baseline be what we proposed where it's unlimited -- well, it's not unlimited because you have a bag limit, but --


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: -- every day you can catch one over 25, right?

MR. GEESLIN: That's correct. And that would -- and that is -- good question, Commissioner Rowling. And that is reflected in that 25. There's just so few of those fish caught, that it really doesn't increase the spawning stock biomass. It increased it less than 1 percent. But as you get -- the fish get bigger, they add more mass. They simply add more mass to that spawning stock biomass. So as you move up into bigger fishes --


MR. GEESLIN: -- they contribute more to that spawning stock biomass.




VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: Hey, Dakus. This is Commissioner Bell. Is -- was there any additional thought or comment about instead of a 25-inch, maybe a 28- or 30-inch?

MR. GEESLIN: Certainly we've heard that from our Coastal Resource Advisory Committee. We've heard that through different public comments and we've -- that's why we provided this kind of that -- those -- that range of oversized trout. And, you know, we'll remind the Commission that we do have that oversized trout tag at -- set at 28 inches with our Red drum as well.

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: And if we -- and if we did something like that, that would bring kind of the -- would that bring the regulations more into or the oversight more into alignment? Would it be easier on the oversight?

MR. GEESLIN: I think from an end user angling perspective, I think it brings consistency within the regulations. I do.

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: And lastly, just in terms of the -- implementing the tag system here, how onerous do you think that is on the angler to do that here?

MR. GEESLIN: On the angler I don't think it's very onerous at all. I think it's probably more onerous on our team here.

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: Okay, yeah. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: So I -- Commissioner Foster. I just -- I want to be sure I understand what it is you're proposing. Are you proposing that we implement the tag system, or are you proposing that we have the daily over?

MR. GEESLIN: As it is right now, I'm proposing the one over per day. But I wanted to highlight the added benefit of that tag, simply based on -- we had a fairly robust conversation about this in November and we've also seen quite a few comments come in related to that practice of implementing the tag system. But to your point, Commissioner Foster, my proposal is -- is what it is, that includes that one oversize per day and that oversize would be at 25 inches.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: And it's still your opinion that that's the best approach or you've just kind of gone that far down the road and you don't want to change to the tag?

MR. GEESLIN: Well, I'll say the -- I'll say anything can change, but the proposal -- we gathered comments based on that specific proposal. And I think there's some options out there, but the proposal is what it is today.


COMMISSIONER ROWLING: This is Commissioner Rowling. Dakus, would you -- even if we implement the proposal today, would you suggest that we move towards a tag system, while it may take a couple seasons to get there? And when you said a second ago that it would be cumbersome on staff to do that, is that on the implementation side or is that kind of ongoing monitoring of that.

MR. GEESLIN: Yeah. No, great question. To your first point, would I support that, I think that's a discussion we can have here. I think there is added benefit. I think there is added benefit. We've certainly heard it from our anglers. It leaves those bigger fish in the water that draw folks to, you know, to catch those bigger fish that draw folks from the various areas of Texas with that opportunity to catch those biggest fish.

Related to the implementation, I can tell you after following our November conversation, we've had some extensive conversations internally with both our licensing team within financial resources, but also our IT team. And I don't want to put anybody on the spot, but I've been assured that we could have a tag system in place by August 15th to be prepared for that next license year.

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: Commissioner Bell again. So I guess what I'm hearing on one hand is there may be -- there may be a window of opportunity to address this issue again in that -- because the one thing that kind of through me off initially was just the numb -- the percentage in opposition. But when you break down the opposition --


VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: -- it actually -- it actually translates very differently. So -- and you talked about the impact over the -- kind of that -- you called it the seven-year life span or --

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: And where we are two years with the 75 percent impact, four years with the 90 percent impact. So it seems that consideration of moving towards a tag is not unwise and it seems like the length of being a little longer is not -- is not unwise either.

MR. GEESLIN: I -- I don't want to dodge your question, but I think there's an opportunity -- there's an opportunity here to vote this proposal up or down and then come back -- come back -- I could also seek permission to publish within the Texas Register the notion of a tag and an associated fee with that tag. We could also make that movement and vote that one up or down in the March Commission Meeting.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Commissioner Scott. I don't know, Dakus, if this has any relation or correlation; but I've had some friends -- born and raised in the Galveston area -- and they have commented to me recently, about a month ago, they asked me a question and I did not know the answer to it. And I said I'll -- I've got a meeting coming and I'll ask.

And so -- and I don't know if this ties into what you're trying to accomplish by increasing our fish, but they told me that -- different groups of them -- one, the -- I guess you'd call it the west -- the west shore of Galveston Bay, that the grass is all -- it's just basically gone. And then some others that discovered Matagorda Bay way back when it was huge, the grass and everything is gone out of a major amount of the shoreline on it.

So what is my answer to them about where has the grass gone? And -- and in your experience, what do you think effect that's having on the overall trout population?

MR. GEESLIN: To the grass, and we are -- we are noticing some, you know, some declines within various species of seagrass, especially on that upper coast. A lot of that is -- there's several factors influencing that is the further up the coast you go, the more muddy the water gets. It's just simply more turbid. So that light, the sunlight, isn't able to penetrate -- penetrate through that water column to hit that seagrass to nourish that and provide it the sunlight it needs to grow. So we've got a little -- we've got an issue there.

There's probably some other factors there, some nutrients at play in those bigger areas, those bigger bay systems that receive so much more of the water and receive a larger nutrient load that can impact those seagrass. And certainly, you know, spawning sea -- I mean, spawn -- all Spotted seatrout utilize various habitat features and seagrass is a big one. Seagrass helps, you know, those fish kind of resort to cover, feed, nurture, grow, you know, hide from other predators. So, yeah, there's probably a little -- a little factor there that's influencing some of the Spotted seatrout along the coast, not only in Galveston and Matagorda, but some of the other areas as well.


DR. YOSKOWITZ: Chairman --

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. Just so I understand, the restricted regulations that we passed before have expired. So currently today you could keep five trout, correct?

MR. GEESLIN: That is correct.


MR. GEESLIN: Within 15 to 25 inches.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Right. So if we voted this down tomorrow, then essentially we're allowing that five -- five-fish bag to remain in place.

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: So, you know, I'm in favor of going ahead and passing what we've got and then looking at -- you know, looking at a tag system. It seems -- if I understand correctly, there's a 2 percent difference between the proposal and the most restrictive regulation, right?

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: So I don't think, we'll -- in my opinion -- and correct me if you think I'm wrong -- I don't think we'll be doing a whole lot of harm to the resource by allowing the regulation as proposed to go through tomorrow.

MR. GEESLIN: Especially if we were to add on a tag. If I get the clear direction that we want to seek permission to publish a tag and the associated fee in March and then we could adopt that in May, yeah, your window of five -- or oversized fish there would be -- would be --


MR. GEESLIN: -- really narrow.




MR. RIECHERS: Excuse me. I want to follow-up on that question. Robin Riechers, Director of Coastal Fisheries. So one of the things that we do have to -- if you do want to direct us to do the tagging system starting in September, we really -- for our IT purposes and our Gordon-Darby licensing system, we definitely do need that direction either today or tomorrow so that we can start putting in places the things that we need to do for that to take place by September 1. So I would urge you, if that's what you would like us to do, to, you know, be clear about that so that we can go forward with that.

And also as Dakus has mentioned, based on some of the legal requirements, we have to have another publication to execute that in Texas Register. So we -- to execute it the way it's been talked about, we will have to do that.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Chairman, if I could have James Murphy step in and just kind of explain a little bit more of the legal.

MR. MURPHY: Yeah. For the record, James Murphy, General Counsel to the Department. What we'd be looking at here, as Dakus and Robin said, is permission to publish for a March consideration of adoption of a rule. Essentially that would replace the current one oversized fish in the daily bag with this new tagging system. That would mean we'd send out a Texas Register notice with that proposal that we would develop here over the next couple weeks that Dakus said we've already been talking internally about. That would then go to the Register with 30 days public comment for the March meeting. That would then most likely become effective -- excuse me -- as soon as sometime in May. We do have a 20-day waiting period before a proposed rule becomes effective after filing with the Secretary of State and we do have to respond to the nearly significant public comment that we've received and that does take some staff time. So, yeah, we'd be looking at the possibility of having that in effect as soon as May. But as you've heard, we're looking at, you know, getting that tag system up more in the mid-August timeframe. And so there would be a period of time, Commissioner Abell, where we would be still transitioning with the one oversized fish in the daily bag until we have that replacement in place for the new license year.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Doggett.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: Yeah, Commissioner Doggett. Mr. Geeslin, earlier you said that during the freeze we lost 160,000; is that --

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir. That's the February of 2021 freeze.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: Okay. And so I'm trying to put all the percentages in perspective here and our limits. So what percentage is that of the population?

MR. GEESLIN: You know, and great question. I will say that we don't -- we don't count every fish. What we look at is relative abundance within our catch rates, but I can tell you --

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: Well, you didn't count all the freezes, right? So you --

MR. GEESLIN: Most definitely. It paled in comparison to the '83 and '89 freezes. But I can tell you on a low year, our landings through our creel surveys -- and those are fish that are brought across the dock that we count and then they're expanded -- on a low year, we see about 300,000 trout harvested. On a very high year, which is way back in that timeframe, we've seen up to close to a million, 900,000 trout harvested.


MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: So what do you feel the population is? Is there some science on that that gives you a number?

MR. GEESLIN: I'd hate to -- I'd hate to wager a guess. Much, much larger than that. We know folks practice catch and release and the population also compromises all those fish that are outside of those harvest regulations as well.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: Well, I mean if you harvest 300,000, I mean there's got to be millions of fish, right?

MR. GEESLIN: I would say that's a safe bet.


MR. GEESLIN: At least.


MR. GEESLIN: I'll say this. After the freeze, we stocked alone that Feb -- that year 2021, we stocked 10 million, 10 million Spotted seatrout. Now all those won't grow and recruit into the fishery, but that's the effort of our enhancement program to kind of supplement and enhance that population and that's our goal within our hatchery program is to stock 10 million Spotted seatrout along the coast.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: You think -- you think having the science to estimate the population would be very, very useful to you, especially setting limits, trying to rehabilitate. All this action we're doing is to help the pop -- there's got to be some science that can tell you what the -- you know, within a reasonable margin what the population is. That would be very valuable, I'd think.

MR. GEESLIN: I would agree. It's most definitely easier in some of the closed water systems -- lakes, reservoirs, ponds. It's extremely difficult to do that along, you know, 360 miles of coast within Texas. So we've been using that -- we've been using those catch rates, that catch-per-unit effort since the early 70s to really kind of monitor our trends and those -- the relative abundance. And coupled with our creel surveys, that really get at that question how many fish are coming across the docks from our anglers harvesting from that resource.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: So you think since the harvest is a third of what it was before the freeze, that possibly the population decreased by two-thirds?

MR. GEESLIN: At some point prior to the freeze, the highest number we've seen is about 900,000 Spotted seatrout being harvested.


MR. GEESLIN: In more recent times, it's been on that lower end, closer to 300,000.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: With the same number of fishermen?

MR. GEESLIN: Fishermen has actually increased.


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, Patton. I -- my comment here or question really is specifically related to introducing this tag concept to what's already been published and talked about and discussed. I'm going to offer -- you know, call it my feedback from Port Aransas, Baffin Bay, Port Mansfield areas, what's out there currently, the three-fish bag -- which I think we're under-celebrating -- is almost, seems to me, a unanimously, collaboratively, all in favor say aye kind of deal. So we're doing -- we're doing really good work there. We've got a -- you know, Parks and Wildlife's has got a really good -- we're wearing a white hat.

