TPW Commission

Work Session, November 1, 2023


TPW Commission Meetings


November 1, 2023






CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Good morning, everyone. Before we begin, I'll take roll.

Chairman Hildebrand, I'm present.

Vice-Chairman Scott?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Abell?




CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Doggett?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Foster?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Patton?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Rowling?



This meeting is called to order November 1st, 2023, at 9:04 a.m.

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

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Thank you, Chairman.

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

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

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

So before we begin, I've just got a quick opening statement. It really is my great honor to Chair the first -- my first meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Founded in 1895, this esteemed Commission holds a long and storied history, playing a pivotal role in the preservation and management of our state's natural resources. As I take on this responsibility, I am aware of the legacy that has been entrusted to us. My goal is very simple: To leave this Commission better than when I first assumed this position.

There have been 12 Chairmen since 1983. So I am simply the third -- 13th in a long line of great leaders. To achieve this goal, I believe it is crucial to embrace the heritage that Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission embodies. However, we must also acknowledge that the challenges we face today are different than those of the past. Our state's population is growing, as are the demands on our natural resources. It is our duty to adapt and evolve, ensuring the sustainable management of our parks and wildlife.

As Chair of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, I'm committed to leading with integrity, passion, and a steadfast dedication to our mission. Together we can build upon the rich history of this Commission, leaving it better than we found it. By working collaboratively, embracing innovation, and fostering stewardship, we will ensure that future generations can enjoy the resources of Texas for years to come. So, thank you.

All right. Before we proceed, I'd like to announce that Work Session Item No. 14, Acquisition of Land, Coryell County, Approximately 95 Acres at Mother Neff State Park has been withdrawn.

The first order of business is the approval of the minutes from the previous Work Session held August 23rd, 2023, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?



COMMISSIONER BELL: Second from Commissioner Bell.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All in favor please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

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

Next order of business is the approval of minutes from the previous Annual Public Hearing held August 23rd, 2023, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Is there a second?



(Chorus of ayes)

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

All right. 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 Recreational Plan. Dr. Yoskowitz, please make your presentation.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Good morning, Chairman. Good morning, Commissioners. Welcome, Commissioner Doggett.

For the record, my name is David Yoskowitz, Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I would like to provide you with an update germane to the Land and Water Plan and functions inside of the Agency. But before I begin, I do want to note that we have new technology in the room as you've notice. We, through the strong recommendations of the Sunset Commission, were encouraged to bring our facility into the 21st century and so we are streaming live. We have monitors on the dais for you so you're not having to strain to look back at the back of the room.

I would also encourage you, as the Chairman has mentioned, that before you speak, to click on the right button on your microphone and then after you're done speaking, click that off. And then also a really important part of this new technology is that we'll be able to take events on the road. The technology will allow us to do that.

So as is customary, I would like to start off with an Internal Affairs update. The Office of Internal Affairs has submitted the fiscal year 2023 Internal Affairs Annual Report to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for review. The annual report includes a summary of fiscal year 2023 activity, case activity information, Internal Affairs initiatives for the fiscal year 2023-2024.

Case numbers and statistical data compiled for the annual report was collected from the Internal Affairs IAPro Report Management System and the Law Enforcement Versaterm Report Management System and you have that handout.

This past August, IA investigators attended the annual National Internal Affairs Investigators Association Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. Investigators received updates regarding various topics such as use-of-force investigation, criminal versus administrative investigative practices, interviewing and interrogation techniques when investigating a trained investigator and dark web tactics. Presenters and investigators traveled from all over the United States and Canada to attend.

This last summer, Ms. Shannon Barron received the Fire Bird Award from the National Bobwhite and Grassland Initiative at their annual meeting in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The award name symbolizes the historic reliance of Bobwhite quail on fire throughout much of its range to maintain diverse native savannas and grasslands. The term was coined by naturalist Mr. Herbert Stoddard, who researched Bobwhites and worked to restore Bobwhite habitat in the early 20th century in Florida and Georgia.

Shannon was nominated by the Gulf Coast Joint Venture for her efforts with the Coastal Grassland Restoration and Incentive Program, also known as C-GRIP, which was initiated in 2018. The C-GRIP provides financial incentives to private landowners for conducting management actions that improve sustainability of grassland bird habitat on their property. A key component to the successful program delivery are the numerous project managers, such as Shannon, who work with landowners to develop projects, submit proposals, and ensure practices meet the required standards.

Shannon has been a C-GRIP project manager since the program's inception and is responsible for delivering 24 projects totaling over 7,500 acres of improved grassland, bird habitat, using bird friendly practices including brush management, prescribed fire, and prescribed grazing. Congratulations to Shannon.

The Law Enforcement Division recently underwent a desk-and-field review of its National Maritime Accreditation and received its certificate of recertification of accreditation after the Division's maritime training practices were found to be in compliance with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, Boat Operations, and Training Program.

Accreditation of an agency ensures that its training curricula, policies, qualifications, processes, and documentation of crew members, boat operators for search and rescue, and tactical operators meets the program's national standards. Obtaining and maintaining this accreditation allows the Division to train and qualify all of its officers internally, as well as its partners on the water.

Assistant Commander of Boating Law Enforcement Cody Jones accepted the recertification on behalf of the Department. Cody was also elected by the Boating Law Administrator peers from across the nation to serve on the state -- on the Executive Board for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. Serving as -- on the Executive Board will allow Cody the opportunity to represent not only Texas, but every state and territory while working with leaders in the boating community and the United States Coast Guard to set policy and direction for boating professionals. I would like to congratulate Cody and the Law Enforcement Division for a well-deserved recognition.

(Round of applause)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Speaking of recognitions, in September I had the pleasure of attending the National Association of State Park Directors annual conference. The association is made up of state park directors from all 50 states working to help state parks effectively manage their systems. With more than 9,800 state parks across the U.S. and 20 million acres, each of these state parks -- all these state parks see a total of 860 million visitors every year.

The National Association of State Park Directors has named a new leadership team to guide the organization into the future and I'm pleased to announce that our very own Mr. Rodney Franklin has been named Vice President for this organization. I cannot think of a more passionate and qualified individual to assume this role.

Rodney was named Director of State Parks in 2018 and he has more than 30 years of service, rising through the ranks from a seasonal employee into park management and then Director. Currently the state park system in Texas comprises of 6,400 acres and over 88 -- or 88 state parks and represents about 10 million visitors that visit us each year. Congratulations, Rodney.

(Round of applause)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: And more good news from State Parks. During the August meeting, I announced that Texas State Parks was selected as a finalist for the 2023 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management. The National Gold Medal Awards are governed and managed by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association and sponsored by Musco Lighting.

State Parks was competing against three other states for the top award: Missouri, Ohio, and Wyoming. Founded in 1965, the Gold Medal Awards Program honors communities in the United States that demonstrate excellence in parks and recreation through their long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development, and agency recognition. Agencies are judged on their ability to address the needs of those they serve through collective energies of community members, staff, and elected officials.

So it's my honor to announce that Texas State Parks was selected as the winner of this prestigious award during the National Recreation and Park Association conference last month in Dallas.

(Round of applause)

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Rodney, you don't have it in the room?

MR. FRANKLIN: No, I don't think it --

DR. YOSKOWITZ: It's very large. We don't have it in the room today, but we'll -- maybe we can bring it in at some point to show the Commissioners.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Let's bring it in.



DR. YOSKOWITZ: This award recognizes all the hard work and dedication of our State Parks colleagues of today, but it also is a testament and commitment to the service of our colleagues over the last hundred years and it sets the bar for State Parks management in Texas for the next 100 years. Thank you again.

TPWD has a long and rich history of wildlife and fishery stocking efforts throughout Texas to promote healthy and sustainable populations. The utilization of stocking combined with traditional management practices has proven to be a powerful combination in managing Texas' natural resource. In accordance with Texas Administrative Code, Title 31, Part 2, Chapter 52, Section 52.105, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director hereby submits the Agency's annual stocking report for fiscal year 2023 to the Commission and it is in your book.

The third class of the Texas Game Warden Leadership Program completed their training at the Texas Game Warden Training Center on August 25th, with representatives also from Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana, and New Mexico. They were in attendance. And I was in attendance for the final day of their presentations. The program aims to help field game wardens and their state park police officers recognize and develop their leadership potential within their district and region.

In addition, it equips them with the skills to lead effectively in their district or workgroup. The program uses 360 degree leadership and adaptive leadership principles through peer dialogue sessions and I appreciate the Colonel and his team for putting that program forward.

Before I open it to questions, I'd like to briefly address the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund. Earlier this year, Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation to approve the creation of the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund, which could provide a billion-dollar fund to acquire and develop new parks across the state. On November 7th, Texans will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 14, a constitutional amendment that, if approved, would provide funding for new parkland purchases and development.

In a state with 30 million people and growing, less than 5 percent of Texas is public land available for public enjoyment. Nearly 10 million people visit state parks each year. As more Texans seat out -- seek outdoor experiences, it is going to be increasingly important to ensure that lands and waters are set aside and managed for fish, wildlife, and recreation. If Proposition 14 passes, the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund would constitute the largest investment in parks in Texas history.

The fund does not create a new tax. Instead it would utilize a portion of the state government surplus. If Proposition 14 does not pass, the Department will continue its efforts to acquire and develop state parks by using a mix of conservation funds, stakeholder partnerships, and specifically authorized state and federal appropriations.

I would like to remind the Commission and the staff that any potential statements and conversations that take place today or tomorrow regarding the fund must remain educational in nature.

And with that, that concludes my presentation, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Thank you, Dr. Yoskowitz.

Are there any questions or comments by the Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. I have one comment. You mentioned on Proposition 14 that November 7th is election day, but I'd also like to remind everyone that early voting is on right now and they can vote right now through Friday as well. So to encourage people across the state and express their opinion on that.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Thanks for that educational comment.

Any -- any other -- any other comments?

All right, thank you.

All right. Work Session Item No. 2, Fiscal Year 2022, 2023, and 2024 Internal Audit Update. Ms. Brandy Meeks, please make your presentation.

MS. MEEKS: Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Commissioners. This morning I would like to present the status of our fiscal year '22, '23, and '24 internal audit plans, as well as our recent external audits and assessments.

So this slide shows the status of our fiscal year '22 internal audit plan. If you'll look at the status, the font that's in yellow highlighted there, that has been changed since the last time we met in August. We have now completed the LCP Easement Receivable Advisory and then I'd like to also point out that we agreed at the last meeting to roll the audit of the recreation grants, as well as the infrastructure change order process advisory to this year's plan.

Last year's plan, this slide and the next slide will show the status of that. Again in yellow under status is what's changed since the last time we've met. We have completed the patch management processes audit, as well as the fiscal year '23 semiannual follow-up Q3 and Q4 project.

And then as far as the 18 fiscal control audits that we had on last year's plan, we've completed all of them with the exception of the Guadalupe River State Park audit that's -- excuse me -- currently in the reporting phase.

And then this slide shows our current plan, and you'll see that we've done a lot already this year. We have started the planning phase for the recreation grants audit. We have also under advisory projects started in the planning phase the infrastructure change order process advisory, as well as Sea Center point-of-sale inventory advisory and you'll see that I crossed out TFFC because that's currently under reconstruction right now, so we won't be getting into there. But we can discuss that once that's back up and going.

And then we've also -- in progress all the time is our follow-up process. We will be following up on any audit items that are due during the first two quarters of this year with that report coming out after the first two quarters. We are also still in progress with our continuous monitoring for state parks activity. We've completed our Chapter 59 review. We've completed our annual internal audit report for fiscal year '23, and we are preparing for our peer review that will be happening this month.

And actually, Commissioner Bell, I believe Ms. Halliburton has the engagement letter for you to sign.


MS. MEEKS: Perfect, thank you.

As far as the fiscal control audits on this year's plan, we have started three of our Law Enforcement office audits. Two of them are in the fieldwork phase, and one is in the reporting phase. External audits and assessments, the Agency has now selected the vendor for the Deepwater Horizon Texas Trustee audit. Ongoing is also the Office of the Governor's compliance and monitoring efforts for the coronavirus state and local fiscal recovery fund and new is the Comptroller's post-payment audit.

Completed since the last time we met is the Texas Workforce Commission's personnel, policy, and procedure system review.

And that completes my presentation, and I'm available to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Thank you, Mrs. Meeks.

Are there any questions or comments by the Commissioners?

Okay, thank you very much.

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.


Okay. Work Session Item No. 3, Briefing, Chronic Wasting Disease Research.

Now before we start, we've got multiple presenters today and this is going to take some time and I'm excited about the information that we're going to learn today and so -- but let -- I've got a quick opening statement on this, which I think is important as to the direction that I want to take the Commission on this critical issue.

Welcome to this critical issue of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission as we convene to address a matter of utmost importance: Chronic Wasting Disease. Today we'll engage in a learning session that seeks to design, to deepen our understanding, foster transparency, and facilitate a dialogue that will shape the future of the Commission's wildlife management practices.

As Chairman of this distinguished Commission, I'm honored to lead the discussion among fellow Commissioners who I know share a common passion for preserving the heritage of our great state. I am committed to transparency, and it is with this spirit that I asked staff to prepare this agenda for us. We are not here to simply exchange information, but rather to engage with these experts to inform our decision-making process. The right policy decisions will be rooted in sound scientific principles.

These experts here today have dedicated countless hours to studying CWD and they will be sharing their invaluable insights with us. It is through their expertise that we can make informed fact-based decisions and forge a path forward that safeguards the well-being of our deer populations. However, this session is not only an opportunity for experts to impart their knowledge, it's a platform for each of the Commissioners to actively contribute, to ask probing questions, and to share their unique perspectives.

We have a diverse set of experiences and wisdoms to bring to the table. Together we find innovative solutions and chart a course towards sound policy for this critical issue. As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote: The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

I am hopeful that we can retain two opposing ideas today and make appropriate decisions. As we start the hearing, let's remember the weight of the responsibility as stewards of our Texas natural resources.

Thank you very much for the unwavering dedication of the Commission and the preservation of our natural heritage. I'm confident through our collective efforts we will find the right answers and develop strategies to combat CWD. We can lead the way in responsible stewardship and ensure future generations inherit a Texas teeming with healthy wildlife.

So to ensure a smooth flow of the session and ample time for Commissioner questions, I'd like to ask each panelist to keep their presentations to 20 minutes. My intention is to allocate 10 to 15 minutes for questions after each presentation. However, I'm committed to extending the Q-and-A session as much as necessary to address all your inquiries and ensure everyone has their questions answered. Thank you.

And unless any of the other Commissioners have any other comments, I'll turn it over to Mr. John Silovsky and park staff to begin this session.

MR. SILOVSKY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good morning, Commissioners. For the record, my name is John Silovsky, Wildlife Division Director. I appreciate those comments, Mr. Chairman, and I'm going to provide a few myself just to kind of tee this up for our speakers this after -- or this morning.

So we have this opportunity this morning to share with you the current science regarding the detection, management, and containment of CWD. Some questions we may ourselves for this conversation is: What does the current research or science tell us about the management of CWD or if we don't manage for CWD? Why is it important that we manage CWD and try to contain the disease where it exists?

If -- and I'm using air quotes here -- CWD does not impact deer populations or people, why does it matter?

The science that guides CWD management is not without challenges. These challenges now impact natural resource management in 31 states, 4 Canadian provinces, and Europe. This worsening trend of CWD detections across Texas and the United States threatens not only the health and sustainability of free-ranging deer herds, but those that are permitted to manage deer in captivity and also the deer hunting economies on which many rural communities depend.

In Texas alone, deer hunting generates over $4.3 billion in economic activity each year. Some of the greatest challenges is the acceptance that CWD could have negative impacts to deer, to you individually, or to your livelihood. In Texas, we have approximately 1.2 million hunting license buyers every year. About 800,000 of those consider themselves deer hunters. 250,000 landowners that responsively steward the resources that provide many of the deer hunting opportunities that we all cherish, and approximately 750 individuals that are permitted to manage deer in captivity.

You may not consider CWD a threat to deer or your livelihood unless you're one of the hunters that has harvest a CWD deer, the landowner that harvest occurred on his property is now within a CWD zone, or one of the 27 positive breeding facilities that have been closed or remains not-movement qualified because of CWD.

As a sidenote here, we received notification Monday of a presumptive positive facility in Cherokee County. This will be the first detection of CWD in this county. So upon confirmation, that would be a total of 28 positive facilities. Thirteen of which have been depopulated and one is which under a research plan and that includes 12 new facilities this calendar year along with that detection that we also had at the last meeting we shared with you in Hollywood Park. A very unique situation there.

We estimate that there are more than 5 million White-tailed deer in Texas. As long as you and I have the opportunity to continue to deer hunt, we won't likely detect a significant change in that statewide population. However, recognizing that deer with CWD is four times more likely to die than a deer without CWD, if CWD were to become established in a breeding facility or on a ranch that you may hunt, it will likely have an impact on those distinct or localized populations.

To use a quote from my good friend and our former State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Bob Dittmar: This isn't a disease for our lifetime. It's a disease for our grandchildren's lifetime.

So I'm very fortunate today to have a very great group of distinguished people to speak with us about CWD, again the detection, the management, the containment, all aspects of that and I think you'll find it very informative.

Our first speaker is going to kind of start us off with the basics, CD -- CWD 101 and talk a little bit about new technologies that's considered RT-QuIC on how we can detect CWD sooner. That first speaker is Dr. Peter Larsen. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, is Co-Director of the Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach, commonly referred to as MNPRO. He is cofounder and CEO of Priogen Corporation, a University of Minnesota spinoff company specializing in next generation CWD diagnostic services and technology. Dr. Larsen has over 18 years of experience in molecular biology, mammalogy, genomics, and he leads a diverse resource team with a collective mission to advance our understanding of Chronic Wasting Disease biology and ecology. For the past five years, Dr. Larsen has led an effort to develop advanced diagnostic tools for rapid realtime detection of CWD and other prion diseases. Dr. Larsen and his MNPRO team work closely with state, tribal, federal, industry, and academic partners to conduct innovative research aimed at fighting CWD in new ways. Dr. Larsen and his team have collaborated with TWD on multiple projects, and so I'll turn the podium over to Dr. Larsen.

DR. PETER LARSEN: Thank you, John.

Chairman, Vice-Chair, Commissioners, thanks for the opportunity to present before you today. Before I get started, I have to share that I received my PhD from Texas Tech University. I just want to be on record that perhaps Texas Tech is one of the best universities in Texas.

This is a line drawing. I start all my presentations of CWD with this line drawing. It comes from a book that was published in 1902 and the lead author of the book is Teddy Roosevelt. And so while he was -- even as he was taking on the Presidency, he was thinking about deer and there's a lot of heritage. It goes back thousands upon thousands of years in North America with deer. So we can't forget that as we fight CWD.

In 2019, we established the Minnesota Center for Prion Research and Outreach. The center has grown rapidly. It is a multi-disciplinary think-tank. There's over 60 individuals both within the University of Minnesota and externally that are conducting CWD research every day. Over the last four years, we've secured over $11 million to develop new diagnostic tools and protocols to fight CWD.

Because of our success and gathering those funds and leading the -- you know, thinking outside the box for developing new protocols for CWD, we developed a large technology portfolio and the University of Minnesota strongly encouraged us to develop a spinoff company because for the technologies that we were developing and the protocols that we were developing -- which includes a pathway to a deer site test that is generating results within three hours -- you know, they strongly encouraged us rather than publishing these in scientific papers, we have to figure out a way to get them into the public, get them out so that they can help fight CWD and the only way to do that is to commercialize through a start-up. And so we licensed the MNPRO technology in 2022 and we are rolling out services for advanced CWD testing. That includes herd level, live animal, and venison testing and also a variety of research services.

As John mentioned, we are partnering with state and travel agencies, ranchers, academia, and the public through both MNPRO and Priogen.

What is a prion? So this is something that -- and throughout all my years at Texas Tech, I don't know if I heard the word prion and we hear a lot about prions with respect to CWD, but it's always confusing. Right? No one really digs into what a prion is, how does it function, how does it get infectious. And so the first half of this talk, I'll dig into what a prion is and the biology of it so we can -- we can all be on the same page.

All mammals -- all mammals have prion proteins. What I'm showing you on the right there is a normal functioning prion protein. This is a ribbon diagram that scientists use to visualize prions and other proteins. So everyone in this room, everyone watching online, you-all have prion proteins right now. All deer have prion proteins. They have a normal cellular function. The help regulate copper, zinc, and iron in the nervous system. They're enriched in the nervous system, but they are found pretty much through all cells throughout the body. And so because of that, these prion proteins are in multiple tissue types at different levels, but they're enriched in the nervous system.

Why do I have a rainbow slinky there? Well, this is a tool that -- and I came up with it -- or my wife actually came up with this. I can't take credit for it. But you have to think three and three dimensions when thinking about this problem of CWD and when thinking about prions and how they become infectious. So view this slinky as a normal functioning prion protein. If I go to stairs and I put this down the stairs, this will walk down the stairs. Right? It has a function. It moves smoothly as I'm playing with it here. So this is a three-dimensional representation of a prion protein.

We've connected with over 25,000 people with this model, including members of the U.S. Congress. So this is the normal prion protein, normal functioning slinky. What happens -- how do prions become infections is if you take this normal prion and you unwind it and you relax it and it forms a different shape, it loses its function. So this is a misfolded infectious prion and the diagram on the right, you're seeing all these -- the protein, it's the same -- essentially the same amino acid that has that protein, but it's changed its shape and it can develop in this abnormal form. And when you hear about the concern of CWD maybe spilling over into other animals, into humans, there's a conversation about strains and it's different than a -- when you think about a strain in a virus, if this is a misfolded prion protein that causes disease, it can actually have slightly different shapes. So maybe the deer down here in Texas that get CWD have a shape like this, but maybe up in Minnesota the shape is like this and the concern in the scientific community is that that strain variation can interact with normal prion proteins in other species, other mammals, including humans. So that is the concept of strain variation in -- for infectious prions.

So, but how does it spread? So if this misfolded infectious prion comes into contact with the normal one, it will cause this to misfold. Right? So all it takes is for -- and again, it's a three-dimensional problem. It will come in, interact, and then just that interaction will cause this one to unwind and then form the misfolded shape and start forming fibrils and eventually plaques.

So this is -- I call this the chaos engine of prion disease because if you have this, let's say it's ingested or it's inhaled or it's introduced via surgical equipment, you can have this come together, it goes into the animal, and it starts daisy chaining or a domino effect essentially throughout multiple tissues, enrich the nervous system, it ultimately goes and colonizes in the brain. That process can take up to two years. It's slow. Think of it almost like an Alzheimer's disease or even a cancer where early on in the early stage of the disease, you may not know that there's a problem; but over time, it does accumulate and then ultimately colonizes the brain. The end stage of that process, you know, we call that CWD in deer. But we call that scrapie in sheep, BSE in cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

So for all prion diseases, the misfolded prion, this slowly spreads through the body. It accumulates over time in the lymph tissues and the nervous system. That's why most of the testing is done now with lymph nodes that are extracted and tested. It's because these actually accumulate in the lymph nodes over time. But -- and then it also colonizes the brain and so the brain is also used for CWD testing because of that.

These come together. They form fibrils and plaques that are very similar to what's observed in Alzheimer's. It disrupts copper homeostasis. Remember, this one, this normal one has a function to regulate copper in nerve cells and other cells. If that's gone and you disrupt that, then you start causing stress and it cascades into cell death.

At the bottom there, you see a healthy, normal functioning brain with healthy prions. You introduce these, they start misfolding, and then on the right you have a -- what essentially turns the brain into a sponge and you have the spongiform appearance and that is causing -- that's a sign of cell death and nerve death. But there's a limited immune and inflammatory response. So this could be happening in me right now, but I wouldn't know it because my body thinks that this is the same as this. It's just a different shape. Right?

So there's -- that's why the animals that have CWD in the early stages of the infection, you're not -- you don't know that they're sick. Right? They're not developing a strong immune response.

So for CWD prions, when these come together -- so if this is a normal deer prion and this is the misfolded deer prion, when it comes together, it interacts, it causes that shape change. You could have slightly different shapes in different populations of deer, elk, et cetera. Those are the strains and it starts a domino effect in the animal.

Those misfolded prions do not break down easily in the environment. So these, once they're shed in the environment, there's a huge concern with the environmental contamination of these. We have research now coming out of the MNPRO Center that there are -- you can actually detect these in soil 15 years after they've been deposited and these can be shed in feces, urine, carcasses, et cetera. And so that's a really -- a valid concern. There's also concern that plants can actually bring these up into their roots and deposit them in their leaves and so there's a potential ecological transmission route. That's been shown experimentally in the lab that plants can uptake those.

These prions are spread by both direct animal to animal and indirect routes. So you can imagine deer are very social. If there's a positive animal and it's coming into contact with animals that haven't been exposed yet, just by licking, grooming, obviously reproducing, there's opportunities for these to be spread. But it's also environment to animal. So they can be exposed potentially contaminated water sources, vegetation. So there's a number of routes that this could actually be introduced to the animals in the environment.

For diagnostics, so how are these detected and there's sort of multiple generations now of diagnostic tools to find these prions. Most of the tools that are being used right now were actually developed decades ago and they are all -- they use antibodies to detect these misfolded prions in different tissue types. But because of the technology that's being used, they're not sensitive enough to pick up those prions in multiple tissues throughout an infected animal. You have to use the tissues that these become concentrated in: So the lymph nodes, the brain stem.

There's research showing that you can detect these in rectal biopsies. But the way those tests work is they -- they -- the antibodies can't differentiate between these two. So you actually have to break the normal ones down in your sample and these have a different shape, so they're left behind and the antibodies pick those up. And so the images at the bottom, the pink color that you're seeing there are actually staining on the misfolded prions.

But there's a number of limitations with the current diagnostic tools just because you have to focus on the tissues that are -- these accumulate in and we know because the way the disease spreads, if it's super early in the infection -- like two months in or three months in -- it's possible that the current tests won't be able to pick this up because it's just at a low, low level.

That's why our team at the University of Minnesota and others really around the world are really interested in this Real-Time Quaking-Induced Conversion test. So this is an assay that was developed in 2007 for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, that's the human prion disease, and essentially the way that this assay works is you can -- in a test tube, you can have your normal prions that you grow up in the lab using a bacteria they're not infectious. They're just bacteria prion proteins that you can grow up, and then you have your sample. Let's say it's a CWD positive sample. In the test tube, you can combine those and you literally do a shake and bake. So you're incubating, you're shaking, and there's a dye, a fluorescent dye inside that mixture. So if this starts to misfold, you can detect -- more and more of that dye will fluoresce. So you're just leveraging what is happening, you know, in that two-year process in deer in a test tube in a test that takes anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, depending on the sample type.

So as that's happening in the test tube, if you look at the graph there at the bottom, you'll see if it's a positive sample, you get a curve that's going up. If it's negative or not detected, it's sort of flatline there. This is a highly accurate test. There's low rates of false positives and negatives for tissues. There are many labs now across the world showing that this is a reproducible test.

Our lab now is the largest academic RT-QuIC lab in the United States. So we are running hundreds of samples through our research lab every week, and we're learning a lot about this test as we do that.

So, you know, a lot of us -- there are a lot of questions about validation and, you know, how do we know that this test can work for CWD surveillance and there's several studies now that have been published independently showing that using the same tissues that those traditional tests use, ELISA and IHC, there's consistently 90 to 100 percent accuracy, performing just as good as those tests, if not better. So many labs have independently confirmed RT-QuIC accuracy in both human and animal prion diseases.

The test is so sensitive that you could take one tablespoon of these and mix it in 400 Olympic-size swimming pools that have these in it, that test can pick that up. One tablespoon into that 400 Olympic-size swimming pools. That's how sensitive it is.

So because of that, with RT-QuIC, it really opens up a large variety of -- you know, and there's a number of research projects that we're collaborating all sorts of folks on to be able to detect prions in different tissues. Right? So because it's so sensitive, we developed the first protocols to detect it in venison. We know that we can detect prions in ear punches or skin, saliva, mucus, blood. There's -- there's different protocols that folks that have developed to be able to detect prions in those samples. We're developing our own protocols. So there's really a lot of research interest into it.

But one aspect that's really interesting is that we were able to identify these on surfaces and I'm going to talk a little bit more about that and how it might be able to be leveraged for managing, but it's also the environment. So we know -- we have research now showing that we can detect these in the sediment that's in water that's downstream of positive regions. Also in soil. Even in insects that may be interacting with carcasses. There's research that we're doing and also with Collaboration of Texas showing that you might be able to pick up the prions on insects that are on CWD positive carcasses.

So the sentinels, let me dig a little bit more into this. We published a paper a few years ago showing that, you know, you can put the misfolded prions onto different surfaces -- let's say it's stainless steel -- and you could come after an amount of time with a swab and swab that surface and then run that in RT-QuIC and determine whether or not the prions were there. And so we came up with this idea. If we can do that experimenting in the lab, how might we do that to actually help with the early detection system in both ranch operations, high-fence operations, and in the wild, low-fence ranch operations?

And so what we -- and we worked with Parks and Wildlife on this and we put the sentinels actually in feed bunks of a positive facility. We left them there for a week and we came back and swabbed those and, yes, it definitely looked as if the prions are being positive on those sentinels was quantitative. It corresponded with the positivity of CWD in the pens as we recovered those from those sentinel surfaces.

So that's lots of applications here and we've confirmed this now through both the academic side and the Priogen Corporate side that this seems like it's working in not only in farm situations, but also in wild situations and that's research throughout the U.S. and Canada.

So what is the future of CWD management? And again, these are -- these are just some ideas that I have after what I've seen over the years and what the technology can do. I do think in high-fence operations that genetics is important. You have to breed less susceptible animals. However, no animal is resistant 100 percent to CWD. So it's not -- you can't breed complete 100 percent resistance to disease. It's just that the disease moves more slowly through those animals.

I do think that premovement live testing is important. It helps stabilize the industry. I grew up on a farm in South Dakota. I had cattle, so I understand some of those feelings on the farm side of things. But the live animal testing, it has to be done with disposable tools. These can be on surgical equipment that are used multiple times if they're not cleaned properly. Real-time sentinel's based surveillance, based on all the research that we've done and what we're doing now on the Priogen side of things, we really believe that you can catch CWD very early in the cycle of the disease, within two or three months probably. And because of that, that might open up new opportunities for proactive real-time management. If you catch it super early and you live test, you could cull those, the animal, and then go into monitoring with the sentinels and see if you effectively got in front of the situation.

The caveat with all of this, if you go into an operation where CWD has been cooking for too long, you're not going to get in front of it. It's just it's too late. You have to be there early, early on.

For low-fence and wild herds, yes, increased testing. That includes hunter-harvest, road kill. You can leverage these technologies like RT-QuIC in different ways to find those prions in different scenarios and Parks and Wildlife is already doing a great job of this with management zones, but you really have to keep the pressure on. You have to cull. And in one area of research that we're doing now is that we're looking at scrapes and mineral licks and you can actually leverage because the deer are congregating in those areas, you can take environmental samples from those and see whether or not CWD is in the region and then you know that you need to pivot and maybe focus your culling efforts in those regions.

And then also, I mean, with all the feeding that goes on -- not just in Texas, but, you know, throughout the U.S. -- you can leverage that with these sentinels to see if you have hotspots on a ranch or in a wild scenario that you can go in and discover and then target and cull those.

For environmental radiation, there are teams not only in the U.S., but also in South Korea. CWD is -- was introduced in South Korea. They've developed methods to remediate the environment and I understand how complex it is in a wild situation. Within a fence, it's a little bit more contained; but it's still complex. I do think that there are ways that we can take or new avenues that we can explore to remediate the environment. But bottom line is there's no easy answer with CWD.

