TFRLCP Council Meeting

Transcript


November 19, 2018

TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
COMMISSION HEARING ROOM
4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744

COUNCIL MEETING

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Okay.  Good morning, everybody, and welcome.  I'm glad we had a good of turnout as we've had since there's no money being given away, but we have a couple of important issues to discuss.

Now, I'll call the meeting to order at 9:05; but before proceeding with any business, Mr. Hollingsworth has a statement to make.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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 for this meeting.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Thank you.

First item, action item, is a review and approval of the minutes.  I hope everyone has had a chance to review them.  If they have, I'd like a motion for approval.

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  So moved.

COUNCIL MEMBER SCOTT:  Second.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Koehler and Scott, thank you very much.  Everybody in favor, please say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Any opposed?  Motion carries.

Next item is -- I want to introduce a couple of new members, after welcoming back our returning members, which is nice to see.  First, is Mr. Riojas.  Welcome.

COUNCIL MEMBER RIOJAS:  Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  I think you'll find this is a very interesting committee to be on, Council.

Mr. Peter Lake, welcome.

COUNCIL MEMBER LAKE:  Thank you.  Glad to be here.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Mr. Riojas was appointed by Governor Abbott in January of 2018 to replace Ms. Pamela McAfee.  Mr. Lake currently serves as Chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, and is one of our ex-officio members.  Mr. Lake was appointed to serve as the Chairman of the Water Development Board by Governor Abbott in February of 2018.

And last but not least, Mr. George Dave Scott, who was reappointed by the Governor in January of 2018 to serve until 2023.

COUNCIL MEMBER SCOTT:  Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Thank you for your continued service.

Item No. 3 is the Program Review for Returning and New Council Members.  Mr. Murphy, please make your presentation.

MR. MURPHY:  Good morning, Council Members, Chairman Morian.  I'm James Murphy.  I'm a staff attorney for the program here at Parks and Wildlife Department, and I'm presenting on the Open Meetings Law, the Public Information Law, the Administrative Procedure Law, and other laws relating to the conduct of public officials that will be relevant to your service here on this council.

The training book that you have in front of you is the required statutory training program.  I'm just going to take this opportunity to briefly summarize the training program and answer any questions.  Most of
you have served on this council before and so you're already trained.  This presentation strictly serves as a refresher for you; but for our new members, Mr. Riojas and Mr. Lake, this is a required part of a training
program for your first council meeting.  So welcome. Just take a quick pause if I could.

COUNCIL MEMBER ZACEK:  Excuse me, my apologies.  The weather didn't cooperate.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  Welcome.

MR. MURPHY:  Welcome, Council Member.

We're just getting started on our required ethics training for the introduction to our council meeting.

So you haven't missed much.

Let me get our slides going here.  All right.  First, we're going to talk about the requirements of the Open Meetings Law.  That's in Texas Government Code Chapter 551.  And to have this meeting today, as Ted gave the intro remarks, it is necessary to comply with that statute.  There's a video that you were informed of the latter, either when you first started on this council or more recently, so.  And that's a requirement for State officials to watch.  That link is here.

There are also additional resources about the Open Meetings Law on the Attorney General's website and some of the key points to remember is that there is a public posting requirement at least ten days prior to the meeting in advance of any group of a quorum of the council members.  The council members actions today are limited to what is in the posted publicly noticed agenda.  And if the law is violated, there are criminal sanctions associated with it.

We only have the two action items for your consideration today.  One, we've already done with the approval of the minutes; and the subsequent one will be done later in this meeting.

Moving on to the Public Information Law, this is sometimes called the Open Records Law; and that's Texas Government Code Chapter 552.  Again, there's a required video and certificate showing completion of the video.  There are other resources that are on the Attorney General's website for your review.

A couple key points to remember is that any document within the meeting of the law, includes any media or format -- be it paper, recorded, electronic.  There are no exceptions when it comes to the type of document that is being considered.

We would send a request to the Attorney General's Office, who would then have 45 days to respond with an opinion on whether or not those documents are, in fact, exempt.  Again, we do have criminal sanctions associated with violations of this law.  So it's very important that we follow it.

I just want to note that our Public Information Officer here at Parks and Wildlife is Elizabeth Cater.  She's an attorney in our office.  If we were to get a request to the council, she would be your point of contact.  And certainly, you can direct any questions to me; to Bob Sweeney, our General Counsel; or to Elizabeth when it comes to Public Information Requests.

And I will just stop here and see if there are any questions just on either of Open Government or Public Information Laws.

All right.  Next up, we have is the Administrative Procedures Law.  There are two major components to this.  One is not relevant to your deliberations as council members here, and that is with respect to contested case hearings where a body of State officials serves in a judicial capacity.  This council is not empowered to make those types of judicial determinations; but we do have rulemaking authority with this council, and we have not seen the -- or you have not seen the reason to adopt administrative rules to this point.  Staff does not have recommendations at this point to adopt administrative rules, but it is a possibility.

There is a public notice component and an opportunity for public comment on any rules that we were to put forth.  Upon publishing and adoption of those rules, they would become part of the Texas Administrative Code, which does have the force of law. I'm just going to briefly touch on a few other laws governing the conduct of public officials, ethics, lobbyists, and contracts.  For ethics, again, we'll have another training program for you online.

This one is not a video.  It's more of a self-paced program.  It is very helpful.  I do encourage you to take a look at it.  One key task I do want to emphasize is you have personal financial statement that must be filed by April 30th of each year.  I would ask that you please put that on your to-do list for 2019.  There's some background on the Texas Ethics Commission's website for you to take a look at on filling out that form.

In general, conflicts of interest are prohibited.  If you have questions on what constitutes a conflict of interest, please feel free to direct any questions to me.  There's a lot of detail that goes into what constitutes a conflict; but what I do want to emphasize is that you may not vote on any matter or participate in any matter that -- in which you have a conflict of interest.  If you do think you have a conflict, we ask that you publically disclose that on the record and withdraw or recuse yourself from consideration on that matter.

Lobbyists is next up.  I think it's pretty unlikely you're going to deal with a lot of lobbyists in connection with this council's determinations, but I do just want to highlight for you Government Code Chapter 305.  Gifts that would otherwise be permissible under bribery laws and ethics policy, might not be permissible when coming from a registered lobbyist.  There is a list online at the Texas Ethics Commission's website; and even if you can accept it, your name does appear on a lobbyist activity reports if certain numeric thresholds are met.  So there's a special category of interaction under the ethics laws that I just want you to be aware of.

Contracting is another area of emphasis here.  We do issue grants to applicants.  So we are under the contracting and grant making laws of the State.  Those are to prevent favoritism or the appearance of favoritism when issuing grants.  There is a video, again, on the Comptroller's website for you to view if you want additional information on that.  There are also some guides that are available for staff.  One thing I just want to emphasize here is that staff ultimately is charged with compliance with these laws and we do take those seriously and so I just -- not a whole lot for you to do here in terms of compliance; but if you really want to dig into the details, there are additional resources online.

Last up, just a few miscellaneous provisions.  Especially for those of you here that are not State employees.  One thing to emphasize, of course, is State property can only be used for State purposes.

You may be reimbursed for travel expenses, but that does not include alcohol.  Please do not attempt to submit receipts with alcohol on that, as they will be rejected.

And State funds cannot be used to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation.

Finally, not a lot to say on policies.

None have been adopted by the Farm and Ranch Council to this point.  There are none that have been recommended by staff, but I did want to just give you a couple additional references that are in your materials.  One of them are some Ethics Commission policies, some helpful hints on filing your personal financial statement.  Again, that's April 30th of each year.  And then there's also a document here that talks about the various thresholds for accepting gifts and other honorary materials.

Again, that's all I have for today; and I certainly am happy to answer any questions.  All right, thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Any comments, questions?