The 15- to 20- seems to be very almost unanimously well received. Protecting the 20- to 25-, in and of itself, is a big deal. I feel like personally there's a shift of almost like the inland fisheries catch and release, we're getting that mentality in the coastal area and having the one 25- with no tag, but just having the one 25- for those trophy fishermen or the people that maybe once in a lifetime kind of catch it, seems to be a very good, very efficient -- you know, Commissioner Bell's comment about the angler, you know, is it -- is it -- is it -- add -- I do think it adds a step to the angler to have a tag and monitor a tag and keep up with the tag. I think we're literally opening, you know, a kettle of fish here if we want to introduce this tag at this stage of the game.

I think we've got a really good three-fish bag, 15- to 20-slot. We shouldn't make it any harder or more difficult or open ourselves up to be, you know, a government agency trying to just regulate ourselves unnecessarily. So if we need a tag in the future, let's take it up in the future. That's really my two cents worth. I guess if I need to ask a question: Do you have any problem with anything I said there, Dakus?

MR. GEESLIN: Well, I will -- I agree with you that the most commonly shared piece of opposition is to the one oversize per day. We're hearing a lot of support for that tag. But we -- to your point, Commissioner Patton, we are hearing that the three-fish -- three-fish bag and that 15- to 20-inch slot, by and large the majority of anglers are really supportive of that -- those two components of the proposal.

COMMISSIONER ROWLING: Again, I would just say on the -- what Commissioner Abell said, it doesn't move the needle big on biomass; but leaving the big fish in the water has to give people more opportunity to catch a big fish versus people who are out there every day keeping a 25-incher. You just -- the odds of the one-time guy going out there being able to catch the big fish is going to increase, while it may not increase the biomass in a huge amount. I mean, logic has to tell you that. And we're doing it with redfish anyway. It's not -- once we get it implemented, it's not overly complicated.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. To both points. Is there a compromise somewhere to stay away from the tag system and allow a daily harvestable large fish say at 28 inches or something like that that would sort of be a compromise in the middle?

MR. GEESLIN: I think that's something we could certainly entertain. Anything's possible within that -- within that regulatory structure to set that -- set that oversize limit at any one of these -- any one of these --

COMMISSIONER ABELL: I mean, there's so -- I think I might have said that last time too. I mean, there's so few fish anyway. It seems like that gets you around having to come up with a whole tag system, even if it's at 30. I mean, because your odds of catching one every day are none.

MR. GEESLIN: There's very few of those big fish. I mean, within our landings, less -- and even above 25, less than 1 percent of those fish landed, less than 1 percent are 25 inches and greater. When you start getting up into the 30-inch class, rather large trout, that's less than two-one-hundredths of a percent that we see landed. We see landed.

Now a lot of folks -- and I will agree with Commissioner Patton that a lot of folks that are catching -- we've seen a shift. And lot of folks that are catching those bigger -- I'll say trophy trout -- they're practicing catch and release. So they're not coming across our docks.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Any other questions?

I've got a couple. If I look at the 26 percent is totally opposed, the 35 and a half percent actually is asking for more regulation than what we're -- than what we're thinking about here today. So we are, I think, being relatively soft on regulation as comparatively to that 35 and a half percent. So that puts you at 72, 73 percent of the people want this.

And to Commissioner Patton, 15- to 20- and I don't think there's any -- there's not any conflict on that, as well as the three-bag limit. It gets to this 25-inch, 28-inch tag, no tag. What was the basis that the 25-inch was set on?

MR. GEESLIN: That was probably before my time. But at some point, you reach that -- reach that size class where there are simply just not that many fish above that -- you know, as I said, there's less than 1 percent of what we see landed above that 25-inch.

Chairman, I'm guessing it was probably associated with the ability to harvest one of those really large -- one of those really large trout, but also balancing that there's so few and far between out in the -- out in the environment.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: On your Slide 10, you talk about -- I mean, there's essentially no difference in biomass from really, I mean, all the way from 28 up to, you know, greater than 32. I mean, just slightly. But that's one fish per year. When you -- when you do the math on -- hypothetically -- with the no tag that you could be taking a 28- to 30-inch trout on a daily basis, that would clearly affect your calculation on biomass.

MR. GEESLIN: I would say it would affect it very minimally simply because -- and you're going to get tired of me saying this -- they're just the unicorns of the bays. There's so few of those fish out there and they do comprise, you know, a large -- those large fish when you do the tally, they do comprise -- and I'll give you some numbers here. The 30-inch fish, greater than 30-inch fish, they comprise 3.4 percent of the spawning stock biomass just simply because of their -- there's more mass --


MR. GEESLIN: -- associated with those big fish. Greater than 28, an 8.6 percent proportion of that spawning stock biomass. So the cumulative weight of all those sexually mature females, 8.6 percent of those are greater than -- greater than 28 inches.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right. So what's the -- what's the limit on Red drum? Twenty-eight?

MR. GEESLIN: It's -- we've got a 20- to 28-inch keep slot.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And is there any benefit to the angler just on having symmetry as it relates to 28/28?

MR. GEESLIN: Absolutely. I do believe there is, especially as we recruit new entrance into the sport, I think there's value in that consistency having that from one -- you know, that's one of our more commonly fished or targeted species is Red drum and Spotted seatrout. I think there is value in having that consistency just for the sake of understanding and I point to our law enforcement, there's probably some ease in enforcement if you have some consistency across those highly sought after bay species.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And I know two different species, but similar patterns with Red drum in terms of takes are down and...

MR. GEESLIN: I would say that, yes. Yes, catches, everything since COVID. Catches have been decreased, but our Red drum -- Red drum aren't nearly as susceptible to these freeze events that our Spotted seatrout are.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. So I don't know if there's support for this or if we could do it, but if we said three-fish limit, 28-inch greater than, and one per day and then ultimately maybe going to a tag limit. I take Commissioner Patton's perspective well. Less regulation is better in the world. The path forward if we implemented three and 28, no tag, can we have another discussion around the tag prior to actual implementation of it?

MR. MURPHY: Chairman, yes. So to clarify in this proposal, we have, you know, reviewed the possibility of moving from 25- to 28- or to 30- and we do think that that's a logical outgrowth of the proposal that's before you tomorrow for a vote. So if you instructed staff today change that to a 28- or 30- for that daily bag oversized fish, we can accomplish that in this proposal.

If you would like to explore the tagging system, we do not feel that that's a logical outgrowth of what we have proposed. There's a fee component to it. It opens up other sections and we would need to do a new economic analysis of the impacts of the rule when you create that tag and so you have a couple options there.

One would be if you wanted significant discussion, you'd be looking at a permission to publish item in March where we have the opportunity to really talk through how you would like to proceed. That would mean an adoption in May. But as a practical matter, that's not going to be available for this next license year because of the administrative work that we described on the programming and all of that. We would need to know sooner than later if we were going to tags to get that up and running for -- for this next license year. But certainly there's the opportunity for discussion in March during the Work Session on that after we have submitted that for public comment.

If you would like to simply, you know, really consider it, get additional feedback and the rest, you could also explore that for the following license year and we could include that in next year's proclamation and statewide preview that we start that process in November of next near. So if you're certain that you'd like to explore the tag, we can bring a proposal for adoption in March. If you would still like significant additional input and feedback and, you know, discussion, we'd probably just because of the programming and all that, need to wait --


MR. MURPHY: -- for the following year.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Can we do both? Can we essentially be ready to go with the tag? Do the -- do the administrative work so we don't have to wait for another season, but then have more discussion around it?

MR. MURPHY: Yes. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. So that's what I would like staff to do, so we're ready to go and so we could implement a tag system by the next fishing season.

MR. MURPHY: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay, great. Thank you.

All right. So I don't know if there's consensus, but what do we need to do in terms of if we want to modify the 25- to 28-?

MR. MURPHY: You would just need to instruct Dakus here today that you would like to put that into the proposal that would be voted on tomorrow.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Do we need a motion on that and a second?

MR. MURPHY: No, sir. We would just need your direction as Chairman as to whether or not to place that as modified. Certainly if you would like to hold a straw vote right now on that topic, you are welcome to do so and that's at your election, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Sure. Straw votes are good.

All right. Who's for 28 and greater? What do we've got? One, two, three, four, five. Okay. Okay, majority rules. So let's --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Can I be on record that I'm happy -- Patton -- with the way that it is published at 25? So I'm officially against 28.


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: If we're going to have a straw poll, I'd like to be recognized.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Voice -- voice in the dissenting opinion. Okay. All right. Thank you, Commissioner Patton.

All right. So let's proceed forward tomorrow, implementation, three, 15- to 20-, one fish in the bag greater than 28.

MR. GEESLIN: I'll have it --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Do the work for 28 so we're ready to go, but I do want to have more discussion around it before we do it.

MR. MURPHY: Yes, sir. And we would also ask if you'd like us to bring that in March that you formally authorize permission to publish that here today and we can get that prepared and put into the Register for public comment.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Okay. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

MR. GEESLIN: Have it ready for you tomorrow. Thank you.


Okay. Work Session 5, 2024 Statewide Hunting/Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Mr. Oldenburger and Mr. Korzekwa, please make your presentations.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. I'm the Small Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. There, it works. Today, myself and Mr. Blaise Korzekwa will be going in front of you to present proposed changes to the 24-25 statewide hunting and migratory game bird proclamations and seeking permission to publish in the Texas Register for public comment and potential action at the March Commission Meeting.

I'll start off with some good news. The Duck Stamp Modernization Act of 2023 was some federal legislation that was signed by President Biden on December 19th. As you recall in past discussions with digital licenses, it came up with some Commissioners in the past as far as the federal duck stamp goes. Here's mine that sits in my wallet since I have a digital license and signed. So I'm valid to hunt waterfowl.

And so what this does basically since we're an electronic duck stamp state and we're signed up with the Fish and Wildlife Service to do that, which about 30 states are, you're allowed to actually get a 45-day waiver where you don't have to have a physical hunting -- physical stamp on you while you're waterfowl hunting and that comes later from the contractor -- that's Amplex actually out of Grand Prairie -- for you in the mail. So what this does is actually removes the requirement to actually have a physical duck stamp on you while waterfowl hunting. So you can just buy it and after 45 -- and you're good for the whole season.

So thinking about digital licenses moving forward and probably the increase in those, I think we sold about 100,000 this year. Basically going forward hopefully in the forty -- 24-25 season, you'll not have to have a physical duck stamp on you while waterfowl hunting. So that's a big move in the right direction for our constituents. We're waiting for the Fish and Wildlife Service to give us direction on the implementation of that for next hunting season.

So moving on forward to the proposals. I'll start with the migratory game bird proclamation for staff proposals. I just wanted to be clear too before we go into these, both on the statewide hunting side for wild turkeys and also on the migratory game birds, we had unanimous support from both Migratory Game Bird and Upland Game Bird Advisory Committees for all staff proposals. We do have a fair number of staff proposals. The one I'll highlight before I go into them specifically is the last one here. Just a reminder for calendar progression for all other migratory game bird hunting seasons that were presenting here, we're going to out -- we're going to have two proposals that adjust some of the hunting seasons, but obviously the date for like that third Saturday in November, that changes every year. So we have to do that calendar progression within the TAC on an annual basis. So I'm just going to call out the changes for hunting seasons that we're proposing. Otherwise, all will remain very similar to this last hunting season.