And with that, I am happy to take any questions y'all might have.


Any questions from the Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: I have a few. Commissioner Doggett.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Your mic, sir.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: Commissioner Doggett. So clearly there's no antidote, no cure. You can't inoculate the herd, correct?

DR. PETER LARSEN: Yeah. Yeah, correct. Chairman, yep, and Commissioners, there is no cure for CWD.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: And so there's no -- there's no prospect of that ever occurring?

DR. PETER LARSEN: I would say that there is research going on in Canada, in Colorado State university where they have started to work on the development of a vaccine; but that is very early stage. And there's also -- you have to be careful because if your vaccine can only take out some strains, you could actually leave some strains behind and make the problem worse.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: Does your research tell you if one deer in a herd has the misfolded prions, does -- is the -- is the whole herd 100 percent, 50 percent, a few deer? Or what's the research show over a year?

DR. PETER LARSEN: It depends on time. So the question is, like, if one deer in a herd has CWD, how do you know, you know, what other animals might have it. It really depends on time. When did that animal get infected? How long has that animal been -- how long has it been, you know, that daisy chain been happening with an animal? Are they shedding? If, yes, do the other animals, have they interacted?

So it just depends on time. That's why you have to find it super early on. The longer the time and a positive animal is interacting with others, either in the wild or a high-fence situation, the more likely it's going to spread and then just gets out of control. You won't be able to stop that effectively without a major culling effort.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: So if you do nothing, then 100 percent likely will get --

DR. PETER LARSEN: No, not 100 percent. So there are -- the areas in wild in Colorado, in Montana, there's areas now in Wisconsin where you are seeing prevalence around 50 to 60 percent of animals that are positive. You don't see old animals in those populations. They're dying young because, again, this is a neurogen disease that takes out the older animals; but hundred percent prevalence, no, I don't believe that's been documented in the wild.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: So you said the high-fence is less susceptible. So I suspect that's -- or less susceptible to getting the disease.

DR. PETER LARSEN: No. The breeding -- breeding efforts that can be done in high-fenced scenarios -- and Dr. Seabury is going to talk a little bit more about this -- that there -- we do know, not just on deer, but in sheep and also in humans, that there are variants, genetic variants that can make that process move more slowly or faster. Again, it's not 100 percent, you know, prevention there. But for -- on the -- in a high-fence side, if the deer population has genetics that just move it a little bit more slowly, that might more -- open up more management strategies. It's not 100 percent.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: So it has more to do with the genetics than transient deer coming -- not coming in and out of the population.

DR. PETER LARSEN: For like risk?


DR. PETER LARSEN: No, that's very complex. So those prions can be introduced into different areas numerous ways and so that's -- that's one of the things that's most challenging about the disease is that it can be really difficult to understand how it got into a specific population.

Now also there is data that show some percentage of prion diseases can occur sporadically. We know that from cattle, from deer, from humans. What we don't know for deer is how often that happens.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: Can I ask one last question?

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Sure, go ahead. Yep.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: And I think it probably interests a lot -- a lot of folks who have ranches. So you said that, you know, when you discover the bad prions, remediate the ranch environment. So can you -- we just sort of brushed on that.


COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: Can you be more specific --

DR. PETER LARSEN: Yeah, it's really --

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: -- on what that means?

DR. PETER LARSEN: You really have to figure out -- you know, obviously it depends on the scenario. There's got to be areas where the deer are congregating, where you think it's a hotspot, you know, and it could be based on the data that's generated using something like RT-QuIC. Where are those hotspots?

And, you know, this is a big problem. In South Korea, in the farming industry in South Korea, there's not a lot of land available there. So they've -- they've really been pushing the envelope to identify new ways to remediate the environment on the ranches that they have there. I know that there's research showing that if you use compounds that are very basic -- almost like, you know, bleach -- if you change the pH, then that could actually help. So bleach solutions. Virkon is another -- another product that we've been shown in the lab that can actually prevent or reduce infectivity.

So it's -- it's not easy. Like you'd have to take out soil. You would have to identify, you know, regions within that environment where -- that are the hotspots and then -- and treat them with a compound or --

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: But you'd need to cull the herd though. I mean, if it was high-fence, would you have to -- would you need to cull the entire herd?

DR. PETER LARSEN: It depends on the stage of the disease. If it's super, super early and you caught it and you found the animal lets say that was producing and then you cull that animal and you went in surveillance, you would -- you would know whether or not it was actively spreading. If it is, you know, greater than 25 percent or -- I'm just putting that number out there -- if it was multiple animals within a herd that have CWD, it really is too late.


DR. PETER LARSEN: I mean, it --

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: So worst case then you have to cull the whole herd.

DR. PETER LARSEN: So it's all about time.


DR. PETER LARSEN: So if you catch it early, super early, there may be management strategies there that you don't need to cull the whole herd. But if you're midway or past that point of no return, culling is the best option.


COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: That was very helpful.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right, thank you.

Any other questions for Dr. Larsen?

COMMISSIONER BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. I have a couple real quick. Just since we're trying to look at a strategy in terms of how we manage activities, you know, courses of action --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- based on what you suggested, so what's the impact if we -- if we say we're not going to limit move -- I mean, as I look at it, we have to identify --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- we have to decide how we're going to limit movement, we're going to manage a process throughout. We have to determine whether or not there's an eventual cure or prevention and even the genetic breeding to breed a more hardy, more resistant deer. But in the interim --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- if we're managing this, so Course of Action 1 might be do nothing all the to course -- let's say we have three. Course of Action 3 is to say --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- you limit movement within 100 miles of wherever you found it. Course of Action -- Course of Action 4 is you stop everybody dead in their tracks or Course of Action 3 is you stop everybody dead in their tracks.

Based on your research, do you have any suggestions of terms if you are recommending an action?

DR. PETER LARSEN: Well, also you can't -- you can't do nothing. So you really have to be proactive. And, you know, right now the tools that the agencies, including Parks and Wildlife here have, those are the only tools that have been available, right, for many years. So I would say that agencies managing this are doing the best they can with the tools that they've had access to. But we're in this transitionary period now where there are new tools that can be explored and added to management strategy.

So you can't do nothing. You have to be really careful though on the live animal testing side of things. There's a focus on these RAMALT tissues and I have some strong feelings about that just because that's a difficult and highly invasive tissue type to get to and you really have to be doing that right and using the appropriate methods to make sure there's no chance of cross-contamination.

COMMISSIONER BELL: One last -- one last question then because I get the gist of that. You mentioned research around some testing that your lab has developed. What's the cost of that testing?

DR. PETER LARSEN: So I can say right now, so we offer venison testing. That's $45. And the average cost for CWD testing across the United States that agencies pay for is about $140. However, some states are paying as high as $500. But we have come in under the strategy to make it assessable. So anywhere from $45 to $90, depending on what the surface is.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Okay, thank you.



Two questions. One, your RT-QuIC versus Western Blot, is that an acceptable testing process now or is that still in the experimental phase?

DR. PETER LARSEN: So for regulatory purposes, RT-QuIC has not been validated by the USDA for regulatory purposes.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: How long do you think it will be before that occurs?

DR. PETER LARSEN: That's a question for the USDA. I've tried to answer that in the past and I get in trouble because, you know, they really -- they really have to embrace and understand that they have to move quickly for that validation process. And Dr. Schuler might be able to talk a little bit about that as well. But I would say that there's frustration in the research community that the USDA hasn't taken a more proactive role in validating RT-QuIC.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Got it. And then last one, your sentinel surveillance program, tell me about that. Well, does your RT-QuIC actually find it two to three months after it's been infected.

DR. PETER LARSEN: Yeah. So the research shows that -- and these are challenge experiments that other labs have done where you can actually infect White-tailed deer or elk and then you can take samples, time core samples as the disease is spreading through the animal and you can go in with RT-QuIC, test those, and then see when the earliest it is that you find it in the saliva. And so, yeah --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: So that's a huge game changer, right?

DR. PETER LARSEN: Yes. It's exactly why we moved into the sentinel approach because what it does is for the first time, it gives you a real-time in the landscape. I will say that the current test, you're always a year or two behind the disease. Right? You don't know where that enemy is on the landscape, if you will. With the sentinels, you have them. The animals are interacting with them. You swab. If you start to get hits, you can go in and cull them out. There are ranchers here that have cameras on their feeders that they know the individuals, family units that are coming in. It is possible with cameras and the sentinel swabbing, you can pin it down to individuals that are positive, yes.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Interesting. So if I wanted to be really a fastidious breeder, I could do Western Blot, which is mandatory, and I could do RT-QuIC, which is probably going to be a lot more accurate and a lot quicker.

DR. PETER LARSEN: Yeah, there's no -- there's no restrictions on --


DR. PETER LARSEN: -- using RT-QuIC for environmental surveillance. Now that said, if we -- if we're doing tissue testing, right, and we get a positive on RT-QuIC, we notify Parks and Wildlife -- if it happens in Texas, we notify Parks and Wildlife. If it's in Minnesota, we notify our DNR. That's by law, right? Because by law --


DR. PETER LARSEN: -- you have to notify. But on the environmental side, there's nothing preventing surveying to understand what's there.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Got it. And then the last, the sentinel surveillance. So you're putting something in feeders that allows --

DR. PETER LARSEN: Steel plate, yeah --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- you to monitor?

DR. PETER LARSEN: Yeah, we can put a steel plate in the lip of those feeders and as the animals are licking at the corn or the, you know -- you know, what have you, whatever's in there, the feed, they are licking on that sentinel. And then over time, the prions build up and then you just come in and swab and we've shown --


DR. PETER LARSEN: -- that it's useful after a week of being deployed, we can pick them up.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Fantastic. Okay, great. Thanks, Dr Larsen.

All right. Our next speaker -- and who is handling the timing and the lights? Because I don't see anything here.

MS. HALLIBURTON: I'll start doing that, sir.


MR. SILOVSKY: Good morning again. It seems like we're off to a really good start. So our next speaker is going to be Dr. Krysten Schuler and she's going to talk to us about the statuses of CWD in the United States and some other things that other states are doing. Dr. Schuler is a Wildlife Disease Ecologist and Director of the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab. She has over 20 years of experience researching Chronic Wasting Disease and has testified before Congress or CWD science. Dr. Schuler leads the Surveillance Optimization Project for CWD, which she'll share with you during her presentation. It's a collaborative effort by two dozen states and two providences to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of wildlife agencies fight against CWD, providing free software with data management, situational awareness, and decision support tools.

So, Dr. Schuler.

DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: All right. Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission. It's a real privilege to be here today to talk to you about Chronic Wasting Disease and I was asked to present a few of the takeaway messages up front so that if you do need to nod off, you'll catch these right at the beginning.

So in my experience, once you have CWD, it always gets worse. So that's why I advocate for prevention. It is the thing that we can do right now to take action to prevent CWD from increasing in areas where it already exists and spreading to new areas and the ways that we can do that that have been proven are to depopulate CWD positive captive herds. And I'm afraid I'm going to be a little bit of a "Debbie Downer" after Dr. Larsen and his optimism, but depopulation is still the number one way that we deal with infectious diseases in livestock.

So things that have happened recently, including highly pathogenic avian influenza, millions of poultry have been killed because of highly pathogenic avian influenza. So even for other species, we don't have a lot of tools in our toolbox other than stopping the transmission by decreasing the host.

The other thing we can do on the prevention side where CWD doesn't exist, is to reduce wild deer densities. In many areas of the country, deer densities are much higher than they've ever been historically and we see declining numbers of hunters, which means that we don't have enough hunters out there taking enough deer.

As Dr. Larsen said, culling is still a widely used tool, particularly in new spark areas. So when you have that first detection, that is your best opportunity to make a difference in the disease. And finally stopping movement of prions, whether that's in live deer or in dead deer. And I'm talking about deer here for the most part, but obviously CWD affects other species.

I think it's important to note that CWD has not always been present. We can see the spread out from the area in Colorado and Wyoming starting in the 1970s. It -- with the turn of the century with deer populations recovering across the country, if CWD had always been here, we would see it across the country and that's not the case.

And finally for the future, we know that CWD affects deer populations. If deer are dying sooner, it has to have a population level impact and when that prevalence gets high, we do see deer dying. And one of the questions I always get asked is about the transmission to humans. There are no known cases of CWD in people at present, but we may not have a complete species barrier and I'm happy to elaborate on that in this talk.

So I'd like to mention some of the pillars that I sort of function by and the first being that we hold wildlife as a public trust resource, which you are well aware of as the trustees for those resourcers -- resources. And management are managed by the great State of Texas for current and future generations and it's that intergenerational fairness where we're thinking not only of how people today are going to be impacted, but those future generations. And we referenced Dr. Dittmar already talking about this as affecting your grandchildren and that's something I used to say as well. But now I think about my son right there, but I wonder what his hunting experiences are going to be like because I'm seeing this disease progress so fast and so many states are being impacted by it, that we really need to think about how we are going to kind of hold the ground for those future generations.

The other pillar that I'd like to mention that I use a lot is the precautionary principle. And with CWD, we don't have all the scientific information that we would like to have. So what we have with the precautionary principle is basically the opposite of the burden of proof. Where CWD looks bad, we don't have as much information as we'd like to make informed decisions; so let's be cautious. Let's operate within an abundance of caution until things are proven to not be as bad as we suspect they might be. And so I'll reference that throughout.

So just to give you a little bit of background on me, I've -- I've started out in the field. I was doing live testing on deer, catching them with helicopters, doing all that fun stuff in my dissertation research at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. From there, I moved to the U.S. Geological Surveys National Wildlife Health Center, which is the equivalent of the CDC for wildlife. For the last 12 years, I've been at Cornell University with the Wildlife Health Lab. I'm currently the Director. And one of the things that I really take great pleasure from is assisting states with CWD surveillance and for better or worse, thus far I've helped a number of states and helped a few of them find their first cases of CWD in Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida.

And you might recognize that tall gentleman down in the bottom picture as Director Carter Smith. I had the pleasure of testifying on the Hill with him.

So we already covered the background really well on CWD, so I don't think I need to belabor that. But I do think it's important to reiterate that this is a universally fatal disease. All of these transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are fatal and we have not developed vaccines or resistance, even for Mad Cow disease. Fifty million cows were killed to stop that disease. And the long period that these animals exist, typically can be up to two years, makes this disease more challenging because they don't turn purple or look different than a normal animal.

I followed marked animals around for years, watched them every single day, and it wasn't until the very end stages of the disease that you could even tell anything was wrong with them and usually they were killed by something else long before that.

So when we have infected populations, we mentioned that the live animals are shedding prions as they're walking around on the landscape. So at the beginning stages of a disease, usually it's animal-to-animal transmission; but then the longer it's on the landscape, that's when you start having this environmental contamination and the prions can actually bind to the soil. The seem to like clay in particular because they have an ionic charge and there's particles in clay called montmorillonite and so they tend to bind to those and become more infectious than they would if they were not bound to soil. So soil type can play a large role into retention of prions at the surface where they're available to deer.

We know that infected animals do not survive as long as uninfected animals. They're more likely to be killed by a predator or a hunter and in these areas that have had CWD for a while, we typically see in deer that bucks can have a prevalence two to three times that of does, but that shifts during the course of the disease progression and this pattern doesn't hold up in elk, which tend to have a different disease pathogenesis, so I won't talk too much about them today.

So illustrating these population level declines, work has been done in Wyoming in White-tailed deer where they documented a 10 percent annual decline in heavily infected populations. That decline was 21 percent for Mule deer, also in Wyoming, and then about 13 percent in affected areas of Colorado in elk.

So when we look at how the population changes with the disease, the longer that it's on the landscape, typically it's those older age class animals and the bucks in particular because they large home ranges and they interact with other deer on the landscape. So this is data from Wisconsin showing that when the disease first existed, you didn't see many young animals with it. It was those trophy-age males that had most of the infections. But the longer the disease is there, then you start seeing it shift towards younger age classes.

So unfortunately every time I give a presentation, this map changes. Most recently with your newest detection of another captive facility in Texas. But two things to note. One being that we don't see sort of that spread out from the epicenter that we would expect with CWD being everywhere. So the second point is these circles which represent captive cervid facilities. The yellow are areas that have been depopulated. The red represent ones that have not been depopulated. And if you look back from previous maps, we are seeing way more red on the landscape. And a lot of that is because we don't have the federal indemnity funding to depopulate these herds and we really need to make sure that we are stopping CWD because the fences that contain these deer do not contain prions and so we're seeing new detections in states like Wisconsin where these affected premises have been allowed to continue in operation, where then prions get outside the fence and are found in nearby wild deer.

So I'll pick on Wisconsin for a little bit because I tend to use this as sort of a worst-case scenario and this is not where Texas wants to end up. So this is data showing 32,000 successful hunters from four counties in Wisconsin that have the highest prevalence of CWD. These were successful hunters and they went to 49 out of the 50 states and could have taken their harvest home with them. And the thing that we worry about with taking deer from one area that has CWD home, is that they may dispose of the carcass out on the landscape where then it creates a new hotspot for infections because this is a better explanation for how we've seen those random sparks show up.

In these areas in Wisconsin, they have detected over a thousand positive deer just from those four counties per year. So there's a really high likelihood that these hunters took home CWD positive deer and only one in eight hunters actually gets their animal tested before they leave with it.

The other thing that we mentioned -- so you can't see the background -- but that is a CWD positive deer that died on the landscape in Wisconsin and so there's the decomposition of that carcass on the landscape where it leaves prions in the ground and there's also concern about scavengers consuming tissues from these animals because there's prions in there and previously we were sort of worried about scavengers spreading prions, you know, further. I think from the previous map showing that hunters going down the highway are doing it a lot faster than your average raccoon, but the concern here is that passing prions through other animals may change the strain type a little bit.

The one sort of silver lining may be that consumption by scavengers decreases the prion infectivity. So even though prions are going in the front end and coming out the back end, there may not be as many prions coming out the back end. So they might actually be helping us with clean up a little bit.

The other thing that we've mentioned previously is that these deer decomposing on the landscape leave prions behind which can be taken up into plants. So experimental research has shown it's plants like tomatoes, corn, wheat alfalfa, carrots, and I like to eat some of these things. So in addition, you know, to potential consumption of venison that we worry about for human transmission risk, then we're introducing a new factor when we allow these deer to decompose out in the environment.

So giving a little bit more information about human CWD, we kind of have two sides of the coin here. Because CWD is very similar to Mad Cow disease, which 223 people worldwide have been diagnosed with that got infected from eating cattle that were infected. On the flip side of that, we have scrapie in sheep, which has been a disease that's been known for hundreds of years; but we don't see any human transmission of scrapie. So we're kind of torn there. And one of the major things is that cooking temperatures do not denature prions. They can exist at cooking temperatures really well. You basically have to incinerate them to deactivate them.

So right now we think that there is a pretty good species barrier where these prions aren't going to jump from deer to humans. There have been no known cases in humans. And even with Mad Cow where I said, you know, were millions of cattle that were killed to stop this disease, there was a relatively small number of people affected; but it's a horrible disease and it is fatal.

So the CDC has recommended that nobody knowingly consume CWD positive venison and that is based on, you know, evidence that kind of varies in primates where some say that the primates can get it, other evidence has shown. So we're really at an impasse with what we know on this. The CDC did a study in Colorado, Wyoming, and Wisconsin seeing if there was an increased incidence of these prion diseases and they didn't see any evidence of that. So we're okay with that, but we do worry about changes in the strain type that then would be allowed to cross that species barrier.

So sort of the meat-and-potatoes part, what can we actual do about CWD? Well, right now we're just spending a lot of money. So the primary activity that states do is surveillance and we know already -- we've heard in the introduction -- what the value of White-tailed deer hunting is in Texas. You know, $4.3 billion is worth a lot. We did a similar economic analysis for the State of New York and found that that -- New York deer hunting was worth one and a half billion. And when we look at the cases where CWD has been found in the state, we see a 10 to 19 percent decline in hunter participation. So if we translate that to, you know, the economic numbers -- so for Texas, you could stand to lose $430 million a year if people decide that they don't want to hunt deer because of CWD. And that also impacts the funding that state wildlife agencies have right now. Wildlife agencies bear the brunt of most of this cost.

States with CWD spend eight times as much as those that don't have CWD. We don't see a lot of input from state agriculture agencies to support CWD efforts and there wasn't available information from the hunting industry or the captive industry in this USGS study.

So I tend to focus a lot of my efforts on surveillance because states are spending a lot of effort, personnel, and financial in this arena. So as mentioned in the intro, I have a project that I'm leading that has a lot of collaborators. It's called the Surveillance Optimization Project. Basically, we've developed free online software through this data warehouse to bring states together in a more standardized way. So far, everybody's kind of been doing their own thing and it's hard to compare apples to apples and use sort of bigger data methods to analyze and give us some new tools or suggestions or ideas if we can't combine data together. So we need standardization across regions and across the country.

And Dr. Larsen has a lot of good ideas about carcass side tests and new technologies, but those do represent some challenges for wildlife management agencies. Because if hunters just start testing their own animals, how does the agency respond to that? How much confidence do they have? Do they need to run out and, you know, cull a bunch of animals where they say there's a new positive? So those issues need to be worked out because they do present really difficult roadblocks for agencies.

On the management side, CWD is really unique because it's not managed like any other disease in animals where typically the activity is stamping out. You kill all the animals in a farm, in a herd, in a barn to get rid of that disease. There are situations where states have found CWD and then gone in and aggressively managed -- I can reference New York and Minnesota -- where we call these one-and-dones. So whether we got lucky or whether the conditions were just right that we went in and decreased the density of deer in that area enough to stop transmission before the environment got contaminated, we're not sure; but your best action -- as Dr. Larsen mentioned and it's been shown through modeling activities -- is before the prevalence gets to 1.3 percent. After it's above that level, you're pretty much done. You are at a management state of managing for the disease. You're not going to be able to necessarily get rid of it.

There are a few states like Illinois that have done continuous sharpshooting, and they've managed to keep the prevalence low. So that is something that they've undertaken. And really not a lot of states have actually done CWD management, and typically that's because of public opposition to culling. People don't want to see these deer killed and even though you can surgically get in very precisely about where you need to do these activities and that's not going to affect the overall population, you have to manage for that opposition and make sure that your agency has the trust in the public -- or the public has the trust in the agency to take the actions and they believe that these are necessary.

So the one thing I wanted to highlight is that we really need to think more about prevention because this really is the cheapest and most effective strategy that we have and we need to address all the risks that we have in both the wild and the captive herd, starting with the most likely risk first. And these may require regulatory changes. They require interagency cooperation and industry support. And these aren't hard.

We implemented a risk minimization plan in New York that has a three-point plan: Keep prions out, don't let prions get into wild deer and moose for New York, and make sure that you have the educational efforts there so that the public understands why you need to do these things.

So when we come to managing wild deer, as I mentioned, really the only tool we have that works right now that we know of is a gun. We need to lower wild deer densities and maintain a younger age structure. And this may happen through hunters; but historically in other states when they've tried to get hunters take more deer, it hasn't been sufficient to really have those density changes that we need to see to stop transmission.

On the captive side, the USDA Herd Certification Program has not been adequate to stop movement of CWD and I don't believe that even these herds can be certified as low risk anymore because we've seen movement both within states and between states of CWD positive animals. And obviously what you're doing in Texas now with live whole herd testing, provides you with more tools for those different herds. So that is a good thing; but allowing these herds to exist is really a challenge because those prions do get out, and we don't have good enough biosecurity to maintain them inside of the facility. And whether that happens through people moving things around, through activities like artificial insemination that use stainless steel instruments that might not be properly decontaminated, I don't know; but we to make sure that we are operating under the precautionary principle when we think about these things.

And obviously there is a real desire to breed these resistant captive deer. So I'm looking forward to the next presentation. But right now, I consider this more of a hypothesis and I'd really like to see this tested out, you know, through a challenge study to show that this proof of concept actually exists and that we're not just spending a lot of money to have these animals that may just take longer to test positive.

So the one thing that really keeps me up at night -- and I wouldn't have necessarily thought this was possible before we just lived through a pandemic -- and it's kind of one of those things where you don't think that a disease can have such economic and social and psychological ramifications, but I am very concerned about agricultural products. And we've already seen in two countries where there's concern about movement of agricultural products out of CWD positive areas and that people might not allow exports to come in if CWD has been found in that area. And I just -- it boggles the mind how much of an impact this could have on Texas and the rest of United State for, you know, our traditional agricultural commodities.

So I'll wrap it up just with a summary. We really have a real world, public trust case study with CWD because we see diseased deer as less valuable as a public trust resource. We have those do-not-consume orders. We have decreasing current and future hunter participation, which directly impacts wildlife agencies who are already straining under the weight of CWD because you have less revenue from license sales and you're spending a lot of your time dealing with CWD, just like you are today. And I've seen in other states that you start having mistrust of the management agencies and that's really difficult because we need cooperation from the public for these disease response activities and lessening our ability to use hunting as a management tool could be very, very detrimental.

So right now, we're sort of all in this both together. The boat's sort of taking on water, and we need to paddle a lot faster to really make a difference. So I'd be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Thanks, Dr Schuler.

Any questions by the Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. I have one.

You know when COVID came out they had something called Operation Warp Speed. Any option for that for --

DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: I think Dr. Larsen is your warp speed.


DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: But the -- you know, you think how many billions of dollars did we spend dealing with COVID and --

COMMISSIONER BELL: But -- but getting -- getting it to market in record time --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- I guess was the key thing --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- there. That's why I ask. And the -- because you raised the question about the -- in particular, I was thinking about the prions in soil being absorbed by plants and whether or not that gets into the agri -- the consumables --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- for people.

DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: Yeah. I mean, it's been shown in the lab that prions will bind to plants and be taken up from the soil into them. We don't know if that represents a viable transmission risk yet to humans or other animals. There have been cases where, you know, closed captive herds that haven't brought anything in or out have shown up CWD positive and we don't know if it's because they brought in feed that might have been contaminated or people that had, you know, something on their boots or surgical instruments.

So, yeah, I think that CWD is sort of been on the back burner of priorities for a long time. I mean, USDA gives away grants to work on it; but it hasn't received nearly the attention of, you know, COVID obviously.



Any other questions?

One question I've got. You said the random sparks that are probably caused by carcass movement?

DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: Could be caused. Yeah, that could be one of the transmission mechanisms.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Could be. But not -- I mean, mud on boots and surgical instruments and hay and all kinds of things, but so that's just one of the many.



DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: And because prions can last in the environment for such a long time, it's really difficult to figure out what those actually are.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Understand. And then you said if it gets to 1.3 percent or greater prevalence, then you're just managing the disease.

DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: That is the results of a modeling study out of Michigan that should be published hopefully in the near future, but simulations indicate that's sorts of the red line.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And do we know where are we in Texas? And I assume that's 1.3 percent of the total population, they're infected with CWD. Just that simple.

DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: Well, tot -- I mean, you want to localize it. You want it to be in a small area. If you're doing management activity, you're not thinking, you know, the whole State of Texas. It's however you define your boundaries around that area.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: That's by region.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Not for a full state.

DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: Uh-huh, correct.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay, understand. Okay. And the Michigan study is coming out when?

DR. KRYSTEN SCHULER: I don't know yet, but I can find out.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: That would be great. All right. Thank you, Dr. Schuler.

MR. SILOVSKY: The prevalence in Texas, Mr. Chairman, remains very, very low both in captivity and in free-ranging deer. Way, way less than 1 percent is what we believe right now, so.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: It would be interesting to see the model to see can you predict how quickly it can increase over time. I'm sure there's some statistical analysis that will -- could give you a pretty good -- it'd be interesting for the Department to get that.

MR. SILOVSKY: Lots of -- as described by the previous two speakers, lots of factors affect, you know, what that prevalence rate is and the biggest challenge is that time component, I think. That exposure of those animals, so.

Okay. So -- so moving on, the next speaker is going to talk to us about the accurate genomic predictions of risk of CWD susceptibility in captive deer and many of you are familiar with Dr. Chris Seabury. He's a Professor of Genomics in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M. He has 20 years of experience with prion diseases to include BSE, scrapie, and CWD. Dr. Seabury and his team have developed a genomic tool that can be used to produce accurate genomic predictions for risk of CWD susceptibility, thereby providing a novel strategy for reducing the prevalence of CWD in captive settings. Dr. Seabury, as you'll see from his work, has worked quite extensively with USDA and also another great partner for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: Thank you, John.

Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners, vice-Chairman. I'm thankful to be here today. I've got some handouts if you don't have copy that I've brought if you'd like to have some when we're finished or now.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: We can get them aft -- probably just -- because you're going to have the presentation up here?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. We can do it later.

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: Okay. So as you can see from this slide, it's kind of our lab logo because I work a lot on livestock. USDA very heavily funds what's known as genetic improvement of livestock, not only for production traits, but or disease resistance. It's part of our strategy for keeping the United States' food security viable, but also competitiveness in the area of food production.

I also have worked on quail. Obviously I work on cervids and I think that in terms of my key takeaways, I'll start my presentation with this. I think that my goal here today is not to manage your perceptions. My goal is to provide you with verifiable facts. So if something strikes you as unbelievable or shocking or even rubs you the wrong way for some reason, I would just -- I would ask that you do attempt to verify what I am testifying to today.

So the first key takeaway, CWD risk and the incidence of CWD can be predicted with high accuracy, regardless of the origin. Whether it's through infectious exposure, the normal classical route, or rather it's sporadic. We do think that sporadic cases can happen. They happen in other species. We even do see or in our data some evidence that that could be true, both from the epidemiology of the case and in the genetic data as well.

Selective breeding significantly reduces CWD susceptibility. That can be tested as a hypothesis and proven to be true. Total breeder depopulation is often unnecessary. We have a demonstration project. We've already shown that be true. Genetic resistance to CWD and CWD surveillance programs, they're not equal among breeder and free-ranging White-tailed deer in Texas. We test about a third of 1 percent of the wild deer in Texas. We test 30 to 40 percent of the breeder deer in Texas in some form or fashion every year. There's an order of magnitude difference in the testing intensity at least by 100 fold. Okay?

The information that's been provided historically -- because I read all of the Commission transcripts, I listen to the testimony -- not all of the information that has historically been provided is always accurate or complete or verifiable with expert vetting. I'm here today in hopes of making some of that -- to bring some clarity to some of that because it can affect policies and rules and it can also affect what we do when we detect a positive in terms of traces, tiers, herd plans, so on and so forth.

My goal is to successfully reduce the prevalence of CWD, and I think that I have some things that I can offer you in that capacity. I think it's also important to know who it is that's speaking to you. So I want to give you a little bit about my professional background. I am a trained wildlife biologist at the bachelor's and the master's level. I also have a PhD in population and quantitative genetics animal breeding. I did part of my training as a graduate student and as a post-doctoral researcher with a National Academy of Science member who was my mentor.

After that, rather than going into a research position that wasn't tenure eligible, I went to a tenure track position at A&M at the Vet School and was tenured early based on performance. Part of that performance is more than $26 million in research funding since 2009. Most of it is competitive funding from USDA for genetic improvement of livestock. A decent portion of it is also for the more recent cervid CWD-related work. The majority comes from beef and dairy cattle and sheep.

I've been the lead analyst on five different USDA national program grants and integrated program grants where our goal is to determine how we can selectively breed cattle for disease resistance to maximize production traits to maximize our food security and our competitiveness. I've been the lead analyst for predicting disease resistance also in a project with a global animal health company. Okay?

Global animal health companies have products that dairies use, that feed lots use, and their goal is to predict what animals are more or less susceptible to disease. We do that in the research setting too because we want to reduce our reliance on antibiotics and we want to maximize our output with minimal input. Feed efficiency and growth is a great example. Right?