Thank you for your presentation.

We'll move on to Item No. 4, the Status of Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program Projects.  Mr. Abernathy, welcome.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Good morning, Mr. Chairman.  I'm sorry, guys.  I'm hot, and I'm on cold medication.  So we're all ramped up today, but I'll do the best I can to try to keep it calm.  I apologize in advance if I have a coughing fit or anything like that.

So I am the new Program Coordinator.  Ted hired me about a year ago; but last y'all had met previously before that, so nobody has really had an opportunity to meet me.  But we've been working behind the scenes for the last year keeping the projects going and I just wanted to give -- we have 14 projects right now currently in the program.

This is a map of their locations.  A lot of them are obviously represented in Central Texas or in the Austin/San Antonio area.  Lots of encroachment, lots of development, lots of potential fragmentation happening in those areas.  So, obviously, our land -- our partners have targeted those.  We have properties as far north as Red River in Gainesville, Texas.  We have properties along the coastal plains and as far as Jasper, Texas.  So we are pretty good.  I would like to have more representation, but that will hopefully come in the future.

So this is just a real tight -- and I know it's real tight.  I apologize for the size of the font.  But what I want you to focus on is look at the number of closed projects.  So out of 14, our partners
have closed -- I think that's seven to date.  Now, we still have projects that are working.  This is a slow process.  And I'm going to kind of go through and we'll talk about each of the projects real quickly.

So that was scheduled for next year.  All y'all land partners, y'all listen up because this is going to be for you.  So we want to do a pre-application workshop with all of our land trusts just to kind of talk about what we've learned and what we want to do in the future.  We're going to open application process probably in April, and then we will do an internal review through April and May.  We'll do -- and then we have professional biologists, you know, within TPWD that do our site visits for us and help verify those habitats and those things that we want to be protected and so they site visits in June and July.  And then we will hopefully have our first council meeting with y'all again in July of 2019 and we'll bring all these applications to you and present them to you and hope that you will be ready to approve the ones that we think are most worthy.

In August, I want to have the contracts drafted and approved and, you know, our money becomes available September 1.  So it's my desire that those contracts become available early, early in the fiscal year so our partners can just hit the ground running.

Because one thing we have learned is that everything is taking way longer than we had initially thought.

So, okay.  I'll slow down.  So we have 14 projects and these are alphabetical and they're also by fiscal year.  Just some really quick stats on each one.

I'm not going to -- you know, y'all can read.  But this is the Albritton Ranch.  It's in Bandera County.  It's about 650 acres and it's heavily wooded, forested, lots of really good habitat and those landowners are protecting that property and one of the -- it's very heavy topography in that area.

Dreamcatcher, it's Guadalupe-Blanco River Trust is our land partners.  It's in Hays County, 211 acres.  Total -- let me go back to Albritton here.  I'm missing some of the money.  So the project values -- and we're going to talk about this in a little bit.  You know, this is $975,000 between us and the easement and NRCS and whoever our funding partners are.  I mean, these are some pretty expensive properties and we've leveraged funds and we don't have a lot of money ourselves to spend.  So we've leveraged our partner's funds.

Again, Dreamcatcher 3.3 million.  We've completed the easement on this one.  That means it's closed, and so is Albritton.  When it says "easement's completed," that means it's closed.

The Javelina Ranch, that's in south -- the Valley Land Fund in Hidalgo County, 280 acres, 1.3 million total value.  And, again, the easement has closed on this one.  And this particular property has two globally rare plant communities that we took measures to protect.

The Lazy Bend Ranch, Hill Country Conservancy, 142 acres in Hays County, a little over $1 million.  Again, the easement has closed.  This contains Golden-cheeked warbler habitat, Black vireo habitat, just lots of areas that we are interested in protecting Puryear Ranch in Travis County, 425 acres, $5.6 million.  Again, riparian corridors, grasslands, savannas, juniper oak woodlands, just a lot of area that the landowners wanted to take care of and protect and put into perpetual conservation.

Pietila is that -- Pietila is really huge.  Pietila is almost 10,000 acres.  It's out in West Texas.  It's -- if y'all know where Carlsbad goes south into Texas, it's right there near McKittrick Canyon.

It's just a really huge property.  It's Chihuahuan desert.  It's diverse.  It's got tons of native species on it, and it is in the works.  It has been a long time going, but we're hoping to close on that real soon.

Santa Anna, lower tract.  This is TALT, Texas Ag Land Trust, Coleman County, 1,300 acres.  Total value, $134,000.  And we are still -- our landowner, getting a little nervous.  So we are continuing -- James Oliver and Blair Fitzsimons are working with those landowners to help us -- help them understand the program, help them be assured as to what the conservation easements do and do not.  And so we're going to get those guys tied down and hopefully get that one closed soon.

Longleaf Ridge -- I'm sorry.  If there's any questions, just stop me or throw something at me.

So Longleaf Ridge was a unique property because Texas A&M actually became our land partner.  So a State agency became our land partner with this.  It's in Jasper County.  It was owned by a timber company and so they carved out about 5,000 acres out of this huge timber company property to put in conservation and that went really, really well and we've protected a lot of older habitats.

Sorry.  Let me take a drink and settle down.

So Spread Oaks is in Matagorda County, south coastal plains area, $6 million.  Acquired the property, 5,000 acres.  And it is an old rice farm.  It has wetlands.  It has canals.  It has birding habitat.

It has coastal prairie grass.  It's a pretty special place, too.

Inspiring Oaks, I was just at Inspiring Oaks about a month ago.  This place is amazing.  It has cypress trees with flowing water where you wouldn't think you'd find them.  Excuse me.  So it's in Hays County, a thousand acres, which is up near Wimberley and it's $5.6 million.  But a really amazing place.  It has some headwaters in it.  It has some salamanders in it.

The Krause Ranch in Real County, 1,600 acres, $2.1 million.  It's right -- the frontage of the Frio River, significant springs.  The Bartush Ranch is the one that's up north -- and you might have to fill in for me here in a second -- Cook County, 1,600 acres, $1.5 million and that one's in process, as well.

And I took a picture of this tree.  These are called "Witness trees" that are kind of cool.  The Native Americans used to use them to indicate directions to water and various things like that and there wereseveral on this property.

Collins Ranch, Williamson County, 615 acres, $2 million, San Gabriel River.  You know, we've got watershed on both sides.  Important area to keep hold of.

Spoonbill Farm is unique.  Actually, our landowner withdrew from the program last month.  They had participated in the program.  We had a baseline survey.  We had the contract negotiations going on, but they were approached by a pipeline developer with damage fees and they chose to withdraw from the program.  So that's our only one that's done that.

And that is it.  I apologize for my loss of voice.  If there's any questions?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  What happened -- we have more than I would have thought that are still in process.  We approved these last June.  You would have thought that the details would have been worked out.

What happens to the money if one of these --

MR. ABERNATHY:  So on that particular one, there's very little -- there's only like 57.  So we've spent -- so Spoonbill is unique.  What happened is it was with Texas Rice, which was the land trust; and they spent about $10,000 doing all the due diligence and upfront work and land -- or land owner interaction.  And Bill Stransky is with Texas Rice; but he kind of said, "You know what?  I'm a better bird dogger than I am a negotiator."

So he opted out and he asked the Katy Prairie Conservancy, "Would you please take over the property for me and finish the conservation easement?"

And so Katy Prairie agreed to that.  So out of a $57,000 budget -- because the landowner was basically contributing almost the entire property.  So we only had 57,000 for due diligence.  We gave 10,000 to Bill Stransky and left 47,000 on the table for Katy Prairie, which they're going to pick up a little bit for their due diligence work, just their oversight.  It's not going to be any -- enough to do anything with to be honest.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Well, because you've got the Nature Conservancy.  We've got -- one, two, three -- three that are in process.  I'm just wondering, is there a deadline on the money?