I will start with the Light Goose Conservation Order. We have previously gone in front of you to kind of give a status update on light goose populations in the Mid-continent region, which is both the Mississippi and the Central Flyway. Obviously, we're at the end of the Flyway here in Texas and traditionally we had a large number of wintering light geese on the Gulf Coast of Texas. This has declined substantially and we'll go into that on the next slide, but when we look overall at the Mid-continent population, there was introduction of a Conservation Order in 1999. That was introduced by Congress and the Fish and Wildlife Service to actually decrease adult annual survival on Snow geese and that was the hopes that you could actually decline the population by using hunters as a management tool. So it's not an intended hunting season. It is primarily a management tool to try to decrease the population.

You can see here as the Conservation Order was introduced in 1999, we did have some steady growth on adult geese; but then starting there in the mid 2010 or so, it started declining rapidly. Twelve of the last 15 breeding seasons have had fairly poor Gosselin survival in the breeding grounds due to various conditions up there. And so that's why we've actually seen this population decline at a Mid-continent level, not as -- not because of the hunting or the Conservation Order I should say.

When we look at Texas specifically, Texas invented Snow goose hunting. We did with Texas regs and other things. There's been a lot of folks -- if you look at roost ponds in Texas, those started in Texas here. So a lot of the good things that have been done for waterfowl over the years started here in Texas. But you can see here basically going back to the late 70s early 80s, we had a large population of wintering geese on the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately due to a number of changes that have happened over time since the introduction of the Conservation Order in 1999, we've seen a significant decline in wintering light geese here in Texas.

There's a -- this not cause and effect. So I'm not trying to say that. There's been a lot of large-scale changes across the Flyway, reduced agriculture here in Texas, that would be one with rice, flood-up, water availability; but also changing reservoirs north of us, changing agriculture north of us where we had cow calf operations in South Dakota and North Dakota, there's corn fields now. And so obviously those are -- a lot more food availability north of us and a lot more water north of us than there historically had been. So there's a lot of things going on.

But what's important for us is -- is the geese that we do have wintering here in Texas and doing the right things for them. So after a fair number of discussions, we did -- and I should note here to the Conservation Order as well, as the introduction occurred in 1999, we did have a significant number of folks here that did participate in Texas, well over 100,000 people, and we did harvest a lot of geese. But what has happened since the introduction of the Light Goose Conservation Order, we have steadily seen a decline, it's plateaued about the last 10 or 15 years or so, and had a significant decrease in participation and also harvest during the Conservation Order, which is after the regular season.

So we did have some scoping sessions back in November, both in Richmond and El Campo. We did have approximately 50 or 60 folks attend those. We do have some regulatory options we wanted to get public comment on with regards to the Conservation Order and the regular hunting season and all regulations regarding light geese in Texas and so we presented five things in front of the participants of those scoping sessions.

Basically we said there's things that we're looking at as status quo known changes. So just keep the season dates and for Conservation Order and regular season we currently have. Eliminate the Conservation and stop at the end of last Sunday in January. Some of you are very familiar that's also the ending of duck season traditionally in the South Zone here in Texas. To eliminate the Conservation Order and extend the regular season. Underneath the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, we can have 107 days of opportunity on any species. So we'd extend that season beyond what we normally do and then two segments which introduce a rest period and then also reduce daily bag limit from ten to five.

As we look at the results, we did get 38 total respondents from those two scoping sessions. It's a little unclear here with agree, neutral, and disagree. I would like to highlight the yellow. We saw a fair amount of disagreement with ending the Conservation Order in the last Sunday in January. We did see some agreement on reducing daily bag limit from ten to five from those participants that did respond during those scoping sessions.

So basically staff have talked about this. We went to our technical committees, advisory committees, and with those scoping sessions and we believe the best thing for geese in Texas -- or at least light geese -- is to go back to where our hunting seasons were prior to the Conservation Order and that would be eliminating the Light Goose Conservation Order, reducing the daily bag limit of light geese from ten to five, standardizing possession limits from light geese from three times the daily bag limit like all the other migratory game birds, and then also take that regular season and extend that 19 days to get the maximum number of days of opportunity during the regular season with those regulations.

All right. Moving on, Greater Whit-fronted geese. As you are probably aware, migratory game birds are managed cooperatively between nations -- Canada, Mexico, and the United States -- but also between Flyways and agencies and that includes basically Canadian Wildlife Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and then also the Flyways, including the Central Flyway Council that Texas sits on. We did do a rewrite of the Greater White-fronted goose management plan for the Mid-continent population this last March and that was agreed upon by all the signatories and basically what that did is it showed that -- it was based on some new research and the fact that Texas did here with some other cooperators at USGS and Texas A&M Kingsville, U.S. Fish and Wildlife. And so we actually radio-marked a bunch of White-fronts across Texas.

There's this dogmatic thought that in Winchesters lakes area, that those birds come from interior Alaska. We went and put a bunch of bird radio tags on them and they went all over the Arctic. So there just seems to be no specific breeding colony that those geese come from and that was why we've had restrictions in the Western Zone for a number of years.

So what the new management plan does, it allows us to eliminate the restriction on White-fronted geese there in Western Zone you see there in white. And so basically what we'd just do is go from dark goose aggregate daily bag limit of five and then just remove that restriction of two White-fronted geese. We would have to maintain that restriction in the Eastern Zone based on the management plan and federal frameworks.

Moving on to Mexican ducks. Here's a picture of Mexican ducks in West Texas. A little background on this, and I went into this in November. The American Ornithological Union in 2020 recognized Mexican ducks as a species and then after the fact in 2023, United States Fish and Wildlife Service added them to the 10.13 list. That is the official list of birds that are protected underneath the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by the Department of Interior and so they were added to that, so they're -- and they're coming into play into federal frameworks now. So basically right now we have a definition of dusky ducks in our regulations to protect mottled ducks. So you know that is five days there during the regular season you can't harvest a dusky duck. And so we'd just be simply replacing Mexican-like with Mexican duck to conform with federal regulations.

Moving on to dove seasons and some slight changes here. Special White-winged dove area, as you can see there in the south, we obviously have a long history of White-winged dove hunting in Texas. We're pretty much the primary state that does have this in the United States. And so you can look at this last year during the Special White-winged dove days, we had a very clean calendar this last season. We had a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Well, thanks to calendar progression and a leap year this year, it gets a little bit crazy with what the September calendar looks like. We are allowed six days underneath federal frameworks prior to the regular season that opens on September 14th. And so staff are recommending September 1st, 2nd -- and the 2nd being Labor Day -- and then the 6th, 7th to 8th, the following weekend, a three-day weekend there, and then the 13 to maximum the six days before the regular season opens on the 14th.

Another slight modification for dove season is a staff proposal for the North Zone. We had some public comment on this that they wanted some more days around when basically schools were closed for folks being out. The North Zone is a very large geographical area with lots of different weather and lots of different conditions and basically they wanted to remove a week prior to the second segment and put that on the back end. As you can see there, we get some January days now. And we didn't see a biological reason to do this for that hunting opportunity, so staff are proposing this slight change to the North Zone.

All right. Moving on to statewide hunting proclamation proposed changes. We do have a number of wild turkey proposals in front of you. We'll start with the first one. Staff are proposing mandatory reporting for wild turkeys and the reason we are doing this, currently is we do have a small game harvest survey that does estimate the number of turkeys taken by hunters in Texas. Unfortunately the timing of that and when it occurs, we don't get the results until 18 months after the spring season. In addition, those on a county level basis are not precise or accurate estimates. We've seen our response rates on our harvest surveys, like all surveys that are done not matter what, decline rapidly in the new electronic age. I think this last year we had about 15 percent response rate on our small game harvest survey, which is actually good compared to some previous years. And so a lot of our harvest surveys are pushing 10 percent response rates now, where historically they used to be 40, 50, 60 percent.

So we have a lot of uncertainly with our harvest estimates and we do not get accurate or precise estimates on county levels. Thirty-two of the 49 states that do have turkey seasons right now, do have mandatory reporting for wild turkeys. And what I mean by mandatory reporting is only successful hunters need to report their take. Some states do have where both unsuccessful and successful hunters need to report take.

You can see here approximately 2,800 reports of wild turkeys came in through our My Texas Hunt Harvest this last year. You can see there in the counties outlined in black, those are our mandatory reporting counties that we currently have. Those are the Eastern Texas counties where we have Eastern subspecies and then the one-gobbler area down there you can see outlined as well where we have some limited populations in isolated habitats. But these are the 28 -- 2,775 reports we got. Those are through the digital license, voluntary, or through mandatory reporting in county regulations.

A lot of states do this. You can see here, here's Missouri Department of Conservation. Here's an example. They update this three to four times per day during the spring season so people can follow how turkey season's going in Missouri on their website. You can see here they get these neat little maps. We're not recommending to update a map online three or four times per day, but we would have real-time information to see how turkey harvest is going in the state, plus we would have updated information and precise harvest estimates in being able to manage the species across the State of Texas.

I'll move on from mandatory reporting to a proposal to close wild turkey hunting south of Highway 82 in Fannin, Lamar, Red River, and Bowie Counties. You can see there it's highlighted in the red dashes, the proposed closure area. You can also see there in green, that's where we've had Eastern wild turkey stockings. We've all -- we've been trying to do Eastern turkey restoration in East Texas for a long time, but we've really had a really concerted effort here in the last eight or nine years.

We actually receive turkeys from out of state. Last year we received a number of turkeys from Maine. This year we're hopeful to receive some turkeys from Rhode Island. They have some problem turkeys. We're happy to take them. And so we ship those and fly those here and release these on these sites that these landowners, private landowners, actually put in proposals to us to how -- allow these restoration sites occur in their areas. They have to have -- basically meet a bar with a habitat suitability index. They also have to do habitat management on their properties to make sure that these releases are successful.

You can see here, 2018 wild turkey reported harvest. Not a lot of harvest in those areas; but as we've expanded -- and those are in green where the mandatory reporting locations occur in those counties. But as you can see as we've expanded our restoration in East Texas to some of those habitats, that could be -- we could have sustainable populations and we start seeing more of those green dots show in that closure area. It's not our intent as an Agency to put put-and-take for these -- this restoration effort. So staff are recommending to close this area to Eastern wild turkeys in an effort to restore these populations, which down the road maybe we'll be able to have hunting seasons for this population.

Moving on, we do have a proposal to close Milam County and Bell and Williamson Counties east of I-35 to wild turkey hunting. You can see there in gray on this map, that's Granger Lake Wildlife Management Area, also managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. They did come to us a number of years ago and ask for the release of Rio Grande turkeys on Granger Lake area. If you know this area, there's fairly minimal habitat; but there is some good habitat around Granger Lake. We also have some riparian areas that do hold some birds in this area.

We held a scoping session last fall with all the private landowners and neighbors and Army Corps of Engineers in the area. We had approximately 50 or 60 people show up to this. It was almost consensus to close these counties and allow this restoration to occur. We'd be moving Rio Grandes, trapping those in South Texas or Edwards Plateau areas and moving these birds to this area and hoping -- basically increasing the population in this area and then after five years, we would take a look at it about opening this back up to hunting seasons.

We also have some regulations related to changing wild turkey season structures in a few areas where we do have limited populations of wild turkeys. Anybody that's driven from -- on I-35 has seen this tremendous growth down the corridor lately. So staff are proposing in Hill, McLennan, and basically Travis, Hays, Comal, and Guadalupe Counties, those areas east of I-35, to bring those into the one-gobbler zone, which are in pink. And so that would be an April-only season with one gobbler allowed per county for harvest during the season. We believe this is more commensurate with what the population size is in this area. We're starting to get very isolated populations due to the development in this area and, therefore, we want to protect the birds that we do have in this area for the long term.