Animals that are highly susceptible to respiratory, they'll go off feed, they won't do well they won't grow out well. Now we have to medicate them. Now we need a withdrawal time. So we're trying to use a natural solution to mitigate the problem.

The areas of my expertise are statistics. A lot of what I do is a branch of epidemiology known as genetic epidemiology, animal breeding, genetics, genomics, wildlife. And as John said, I've worked on prion disease for 20 years. In fact, my whole doctoral research dissertation was about BSE, scrapie, CWD, and the genetic components that affect those diseases.

I've also been the expert reviewer for the National Animal Disease Center, the Prion Unit, federal appropriation of funds. Somebody asked to review their research, their five-year research plans better the federal appropriations will be done fund to that program. I have been that person historically.

So what relevant work have I done recently that pertains to the topic at hand and for which I can answer any questions you have regarding things like genetic predictions and formalized breeding programs to reduce CWD susceptibility in captive White-tailed deer? I'm also doing it elk. I have a technology that I've just developed in elk and it's working as well as the technology in deer. So hot of the press.

Evaluation of surveillance methods of free-ranging White-tailed deer in Texas. I did a simulation study on that to look at the adequacies of our surveillance on low-fence and compare that to what we're doing on high-fence. I wrote a report about that. I provided it to the staff. Their reply was that the agreed with my findings. I've served as a subject matter expert in Texas at the CRT meeting Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Ohio, various capacities where I'm helping other states do herd plans and prion reduction plans as a science-based strategy. And then all those 11 states you see there, I have helped them get grants from USDA to pay for the genetic testing of their captive White-tailed deer.

So I produce all the results through a 501(c)(5) agricultural nonprofit and I do it all anonymously. So I don't know what the samples are, who they came from. They're just barcoded names to me. And then, of course, CWD related calculations, things like confidence of freedom from disease, what does it take to get there, how many samples do we need to test, you know, in a trace or a herd plan or a release site entanglement with a CWD positive. All those things I've been doing for USDA as well because they are revising their program standards and I have come up with some new statistical ways to bring greater confidence to the live testing and so on and so forth.

So you can't really talk about genetics and prion disease without talking about scrapie. It's kind of a textbook example because we know there's two different forms of scrapie: Classical scrapie, which is infectious, and nonclassical, which is sporadic. Sporadic doesn't mean that it happens by magic. Sporadic cases are caused by underlying genetic variation. Even in humans, the most common prion disease is sporadic CJD. 85 percent of the CJD cases are sporadic CJD. Meaning that there was no infectious exposure that caused it. It's caused by underlying genetic risk factors and the trait to me when I look at CWD as a trait, it looks like a metabolic disorder to me. And we heard from Peter earlier that it -- the prion itself binds to different minerals and metals.

We know it's not a very stable protein to begin with. So the idea that it could destabilize and then be detected by staining at TVMDL with IHC test, stands to reason it can -- we know it happens in sheep as sporadic. We know it happens in humans. We know it happens in cattle. So it stands to reason that it could happen in deer. And, in fact, no one -- no one has ever provided an explanation to even one index facility as to where the point of origin for the disease has come from. Not one. No one has been able to explain that.

Now traces are no-brainer. But index cases when we find a new one, no one's ever been able to explain where did that case from? How did the disease get there? So I think that some of the case we see probably are sporadic, but we don't typically keep the materials that are necessary in order to investigate this. Right?

Like I know that staff does submit some samples for Western Blotting, but you have to submit specific types of samples that are different from the usual diagnostic tissues in order to investigate the other properties of the disease and I'll talk about that a little more in a minute.

So a colleague of mine, Justin Greenlee, I've got a couple papers here that I'm showing you so you can look them up online and get them if you want, these papers show something that we as scientists have believed for a long time. For some reason, this fact kind of elicits some sort of emotional response from some people and I'm not quite sure why; but we've know about scrapies since 1732. No one's ever gotten scrapie. No human's ever been shown to have gotten scrapie. And most scientists believe that scrapie is either the major origin of CWD or one major origin of CWD. Right?

Here you can see that it's quite easy to give deer scrapie. In an experimental setting, the attack rate is 100 percent. Or to give CWD to sheep. Right? The problems with these experimental infection studies though is they give the animals a huge dose of the disease. It doesn't really mimic what happens in the wild. And so that's always a limitation. These projects are so expensive that the worst thing that could happen is you go in and you experimentally infect the animals and none of them get sick. Now you can't draw any inferences from the study. The flip side of that coin is if you give them too much, you draw inferences that aren't really correct. That's why global animal health companies don't use small animal indoor biocontainment type studies to make their products. Like a little company called Zoetis, for instance. They have products for dairy for predicting disease resistance. Those come from 1 million record analyses in the production environment and the reason is you want to know how the animal performs in the production environment, not in a concrete room where we're going to give them 100 times the dose concentrated that they're never going to see in the facility where they're being produced.

So this study that's on the right, really highlights something very important. It's a great paper: Why Genetic Selection to Reduce the Prevalence of Infectious diseases is Way More Promising than Currently Believed. It's because people don't really understand resistance. They think that it has to be absolute and complete in order to be effective and that is completely false.

Even the so- called scrapie resistant sheep aren't completely resistant. They can still get classical scrapie, it just doesn't happen very often. This paper highlights why that program is successful. It's because if you selectively breed animals to have reduced susceptibility, then you get a reduction in the prevalence of the disease and the shedding. And this particular disease, CWD, is dose-dependent. It's dose-dependent. It's already been proven by another researcher Ed Hoover that if you give deer a small dose of CWD over a multi-week period, none of them got positive within -- I don't know -- 30 months or so. But if you give them a larger dose one time, they'll get it. It's dose-dependent.

So if you reduce first the susceptible animals in the population, you reduce the prevalence -- excuse me -- and you reduce the shedding and you clean up the production environment and you're controlling exposure. You're diminishing exposure. It's a great paper. You should read it. It really explains why the scrapie eradication program worked so well.

Here's that National Scrapie Eradication Program. It's reduced the prevalence by 99 percent. Now I don't think personally -- and somebody at USDA may not appreciate this statement -- but I'm not sure that we always test enough. Like we were on the naughty list in fiscal year '22 with APHIS because we were supposed to test a thousand sheep and we only tested about 300, about a third of that, right, in our state for the monitoring and surveillance.

And I know in Hartley County in 2016, there was a sheep diagnosed with scrapie and at the very same time, we had the emergence of CWD in that same county and we've had a steady stream of Mule deer and White-tailed deer in Hartley County. Now I don't know if it's an overlapping property. That information's restricted, but it'd be interesting to know. So it doesn't matter. They're both reportable diseases and something has to be done.

But just to be clear, I do think that at least one major origin is likely scrapie. I think that the scrapie eradication program is a good jumping-off point for us to see what we can do in deer and let me show you what we can do.

So in 2019, we had this done and we submitted a paper for peer review. It came out in 2020, so we've known this for years now. What we did was we produced what's known as an array. You can see it up at the top and that little square device that's got purple squares inside, you can think of it like all those purple squares, think of them like little computer chips. We put a drop of DNA on that purple square and then we scan it on a scanner and it reads back to me a very detailed genetic profile of every deer with 200,000 natural sources of genetic variations for each deer.

That allows me to then map a trait, just the same we do in cattle. Only in this case, it's CWD resistance or susceptibility. I just set as the trait of interest the IHC diagnostic results at 23 different CWD positive nationwide distribution of deer farms. Right? So that allowed us to map that trait and figure out what has the largest affects on resistance or susceptibility in terms of natural genetic variation. It also allows to run prediction models statistically to do what we call predicting the genetic merit of the deer. Not all the deer are recreated equal in terms of how susceptible or resistant they are, just like people. Some people just can be exposed to COVID repeatedly and they don't get it or they're -- some are asymptomatic. Those two different things, but natural disease resistance is very well-known in mammals and humans and especially in farm animals. We've been working on these things for decades and decades in livestock.

So I have a program that runs what's known as machine learning. It is a form of AI, but it -- it -- I'm still driving. So I tell it what to do. Okay? So the program will go and it will randomly segment the data, the nationwide data into three or five pieces. And when it segments into three or five pieces, one of the pieces is overwritten into another directory where all of the diagnostic information is set to missing. And then all the other pieces are held aside. I use the pieces that have all the information to train the computer, the model, to predict on the one that has all of the diagnostic information removed. And if I do that many, many, many times -- like 100 times -- I can calculate how accurately I'm doing that.

In this case, the accuracy reflects how accurately I can predict blindly what deer will be CWD positive at a CWD positive facility. And you can see in that circle there, mean genomic prediction accuracy, it's about 82 percent and the formula down at the bottom is very simple. The accuracy is the true IHC positives plus the true IHC non-detects divided by the true positives plus the false negatives. What's that? That's a CWD positive deer that I couldn't catch. I couldn't predict. It escaped my prediction. I missed it. Plus the false positives. Well, what's that? A false positive is a deer that is sufficiently susceptible, but probably hasn't been exposed sufficiently yet and it tested non-detect and, of course the true non-detects. Simple little equation, that's where the accuracy estimate comes from.

Now this is a different the study. So USDA, they like the study that I showed you; but for due diligence and because of the way that they deploy new technologies and adopt new technologies, they said, "That's great, but let us -- let us administer a blind validation test."

And I said, "Okay, let's do it."

So each one of those blue dots you see down there is a batch of samples that they sent. Blindly I predict on them, I send the results back like a test, and I tell them, "Among all the red highlighted samples that I've shown you, those are the ones that are most likely to be CWD positive if there's any mixed into these samples."

They reveal the data to me. We go back and we calculate the sensitivity of the prediction. The ones that say 1.0 means 100 percent. The worst I did was 75 percent. The overall average was 88 percent or 87 percent, depending on what samples we used and I was able to catch of 118 of the 136 positives. Not bad.

Now one important thing -- you asked this

question early -- we always hear from people that the resistance is incomplete, there are no real resistant genotypes. Nobody really has the data to say that. No one has more subject matter on than I do. And I can tell you right now, this is the data from the blind validation. Where it says GEBB, that's a gnomically breeding value. That's score. Right? The more negative the score is, the more desirable the deer is. The more negative the score is, the more likely they are to test non-detect because the are enriched genetics. Okay?

When we go look at these intervals, we see the

prevalence evaporate. In other words, down at the bottom, if we say, "How many CWD positive deer at 23 different positive farms across the nation have scores or breeding values that are less than or equal to that number, negative 01.5, better than that number, it's only seven." 95 percent of the CWD positives at 23 farms have worse breeding values than that. We know the direction of the effect. We know what to select on. It's all natural genetic variation and as we descend down in those breeding values, we get to a point where we see no more positives. Zero.

It's possible that some of those deer truly

are resistant like in the production environment. You might be able to take them into a concrete room and, you know, give them a huge dose and force them to breathe it up their nose and overwhelm them; but some of these deer are likely truly resistant. But the ones that are the best are currently somewhat rare. Right? They're making more by breeding in that direction, but they're not totally abundant.

Here you can see 54,000 breeder deer from all

over the United States in this distribution and the red line there is the recommended cutoff for breeding that I give to them that I'm empirically calculated. This comes through a 501(c)(5) where I make these predictions anonymously. 35 percent pass the cutoff off to the present point. It was up to about 40 percent, but we got a big bunch of data from states that hadn't been testing at all so their producers weren't able to really utilize the technology recently and that pushed the number down. That PRNP Codon 96S, frequency in important because if we rank all the genetic, natural genetic variation in order of importance based mathematically on how much affect they have on resistance, 96S is number one. It has about 50 times the average genetic effect. So it's the number one feature that can afford resistance and it's not just this ominous feature that it's going to cause, you know, the deer to incubate for ten years. That's propaganda. It's not science.

We've got -- we've got a depopulated herd

recently that has animals that have two copies of that allele that have become positive within, you know, two years or less. Okay? So it's -- that is not science. We also know from -- from the Debbie McKenzie study in Canada that this allele really does resist. She's done biochemical studies that shows that when the prion has serine at the position 96, it resists refolding into that wild slinky that Peter was showing you. So it's not just statistical. It's biochemical, and there's plenty of evidence there.

These are your wild deer from all over the

State of Texas, every ecoregion where we could get wild deer at check stations and then I took our national reference and training data and I predicted on the wild deer. 10.9 percent of them passed the cutoff. That's the scientific expectation though because these deer are free-ranging and random mating. They're not going to be enriched for the good stuff to the degree that some of the breeder deer are because they're not being selectively bred. Serendipitously, the breeders created some pretty durable deer, not knowing it. And then they created some deer that are on the flip-side that are more susceptible. The wild deer are just somewhere in the middle when it comes to their whole score.

But what is good about the wild deer is the

frequency of that 96S allele. It's very common. It's a what we call a balanced polymorphism. Mother nature works in a way where it's balanced. About 25 percent of the wild deer have two copies of that 96S and that will help to suppress the prevalence in the wild. It will help.

Now I hope that today I've given you a little

bit of a flavor for this genetic prediction. It -- I don't agree that it's a hypothesis. We've published it multiple times. It's been vetted. It was reviewed by some of the greatest scientists in the world who revealed their identities because they were very happy with the paper. It conforms to all of the specs that we know about quantitative genetics and the selection of traits. The prediction accuracy should be about the square root of the heritability estimate. The heritability estimate's high. We can check that box. Okay? It's not newfangled. It's not experimental. We've been doing this in agriculture in the United States for a long time and whether people know it or not, this is where their food comes from, through these exact types of methods. Whether it's beef, dairy, aquaculture, whatever, we improve them for disease resistance and production using the exact same methods.

So although CWD might seem like a hard nut to

crack -- and it is many senses -- I hope that you will see that I put some big cracks in that nut today, especially on high-fenced facilities. Right? There's not a lot you can do on free-ranging facilities to arrest CWD. All the money gets spent on surveillance. You don't have enough control. Even if you go and shoot the density down, you're playing a numbers game. You're taking hunting opportunities away from people, you reduce the density, and you get a temporary reduction in the prevalence. But if the disease is in the environment, unless you maintain that lower density, when the deer density comes back up, the prevalence will come back up.

In a high-fence facility, you have more

control over the input genetics, the ingress, the egress, the biosecurity if you want it. Right? It -- unfortunately, it's just a little bit easier to manage in that setting in my opinion and as proven so far with some of our demonstration projects. So with that, I'll be happy to answer any questions that anyone has.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay, great. That's a lot.

All right. Any questions for Dr. Seabury?



COMMISSIONER BELL: This is Commissioner Bell. Hey, Dr. Seabury.

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: Good morning.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Nice follow-up to the talk we also had. Couple questions. One, when we talk about the potential for genetic evolution -- because I'm going to go -- I'm going to go to two places. What do we have to do right now? What does the future hold? Right? What's the -- what's a predictive timeline if you were going to try to genetically manage the captive deer herd -- I guess you'd say, right -- until you achieve a significant number of resistant deer? Is there a projected timeline?

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: I can't really control the rapidity of adoption by the producers or how aggressive they are with their breeding. But for the ones that are rapid adopters and for whom I have done breeding plans for them, just -- I don't know -- you could say through my role at A&M, we've been able to achieve that very rapidly.

But to answer your question, you know, it depends a little bit on adoption and how aggressive they want to be in their breeding strategy; but you can really move the needle on a herd in a couple of breeding seasons if you know what you're doing. And I've also -- you know, moving that needle will also include selecting for that 96S. So, you know, I've been discussing the impacts of that on the live testing with USDA statistically and come up with methods that can ensure we can do both: Continue our live testing and select for animals that are more resistant to the disease.

So, you know, it can happen relatively quickly. It's just that we've had pretty good buy in, pretty good stakeholder buy in, and I think people are moving in that direction. But I personally have seen herds that I produced the breeding program for and directed where we could get there in two breeding seasons.

COMMISSIONER BELL: So optimistically, is it fair if I say two to four years --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- conservatively is longer?


COMMISSIONER BELL: Okay. So that's -- and the reason I asked the question is just because -- and I didn't ask Dr. Schuler because I think she made the statement up front, but I did ask Dr. Larsen. If we had courses of actions, if we're recommending courses -- say one is, again -- and by the way, Dr. Larsen, don't do anything is choice, it's just a bad choice maybe. Right? And so you always have a choice when you're doing something.

So if we said from don't anything to, again, within 100 miles to stop all movement, for in the interim while -- if we were waiting for a solution, like where do you see -- where would you recommend we come down on that?

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: My honest opinion about this is that I think that if I were in charge, I would put a pause on all the rule-making, emergency, and otherwise until we can all sit down with the staff, they can tell you everything they want you to know. Some of the experts can respond to that. You can ask questions where we don't just have 20 minutes and then you can think about that and you have all those courses of action laid out to you and make a decision about it. I just don't think that we have enough time to have all the solutions today in this format, if that makes sense.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Well, I mean, that makes sense to a degree. But also the -- I think the format today is another way the Commission has to attempted to take a step forward to collect more information and the only -- the only challenge we have with anything we do is if we wait, then what's -- what's -- you know, what's the impact? If we do -- so if we wait, that equates to -- at least for this issue -- doing nothing.


COMMISSIONER BELL: Then, you know, what's -- what's the -- and maybe there's not an answer for that; but I just want to say that, you know, we have look at all of this.

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: I can speak to some of that and I'll say you have to prepare yourself for the reality that if this disease can happen sporadically, even if we breed these deer to be highly resistant just like the scrapie program, there will still be an expectation that you will be able to get some sporadic infrequent cases. I mean, the prevalence is already extraordinarily low. Right? And so we need to be able to identify those and what that means if that we actually need to be keeping the brains, doing Western Blots on the cerebral cortex and the retina of the positive animal so that we can try to get an -- and some other biochemical studies so we can determine whether it's a sporadic case or a classical CWD or whether it originates from scrapie or what it is. Right?

We don't do that. We should be doing that. That will help us manage the disease better if we can have some sort of knowledge about the origin of the disease. Because in sheep, sporadic cases pose little or no risk for transmissibility. Right? And there's plenty of cases where somebody's had one CWD positive deer, they take it out, remove it, live test everything else that they have, they have no more CWD positive animals. They -- I mean, I could name names, but I won't. That does happen.

So you -- even if we breed these deer to be more resistant and the prevalence is already extraordinarily low, you have to prepare yourself for the -- for the reality that it probably does and can happen sporadically. I think that my prediction system actually picks up on some of that. So I think if we breed these deer the right way, it will even reduce the incidence of that; but we'll always have a little bit of it. It -- it probably never will go away and part of the reason is that you can't control the prevalence in the wild.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Sure. Last question. Just in terms of breeding, what's a breeder looking at in terms of cost if they want to try to put a program like that in place? Is there --

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: They -- they -- they -- they go to the nonprofit and it costs $75, but they also get their parentage and the animal's profile verified and that's important because that proves that it really is the animal that they think it is and that the chain of custody on the sample in the lab has been maintained with integrity and that -- that's important in many ways because sometimes even the breeder when they're labeling the samples, they might accidentally transpose the ear tags on the samples. Right? And so then when they run it through that nonprofit, they say, "Hey, this can't be this deer. It doesn't match the parentage with its offspring, with its stated verified offspring or it doesn't match the profile on record."

So $75 per animal, and we do a lot for free. We -- we -- the people that run that nonprofit, incentivize testing by giving them, like, two-for-one deals. If they test adults, they'll test some of their fawns for free.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right. Any other questions?

Two -- two for me. One, you said total depopulation is not always a necessity.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: That's a big statement because, you know, one of the issues here is one positive equals 50 euthanized deer in a pen and -- at least how we do it today. So talk to that for a moment because this is a big issue.

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: Well, we've already done a demonstration project where we removed a positive animal that lived there for almost two years, was brain positive, had some clinical signs, and, you know, that was like in 2019 and we haven't had any positives since that time. That was a combination of genetics, best management practices, and intervention with live testing, all with the cooperation and collaboration with the Department and even Texas Animal Health Commission and we've -- we've not had any more positives at that facility.

The flip-side of that is not doing what we did there. There are other herds that the prevalence has just continued to grow and certainly if you do nothing, it will continue to grow and that's good for no one because you're dirtying up that production environment and it may get out of there and escape. Right?

So our goal is to keep the production environment as clean as possible and we've already demonstrated we have a project that has already accomplished what you just asked. It depends on their genetics. It's not much the timing. It depends on their genetics. It depends on a very rapid intervention and management plan with live testing and with removal of animals that were directly exposed in that pen as you said, but not the whole herd. Right? And even decontaminating your working facility. Everyone should be cleaning their working facility appropriately with appropriate tools.

I even put into place a protocol for live testing that ensures that the tools are clean because you can't just go around the state using all the same tools everywhere. Right? That doesn't make sense. You need to have your own tools. You need to clean the tools with something that actually denatures and kills the prion, if you will.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Understood. So it's a function of catching it early.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: So you have to test more frequently than we require now; but if you catch it early and you've got 96S prion gnomic deer, there is a possibility that those deer, given they haven't been introduced to high doses of CWD, could be resistant to it?



DR. CHRIS SEABURY: And our testing is already good. It's working. We're finding it. You know, I don't know -- I don't know how we could test any more than we're already testing. I mean breeder-to-breeder testing, that's testing more. Right? I assume that's what you're talking about. But already if we want to take a deer somewhere -- I'm not a deer breeder -- but if they want to move it to a release site, it has to be tested. All postmortem testing is required on all mortalities. So the only thing really left is breeder-to-breeder and we've reduced the age requirement down to six months, I think, which will produce some more tests. So in that regard, I guess that's the only way to ratchet it up.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And so finally, I mean, deer in breeder facilities could actually be beneficial in this whole process because it's the only laboratory you really have. You're saying -- I mean --


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- free-ranging deer for to find this 96S prion. And would you agree with that or not?

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: Yes, I fully agree with it. And you don't -- you don't need to trust me on that. You can talk to Zoetis or global animal health companies and ask them how make their products. They make their products in the production environment. That's how they make their predictive products. And, you know, I don't -- there -- this seems to be an emotional issue. But, to me, from strictly a scientific sense and a logical sense, you -- you -- why would you -- why would you -- even if we got rid of all the deer breeders today, you would still have CWD in the state and we would know less about it because we're not studying it in these deer breeding facilities.

So even if we got rid of all of them, you'd still have it. It came in in the wild. And the question is: What are you going do about it? The only place where we know we can really do anything about it and arrest it so far that we've seen is in the pen. There's no drug, no vaccine that's feed-through. No intervention strategy on low-fence that can accomplish what we've accomplished so far in the pen.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Got it. Okay thank you very much --


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- for your presentation.


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Actually I may have a -- this is Patton asking a question. Now I've listened to over the years now CWD and the effect and I guess my question's particularly pointed to free-range deer.

Can you speak to the affect of naturally occurring anthrax in deer mortality? Is that in --

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: Yes, it is. I'm a rancher and I'm actually -- you know, I'm not too far away from some endemic areas.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, okay. So I'm going to ask this question because I wanted to. Do you think there are many more naturally occurring fatalities, deer, White-tail fatalities due to anthrax than there is CWD?


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And so then my question is: Why -- why aren't we more alarmed about that in free-ranging deer herds than CWD?

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: I think that's a fair and pointed question. Anthrax is zoonotic. People can get it. I don't stay up at night worrying about CWD and people getting it. I mean, in science we never say that the probability is zero for something happening. But we had 600 million people that were exposed to BSE and less than 300 cases worldwide. And when we select these deer, every time we do that, we make that protein less like the human, which means that it's even less likely to be zoonotic. We're moving away from that ability by selecting for the good genetics.

So the anthrax situation is different. If the weather a right, the soil pH is right, you get a big outbreak, I know people walk to two to 300 carcasses on their property in a major anthrax outbreak. You never see a die-off like that with CWD. It doesn't exist.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. Well, I agree -- is my mic on?


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, I agree with that and I -- I'm, you know, familiar with obviously disposal of that, of the carcass that's recommended.


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And I guess it may be TAHC guidelines, maybe it's not Parks and Wildlife guidelines. Certainly the carrion birds, coyotes --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- they don't seem to touch. They know better. Is that a fair statement?

DR. CHRIS SEABURY: I think that some of them do touch it, and some get it. It's been shown and published. It doesn't necessarily affect them the same way, and some just don't get it. But, yeah, I've had a lot of experience with exactly the question that you're asking. But the good news is for those people, you know, I want to be able to help those people with Triple T, for instance.

We can do Triple T with greater confidence now that we know this genetic information. You know, like we could prioritize deer for Triple T that are less risky, more resistant to replace the deer that someone's lost in an anthrax endemic area. Right? But, you know, that was kind of part of the motivation of doing this with the Department is that they were interested -- at least initially -- in those aspects.

I'd hate to see the Triple T program go away in perpetuity because I think we can do it better now than we ever could before. Right?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, thank you.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great, thank you very much.

All right, Dr. Cook.

And let's, just as quickly as we can, I mean CVs are great. We under -- we appreciate all their resumes; but if they can, try to get to the meat of the presentation as quickly as possible.

Great, thanks.

MR. SILOVSKY: Okay. So just very quickly then, so we're going to maintain our focus on deer in captivity and we actually have two veterinarians that are going to speak to you. First one is Dr. Cook who's a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology at Texas A&M. Dr. Cook has extensive experience working with CWD. He has a PhD in wildlife epizootiology. He's worked in Wyoming. He was also the State Wildlife Veterinarian in Wyoming before he came. He's worked for Wyoming Fish and Game, and we also worked with the -- a woman by the Beth Williams who really initiated the first project that would conclusively demonstrate population level impacts on CWD on free-ranging White-tails. And Dr. Cook is also a member of our CWD Task Force. So I'll keep it short and let Dr. Cook and then Dr. Bugai will talk to us next, so.

DR. WALT COOK: Thank you, John.

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, Commissioners, thank you for having me here today.

I've done some work with regulatory diseases and I can tell you that they're all difficult and there's a variety of reasons. We don't choose to regulate diseases that are easy to manage. We choose diseases to regulate with caution and diseases that we know producers cannot manage by themselves. They need some additional assistant.

All regulatory diseases are issues. Many of the problems that they have, the CWD program has as well. Nothing terribly unique about the CWD program except that the issues that it has are more pronounced than what we see with other regulatory diseases.

So I'm going to give you the bottom line upfront. No. 1, Chronic Wasting Disease is way ahead of detection. No. 2, reason for why it's so difficult to manage, particularly in captivity, is the lack of knowledge, lack of understanding of how this disease works. And, No. 3, is our diagnostic issues with our current diagnostic tests that are being used.

Chronic Wasting Disease outpaces detection. By the the time of recognition, it's often well-established. This is true certainly in individual deer. So deer can be positive without us recognizing it because we get a false negative on our tests and so that deer might be sold or moved before we even recognize that the deer had CWD and obviously in a captive situation, that's a problem. In captive populations, we may not even recognize that that population itself is affected until many years down the road and often times.

That also means that it's difficult -- if we don't recognize the disease upfront, it's difficult to then decide where does that disease come from when it's been there are for several years. And certainly in free-ranging populations, mother nature, natural migration, and things like that can move a disease before that we recognize that that population is affected and before management actions can be taken.

Why does CWD outpace detection? Well, number one we've already talked about here today. It's got a protracted disease course. It takes a long time for those animals to test positive and to show any signs of the disease. So we have delayed recognition. We don't recognize that animals or populations are affected.

Some cases we like to use of what we call syndromic surveillance in many regulatory diseases. So we're looking for -- for example, with brucellosis -- abortions. If you see abortions, that's a syndrome. That means that that animal might have brucellosis and so we know that we can test that animal. Relying on syndromic surveillance for Chronic Wasting Disease is not very effective because it takes so long and because the signs are not specific to Chronic Wasting Disease.

Now this picture of an elk here, you don't have to be a veterinarian to recognize that there's something wrong with this elk. This elk happens to have Chronic Wasting Disease, but there's other issues that could simulate that: Malnutrition, parasites, other diseases.

Diagnostic tests, as I mentioned, are problematic as well, particularly the ones that we're currently using. So we don't recognize that the disease is out there.

Other issues, tracking issues. Again, particularly with related to captive facilities. I was involved in several brucellosis outbreaks and investigating trace-ins and trace-outs from affected premises and it got really messy and I thought that it was incredibly complicated until I saw some of the trace-outs and trace-ins that Dr. Hunter Reed's had to look at for Chronic Wasting Disease. Makes my brucellosis outbreaks look like they were on steroids when you look at what some of the stuff he's had to deal with. That's because deer are moved more frequently and more extensively than most typical livestock.

Most -- typically when livestock are sold, their sale barns and so there are sale barn records. There's also an opportunity at a sale barn for testing to occur. So we use that -- for example, in the brucellosis program, testing those animals at the sale barn. And again, we have this problem with all regulatory programs: Identification. Identifying which animals move where. A problem with every regulatory disease, but exacerbated with Chronic Wasting Disease.

And the other issue is the prion stability. I mean, there was a question earlier about anthrax and anthrax is known for being stable in the environment for decades, but it looks like prions can probably outlast anthrax and certainly in certain environments, it can be extremely stable. So the environment can be contaminated again before we even recognize that that's the case, complicating our response.

Lack of scientific knowledge with regards to this disease. Again, true of other diseases as well; but we are further behind with Chronic Wasting Disease than we are with most other diseases. We don't know what an infectious dose is, particularly with regards to a natural infected dose and that drives a lot of other lack of understanding and we've talked about some of this already today: Different avenues of spread or transmission.

Can wild animals transmit it to captive animals? Certainly we know that's possible. What is the likelihood of that? Again, part of that is going to relate to dose. The role of scavengers and predators. We've talked about there's pass-through transmission that can occur or pass-through prion survivability, but the prion load is reduced. What does that mean realistically in terms of realistically transmitting this disease over a range to a new location?

The role of fomites, again we've talked about. Instruments, boots, those kinds of things. Obviously it seems plausible, but we have not demonstrated that that's occurred. It remains a concern, as do plants. The plant uptake that we've talked about.

The area of Wyoming that was heavily infected with Chronic Wasting Disease, grows some of the finest alfalfa in the nation. That alfalfa is sold across the United States. We haven't associated any increase of CWD with a regard to that, but it certainly is a theoretical risk; but being able to quantify that is quite difficult.

We've also mentioned prions can survive in water sources and there's a hypothesis that we saw in Wyoming and Colorado that drainages of rivers and creeks might be moving prions downstream because we're noticing increased number of cases in wild animals downstream from some heavily infected facilities. Is that because of environment and the water was actually moving those prions or is it because, particularly in a rather dry environment, animals tend to congregate around water sources? Don't know.

Again, talked about the ability to decontaminate infected premises. We would like to be able to do that, but we don't fully understand what it would take to achieve that.

And finally, we know some species that definitely susceptible to Chronic Wasting Disease. Obviously White-tailed deer, Mule deer, elk, moose, caribou. But are there other species that are susceptible that we don't recognize? And to talk about that, we need to understand what do we mean by the term susceptibility. As somebody mentioned earlier today, you can intracerebrally inoculate an animal with infectious prions and cause disease in a wide variety of species. So does that qualify as susceptible? Most of us recognize that's never going to happen in the real world, in nature. So that's probably not a good standard to use when determining susceptibility.

Naturally exposed, that means animals that are exposed by a natural route and this was mentioned earlier today. The natural routes that we're aware of are oral, through the mouth or nasal inhalation. But naturally exposed in a laboratory setting, is that the same thing as a natural case, an animal that's actually found to have CWD in a natural setting? And so when trying to determine what species are susceptible, which definition should we use? I think most of us would agree probably intracranial inoculation is not a very good definition.