MR. ABERNATHY:  So we've had -- no.

Well, we have taken those contracts out to as far as the fiscal years will allow, which is August 31st of 2019.

So they're all aware that that is the end of the money.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Okay.  So they've got another --

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yes, sir.  Another eight months, eight or nine months.  They -- you know, let's be honest.  They originally thought things were going to take less time and we have amended every single contract in this program to allow them the full fiscal timeframe allowed because things just -- and my buddy over here, Claude is going to tell you why.  I mean, it's just -- it's a federal program.  In our sense, it's a federal program and things have taken so much longer for funding to come around and we've had some landowners that have gotten nervous or pitched back some negotiations that we weren't prepared for.  So things just take longer than
they thought.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  When does the money that this program authorizes, when is it paid out?

At closings or --

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yes, ma'am.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  You said you had paid 10,000 for --

MR. ABERNATHY:  So I pay my consultants or my partners just like professional services, correct, due diligence?  Some of them bill me throughout incrementally.  Some of them bill me at the end.  It just depends on how they can manage it.  But the closing money is just like you and me going to get our house paid for.  It goes to the title company.  We draft a check, warrant, and that actually goes to the land trust because they're my vendor and then they can take that to the title company and present that as the acquisition amounts or whatever is necessary.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  So when you mark a project as closed or a project completed, you mean it has financially closed and moved on?

MR. ABERNATHY:  We have filed those records -- yes, ma'am.  We have closed.  We've published those or filed those records with the county courthouse.

They've all been stamped, and that property is considered to be in perpetual conservation at that point.  That is done.  That judgment is done.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  And is there any oversight or monitoring --

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yes, ma'am.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  -- by your staff or purely by the Nature Conservancy?

MR. ABERNATHY:  The monitoring is taken care of by the land partners.  So they -- when they do their original application, they figure out how much a ten-year monitoring program is going to cost them.  They put those moneys into escrow, and then they can tap into those throughout that ten-year program.  So the monitoring -- I'm glad you brought that up.  That's kind of a new thing.

We're treading new ground.  Nobody has monitored yet.  Now, I came from a background City of San Antonio.  Our monitoring was very strict, very comprehensive.  We're trying to find a nice, you know, intermedial area that we can do that with these.  But we do have some monitoring that's already happening, but they are fully responsible for the monitoring of that.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  Thank you.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Is that something that we need to look at?  And I don't -- maybe one of these conservancy -- but you would think when somebody brings forward -- a Conservancy brings forward a property, they would have had the basic understanding already worked it out as far as whatever restrictions or --

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yes, sir.  I do believe that.  But I think realities of time and when they start seeing real paperwork with real terms and real contract conditions, I think they start getting a little nervous, to be honest.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Well, Chairman, the other thing that happens is that these land trusts have relationships with a number of landowners and they don't have access to lot of funds.  This is really the only program in the state that systemically provides funds to match -- to match other grants and other opportunities.

In some case, outright pay for all the due diligence associated with conservation easements.  And so in many cases, the conservation -- the land trusts are reluctant to invest a lot of time and money in doing due diligence before they know they have a grant.  And so they estimate the value of the conservation easement as best they can.  They apply here.  They get awarded a grant and then they start spending money and the appraisal comes back and it's not exactly what they expected.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Mr. Chairman, can I talk about that a little -- let's talk about that real quick, Mr. Chairman.

So what's happening is they're estimating their properties.  And let's just say it's five -- they say $5 million.  And that truly is an estimate based on their best judgment and so everybody -- NRCS -- everybody makes those numbers fit the ratios to that $5 million appraisal.  But when the real appraisal comes, we've seen huge ranges above and below their estimate, which significantly impacts what NRCS can do and what our moneys can do time and that is a huge time -- or time sink.  So that's really impairing -- not impairing.  It's just impacting the program, the process.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Yeah, I can see that.

I just -- the Pietila Ranch, they're still negotiating the easement.

MR. ABERNATHY:  The landowner -- I don't know the landowner.  I only get to -- it's only hearsay.

But apparently he's just been somewhat difficult to work with, but we're getting -- and, David, are you here?

MR. BEZANSON:  Yeah, I'm here.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Did you want to --

MR. BEZANSON:  Yeah, I can speak to that if you want me to.  The easement negotiation is actually completed and we're hoping to complete that one in December or January and, you know, really Ted said, I mean, the issue there has been is we got the -- we estimated the value long before we were able to get the appraisal and then when we got the appraisal, we had to adjust all of the grants to match that, so.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Can you make sure you give her your name, please?

MR. BEZANSON:  David Bezanson, Nature Conservancy.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Okay, thank you.

Anybody else have any comments?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Chairman, I also might add that the purpose of this workshop in February that Chris referenced, is to help our partners understand what we've learned, which is that everything takes a little longer than you thought, that the better -- the tighter your estimate can be, even if it means finding a local broker and getting an opinion of value for a few hundred dollars, the better your estimates can be coming into the program, the more likely you are to be successful and the more likely we are to close that project out in a reasonable length of time.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Okay.  We'll see how this next cycle goes.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  All right.  The next item is a very important one:  Discussion of the Natural Resource Conservation Service Funding Program.

Mr. Ross, thank you.

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  Good morning,

Mr. Chairman.  Good morning, Council Members.  My name is Claude Ross.  I'm the Conservation Easement Program Director for NRCS in Texas.  For those new to the council, NRCS administer the -- administers the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.  This is a program for land trusts and partners to be able to apply and to seek federal funding for the purchase of conservation easements.  We are -- partner with the Texas Farm and Ranch Land Conservation Program.  Many of the projects that you have seen have applied and been awarded funds from both Parks and Wildlife and NRCS.  So we are extremely proud to partner with Parks and Wildlife on these good projects.

As many of you know, the 2014 Farm Bill expired in September of this past year and so did the authority of NRCS to enroll new projects into the ACF Program. Our current authorization only allows us to continue to work on those pending projects that have not yet closed.  Absence of the Farm Bill to enroll new projects, we're not really at this point ready to make the announcement of any program funding or application periods.  Many of you, I think, are hopefully keeping track on the Farm Bill and kind of where it is.

There seems to be some good traction and some optimism that it may get passed during this lame-duck session.  So we keep our fingers crossed for that.  As soon as we have the Farm Bill, that will begin the rulemaking process.  There could be some changes in the Farm Bill.  Both the House/Senate version have very good changes.  Some of those, I think, could be very important to Texas and maybe some of our partners can speak to that; but we do look forward to that passage and moving forward with our new program.

We do want to perhaps do an application workshop perhaps jointly with the Texas Farm Land Conservation Program because many of our partners do make applications to both Parks and Wildlife and NRCS.

So applying to a federal agency and a state agency, the better we can align up our processes and make them parallel.  We think that's the best thing we can do for partners and our customers.  So we'll -- I'll be working with Chris and Ted on that moving forward.

Just as far as ACEP this past fiscal year, Texas received $3 million for the Agriculture Conservation -- excuse me -- the Ag Easement Program of NRCS.  $3 million, we had six applications for about 5,000 acres requesting actually about five and a half million dollars.  We were only able to fund two applications.  One in Hays County, one in Hopkins County for about 640 acres.  We actually spent 2 million of that $3 million.  So we actually returned back to Washington, D.C., just under nine million -- just under a million dollars, $974,000, because there was lack of a match for those funds to stay here in Texas.  So we couldn't fund any projects with those funds.  So those were returned back.

So four applications were not funded.