Similar, we do have isolated populations in the Trans-Pecos, especially west of the Pecos River and we have those counties there hash-lined out in Jeff Davis, Pecos, Terrell, and Brewster. We would like to -- staff are proposing to actually switch the regulations here from North Zone, which they currently are in, to once again to that one-gobbler, spring-only season to actually be able to track these populations and be commensurate to what status is in these counties.

Obviously once you go across the Pecos River and go north of that, we do have very abundant Rio Grande turkeys, but in this area we don't. In select areas we do, but it's very limited. And in addition to this, dependent on what the Commission does with mandatory reporting, if that doesn't go through statewide, we'd like the one-gobbler areas, if they would be -- basically if they would be adopted in March, for those areas to also be mandatory reporting if the statewide is not adopted.

One thing too we would also like to do is remove subspecies from regulations. We do get a lot of confusion on subspecies in our regulations the way they're written, especially from new hunters. Is this an Eastern bird? Is this a Rio Grande bird? What am I looking at?

And so here you see these three gentlemen that hunted here in North Texas this last spring and harvested three birds on this property. They look very different. There could be some confusion what these birds are. They all are Rio Grande subspecies, but we get a lot of variation in Rio Grandes and so we just want to remove that subspecies and just manage at a geographical level. That will just decrease confusion, especially for new turkey hunters where they're asking along the I-35 corridor: Is this an Eastern, is this a Rio Grande, and what are my regulations? It just would make it a lot more simpler from a -- from a R3 standpoint.

With all this, this is what the fall turkey hunting seasons currently look like. There in yellow you can see the North Zone Fall Zone, in orange South Fall Zone, and then you have the sand sheep regulations down there. Proposal would look like this. So there is some slight changes, but not a whole lot. And then we look at the spring turkey hunting seasons here is what it currently looks like. One's -- purple is that East Zone, that one-gobbler area there in blue, North in yellow, and then orange is South. And if adopted, the new map would look like this, where we do have some restrictions in those blue areas are added and then some deletion from the purple area from those closure areas.

I know I covered a lot of material in a very short time, so I'd be happy to take any questions before I turn it over to Blaise.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. I've kind of got two -- two. But the first one will go to Slide 18 on the Special White-winged dove day proposed calendar. On the -- not withstanding it is Friday the 13th that gives me pause, but would the regular South Zone open on Saturday the 14th? Is that why that's gray?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yes, correct. The regular season's in gray. I'm sorry if I didn't get to that too well and explain it. But, yes, the yellow would be Special White-winged dove days and then the gray would be regular seasons.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So that -- so effectively, depending on how you want to look at it, we're kind of opening that South Zone maybe a day early for White-winged dove. Is that kind of the net effect of --

MR. OLDENBURGER: Well, the way we look at it, people -- we do get a lot of people in the South Zone travel for that purpose and so folks that could travel -- and once again, the Special White-winged doves are an afternoon-only season. Wherein you get to the gray and the regular season, that opens, you know, much earlier, right, so you can actually do morning hunts on that. So it wouldn't be technically earlier. It would just be taking advantage of the six days we have for that Special White-winged dove days.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. That's great then. I don't know the -- recall the slide, but I think it was your final turkey map that I -- I don't have it up on mine, but -- keep going, keep going. Okay, that one.


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I guess I was -- yeah. I was looking at the South Texas South Zone, brown, and it looks like your line to the southwest, you're catching a corner of Val Verde, irregular southern boundary of Kinney and -- but you see what I'm talking about?


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: You drew a line -- oh, is that Highway 90?

MR. OLDENBURGER: That's Highway 90, yep.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, thank you.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yep, yep, yep.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: All right, that's all I have. Thank you.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Edwards Plateau to that brush country, yep.

Any other questions before I turn it over to Blaise?

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: I've got two. One, well-done on the federal duck stamp. I assume you still have to sign it?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah, currently you do have to sign it; but hopefully moving forward, if the Fish and Wildlife Services gets some guidance on that, next year when you get your license -- whether it be digital or in paper form -- and it says electronic duck stamp on there, you're good for the whole season. And so you will not have to --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: So it will actually specify it on your state license.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yep. So we're an electronic duck stamp state. So it specifies it on your license and so there from a game warden standpoint, you would be good the whole season. You would not have to a physical -- physical duck stamp on you for --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: That is a real game changer.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: So well-done whoever put that together. And then back to Slide 18, why would you not -- if you've got six days of White-wing, why wouldn't you not give hunters the full weekend -- back one more -- why wouldn't you give them August -- what -- 31st, 30th? Why wouldn't you give them Saturday, Sunday, Monday? It just -- it --

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yeah, it's actually a great question and I didn't explain that. So underneath the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, hunting seasons can only start September 1st by law.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: I see. Okay, no other questions. Thank you.

MR. KORZEKWA: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Blaise Korzekwa, White-tailed Deer Program Leader and this morning I will be requesting permission to publish the proposed changes to the statewide big game hunting regulations. But before I begin, there's one change to the agenda items you may have in front of you. I just want to point out that staff will not be proposing to expand the general deer season two weeks in the North Zone.

The first proposal is to adjust the Desert Bighorn sheep season. Currently, the season runs from September 1st through July 31st. The season has been closed when Department staff conduct Bighorn sheep surveys. Historically these surveys were conducted in August. However, after review of our Bighorn sheep survey protocol, the survey period has been changed to October 1st through November 14th to allow for cooler temperatures and safer flying conditions. And due to this change, staff are proposing that Bighorn sheep season be changed to November 15th through September 30th, to avoid hunting during this survey period.

Staff are also proposing changes to terminology used when referring to Pronghorn. These changes would remove references to Pronghorn antelope and antelope and simply replace with Pronghorn because Pronghorn are not, in fact, a true antelope. This change would also help simplify the regulation language.

The next proposal is in regard to the expansion of doe days. Although doe harvest is permitted throughout much of the state for the entire duration of the general season, there is currently 89 counties that have some form of doe days. These counties with doe days have restricted season dates in which does may be harvested with a firearm, which allows for a conservative harvest, but still allows for hunting opportunity. The 43 counties shown in green on the map currently have a 16-day doe season and they're located in the Oak Prairie and Pineywoods ecoregion. Staff are proposing that these 43 counties be expanded to a 23-day doe season.

The State of Texas is divided into deer management units, which the Department uses to estimate populations and to recommend regulations. Those 43 counties represented in green on the map are compromised of Deer Management Units 15 through 21 North. Based on the Department's deer surveys and harvest records, these management units have seen an increase in deer density, as well as a skewed sex ratio of 3.9 does per buck. And even with the current 16-day doe season that's in place, antlerless harvest is only about 45 percent of the total harvest. Staff have also received feedback from landowners and hunters that have voiced their concern with the increasing deer population. Many farmers on the western edge of these 43 counties have voiced concerns over crop depredation and financial losses. These hunters, landowners, and farmers have all requested an increase in doe days.

This slide shows a calendar view of the current 16-day season, as well as the proposed 23-day season during the past month in November of 2023. The 16-day season occurs during the first 16 days of the general season. Hunters have provided feedback that this 16-day season does not incorporate Thanksgiving holiday, which is when many hunters have time to go afield. The proposed 23-day season would incorporate the Thanksgiving holiday and would run from the opening day of general season through the Sunday following Thanksgiving, with the additional days shown there in orange on a calendar.

Although it's called a 23-day season, due to calendar progression and the week that Thanksgiving actually occurs on, some years may be slightly longer than 23 days; but overall, it's considered a 23-day season. The bag limit in these 43 counties will still remain at two antlerless deer all seasons combined.

The next proposal is the modification of rules regarding the method take of youth -- for youth harvest of branched antlered bucks on properties enrolled in the Managed Lands Deer Program harvest option. Under current regulations during the first 35 days of the Managed Lands Deer Program harvest option season, bucks without at least one unbranched antler can only be harvested with archery equipment. This applies to all hunters, including youth hunters. However, under current regulations these 35 days overlap with the early youth only weekend in which youth hunters may use firearms to harvest any legal buck under county regulations. This overlap and difference in method of take has caused confusion among youth hunters. Under current regulations, even though it may be the early youth only weekend, youth on properties that are enrolled in the MLDP harvest option still must use archery equipment to harvest branched antlered bucks.

Staff are proposing that youth hunters on properties enrolled in the MLDP harvest option be allowed to harvest any buck with a firearm on the same days that correspond to the early youth only weekend for county regulations. This calendar shows the month of October for '23 -- for the 2023 season with the early youth weekend shown there in yellow. And because harvest option tags are regulated and issued by the Department, there's no consequences of allowing youth on these properties to harvest bucks with a firearm on the same weekend that is allowed for all other properties. I will also note that the next proposal would add a day to the early youth only season and that change would also be reflected on this proposal as well.

And lastly, staff are proposing that the early youth seasons in the fall include Friday for White-tailed deer, squirrels, and wild turkey. This calendar below shows the current early youth only season for White-tailed deer during this past season of October of 2023, with the orange date representing the proposed addition of Friday. Based on the Department's harvest and survey data, hunting pressure from youth hunters is low and the addition of Friday will provide additional hunting opportunities, but have little to no impact on the population. Staff are requesting permission to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register.

That concludes my presentation, and I'm willing to answer any questions.


Questions or comments by the Commission?

Hearing none -- it is good to see that we're actually increasing bag limits versus decreasing bag limit. So that's --

MR. KORZEKWA: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- a good thing. All right. Thank you very much for your presentation.

All right. Work Session Item No. 6, Chronic Wasting Disease and Response Rules, Containment and Surveillance Zone Boundaries, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Mr. Alan Cain, please make your presentation.

MR. CAIN: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Alan Cain, Big Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division and this morning I'll be presenting proposed amendments pertaining to the establishment of CWD zones in context of some recent detections this fall, new detections, and requesting permission to put those agenda items on tomorrow's agenda for action.

On August 21st of this past year, a suspect CWD positive female positive White-tailed deer was detected in a captive breeding facility as a result of antemortem testing. In response to this confirmation of the positive deer, on September 7th the Department established a 2-mile surveillance zone around the positive facility through emergency rule on September 29th and that surveillance zone is shown in yellow.

The proposed amendment would replace the emergency rule and the proposed zone will encompass about 90,000 acres and approximately 83 properties that are wholly or partially contained in a surveillance zone and those properties are designated by that gray shading or those polygons out -- that -- on the map there.

This slide just provides a reference to the location of the new proposed zone on the left in relation to the current zone on the right that's been in place since 2020. Hunters in the proposed zone will be able to utilize a drop box at the entrance of South Llano River State Park, which is denoted by that blue star. They can drop off heads in the box or they could take deer to the manned check station in the other zone at Segovia there denoted by the red star.

Next staff are proposing a new zone in Medina County in response to the confirmation of a CWD positive 14-month-old White-tailed deer in a captive breeding facility. This initial detection was a result of antemortem testing in October of '23 and subsequently confirmed by a postmortem test. The proposed 2-mile surveillance zone is denoted again in yellow, encompasses about 21,000 acres and 110,000 properties. Again those areas in the gray there would be effected.

Like Kimble County, there's another zone close by and this map just provides a reference to the proposed zone and location -- it's in the lower right there -- compared to the current zone in Medina County on the left-hand side there that's denoted by the red containment zone and yellow surveillance zone. And so hunters in this proposed zone will be able to take deer to the check station in Hondo. It's a manned check station. We also have a drop box there to service those hunters as they need to get things sampled and it's denoted by the red star on the map.