In the State of Texas, we have a lot of exotic species and a lot of exotic cervids, many of which are closely related to elk and we do not know what their susceptibility is. They're currently not classified as being susceptible, but they may well be. Axis deer, Texas Tech University did a study that concluded that there's a fairly decent chance that Axis deer are susceptible to Chronic Wasting Disease because their prion proteins are genetically quite similar to that of elk. Barasingha, they're in the same genus as elk. Eld's deer, the same genus as elk. Hog deer, they're closely related to Axis; so if Axis are susceptible, might they also be? Père David's deer, they're in a different genus from elk, but some geneticists argue that the elaphurus genus should be the same genus as Cervus and Sambar as well being in the Cervus genus. So these are species that I'm personally concerned about might be susceptible to Chronic Wasting Disease. We're not even tracking them because they're not legally considered to be susceptible.

Lack of stakeholder understanding with the potential to impact captive populations, so we've talked about that. Without intervention, captive populations can reach 40 to 50 percent prevalence and in some cases, they've been as high as 80 to 90 percent. That's pretty dramatic, but that's assuming no management whatsoever.

The potential to spread to free-ranging wildlife. In at least some circumstances, CWD has reduced populations and led to age shifts -- we've talked about -- so that we have fewer of those older aged, trophy-quality animals in those populations.

Diagnostic test issues and this is again referring to particularly the tests that we're using today. So as you're aware, captive producers when they have an animal die, they're required to do postmortem tests on those animals. Sample quality can vary. Obviously the skull I've got in the picture here, trying to get a good CWD sample out of that, pretty much impossible; but it's making the point. Animal dies in August and that carcass isn't discovered for two or three days, the ability to get a quality sample out of that brain of that animal is very, very low. So -- so you can have issues with that.

Location errors, that means the sample was taken; but it wasn't taken correctly and so it didn't achieve the important part of the obex of the brain stem that they need for a valid test.

We know without a doubt using our current tests that we've had false negatives. Animals that were tested by postmortem after they died and we missed it. Sensitivity of the test isn't high enough, so we missed it. Typically we don't find out about false negatives in animals that are postmortem tested because they're dead. We're never going to realize some point down the line that actually they were positive.

When we compare the diagnostic tests that are used for Chronic Wasting Disease, they are much more expensive than those used for traditional regulatory programs. Most regulatory programs rely on blood tests and antibody detections, which are relatively simple and ease to do, so they're pretty cheap. In addition, oftentimes those regulatory programs will cover the costs of the diagnostic tests.

Most livestock disease programs also have slaughter surveillance. So when animals go to slaughter, they're examined, the carcasses are examined, blood is taken from them, and they're tested for the disease of concern. We don't have that with the deer industry.

Antemortem tests. So this is talking about tonsil biopsies, rectal biopsies that have already been discussed. When you, as a veterinarian, collect those samples, there's no way to look at that sample and determine that you got a valid sample. It has to be examined histologically under a microscope by a pathologist to make that determination. So you can end up with a result that says you've got insufficient follicles. If you didn't get enough lymph node follicles, it's not considered to be a good sample. The test is considered inclusive. Obviously that can be very frustrating for a producer to pay that kind of money, have a veterinarian out, collect those samples, send them to the lab, pay for the lab tests, wait for the results, and then find out it's inclusive because we didn't get enough follicles.

The antemortem tests are invasive. We're talking about taking tonsil biopsies or rectal biopsies. That's a lot more pain, a lot more trouble for the veterinarian to collect them than getting a blood sample, for example. These animals have to be immobilized in some way. That means either chemical immobilization where they're either darted or injected with a drug that knocks them out or they're run through a chute system. Both of those are expensive and have risks that go along with them. Significantly greater risks than we see with traditional livestock.

And again with antemortem tests, just as with the postmortem tests, we have problems with false negatives, the sensitivity not being high enough. But with an antemortem test, at least we'll often recognize that we had a false negative because that animal had tested negative today, three months from now may test positive because it's still alive and can test it again. And again, the expense of these tests is much greater than what we have for traditional regulatory programs and you need a veterinarian with a certain amount of expertise, more so than for a lot of the regulatory diseases and so scheduling those veterinarians can be difficult for the producers.

One of the other problems with the Chronic Wasting Disease program in the captive industry is producer skepticism. Producers don't see the program as being useful to them. They -- they don't see that it's going to benefit them. We have that issue with other regulatory diseases. I had people complain about brucellosis, "You know, I -- this is just a bunch red tape and I don't agree with it," but at least the industry as a whole recognized that it produced a value to the industry as a whole. We don't seem to have that in -- with the deer breeders. And the diagnostic costs that have been mentioned, the lack of indemnification that's been mentioned. Again, most regulatory diseases, if a premise is found to be positive and has to be depopulated, there's indemnification for them. We're having problems with that with regards to Chronic Wasting Disease. So those are stark contrasts with regulatory programs. Causes producers to believe that they can manage Chronic Wasting Disease better on their own or that they would be better off with no management at all. I don't necessarily agree with that perception, but they certainly have that perception. I can tell you virtually every place that I go to I hear that.

The regulatory program for Chronic Wasting Disease is also quite different than most other regulatory programs. Tuberculosis program is designed to protect the cattle industry from tuberculosis, and so the industry benefits. One of the main aspects of Chronic Wasting Disease program is to protect the free-ranging deer. So the producers sometimes they don't recognize or appreciate that that's an important aspect of the program. Some don't believe that CWD poses a threat to free-ranging populations. But most importantly, this places requirements on those who may not have an interest in free-ranging deer. They're the ones that have to do the testing. They're the ones that have to follow the regulations, but they don't see a benefit to themselves. And again, that's in contrast to most regulatory programs that we have for livestock.

On the other hand, there are some options that we can do with captive populations that we can't do with free-ranging wildlife and these have already been mentioned: Genetic manipulation, the antemortem testing. We use antemortem testing in free-ranging populations for research; but to use it in a management program, it's very, very inefficient and very impractical to try to make management decisions based on antemortem testing. Testing mineral impacts, what kind of feed additives might change susceptibility to Chronic Wasting Disease, as well as other research.

And with that, I'll take questions. I've got my contact information here in case you would like to contact me offline. I'd be welcome to that as well, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Thanks, Dr. cook.

Any questions of Dr. Cook?

DR. WALT COOK: All right.

I've got one.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: If hypothetically if we tested deer every year in captive facilities and terminated the ones that were -- that were hot and the ones that weren't, you know, you obviously you leave them in the pen, just on that, given that CWD is probably prevalent before you test for it, would that help if there was just an ongoing program every year, every deer in a captive pen is required to be tested?

DR. WALT COOK: Yeah, Mr. Chairman, thank you for the question. That would be better than doing nothing at all, for sure. But as you mentioned, you know, we're going to be behind the eight ball constantly on that. So that would be what we'd call a test-and-slaughter program and those have worked with other diseases; but with the case of Chronic Wasting Disease, I don't think it would be near as effective if some other aspects weren't implemented as that -- into that as well, like some genetic manipulations, some decontamination of the environment, those kinds of things because by the time that animal is detected as positive, it's probably already shed prions into that facility and so we've got this problem.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Great, thank you.

DR. WALT COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

MR. SILOVSKY: Okay. So up next, somebody that has some really great firsthand experience. Dr. Scott Bugai is a private-mixed animal veterinarian from Seguin. Scott has also been a permitted deer breeder for 24 years. Maintains approximately 300 deer in captivity and also has a -- manages a commercial high funding -- high-fenced hunting on his property and Dr. Bugai also is a part of our CWD Task Force.

You may by happy to know he doesn't have PowerPoint, too, so.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Thank you, John.

Chairman Hildebrand, Vice-Chair Scott, and rest of the Commissioners, thank you for being here. I feel like that in a setting like this, I need to walk into a meeting and say, "Hi. My name is Scott Bugai, and I'm a deer breeder." It has the negative connotation in a lot of the areas that we get into.

But anyway, I've been a deer breeder 24 years. I'm going to share with you -- I'll try not to repeat a lot of stuff that's been said for time sake, plus I'm sure you're tired of hearing it. So I'm going to go with the challenge that was given to us as presenters to come up with some takeaways and then also some challenges as a deer breeder.

My first takeaway is that we don't know everywhere that CWD is. We know where it exists, but there's a lot of places such as Hollywood Park that we didn't know it existed. It has absolutely zero connection to deer breeding and I think focus needs to be on areas of surveillance that we don't know where it's at. I question the sanity of continuing to spend resources looking for a disease that we already know exists there. We should have things in place to mitigate the risk of that disease leaving those areas through live animals or carcasses.

Second takeaway is CWD is a low prevalence disease. You'd asked earlier about the prevalence in Texas of the free-ranging population. We're shooting at a 0.02 percent prevalence rate over the last -- since 2012. Total in captive and free-ranging, we've tested over 200,000 deer, White-tailed deer, and 99 percent have come back not-detected over a ten-plus-year period.

I happen to have the belief and I've used this quote that the affect of CWD on populations is debatable. You will see things come up here to say that this causes this decline and so on and so forth. I happen to believe that the reproductive capability of White-tailed deer exceeds the death toll that CWD will cause. Obviously, like it's been said, we're not seeing big kill-offs and die-offs of White-tailed deer to CWD. It's not know to infect humans at this point.

And this is a big takeaway: Elevating the significance of CWD either will or maybe it already has negatively impacted hunting in Texas. This is a disease. I think we should have things in place to mitigate the risk of spreading this disease, but we don't need to elevate this disease to a point where it's doomsday and if you get it, it's doomsday. I'll tell you whose doomsday is if a deer breeder gets it. It's doomsday for the deer breeder.

My final takeaway and most important one I'd say is that CWD is in Texas and here to stay. I'm going to be one of those people to say that it's time to learn how to live with it. But when I say that, people take that that means to just throw your hands up and do nothing. That's not what I'm saying. We have no choice but to live with the word "exist." We're not going to eliminate it. I happen to not be in favor of the going in and the mass depopulation of free-ranging populations because you may very well be killing the animals that God put there, that will turn this around on their own maybe with some help from captive deer being put in there that have this reduce susceptibility or increased durability to CWD. So those are my takeaways. Number one being it's here and here to stay.

And here's some challenges that I listed as a deer breeder. The biggest challenge is how to not get CWD. I'm one of those ones that is -- you know, look at the nutrition, am I feeding the right nutrition. I've got a closed herd. So I don't bring any new animals in. I haven't for almost ten years now, maybe a little over ten years. I'm doing Dr. Seabury's genetic testing, selecting for that SS. And my goal as a breeder, as producer, is that in the next five years I want to have a complete SS herd all with good GEBVs, or Gnomic Estimating Breeding Values. That's what my goal is and I'm doing that through breeding only with SS bucks, getting rid of all GG deer, period. They're leaving the facility.

A real challenge to deer breeders regarding CWD is not the disease itself, but it's the response to the disease. So when you get it and you've heard before depopulation is the thing, it's devastating. I've depopulated two herds that were CWD positive. I had a total -- the first herd we did, I want to say we depopped roughly 140 and I think there were only five positives in there and I'm talking killing mamas and babies and nice deer, nice bucks and everything else. If there was an alternative that we could use to maybe not have depopulation as the gold standard on how to deal with this, I think it's worth looking into.

As a deer breeder, every time that I have CWD test done and I turn it in -- both for myself or for my clients -- it seems like what I imaging pulling a trigger in a game of Russian roulette feels like. You just never know. You've got all this investment. You've got all emotion. Some of these deer we actually like. You know, they're not just a commodity on a shelf. And every time you're running a test, is this going to be the one? Is this going to be the one that ends my deer breeding business?

That being said, I'm not opposed to the surveillance. That's what I said. We need to mitigate the risk of spreading this disease through live animal and carcasses. We've been preaching about carcass movement restrictions and carcass disposal restrictions since 2002 at the very first CWD Task Force meeting. I'm glad to see that that's finally come to fruition.

My little bubble bust. I lost my train of thought there.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Testing is like right Russian roulette.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Yes, sir. It is.

You know, sit there. Fortunately in today's environment, we're getting test results back in about eight or ten days. We used to have wait three or four months and no fault of the lab. It was just the nature of the condition at the time; but anyhow, it's going good.

Oh, I wanted to kind of follow-up on some of the, Mr. Chairman, you asked Dr. Cook about the testing.

I would like to see, as a producer, I think early detection and detection before environmental contamination with prions is paramount here. And why couldn't we implement -- and I know that the RT-QuIC is not USDA approved, but neither was antemortem testing with rectals and tonsils and we implemented that. Why couldn't we implement the use of RT-QuIC; but before we do that -- and I would not do an RT-QuIC on any single one of my deer if I didn't have the definition of false positive put in place first because there will be some false positives on that. I feel pretty confident with the IHC and ELISA. Positive is positive. I've never seen one that came back suspect that didn't come back full positive.

With -- with RT-QuIC, there's a -- though it's a very low probability I believe, there's still an increased probability and positive in this environment means death. Now I think that that definition may have already been established at the Kerr Wildlife Management Association because they had an RT-QuIC positive that was gold standard test not-detected and, you know, the scorched-earth policy has not been implemented in that particular case.

Oh, let me get done here. If we are not, we should be running Western Blots on every CWD positive test looking for this sporadic. If we get confirmation that in White-tailed deer that we have sporadic CWD, I mean, how in the heck do you regulate or control something that just can sporadically occur? It's literally impossible.

We also should be looking for spongiform changes in the brains of every CWD positive animal. In other words, I think that there may be situations that exist that you can be prion positive, but not necessarily ever actually get spongiform changes. CWD, Chronic Wasting Disease, does not -- the disease does not actually occur until you start getting spongiform changes in the brain. So there's a difference between having HIV and having full-blown AIDS. There's a difference between having prion positive and actually getting the TSE. I'm not saying that just because we get a prion positive in any antemortem test that we just ignore that. Action still needs to be taken.

Another challenge that we face is -- in the deer breeding community is the ever-changing rules. I've been doing this since 1999. In 1999, if one of y'all wanted to come out to my ranch or my breeding facility and purchase a deer, we wrote out a purchase permits, put the deer on a trailer, and you drove off with it. My how that has changed. And I'm not saying the changes are bad, but I'm fortunate that I get to sit on -- sit in these meetings and I get on the ground floor of some of these changes, but not everybody gets that. They're out there, they've got jobs, they've got families, they've got whatever, and they're trying to stay in a business and they're making, you know, innocent mistakes because it's just -- you look at the book. I mean, just the CWD regulations is 90-something page thick. Most people can't even begin to read that. So just another challenge.

And then last, but not least, the increased requirements of CWD testing, both postmortem and antemortem has definitely added an increase financial burden on producers. I'm not saying that that burden should not be there because it should. If we're going to be moving animals, we need to mitigate that risk as best we can. That's why I've been a member of the -- or been enrolled in the Herd Certification Program since 2002 when we first started dealing with CWD. I believe in it. I think it's a responsibility we have.

With that, I won't touch on anything -- oh, one thing I did want to say about Bob Dittmar, a friend of mine Bob Dittmar, and I do agree that -- with him in that we should be concerned about things for our grandkids, but I will promise you we have much bigger things in this world to be concerned about our grandkids than Chronic Wasting Disease. And I'll end with that.

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

Any questions?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, Patton. You touched on not wanting to depopulate a breeder's population on a positive test, right?

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Yes, sir. If we could find an alternative to that.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I'm guess I'm trying to -- I'm going to try and set a parameter here.


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So we've got -- we've got on one end, got a positive test, you're a deer breeder, and they don't want to depopulate. On the opposite end of the spectrum -- and I think we actually have -- we don't have to speculate. We've got a real-live, real-time example of a deer breeder that had popu -- not -- positive CWD in their population and he successfully --

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Delayed the depopulation.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- delayed the depopulation.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So we -- if there's any silver lining or any lemonade to be made out of that situation, it is watching what is going on there even today and you certainly don't think that is a successful plan or --

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: No, sir. This is where I'm -- where I'm going with alternatives to full --


DR. SCOTT BUGAI: -- depop -- I'm sorry.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So we've set two -- pretty fair to say we set two parameters.


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So what do you think the correct --

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: You want my idea?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I'd like to hear it, yes.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Okay. Here's my idea. I'm a deer breeder. My deer breeding facility's within my ranch. I pop positive, can I at least release the deer? Let's do antemortem tests. Let's do RT-QuIC tests on them. If they're not-detected, let me turn them out, let me hunt them. Let me recoup some of my investment by hunting them. Let's not drag this out for two years and let this pop just simmer and cook and simmer and cook and let this cesspool of CWD continue.

Give me the alternative. I'm out of the business. The bottom line is I'm out of the business. Ain't nobody going to kiss me once I got herpes. It ain't happening. So you're out of -- you're out of the deer breeding business. Okay? But the depop, you come in and it's just -- you just see all of your investment and time and efforts and all that just go to absolute -- not only that, not only does it go to absolute zero, it continues to cost me money because I have to keep feeding these animals while we wait for the bureaucratic train to roll through and figure out what is going to happen here.

Am I going to get indemnity? Am I -- you know, what is the -- what are my alternatives? Do I do the, you know, the test and remove of, you know, stuff that's been done at the research place? Which by the way is not affordable by the average person to do that. But it sounds great. I'm happy with what they've done. But if it came down me, there's no way I'm going to spend the money it would take for me to try to get clean. Feeding animals for two years, not being able to move animals, all this testing and all that. I made the statement I get a positive, if I don't have an alternative to release on my ranch and at least get them hunted, I mean within a matter of days I'm shooting everything. I'm stopping the bleed. I'm not going to continue to pour money into feed for something I know is going to end up in the ground. So that would be my alternative to you, sir.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: All right. Well, Patton again. Well, it seems to me that the end result -- I mean, you kind of gave two kind of answers to the same situation. But almost the end result in both your answers is deer is going to die. Of course, we're all going to die, right? But I mean, you know --

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Sure. You breathe long enough, you're going to die.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Yeah, right. So it -- and the depopulation scenario, obviously the economic impact to the breeder's reduced because they're not feeding, they're not caring, they're not test -- it's just depopulation. And in the hunting scenario, while that sounds pretty good, you know, I can again think of, you know, really bad ramifications to people that are in a geographical area near, you know, these ground zeros. They're -- they don't even have a positive and they're put out of business. So there's incremental risk in releasing deer from one smaller, high-fence breeding pen into a greater high-fenced pasture area and, you know, you -- your neighbors are affected and they did -- and they truly did nothing wrong. It's almost, you know, just when you think Russian roulette couldn't get any worse, all of a sudden you wake up and it did. And, you know, I'm sympathetic and worry, think about that too, but...

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: I would say that it would be selfish on my part trying to recoup some of my money out of the situation. That's an alternative that I would like to have in my situation.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: All right. I think that's all I got.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Okay, thank you.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right. Any other questions?

Okay. I've just a couple. You think carcass movement is a simple and easy way to -- or the reduction of carcass movement, simple and easy way to reduce the spread?

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Reduce of potential spread. Just because you move a carcass doesn't mean you move a disease. But if that carcass has the disease -- which if you look at the prevalence rate, it's a low possibility, but it ain't zero.


DR. SCOTT BUGAI: And there's no reason not to implement that, in my opinion. Why would we take that -- that's such a simple --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Yeah, understand. Understood. Secondly, your -- your selecting for these SS bucks, getting rid of GG bucks.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: GG -- GG deer, period.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: GG deer, period. I'm not sure where I want to know where those are going, but -- so -- and as well you are -- you're feeding mineral content. Tell me about what you think the best practice for a deer breeder today.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: There is some information out there that I think is pretty reliable that said feeding the proper amount of copper and zinc in a deer ration has some benefit to helping protect your -- a deer from getting CWD. You heard Dr. Larsen talk about the copper/zinc balance and that kind of stuff. So anyhow, I'm far from a scientist or researcher or anything else. But so I do feed the only feed in the State of Texas, I'm aware of, that has this proper copper and zinc -- not only the proper ratio, but the actually right amount or the right type copper. There's different types of copper. So that's one thing. I've been feeding that for 20 years.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. And then the last question. You like the RT-QuIC prog -- testing program. Now if I heard right, it's $45, right?

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: $45. What do you sell a deer for typically?

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: It depends.


DR. SCOTT BUGAI: But I would say -- I would say an average -- so my production is to sell yearling does and yearling bucks for stocking purposes on ranches.


DR. SCOTT BUGAI: And prices have gone up recently because of the number. It's supply and demand. This past year I sold does for -- this past fawn crop -- not 2022, but 2021 fawn crop -- sold for 3,000 for does and 3,500 for bucks.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. So you can clearly afford a $45 test?

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Yes, sir. It's actually --


DR. SCOTT BUGAI: -- more than that. That's the lab fee. There's other -- there's time fees with labor, with handling deer, and all that. So it's like when we talk about the -- you know, the antemortem testing that I do. We talked that the lab fee charges me roughly $50 with the --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: What does a Western Blot, soup to nuts, cost you roughly?

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: I've never run a Western Blot. I was going to say we do not run Western Blots. I don't have the luxury of requesting a Western Blot. We run IHC. We request either IHC or ELISA for CWD testing. Western Blot is the test that's used to actually type or find --


DR. SCOTT BUGAI: -- or find a different strain.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Fine. The test that you use to move deer, what's that costing you kind of from full cost in?

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Full cost per animal -- and there's a lot of variables in here, so I'm going to give you a range -- it can run up to $300 a head. I've been able to get them down to $100 a head. But here's the difference: Am I using drugs to tranquilize the animal -- which I can't do as near as many. I can run 30 deer through a chute and test 30 deer an hour through a chute and I charge by the hour and by the mile. So obviously the more deer I get my hands on in a shorter period of time, the less it costs the producer and I just charge whatever the lab fees are, so.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And would -- I mean, would you agree that -- I mean, if there's a test -- if this RT-QuIC actually works and there's a test that can determine it in two to three months with the sensitivity of a tablespoon to a pool, why -- and regardless whether the FDA approves that or not -- why wouldn't we be using that?

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Because y'all haven't given us permission yet and told us what a false positive is.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Well, no. All right, hypothetically you've got permission. So why wouldn't you do that?

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: As long as I had a defined false positive -- so in other words, if I run -- and I would be one of those persons that's willing to whole herd test my herd. These lights are flashing me. Am I now supposed to pay attention to those?

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: That's okay. Keep going.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: I would do a whole herd test, and I would want to remove any positive. I would be willing to remove any positive and I would have the gold standard IHC test done on the lymph nodes and the brain stem and if those samples came back not-detected, leave me alone. Let me stay in business. Don't treat it as the sky is falling, doom and gloom.

Unfortunately in this world if the word gets out there that I'd had a positive or whatever, I'm done anyhow. But I think that that would be a start of why couldn't we come in and just RT-QuIC every captive deer in breeding facilities in the State of Texas. Wouldn't that be a faster way to detect?

The problem is you've got to define what false positive is because --


DR. SCOTT BUGAI: -- there likely would be some false positive.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Right. Seems like there would be a real market for what you're doing with this SS genotype. All your deer are that. You could be a SS certified gold platinum deer breeder that people are going to want to buy your deer -- their deer from you I would suspect.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: I would hope that would be the case. I run a --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: You would hope. That's --

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: -- business.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- probably why you're doing it I suspect.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: I'm doing it because, one, actually -- White-tailed deer's my passion. It's not how I make my living. I make my living as a mixed-animal practitioner. I love White-tailed deer and I have since the first that I went out to a deer breeding facility and did it. And so I do it more for passion. Yes, I'm trying to make money, too. At least for it to pay for itself. But, yeah, if that would help the business out and...

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Okay, thanks very much.

DR. SCOTT BUGAI: Yes, sir. Thank you.


Okay. Next Dr. David Hewitt.

MR. SILOVSKY: Okay. So we're going to jump back outside the pen now. Dr. Hewitt I think many of you are familiar with. He's been involved in deer management and research in Texas for over 25 years. Was the editor of a multiauthor book of "Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer." He's a certified biologist, a member of the Wildlife Society, the Texas Wildlife Association, a professional member of the Boone and Crockett Club, and Dr. Hewitt is also a member of our CWD Task Force.

DR. DAVID HEWITT: Thank you, John.

Thank you, Chairman and Vice-Chairman and Commission, for having us here to share information. I know I'm between y'all and lunch and so we've covered a lot of ground. I might -- I might go a little quicker through this than I'd originally planned because we've covered a fair amount of that -- that material. But I'm going to be coming at this from a little different perspective than some of the other speakers in that at the Caesar Kleberg Institute, we do a lot of applied research and we work closely with landowners and hunters and so this isn't the lab-up talk. This is going to be more a practitioner, you know, kind of free-ranging deer look at why it's important for all of us to be concerned about Chronic Wasting Disease. And again, we're asked to do three quick takeaways. Chronic Wasting Disease kills deer and it affects deer populations. Our best science says that and I'll go into that through that real kick.

CWD threatens deer hunting in Texas. I think there's some legitimate reasons why that's the case. And finally our best management strategy today is to do everything we can to prevent the increase in the disease so that tomorrow's solutions can be effective and we really haven't talked a huge amount about that, but that's how I'd like to end when I get to that point.

So prevalence patterns of CWD, long-term disease. We've talked about that. Data from Wisconsin, ten years before, you know, you can really even start imaging that population being impacted. Fifteen to twenty years before it kind of hit a plateau in prevalence with bucks being higher than does and younger deer being lower than that.

Haven't talked a lot about natural spread. How does this disease move across the landscape? And that's important, you know, in our free-ranging deer. Again, data from Wisconsin where they've been dealing with this for a long time, you see 5, 10, 15, 20 years across the axis there. About 20 years for that disease to move 60 miles from where it was first detected. So this isn't a vector-borne disease that at least with natural deer movements spreads dramatically. Again, slow disease takes time.

Texas rangelands, these Wisconsin data may not be directly applicable. Our deer have greater home ranges, greater disbursal distances. We do have high-fences in Texas, which I think really could have a big impact on kind of natural spread of the disease. And obviously moving deer and moving deer parts is going to be a very different situation with this pattern of spread.

Talk just real quick about these captive facilities and y'all have made these points already that if you turn your back on these, they turn into a mess. So in Wisconsin with 79 percent positive CWD, this is the Hunt County facility data where this isn't a 10 or 20 year to get up high prevalence. This was three years and the last two quarters, every deer they've tested in there has been CWD positive and you can see about two years ago a big increase in mortalities in that. So concentrating the deer is a very different situation.

Want to give just a real quick kind of understanding of these population impacts because we've seen some numbers, but sometimes there's some additional interpretation you need to fully understand those. There's two ways this can be done. One is to actually measure the populations and any of you who have managed deer, know that our techniques for getting a good estimate of the number of deer -- let's say in a 10,000-acre pasture -- are not great. There's big error bars and that's what those -- those orange things on there. And you might envision -- let's say look in the bathtub -- we see the water level, it's got waves, that's adding some uncertainly. We want to know if that population has gone down. Has that water level gone down? We're trying to measure that and it's -- it can be difficult with our -- a lot of our current techniques and without a huge investment.

The other thing is we don't know the cause. Wildlife populations go up and down. So we don't always know the cause. There's another way we can do this and that's by not worrying so much about where that water level is in the tub, but measuring something we can get good measurements on. How much -- you know, many fawns are coming into the population and how quick deer are leaving the population? So looking at recruitment and deaths. If more are coming in than leaving, then the population is going to get bigger and vice versa.

And so a couple of these have been mentioned already. Mule deer population in Colorado, again a 40 percent decline in 20 years. Some of this Mule deer population in Wyoming, 31 percent decline during the course of a four-or-five-year study there. Longer term data in that graph with the population declining from near 15,000 to near 8,000 deer as CWD prevalence rose. So, you know, so those are some measures. But again, don't always know the reason why -- why those populations were changing.

I think a more powerful, interesting way of looking at this is to do some of the studies that are coming online now in some of these states that have lived with CWD for a long time. They'll go in, capture deer, put collars on them, test them. Some of those deer are positive. Some are not-detected. And then again, you're look at the faucet of deer coming in, you're looking at the drain of deer going out, and you can get an understanding of how that population has to change. This is just math. It's just calculations.

And out of all that, CWD doesn't seem to be having big impacts on recruitment. That doesn't change dramatically; but in every study that's been done in this kind of framework, CWD is always impacting survival or mortality. And so three White-tailed deer studies, couple Mule deer studies, average adult survival around 80 percent for deer that are non-detected for CWD, dropping down to 30 to 50 percent survival for deer that are CWD positive.

Another thing that hadn't really been talked about is -- is, you know, we're talking about kind of yearlong looks at survival. They've got a study going on in Arkansas and in January 2021 and January 2022, they had a couple of these polar vortexes come through. Survival of the CWD positive deer in that particular study plummeted. And, you know, we're not going to necessarily have polar vortexes in a lot of our places in Texas, but we do get environmental streams. We get droughts. We get other things that -- that are going to impact it. And so I think that's going to contribute to some of these population changes.

If you go in and take birthrates, death rates, calculate changes in the population over time, this idea of the growth rate, it's one if the population is staying constant. The -- you know, a couple studies with 10 to 21 percent declines annually out of these particular studies.

So these studies have all been done in places where CWD is prevalent or the prevalence is high. We thankfully are not in that situation in Texas, but I think it would be good to try to get an understanding of how this could play out in Texas if -- you know, if it does, you know, end up in some places and get high enough prevalence to really have an impact. And so some scientists took data from ranches in South Texas and a comment was made earlier that White-tailed deer populations have the ability to outgrow this mortality from CWD, so maybe we don't need to worry about it.

Average fawn/doe ratios in South Texas are 35 fawns per a hundred does. Some of these other areas or the -- you know, the disease is more prevalent. Wyoming, 54, 63 fawns per a hundred does. Wisconsin an average of several populations up there, 84 fawns per a hundred does. Those other areas have the ability to outgrow or at least not be heavily impacted by the additional mortality from Chronic Wasting Disease.

You might ask how our populations are able to sustain themselves with this real low fawn/doe ratios. They do it through high survival. The adults have high survival. Much higher than some of these northern populations and as a of result of that, you can go in and heavily harvest those populations. In fact, on the ranches that we were working with, it was a light harvest. It's 2 percent annually. It's not a big harvest and that -- that's been sustainable over -- over a couple decades in these populations. And so CWD reduces adult survival. That's going to affect harvest and, you know, in some of instances has affected deer density.

I want to give you a sense what these different fawn/doe ratios in our Texas rangelands mean for dealing with CWD. So this graph right now, we've got a harvest rate of 2 percent on these populations with no Chronic Wasting Disease. We went in and took what would happen on the deer mortality side if CWD grew slowly: Like it got to 8 percent prevalence over 25 years; if it grew at a medium rate, 21 percent prevalence over 25 years; or a rapid rate, you know, maybe something like Wisconsin, it gets over 50 percent in 25 years. And obviously dumping any CWD in our South Texas population, the first thing you lose is harvest. If you want to have a sustainable harv -- population, you lose the ability to harvest that because our harvest rates, sustainable rates, are so low.

If we take the fawn/doe ratios from this population of Wyoming -- so this 53 fawns per a hundred does -- and we plug it in and let's say South Texas deer now have that fawn/doe ratio, now you get very different harvest rates possible, 12 percent with no CWD and even with a rapidly increasing CWD at the end of 25 years, you could still be harvesting that population at 4 or 5 percent. And if, you know, we take the much higher rates in Laramie and those Wisconsin rates, yes, those populations in those areas do have the ability to kind of keep ahead of the mortality from CWD. But our rangeland populations in Texas, I don't think that's a safe assumption.

Now we can turn our deer herds into Wisconsin-type deer herds. They're nutritionally limited on our rangelands and it's a common practice for that reason to provide supplemental food to White-tailed deer and you can get your fawn/doe ratios up much higher. You can increase that fawn production and that may be a way of trying to, you know, live in the face of CWD. But I would argue that that transmission of CWD from deer to deer is going to get ramped way up and it's going to be much different than it would be in the natural populations and I think you start getting over into, you know, some of these kind of captive facilities that the CWD really rocks. You know, it's not the same progression that we see in wild deer.