Those will remain in our application pool and will be available as soon as we have authority for the new Farm Bill for 2019.  Acquisitions this past fiscal year 2018, we closed four easements for about 2,643 acres in Travis, Bexar, and Bandera Counties.  Total easement value of this was about $16.3 million.  NRCS portion of this was about $7.5 million.  Two of these projects were funded by this council.  So we are glad that we're able
to partner with those funds; but, again, we're waiting on the Farm Bill.  When we have that, we will make adjustments.  We'll work with our State Technical Committee to perhaps make some changes in our evaluations if the new rules require that.  Also, we will at some point in the future announce funding windows and opportunities once we know the amount of funds that we have for this fiscal year.

So that's all that I have, Mr. Chairman.

I'll answer any questions from the council.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  Are you a partner on any of the projects we have that are not yet closed?

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  Yes, we are.  We are partnered with, oh, the Bartush, Krause, Pietila, Inspiring Oaks.  I'm just going off my memory here.  And probably some of the delay, you know, NRCS can, I guess, take a little bit of the blame for that.  You know, our process for a partner to close an easement through our program is very rigorous.  There are a number of steps that the partner must go through and some of those from the landowner side can be very anxious and can be very cumbersome; but, you know, throughout the years, we've worked with our partners to try and, you know, streamline this as much as we can.

Perhaps the new Farm Bill may give us flexibility to streamline it even further.  We're keeping our fingers crossed for that.  But once we fund a project, very similar to the council, we will execute a contract in about September of the fiscal year and we give our partners 18 months to close.  That's our target to close.  So everything goes well, appraisals come back within estimates, easement deeds are negotiated and approved, you know, we can make that; but sometimes, again, there's things that come up that we don't anticipate that requires us sometimes to extend some agreements and as long as -- for NRCS, as long as the land trust or our recipient is making progress, you know, we're flexible and able to extend those agreements to allow it to close.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Any other questions, comments?

All right, thank you.

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Action Item 6 is the Presentation and Discussion of Suggested Selection Criteria Change.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for the brief respite on my voice.  Hopefully,

I can finish.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Ted can fill in if you aren't able to.

MR. ABERNATHY:  He always knows more than me, too.  So let me just -- a little background.  Coming in from this program, you know, this is certainly a working lands.  I met with Carter when I first came here and he's like, "Chris, I want you to target working lands," and that's the name of the program and that's the name of the statute.  But if you read the selection criteria, there's like this little disparity.  They really target habitat.  They don't talk about is it food and fiber, is it production, has it land been in -- you know, land like a family for 150 years.  They don't really look at those things.  They look at habitat, which is great because that's what we're all about.

So, but -- and some of our partners have come up and said, "You know, we think that the criteria are putting certain working lands at a disadvantage because they're not huge habitat properties.  They are grazing and food and fiber and cultivation and those things have been doing for 150 years or more."

So we took that into consideration and tried to figure out a way that we could just kind of tune up the selection criteria a little bit, and we did not -- I didn't change anything.  What I did, is I just kind of enhanced it and I did a red line version; but I wanted y'all to see that.  So if y'all are familiar with the term "best management practice," that's just -- it's called a BMP.  It's just what, you know, land managers do to help enhance habitat.  And so by identifying best management practices in the scoring criteria, I can see if a landowner is doing those things to take care of his resources while managing a working property.

And also based on our partner's suggestion, is that we're going to try to add an agricultural representative to our scoring committee.

Currently, the scoring committee consists of our biologists and our team members within.  Now, I have an ag degree.  I feel like I can represent the ag community, but to have a -- like, an A&M Extension person in that local area would be really good because they're going to know those properties and they're going to know -- so we're hoping to have somebody like that to be on our selection committee.

So here's the red line.  This was a lot bigger when I made it.  So I apologize.  Look at your --

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  May I ask -- Chris, may I ask a question?

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yes, sir.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  And this may be real elementary and out of place; but with that selection committee, do you have a landowner producer on the scoring committee?

MR. ABERNATHY:  No, sir.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  You mentioned adding someone with agricultural background; but I also heard you, right behind that, refer to someone that's employed by an institution or a government entity.  I would suggest bringing someone in from industry to help with the scoring criteria.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Could you elaborate what you define as industry?

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Well, a producer.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Okay.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Actual landowner.

MR. ABERNATHY:  I agree 100 percent.  We just need to be careful of conflicts of interest, obviously.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Well, avoiding conflicts of interest; but just a suggestion, I think it would be a good thing to bring their wisdom to the table.

MR. ABERNATHY:  And someone that's willing to do that.  But based on my previous experience, you've got to make sure they have the continuity.  So I would like to have someone that can serve continually, you know, so they continue that continuity throughout the program as averse -- as opposed to someone that just kind of spot fills.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Well, just a suggestion.  I think it's always good to keep industry involved.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you.

I'm going to find some place where I can read this.  So this is a collaboration between Ted and I.  Again, this is a strike-out version.  We added -- we kind of took out -- and, Ted, that was yours -- but taking out the market dynamics for money, we took the money portion out of it and we added the preservation of natural resources and agricultural productivity for money.  So we kind of switched those two off.

But here's where, you know, it really gets to the meat.  Is, like, the watershed -- we're going to move to the next one.  So watershed, water quality to BMPs include buffer zones to stream or riparian wetland areas, BMPs to minimize sediment and nutrient loading of runoff, and BMPs for agricultural practices that minimize the water consumption.

If you're a good land manager and you want to protect your resources and keep your property in shape for a long time and protect your -- these are the things that you do.  To me, this is -- I'm a range manager professional.  This is range management 101.

COUNCIL MEMBER LAKE:  Quick question on that one.  It looks like you removed aquifer recharge features.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Go back to that slide, please.

COUNCIL MEMBER LAKE:  I'm curious as to the thinking on that.

MR. ABERNATHY:  We might address that on the next page, but -- well, we certainly want to take consideration for karst topography.  There's no doubt about that.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Sir, we felt it was redundant with that next bullet.  We felt like aquifer recharge value --

COUNCIL MEMBER LAKE:  Okay, got you.

MR. ABERNATHY:  But as far as sensitive areas, our baseline surveys would identify karst features.  Anything that obviously would be directly a conduit.  I just spent five years at the Edwards Aquifer Authority.  So I'm real tuned up on, you know, direct conduits to the recharge zone and to the aquifer, so.

COUNCIL MEMBER LAKE:  That makes sense.

Thank you.

MR. ABERNATHY:  So we added another -- under fish and wildlife best management practices, again, you know, designation and protection of sensitive habitat zones, bank stabilization, erosion control, and consolidation of infrastructure.  That means things like watering locations, confined feeding operations or offsite from -- you know, there's just, you know, a lot of old practices were damaging to water quality and then they create a lot of runoff and a lot of E. coli in the water and a lot of impairments and nutrient loading and then, you know, people have had to make changes over time.  And so that's what we're talking about there, consolidation of infrastructure, you know, in the uplands away from those sensitive features.

And then we just kind of modified the word -- you know, we added -- we struck "habitat," but added "habitat and agricultural viability" to that one criteria.  So it was really brief, but this is one -- this is your only action item today and we're asking your authority to implement these modifications to the selection criteria and see that we can -- we'll see what it does.  Hopefully, it will help us.  And we're obviously going to be more cognizant of just looking at those working properties because it will help us and assign a numeric value to some of those actions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  In the working -- just some of the working aspect of the potential properties, that -- which one of these are you saying is --

MR. ABERNATHY:  I'm having a hard time hearing you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Which one of these are you saying is going to level the playing field as far as working properties go?

MR. ABERNATHY:  Personally -- personally, sir, I think it would be the watershed value one.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  It would be what?

MR. ABERNATHY:  The watershed value.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Watershed.