Next staff are proposing a new zone in Cherokee County in response to a confirmation of a CWD positive 52-month-old White-tailed deer detected in a captive breeding facility there. The proposed 2-mile surveillance zone again is shown in yellow, encompasses about 13,000 acres and 463 properties, those areas denoted in gray. A drop box will be available at the little town of Gallatin, just in that southeast part of the zone there for hunters to drop off heads and we'll have -- you know, we would have seasonals on call to address hunter needs too in that particular area.

And then lastly, staff are proposing to establish a containment zone and surveillance zone in Coleman County in response to a CWD positive detection in a free-ranging two-and-a-half-year-old hunter-harvested buck. The deer was harvested in November. The Department received confirmation of that positive in early December. The proposed 5-mile diameter of containment zone surrounds the location of where that positive deer was located and the surveillance zone is shown in the yellow area and surrounds that containment zone. The area of -- the combined area of both zones encompasses about 150,000 acres and more than 200 properties would be included within the boundaries of that zone.

So at the time this proposal was sent to the Texas Register, the Department intended to propose a new CWD zone in Kerr County pending confirmation of a suspect positive 14-month-old White-tailed deer detected in the Kerr Wildlife Management Area deer research pens. The Department was notified of a suspect detection on November 16th. The detection was a result of antemortem testing that was being conducted on all the captive deer in that facility as part of an ongoing research project. Out of an abundance of caution, staff euthanized all deer in the research facility, including the suspect positive deer on November 20th.

Samples from all those deer were delivered to the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab at College Station on November 21st, that resulted in no additional detections and a press release was also sent out on December 1st that notified the public that the deer in the facility had been euthanized.

So tissues collected from that suspect positive deer -- which included the entire a brain, lymph node, obex, tonsil, and rectal tissues -- were then sent to the National Veterinary Lab in Ames, Iowa, for confirmation. Staff received not-detected results on all tissues from that positive deer from NVSL on January 4th. This is the first time TPWD has not received confirmation for CWD from NVSL in more than 600 positive samples -- or samples following a suspect positive IHC result, which is less than 1 percent or to be exact, it's 0.0016 percent, you know, that -- so very, very low. This is the only time this has occurred.

On January 5th, staff met with the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab, as well as the Wisconsin Lab since they're the ones that originally confirmed the antemortem IHC positive on January 8th and also later with -- or January 5th. And on January 8th, we also discussed the results with NVSL as well and what this means. TPWD Agency leadership was notified of the not-detected test result on January 8th as well.

Staff continue to work through gathering appropriate information and the data and announced NVSL's finding on January 19th. With additional consideration, staff discussed with Agency leadership removing the Kerr County proposed zone from the proposal because NVSL did not confirm the suspect positive deer in the research pens, noting that TPWD has never implemented a CWD zone based on a not-detected result. As such, staff are recommending to the Commission that the proposed zone in Kerr County be withdrawn for consideration because this suspect was not confirmed by NVSL.

Although there has been much discussion regarding the deer in the Kerr Wildlife Management Area deer research pens, staff contemplated what is in the best interest for mitigating disease risk and the need to hold ourselves to higher standards. The Department opted to depopulate all deer in the research pens in November to eliminate the likelihood of amplifying that disease threat within the facility, in addition to reducing disease risk -- or transmitting the disease risk to the surrounding WMA properties or impacting neighboring landowners to the WMA.

While staff do not recommend a zone in this situation, staff will continue to sample hunter-harvested deer on the wildlife management area and encourage voluntary sampling of hunter-harvested deer on the surrounding properties, as well as encourage proper carcass disposal practices.

So as of last Friday, we'd only had five public comments. But over the weekend and into today, we've had a flurry of comments come in, so this slide is a bit out of date. To date, we received 134 public comments on the TPWD web page. 6 percent agree with the proposed zone changes or zones, new zones; 82 percent disagree; and 12 percent disagree with specific parts of the proposal.

We did receive a letter of support from the Texas Wildlife Association for these proposals. Now of the number of public comments received in opposition, the reason -- well, let me back up here -- the reason for disagreement includes things such as zones are a disincentive for landowners or hunters as far as their cooperation goes; the removal of zones would incentivize hunters and landowners to allow statewide voluntary sampling because there's no repercussions; statewide carcass disposals, you know, if that was added as an option down the road, it would negate the need for CWD zones; zones had negative impacts on property values and hunting opportunities; and zones are not necessary because deer breeders are required to test 100 percent of their mortalities in the pen, as well as 100 percent testing of all live animal movements -- prior to live animal movements.

Additionally, the Department received two letters from the Deer Breeders Corporation and the Texas Deer Association in opposition to the proposed zones. The Texas Deer Association indicated that zones are punitive to landowners and hunters, negatively impact real estate values, zones are a disincentive for hunters and landowners in terms of testing. And TDA believes that CWD sampling -- or CWD testing requirements on deer breeders, including the recent adoption of the antemortem testing requirements back in November for all live animal movements, as well as a consideration for a statewide carcass disposal rule would negate the need for zones. And then the Deer Breeders Corporation recommended the Commission remove surveillance zones and only have containment zones on properties where CWD was detected. They also provided some other suggestions that weren't necessarily germane to this proposal.

So staff request this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comment and action. And I'll be happy to --


MR. CAIN: -- answer any questions.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right. Any questions or comments by the Commission?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. I have a question on the discrepancy in the testing at the Kerr facility. So the National Lab, did they find that there were zero, no protein prions present at all, or just not a substantial enough amount to constitute CWD?

MR. SILOVSKY: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, John Silovsky, Wildlife Division Director. So there was a difference in how the slides/the samples were interpreted from the various labs. When Wisconsin and TVMDL looked at the slides, they described them as weak, but convincing. And I'm not quoting. I'm paraphrasing these conversations we had with the lab.

And then when we submitted -- when they submitted those slides to NVSL for confirmation, NVSL -- again paraphrasing, not quoting -- you know, described it that staining was present, but they didn't believe it was a truly positive sample.

And so to have a greater understanding of what that staining concept is, it's -- I'll describe it simply as this: Is the brighter red, the more color in -- or in that slide, the more confident they are that the presence of prions is there. So when it's lighter or they describe it as present, you know, it's then somewhat of an interpretation of how -- how much prions may be present in that particular tissue sample.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: I guess one of my concerns -- I understand why we euthanized the herd, you know, to mitigate any sort of risk to our facility and surrounding ranches; but I feel like we might have missed an opportunity to sort of see how the disease develops or it continues to gestate, if it would have gotten to a point where it would have tested positive at a National Lab.

MR. SILOVSKY: Good -- good point, Commissioner Abell. And I think, you know, we still have opportunities to have to further our understanding of what's occurring on the Kerr facility as it relates to the presence of CWD and prions in that environment. If you go back clear to January when we initiated -- or when we were closing out that research project that created this initial detection, we were participating in copper/zinc study to determine whether that would impact the ability for deer to not get CWD.

And so part of that analysis was to evaluate various tissues. In this particular case, you know, they evaluated the lymph nodes in that deer that had that RT-QuIC detection. So that then precipitated greater, you know, concern, analysis from staff as well. And so we were concerned, well, okay, is it present there or not. So as we walked through all these steps of different testing and surveillance on the property for that particular deer in the previous January, we received no further detections from postmortem, et cetera. But once we got the detection, they had already initiated some environmental sampling. They had the sentinels that you heard from MNPRO in the feed box, they did some soil sampling, they sampled the water supply system and different things like that. And so we had these environmental detections that we were concerned about as well and I think what's confounding about this whole process that we have not yet got a confirmation on either that deer previous January or this deer was that sampled in November, is the fact that we are detecting prions in the environment at whatever level you want to look at: The soil and the feed bunks, et cetera.

So that leads us to believe that there has been some shedding -- has occurred on the WMA or within the research pen. And so the decision we made to remove those deer as expeditiously as possible was to prevent the additional accumulation of prions and just amplify the disease there on the property. And so although that seems, you know, did we act too quickly, knowing what we've known as Alan described about how many samples that we've successfully had confirmed with the lab, we had no reason to believe that this one wouldn't be confirmed either and we certainly wanted to hold ourselves as an Agency to a higher standard than maybe we would even expect from some other people. Recognizing that, you know, that with this presumptive positive determination on the Kerr, if we had a similar circumstance in a breeding facility here in Texas, we would not have requested/initiated any action like we took as an Agency. We would have still waited for that confirmation. But again, you know, we have such -- have had such great success with the lab and will continue to I'm quite confident. But we were, you know, very positive what was occurring there and still stand behind the decision we made to aggressively mitigate this disease so that it didn't, number one, spread further within the research facility, leak out into the WMA, or onto the neighbors.



VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. It's -- you know, we've got -- it seems like we're -- in this whole process, we still have all of this evolving information around CWD and best approaches and also as a research facility there, you know, one of my questions would be: If we find something like this, don't we also have an opportunity to look at how this progresses? Because we've got it -- I mean, arguably you can't fully contain anything because you've got other creatures that can come into the area and leave the area and maybe spread prions, but it seems like we might -- we may have missed an opportunity to look at how the disease progresses, incubation times, things like that. And while that -- it potentially lends to confusion or additional contested conversation over approaches. Your thoughts on that?

MR. SILOVSKY: Well, yeah, I do have some comments on that, you know, and I tried to allude to this a little bit. You know, so we believe, you know, the testing that had been conducted, we believe there is presence of prions in the environment and that leads us to believe that there's some shedding that has occurred from one or more deer. But as we evaluate that and we have an understanding of we think occurred here, obviously a very early detection of CWD potentially has occurred on the Kerr.

But what's interesting is the current science, our current understanding is we believe it takes two, maybe three months of, you know, development of the disease within a deer before they do start shedding and that may very well be what's occurred here. And like I said, we've done two rounds of environmental testing. We plan to do another round of environmental testing.

But to further support our understanding of what has occurred or what didn't occur on the Kerr Area is we have all those other tissue samples from those deer that we removed and we will do RT-QuIC/PMCA analysis, you know, and to try to have an understanding if, number one, through those amplifications methods, can we detect CWD in those other tissue samples we have to try to have that understanding. Do think maybe there was only one deer or maybe there were two deer?

You know, we can -- you know, I don't want to say argue -- but, you know, very confident in the presumptive positive detection that Wisconsin and Texas, you know, Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab have, support that. Like I said, different interpretation from NVSL and they're really the gatekeeper on what's confirmed or not. So as we continue to evaluate, you know, all the tissue samples we have, another round of environmental sampling, we will learn more.

And I think, you know, in November we talked quite a bit, you know, from the panel discussion about these experimental assays and what opportunities these can provide for us in the future. All of those opportunities are still in front of us, but what -- you know, what we've learned from this and what we continue to learn is from those amplification methodologies, we will find it earlier and you may not find it with the regulatory testing that we have available to us now.

I'm probably getting a little bit out of my lane here, but to talk about, you know, what we consider IHC our gold standard on these tissue samples that we utilize now, it's not known for being real effective at finding early detections and that's obviously what we think we have here on the Kerr.

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: And have we -- we haven't tested the remainder of the -- of the -- where are we on testing the balance of the herd that was euthanized?

MR. SILOVSKY: So all of the herd that was euthanized here in November, they've all received testing through the labs that we typically utilize, but we have not conducted the RT-QuIC and the PMCA of all the rest of those tissues. We have tissues saved that we're waiting to collaborate with, you know, probably University of Texas and others to look at those samples and go through them and run both of those experimental assays on those samples we have.

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: And, you know, the other thing is a lot of times, you know, as we -- as we learn things, you know, it's kind of like that saying, you know, the shark-bite suit, there's only one way to test that. Right? Does -- does this -- does -- even if we want to call it a one-off, does this one-off cause us to want to look at our approach, adjust timelines for how we do things, or any thought process like that?