It's been mentioned too, you know, lower buck age structure because of the higher mortality. So harvest, baiting and supplemental feeding, managing for old bucks, those are all complicated by CWD. Moving deer and deer parts is complicated by CWD, whether it's Triple T or breeder deer or carcass disposal. You know, and these are programs that have been a, you know, I'm going to say a huge benefit of being a deer manager in Texas. You've got a lot of options. CWD at the very least complicates those options and, you know, for some -- some real important reasons, you know, may take those off the table. Same thing with concentrating deer. The DMP programs, deer breeders, you know, you can see what happens in a -- you know, from some of that previous data when you concentrate deer heavily and get Chronic Wasting Disease in there and then -- and then don't do anything about it.

We've talked a fair amount about these hunter impacts. They're are not well understood. We've talked about the Centers for Disease Control recommending not eating positive meat. If we're trying to recruit hunters into this field, a lot of the hunters that I think we have the ability to recruit are going to get into it for the food reasons. They're going to love venison. These are people -- you know, the rural -- rural communities, we can get them interested in hunting, but they're a minority of the Texas public. Getting, you know, people in cities interested in hunting, this food deal is going to be a big thing and if they see food -- venison -- as something that is not healthy that could have a potential risk for it, they're on the cusp of wanting to go hunting anyway. It's pretty easy for them to go find something else to do. Bird watch, there's all kinds of things they can do in the outdoors, buy they might not be buying a license and they might not be interested in hunting, so -- and obviously things change dramatically if we ever end up with a BSE-type situation. And a little data on impacts on CWD on hunter participation in Wisconsin.

This number's been referenced already, recent study looking at the economic value of Texas and the emphasis that this isn't generating $4 billion in downtown Houston. This is generating $4 billion in Freer and Turkey, Texas, and all over the state. This is rural money and, you know, it has big impacts on those rural economies. And a great deal of the -- of this economic activity is occurring around free-ranging deer. The 95 percent, that big part of that circle, those are the landowners that are relying on free-living deer, you know, free-ranging deer to support their hunting activities and then, you know, there are about 5 percent of those landowners that are bringing -- bringing shooter bucks in and they're deer breeders and doing deer management permit stuff.

So just to wrap this up, I don't think there's anybody in this room that wants deer to have CWD. That's -- you know, I think there's a common base here we're all coming from. You know, it's for the health of the deer themselves. I haven't shown any picture of those deer in miserable condition, but you can see what that does to a deer and you wouldn't wish that on your worst enemy.

I think there is real evidence that if prevalence gets high in free-ranging deer herds, it does impact those herds and it has a potential -- CWD has a potential to affect hunting and the positive values that we have around deer.

Based on a lot of the things we've heard today, I'm actually optimistic. You know, we talked about this, you know, kind of moonshot, you know, type deal, you know, to make a difference in CWD. The investment's starting to get there. It's attracting the best minds in the wildlife and animal, you know, industries to start trying to figure this thing out. We've talked about the food. You know, kind of therapeutics through food, vaccine trials going on, Dr. Seabury's kind of breeding approaches, and then with increased testing, we can have a lot more targeted approaches to these. I'm actually optimistic that over the next -- let's say two decades -- we're going to be living in a different world with CWD because we're going to have options. But the success of those options is going to be dependent on not having CWD across Texas and it's going to be dependent on having that prevalence low and I envision this as a -- let's say we've got -- you know, got some kind of smoldering burns, lightening storm gone through, we've got some hotspots out there. You go tackle those. You try to keep them from spreading. You keep them low. You turn your back on that stuff and we just say, "Yeah, we're going to have to live with this. We're not going to deal with CWD anymore," those hotspots turn into wildfires and now when the rains come, those rains aren't going to put that wildfire out. When this science comes to help us manage this disease, we're not going to be able to deal with it. It's going to be too late, and we've talked about the importance of time.

So, you know, I guess my final point is this idea of management today. This investment today buys time for tomorrow's solutions to be successful. And so I would go into, you know, thinking about these different ways of managing the disease as an investment. An investment is delayed gratification. There may be things we want to do today; but if we delay that gratification, it's going to put us in a lot better position in the future. So with that, I'd be happy to answer any questions.


Any questions?




COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- Patton. I guess I wanted to ask maybe an applied science question regarding potential DMP pen situation. And if you've got a -- if you're -- if you're DMP -- obviously you know what a DMP --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And it's a permit. It's a deer management pen, and you have to get a permit every year. It has to be a high-fenced area and --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- you have to meet certain parameters. In the event that within your high-fenced area where you capture and then turn back out your DMP deer, in the preceding years you had a -- you bought a deer from a deer breeder --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- and then had a trace-out that that deer breeder at some point had a positive test, is there -- in your opinion -- any incremental risk --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- a greater risk for that individual to have a DMP permit versus not having a DMP permit?

DR. DAVID HEWITT: Yeah, you frame the question right. It's risk. We don't know. So we're rolling the dice on this deal. And for the reasons I just went through at the end of that talk, you know, there's an investment in, lets say, in some DMP-type approach in that instance; but there's a risk with that and if there's a chance that there was a CWD positive deer in that herd, you're going to bring those deer together, put them in a small area, they're all going to eat out of the same food bin, they're all going to be drinking the same water, there's a risk of magnifying that disease, you know, for those -- exposing a lot more animals at a lot stronger level, you know, for that time they're held in the DMP pen and then you to turn them out.

So, you know, I don't think DMP is bad in its own right. Just like moving deer from -- you know, from deer breeders is bad in its own right. It just has to be mit -- the risk has to be mitigated and through testing and things like that would be the way to do it. And I don't know enough about that situation to be able to comment on it, particularly without, you know, knowing -- knowing testing, you know, histories and all that kind of stuff in that situation. But that's how I approach it.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. And so I guess my -- but if they're in a high-fenced area anyway, they're eating and drinking, they're all together, they're all contained, and they have been for some period of time, I guess your point those deer that are in a DMP pen are in a closer proximity for some period of time and --

DR. DAVID HEWITT: Yeah, that would be the idea.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- it would quantify if that is -- if that does represent an incremental risk versus being in an effectively a larger pen?

DR. DAVID HEWITT: Yeah. It kind of gets to Dr. Cook's slide about there's a bunch we don't know about this disease and there's questions. You know, that supplemental feed question, that contact rates, those are things that are amenable to research. We just don't have the facilities to do that kind of work right now so that the Commission and those landowners can make decisions based on data. Right now, we don't know what that risk is, you now, of bringing deer together and all eating out of the same -- same trough. It's kind of a disease principle that that doesn't seem like a good idea and, you know, there are other diseases where that's been proven to be able to increase the prevalence of diseases; but with CWD, I'm not aware that that kind of science is available for us to use in making those decisions. So we fall back on that precautionary principle that, you know, is the benefit going to outweigh the risk.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay, thank you.


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

Dr. Reed.

DR. REED: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. I'm Dr. J. Hunter Reed, Wildlife Veterinarian for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Now that you've heard about the biology, research, and difficulties, as well as different perspectives surrounding CWD, I want to briefly touch on TPWD's surveillance and management of CW -- of CWD here in Texas.

To start, CWD in Texas is best split between free-ranging and captive surveillance. For free-ranging surveillance, this is largely performed by dedicated Parks and Wildlife staff across Texas taking samples from road-kill animals, youth hunts, processers, check stations, department-led hunts on wildlife management areas/state natural areas/state parks, among others. Through these combined efforts, TPWD staff in the most recent sampling season have acquired a record setting: 17,500 samples.

Captive surveillance is another important component of CWD surveillance here in Texas and is largely performed by breeding facility owners. Much of the surveillance and is largely perform -- oh, sorry. Much of the surveillance submitted by these operations is required to maintain movement qualified status for their facility. And this surveillance includes 100 percent postmortem testing of 12 -- or mortalities 12 months of age or older, antemortem testing prior to transfer to release sites and breeding facilities, substitution testing for missed mortalities, as well as herd plan requirements for epidemiologically linked breeding facilities and release sites. Through these efforts, facility owners have submitted around 32,000 tests in the past year.

On the face of it, 17,500 tests for a population of five-plus million free-ranging deer is not the same degree of testing as 32,000 tests for a population of 80,000 plus captive deer in Texas and I don't disagree. This is because Texas utilizes a risk-based surveillance system, one utilized widely by animal health professionals around the world for the management of regulatory diseases.

In this is approach, the populations at highest likelihood for exposure and greatest potential for adverse consequences following exposure are more intensively tested. For free-ranging populations, the risk of exposure is lower compared to captive populations, with disease introductions most likely originating from local movements and dispersals, in addition to improper disposal of carcass parts. The consequences of these exposures are still important with the detection of CWD resulting in the formation of CWD zones with local mandatory testing and movement restrictions and the potential for long-term consequent -- or long-term population limiting affects.

The combination of these risks and consequences certainly warrants surveillance within these free-ranging populations. However, when we look at captive populations, we not only have the risk associated with free-ranging exposures, but we have the additional industry-related exposure risks such as frequent and longer distance interstate and intrastate movements, as well as international movements. This is in -- this is in combination with assisted risks from assisted reproductive technologies, shared management or implement, feed and forage input, among others.

Along with these exposure risks, we have greater consequences resulting from an exposure. First, there are the inherent consequences of an infected breeding facility exposing surrounding free-ranging populations, which facilitated by live animal movement very likely has introduced the disease in an area without a previous detection. This results in new testing requirements, movement restrictions, and additional threat to the long-term population sustainability of free-ranging deer populations in the surrounding area.

Second, the Department has to consider the great potential of CWD exposure to other breeding facilities and release sites. Again, through the high degree of movement, a positive facility can serve to amplify the affects of a disease exposure from just one facility to dozens of other breeding facilities and release sites. This, in turn, further jeopardizes deer health in both captive and free-ranging populations. These exposures in other facilities necessitate additional testing and if found positive, may result in depopulation of that breeding facility.

Lastly, the sustained detection dissemination of CWD among breeding facilities and release sites in Texas can even affect international movement. Just recently, Mexico announced it was halting the export of cervids from the United States in response to continued spread of CWD here in Texas. TPWD has sought to enhance surveillance and mitigate risks in both free-ranging and captive populations. However, in captive populations where there is a disproportionate risk of exposure and severe consequences resulting from such exposures, there have been increased emphasis on surveilling for CWD in deer breeding facilities.

Since 2015 when CWD was first detected in a breeding facility in Medina County -- or sorry -- when it was first detected in 2012, but when it was first detected in captive populations in 2015, the Department adopted -- has since adopted several improvements to our CWD surveillance program: The significantly increased testing for both free-ranging and captive populations.

In terms of surveillance between 2015 and 2019, captive populations were required to test 80 percent of mortalities for animals six-plus months of age or older, instituted a 3.6 percent mortality rate, and antemortem testing was added for substitution in transfer category upgrades. For free-ranging populations, the creation of the South Central CWD Zone contributed significantly to free-ranging surveillance. Total, there were four infected captive facilities and five counties with free-ranging positives. As you can see on the map in the upper left-hand corner, that is what it looked like in 2018.

However, between 2020 and today, our Department has learned a lot from several epidemiological investigations with perhaps the most critical detections beginning in 2021. From those detections, risk-based captive surveillance rules were adopted that increased antemortem testing surveillance and testified testing for epidemiologically connected facilities, reduced the eligible postmortem age to 12 months of age or older, and increased the minimum mortality rate of 5 percent. This period saw a substantial increase in detections for captive populations, but also for free-ranging populations.

Total today, as shown in the map in the bottom left -- or bottom right-hand part of the screen, there are 28 infected captive facilities and 11 counties with free-ranging positives. I hear consistently from folks who say, "If you test more, you'll find more." I could not disagree more. In the face of substantial increases in testing for both captive and free-ranging populations, test positivity for free-ranging herds has remained fairly constant. We looked for CWD and we found a similar proportion of the population affected by the disease. Meanwhile, the rate nearly doubled for captive facilities over the same period. In other words, we looked for CWD and we found proportionally even more disease.

I draw this comparison to make two points. First, there are more CWD infected facilities out there still undetected. Second, our risk-based surveillance program is detecting positive herds despite a disproportionally greater alliance on a less sensitive diagnostic test. Regardless, our surveillance program is facilitating the management of CWD in a population with the greatest risk of exposure and potential for consequences. While this surveillance system may seem punitive to some, TPWD has made these improvements to rules based on information gained from epidemiological investigations with the intention of protecting other captive and free-ranging herds of CWD susceptible species.

For example, consider this positive facility in 2021. This facility had delayed the submission of CWD samples from September 2020 until March of 2021. During this delay in detection, three other breeding facilities would receive infected deer from this positive facility and subsequently be depopulated. Two of these depopulated facilities had the deer in the deer in their facility and were expeditiously removed and ultimately detected. However, one of these facilities had one untested trace animal -- the likely infected individual -- that was ultimately released to an adjacent release site and that animal could not be identified or removed for testing expeditiously because it was not identified with permanent ID.

Consequently, the facility had to be put up under a two-year hold order prior to performing a whole herd test for release. This is when the positive animal was discovered. Through the epidemiological investigation, an additional fourth facility was also found to be positive after receiving an infected animal nearly two years prior to the detection of CWD in the index positive facility.

This example illustrates several things. First, timely sample submission adopted in 2021 is critical for facilitating a rapid CWD response. Second, antemortem tests prior to movement may have expedited detection and protected some of -- some or all of these herds from acquiring an infected animal. Lastly, it demonstrates how our adopted antemortem testing strategy when used at a population level approach -- or a population level, can successfully identify exposed herds.

Another example can be found from just this past year. Since the start of the year, we have had 12 new positive facilities. One facility was just recently detected a few days ago. Of the 12 facilities, only five facilities were detected through pos -- postmortem testing alone. The other seven were detected using antemortem testing, with a majorities --a majority of these performing antemortem testing prior to release. Without antemortem testing prior to movement, several of these herds would still be unknowingly transferring infected and/or exposed animals to other breeding facilities and release sites today, facilitating the transmission of this disease. In one instance, the transfer of a CWD positive animal from one breeding facility to another occurred. If antemortem testing prior to transfer to another breeding facility were in place, it very well may have detected this animal prior to completing this transfer.

My last example touches on the complexity and magnitude of permitted movements allowed here in Texas. Just this past year as Texas Animal Health Commission and TPWD worked hand in hand through several positive facilities, it became apparent how easily a single positive facility can expose dozens of facilities within and outside of Texas very quickly. Furthermore, both Departments ended up directly tracing approximately 3,000 exposed animals from or into over 350 facilities, at one point with over half of the breeding industry in Texas under movement restriction. 40 percent of these facilities have now been released, but many others remain non-movement qualified.

Of the 350 facilities, an additional 40 percent are non-movement qualified DMP and release -- DMP facilities and release sites, which received trace deer, but are unable to remove them for testing since the animals lack unique visible identification. This, in turn, has tied up the breeding facilities that transferred said exposed deer to these same release sites. The remainder, including non-movement qualified nursing facilities that either have -- the remainder includes non-movement qualified nursing facilities that either have no deer or all animals are too young for antemortem testing and postmortem testing. These numbers do not even consider the Tier 1 facilities which made dozens of other breeding facilities non-movement qualified.

The so-what of this slide is to highlight that the opportunities to deer breeders for live movement in Texas are extensive and the overall magnitude of live movement of deer is substantial. This can be great for marketability, but conversely it creates ample opportunities for disease exposure. The resulting epidemiological investigations can be exceptionally complex and it only further complicated when exposed animals lack permanent visible ID leading to subsequent delays and a facilities return to movement qualified status.

In short, the longstanding goal of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's rule changes has been to continuously draw on the principles of the epidemiological triad involving host, agent, and environment and promote measures that interrupt transmission and/or mitigation the impacts of this deadly disease.

To support these efforts, a robust surveillance system is needed, which is also capable of continuous improvement, especially when our epidemiological investigations identify weaknesses or complete gaps that relate to either free-ranging or captive cervid populations. The Department's intent is not to detect every case of CWD in Texas, but rather to more and -- more quickly and reliably detect infected herds than in the past, especially in captive populations where the potential for exposure and adverse consequences are the greatest.

By doing so, we not only will be able to more quickly respond and manage current disease outbreaks, but hopefully we can better characterize past diseases -- disease exposures, prevent future exposures, and more effectively manage CWD moving forward. These improvements to our surveillance system are no panacea and they must be coupled with even greater emphasis on preventing disease exposures in the first place, just like has been done in successful infectious disease programs related to livestock species. This will not only involve in-depth review of past and current epidemiological data, but will require regulatory action combined with cooperation from hunters, landowners, and deer breeding facilities in mitigating the already established associated risk factors for CWD exposure.

The hope is that our investments into robust CWD surveillance and management strategy transition us from a reactive firefighting approach to a more proactive preventative model, which supports the health and continuity of captive and free-ranging cervids for generations to come.

Thank you again, Chairman and Commissioners, for your attention and I can answer any questions.


Any questions for -- by the Commissioners?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. How many positives of free-ranging deer did we get from CWD? How many total tests were there?

DR. REED: Of -- over what time period?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: At the beginning of your slide, I thought you had referenced a --

DR. REED: Yeah. So around seventeen thousand --


DR. REED: -- five hundred tests last year. As a total for all CWD positive free-ranging animals, it's around like a hundred, a hundred and --

MR. CAIN: 103.

DR. REED: 103? Which accounts for about 25 percent of all CWD positive detections in Texas.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And where were those? Is there any type of map or anything to show the location? Were they evenly spread? Were they --

DR. REED: That's a great question. No, they're not evenly spread. The vast majority of those free-ranging detections have occurred in the Trans-Pecos and panhandle zones of Texas, which largely are Mule deer.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. Okay. And then at the end of your slide, not to be more alarming, but the map that showed the CWD surveillance and management, I noticed that Brooks County is not colored. Is -- is there a reason that it doesn't -- it's not colored?

DR. REED: Sorry. You mean this map?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Do you know where Brooks County is? Yeah, that map.

DR. REED: Yeah. So --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: A little north of --

DR. REED: Yeah. So this was actually -- this might not -- this is not including all of it. This was probably made in July, this map. But with a newer map, it might be slightly different. But the general concept of all trace deer coming from 2015 to 2023, there's a wide dispersion in -- of infected animals -- or, well, exposed animals across the state.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. And is it your understanding that Brooks County is certainly under CWD surveillance and management?

DR. REED: Yes.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: It should be colored green I guess, right? Or should it be red?

DR. REED: It just depends on if there were exposed deer that went to release sites in that county. So at the time that this graphic was made, it may not have incorporated those; but in other graphics, it certainly is probably going to change color.


DR. REED: Graphing in those new positive facilities.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Any other questions?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Commissioner Doggett.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: For clarification, we were talking about the free-range. The statistic we heard earlier was 0.02 percent were identified to be infected, right?

DR. REED: So it's a very, very low percentage.


DR. REED: Part of what was misleading about that is that it's taken over all of the CWD samples collected across the state. What we know about this disease is it is very localized. We do not have CWD at a uniform prevalence all across the state. So using surveillance from our highest risk areas that are where we know the disease either exists or where it's very likely to exist and draw a conclusion about what the prevalence is across an entire state is a misrepresentation of the data.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: So the two-one-hundredths of 1 percent, that's not an accurate number?

DR. REED: So at a face value --


DR. REED: -- if you're -- if all of the -- most of those positive samples are coming from Mule deer in free-ranging -- free-ranging Mule deer out there, but we're incorporating a lot of tests from White-tailed deer taken in another part of the state, all across the state.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: And the other number we heard was less than 1 percent for pen rates.

DR. REED: Yeah, yeah. So based off all of the tests that are taken, sure, it is much lower. But the idea is that we trying to catch this disease before it gets to higher prevalences.

COMMISSIONER DOGGETT: Then we heard in Colorado 40 percent over the last five years of the Mule deer population has decreased. But do we know that that's CWD or not or what's caused all that?

DR. REED: No, that's a good question. So what CWD acts as is an additional mortality factor. So it can make those populations more sensitive when other events such as disease, weather, food availability, whatever can affect that population. So the idea is that once you get to these higher and highest prevalences, the population just becomes all that much more sensitive to other factors that might reduce -- that might reduce that population, in addition to the fact that CWD increases the mortality rate of an individual animal.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right, great. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Can I ask one more ques -- or maybe --


COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- comment. Patton. Maybe it would be more accurate and if you can answer the question now, can you break out just by species how many -- if there's 17,000, plus or minus, can you differentiate between White-tail and Mule deer and then further differentiate the positives to White-tail and Mule deer?

DR. REED: Yeah, we have those. I haven't presented them, but we can certainly give that to you.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Do you think it would be more accurate or relevant? Or certainly it'd be a more detailed --

DR. REED: I think it would put those numbers that were previously stated into more context. Not just the ones that I presented, but also the ones that others have presented as well.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: All right, thank you.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: You know, it would be nice. Captive deer, free-range deer, break out free-range, Mule deer, White-tail, how many tests, how many positives by calendar year.

DR. REED: We -- yep, we can share that.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. So, like, after lunch.

DR. REED: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right. Okay, thank you.

DR. REED: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay, great. All right.

All right, so I thank you. Great presentations.

Any other final questions, comments, issues?

Hopefully we're all a bit more enlightened on a complex issue.

All right. So I think what we're going to do, if possible, can we do Work Session 4 and 5 and then break for lunch?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. So we're going to do that. So we're going to finish out the CWD issues and then we're going to break for lunch or Executive Session. Okay, great.

All right, Mr. Cain, make your presentation. And talk fast.

MR. CAIN: This first one's a long one. I wish I could go quick. For the record, I'm Alan Cain, Big Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. This morning I'll be presenting proposed changes to the CWD detection and response rules in deer breeder permit rules and requesting permission to place this item on tomorrow's agenda for action.

So the proposed changes stand from a deep concern expressed by a variety of stakeholders and organizations in response to the current trajectory of CWD in Texas and four separate formal petition for rule-makings that the Department received this summer in response to the continued CWD outbreak, unidentified sources of CWD for some of these positive facilities, and lack of compliance from a number of trace release sites.

The chart on this slide illustrates that the cumulative trends in CWD detections in breeding facilities since the first detection in 2015 to the 11 new positives that have occurred in 2023 -- and actually that would be 12, I believe. As you can see since 2020, we've seen a significant uptick in detections in captive facilities. The continued revisions and enhanced rules pertaining to CWD surveillance in breeder facilities adopted in 2021 has helped in the discovery of these recent detections. However, these proposed rule changes being presented today are being necessary as we continue to work towards management actions to help curtail the spread of CWD to both captive and free-ranging deer populations.

I will note that of the 28 breeding facilities where CWD was detected -- including a suspect positive in Cherokee County we learned about Monday -- 13 have been depopulated and of the remaining 15 facilities, one of those facilities is under a research herd plan with no additional positives, one is tied up in litigation with the Department, two are generally unresponsive to the Department's request and Animal Health Commission's request for herd plans, and the other 11 are in the process of completing herd plan agreements.

In 2023 alone, breeder operations, release sites, and landowners have all been impacted by discovery of CWD and confirmed in 11 new breeding facilities in 2023, as well as the movements associated with CWD exposed breeder deer from these positive facilities. As you can see from the statistics provided on the slide, there's 343 total facilities that have been impacted in 104 counties and about 2,700 trace deer sent to release sites.

As such, the Department is proposing several measures to manage and mitigate CWD risk associated with the live deer movement: Improve rule compliance among epi-linked release sites and modify rules associated with the TTP permit and modification of carcass movement restrictions and carcass disposal rules.

Staff -- the first proposed rule includes a requirement for antemortem testing for any deer prior to movement between breeder facilities, as well as removing the three-year sunset provision governing the antemortem testing prior to release. Antemortem testing prior to release has been an integral part of the general surveillance strategy and is responsible for identifying the CWD positive facilities this year as Dr. Reed pointed out.

Next staff are also proposing a six-month residency requirement for breeder deer prior to being eligible for transfer to another breeder facility or a release site.

The next proposed change is to establish a deadline for Category B trace facilities to antemortem test all test eligible deer within 60 days of notification of Class B status. And just as a reminder, a Category B facility is a trace-out breeding facility that does not have 100 percent of the trace deer available for testing. And so to further reduce the risk also of live animal movements from nursing facilities and the complexity of the epidemiological investigations, staff propose to eliminate provisions allowing deer breeders to transfer fawns to external facilities for nursing purposes, which would require -- if adopted -- all fawns remain in the herd of origin to at least six months age, at which point they could receive an antemortem test prior to movement and all existing nursing facilities would either have to redesignate as a breeder facility or become a contiguous pen to an existing breeder facility or close out completely.

To mitigate the risk between breeding facilities and release sites, the following changes are also proposed. Reproduce the statutory provisions governing the required permanent visible ID tags in breeder deer to facilitate the prompt removal of CWD exposed animals so that the disease status of epi-linked release sites can be determined. On that same vein, staff further propose to prohibit the release of breeder deer prior to April 1 of the following -- of the year following birth to ensure that no animals can be released between six and nine months of age that would otherwise not be required to be retained for identification.

Next, the proposed rules are also designed to increase compliance of epi-linked release sites or trace release sites that receive trace deer. As mentioned earlier, that's been sustained noncompliance from these epi-linked release sites with only 45 percent actually submitting all the required harvest and testing information. Proposed rules would include a requirement for trace release sites to remove every trace animal within 60 days either by lawful hunting or as specifically authorized in writing by the Department. The prompt removal of CWD exposed animals is a requirement for epi -- epi-linked breeder facilities and this change would provide consistency between breeder facilities and exposed release sites.

The proposal states that samples should be submitted within one day of mortality, but staff would recommend modifying that to seven days for a more reasonable time period to submit samples. The proposed change would also allow for the suspension of MLD -- from MLD for landowners that refuse to comply with the testing and reporting requirements for epi-linked release sites.

The next proposed change would be a change to the Trap, Transport, and Process permit that would require the permittee to submit all CWD samples within seven days of collection. Currently the TTP rules only require results to be submitted by May 1st of each permit year and so staff are proposing this change in response to CWD positive detection in Bexar County in Hollywood Park where the sample for that positive deer was collected in late January this past year via the TTP permit, but we didn't receive those test results until May of this year. So modifying the current rule will allow the Department to respond to CWD detections in a more timely manner.

And the last change staff are proposing is related to statewide carcass disposal rules. Staff recognize that proper carcass disposal is an important management strategy to minimize unintended spread of CWD, especially in areas where CWD is not known to exist. Staff also recognize that the current carcass movement restrictions in CWD zones can be burdensome on hunters, especially with the Department's updated approach of establishing smaller 2-mile zones around positive breeding facilities. With these smaller zones, the Department is not always able to establish check station locations within the zone where a hunter could take a whole deer in to be sampled and often there's no deer processer in the zone. Therefore, staff are proposing a statewide carcass disposal rule. The disposal rule would only apply if a hunter is taking deer from the property of harvest to another location.

The proposed rule would require any unused parts to be disposed of in the followings manner. One, dispose of unused parts in a permitted landfill. And for the vast majority of hunters, this simply means they could take their unused parts and throw it away in the dumpster, the trash can, the trash service at your house, you know. And you could still take your carcasses to a deer processer or the locker plant, the taxidermist. It's just whoever is in final possession of those unused parts. One of the options could be dispose of that in a permitted landfill. So most landfills that are receiving -- that are permitted by TCEQ are going to be able to receive this type of unused parts.

Other option is to bury the unused parts at least in 3-feet deep hole and cover it with 3 feet of soil or return unused parts to the property of harvest. So if I bring it back to my house and I clean the deer and I've got the spine and the head, well I can take it back there if I didn't have -- want to utilize one of those other options.

So the disposal rules would also allow any person that harvests a deer in a Texas CWD zone to transport that whole carcass out of a zone as long as they dispose of the unused parts by one of the options I just mentioned. But before leaving that zone, the hunter must obtain a TPWD issued check station receipt. And just to note is if this proposal or part of the proposal's adopted, the change would not take effect until the 24-25 season. So next season. We wouldn't implement this in the middle of this season.

So I think there's -- just public comments and what I've heard from folks over the last month or two, there's been a little confusion. So I just wanted to provide kind of a snapshot of what this means for a hunter. So to be clear, if you're not -- if a hunter harvests a deer and they're not removing it from that property, they can process the deer and discard those unused parts on that property. You can go about your normal business. The disposal rules don't apply. So if I kill a deer on my ranch, I can process it right there, and then I can pitch the carcass parts out there. I don't have to bury them. I don't have to put them in a dumpster. I can go on about my business, and the propose the rules wouldn't apply.

If a hunter is taking a carcass from the property of harvest to another destination other than that site of harvest, then the hunter could, one, is debone the carcass at the site of harvest; but to do that, they must maintain a cold storage record book on that property and all that required information associated with the record book must be entered in the log. And so once that's entered into the log, the proof of sex and tagging requirements cease. So there's an option for people to debone carcasses right now. They just have to follow that cold storage record book requirement.

A hunter could also take a whole -- a whole deer or a quartered carcass or a head to a locker plant, a deer processer, a taxidermist, to their house, they can donate the meat or carcass or take it to another location and if these rules were adopted, they would just need to dispose of those unused parts in one of those three options that we just talked about. And again, just a reminder, if they're taking a deer, a whole carcass, or anything from the zone, they would need to get a Department check station receipt at that check station prior to leaving that zone.

So that covers the bulk of the -- or that covers the proposed changes. I'll go over the public comments that we've received thus far. As of -- actually that slide's a little out of date. As of this morning, we received 3,940 public comments on the -- on our TPWD website with 33.7 percent of those folks agreeing with the proposed changes, 63.3 percent disagreeing with the proposal, and 3 percent disagreeing specifically with parts of the proposal.

The Department's also received a number of letters from various organizations and Legislators that I'll share, as well as a general summary of the general comments that we received on the website.

So we did receive a letter from the Texas Deer Association with six specific points of concern or disagreements with the proposal and they are in opposition to the proposed the visible ID requirement and prohibition on release of deer prior to April 1 following their birth year as related to that identification requirement, noting that this is a matter to be addressed by the Legislature and that the current statute is silent on visible ID in free-ranging deer, i.e. deer that are released on a release site.

They also had concerns with the six-month residency requirement that could be problematic for deer breeders with multiple, noncontiguous facilities or breeder pens on the same property in which a lot of those breeders will have multiple pens and so they want to move deer between those different pens, whether it's age classes or whatever they're doing; but if they're not contiguous right now, they have to have a separate facility and so that residency requirement would impact them.

They also noted that the stipulation to submit CWD samples within one day of harvest on trace release sites is unreasonable and there should be a longer time period, which I mentioned that we would recommend that be seven days. They also have concerns with the antemortem testing requirement from breeder-to-breeder testing, noting that the antemortem test -- testing should provide more value than just surveillance and suggesting such as using antemortem tests to clear trace or tier deer or facilities.

They also suggest that if antemortem testing is adopted, then Tier 1 testing requirements that's in rule, but not currently talked about in the proposal, should be removed from regulations and that CWD zones should be abolished.

Lastly, they recommend 100 percent of all TTP deer captured under that permit be CWD tested, noting that the change in the time period does not mitigate the disease risk.

We also received a letter from Senator Juan Hinojosa expressing concerns over the timeline to adopt these proposed rules, noting that there's not been enough time to review and provide detailed responses to public comments and any needed revisions to the proposed rules. Senator Hinojosa requested that the Commission delay consideration and adoption of the proposed rules until the January 2024 meeting or only adopt a portion of the rules such as antemortem testing requirements for breeder-to-breeder movements.