MR. ABERNATHY:  It would be the first red line.  So those things that protect wetlands and streams, those practices that move cattle off of riparian and sensitive areas to reduce sediment loading and bank -- you know, impacting banks.  And then also the minimizing water consumption.  I think that those would be -- for working lands, if those guys -- if they're using those, that's a real core work ethic I would -- I guess you can say for a land manager.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  Mr. Chairman, may I?

I first want to compliment you, Ted and Chris, on the changes.  I appreciate the spirit behind them.  I'm a little concerned that we haven't really -- what you're doing is saying, "If I have a working land, I'm going to make sure it takes care of the habitat."

But the statute says, No. 1, give priority to productive agricultural lands.  And as you went through the list earlier of the projects we've had -- and I understand you're new to the program, and I voted for them.  So I
take more blame than you here.  But it's -- there was only one where you mentioned, "Oh, this is a working ranch."

MR. ABERNATHY:  Uh-huh.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  And that is my background.  I do come -- I'm here because I live on and work on a working ranch and it's what we do.  But that is what the statute says to do, too, is to give priority to productive agricultural lands.  And more and more every day, food production is a concern for our country, as well as the world.  We are the food producer.  And as farmlands -- which I don't live on, but I appreciate -- are reduced in number and acreage, even though the efficiency is going up every year thanks to technology, I still am not seeing -- I'm seeing a lot of emphasis on habitat, habitat, habitat.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Uh-huh.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  Not on preserving our agricultural lands.

MR. ABERNATHY:  I'm just going -- I don't think that we have the authority because we're talking about a statute --

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  That says --

MR. ABERNATHY:  -- that says these things because I would love -- you know, I love food and fiber.

You know, let's go up to the Panhandle and get something out of -- you know, all cotton and let's go down -- I agree with you 100 percent with food and fiber.  But evidence shows and the history shows that these
properties that are coming to us are not those.  They're not real crops, typically; and there are not large cattle operations.  And, in fact, the ones that do have cattle operations, they excised those portions from the
conservation program.  I'm not sure why, but that's happened.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  If I could?

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  Please.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Ms. Kinsel, you have in your notebook behind Tab No. 3, you actually have the statute that we are constrained by and Section 84.010, 84.010 dictates the criteria for awarding grants.  And what we've done literally is gone into those criteria and try to massage them to allow us to award points for working lands that are well managed and still abide by what's dictated in statute.  And I can assure you we are very open to any suggestions that any council person might have about how we can do even more of that.

It is a working lands program.  We get that.  The criteria for selection are dictated in statute, and we're trying to -- we're trying to -- and I hate the term "level the playing field" because these are all terrific projects and we really -- we have a lot of programs that conserve fish and wildlife habitat.  We don't have a lot of programs that conserve really healthy agricultural lands, which is clearly the intent by the title here.  So we're trying to find that ground and -- excuse me, I didn't know Chris was contagious.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Apparently I am.  We room together.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  But we certainly welcome your input in this -- we welcome your input because we do want this to be a working lands program.

We want to conserve working lands that are well managed, of course; but we also want to make sure that when we get audited, we're in compliance with what the statute has told us the selection criteria are.

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  I have a question,

Mr. Chairman.

Chris, the categories of these -- like on this slide here -- you've got threat of development of other conservation to protect productive working lands.

In parentheses you have a 20.  Is that the points for that category?

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yes, sir.  Yes,

Mr. Chairman.

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  Okay.  So is there any flexibility to adjust those points?  Maybe perhaps give one that benefits working lands higher points and less points for another one?

MR. ABERNATHY:  I would have to ask my lawyer that question.  Change in the numeric value of a criteria, that makes me nervous.  Tuning up -- you know, fine tuning the criteria and defining what that means, you know, for somebody who may not know, that doesn't make me nervous; but changing numeric values makes me nervous.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  84.01(1) and (2), one says what you are addressing, that lands -- agricultural lands that are susceptible to development including subdivision and fragmentation and then two lists the criteria to consider and it really doesn't reflect the working aspect of a central property.  Am I misreading that?

MR. MURPHY:  Since you called on your lawyer, I guess I'll just jump in.  Again, James Murphy, Staff Attorney for Program.

To your question, Mr. Ross, yes, absolutely we can address the scoring and the numbers, the points that go with each of those.  And if you felt as though -- to your point, Chairman Morian -- that 84.010(1) shows a legislative intent to elevate that particular scoring criteria to a higher point total, we certainly could rearrange those point totals for each such that that number one does have a higher amount than others.  I think that's an excellent idea, Mr. Ross.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Does one -- point 1 really address the priority to protect agricultural lands?

MR. MURPHY:  It certainly does.  And as you see from the scoring criteria, currently we show that as a 20, which is on par with some of our other watershed --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Okay.  Working lands, yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  -- values and others.  And so just for discussion purposes, we could up that to 25 or 30 and have a corresponding reduction in the others, such that preventing fragmentation of agricultural land becomes the elevated criteria when evaluating these.

One other thing I'll point out about the addition of the BMPs in a couple of these, both on this page under watershed value and under fish and wildlife value, since we have the statute in front of you, if you turn to the next page, which is 84.010(e) or (2)(e) I should say, one of the -- I'm sorry, (F) -- one of the criteria is a resource management plan agreed to by both parties and approved by the council.  One of the things that we see is that an application that includes these BMPs that we've listed under fish and wildlife and watershed values, we think that that is associated with this resource management plan described in the statute.

And to your point about, you know, wanting to have more fully negotiated easements at the outset before the application is filed, we think that that's what the Legislature intended.  Is that the landowner and the Trust will have already agreed on a plan for how this property will be managed and that would include a set of BMPs and so that's what we've attempted to impose here in the scoring criteria changes for watershed value and for fish and wildlife value, really elevating the importance of that resource management plan.  That's the core of how a conservation oriented farm and ranch working lands will operate.

Hope I've answered your questions.  Do you have any others for the lawyer?

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  Thank you, James.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  And let me just emphasize again that the intent was to give the scoring committee opportunities to award more points to working lands on the basis of the fact that they're working and -- but, again, would love any input that any council person has regarding how we might accomplish that to an even greater extent.  Y'all have mentioned to use in previous meetings and a number of our partners have mentioned that no matter how you read these criteria, they seem to -- they seem to give an edge to projects that are just traditional fish and wildlife conservation projects, which is not the intent; but it's how it's played out.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Question.  On the action item, is the action item referring to just the criteria change or is that including -- and I'm going to go back to what I just mentioned -- are we also going to be voting on the agricultural representative that's going to be added to the scoring committee?

MR. ABERNATHY:  The latter, sir.  All three conditions in the first slide would constitute the changes where I talked about considerations.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Okay.  Again, I would like to discuss further or at least suggest to this council that agricultural representative would mean an agricultural producer from industry.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  We certainly welcome the input of the council and --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  It's defined -- members are defined in the statute.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  The members of the council.  We're talking about -- we can add anyone we want -- anyone that you'd like us to the selection --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  The scoring process.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Scoring committee and this simply says agricultural representative.  I would suggest that be -- the purpose of that would be to add someone from industry, not necessarily from whatever governmental entity we might choose.  I think it provides a little more wisdom and common sense of practical reality out on the working lands.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  And we will adopt whatever motion the council directs us to adopt.  We're not --

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Well, I guess I'm asking if I need to amend -- I don't see a motion suggested, but I would sure make that part of a motion.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  I think it's a great idea.