MR. SILOVSKY: I think we always have to be adaptive and look, but we also have to work within the tools that we have in our toolbox and right now those tools that we have are IHC, you know, confirmation through that. You know, those RT-QuIC tools, you know, aren't in our toolbox as of yet; but we have shown as an Agency I think over the years that we have been adaptive. You know, we've moved from basically one plan where we have a detection, a total depopulation, to looking at research opportunities, looking at depopulation, looking at phase depopulation opportunities, you know, as well as other considerations such as, you know, USDA indemnity.

So there are many more opportunities, I think, out there than what we've had even a few years ago and so we continue to walk through that. And as I was contemplating, you know, last night thinking about, you know, how we would address some of these concerns and really the best thing I could come up with is that, you know, science or maybe more appropriately, you know, research can be tough because sometimes you're going to find out something you didn't expect and then sometimes you're going to find out something you didn't want to know and we kind of have a little bit of a blending of that right here that maybe, you know, the discrepancy in how these slides were interpreted, you know, is something to learn from. But as we add all this other information that will become additive to our understanding once we complete this additional analysis I think we will be better positioned to manage other positive facilities, other detections into the future.

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: And I think people are -- I think the public is going to be wanting to see how this experience informs us moving forward, right, in our activities because we just need to make sure that we're providing, I guess, the best options for folks all the way around, regardless of what they're -- regardless of where they serve in the stakeholder food chain.

MR. SILOVSKY: I couldn't -- I couldn't agree with that more, so.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Anything else? Well -- Patton.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. Not -- my question -- I guess I'm -- my question would be moving on. So maybe not John, but I had it for Alan -- or are we moving on from the Kerr?

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: It's all in one, so.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. All right. So I wanted to ask not about Kerr, but maybe the general circumstances the Coleman County CWD. Like, seems to me unusual if we -- there wasn't an existing containment or surveillance zone there; is that correct?

MR. CAIN: That's correct. So that --


MR. CAIN: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And there was a hunter-harvested two-and-a-half-year-old male buck.

MR. CAIN: Yep.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Did it exhibit signs? I'm also curious, in the past when we had something like this, I felt like there might have even been an emergency order. It seems like this is a little bit -- a couple things about this seem like one-off from what we normally do, but --

MR. CAIN: Yeah. So to back up, that was a hunter-harvested deer. It wasn't -- we actually collected it at a locker plant. Our staff were doing their normal surveillance, so they -- out there at the locker plant -- asked a hunter, Can I collect a sample, and that's how we collected that. So we don't know. I assuming that deer wasn't clinical or didn't exhibit disease signs. It was just a normal sampling part of things.

And then second part of your question was just the --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, it seems like in the past when we've had a free-ranging --

MR. CAIN: Oh, the emergency rule. Yeah.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- deer that the Director will issue an emergency --

MR. CAIN: So --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- order. And then the third thing in my mind on this proposed, seems like we always have a proposed drop box station or if we do pass this, where are we going to -- where do people take their deer?

MR. CAIN: So both good questions. So at the time we got the suspect positive, we were waiting for confirmation and that took a while. That was into December before we got that. By that time, you know, having the logistics to actual stand up an emergency rule, have a zone location, to your point a place where hunters can bring things, we couldn't have all that done by the time season was ending because they only had a couple more weeks for general season in the North Zone. It ends about the first of January. So, you know, two or three more weeks of season.

And so we suggested that we not use an emergency rule and just include it in this package, adopt it now or consider it for adoption tomorrow and then it would be in place for next season. And that gives us time to determine where we need to put the check station/the drop box and provide locations to hunters.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, thank you.

MR. SILOVSKY: Mr. Chairman and Commissioner Patton, just for your information, for the whole group's information, our staff did hold a public meeting in Coleman last Friday. Had, I think, 35, 36 --

MR. CAIN: Thirty-six.

MR. SILOVSKY: -- people in attendance to talk about, you know, what this means for them and we had really good feedback, very good participation from those folks that showed up, so.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Couple of questions. You know, it seems as though we probably shouldn't be depopulating deer until we have RT-QuIC, IHC, and National. Wouldn't you agree with that? I mean, why wouldn't we wait until we have all the data before we depopulate?

MR. SILOVSKY: Well, you know, the decision we made, you know, Wildlife Division, as an Agency as a whole, were based on certainly our past experiences with the efficacy of the testing and what we had experienced in the past. And I think our efforts to hold ourselves to higher standard and to mitigate this disease risk as quickly as possible, you know, was to our benefit.

The way the confirmation or lack thereof occurred with NVSL and that time period, I don't have an explanation on why it was more protracted than what we're typically used to. I -- I'm going to assume because of the confounding results they had and the difference of opinions and all the other samples they ended up running through. But nonetheless, you know, if we'd have waited, you know, from the end of October or first part of November to January, you know, if in fact that disease was present, it would have continued to, you know, have a greater presence on the research facility and that was our concern primarily. So that's the decision we made.

I'm not suggesting that going forward or even like I said on a breeding facility that we would ever suggest that somebody go in there and depopulate or make -- take that type of aggressive action just on a presumptive positive.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. I mean, just -- I mean, so I love the idea that we're holding ourselves to a higher standard. Do -- does -- do you think the Kerr County Management -- Wildlife Management facility, does it have CWD?

MR. SILOVSKY: There's prion presence in those RT-QuIC samples, which leads us to believe something's occurring there. Whether there's -- whether there's CWD or prions at a level that's infectious to other deer? That -- you know, I can't answer that. But if we believe in these experimental assays and the researchers that conducted that work, we have complete faith in them, we've talked to them multiple times, they stand behind their results just as much Texas Veterinary Medical Laboratory and Wisconsin stood behind their results.

So I have no reason to doubt the results. But as we've gone through this now for over a year, it continues to be, you know, a head scratcher for us and when I think back to that initial detection that we had last January and the conversation with the immediate management staff, the project leader, the one thing they were wanting to avoid throughout this whole process was to have a regulatory test confirmed for the WMA and the implications that potentially would have --


MR. SILOVSKY: Have a positive facility, for them to have a positive detection within their research facility and the implications to their neighbors. All of those things combined, we were very sensitive to that and so --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Understand. But we just have to deal with the facts as they are.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: I mean, if we have it we have it. So are we doing further testing on those deer?

MR. SILOVSKY: Yes, sir. We will -- we will run RT-QuIC/PMCA and we'll do another round of environmental sampling in those pens, et cetera, to determine, you know, are prions persisting in that environment. You know, there certainly shouldn't be any more because there's not any deer there, but how long that persistence is there, you know, what that means to our understanding of cleaning and disinfection of other positive facilities, et cetera. There's just so much to learn that --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. And so pursuant to that testing, if we found lots of positive tests in deer, would that modify your perspective on whether there's a surveillance zone or not?

MR. SILOVSKY: Well, I think -- I think we need to be cautious as an Agency to create zones on experimental assay, you know --


MR. SILOVSKY: -- what that means, so I would be hesitant to make that recommendation to, you know, leadership or --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: But if it was under IHC, which is a regulatory authorized test.

MR. SILOVSKY: Yep, I would be standing in front of you or Alan or one of us would be, we'd need to have a zone for Kerr County if --


MR. SILOVSKY: -- if we had a confirmed test.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Thank you very much on that. And just -- I just say in general, you know, we are playing defense as we all know and I really am looking forward to hearing offense. You know, gnomic testing, SS, SG, genotype, does that work? RT-QuIC, can we find it quicker than waiting until the entire herd is -- is -- has the prion? And so are we working on offensive oriented strategies? Because if not, I mean the entire state's going to be a surveillance zone at some point in time.

MR. SILOVSKY: Yeah. I think there's many people, including myself, that are optimistic about the genetic work that's ongoing and I think, in my opinion, they've demonstrated that that genetic modification/manipulations within those captive facilities can be successful and can, you know, create a more durable deer in captivity.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. So I would just -- I would just ask that we continue to try to play offense on this versus just do what everybody else is doing and create surveillance zones and just, you know, ultimately eradicate deer hunting in the State of Texas. I mean, I know that's no one's desire and so I just -- I'm hopeful that we can do that and be a progressive, offensive oriented Agency.

So, okay, with that, if no further questions, I'll place the item on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Thank you, guys.

Work Session Item No. 7, Oyster Advisory Committee, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Rule. Dr. Hopper, please make your presentation.

DR. HOPPER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Dr. Yoskowitz. For the record, my name is Tiffany Hopper and I am the Chief of the Science and Policy Resources Branch in the Coastal Fisheries Division. So you guys may recognize this slide from November.

The Parks and Wildlife Code 11.0162 authorizes the Commission Chairman to appoint committees to advise the Commission on issues under its jurisdiction. And Government Code Chapter 2110 requires that rules be adopted for each advisory committee.

So this proposal would create an advisory committee for matters pertaining to all things oysters to assist in determining and executing appropriate strategies to maintain the long-term health of our oyster resources, as well as the additional habitat and ecosystem services that they provide. This committee would be comprised of up to 24 members of the public, and the committee would expire on July the 1st of 2026 to align with the expiration date of all other TPWD advisory committees.

So similar to some of my colleagues, we've had a few additional comments come in since this slide was created. So as of 8:00 a.m. this morning, we've received a total of 30 comments. Of those, 24 or 80 percent were in support. Those included comments from CCA Texas, the Texas Oyster Association, as well as support from the Coastal Resources Advisory Committee. We've had six comments or 20 percent of the comments were in opposition. And among those opposing comments, the most common reason stated for the opposition was a belief that this committee should either be entirely or primarily made up only of members of the commercial oyster industry.

So at this time, staff is requesting this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comment and action. And I will be glad to answer any questions that you might have.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Thank you, Dr. Hopper.

Any questions?

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

I've got to go back. I apologize. Regarding Item No. 4, I'd like -- the Work Session Item No. 4, I'd like to place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

And as well on the Work Session Item No. 5, I'll authorize staff to publish the rules in the Texas Register. My apologies there.

Work Session Item 8, Bell and Coryell Counties Regional Habitat Conservation Plan Citizens Advisory Committee and Biological Advisory Team, Appointment of Members and Delegation of Appointment Authority to Executive Director, Mr. Evans.

MR. EVANS: God morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Director Yoskowitz. For the record, my name is Jonah Evans. I am the Nongame and Rare Species Program Leader. This morning I'm address a request from Bell and Coryell Counties related to the development of a regional habitat conservation plan.

A regional habitat conservation plan is defined in state code as a plan to protect endangered species in order to obtain a federal permit that requires acquisition or regulation of land not owned by the plan participant. Bell and Coryell Counties are applying for a federal permit with U.S. Fish and Wildlife that meets the state's definition of a regional habitat conservation plan. This plan would provide counties with an umbrella permit that authorizes certain development activities and defines appropriate mitigation actions.

Once issued, the counties would issue subpermits to developers seeking to conduct covered activities in exchange for mitigation or other approved conservation measures.

Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 83 requires TPWD's involvement in development of regional habitat conservation plans through two different committees: A Citizens Advisory Committee and a Biological Advisory Team.

A Citizens Advisory Committee assists the local governmental entity in preparing the habitat conservation plan. The committee is made up of citizens, landowners, partners, and at least one member appointed by the Commission. Texas Parks and Wildlife Code directs the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission to appoint this representative to the Citizens Advisory Committee.