We also received single sign-on letter signed by Senator Bob Hall, Senator Charles Perry, Senator Mayes Middleton, Senator Angela Paxton, Senator Tan Park[sic], and Senator Drew Springer, also echoing similar comments as Senator Hinojosa to delay consideration and adoption of the rules until the January meeting and also expressed concern with the Department's use of emergency rule-making and not allowing time for adequate public input and comment and that the Legislature to have oversight with respect to the process. Also lastly noted in their letter, that TPWD had failed to prepare a detailed economic impact statement for proposed -- the proposals considered for adoption.

So we had a lot of public comments and a lot of written comments and this is a quick summary of what those are for those comments that disagree or disagreed specifically with portions of the proposal. And of the written comments received, a majority of the commenters felt the rules were over -- that disagreed with the proposal, they felt the rules were overarch -- overreaching and burdensome on deer breeders and release sites and would have negative impacts on small businesses, family ranches, and deer hunting.

And then there was a significant number of comments of those written comments that provided a standard response with six items of specific concern and those were the same items that were listed by the Texas Deer Association letter. So I'm not going to review all those. You can see them on the screen there, just essentially to reiterate what those were.

Other public comments that disagree with the proposal or specifically parts of the proposal include concerns with the carcass disposal rule being too burdensome on hunters, that it could discourage hunter participation, and being too expensive for hunters. There was also a fair number of written comments that disagreed specifically with those carcass dis-part -- carcass disposal rules, but not disagreeing with other parts of the proposal. Other comments include request to shut down live animal movements, also that no new rules are added because the rules adopted in 2021 are working to detect CWD in breeder facilities. Some noted that CWD is not a concern and the rules are not necessary.

There was also concerns that the antemortem testing tissue require -- or antemortem testing requirement, they would run out of tissues if somebody had to test deer multiple times that was moving through the facilities quite frequently. Other commenters suggested there's to be no transport of breeder deer until a more reliable antemortem test is available. Others were concerned that there was an open-ended statement pertaining to the proposed release site provision to remove trace animals within 60 days and test 100 percent of the harvested deer until the Department is confident that CWD is not present. That caused a bit of concern. And lastly, there was a recommendation that animal health and disease issues should be administered by the Texas Animal Health Commission rather than the Department.

The Department is also received a single sign-on letter of support for the proposed rules from most of the organizations listed on this slide and individual letters from the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, in which their letter provided support for the proposal and noted that the Commission should continue to welcome other solutions which garner broader consensus among stakeholders, while providing meaningful protection for the state's White-tailed deer. The Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association also provided a letter supporting TPWD's efforts to contain and eradicate the disease.

We also received a separate letter from the Texas Wildlife Association supporting the proposed rules, specifically noting the importance of visible ID requirements upon release. TWA also supports the statewide carcass disposal rules, but urges the Department to prioritize education of hunters before carcass disposal rules would go into effect to minimize hesitation and confusion among hunters and continue to look for opportunities to simplify CWD regulations for hunters and reduce the amount of high-risk carcass parts being transported down the road.

Now we did obviously in addition to the comments, written comments received that those that disagree, we received quite a few that agreed with the proposal and those included reasons for the rules were needed to help protect the deer population, hunting heritage, and the hunting economy, also to help reduce the spread of CWD. Many noted that visible ID to identify trace deer on release sites to aid in prompt removal for disease management purposes was critical. Some noted support for the proposed rules, but asked that TPWD look for ways to allow deboning of carcasses at the ranch of harvest. Some suggested artificial movement be stopped and high-fencing not be allowed.

And we did have an opportunity to run these proposed changes by the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee a couple ago in October. They provided feedback on the proposal with support for most of the proposed rules. There were some items with mixed support or other suggestion from members of that advisory committee, including that all deer captured under a TTP permit be required to be tested or some variation where a percentage of the total number captured be tested and there was one suggestion that required that the first 15 deer captured be sampled if samples had not already been submitted by other previous collection means.

The majority of the committee supported the visible ID requirement, but there were several that disagreed with the visible ID stating that this is a personal choice for release site owners. There was also mixed support for the six-month residency requirement, with several members suggesting that residency requirement is not necessary if ante -- antemortem testing for breeder to breeder is in place. They also noted that the residency requirement would impact those facility owners again with multiple noncontiguous facilities on a single property.

The committee did indicate that the number of days to submit samples on a trace release site should be extended from one to some other time period, such as seven days. And lastly, they were supportive of the carcass disposal rules; but wanted to make sure staff worked towards options to allow hunters to debone carcasses again at the site of harvest without needing a cold storage log.

And with that, staff requests that this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comments and action. I hope I got through that quick enough.


Okay, Commissioners, any questions for Mr. Cain?

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Foster. I have a question. Earlier in your presentation you talked about the lack of compliance from trace release sites. What specifically -- what kind of noncompliance are you talking about?

MR. CAIN: So there's a couple of things. One is just testing deer and submitting those tests. They're killing deer and they're not either filling out the harvest log and providing tests to us or test results to us. So they're simply just -- when they're harvesting deer, they're not getting them tested and so that's the big concern there. So there could be some that are submitting -- you know, harvesting deer, maybe get a few tests, and not submitting everything in the harvest log. But the vast majority of those are just not submitting tests.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: And what are the -- what are the consequences of them, of noncompliances? Do we have any ability to enforce it?

MR. CAIN: So if one of the rules gets adopted, I believe it's they can receive citations.

Or actually if Stormy King is in here, Chief of Wildlife Law Enforcement, he could probably respond to that. But they might be able -- it's citations. They can receive citations for it.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Stormy, why don't you come up?

MR. KING: Good morning, everyone. For the record, Stormy King with Law Enforcement. The specific question on citations or...

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: I was just curious how we enforce when we have noncompliance.

MR. KING: The last time I checked, I think it was right before the last Commission meeting. We had issued around 70 citations and 110-ish warnings. We run into issues where perhaps that Class C is not much of a deterrent to folks compared to the alternatives.

We -- we are taking some steps now to streamline what we can on enforcement side in regard to cases where we can establish a venue in Travis County, which is going to be submission of test results, submission of harvest logs, things like that. But as far as whether or not we can file a citation on someone for failing to kill a deer on a release site can be very difficult to enforce that.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Thank you. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. With the comments that you've gotten, I do see where, you know, some of the comments had some impact in terms of changing from one day to seven. How did -- did any other comments suggest adjustments to the team that would seem to be more universally accepted? I'll just use that terminology.

MR. CAIN: I didn't notice anything in the written public comments that would suggest universally acceptance by all the different sides, other than just the seven-day thing. But, you know, I think there's obviously antemortem testing. There's one -- one group that, you know, does not support it unless there's some other conditions, I guess. And then the other side, you know, there's other support for antemortem testing breeder to breeder. Those are just examples. The ID stuff, it's across the board.

I think that, you know, the CWD Task Force, as I recall, there was general support for the antemortem testing breeder-to-breeder movements and the -- and for the closing of nursing facilities or noncontiguous nursing facilities.

COMMISSIONER BELL: And just the -- and just in like a question in regard to the visible tag as an issue, doesn't technology also allow us to put electronic tags?

MR. CAIN: Yes, we -- one of the tagging requirements is an electronic ID. So that can be a RFID button tag or a microchip, but that doesn't always mean it is a visible ID.

COMMISSIONER BELL: But the purpose -- and is the purpose of the ID to be able to track the animal? And if so, would RFID not provide a similar outcome?

MR. CAIN: So, yes, for -- you know, certainly for inventory purposes in the facility itself, definitely tracking. If you're talking about related to this proposal -- and I think what the Department and many people are asking for is to be able to visibly ID a trace deer on a release site because if it's got a microchip in it and I can't -- and that's a trace deer that's either got me held up as a ranch or holding somebody else up and I can't identify that deer, then there's no way for me to know which one I need to remove out there and so that's why there's the proposal for the visible -- to enforce what's in statute with the visible ID.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: So I -- I have one more. It seems like quite a few people have asked you to delay this, asked us to delay this until January, including -- what -- eight or nine Senators, which is --

MR. CAIN: At least seven.

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Okay, seven. So that's 30 -- 30 percent of the Senate. Is -- what impact -- is there any big risk or damage that would be done by delaying this? What are your thoughts on that?

MR. CAIN: Obviously the -- if you don't have -- just as -- one option is if you don't have breeder-to-breeder testing in place and I'm not sure there's a whole lot of movement going on right now, but if there was, you know, it's able to catch that disease quicker before it gets transported to somewhere else and that so would be a value of adopting the proposal today, you know, and then certainly visible ID is going to be helpful, although there's fewer releases this time of year. It's past the ten-day cutoff period, but certainly next spring you're going to see that ramp up and so if you get to January and we had to redo the proposal or whatever we had to do, then you're looking at a March adoption. Well, you could get to next spring and, you know, you could start to see a ramp up of movement in ID, you know, and so not having ID or whatever testing or movement, things like that.

And then -- yeah, I mean, there's -- you just have to weigh the cost benefit there, so.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Good. Thanks. Good question.

Any other questions?

Kind of in follow-up to Commissioner Foster's question on -- obviously there's been quite a bit of opposition and advocates for -- for these rules. Do you know what statutory authority do we have to require visible identification tags?

MR. CAIN: So as I understand the statute, it requires ID-ing those deer and it specifies the tag itself and then I think the way the statute is worded, that tags can only be -- or they can't be removed except to replace those tags. In other words, if it's damaged or you -- it's illegible, then you can replace a tag. That's my understanding.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. But you have to have two of the three; is that correct?

MR. CAIN: Yeah, yeah.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: A tattoo, a RFD -- RFID or a visible tag?

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And it's your choice?

MR. CAIN: Yeah, you have to have two of those.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay, correct. Looks like there's some debate on that.

MR. GEORGE: So for the record, Todd George, Assistant General Counsel. The statute requires you have to have a dangle tag and then you can pick between the microchip and the RFID tag and you have to have a tattoo.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Statute requires a dangle tag?


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Hmm. That's not what I had seen, but we'll -- I mean, I'd like to hear more about that. I mean, so you're saying it's mandatory?

MR. GEORGE: It is mandatory to put a dangle tag on a deer in a breeding facility by March 31st after the year it was born.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: In a breeding facility?

MR. GEORGE: In a breeding facility.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Understand. Okay, so --

MR. GEORGE: And the only --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- you know, I want the full answer. So but if you release that deer, we -- we don't have the statutory right?

MR. GEORGE: Well, the statute requires all breeder deer to have that dangle tag by March 31st. The statute says a breeder is not required to remove a tag for any purpose and says that they may remove a tag only for the purpose of replacing it for the tag that meets the requirements of the statute.


MR. GEORGE: And so the rule language that's proposed, just mirrors the language that's currently in statute.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Understand. Okay, thank you.

Alan, couple of other questions. So on the -- on the residency requirement, any scientific reasons for residency? I mean, if we're testing these deer anyway, I mean what relevance does that have?

MR. CAIN: So I think a couple of things. One is if you have deer in those facilities for a longer period of time, if there's -- you know, if they're exposed to a positive deer, you're likely to pick it up before they get transferred out of that facility with the antemortem test just because they're sitting there longer. You know, as you heard today, if a deer is infected, you know, within a month or two of being in that facility and doesn't move for six months and then we do an antemortem test or some other test two or three months down the road, then they're more likely to potentially pick it up. And there's some concern that -- in the past, at least, or even currently -- that you have brokers, so to speak, that are moving deer quickly. It's like I'm sending deer to Commissioner Bell, but you're the middleman. So I send it to you. You have it for a day or two in your facility and then it goes to him and just that quick turnaround can lock up these other facilities if they're a positive. We've seen that this year and so --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: But every time that deer is transferred, it would be have to be tested. So in your example, that's one deer gets three tests or two tests.

MR. CAIN: Yeah. I mean, in theory. But the test -- if I transfer a deer -- if I test it today and I transfer it to you, you've got to test it tomorrow. Well, the test within a matter of a week or two, it's not going to tell you -- it's not going to change much in the disease detection.


MR. CAIN: Yeah.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Last question to Commissioner Foster's issue of potentially some delay. If I walk through these rules, the ones that you believe -- like, for example, carcass disposal doesn't occur until the 24-25 hunting season, right? So a delay in January is not going to be an issue.

MR. CAIN: It wouldn't --


MR. CAIN: -- if we adopted it now.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- it would have affect.

MR. CAIN: It would have no affect, but it would give us time to educate people because --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Understand. Okay, so --

MR. CAIN: But, yeah.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- but if tick down through these, require antemortem testing of test-eligible deer, I mean we already have that, correct?

MR. CAIN: For --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: So I'm trying to see the rules that will have affect now that are problematic and ones that we can maybe think about more scientific data, more -- more maybe visible opportunities, visual identification means, things of that sort. So if you'll walk down for the Commissioners, in your mind just from start to finish, which ones have the most impact today?

MR. CAIN: The biggest ones from the Department's standpoint is the antemortem testing requirement breeder to breeder because we're getting more surveillance in the facilities for any movement --


MR. CAIN: -- so that's --


MR. CAIN: The removing the sunset provision for antemortem testing prior to release. When that got adopted in '21 --


MR. CAIN: -- we had a sunset, so at would be important. The residency requirement, again that's something that could probably be discussed or look at -- looked at a little bit better, especially if the concern is over noncontiguous facilities on a particular release site because the important part is the antemortem testing, but that's -- obviously these are all important for the Department.


MR. CAIN: The Category B deadline to establish a -- to antemortem test within 60 days -- Todd, we have a rule right now that says 45 days as I remember, right?

MR. GEORGE: Correct.

MR. CAIN: So that -- that could be postponed because we already have a requirement to test in 45 days for Category B facilities. This just gives them a little bit longer window to deal with vet availability to conduct those whole -- generally the whole herd antemortem test.


MR. CAIN: The --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- transfer fawns to external facilities for nursing purposes?

MR. CAIN: That would -- I think that would be important --


MR. CAIN: -- to consider before fawning season --


MR. CAIN: -- next year. The visible ID, the Department certainly would believe that's important for deer that are getting turned out on release sites to be able to track those deer.


MR. CAIN: Prohibit --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- a deadline for submission of CWD test exams.

MR. CAIN: Those are related. The tagging thing's related, so.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: But pretty -- pretty straightforward. Pretty benign, right? I mean, I would think that is.

MR. CAIN: Yeah, you just want to make sure that it -- you know, if we didn't adopt this, then somebody in theory could release a deer or have a deer that's tagged during that six -- not tagged during that 60-month time -- six-to-nine-month time period.


MR. CAIN: But they're, again, required to have a...


MR. CAIN: Let's see. The trace-out, again the remove the 60 -- the trace deer within 60 days of notification. That's a tough one. That would certainly help get deer off the landscape if they're trace deer and you can find them, but it doesn't -- it doesn't always completely eliminate the risk if you can't find every deer on that trace release site if there needed to be more discussion on that.

Suspension from MLD for noncompliant release sites, that could probably wait just because they're already enrolled in MLD. If they're noncompliant --


MR. CAIN: -- this year, we could come back. The TTP, it would -- it would just allow us to respond quicker. But again, TTP's not going to happen generally until later in the year. You see a lot of these places do that in January, February. So we have some time.

The statewide carcass disposal, to your point, would -- you know, it's not going to be -- if it was adopted, it wouldn't be implemented until next season, but it would provide us an opportunity to really try to educate hunters starting January and essentially meet the deadline to get stuff -- if we had to wait to adopt until March, that's pushing the timeline to get the information in the Outdoor Annual, which has always been a challenge.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And on the carcass rules, I -- you know, I think it's fairly logical. Do you think that -- you've got multiple provisions in there -- they're too complicated for the standard hunter?

MR. CAIN: I don't. I don't see that it really changes a whole lot how you do your business. Most people are taking deer to a locker plant or a processer or they're quartering it at the ranch of harvest and then -- and I don't think a lot of people know that they can debone a deer car -- a deer at the site of harvest as long as they maintain a cold storage log. That changed a couple of years ago. And so I don't see this as an overly complicated issue and it would certainly help people in CWD zones that don't have an opportunity to take a deer to a processer.


MR. MURPHY: And, Chairman.


MR. MURPHY: James Murphy, General Counsel, for the record. I just want to add a little context on the question. We do have an emergency rule in place on the antemortem testing prior to breeder-to-breeder transfer, as well as restating the statutory requirements of visible identification. Those would expire if we were to delay adoption until January. I just want to give those dates for you.

You would have the opportunity to do a 60-day extension on that emergency rule, which would put it to about mid-January, the 19th, and then that upcoming Commission meeting would be in late January, the 25th, 26th. From there, we do have a requirement for 20 days before a rule becomes effective, as well as the preparation of the response to comments and that's that March timeframe that Alan just alluded to. So you would end up with a gap of, you know, possibly a couple months there on those two requirements.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay, great. Thank you, James.

Anything else, Mr. Cain?

MR. CAIN: No, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Al right. Thank you, Alan. I think you've got one more, surveillance zones.

MR. CAIN: Yes.


MR. CAIN: Okay. So I'll be seeking permission to -- again, Alan Cain, Big Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division, for the record. I'll be seeking permission to publish proposed amendments pertaining to establish new CWD zones in Kimble, Medina, and Cherokee Counties in the Texas Register for public comment.

On August 21 of this year, a suspect positive female White-tailed deer was detected in a captive breeding facility as a result of antemortem testing in Kimble County. In response to the confirmation of this positive deer, on September 7th, the Department established a surveillance zone around the positive facility through emergency rule. The 2-mile surveillance zone that's outlined in yellow on the map illustrates that particular area.

The proposed zone will encompass about 90,000 acres. So that's that area with the gray there where all those properties that are wholly or partially contained in the surveillance zone. And this proposed rule would replace the emergency rule.

The slide -- this slide provides a general reference for location of the proposed zone on the left in relationship to the current zone that has been in place since 2020. Hunters in the proposed zone are able to utilize a drop box at the entrance of South Llano River State Park to drop off heads for CWD sampling, which note -- denoted by that red star just north of the proposed zone or they could take the head to a manned checked station in Segovia, as denoted by the red star over there in that -- in the current zone.

The next proposed zone is in Medina County. On October 11th this year, a suspect positive male White-tailed deer was detected in a captive breeding facility as a result of antemortem testing and that deer was confirmed positive on October 19th. The 2-mile surveillance zone is again outlined in yellow. This zone encompasses about 21,000 acres of that gray area and includes about 110 landowners that are partially or wholly contained within that zone.

And again, just to provide a little context where that proposed zone is in relation to the current zone in Medina County, hunters in that -- this proposed zone, if adopted, would be able to take deer to the manned check station in Hondo where that red star is or utilize the drop box there.

And then lastly we had a suspect positive on Monday of this week in a 52-month old male White-tailed deer. We would propose to establish a 2-mile surveillance zone, again that area in yellow. This is just southeast of Jacksonville in the -- in Cherokee County in East Texas. It encompasses about 13,000 acres and 436 properties.

And so staff would seek permission to publish this -- these proposed amendments to the rules governing CWD detection, response, and management to the Texas Register for public comment.

And just to clarify, if -- we're still waiting on the confirmation from that Cherokee County deer; but assuming that comes in prior to this being published, then we would include that.

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

Any questions? Comments?

Okay. Thank you very much for the presentation.

All right. We're going to -- we're going to move the Executive Session up and then we'll come back and --

MR. MURPHY: Chairman, if I could just interject for a moment. I apologize. This is --


MR. MURPHY: -- James Murphy, General Counsel, for the record. I would just ask if you -- if it's your decision to move the previous item that Alan presented on the CWD rules adoption to public comment and action on Thursday and I just want to confirm that you authorize publication of this rule proposal in the Texas Register. Just want to make sure. I implied that you did. Just want to confirm, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Yeah. So are you asking do we want comments from the public on this and that we want to move forward with -- I think the answer is yes.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And then we'll make a determination from there.

MR. MURPHY: Very good.


MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Chairman.

MR. CAIN: Chairman --


MR. CAIN: -- I did want to mention one thing. I appreciate being able to talk about the zones, but we have some new technology, one of the things that y'all requested at the last meeting and Chris Cerny, our Business Analyst, is going to provide some of the updates on how we manage or display CWD zones.


MR. CERNY: Well, I appreciate the chance to be here. It's my privilege to be between this room and lunch, so I'll go quick. For the record, my name is Chris Cerny, Wildlife Division Business Analyst.

Given the growth in the number of CWD zones, we feel it is important to provide this Commission with an overview of the tools TPWD has available to both the general public and specifically to our hunters to help deliver critical information. I'm excited to highlight one new feature in particular, which is an interactive CWD zone map that this -- that has just been released in a mobile format in response to suggestions received from this Commission.

So to start, TPWD uses three primary mechanisms to deliver CWD-related information to the public. First up is the TPWD website, which includes an excellent information page on CWD. This page was just reformatted by our Communications team and it provides a neatly organized overview of CWD information, including background of the disease, open access to the Department's management plan, and detailed information on zone regulations and locations. The site is also where hunters access the look-up tool that is used to find test results collected through our statewide surveillance efforts.

Next up is the Outdoor Annual, which all hunters should be familiar with, both the print and mobile version. Mobile app versions contain relevant information for hunters regarding CWD zone requirements and locations as you see on screen. The mobile app also includes static maps that work in offline mode in that mobile version, as shown here for Gonzales County. And so there's a map available for all zone locations to take offline.

And then last, but not least, is the My Texas Hunt Harvest mobile app which provides a couple of important feature geared specifically to hunters that I'll briefly highlight in greater detail. So as you may recall, the My Texas Hunt Harvest mobile app provides a variety of services to hunters and anglers, including tools for a harvest reporting and digital tagging. I mention these two functions specifically because they provide us with the opportunity to provide targeted notifications regarding CWD zones to hunters who report harvest in a county that does contain a zone. So on your screen is an example of one of the types of notices that's provided to a hunter, including a direct link to the Outdoor Annual. So again, if a hunter reports a harvest and they -- that harvest is in a county that has a zone, they will see that notice regarding the zone warning and then they have a link to go directly to the Outdoor Annual to find the information about that zone.

This notification feature has been available in the app for several years and it provides an excellent method to get information to hunters at the time of harvest, especially given the expansion of digital tagging options over the past couple of years. That said -- excuse me -- the majority of harvest is still not reported via this app in this state, with only approximately 35,000 deer reported last year. So that means we need more options to provide hunters with access to zone info.

And so to that point, members of this Commission recently suggested that a tool be developed that takes advantage of the mobile device map capabilities. I'm happy to share that we just released an updated version of the app within the last week that does exactly that. A CWD zone info option is now available on the home page of My Texas Hunt Harvest, as shown an your screen here.

When users access this tool, they are provided information regarding how zones function and how to use the map tool. So reminders about properties that are either wholly or partially in the zone, for example, to make sure they know where they're hunting. Once on the map page, users are instructed to tap the map to receive the zone information for any location in the state. If a customer has location services enabled, they'll see their blue dot and, of course, customers don't have to enable location services. So regardless of whether location services are enabled, customers can still navigate the map to locate their hunting spot and determine its proximity to a zone messages.

Messaging in the app informs the hunters if they are more than 20 miles from a zone, as shown on your screen here at TPWD headquarters, or if under 20 miles, then they'll start seeing specific exact mileage to the nearest zone with the name of that zone. And then, of course, once in a zone, then it'll name that zone if they tap within that zone area.

So we're very excited to provide this feature in time for the start of general deer season. To help inform customers of this new feature, we included reference to this new service in an e-blast that went out within the last few days and went to more than a million license holders. We also had a press release that went out earlier this week to announce this feature as well.

So I appreciate y'all's time today, and I'm happy to answer any questions regarding this new tool.


Good work. I mean, that's fantastic.

MR. CERNY: Thank y'all.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And will -- do the CWD, the drop off zones or check stations, is that going to be loaded on anywhere?

MR. CERNY: That's available in the Outdoor Annual at this time.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. But not kind of integrated into that?

MR. CERNY: Not integrated in this at this time, no.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: It might, you know, just be something that you want to try to do just so it's kind of full service, comprehensive --

MR. CERNY: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- you know, if you're in one, where to go, what to do, make it as simple as we can --

MR. CERNY: Agreed.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- to hunters. Okay, great. Well done. Thank you very much.

MR. CERNY: Thank y'all.




COMMISSIONER FOSTER: So quick question on -- do -- have you had any feedback or discussion with people about the cell phone range or data range or being out of range whenever they're needing to access the app?

MR. CERNY: Yeah, that's a good question. So the app does work in offline mode for reporting features, for example. So for digital tag holders -- or I should say digital license holders who execute a digital tag, that works whether you have data service or you're in total offline mode.

This map service does rely on having data service at this time. To provide something that could be downloaded to the phone, at least at a statewide scale, would require a very large data package and we haven't had time to develop more zone-specific downloads that would be smaller in size to digest, but it's something we have talked about. So if you know you hunt, for example, in the Duval County area, we could create a Duval County map that would be more appropriately sized to be downloaded and then that would be able in offline mode, but we haven't had time to develop that yet.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: But most people, I mean, they have coverage, don't they?

MR. CERNY: In an awful lot of the state these days, absolutely.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Yeah. Okay, great. Okay, thank you.

MR. CERNY: Thank y'all.


All right. 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 purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meetings Act, seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation, and deliberating the evaluation of personnel under Section 551.074 of the Open Meetings Act. The time is 1:37 p.m., and we'll now recess for Executive Session.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right, we'll now reconvene Work Session on November 1st, 2023, at 3:30 p.m.

Before we begin, I will take roll. Hildebrand present.













CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. We are now returning from the Executive Session where we discussed the Work Session Real Estate Items No. 12, 13, and 15; Litigation Item No 16; and Personnel Matter Item No. 17. Item No. 14 was withdrawn.

If there are no further questions, I will place Items Nos. 12, 13, 15, and 17 on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Regarding Item No. 16, Litigation, no further action is needed at this time.

We'll now resume the Work Session agenda beginning with Work Session Item 6.

Mr. Geeslin, will you make your presentation? Did I pronounce that correctly?

MR. GEESLIN: Mr. Geeslin. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Geeslin, Geeslin. Excuse me.

MR. GEESLIN: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Dr. Yoskowitz, fellow Commissioners. Mr. Chairman, with your -- with your permission, I won't -- I won't run through the -- I won't sprint, but I'll run through and just hit the highlights given where we are this afternoon.

Today I bring before you our coastal statewide regulations preview. Keep in mind, that's just a preview. If we were to develop a proposal, that would come back before you in January and then at the March meeting we would be seeking adoption if we move forward with that.

Just a -- just a quick refresher. What brings me here today, our February freeze 2021. That was the largest freeze-related fish kill since the 1980s. Our Speckled trout population especially takes it on the nose every time we get a freeze. They simply have that lower -- lower thermal tolerance level.

Following the freeze, the Commission enacted several regulatory actions. The first being an emergency action. The second one being folded up into our statewide action. That lasted for approximately three spawning seasons and that action expired or sunset on August 31st of 2023.

And the next few slides, I'll just give a brief summary of our -- where we are now with our Spotted seatrout population coming from our resource sample. And one of the primary tools we use to evaluate our finfish or sport fish population is our gillnet gear. That targets -- that targets adult fish. And just as a point of orientation on the graph, you'll see the X axis contains our time series years and the Y axis is a mean catch rate. That horizontal dash line running across the middle of the graph, that is a ten-year mean and the take-home here is since the freeze of 2021, the catch rate of trout has been less than that ten-year average and some of the lowest catch rates we've seen since 2009. You'll see a gap there. That's the 2020 COVID year when we were unable to get out and sample.

This slide illustrates -- shows the length distribution in inches of the fishery of those trout that we catch in our gillnets. You'll see the percentage of fish over on the Y axis. On that smaller end -- and this is particular noteworthy when we start talking slot limits -- on the smaller end, note that approximately 40 -- 40 percent of those fish that we catch in our gillnets over the past ten years are in that 14- to 16-inch size class. Additionally, going out a couple more inches, 60 percent of adult fish in our gillnets are with between 14 and 18 inches.

On the larger side of the scale -- and this is also noteworthy -- less than 10 percent of trout in our gillnets reach trophy size. And we'd say trophy size is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but we'd say at about 25 inches and greater is a trophy trout. Only -- only 1 percent or less get up to 30 inches or greater.

This slide shows our recent bag seine data. This is simply an indicator of recruitment. Our fish recruit at the highest rate through June through September and you can see since the freeze of 2021, there's been an increasing recruitment, which is good for us to see. This is a good sign as there's simply just more young fish in the water and an indication that some of the recovery of that stock of fish is occurring.

I'll now transition into landings patterns. This comes through our creel survey. This is simply harvest of Spotted seatrout and our harvest has decreased coast-wide since 2020. Now presumably, we attribute that to a couple things. The emergency regulations and the statewide regulations that restricted harvest, but also anecdotally we heard through our angling community that folks were catching -- were practicing more catch-and-release practices. So naturally you just see more -- more -- or decreased harvest. Either way, the reduced harvest keeps more fish in the water and certainly aided in the recovery.

All right. This next slide is angler trends and trip satisfaction. This is something that our creel agents ask anglers as they intercept them at our boat ramps and docks and this is -- this is useful for us in gauging how anglers feel about their fishing experience. Of note, of the anglers that land trout, most folks only land one trout. The graphs on the right show angler satisfaction with a five-fish bag and on the lower graph, a three-fish bag. The take-home here is that angler satisfaction is similar when the bag limit is approached or reached, regardless of what that bag limit is.

These next couple of slides, I'll show the estimated population impacts associated with one -- a couple of our commonly used fisheries management techniques and that's going to be a bag limit change and a slot limit change. These are expressed as increase to spawning stock biomass through a modeled population. Our spawning biomass is combined weight of all sexually mature female trout within the population. And that's really -- that increases recruitment to the fishery.

This graph shows the modeling results of bag limit reductions from the current five-fish bag. For example, the three-fish bag limit would result or it has the potential to result in increased spawning biomass of approximately 7 percent, compared to that current five-fish bag limit.

Another commonly used fisheries technique is the slot limit. Our current slot limit is 15 to 25 inches, with one over 25 inches that counts as part of that daily bag limit. The Y axis shows a variety of slot limits starting at the current minimum -- minimum size length at 15 inches and works all the way up to 17 inches. Coupled together, the bag limit -- the bag limit and the slot limit have an additive impact on the spawning biomass. For example, that box in the right, if you couple together a slot limit of 15 to 20 inches and a three-fish bag, you could expect a 27 percent increase in spawning stock biomass. Now that wouldn't -- that wouldn't happen overnight. That would take at least about a generation of a trout, which is about six, seven, sometimes older -- six, seven years. But by about -- by year two, approximately 70 percent of that benefit is realized.

The next couple of slides I'll highlight are public scoping efforts. You-all will recall in our August public hearing that anglers expressed concern over the temporary more restrictive harvest regulations being lifted or sunsetting. We also heard those same concerns beginning sometime in the spring and we committed to doing those public scoping efforts. Those efforts are simply aimed at getting input and feedback from the angling community and gathering their preferences about how they feel, how they would like to see the trout population manage -- or trout fishery managed.

All in all, we conducted a series of six public scoping meetings along the coast. We conducted an angler survey and met with our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee -- and I'll talk about those in subsequent slides -- but this slide highlights the summary of those public scoping meetings, those in-person meetings. And of note, when we received -- we received 275 comments either in person at those meetings or in follow-up e-mails or phone calls to us. We took record of those and of note, only 4 percent -- a very small percentage -- opposed any changes to the limits, to the regulatory structure that we have right now. And those that commented specifically on a slot limit change, 39 percent preferred a 17- to 23-inch slot and 29 percent preferred a 15- to 20-inch slot. Of those that commented specifically on a bag limit change, 83 percent of those that commented supported a three-fish bag limit.