COUNCIL MEMBER ZACEK:  Mr. Chairman, if I might add to that.  There are -- working for a commercial bank, there are property management people that are out there that represent property owners, the landowner if you will.  Example, trust departments that engage in the management of ranch -- farm and ranch properties.  So there's people that are out there that certainly understand the industry producer.  And so I might even suggest that a representative of a property manage -- of the property owner be maybe a part of what Rex is suggesting.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Yes, sir.  John, I'm just -- I'm trying to get someone --

COUNCIL MEMBER ZACEK:  Absolutely, fully agree.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  -- in any of those arenas that's out there and understands day-to-day issues that property owners deal with and landowners.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Mr. Chairman, I'm looking for a level of trust that the landowners -- and that community, in general, can say somebody's out there at table representing us and that's why, you know, we went to the Texas Water Development meeting last -- you know, a couple weeks ago and stuff.  We want to become involved with them, and we want that level of trust with the ag community.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Yes, sir, and I think this will help.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Well, I think so.  Yes,

I'm excited.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Okay.  We're going to incorporate that.

MR. ABERNATHY:  I'm sorry, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  We're going to incorporate that when we get to a motion.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Okay.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  What was the -- what's the -- how does everybody feel about changing the 20 points?  Where do you take whatever points you decide to add, where do you take that away?  It seems to me if you did raise from 20 to something higher, that would give --

MR. ABERNATHY:  We'll have to reduce something somewhere else.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  And if you're going to -- I would -- fish and wildlife --

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Yeah.  I was going to say can you lower that one?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Can you lower --

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  To 15?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Make that a 15 because I don't think we lack in projects that reflect fish and wildlife value.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  And not only that, Chairman, but fish and wildlife value gets incorporated into watershed values.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Yeah.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Right, it gets incorporated throughout.  So cutting that to 15 doesn't mean that you're de-leveling the playing field for values that we also hold, you know, very dear to our mission, in addition to this production of the land.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Mr. Chairman, could I make a suggestion to you?  On the terms of conservation easement, the last one, it's worth ten points.  But to be honest, our easements -- in order to get through any of us, will always be perpetual and will always have an accredited easement holder and will always have, you know, prohibit fragmentation and stewardship.  So I think we could trim five off of there and give it to some other more critical area.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Well, the easements don't have to be perpetual, do they?

MR. ABERNATHY:  Ours -- well, you're right.  They do not, but ours have been.  We have not had anybody that has done something other than a perpetual.

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  Statute requires perpetual or 30 years.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Or 30.  I'm just saying that that -- we pretty much -- that's locked in.  That last -- those last three are --

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  That's automatic or you're not going to get here anyway.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yeah.  You're not going to make that hoop if you can't do that, so.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  And if someone wants to reserve more building sites, then that's going to reduce their monetary.  So that sort of self-regulates itself.

MR. ABERNATHY:  So we could either give ten points to the conservation landscape -- I'm sorry, five points.  If we took five away from the last one, we could either give it to the conservation landscape, which is, you know, contiguous of existing conservation.

Has, you know, some of those items that they've identified.  I'm just --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  I would recommend taking five away from fish and wildlife because that -- so much of that is covered by the watershed value.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Uh-huh.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  And then the question is:  Do you want to take five away from term of the conservation easement?  So you have 30, 20, 20, 10, 5.

I'm just throwing that out for discussion.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Let me make sure I have you, Mr. Chairman:  30 for threat, 20 for value, 20 for watershed, and 15 for fish?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Fifteen.

MR. ABERNATHY:  And then that would allow me the five for --

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  Correct.

MR. ABERNATHY:  -- the terms?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Yeah.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Does that still make a hundred?

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  So we have five -- we're missing five somewhere.

MR. ABERNATHY:  We're missing five points?

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Aren't we?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Water --

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  20, 20 -- did you give 25 to watershed?

MR. ABERNATHY:  Oh, I apologize.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  No, no.  I kept watershed at 20 and recommended fish and wildlife at 15.

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  You're suggesting thirty for --

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Yeah, 30 for --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Conservation -- contribution and term is five.

MR. ABERNATHY:  I got that part.

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Is 30 the first number then?

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yes, ma'am.

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Then you're even.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Okay.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  That just seems to me to be more in the spirit of --

MR. ABERNATHY:  I agree, Mr. Chairman.

Especially the part about if it's experiencing a development and fragmentation, that's our number one criteria.

COUNCIL MEMBER ROSS:  Chris, what criteria does the selection committee look at to determine productive working lands?

MR. ABERNATHY:  Well, I have not been through this process.  So I'm not really -- you know, I'll have to maybe defer to Ted or --

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Ted, is who we're marketing to or who comes to us or like Rex's concern, Leslie's concern, is it because we don't tell those people about it or they don't know and so most of what we get is conservation, not working lands?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Yes and yes and yes.

We are constrained, of course, by the applications we receive.

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Right.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  The applications to date have predominantly come from Nature Conservancy con, Hill Country Conservancy, these conservancies that are primarily focused on fish and wildlife values.

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Right.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Chris is going out now to some of the conventions and has discovered that there is a lack of awareness of this project.  I mean, I know NRCS has done a good job of trying to getting the word out and Texas Ag -- I mean, Texas Land Trust Council has.  And yet, there's still a lot of local trusts and landowners that are not aware of what we do.

We are -- Chris is investing more and more time in trying to get that word out.

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Okay.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  So that we do get -- so that we do get applications to conserve what we think of as working lands.  So there's some of both of those going on.

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  Right.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Do you think that's a -- or a combination of lack of marketing or do you think that is the reluctance of a rancher to --

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  I would say reluctant -- both.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  Both.  From what I see from the producer side, there's a lot of suspicion first.

COUNCIL MEMBER KOEHLER:  For sure.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  So there's a hurdle to overcome.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  And I'm a rancher, and I gave the easement; but it had nothing to do with my cattle ranch.  It had to do with the timber.  So it was an easy decision.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  But "Livestock Weekly" published an article just last week or so.  I mean, it --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Yeah.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  There is a movement.

MR. MURPHY:  And, Chairman, I just want to emphasize one of the challenges we face when developing these scoring criteria is that when they did move the program to Parks and Wildlife Department, they did remove one of the criteria for awarding grants and that was to the protection of highly productive agricultural lands.  To Legislature did direct us to remove agricultural productivity from our scoring process specifically and focus more on risk of fragmentation and loss of the land, less so on how productive it is for agriculture.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Right, yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  So that's one of the tensions that you see here in trying to develop the scoring criteria is to, you know, properly elevate agricultural lands, but not link it necessarily to the productivity of those lands.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  You know, I don't think -- I don't think -- I don't see anything in here that talks about productivity specifically in our criteria.  I mean, if it's a working cattle ranch next to a metropolitan area that's going to be developed.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  We actually inserted that under that second bullet for value.  That last bullet, I snuck that one back in.  Agricultural productivity for the money, again, under the concept of value.  I do want us to be able to look at a piece of property and determine if it's well managed and if it's productive and it's something we're going to hope is still producing 20 and 50 years from now.  And so I -- so we do have an opportunity to at least score some points for that value.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  So that's really efficiency is what you're --

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Efficiency, yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  I misread that.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Well managed, well managed lands.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Okay.  Okay.

COUNCIL MEMBER ZACEK:  Mr. Chairman, I might add as I look at these changes and I compliment Chris and everybody that's played a part in that and the scoring idea I think is really great and somewhat support of that, a property down on the Texas coast that are truly going to be nothing but working ranches is now in a watershed that's been identified as having some E. coli/salmonella problems and it's all related to runoff, nutrient runoff and all the things that you said so much better than I can.  But at the end of the day, a ranch like what we're talking about now, is going to score so much better in the application process because they're productive ranches.  They're going to stay productive ranches, and they're going to -- I think they're just going to score better on paper when we -- and we're going to get a chance to look at those as a result of that.  So I certainly support the changes being recommended.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Mr. Chairman, I'll attempt to put a motion forward.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Good.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  I would move the -- make the motion that we accept the criteria with the numbers changed to terms of conservation easement to five, fish and wildlife to 15, threat of development to 30, with the adding of an agricultural representative from industry would be inserted into the program considerations.