A Biological Advisory Team must also be formed by the TPWD Commission and they must appoint the presiding officer to this committee. The purpose of the Biological Advisory Team is to assist the local governmental entity in calculating harm to species covered by the habitat conservation plan and in determining the size and configuration of habitat preserves for those species.

The applicants have requested that TPWD expediently appoint 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 development of habitat conservation plans.

So staff is recommending that the Commission appoint the following TPWD staff: Cullom Simpson to serve on the Citizens Advisory Committee, he is the TPWD wildlife biologist that covers Bell County; and Dr. Darren Proppe to serve as the presiding officer of the Biological Advisory Team, he is the leading expert on habitat conservation plans within the Wildlife Division.

And finally, staff is requesting that the Commission delegate future appointment authority for the Bell and Coryell regional habitat conservation plan to the Executive Director to simplify and shorten the appointment process to seat committee members and avoid lengthy vacancy periods should one or more of the appointees need to be replaced for any reason.

So in conclusion, staff request that this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comment and action. And --


MR. EVANS: -- I'll be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Wonderful. Thank you.

Any questions?

If there are none, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment.

Thank you, Mr. Evans.

Work Session Item No. 9, Implementation of Legislation During the 88th Texas Legislative Session, Senate Bill 922, Relating to the Establishment of a Legislative Leave Pool for Peace Officers, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Rule. Mr. Sosa, please make your presentation.

MR. SOSA: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Luis Sosa. I'm the Major at headquarters for the Law Enforcement Division. Today, I'm here today to provide a summary and an opportunity to discuss Item 9 which relates to the creation of a Legislative leave pool for peace officers commissioned by the Department in response to the passage of Senate Bill 922 by the 88th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature.

Staff will be recommending adoption of proposed rules as outlined in your packets that create and administer a Legislative leave pool for all peace officers commissioned by the Department. Under the provisions of Senate Bill 922, the Department shall allow all peace officers the ability to voluntarily donate up to eight hours of compensatory time or annual leave to a Legislative leave pool per year. Additionally, all peace officers commissioned by the Department are entitled to draw from this Legislative leave pool if the time is used for Legislative leave on behalf of a law enforcement association.

The proposed rules do not cause fiscal implication to the state or Department, nor require additional general revenue funding, nor do they increase or decrease full-time equivalent positions. However, the proposed rules do align administrative rules governing Department leave pools with provisions of Senate Bill 922.

Regarding public comments as of this morning, we have received three comments through the public comment portal. Of the three comments, one individual agrees completely and two disagree on a specific -- being -- item. Of the two individuals that disagree, one disagrees with our assessment regarding there not being a decrease in full-time equivalent positions. Their opinion is that a Legislative leave pool will reduce our manpower out in the field due to officers being on leave handling Legislative matters related to a law enforcement association. The second individual does not disagree with the proposed rules as drafted by staff, but with the language within Senate Bill 922. Their concern with the language of Senate Bill 922 is related to the minimum size a law enforcement association must be for its members to qualify for the use.

Again, our goal today is to provide you with this summary and an opportunity to discuss. Staff request this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comment and action. Thank you for your consideration. At this time, I'd be happy to answer any questions.


Any questions?

Okay, great. Thank you.

If there are no further questions, I'll place the item on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item No. 10, Briefing, Mountain Lion Update. Mr. Richard Heilbrun, please make your presentation.

MR. HEILBRUN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Richard Heilbrun, Program Director for the Wildlife Diversity Program. I'm simply here to introduce Mr. Joseph Fitzsimons to you today who chaired the Mountain Lion Stakeholder Group for past year and will give you a briefing on their report and their progress. He's also foreman -- former Chairman of the Parks and Wildlife Commission and is an active member of the conservation community and a landowner in South Texas.

This was a large effort to undertake, and we appreciate his service for the past year. So at this time, I'd like to bring up Mr. Fitzsimons.

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: Mr. Chairman, for the record, Joseph Fitzsimons and I'm pleased to be with you here today to report on the Mountain Lion Stakeholder Group report, which I know you-all have the complete report, the appendix, and I would also encourage you to look at the biographies of the 19 people who served on this group.

I really appreciate the leadership of the Commission, former Chairman Aplin, for him setting this up as you're familiar with the issue stemming from a petition of 2022 for rule changes with regard to Texas mountain lions. I also want to thank the staff. We had five meetings across the state, and they did an amazing job of pulling the necessary resources together. We also have -- I happen to notice, I believe, five or six members of the -- of the stakeholder group here today, including some of the petitioners. I noticed Donnie Draeger, Ben Masters, Justin Dreibelbis from TWA, Pam Harte and Romey Swanson, two of the petitioners. And so we've had a great participation in this process.

It goes without saying there's some very strong opinions on the management of mountain lions in Texas and so my first job was to keep everybody in the room and speaking to one another over the little more than one-year process and the five meetings. And I'm glad to say that although all 19 don't agree on everything, I think they've built some good relationships. They're all speaking to one another and everything. It never -- it never got -- it was always spirited, but people were able to disagree without being disagreeable.

And on that subject, one of the masters of that art, a member of our task force, our group, Bill Applegate, a trapper, passed away a few days ago. But you will see his comments in that report and Bill spent a lifetime with mountain lions as a professional hunter and trapper and I'm sure you'll -- you'll -- you'll be very clear what his opinions were when you read his comments.

Just to give you a little background, status quo, what we're beginning with in this job, the mountain lion management is unique in Texas and it's unique because we're the only state with a significant mountain lion population where the vast majority of the habitat is on private lands. You go through the western states, you look at the plans -- and we did through a number of experts that came to see us -- and we are unique in that regard and I think that's paramount to keep in mind as you evaluate your decisions.

Harvest reporting is an important tool in measuring the health of a population. The experts were clear on that. Currently in Texas, there's no season or bag limits. There's no trap check requirements on mountain lions. However, commercial fur trappers are required to check traps every 36 hours. And I think it's worth pointing out that in the decades that we've been looking at the mountain lion issue in Texas, we really haven't taken advantage of the new technology with regard to either survey or with trapping -- monitoring of traps.

Currently canned hunting of mountain lions is legal in Texas. There are a number of milestones through these years. Hard to believe we've been -- we've been kicking this can down the road for almost 50 years and I'll confess that I gave the can a few kicks in my time, but really it goes back that far. And there have been a number of petitions in addition to the 2022 petition and suffice to say that recommendations have been made, some studies have been conducted; but to date, we do not have a management plan for mountain lions and the reason for that is we don't have the data.

So what -- and you can see. I won't read you all those milestones; but as you can see, it's been evolving for some time. But there's been a lot more -- well, there's been a lot more discussion than action. So what were the 2010 TPWD staff panel recommendations that came out of those petitions in the 1990s?

Really none of them were enacted. I assume that list of four recommendations to development and implement a program to monitor population status of mountain lions, some research has been done, but not enough; if and when necessary, manage regional harvest; institute a 36-hour trap check; and prohibit the possession of live mountain lions.

So none of that happened. So I think that's probably the beginning of Chairman Aplin's charge to our stakeholder group and we had six very specific charges. No. 1, to advise the staff and the Commission on the abundance, status, distribution, and persistence of mountain lions in Texas. No. 2, develop -- development of a mountain lion management plan; three, harvest reporting; four, trap snare check standards; harvest bag limits; and canned hunts.

In spite of very distinct opinions in this group, there's general consensus on four out of six and for that, I'm pretty proud and I think that is because we spent most of our time learning what there was to learn about mountain lions. I'll show you later the number of experts we had, but that really was the theme from the beginning. The group make-up, we had 19 stakeholders: Private landowners, land managers, trappers, hounds men, livestock producers, academic researchers, private wildlife biologists and subject matter experts including a number of the petitioners that I mentioned earlier.

We focused on the foundation of science and expertise. We heard from -- we had 21 presentations from experts from seven states. And I see Commissioner Galo, who was your representative. Thank you for being at many of those meetings and your participation.

We really did bring in -- thanks to our staff and connections of some of the people on the group, we had the connections to really bring out the people who literally wrote the book on mountain lions and mountain lion management. One of them originally from Texas, Ken Logan, who's done a lot of the best research. The take-away that I noticed from all of those presentations was that lions need a lot of range. Fragmentation is a major threat to successful lion management. I mean, Logan showed us some research on toms, male mountain lions, that traveled over 300 miles.

We know from our own experience working in West and South Texas just how far lions can travel. So fragmentation's a big issue. But the other point that was made is you've got to have the data. All these states, western states with mountain lion habitat and with -- whether it be game status or not, have data and that's what we're missing. So in that period of time, we did a lot of -- we did a lot of listening.

So the frequent themes that were coming up was that every one of those 19 did desire a sustainable lion population. Significant concern about data and Texas being real unique in our reliance on private land stewardship. The only way any management plan will work will be the cooperation and stewardship of private landowners, and we'll talk in a minute about how we leverage that to get the data we need.

So Charge No. 1 was the abundance, status, distribution, persistence of mountain lions in Texas. Well, the consensus was pretty clear after we were educated by all these experts that we don't know. We have -- we have some data, but we -- as the professional journals always say, we need -- more research is needed. But our research -- we have some good research, but it's spotty and it's in -- and we have probably more in West Texas than South Texas, but there was a significant study -- two significant studies done in South Texas. One that brought up the issue of genetic diversity and the lack of genetic diversity possibly in South Texas. But it was also pointed out it was a small sample size. So there was general consensus in the entire group on that point.

Charge 2 was the development of a mountain lion management plan. Again, it all comes back to the data. I was encouraged that people from both sides agreed that we need a management plan. What's amazing is that's been recommended to various Commissions through the years and it's never been done and it's never been done because we don't have the data to support the plan and I'll talk in a minute about some ways to solve that. But what would a management plan entail?

Obviously, you identify the research and data needs, the methods of data collection -- we'll talk about some of those in a minute -- and with stakeholder involvement, i.e. with the landowners, craft a milestone driven process to guide, evaluate, and reassess the lion population and the Department's actions.

There was general agreement and support, as I said, of developing a plan and very importantly from the livestock and hunting community, the plan should ensure landowner ability to manage depredating lions. As you may or may not know, I mean a number of landowners do have to deal with that, especially in the sheep and goat industry, which was well represented in our group.

Charge No. 3 is really -- two out of the six where there was a real split and that's a question of harvest reporting. All the experts that briefed us were clear that harvest reporting is critical for building a management plan. You've got to know age, sex, and if possible have some DNA material to really understand a population. So we lack that. We don't have mandatory reporting. So the real question came down to: Do you have harv -- mandatory harvest reporting or voluntary?

Well, the split was pretty clear in the agriculture, livestock, some of the hunting community, to stay with voluntary reporting. The scientific community was so equally clear that mandatory reporting was much more reliable than voluntary. Also the petitioners were unanimous in their recommendation to follow the standard of mandatory reporting. The problem as you see here is that, as pointed out by the landowners, there was a risk of alienating private landowners with harvest reporting and so obviously if you're not getting the participation of the very people who are managing the lion habitat, you're -- you're -- you may be undermining those efforts by going to mandatory.

So what really came out of this was that we might look at something a little different. You know, it's often mandatory versus voluntary. But as pointed out here, the lack of knowledge that we have now with voluntary reporting really is passive voluntary reporting. There's not really an active means reaching out to these landowners and people who are harvesting lions or getting pictures of lions to share that data. So that was really sort of the break down.

There was agreement that we need the data, but the current -- and I call it passive voluntary reporting is inadequate. So we started thinking about ideas of what I'll call active voluntary reporting. So you're familiar and I heard you earlier in the presentation, the reference to the My Texas Hunt Harvest app. We have great technology tools now we didn't have the first time this was all recommended 20, 30 years ago where people can actively participate either through their MLDP Program, WMP Program, the My Texas Hunt Harvest that would greatly increase the amount of data we would have.