Now I'll highlight the angler survey that we conducted as part of our scoping efforts and using the database of license holders who have the opportunity to fish in saltwater, we sent electronic surveys through e-mail and contracted out with Texas A&M University to conduct this survey. They sent over 10,000 e-mails and surveys, electronic surveys, to randomly selected non-guide anglers and approximately 1,500 guide anglers. The survey was designed to gather input on a suite of slot limits and bag limit size change -- size changes, including the following: 15 to 20 inches, 15- to 25-inch slot, 17 to 23, and a bag limit change of either three or five fish.

And now I'll highlight some of the survey results. Those preliminary survey results -- and that survey just closed yesterday, so we probably still have a few surveys trickling in -- but from both the recreational angler and the guides, both groups of anglers, the most commonly supported management option was a 15- to 20-inch slot and a three-fish bag, with one oversized fish. Likewise, the least supported option was a 17- to 23-inch slot with a five-fish bag and again a one-fish over the maximum size.

Just last Friday we met with our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee here in Austin. They -- they came up with a recommendation after much deliberation and discussion. The advisory committee recommended a three-fish bag with a 16- to 20-inch slot, with one oversized tag -- very similar to our Red drum tag -- per year and that oversize would be 30 inches. So that's what our -- that's what our Coastal Resource Advisory came -- came to the table with.

I'll leave you -- this is my last slide. Just a few management options to consider and think about and as we -- as we, you know, think about where we may move with any type of proposal. A bag limit, what we're hearing most of is -- in support of is a three-fish bag limit. The status quo is currently five. And also a slot limit change of either going from 15 to 20 -- keep in mind our current slot limit is 15 to 25. We've also heard support for a 16 to 20 or any of those other combinations of slot limits that I showed you earlier.

Regarding the oversized fish -- and this is not anything that's new to the Department. We currently have that oversized fish bonus tag in our -- for our Redfish. But as far as a one-fish oversized as part of the daily bag limit, with an oversize meaning greater than 20, 25, or 30 inches.

So with that, Mr. Chairman, I'll take any question or happy to receive any input you may have.

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

Any questions?

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: Yeah. Dakus, I think one thing that I'd like is that we're going to come back in January, you know, to vote on this to put it in effect, what do we -- I mean, what -- you've got all the data here. I'm looking at what you're doing, and I think -- I'd be surprised if most all the Commissioners aren't agreeable with the numbers and the slot. So I don't know what we've got to do, but we come back and vote on that in January?

MR. GEESLIN: Well -- James, do you want to take that one or do you want me too?

MR. MURPHY: You can go ahead.


MR. MURPHY: You've got it.

MR. GEESLIN: Good point, Vice-Chairman Scott. We will come back in January if we move forward with a formal proposal and at that time, the Commission would -- we would seek permission to put that in the Texas Register. That would initiate that public comment period, and then we'd be seeking adoption in the next meeting in March.



CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: What would it take to adopt that in January? How do we -- how do we accelerate the process to whatever we decide?

MR. MURPHY: Yes, Chairman. James Murphy, General Counsel, for the record. If you were interested in making changes sooner than that and adopting in January, we can put that on the -- into the Texas Register with your instruction here today. That would then trigger the public comment period over the December to January timeframe prior to the late January Commission Meeting and that would give you an opportunity then to see adoption occur with an effective date sometime in March, because we do have that 20-day effectiveness, cooling-off period after we file with the Register. So we can skip the permission to publish step if that is the decision of the Commissioner.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And do we have to motion that today or do we need to --

MR. MURPHY: You would have -- we would -- what I would suggest that we do is we develop a motion for you that we could present perhaps tomorrow and have that then ultimately get instructed to go to the Texas Register. So if that's your decision in wanting to get that done earlier, we can send for publication for that 30-day public comment sometime in December.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Well, I'd like to hear from any other Commissioners on their perspective on this.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. Okay, I'm in favor of accelerating if that -- I wasn't going to lead with that, but -- but -- and I certainly think three fish is an overwhelming all-in-favor-say-aye kind of number, particularly even in the -- I can speak to the Port Aransas area. The slot limit I think is a little trickier. I think it probably merits some discussion and then the oversized fish is maybe even a whole other issue, meriting even more discussion.

I did have a question though that occurred to me on your coast-wide Spotted seatrout landings number that seemed to be decreasing, particularly over the last two -- two -- if I'm reading it right, at least two years. Is that adjusted by our reduction in the bag limit? From five to three is 40 percent. So just by nature of the emergency action, there's going to be fewer landings. So is this a gross number, or is it an apples-to-apples number?

MR. GEESLIN: No. Great question, Commissioner Patton. I think it would probably be both. Right? We had a -- we had a restriction, restricted harvest in place to aid in that recovery. So this is probably a function of that, but also that angler -- the angler practice. After the freeze, folks were taking a more conservative approach in the fishery and we heard that folks were practicing -- even some of the tournaments were practicing more catch and release. So as our docks -- as our creel survey agents intercepted folks at the docks, they simply saw less fish being harvested from the bays.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Another thing I think for the Commission's consideration, particularly if we're going to do something today, is there a male/female size correlation here? Particularly at the 20-inch over area, is it fair to say that the great majority of any Spotted seatrout over 20 inches is likely going to be a female?

MR. GEESLIN: That's -- there is some sexual preferences there or where -- as they get larger, those above 20 inches are primarily female. That's correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And can you go further on primary to is it -- would you quantify it? Is what I'm trying get at. Are we talking 90 percent or -- and I know as we get higher, I think you can't say 100 because at 23 inches, maybe you're getting close to 100. But I'm asking you what --

MR. GEESLIN: No, they're -- and I would say very few, a small percentage of males, ever reach that 25-inch, that trophy. Less than 1 percent. Less than 1 percent of males reach that 25 per -- 25-inch trophy designation. At that point, they're almost 99.9 percent female.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And that really in terms of recruitment and biomass and doing the most we can do to make sure there is more broodmare females are going to be better for the recruitment of Spotted seatrout period, right?

MR. GEESLIN: If our goal is to get more fish in the water, you certainly want to protect those spawning females. But I will say that the bulk of those females are stacked up in probably that -- you know, that -- those smaller size classes. Just so few of those fish, whether it's male or female, even reach that 25-inch range.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: And another side comment, you know, maybe personally. I've seen these Spotted seatrout tournaments and when they have them at five and pretty much when you can go unlimited on the length, it's -- it's gutting, you know, the breeding population in my opinion and if we go to a three-fish limit and the shorter on the length, it's going to have the affect, which I personally think is a good affect, but you're going to really cut into the fishing tournament world, which is going to be good because when -- these tourna -- some of these tournaments in particular are huge and when the limit's five and they can go up to, you know, a length, they're all going to pretty much hit it and that -- and what they do to the population is really significant. So I would be in favor of I guess -- you know, I hate to be random on picking numbers, but I think the 15 to 20 is a good number and it's going to have a really good affect on hitting some of these fishing tournaments and, quite frankly, hopefully eliminate them. But I know that would be a -- that would be a back-way door to do it; but if we could do it, I think we should. So that's all I have.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right, thank you.

Any other -- James?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. My only concern on tightening the slot to 16 to 20 is the trout's just not a very hardy fish and, you know, if the bag limit's going to be three and there's a lot of catch and release of undersized or oversized fish, that a certain amount of those fish are probably not going to make it anyway. I think the 15 to 20 -- I mean, just adding that inch seems like maybe that cuts out a little bit of that.

As far as the oversized fish, as you said, you know, probably not many of them are making it past 25 anyway. Rather than have a tag, an additional tag, you know, I'd suggest doing something like a -- any -- you know, keeping one oversize over say 28 inches just on the -- you know, on the chance you catch a fish of a lifetime that day, you can keep it without having to get a tag out.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Any -- yeah, go ahead.

COMMISSIONER BELL: And I just wanted to -- Commissioner Bell. Just to make sure we're clear on the procedural side of this, the -- if we were looking to move forward so this could in place for the -- for the -- I'll call it the early spring season -- you would go back and come back and you would come back tomorrow with a recommendation that we could -- that we could motion on and choose to approve if we liked, in which case then it would go forward, be published in the Texas Register, and this could be voted on in January for implementation shortly thereafter once the time has cleared?

MR. MURPHY: That's correct, Commissioner Bell.


MR. MURPHY: I would offer that Robin has a little nuance on just the timing of the fishing seasons to add.

MR. RIECHERS: Yeah, thank you. For the record, my name is Robin Riechers, Director of Coastal Fisheries. And certainly we can do as you just suggested, which is go and get it published and bring it back in January for adoption. We're more than prepared to do if you'd like. But as we've discussed these options as well, thinking through that a little bit similar to the way we did when we passed it as a regular rule with the freeze, you could also come back, we could go ahead propose it in January, adopt it in March, we could hurry that publication -- which is kind of more our traditional schedule -- we could hurry that publication into the Register and probably have it in place somewhere in the first of May timeframe or first two weeks of May. Still before the -- really the peak spawn or the spawning season which lasts from April to September and certainly before the peak fishing season that occurs. Just a little bit of a slow-down on that timetable to offer you. Not saying that that's what you want to do, but just also recognizing those peak fishing times that occur, so.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Well, look, I think it's pretty clear. So if we want to put as much spawning biomass in the water, you believe that a three-bag, 15- to 20-inch slot is the combination that does that?

MR. GEESLIN: That's certainly what we heard through our public scoping.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Well, what do you think?

MR. GEESLIN: I think the more -- the way to achieve improved recovery is to bump up that spawning stock biomass. There's a lot of different ways to get there. You know, it's two dials we're turning: A slot limit and a bag limit. But certainly from our public scoping, we heard that the three-fish bag and that would get you -- that gives you 7 percent and then that 15- to 20-slot limit would get you another 20 percent. So you're at 27 percent increase over the period of the lifetime of a trout. About seven years.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. And then lastly, the oversized tag -- you know, Commissioner Abell, you help me here -- but if it's not a tag process, then hypothetically someone could go out, catch a 28-inch day one. You know, three days later, they could catch another and another and another. It sounds low probability, but...

MR. GEESLIN: I would agree with that. If they're doing that, I want to fish with them.

But to that point, Commissioner Abell, that's extremely rare.


MR. GEESLIN: You know, almost just less than 1 percent of those fish are getting up to that size. You know, we -- you could do it either way. You could do it as part of the daily bag, as you have it now, one oversize that part -- that counts as part of your three-fish bag or we could think about how we would structure -- and we have the mechanics for implementing a tag system with our Redfish similar to our Redfish.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: It seems as though a tag system, you bag one trophy trout per year and that should be sufficient for any one man or woman. So, look, I think -- and you think that that's very doable? I mean, we already do that now, right?

MR. GEESLIN: Mr. Chairman, I'd love to say it is doable. I'd want to confer with our Law Enforcement and some of the digital tagging folks that you heard from earlier today over in Wildlife, but absolutely it's a possibility.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Well, look, let's confirm. Do we require, James, a motion or a directive today or what do we require?

MR. MURPHY: Chairman, you can grant -- the decision to grant permission to publish rests with you as presiding officer of the Commission and so if you know today what the three -- the bag, the slot, and then the oversize right now, you can direct us here, grant us permission to publish, and then we will take that, develop it, and put it into the Texas Register for public comment. We don't need to take any additional steps tomorrow.

MR. GEESLIN: Mr. Chairman, just one other consideration. That digital tag, that would take a little bit longer than fast-tracking and implementing this rule package by that -- by the, you know, high-use season or the spawning season. It would probably take a little bit longer to get that implemented fully by March or April timeframe.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: So if we approve in Jan, when does it become effective?

MR. MURPHY: So there is a little bit of processing time with --


MR. MURPHY: -- response to public comment, as well as that 20-day period before it becomes effective. So we'd be looking at approximately a month and a half at most from that late January. So you'd be looking at sometime in early March that it would be fully effective after the adoption is published in the Register.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Sounds like plenty of time for our IT group to handle that tagging standpoint. Agreed?

MS. MCCLANAHAN: We will get on it.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, Patton. Speaking on the tagging, if we were going to have a tag, we could have the tag a year later or something to that effect because I do think that -- I think that -- when I think about the tag kind of aspect of it, I'd rather do that than just the random you can have one extra fish, but I think the tag is -- is -- you know, it requires more and I bet they can't get a tag in this season ready.

And then I might also add if we're moving on this and it feels like we're moving a little fast, I know Shane's in the audience and I bet he's got an opinion too and at least I'd like to hear his opinion if -- I don't know if that's appropriate -- if he's ready on that.



MR. RIECHERS: Sorry. Come back up. I do want to just make sure we're clear on this tag question since you just suggested we might have some trouble with it. So to put any sort of paper tag in place, it would have to be on the Gordon-Darby system, the point-of-sale system, and that certainly could not be in effect by the time that you're talking about. That would at best be for the next license year and, frankly, there's no room on that paper tag right now because we have looked into that as well.

So the other option is to put it in the My Texas Hunt Harvest app, which is similar to what we're doing now for Red snapper, we have flounder, and others. But that too would take some level of programming effort and time. I'm not suggesting I know what that exact time is here, but it would take some level of time to get that in place and, of course, then to get it advertised and communicated in a fashion so that people could be adhering to that. So just understand that as we walk through this tag discussion.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. So the tag's problematic. All right, got that. So what's the -- what's the solution for --

COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Can I ask a question?


COMMISSIONER FOSTER: Are we gaining anything by hurrying this, by not just doing it the way you originally suggested it?

MR. GEESLIN: Fair question, Commissioner Foster. The advantage there -- and I think Robin described that -- is if you fast-tracked it, you adopt it in March, and we got that through the Register, public comments, we could have that -- conceptually, we could have that in place before what we call the high-use season, high-use fishing season, and prior to when those fish make their big spawning -- spawning movements and that's throughout the summer. That's April through September timeframe. So there would be advantage in getting that through, you know, before -- before that time period.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell. I have a proposal. Why don't we --


COMMISSIONER ABELL: -- go ahead and fast-track the 15 to 20 and the three-fish bag limit and not have any oversized fish for a year and immediately move on pursuing a tagging system for the following license year?


MR. GEESLIN: I like where you're going, but that -- you've got to realize -- and you brought up -- I'm going to pick on you, Commissioner Abell, because you brought about the mortality. I do get concerned about folks fishing and catching on oversize and while there is various mortality rates with different baits, different hooks, all that, you know, if you had a one -- a tag or a one per day and you hooked into a big fish and you tried to revive it, you tried to get it back, you would be able to harvest that fish. Otherwise, you know, it goes back in the environment feeding crabs.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Okay. That being said, where would you be comfortable with that oversize limit? 25 plus? 30 plus? I mean, what?

MR. GEESLIN: The current -- the current limit is one over 25. Our anglers -- our anglers are accustomed to that. They know that. Again, such a small percentage of those fish even reach that size. Personally, I think that --

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Do you -- do you think moving it above 25 would move the needle at all?

MR. GEESLIN: Biologically, no.

MR. RIECHERS: If I may, Commissioner Abell, kind of in the same response and -- because you were offering a solution that basically allowed us to think about it being -- enacting portions of it now and then a different portion maybe as of August 31st, in effect -- and Dakus just got to it, and you did as well. One option is to do the three fish, 15 to 20, leave the one over 25 inside the bag limit now and then if you choose to also direct us to do at a different timeframe, the September 1 start date of a one over 25 per year or something like that as you had suggested, we could -- we could easily enough do that inside the context of the rule, I believe.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Yeah. I mean, that -- that sounds good and as part of your options that you've listed here. And so, look, my point on trying to accelerate this is per Commissioner Patton's comments, I mean, fishing tournaments and the bay's getting hammered at five -- at five fish. And all the testimony that we hear says move this thing back to three fish, and so we might as well move forward with some zeal on this. We can handle it from a governance standpoint, correct?

So just does anyone have any opposition to three fish, 15 to 20, and as part of the bag limit one oversized fish greater than 25 inches? Does anyone have an issue with that?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, isn't the actual language that one oversized fish over 20? Because what would you call a fish in-between 20 and 25? Is that -- do you see where I'm going with that?

MR. GEESLIN: You would definitely have a gap there. You would have a --


MR. GEESLIN: -- regulatory gap.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So the 20 to 25 would be released.

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: You couldn't have a fish --

MR. GEESLIN: Correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- in your three fish -- oh.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Correct, correct.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: I'm all in favor.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. All right, great. So let's direct the staff to proceed forward so we can put that on the agenda tomorrow.

MR. MURPHY: And if you would just provide your approval for staff to publish in the Register for the record, we're good to go, Chairman.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Yes, you have my approval.

MR. MURPHY: And we do not need to do anything tomorrow, Chairman.


MR. MURPHY: Do not. No. With this today and your permission to publish --


MR. MURPHY: -- we can take this --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And everyone's --

MR. MURPHY: -- to the Register.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Everyone's happy with this? Okay.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. This is -- how do we preserve what we've got in the bays, how do we increase the spawning biomass, and do it now versus waiting, right?

MR. GEESLIN: Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Good. Thank you very much.

MR. GEESLIN: Thank y'all.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right. Work Session Item No. 7, Statewide Hunting and Migratory Game Bird Proclamation Preview, Mr. Shaun Oldenburger and Mr. Alan Cain.

MR. OLDENBURGER: All right. Good afternoon, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name's Shaun Oldenburger. I'm currently Small Game Program Director. Myself and Alan Cain will give a brief preview of potential changes to the 24-25 statewide hunting and migratory game proclamations. I will also regurgitate what James and Dakus said earlier. In January, we'll have formal proposals that will go out and come to the the Commission and seek permission to publish. Those will go out for public comment, and then we'll seek adoption in March. So these are all informal until January, and so I'll move on.

For brevity, I'm not going to go into 2023 status updates, which we normally do. Basically just I'm going tell you that there's no federal framework changes as a result of population or habitat status for migratory game birds by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for this next hunt -- next migratory game bird season. All season lengths and daily bag limits will be maintained during the season with the exception of one and we'll go into that.

Additionally as far as process, at the end of the month after Thanksgiving, we're going to meet both with our Texas Parks and Wildlife Migratory Game Bird Technical Committee, which is our internal sounding board, and then meet with our Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee, which is our external sounding board, to formalize more proposals to come forward to you in January.

Some things I will talk about about 24-25 migratory game bird proclamation preview, Mexican ducks, Greater White-fronted gees, Special White-wing dove area, and Light goose regulations. So we'll jump right into that.

Here's a picture of a -- some Mexican ducks, which you would find normally around the Rio Grande River or the Trans-Pecos area and also find it down the brush country in some areas as well. But just to kind of give a background on this species, the American Ornithological Union, which is the AOU, is the leading authority on taxonomy in the United States and Canada. So they -- they go through and they decide whether you're a species or a subspecies. They're kind of the lumpers and splitters of the bird world. So there's a formal proposal that you put in front of them and they decide how to proceed. So they're kind of the ultimate keepers of taxonomy for birds in North America.

They had a proposal in front of them in 2019 from Dr. Philip Lavretsky from the University of Texas El Paso. He's kind of one of the premier mallard geneticists in the world. The's at UTEP. And so he put a proposal in front of AOU with regards to the Mexican duck based on his research he had done for the previous years. AOU in 2020 did accept that as a species. They considered that to meet the bar and so that started a process with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service too, which tends to actually agree with AOU when it comes to taxonomy and they have what we call the 10.13 list and that's the 50 CFR 10.13 listed there. And so this year, they actually put that on their 10.13 list, which means it's protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

So with regards to that, basically now that's a federal regulation. Our state regulations have to conform with that. So really simply -- I'll skip some of this -- but basically we do have a regulation on Dusky ducks as we define Mottle ducks, Mexican light ducks, Black ducks, and their hybrids. So basically our proposal in January will just remove the "dash-like" basically and just say it's a Mexican duck. So that will be in the definition of Dusky ducks moving forward. And so, like, we have to confirm to Fish and Wildlife Service regulations, so that will meet that definition.

Next, moving on to Greater White-fronted geese. So we do pop -- manage this population with management plans. These are approved by United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, and all the Flyway Councils. There was a new management plan that was approved in March of 2023 on the Mid-Continent population which winters here in Texas. And so currently these are regulations when it comes to Dark geese, both in the Eastern Zone and the Western Zone as you see in front of me. And so there in the Western Zone, Dark goose aggregate daily bag limit currently for this season is five, no -- five, no more than two right -- white -- more -- no more than two White-fronted geese. And so simplistically, it'll just go down to five with no species limitations for basically the next hunting season.

All right, moving on to doves. You can see there the three zones that we have. These are grandfathered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, so we can't have more than three zones. So we're allowed to have three zones. The Special White-wing dove days are in the South Zone and that whole area we did change that a few years ago to allow more opportunity across the South Zone.

So normally we do calendar progression with dove seasons. And now we have six days for Special White-wing dove days compared to four. We did change that a few years ago with Fish and Wildlife Service approval. So this year it worked out really well because September 1st was on a Saturday. But thanks to leap year and calendar progression, next year's September looks a limit uglier with September 1st falling on a Sunday and then you have Labor Day and then you follow the 7th and 8th and then the 14th, which the 14th is the earliest we can have regular dove hunting in the South Zone. So we're going to have to decide where to put those six days and so it's going to be a little bit more complicated and it just won't be weekends and Fridays like it has been the last couple years. So just a heads up on that that next year's dove calendar, especially in the South Zone, will look a little bit uglier no matter what -- what proposal we have forward to the Commission in January.

All right, moving on to Light goose regulations. Last year you may recall that we did have a proposal to eliminate the Light Goose Conservation Order. We did pull that proposal after internal discussion, and so we wanted to get a little bit more information on that. As you can see here, these are our mid-winter waterfowl survey, basically our estimates of our Light geese on the Texas coast and you can see here we're hitting pretty good highs even into late 90s, early 2000s of almost a million with geese, if not a little bit over and obviously that has declined some for various reasons. But his last year, we're well under 200,000 geese. So a fairly large decline over the last 20 years on the Texas coast. And also looking at a population level of the Mid-Continent Light goose population, this population has grown substantially in the 90s and into the 2000s and 10s and then here in the last decade, it has actually declined significantly due to limited recruitment on the -- due -- due to the conditions in the Arctic and Subarctic. So at the last estimate, we had 6 million Light geese and that means both Snow geese and Ross's geese from the Arctic or fall flight. That's down from about 17, 18 million that we just had about a decade ago.

So basically we are going to hold a couple scoping sessions next week. One on November 8th and November 9th. The press release just came out this afternoon. So hunters will be able to do that. So they're going to be able to come here and give some comments to the Department of potential changes to Light goose regulations, which includes status quo as well and then also contact us online or Kevin Kraai who is our Waterfowl Program Leader as well. So we will come forth back into January with a formal proposal what to do with Light goose regulations.

All right, you don't necessarily need to read, but these are the things we're going to talk about in the statewide hunting proclamation and then Alan will follow me with more on the statewide hunting proclamation briefing. So some things about upland game birds, and most of these are going to be wild turkey. One thing we are going to propose is remove subspecies from wild turkey regulations for next year.

And so the reason for this is people get really confused. Is that an Eastern? Is that a Rio Grande? We're one of the few states that actually have subspecies' tags when you look at them on your license. One will say Eastern. One will say Rio Grande. And we'd rather just have seasons and annual bag limits and species regulations tied to counties, not subspecies.

Also with regards to this, there's some naming stuff when we were going through the TAC. We did find a number of years ago we did switch from Antelope to Pronghorn in our regulations. There's a few things we missed, so we'd like to correct that as well. And I'll give an example of the subspecies issue. You can see here these gentlemen in North Texas had a fine hunt last year. You can see a lot of variation in these birds, so we get a lot of questions. Is this an Eastern? Is this a Merriam’s? Is this a Rio Grande? They're all Rio Grandes, but there's a lot of variation on the landscape, even on individual ranch level. So we just want to clear the confusion to make simpler regulations by removing that subspecies and just manage at a county level, so.

All right, moving onwards to some potential closures we're discussing internally. Right here you can see here that red hatched area in Fannin, Lamar, and basically Red River and also Bowie Counties. So this area right here, basically -- and you can also see the green dots -- those are our Eastern wild turkey stockings that we've been doing in the Pineywoods in East -- East Texas for a number of years now. We trap birds out of state, get those birds. This last year, we got a bunch of birds from Maine. We flew those to Texas and released those to try to restore Eastern populations in the Pineywoods area.

You can also see the gray boxes there. Those are where we potentially currently still have Eastern turkeys. Obviously a large portion of the population there is up along the Red River. So this area in hatch is south of 82 and so we do have mandatory reporting in these counties as well and so I'm just going to go through this and show some of the harvest we've had in the last few years. Here's 2018 with our mandatory reporting. We talked about My Texas Hunt Harvest app earlier. You can see there the red dot. That is one of the released areas we had in 2018 for turkey restoration. And as we move forward through these, you'll see not a whole lot of harvest south of that red line in that hatched area until we actually started restoring birds closer to that area. So birds started disbursing.

And so here -- and then in 2023, we saw -- we released a bunch more turkeys in that landscape and we actually saw some more harvest there south of that line. And so what we're not trying to do with those red dots and those release sites is put a put-and-take situation. That is not our effort here. Our effort from the Department standpoint is to actually restore wild turkeys to the Pineywoods of East Texas and so we potentially could be proposing to close that area south of Highway 82 up to the county line to help protect this restoration that we have ongoing by the Agency.

So here you can actually see here's a little bit of the blown up map. We did put some radio markers on some birds there in the far northwest release site and you can see those birds did move around quite a bit. Actually one bird moved at least 12 miles and so 12 miles will get in the county line and actually some of those birds -- we didn't put radio markers on those other areas of red dots and those green marks are probably actually some of those birds that we released from Maine.

All right, moving on to other potential closures. The last couple years, the Army Corps of Engineers and surrounding landowners around Granger Lake have asked for us to release some Rio Grande turkeys in that neighborhood. This area now is east of I-35. If anybody that's driven from DFW to San Antonio, you've seen a lot of changes in the last decade east of I-35 with a lot of increase in houses. And so that 35 marker has kind of closed off that population a little bit and so we have a lot of birds west of I-35. Not so many east of I-35.

We actually did have a meeting about this last week and Wednesday we had about 40 individuals come, including landowners in the surrounding area, as well as hunters, and the fair amount of consensus was amongst those group was to actually close Bell County Williamson County east of I-35 and all of Milam County to turkey hunting for the next few years while we do a restoration process and release a bunch of Rio Grande turkeys in this landscape to see how well they do. Usually we do this for about five years and then kind of go back and look at population status to see if closures will continue. But more than likely, this will be a formal proposal we bring back to you in January with closing this area to actually turkey hunting for restoration purposes.

All right, moving on to some potential changes basically with regards to regulations here. Here you can see the colors. The one-gobbler zone in pink; kind of in the beige the North Zone, four birds; South Zone there in light blue. And so all those areas in the beige have a North Zone regulation right now with four birds that you can shoot per season, including that area we just showed as well that's hatched there in red which we'll probably propose to close next -- next -- in January. But you can also see the hash-tag there in black. That area's been highly developed here in the last ten years, as I mentioned earlier. And so you can shoot four birds on that where there's very few birds. There's some good pockets of birds still in some areas in that location, but it's getting more isolated as we speak and every day, as we have more houses pop in this -- pop up in this neck of the woods and more development and so right now regulations are not very commensurate to population size and so what we'll probably be proposing to do is to move that part of those counties to a one-gobbler zone, like there in pink, which is an April 1st to 30th regulation and one bird per county where you can harvest in that area. And so that will be more commensurate to population size than the current regulations where you can have four birds in the annual bag limit.

Also west of the Pecos River, the Jeff Davis, Brewster, Pecos, and Terrell Counties, we currently have that as a four bird in the annual bag limit as well. There's not many birds in this part of the world, especially since the drought going back to '11 and '12 and even more recent drought and so there's not a lot of birds on this landscape. It has four birds in the daily bag limit, so right now currently staff have discussed moving this to a one-gobbler area as well and April 1 to 30th zone as well, just like the ones we showed.

All right, moving onwards to a bigger topic and we kind of touched on this already in the previous presentation with the My Texas Hunt Harvest and mandatory reporting. One thing we have discussed internally is our small game harvest survey and our current ways of measuring harvest in the state. We don't really get really good data when it comes to measuring some of the things that we have as annual bag limits. For instance, like wild turkeys. We do have some mandatory reporting, like those one-gobbler areas, also in the eastern area. But one thing we have discussed is basically expanding mandatory reporting through the My Texas Hunt Harvest like you currently do with your digital licenses to all wild turkey seasons in the area and this would be for the 24-25 season is what we'd propose.

As you can see here with digital licenses and mandatory reporting that we've had in open counties -- this is from this last year -- this is 2,775 reports of harvested wild turkeys. That's a pretty good distribution of wild turkeys in that range in those open counties and so a lot of people are getting used to mandatory reporting and the realization of going to all seasons with wild turkey and mandatory reporting, it'd actually simplify things because then you don't have to realize where you're going to be mandatory reporting and where you're not. Just if you harvest a wild turkey, we would require mandatory reporting, so. And here you can actually see if we break that down a little further with regards how many per county occurred, you can see there in red those are the high harvest counties we had with the digital licenses compared to the ones in green. So that gives a little bit there. And the ones that are outlined in black, those are mandatory reporting areas as well and you can actually see there are some counties we actually had zero reported in those areas where there's very few turkeys, so.

Manger -- mandatory reporting in wild turkeys would also help us have immediate information. For instance, our small game harvest data. That gives us an estimate of the previous spring season about 18 months afterwards and so we can't really manage the species that well with regards to that harvest information.

Moving on to the last one that we have before I turn it over to Alan, we did have some public comment that they would like to extend our fall youth seasons to a Friday. Currently we have a Saturday and Sunday, but they'd also like to see Friday. I'm not sure if the schools will agree with that, but we're just going to move on with that. So they would like to expand that to wild turkeys, deer, and squirrels. Biologically adding one more day to the youth seasons is not a big deal. We don't see an issue with that. So this is a proposal we may come forward back to you in January to discuss.

So with that, I'll take any questions before I turn it over to Alan for the rest of the presentation. I know I went through that pretty quick.


Thank you.

MR. CAIN: Back again. For the record, Alan Cain, Big Game Program Director in the Wildlife Division. I'll be briefing the Commission on potential changes to the statewide hunting proclamation related to big game species.

First up, staff are -- will be considering a proposal to adjust the Bighorn sheep hunting season. Currently the season runs from September 1 through July 31st of each year. That one-month break in August is necessary to avoid hunting during the survey period in which our biologists are conducting Bighorn sheep surveys. However, staff have shifted the survey period from the month of August to October 1 through November 14th in response to revisions to the Department's aerial survey protocol, in which we conduct surveys at a cooler time of the year for safety matters.

So staff would be considering a proposal to shift the Bighorn hunting season to run from November 15th to through September 30th each year and avoid hunting during that Bighorn sheep survey period that our staff are conducting those surveys.

The next change we might be considering bringing a proposal for in January is a modification of rules pertaining to method of take for youth harvest of branched antlered bucks on properties enrolled in the harvest option of MLD Program.

So currently for harvest option properties under MLD, harvest of branched antlered bucks during the first 35 days of season can only occur with archery equipment and that's -- doesn't matter who it is -- youth, adult -- it's only archery equipment harvest. And the harvest option season overlaps with the early youth season, which youth hunters following county regulations can actually use a firearm to harvest any buck under a county regulation, which is -- those two right now is currently the weekend prior to the general season as denoted by the yellow there on the calendar.

And so this difference between what method of take youth can use to harvest branched antlered buck under the harvest option versus the county regulations has been confusing and provides some restrictions on what youth can actually harvest buck-wise under the harvest option during that early part of the season or those weekend dates there. Therefore, staff would consider a proposal to simplify regulations to reduce confusion and ease restrictions on some method of take for youth under the harvest option by allowing them to take a buck with any firearm on the same dates as early youth season for the county regulations.