And, Chris, I appreciate your efforts on all of this and I know --

MR. ABERNATHY:  Thank you, sir.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  I know both of us are looking for a closer on the land experience.  So that would be my motion, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  We have a motion.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  I second.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Second Council Member Kinsel.  All in favor say aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Any opposed?

MR. ABERNATHY:  Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask Mr. Rex -- or Mr. Isom if he would make sure that he -- will Rusty be available to help us find folks that --

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  Sure.  We'll be glad to help.  John just had a great idea.  I think --

MR. ABERNATHY:  Representatives, yeah.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  So I think if we look, they're there I think.

MR. ABERNATHY:  Okay.  Thank you,

Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Thank you.  I think that's a meaningful improvement.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Me too.  Thank you.

Did you want to take the speakers?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Yes.  We have some speakers on Action Item No. 6.  Actually, I have to -- this is before the motion, so.  James Oliver, Texas Agricultural Land Trust.  Blair, you're -- Blair Fitzsimons from Texas Agricultural Land Trust.  Hi, Blair.

MS. BLAIR FITZSIMONS:  Good morning.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Good morning.

MS. BLAIR FITZSIMONS:  Mr. Chairman, members of the council, this actually may be a moot point now that you've passed your motion.  I'm Blair Fitzsimons, CEO of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust. With me today is James Oliver, our COO who handles our land conservation work.  James can answer any questions about projects that we have pending before the council. That's not what I wanted to talk about; but full disclosure, we did have five projects that we submitted last year.

All five were working ranches, and one was selected for an award.  But what I wanted to do today really was offer myself as a resource to the council for this discussion on the scoring criteria.  I had the honor in 2005 of working with Representative Geren when we were developing the legislation to create the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program.

For those of you new to the council and unaware of the history, there had been a previous bill the session before that that had -- was not successful largely because it didn't have the support of the agricultural community.  So in 2005, we worked very closely with three or four statewide side ag organizations, as well as the land trust community to development a program that was truly a program designed for working lands conservation.

The point being that 84 percent of the land base in this state is in a working farm, ranch, or timberland; and we needed program that emulated the NRCS program that helped us draw down that funding, which Texas is sorely missing.  There was confusion over the program and the intent to be a working lands program.

At the time, it's housed at the General Land Office.  So in 2015, again, putting together a coalition of land trusts and agricultural groups, we went back to the Legislature and thought we had clarified it; but based on this conversation today, I think we just muddied the waters even more.

What we did in 2015, was to take agricultural lands out of the list of five or six scoring criteria and move it up, as you see in the statute, to number one on the list saying that the purpose of the program is to protect agricultural lands.

We had a long debate about whether to have the word "productive" in there.  Decided to take "productive" out because that was going to be too difficult.  Did that mean that we had to base it on actual economic numbers?

It was very unclear how the program could proceed with that word in there.  So it was taken out.

But the thought was if we lifted agricultural lands up to number one and had the scoring criteria follow after that, that it would be clear that the purpose was agricultural lands; but I think it sounds like -- you-all have done a good job and I commend Chris and Ted and your discussion here today, but sorry if we muddied the waters even more.  The intent was to make it clear that this was a working lands program.  But purpose of my comments today really is just offer myself as a resource going forward to help clarify those discussions in 2015 and before.  So thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Thank you, Blair. We have one more speaker.  David --

MR. BEZANSON:  Bezanson.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  -- Bezanson, with the Nature Conservancy.  Thank you, sir.

MR. BEZANSON:  Mr. Chairman, Council, thank you.  So I just had one general comment, which is how much we've enjoyed working with Ted and Chris on this process and also Claude has helped us immeasurably.

Most of our projects are both -- aimed at both programs.

And, Claude, thank you for acknowledging that the federal process takes a little bit longer and that has been a factor in some of our delays; but I think we're getting close on all of our projects.

And then I had one specific comment on the criteria, which I had not, of course, seen until today; but it looks great.  And I just want to reassure the council about what you've voted for in the past as far as our projects.  They are all working lands.

They're all in production one way or another.  Some of them, the -- I think you would say the current production is fairly marginal.  Obviously, working lands that are not working now, can be working in the future.

But I did want to talk a little bit about a couple of the projects that we are working on that I think are very -- basically, what I want to communicate is that we -- the onus is on us to bring projects forward.  We did look at all of the criteria and respect all the criteria and we did try to find projects that it meets to check all the boxes.  And I'll mention one, in particular, the Krause Ranch which is not closed yet and it is -- Gary Krause is a -- he is a producer.  He did not start out there, but that's -- his primary focus of his ranch now is cattle.  They're his cattle and he works them and he sells them.  And that property also has a spring that's currently 2,500 gallons a minute.

So, you know, God forbid that we would ever get to the point where Real County is no longer a rural county with primarily agricultural focus; but if we ever get to that point, that easement does also have that watershed and aquifer value.  But for the time being, it's a cattle ranch.

The Bartush Ranch is a cattle ranch; and then I'm also mention Longleaf Ridge, which I was involved in that project as well and that's 6,000 acres of timberland.  So, you know, again what we're really trying to -- what we've been trying to do is find projects that are working lands.  We are very concerned about that; but that have other values, as well.

So I guess that's all I had to say; but also I can answer any questions about our projects if need be, so.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  You have how many pending projects?

MR. BEZANSON:  We have four pending.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  And are they all on track to close?

MR. BEZANSON:  Our -- yeah.  Our aim is that they would close toward the beginning of the session next year.  You know, we've had some unexpected delays, as we mentioned.  And I'll -- let me drill down a little bit on Pietila because I think that's a good example of what happens.  In that case, the -- as we mentioned, we did not get an appraisal prior to, obviously, the application to the grants programs.  And then when we did get the -- and two things.  One, we didn't get the appraisal until after; but also the landowner did not want to negotiate the terms of the conservation easement until we saw the appraisal, which is not a best practice, but that was the landowner's choice.  And so -- thank you.  So the -- we had kind of two issues.  We had to negotiate the easement late and we had to adjust to the appraisal on both sides, so.

More detail than maybe you wanted, but we --

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  No, that's good.

Thank you.

MR. BEZANSON:  We are mindful of the delays, and we are aiming at early next year.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Good.

COUNCIL MEMBER KINSEL:  I was thinking more from a cheerleader standpoint.  We need to crow in this Legislative session about what we've accomplished.

Thank you.

MR. BEZANSON:  Indeed.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Yeah.

COUNCIL MEMBER SCOTT:  Does the Nature

Conservancy take title to the land?

MR. BEZANSON:  We do not.  We're the easement holder in these.  In fact, I don't think -- per NRCS, I don't think we can ever take title to land that has one of these easements on it.

COUNCIL MEMBER SCOTT:  Can you convey that easement to someone else?

MR. BEZANSON:  It can be transferred.  We have no intention to ever do that, but we could.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Any other questions?

Thank you.

MR. BEZANSON:  Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  We have one more speaker signed up:  George Cofer.

MR. GEORGE COFER:  Thank you,

Mr. Chairman, Council Members.  I'm George Cofer, Chief Executive Officer of Hill Country Conservancy.  We work in six counties in the Texas Hill Country.  I also chose my great-great grandparents very carefully and we're producers in Uvalde County and have been there quite a while.  So I came into the land trust business from the landowner side of the table, so to speak.  And the Nature Conservancy, Hill Country Conservancy, Texas Agricultural Land Trust, and other good land trusts in Texas have greatly -- landowners have greatly benefited from this program.

So, No. 1, I'm here to simply say thank you and thank the staff.  It's been a long road to get to where we are today; and I think you can see by the quality of the projects, the number of the projects, and the leveraging of the funding for the program, that it's been very good for the State of Texas.