Now this -- I'm -- I'm going to sort of go off on this one a minute. We have the greatest opportunity with the millions of acres we have in MLDP and WMP and all those landowners, millions of acres -- and my family's one of them -- all in contact with a technical guidance biologist and if those technical guidance biologists just on a voluntary basis say, Hey, if you're seeing mountain lions, share the pictures; if your hunters kill a mountain lion or if you have to trap one for depredation purposes, you know, share the data.

And I really think that an active voluntary system could make a difference. We've got a lot of technology that could help. So as I say, Charge 3, there was a clear split between recommending voluntary versus mandatory.

Charge 4, another clear split. That was the other -- the second one where was there was not clear consensus in the group. There were a lot of concerns. You know, lions left to in traps, bi-catch of black bears, the negative images of trapping, spillover into other species. The people who oppose the trap check said, Well, if you add the lions like you do the furbearers, then where do you stop? And, you know, that was their point and of course -- and what they consider an increased workload.

So there was general agreement that checking traps is important and ethical; but if they come required, electronic trap monitors should satisfy the requirement and that's out there. That technology is there. So it was a very close split on whether to recommend that change.

Charge 5, harvest and bag limits. This is interesting because this was in the original petition and now there's general consensus in that group we don't have the data to recommend harvest or bag limits. And as mentioned before, game status is up to the Legislature.

Charge 6, clear consensus to prohibit canned hunting of mountain lions. That can be done through the prohibition of the holding of a live lion; but for some reason, lions were accepted from an earlier statute regarding canned hunting in the Legislature.

So with that, glad to entertain any questions from the Commission.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. The stakeholder group -- and I'd like to say thank you for what you've done. I've heard from several people on this and you have succeeded in, I think, walking that fine line of keeping both groups happy. And the stakeholder group is going to continue, is that correct, or is it terminated?

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: I have no idea.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. Well, if it does, is there -- so no one's kind of charged you with replacing Bill Applegate at this point?

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: That perspective is valuable. I'll say that and we'll miss Bill.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, there's nobody that deals lions more than him --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- to my knowledge.

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: No, no. He's a great loss and -- but I can't answer the --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And then the other thing is kind of -- I keep coming back to it and you just touched on it, but procedurally and jurisdictionally, I can't get away from the fact that a mountain lion's not designated as a game animal.


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And if it's not -- and I guess I don't know this -- what -- what can we and cannot -- what can we not do on a species that isn't a game animal to begin with? And doesn't that --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Isn't that really step one or should it be step one?

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: Well, Commissioner Patton, that's an interesting point. Actually the statute in Texas Parks and Wildlife Code does mandate -- says shall create a management plan for nongame animals. So you can have a management plan for nongame. Matter of fact, the statute anticipates that.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. What about enforcement of anything when -- seemed like you spent some time talking about voluntary versus mandatory reporting and mandatory brings into my mind at least enforcement. Does the game animal designation then become important as it relates to that?

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: Well, on enforcement questions, I always defer to Stormy.


MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: They haven't given me a badge -- or they took away my badge actually.

MR. MURPHY: Commissioner Patton, while Stormy comes up, this is James Murphy, General Counsel, for the record. In Chapter 67 of the Parks and Wildlife Code, the Commission has broad rule-making authority to, as Chairman Fitzsimons mentioned, any limits on the taking, possession, propagation, transportation, importation, exportation, sale or offering for sale of nongame fish or wildlife that the Department considers necessary to manage the species.

In addition to that, you also have authority to require the issuance of permits and under that chapter, there are penalties for violations of your Commission regulations.

MR. KING: Good?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: (Nods head affirmatively).

MR. MURPHY: Sorry, Stormy.

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: Stormy's good at that.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Any other questions?

VICE-CHAIRMAN BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. Chairman Fitzsimons, I want to thank you for the work that you and the team did on this. I found the report very interesting. It seems that a couple of the items -- in particular, Charge 4 and Charge 6 -- are easier to get people to rally around as a potential implementation rule and the others all seem to really be data driven. If you have data and perhaps a plan, then very -- in various ways, Charges 1, 2, 3, and 5, I guess, tie into that whole data management plan. Is that -- is that your perspective?

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: Yeah, that's a good summary. And good news is during this period of a year that we were having our meetings, one of our stakeholder group members, Dr. Hewitt, went out and got some grant money, has put together a lion study and two members of the stakeholder group are going to participate in the study with their ranches, including my family and one other member of the stakeholder group and so we're getting started. We're not waiting on the Commission.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. I think just to follow on Commissioner Bell's comments, we could get bogged down in Charge 1 and 2 with the data collection and wait to do things that I think make sense to do now, such as the -- you know, getting rid of the canned hunts and some trap check standards and I think we ought to consider moving forward with that sooner than later.


Any other comments?

All right. Joseph, thank you very much, one, for all the work and we will determine whether or not we need to continue this for another three or four years. You'd be happy to do that, wouldn't you?

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: There are other former Chairmen here that can do the job.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: No, we love you. But in addition, thank you to the advisory group. I understand. Joseph, I actually may have a question. Sorry.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Sorry. You typically are the one to cross-examine people, right? So, but thank you to the advisory group. I know how much time and effort and it's for the greater good and you're not getting paid and you pay your own expenses and you go to five -- five different meetings. So I really appreciate your willingness to work for the State of Texas for gratis -- for no gratis. So I appreciate that.

And prayers to the Applegate family. And I was reading his comments and I love this comment and I think it maybe solidifies what we are as an Agency. So much so that I think we should get a plaque with his name on it and maybe deliver it to the family and have one here. But here's what it says: Managing wildlife in a scientific and landowner friendly manner has made TPWD the most successful game department in the USA and our wildlife numbers prove it.

And, I mean, that is just a fantastic statement and it's what we do. Landowner friendly, but with data. So I just can't thank you guys enough.

So real quick, Charge 1, needs more data; Charge 2, needs more data; three, the data will lead to a management plan. That seems like a reasonable thing to do. This has been looked at three times in 50 years and no management plan was ever done. So I would ask that we start working on a management plan. Harvest data, no consensus. We'll -- I do -- I do like the voluntary issue through the equivalent of the turkey tag. So we should think about how we potentially do a voluntary assessment. That's more data. So maybe the management team can work on that in terms of how we go about collecting data because that's -- I assume. Is that correct?

MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: Yes, but there may be another opportunity there and as I say using the MLDP and Wildlife Management Plan acreage, because you look at that -- those millions of acres, they perfectly overlay where the mountain lions are in West Texas and in South Texas. So that's -- that's a -- that's a real opportunity to do that and that -- it's going to require what I call active voluntary reporting. It's going to require the Commission to allocate resources or reallocate resources to do that. I don't think that's just broad sweep of the hand. That's going to require some --


MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: -- FTEs. It's going --


MR. JOSEPH FITZSIMONS: -- to require FTEs that are doing that. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Well, let's look at that and see can we get the FTEs needed to do the data collection for purposes of this management plan.

Trap check standards, I think consensus this is something that needs to be done. Charge 5, harvest bag limits, once again that's related to date and the management program. Six, canned -- canned hunts, looks like that's a fairly straightforward thing to ban.

So I'm not sure what those directives mean. I don't know how the Commission needs to vote on that, if they will vote on it. But tell me what's the protocol.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yeah. Chairman, we just need direction from you and I think we have the direction. So what I -- what I hear is for those charges about data collection, come back to the Commission from the staff with a plan for data collection and additional science and how that leads into permanent management plan. And then the two nearer term items are the 36-hour trap check, right? Come back to the Commission and share how we're going to get that done, as well as the canned hunts. And those are the nearer term actions as I understand it.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Sounds good. And a plaque to the Applegate family and let's get them here and make a big deal of it because he gave a lot to the advisory group, so.

And thank you again, Joseph. We really appreciate it.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Work Session Item Nos. 11 through 16 will be heard in Executive Session.

At this time I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings 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 Meetings Act and seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation. We will now recess for the Executive Session at 12:10 p.m. Thank you.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. We will now reconvene the Work Session on January 24th, 2024, at 2:33 p.m.

Before we begin, I'll take roll. Chairman Hildebrand here.

Vice-Chairman Bell?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Abell?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Doggett?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Foster?




CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Rowling?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Patton?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Thank you. We're now returning from the Executive Session where we discussed the Work Session Real Estate Item Novembers[sic] 11 through 15 and Litigation Item No. 16.

Commissioner Scott, are you present?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right. We have a full, full team.

If there are no further questions, I'll place Items 11 and 12 on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Regarding Items No. 13 and 15, I will authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process.

Regarding Item No. 14, Exchange of Land, Cameron County, Acquisition of Approximately 477 Acres in Exchange for Approximately 43 Acres at Boca State -- Boca Chica State Park. Mr. Vick, will you make your presentation.

MR. VICK: Okay. Good afternoon. For the record, my name's Trey Vick. I'll be presenting an exchange of land in Cameron County, approximately 477 acres in exchange for approximately 43 acres at Boca Chica State Park.

Boca Chica State Park is in Cameron County. This map shows the Boca Chica State Park, the red star. The subject property/the acquisition is the blue star to the north. Boca Chica State Park was acquired by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1994 and until recently was leased to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which managed it as unit of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refugee[sic].

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, desires to expand its operational footprint around its launch facilities at Boca Chica and has requested a transfer of 43 acres from Boca Chica State Park in exchange for 477 acres near Laguna Atascosa NWR to TPWD. This acquisition will provide increased public recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, water recreation, and wildlife viewing and allow for a greater conservation of sensitive habitats for wintering and migratory birds. Additionally, this land is within the broader conservation landscape of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Here's a site map of the proposed acquisition outlined in yellow. And this is a map of Boca Chica State Park in green and in orange. The exchange tracts are outlined in green.

As of this afternoon, we've received 1,302 comments. 1,039 opposed and 263 in support of. And that includes a letter from County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. and a letter from the Sierra Club, both in opposition.

The request today is for TPWD staff to put this item on Thursday agenda for public comment and action. I'd be happy to answer any questions if there are any.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Thank you, Mr. Vick.

Any questions of Mr. Vick of the transaction?

Okay. Well, I've got a few. Thank you for the presentation.

I think provided that there's comments both in support and in opposition to Item 9[sic], the Commission believes that really the appropriate action should -- this should be taken up at the March Commission Meeting as part of our two-meeting standard. We don't want to deviated from the standard protocol that we use to acquire acreage and we think as well withdrawing the item allows for more transparency, more public comments to be provided on the exchange of the land.

I will say though the land exchange is an extremely valuable opportunity to the Department and the State of Texas to provide more recreational opportunities to the public. I am committed to moving this process forward and completing the transaction. The opportunity to expand our park system through this land swap is of essential importance to the State of Texas.

So we'll put that on the agenda for the March Meeting, correct?

MR. MURPHY: Correct.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Thank you very much.

MR. VICK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Let's see. Regarding Item No. 16, Litigation Update, no further action is needed at this time.

So, Director Yoskowitz, are there any other issues that we have outstanding for today?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Let me read concluding. Let's see. All right. Hold on, I apologize. It's -- hold on. Okay, simple.

Dr. Yoskowitz, the Commission has completed its Work Session business and I declare us adjourned at 2:40 p.m. Thank you very much, and we'll see you tomorrow.

(Work Session Adjourned)



I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand

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

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such

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

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my

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


Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: January 31, 2025

TPW Commission Meetings