Staff will also be consider bringing forward a proposal to expand the doe days in 43 counties in portions of the Oak Prairie and the Pineywoods ecoregion. So that map on the slide depicts the current doe day season. That dark green is currently 16 days. That kind of lighter green color in the lower right is a 23-day season. And so all these counties, those 43 counties in that darker green color, they're represented by about seven different deer management units. Survey data suggests there's an upward trend in the deer population in those 43 counties there. Additionally, our survey data indicates that there's a skewed sex ratio of 3.9 does per buck, which is less than desirable and our big game harvest surveys indicate that antlerless harvest is about 45 percent of the total harvest there.

And I'll note that staff, myself and some other staff, have received feedback from farmers and landowners in that western part of those green counties kind of along that I-35 corridor about crop depredation or crop damage issues related to growing deer populations in that area and also the fact that they're seeing an increase in the amount of habitat fragmentation, habitat loss from development over there. So it's just shrinking those deer populations in small areas and creating some problems.

So staff would be considering bringing a proposal in January to expand the doe days from 16 to 23 days and that would provide more opportunity to manage those deer populations, reduce crop damage in some areas, and provide more antlerless hunting opportunities.

Essentially this -- the change, this is what it would look like. On your slide is the season dates from this year. The current 16-day season runs from opening weekend for 16 days compared to the 23-day season or approximately 23 days, it runs from opening weekend to the Sunday following Thanksgiving and so that's what we're proposing is that change in those 43 counties. The bag limit would remain the same at two antlerless deer and obviously the dates wouldn't stay the same. There would be a calendar progression shift normally as those seasons move forward.

And then over the last couple years, staff received multiple requests from individuals to replace the muzzleloader season with a primitive weapon season to allow for various methods of take, such as archery equipment, muzzleloader, or straight-wall black powder rifles, or other types of primitive weapons. And just to note, muzzleloader season occurs during the two-week period after the close of general season in North Texas, the north zone counties there.

So rather than create a primitive weapon season so we're not carving out some special options for people with these different requests, staff would be considering a proposal to eliminate the muzzleloader season and the special late season -- the doe and spike season as it's commonly referred to -- in and remaining North Texas counties there and extend the general season an additional two weeks to overlap essentially with those -- the muzzleloader and the special late season is now. And it would allow hunters the opportunity to use any legal means of take rather than, you know, shrinking this down to muzzleloaders or something else. And again, at that time of the year, big game harvest survey show that there's very little harvest related to muzzleloader going on at that point in time.

The counties in green are kind of the area we're talking about where there would be potential changes to extending the general season and removing or eliminating the muzzleloader and the special late season there. About 227 counties. And again, this is just kind of what it would look like from the current season to what could be proposed. So this year, general season runs -- in the North Zone counties, runs from November 4th through January 7th and then you have the special late or muzzleloader season in those North Texas counties or North Zone counties from January 8th to the 21st. If we were going to bring forward a proposal, what that would look like next year would be basically opening weekend through that -- again, through the 21st, which covers that special late/muzzleloader season. So essentially we're standardizing general deer season statewide, but the thing is those North Texas counties wouldn't have a muzzleloader or a special late season.

And -- and that's all I have, if any questions.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Thank you, Mr. Cain.

Any questions?

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Patton. Okay, so I want to talk about the Bighorn sheep season and I guess first off, I'm all in favor of the safety aspect of flying during cooler -- flying in a helicopter during cooler temperatures as opposed to hot temperatures. Right? That's --

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: We know that's a good idea. Previously or in the current law -- and maybe we'll look at the blackout period just to make it, in my mind, more simple. Currently and the way it's always been is August 1 -- the month of August you don't hunt Bighorn sheep.

MR. CAIN: Right.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. And now under the proposed law, you're going to increase that by 15 days roughly and blackout October 1 to November 15th. My first question is without regard to helicopter safety, I thought August was blacked out because that was kind of the Bighorn sheep rut period. Is that true or not true?

MR. CAIN: That's a good question. I'll get back to you. I don't know the --


MR. CAIN: -- answer on that on the -- when essentially that breeding --


MR. CAIN: -- peak is.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Kind of like flounder, you know, you're not going to get flounder during --

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- their rut. I kind of felt like that was certainly my understanding was why we didn't we hunt Bighorn sheep in August. And I guess what I'm getting at is, if that's true, it probably isn't going to upset any Bighorn sheep enthusiasts maybe that we keep -- black that out and maybe blackout a cool temperature time. Because right now you can hunt a Bighorn sheep basically for 11 months. Now I don't know anyone that does that. If they get a tag, you know, they're going to -- they're going -- they're not hunting 11 months. They're going -- they're going to go target a sheep, they're going to find a sheep, they're going to kill the sheep. When does Mule deer season start out there?

MR. CAIN: The Trans-Pecos, it's in late November or early December as I recall.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: But November -- there -- it shouldn't open by November 15th because I think if you -- if you're trying to fly helicopters while people are shooting and maybe there's an MLDP --

MR. CAIN: There's MLD going on then.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So, I mean, maybe if we're trying to find a cool weather time and really October 1st to October 31st might not be that cool to begin with and it gets windy sometimes in October also, maybe finding a cool weather time would be good particularly if it was after Mule deer season. What does that mean? Are you getting February maybe?

MR. CAIN: Well, you're getting into, as I recall, lambing season. Those ewes are heavy bred at that point in January and February. So just I think they probably avoided that time, just --


MR. CAIN: -- less stress on the animals at that point and so -- and right now, I mean, we're currently -- we've been surveying the last couple of years during this time period anyway when hunting's going on. Obviously there probably hadn't been a whole lot of hunting going on during this survey period from --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Which survey period are you talking about right now?

MR. CAIN: The -- what we're proposing to change the season to from that --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: October to November?

MR. CAIN: -- October 1 through over 14th. I mean, our staff are actually conducting surveys right now in Big Bend Ranch State Park, all those areas we have the sheep populations over there and we hadn't had any issues with that and certainly we could bring this -- before we come back in January, we could bring this to our Bighorn Sheep Technical Committee or Advisory Committee. Froylan Hernandez, our Bighorn Sheep Program Leader could visit with those landowners and constituents out there that this would impact and receive some more feedback on this.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, it might not be -- I guess, and we're always going to go with this -- long story short is you've got two things you're trying to accomplish here, maybe two. One for sure helicopter survey safety, which maybe that's paramount.

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: But two, if this August 1 through 31st is kind of the rut and maybe we'll want to protect them for that. Maybe you actually blackout or block out two -- two different periods. Because I'd hate to open up the rut --

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- unnecessarily, I mean.

MR. CAIN: Yeah. That's a question I would want to run by our Bighorn staff and get their thoughts and opinions on that, but we could certainly look at that or to your point maybe just run it from, you know, Oct -- or August 1st through that November 15th.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Well, I don't want to get too drastic.

MR. CAIN: Yep.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: September isn't a bad time to hunt desert Bighorn sheep. So I, you know --

MR. CAIN: We just want to make sure we're not confusing hunters and not that there's a lot of tags there; but, you know, you have a month closed and then open and then shut another month. That might be getting a little con --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: September's been a good Desert Bighorn month because they're coming out of --

MR. CAIN: Out --

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: -- out of that.

MR. CAIN: -- of that rut.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: So everybody, you know -- and there's been data. There's been scouting. You know, it -- it isn't -- and we are talking about a small size.

MR. CAIN: Sure.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: John, did you have something to add?

MR. SILOVSKY: Yeah. For the record, John Silovsky. So my understanding, the Bighorn sheep rut lasts for months. It's an extended period. It's not as concentrated sometime as the deer rut is and the primary reason why we had blocked out August before was specifically, as Alan said, just so people weren't hunting when we were flying surveys. It wasn't to avoid rut or anything like that, so.

And due to the concerns we had with temperature during that August period when we used to fly surveys, you know, we're moving it to cooler weather. So it's strictly a safety factor for our staff. We don't believe -- and Alan will confirm with our Bighorn sheep team -- but we don't think it's going to impact, you know, rut or anything like that for the Bighorn sheep. It's just strictly a safety factor and not interfering with hunters, you know, so that the landowners will know when we're going to be in the air and we won't be impacting that.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. Well, I -- and I'll speak, you know, call it to my geographic region, which is Sierra Diablo's, which is certainly maybe ground zero of Desert Bighorn sheep behavior; but those sheep -- the rams will move to the low country, specifically to the east, all in those flatlands and the ewes and the lambs will stay up in the high country. So I -- I'd be happy to have a conversation with someone about, you know, sheep behavior near and around rut; but I think there's a pretty narrow window of when they're -- I don't know -- I don't know when they're conceiving, but I know when they're -- when the ewes are birthing and there is a window there that would imply that there was a rut season, in my opinion.

MR. CAIN: Yeah.


MR. CAIN: Obviously there's a breeding season. To John's point, it's spread out a little bit more than White-tails that you'll have a peak over a week or two period and then it kind of tapers off, but --


MR. CAIN: -- we can certainly look into that.

COMMISSIONER PATTON, JR.: Okay. All right, well, that's all.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Any other questions?

Okay. Any action required on this?

DR. YOSKOWITZ: No, Chairman, no action. Information.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay, great. All right, thank you.

All right. Work Session Item No. 8, Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan, Recommended Approval of Proposed Changes, Mr. Birdsong.

MR. BIRDSONG: Chairman, Commissioners, good afternoon. My name's Tim Birdsong, Director of the Inland Fisheries Division. This presentation will highlight progress in revising the Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan. It's a follow-up to the presentation that I gave in August, which launched the second round of public input on the Land and Water Plan. So this presentation will primarily center on edits and additions made to the plan in response to that second round of stakeholder input and then I'll also be requesting that this item be placed on the agenda tomorrow for your consideration and action.

So the Land and Water Plan has ten-year planning horizon. It identifies objectives, strategies, and measurable actions to fulfill the Agency mission. It serves as a tool to guide and evaluate our performance. There's a formal review process that occurs every five years. We also update the Commission on progress in delivering plan at least quarterly as part of each of your Commission meetings.

There is a subcommittee for conservation and recreation planning that consists of Commissioners Rowling, Abell, and Patton. They provide guidance to Department staff on the process for revising the plan. They provide broader guidance for helping the Department identify future conservation and outdoor recreation needs for the state. And once the plan is approved, they would continuously monitor progress and delivery of the plan and coordinate with staff and the broader Commission on any necessary amendments that might be needed to the plan that require an additional round of public input and formal action by the -- by the Commission.

The 14 Parks and Wildlife advisory committees that are Chair appointed, the members of those advisory committees played a key role in the stakeholder process for informing this revision of the Land and Water Plan, both through providing input into the plan, but also coordinating broader input from their respective networks.

So this has been a yearlong planning process that included, as I said, two rounds of public input. We had a workshop with the subcommittee for conservation and recreation planning that considered the first round of stakeholder input and provided guidance to staff on updating the plan, which occurred primarily in the summer timeframe. We brought that first draft to the full Commission at your August meeting. Again, took that draft out for public comment. It was -- it was on the street for stakeholder input for just over a month.

Early on in that stakeholder input process, we held four separate webinars to engage the public on the scope of the plan, changes that were made as compared to the 2015 plan, which was the last time it was updated and also oriented stakeholders with the opportunity that they had to provide input through that second round.

So that public input process closed September 30th. In October, staff and leadership reviewed all that stakeholder input received from the second round. We made edits and additions to the plan, and I'll present those today.

So for the first round, I've already discussed this with you August, but we had 372 survey responses. The survey at that time was designed to engage stakeholders on the importance of the various programmatic strategies that we've been implementing as a Department. We also asked stakeholders to review our performance and to help us prioritize among the various strategies, programmatic strategies that were being implemented by the Department, and recommend any additional strategies that we should consider implementing to fulfill our mission.

The round-two process primarily focused on asking stakeholders if we were missing anything. Are there any additional programmatic strategies/actions that we should consider incorporating into the plan?

So in total, we had 443 survey responses. Those stakeholders who responded to our surveys identified affiliations with over 160 different outdoor recreation and conservation organizations.

And now I'll step through some of the recommendations that we received from that round two of stakeholder input that led to substantial edits or additions to the plan. So we had a recommendation to clarify the Department's role in consulting with other water agencies, primarily TCEQ and the Water Development Board, on representing the needs of fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation and water planning and environmental flows and in-stream flow processes and there was a recommendation to add some clarifying text that was incorporated into -- into multiple strategies and actions. It just better kind of reaffirms the role of the Department in those processes. There was also recommendation to add a new strategy that spoke to our role in consulting on environmental flow standards, which is something the Department's already engaged in and was reaffirmed through the recent Sunset bill, the reauthorization of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. So we added a strategy there that you can read on the screen.

There was also always quite a bit of stakeholder input in regards to the new acres that would be added over the ten-year life of the plan to the state park system and some questions about whether the projected acreage would change pending voter approval of Proposition 14, the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund.

So State Parks assembled some conditional action items pending voter approval. The current action item identifies that -- the commitment for the Department to add 32,000 acres to the state park system over that ten-year life of the plan. Pending voter approval of Prop 14, there would be an updated action item to add 82,000 acres to the state park system by 2033 and that's an initial projection, early projection by the State Parks staff. And over the next year, throughout this current fiscal year, staff are assembling a State Parks land acquisition strategy. So no doubt that number will be refined as that strategy comes together. And then there would be a new action, again pending voter approval of Proposition 14, a new action for the Department to acquire and initiate development on five additional properties to add to the state park system during the ten-year life of the plan.

There was also a recommendation from stakeholders to spotlight the Texas ecosystem analytical mapper tool as a resource to help inform land management practices on public and private lands. So we added an action that spotlights that resource. And a recommendation to spotlight the conservation opportunity areas prioritization that's part of our State Wildlife Action Plan planning process. We expect to conduct this spatial prioritization that identifies important areas for conservation of species of greatest conservation need. That's happening as part of the revision of our State Wildlife Action Plan, which is expected to be completed in 2025. So we added a new action to spotlight that effort.

There was also a recommendation to clarify the Department's role in minimizing and avoiding impacts to fish and wildlife resources from energy projects. There were a couple of existing strategies that were refined to more clearly articulate exactly what our current and anticipated role is and you'll receive a briefing on this tomorrow, I believe, from Laura Zebehazy. Her team actively engages and provides technical input to minimize impacts to fish and wildlife resources from energy, utility, and field technology projects as is stated in that updated strategy.

We also had a recommendation to add actions that focused on growing public awareness and support for the North America Model of Wildlife Conservation. So our Communications team added two new actions that relate to workshops that they would hold for the public in that regard.

So where we're at now, 14 specific objectives, 103 strategies, 77 measurable actions nested under those objectives. Those 77 actions are completely new to the plan. There were no measurable actions in the 2015 plan. There was guidance from -- through the sunset process that we use this plan to better evaluate the work of the Department in fulfilling our mission. The intent was to add more of these measurable actions, which we feel like we've accomplished through this planning process.

As for next steps, we're creating a Land and Water Dashboard, a spreadsheet that would track progress and delivery of those actions and we would be expecting the various Divisions and programs to track and report quarterly. And again, those progress updates would be shared at your Commission meetings. We expect final publication of the Land and Water Plan to occur next summer. That would be a version of the plan that includes a supporting narrative, photos, figures, other sort of materials that are not really committing us to any additional strategies or actions, but just telling the story of our research management activities in the state. And then we would continue to coordinate closely with the subcommittee for conservation and recreation planning to identify any major programmatic changes that may necessitate formal amendments before the Commission.

So with that, I'll be happy to take any questions. I'm requesting that this be placed on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting for your consideration for approving this plan.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Thank you, Mr. Birdsong.

Any questions by the Commissioners?

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

Thank you very much.

MR. BIRDSONG: Thank you.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Chairman, just one second. I forgot to recognize Tim. He recognized himself as the new Director of Inland Fisheries. I forgot to do that in my comments this morning. He's been acting and then he was Deputy Director for quite a while.

So, Tim, welcome aboard and thank you for serving in that role.

MR. BIRDSONG: Thank you. It's my first day.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Congratulations. Thank you.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Welcome to the show.

(Round of applause)

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right. Work Session Item No. 9, Statewide Oyster Fishery Proclamation, Temporary Closure of Oyster Restoration Areas in Galveston Bay, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Ms. Emma Clarkson, please make your presentation.

MS. CLARKSON: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Emma Clarkson. I am the Ecosystem Resources Program Director in the Coastal Fisheries Division. Today I'll be presenting on a recommendation to adopt. This is a follow-up from the request to publish I presented back in August regarding a temporary oyster restoration and with your permission, it will be on the agenda for tomorrow.

Natural Resource Code Chapter 76 grants the Parks and Wildlife Commission the authority to close an area that is being reseeded or restocked and we have been reseeding or restoring two oyster reefs in Galveston Bay. In fact, they should be wrapping up about today with the cultch placement. That two-year -- that temporary two-year closure allows the oyster larvae that recruit to that habitat to grow to maturity and have two cohorts of marketable size oysters on the reef.

This image shows the success of an oyster restoration after two years. You can see that market size oysters recruit to the reef and that structure is allowed to kind of cement and cohesive before harvest.

So in, like I said, in August 2023, just a few months ago, we started restoration on two sites on North Dollar Reef and East Redfish Reef in Galveston Bay with funding that was generated from the CARES Act and the temporary closure that we're requesting is for the footprint of the restoration only -- area only, not of the whole reef and total of 64.4 acres would be temporarily closed.

You can see the picture on the right there is the engagement that we went through on this process. We did a really intensive engagement effort with the oyster industry, three workshops to select the sites and plan the restoration footprint itself. In fact, some folks came out in the field with us to sample the sites.

There we go. This map shows the location and acreage of the proposed temporary closure areas in Galveston Bay. The white is water. The light gray is oysters. The black is land on this map and you can see East Redfish Reef kind of on the east and North Dollar on the, you know, southwest portion of that map.

The amendment we proposed in August was to temporarily close two restoration areas in Galveston Bay. That amendment was published in the September 29th issue of the Texas Register. We received -- as of today, I'm updating this -- we received 20 public comments that were received during that comment period, 17 of which or 85 percent were in support of the proposal, two were neutral, and then there was one comment in opposition, but it was unrelated to the proposal.

So tomorrow, we -- with your permission, we will recommend adoption. We recommend that the Commission adopts the regulation changes a published in the September 29th issue of the Texas Register, with your permission putting it on the agenda for tomorrow.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Great. Thank you Ms. Clarkson.

Any questions by the Commissioners?

All right. Hearing none, I'll place the item on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and actions.

Thank you very much.

All right. Work Session Item No. 10, Oyster Advisory Committee, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Rules in the Texas Register.

DR. HOPPER: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, fellow Commissioners. 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. This afternoon I'll be presenting a request for permission to publish proposed rules in the Texas Register relating to the creation of an Oyster Advisory Committee.

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. For example, the purpose of the committee and the date on which the committee would automatically be abolished.

Staff recommends the creation of an advisory committee to assist in determining and executing appropriate strategies to maximize the long-term health of oyster resources in Texas, as well as the additional habitat and ecosystem services that they provide. This committee would be compromised of up to 24 members of the public and it would expire on July the 1st of 2026 to align with the expiration date of all other TPWD advisory committees.

So at this time, staff is seeking permission to publish those proposed rules in the Texas Register to create an Oyster Advisory Committee. And with that, thank you for your time and I'd be happy to answer any questions that you might have.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Thank you, Dr. Hopper.

Any questions for Dr. Hopper?

I've got one. The 24 members of the public, who is the selection committee to put that list together?

DR. HOPPER: I believe you are.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: All right. I am, okay.



DR. YOSKOWITZ: Chairman, we'll provide some recommendations, but --


DR. YOSKOWITZ: Yeah, you don't have to go find --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Never ask a question if you don't know the answer. So, okay, great. Thank you.

All right. I'll authorize staff to publish the rules in the Texas Register.

Thank you very much.

All right. Last item of the day, Work Session Item No. 11, Briefing, Diversity and Inclusion Goals. Mr. David Buggs, please make your presentation.

MR. BUGGS: Good late afternoon, Commissioners, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman. My name is David Buggs and I am the Director of People Engagement and Inclusion here at Texas Parks and Wildlife and I'm going to try to go through this as swiftly as possible. One of the things that you-all have noted from the last session, that we were advised by Sunset Commission to start tracking some of the measures that we're using to engage the broader audience across the State of Texas, also to share that information with the Commission.

So one of the things you've also -- I've shared with you once before is the recognition that our values across the State of Texas and across the nation have started to change when it comes to wildlife. More people are becoming wildlife viewers versus hunters and fishermen. Also when we start looking at the numbers, the Council for Advancing of Hunting and Shooting Sports has also noted that the number of hunters -- sales of hunting license has decreased. Actually it's back to pre-pandemic levels.

Also as you-all were -- noted last time, there has been a relevancy roadmap created. And that roadmap was created by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies because of information that was coming out that was saying conservation agencies, especially conservate -- state and some of the federal conservation agencies were starting to decrease when it came to relevancy amongst the broader public.

So when you start looking at the State of Texas, one of the things that we all know is we are growing quite quickly. We are over 30 million people now. We also are looking at between the ages of 25 and 29 being the fastest growing age demographic across the State of Texas and they have a lot of different things that they're doing, but one of the things they're not doing as readily as some of our more mature population is engaging in the outdoors. The survey actually says that only about 23 percent of adults in the State of Texas have out outdoor oriented pastimes.

Also when you start looking at some of the things that are happening with Texas Parks and Wildlife, the lion's share of our revenue comes from license, registration, and tag sales. But when you look at what we've actually sold recently, less than 8 percent of Texans actually purchased fishing license and less than 4 percent actually purchased a hunting license. So that leaves us in a little bit of dilemma. We were on a -- somewhat of an uptick over the last ten years; but since the pandemic, we're starting to move downward and actually when you start looking at revenues over the past year or so, we're actually behind in fishing license sales and hunting license sales, also boat registration is down and other categories around registration are a little lower as well. And when you start looking at state parks also, from September of last year to September of this year, revenue has decreased and the daily interest has also decreased.

So, and this is another note. When you start looking at our staff, attrition has become a big issue for us, especially amongst our more mature population who has decided to start retiring and we're going to talk a little bit more about that a little later on.

But why do we need engagement? One of the big things is to create more relevance about -- and between our growing population. And also when we start looking at the sustainability of the mission of Texas Parks and Wildlife, we've got to have the full scale of the people across the State of Texas engaged and having an appreciation for the outdoors.

So one of the things that we did, we actually created a strategic plan that started this fall and it's going to through the fall of 2028, around inclusion. And we're asking all of our Departments to engage in different parts of that plan. There are three areas that we focus on in the plan. One is recruitment, the other one is retention, the other one is education and engagement and in that education and engagement piece, we're also looking at how we can better serve the ADA community.

So some of the objectives of the plan, first of all, is looking at how we can create a more inclusive work environment, how we can also understand the cultures of different folks we are trying to engage, how we can also look at our outreach program and evaluate those programs and make sure that they're serving this broader public and this changing demographic.

Some of the projects that we've engaged in and I'm going to talk a little bit more about some of those in a minute, are -- is looking at our social media, looking at our volunteer engagement, who's volunteering and where, broadening our recruitment strategy, looking at engaging urban youth in some of the outdoor activities as well because we haven't traditionally done a really good job of that. Also looking at our external customers and finding out who's there and who's not.

So some of the things that our Divisions are doing and all of our Divisions have taken on the task of trying to create more inclusion within their Division and with some of the activities they're doing. So I'll just highlight a few. I don't have an opportunity to go through all of them. But first of all, our Communications has done an extremely good job of creating more images and putting different images of all of the people of representation across the State of Texas on our social media in different places. They've also done a great job of soliciting some funds to do different campaigns. One is the shooting sports funds has yielded an increase of open e-mail reads by 47 percent. We've also looked at a women's angler campaign, which has been used to survey over 391,000 females. So that's really good. Another thing that they've done is a texting campaign. We're actually sending texts out to folks for license renewals and that has resulted in over $10,000 worth of revenue.

Our State Parks has also done a great job. State Parks has issued what we call a community engagement pass, which allows at least 20 people from the community to go out on a pass and they're targeting groups that have not traditionally gone out to state parks and they're getting engaged through these community passes. We're really excited about that. They have also added what we call GRIT accessibility wheelchairs to attend different parks. So people that are challenged physically can still go around and enjoy the parks. One of the other things -- and Rodney will probably toot the horn about this at another time -- we are -- have one of the first parks in the nation to do what they call a tag accessibility where there are links for people that have visual or auditory challenges to actually understand the park and receive some of the interpretive services.

Our Coastal Fisheries has done an outstanding job actually doing distance learning. They actually have reached out to a number of Title 1 schools, which are some of the disadvantaged schools, economically disadvantaged schools and they've been able to share some education with over 4,300 individuals.

Our Wildlife Division has partnered with a group that actually Commissioner Bell shared with us called 100 Ranchers and we're starting to go out and participate in some of their activities as well.

When it comes to hiring and attrition, we talked about this a little earlier, one of the other things that we recognize is over the next five years, 35 percent of our employees will be able to retire. So to address some that, first of all, our Law Enforcement has done -- started doing something called Women in Law Enforcement Conference where women are looking at how to gain other people, other women attraction to law enforcement careers and talk about how they can promote and how they can be more engaged in law enforcement.

The other thing that I'm very excited about and I've worked with our Human Resources group is the Human Resources group has collaborated with State Parks and they've created a toolkit that can be used at over 200 of our locations across the state. They also created a video on how to apply for jobs and if you've ever applied for a government job, it's a little different than private sector. So that's a really good video. They've also added military occupational specialty codes to all of our job postings.

We only have five recruiters on staff: Two for Law Enforcement and three for the rest of the Agency. So we also recruited 67 folks across the state to help with recruitment and they also hosted a virtual career fair for over 200 students.

Some other actions that we have is we have an Urban Advisory Committee and we have 23 members on that committee and one of the things we've done with that committee is having a standing opportunity for our State Parks, Communications, and our R3 folks to come out and talk about things that they're doing and pass it by the committee and get feedback on how to reach these urban audiences. Also we've been reaching out to different parts of our Agency to find out what we're actually doing right now when it comes to reaching urban youth and how we can accelerate some of the things that we're doing.

The other thing that we've done that I think is very good is we've increased our nontraditional university partners. Where actually engaged now with UT San Antonio and UT Rio Grande Valley. Very excited about that partnership. There's some internship opportunities that are going to come out those, two engagements as well, and we are in the process of creating what we call an Agency-wide Community Engagement Dashboard where we can track who's coming out to our parks and participating in different events, but also look at who's missing.

And with that, that was really quick. Are there any questions? That was speed, man, boy I'm telling you.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: I've got a comment.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: And it's not to you. It's to Chad.


VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT: If we've only got that many hunting and fishing licenses being bought, there have got to be a lot folks out there that need tickets.

COLONEL JONES: We do our best.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Any other questions?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Just a -- this is Commissioner Bell, just a comment. I think one of the most interesting things about when you look at the state and all the numbers, the state is growing at such a rate and right now we're sitting -- I guess we're sitting on the cusp of 30 million people. The statistics say that -- that -- I think we had 10 million park visits last year, but we've got at least 75 percent of those -- well, 80 percent of those 30 million live in urban areas. Only two-thirds of those folks are saying they've had any real outdoor experience. So there's this incredible population of 18 to 20 million people across the state from El Paso to Beaumont -- by the way, it's a longer drive from Beaumont to El Paso than it is from Beaumont to Chicago -- but there's this incredible group of people that can get out and visit that we can get exposed to and if you ever get -- if you get a chance, those GRIT wheelchairs, those things are cool. Right? I mean, it -- what those chairs enable people to do that might not have been able to get out on the trail and now get that exposure and also with the other kind of assistive pieces for people that might have sight impairment or hearing impairment to be able to participate in all the nature and cultural pieces. We've got some great state parks. And also with the deal we've done with the kind of co-branding on the park grants where we're working with the smaller communities, mid-sized communities, and large communities so that it's not just state parks. It's the county/city parks that also might have a TPWD logo on it because we've helped provide funds. It's a great opportunity to really expand the overall park family and get people involved in these conservation activities, which have gotten really popular since COVID.

And you're not really down as much right now on park state visits as much as we had -- the previous two years were record years --

MR. BUGGS: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER BELL: -- right? So we're still -- we've still got great numbers. It's just been record years in '21 and '22, correct, Rodney?


COMMISSIONER BELL: So we've still got great attendance, but not record year attendance, but we'll say close to record and I'll leave it at that. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Any other questions?

Mr. Buggs, the one slide that's astounding to me is I think your first one: Wildlife Values Study. And it shows Texas at a far right accelerating mutualism. Tell me what accelerated mutualism is, and I'm not sure that's the bucket that I wish that Texas was in. That's comparative to -- let's see -- California, Washington. So what's going on there? That --

MR. BUGGS: Well, you've got --

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: And what is accelerated mutualism?

MR. BUGGS: Well, there are different buckets there. What we want are more people that have a tradition of value, which they see hunting and fishing and all those types of different things as a part of conservation. It's a appreciated. It's a thing that you engage in. Mutualism says that we still appreciate the outdoors, but we look at it more from a wildlife viewing and from a protection standpoint, less hunting and fishing. It's more protection. So that's kind of the direction we come in. And we've got a lot of young folks that are moving to the state and they just see things differently, but one of the things that we've got to do and it's part of my edict and all of our edicts is how do we educate them on the value of what call traditionally conservation and get them to start thinking about the value of going out and trying to hunt and fish and so on and so forth as a part of conservation.

So we've got some work to do. But, yeah, when you start looking at the diaspora of folks that are moving here and young folks' views of the outdoors and the wildlife, they don't look at it the way that some of us more traditional folks look at it. And it's not unheard of. A lot of states are starting to trend that way, but we're all looking forward to our R3 Program taking off a little bit more to help with some of that.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: So the second slide that was surprising to me is less than eight and less than four fishing and hunting respectively have licenses.


CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Have we tracked that or do we have the data -- over the last 25 years on a percentage of the population, what are the percentage of people that held a hunting license in Texas and fishing license?

MR. BUGGS: We do have some of that data. I don't have it right now. We can get that for you. But we do know that hunting has been decreasing for quite some time. Fishing kind of stagnates. Now one of the things -- I will say this, younger people are now starting to fish a little bit more; but when you're under 17, you don't have to have a license. So we can't count those folks.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Should be interesting to look at those numbers on a percentage.

MR. BONDS: Mr. Chairman, if I may. We actually have that figure -- those figures in our R3 plan. So we show human population growth in Texas, but also the growth in license -- hunting license and fishing licenses. Hunting licenses, of course, we average over many years, grow -- we're seeing a growth of about 1 percent a year in hunting license sales. A growth of about 2 percent a year annually in fishing license sales. But, of course, that's not keeping up pace with the proportional growth in human population. But those figures are in our R3 plan. We can get that to you.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Okay. Yeah, those are just absolute numbers that are rising, 1 or 2 percent versus --

MR. BONDS: That's correct.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: -- percentage of population.

MR. BONDS: That's correct.


All right, great. Thank you. Very informative. Appreciate it very much.

MR. BUGGS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN HILDEBRAND: Sorry to make you the last for the day, so. But the last is always the best.

All right. With that, Dr. Yoskowitz, this Commission has completed its Work Session business and I declare us adjourned at 5:09 p.m. Thank you very much.

DR. YOSKOWITZ: Thank you, Chairman.

(Works Session Adjourns)



I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand

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

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such

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

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my

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


Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: January 31, 2025

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