The main reason I'm here, in addition to saying thank you, is to urge all of us to begin thinking about more funding in the 20-21st Legislative session.

I'm a shameless fundraiser, Mr. Chairman, and it's never too early to start thinking about additional funding.

I'll just jump right to the point here.

The land trusts get more calls from Texas landowners today than we have funding to accommodate.  Even with the NRCS funding, even with some local bond funding in some of the cities and counties, with a sales tax program in San Antonio, it would greatly leverage and increase private land stewardship in Texas if we could have one more funding for this program.  I'll stop preaching to the choir there and simply say thank you, but 20-21 is not that far away.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Thank you very much for your comments.

Procedurally, we had a motion and a second on the vote.  So I guess that stands.

And we'll move on to Briefing Item No. 7, Mr. Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Mr. Chairman, members of the council, good morning.  My name is Ted Hollingsworth.  I am the Staff Director of the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program.  And after each of our previous meetings, at least one or two of you have cornered me about the prospects for increasing the funding available for the program and so I did want to open up the opportunity to discuss that this morning.

And so I want to go back to the legislation and talk about what the fund is and it defines the fund -- which is the money that you have access to to distribute for grants -- the fund consists of money appropriated by the Legislature to the fund and as you know in the previous two biennium -- biennia -- that has been $2 million per biennia and that is now in our base.  And unless something -- unless something catastrophic happens in this session ahead of us, I anticipate we would have at least $2 million in the base for the coming biennium.

The fund can also consist of public or private grants, gifts, donations, or contributions, funds from any other source, including proceeds from the sale of bonds, state, or federal mitigation funds or funds from any local, state, or federal program.  So it's very broad.  Anyone who's willing to see funds transferred into this program for use by the program is probably legitimate according to statute.  And then the council may request, accept, or use gifts, loans, donations, aid, appropriations, guarantees, subsidies, grants, or contributions of any items of value for the furtherance of this chapter and the council may seek ways to coordinate and leverage public and private sources of funding.  Again, very broad opportunity there.

To date, again, the program has received 23 grant applications from qualified nongovernmental entities and one university.  The total amount requested to date is a little over $11 million.  The council has awarded $3.7 million towards 14 projects. I want to emphasize this first bullet. In the slides that Chris showed you in his first presentation, he mentioned the value of these conservation easements.  That's the appraised -- in most cases, the appraised yellow book or federal standards appraisal of the value.  Not of the land, but of the conservation easement.  And to date, for every million dollars you've awarded, approximately $8 million worth of conservation easements have been closed or are in the working right now and we anticipate they be closed soon.

So this is a tremendous amount of leverage that occurs for each dollar that the council awards.  Funds made available to the council for grant awards, return a tremendous value in the conservation of Texas working lands.  And even though Chris didn't emphasize the working aspects of the projects he showed you, David did make the -- did well make the point that all of these are working lands.  Some of them I'm just going to say more so than others; and hopefully today, we've taken moves to make sure that we're not working against those lands that truly are working lands in the traditional sense.

And I would say that I, in particular, have watched for opportunities that we might have to supplement that state appropriation of funding.  My access to funds outside that state source, of course, is limited.  I do want to mention that there is a Texas -- there is a Texas foundation that is starting a new program called the "Land Conservation Program" next year and they are in the process of articulating exactly what, their goals are and what that application selection procedure is; but it very much parallels what we do here.

They're targeting working lands that have strategic conservation values, particularly water.

They've reached out to me.  At this point, we haven't had enough face time to determine what our relationship is.  I don't know if they're interested in making a grant to the council.  I don't know if they just want to share expertise or maybe share applicants or how we want to leverage each other’s interests, but their interests very much parallel interests of this council and I'm very optimistic there's going to be more money made available to the conservation -- to the land trust community for the conservation of working lands starting sometime next year.  So, again, keeping our eyes and ears open for other opportunities.

And, again, the council certainly has those opportunities, as well.  And I believe that's what -- that's my presentation.  And, again, wanted to open -- have the floor open for the opportunity for the council to discuss ways we might bring more money to the table.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Any suggestions or comments?  We would all love to find more money.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  Easier said than done, isn't it?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Yes, it seems to be that way.

COUNCIL MEMBER ISOM:  I guess, Mr. Chairman, just go to a bank and a real friendly banker.  Maybe?

COUNCIL MEMBER SCOTT:  They've got plenty of money.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  And who wouldn't want they're money leveraged eight to one, right?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Well, it's such a successful important program that hopefully we can build up some additional sources of funding.  I don't know from where, but there are people that are enthusiastic about this approach to conservation.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH:  And we certainly do want to recognize the work of Roel and Blair and others that have really put together some compelling statistics and some compelling presentations.  The last session wasn't the best session for looking for supplemental funding; but, again, their work is -- if you haven't seen it, it is very compelling and I anticipate that they'll keep up that effort and would love to see that base grow because, again, if we had more money, we could award more of those grants, including those -- including those working lands grants that are going to score higher in the next cycle.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Okay.  Any other comments?

Thanks, Ted.

Item No. 8 is Public Comment Session.

And I don't believe we have anybody signed up to speak;

but if there's anybody here that would like to --

MR. JAMES OLIVER:  Mr. Chairman?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Yes.

MR. JAMES OLIVER:  Good morning,

Mr. Chairman, Council Members.  My name is James Oliver.

Along with serving as the Chief Operating Officer of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust, I've spent a lot of time in the cattle business.  I've spent 15 years as a production ag lender and the last ten years as the director of a small regional bank and I would really like to commend your efforts today on further weighting the program and clarifying weighting the program toward working ag lands.  It's -- we're growing smaller in number and in some cases in some perceptions, in significance as well.  So thank you very, very much.

I wanted you to know that the project that we're working on through Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program and the Natural Resource Conservation Service is truly a working lands project.

It's a geographical diversification of a family from Wyoming that are cattle ranchers there.  I'd like to thank Ted and the Department and Chris for helping us work through this first project and also for the flexibility of this program.  But, again, also thank each and every one of you for your service to agriculture.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Thank you.

Any other speaker?

Well, I would also like to add my two cents to say thanks to all of you for making an effort to come here today.  I think it's been very productive.

We'll see what we come up with for next spring.  I think July -- is that what we saw as the next possible meeting?

MR. ABERNATHY:  Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman.

That was what I was suggesting.  Somewhere July we'd hopefully be ready to present applications to y'all for June acceptance.  I need to apologize because I did not get y'all the paperwork and everything.  And I'm just going to say it was my first rodeo and I just wasn't ready for that.  We'll make sure that doesn't happen again and we'll get out in front of that a little bit more and I'll become a -- I'll pester the Chairman quite a bit more to get him to respond to me a little bit.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN:  Well, thanks for all your efforts that you did make.

And thank you, Ted.  Thank everybody else in the Department for their work.

And we're going to add, I think, a very valuable member to the committee evaluating these projects, which I think is a very productive addition.

And with that, I'll declare the meeting adjourned at 10:35.

(Meeting Adjourns)

In official recognition of the adoption of this resolution in a lawfully called public meeting of the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council, we hereby affix our signatures this _______ day of ___________________, __________.


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S. Reed Morian, Chairman

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Peter Lake, Member

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Rex Isom, Member

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Roel Lopez, Member

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Sid Miller, Member

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Salvador Salinas, Member

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Thomas R. Kelsey, Member

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Leslie L.W. Kinsel, Member

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Natalie Cobb Koehler, Member

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Gilbert Riojas, Member

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George D. Scott, Member

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John Zacek, Member




C E R T I F I C A T E

STATE OF TEXAS   )

COUNTY OF TRAVIS )

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, RPR
CSR No.: 8311
Expiration: December 31, 2020
7010 Cool Canyon Cove
Round Rock, Texas 78681
(512)779-8320