Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
April 2, 2003Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 2nd day of April, 2003, there came on to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Parks and Wildlife Commission of Texas, in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, beginning at 9:00 a.m. to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
Katharine Armstrong, Austin, Texas, Commission Chair
Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, San Antonio, Texas
Ernest Angelo, Jr., Midland, Texas
John Avila, Jr., Fort Worth, Texas
Alvin L. Henry, Houston, Texas
Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas
Kelly W. Rising, M.D., Beaumont, Texas
Mark E. Watson, Jr., San Antonio, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Good morning, everyone. The meeting is called to order. Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Cook has a statement to make.
MR. COOK: 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 Section 551 of the Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Law. I would like for this action to be noted in the official record of this meeting.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Mr. Cook.
We will begin with the Regulations Committee.
Commissioner Fitzsimons, will you call your Committee to order?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Chairman.
The Regulations Committee meeting will come to order at 9:02. Our first order of business is the Chairman's Charge.
MR. COOK: Thank you, sir. Mr. Chairman, if you don't mind, before we proceed? We had a death in our Parks and Wildlife family this week that ‑‑ I'd like to note a funeral today for our Fine Art manager, Rob Fleming. I know you've seen his artwork; he's just an incredible artist, a 13-year veteran of the Department. He passed away this last Sunday after a long illness, and funeral services are today. We'll all miss Rob, and our thoughts are with the family.
With that, it ‑‑ I would like to announce to you ‑‑ to tell you that at the close of this Commission meeting, we will have addressed all of our Chairman charges for this biennium. Upon the completion of the current legislative session, we will begin the process of providing recommendations to the chairman and to you for the development of the new charges for the upcoming biennium.
I'd like to give you an update on this year's crab trap clean-up. On February 22, the Department held its second crab trap clean-up day. Almost 4,000 abandoned crab traps were picked up by volunteers, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Coastal Fisheries staff and game wardens, among others. To achieve this effort, a total of 494 volunteers assisted and 152 vessels were used. The area where the most traps were picked up was San Antonio Bay, where 159 volunteers and staff picked up 1,558 traps.
Mr. Chairman, at this point, I'd like to ‑‑ as far as our charges, I'd like to have Scott come up and give you an update on our CWD program, our monitoring efforts on that program and a little bit of other information. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ken Waldrup, welcome, sir.
DR. WALDRUP: Thank you.
MR. BORUFF: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director for Operations, but for purposes of today's presentation, I'm also the Acting Division Director for the Wildlife Division. I'd like to welcome Dr. Ken Waldrup to the table with me here from the Animal Health Commission. And I'd also like to recognize that Commissioner Woods from the Texas Animal Health Commission is in the audience, I believe.
As you will recall, a little over a year ago, the leadership of this Agency charged the Wildlife Division with putting together a chronic wildlife ‑‑ I mean a chronic wasting disease management plan. That process has been completed. I'm very proud to say that we've done this in a very cooperative spirit with our partners at the Texas Animal Health Commission and with many of our private volunteers that advise the Agency on issues like this.
So this has been a broad effort that has tried to draw in landowners, large and small, conservationists with mixed interests and two agencies that are charged with trying to take care of these populations in the state of Texas. The plan was developed, as I said, last year; it was implemented about two months ago.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time with the details of the plan, but I would like to say that it's a plan that we think is flexible; it will grow as we get more science and good data that give us information to go in new directions in trying to address this disease.
Let me get my glasses out here.
MR. BORUFF: Okay. This first slide that we'd like to show you is a distribution of CWD in North America. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this. There are two colors that you'll see up there. The green color indicates where CWD has been identified in captive facilities. The red circles are areas where CWD has been identified in free-ranging deer herds.
Since your last update last August which we gave you, Utah has been added to the list of states where a single mule deer has been found to have CWD. A little closer to home, we have had seven positives in New Mexico since your last update, four of 15 samples taken from the White Sands Missile Base tested positive, and three of seven from a public hunt on the east side of the Oregon Mountains tested positive. Those ‑‑ some of those are within 35 miles of the Texas border.
We're proud to say that at the end of this year's exercise ‑‑ and by the way, I might point out that the plan envisions this process being reviewed annually so that we can step back and take a look at what happened and make decisions and combine that with new information and new science that has come forward. So we'd like you to consider this your annual update; we will be presenting a written report in the new future once we've had time to get back together with the group and get the written report completed.
But for this year, we tested 2,043 animals. And you can see the breakdown there. The large majority of those were animals taken from our own sites, our wildlife management areas and state parks. The animal health commission submitted some 335. Another 336 were submitted by the private sector. The total of those was 2,043 samples this year.
This map represents the distribution of the samples that were taken across the state of Texas. Of the 2,043 samples, 1,722 could be tracked to a specific county; the remaining 321 could not be identified by county because they had landowner names and other things that precluded us from tracking that information specifically.
You might notice that ‑‑ I'm not sure how well you can see it, but down in the bottom left-hand corner, there's a sample-per-county matrix that shows you how many samples were tested in each county, by color. In summary, what I'd like to point out to you is that 212 of 254 counties had zero or less than ten samples in the county; only 42 counties that submitted had greater than ten samples. There is some significance to that, but I'm going to leave that to Dr. Waldrup to address with you in a moment.
The next slide shows you the CWD samples by ecological region as of April 1, pretty current numbers there. There again, I'm not going to spend a lot of time with this. I will let you know that we have had conversations with USDA in which they have indicated that this is really a model system for how to deal with CWD in the future in the United States: A broad partnership that includes state agencies that have oversight authority, a close cooperation with landowner groups particularly in a state like Texas, where there's large landowner representation out there.
And by and large, we are very excited with what we've been able to accomplish so far. And we intend to continue this process again next year.
Dr. Waldrup, would you like to say anything?
DR. WALDRUP: Thank you, very much, Scott, Commissioners, Chairman Fitzsimons.
I can't just begin to tell you how proud I am of what we've done this past year. When you actually look nationwide, Texas tested more animals than some of the states that actually had CWD. And, again, I certainly recognize the financial contribution that TP&W has made and acknowledge that.
I do echo what Scott said. This is a very, very good first step in what's a process. It wasn't designed to be a be-all and end-all, you know, "Just this year, and then let's stop." We actually got more numbers than we had anticipated. Our target was 1,500; we got over 2,000, which, to be honest, this time last year, was our wildest dreams. So we ‑‑ again, I just can't emphasize to you how good a first step this was.
As Scott has already pointed out with some of the maps, we've got some counties that we got, you know, lots and lots of samples from; we feel very confident with those, but we have a lot of counties that still have substantial deer populations that, you know, we still need to sample. We need to extend this.
Even in some of the counties that ‑‑ the 1,500 total target that we set last year was based on a statistical calculation of trying to find the first case in a population that might have a 2 percent prevalence of disease. So even in those ecoregions where we had greater than 150 samples, it doesn't mean those ecoregions are free; it simply means we expected to find a 2 percent prevalence and we didn't. It doesn't mean they're free. It's just that if the disease is there, it's less than 2 percent.
As Scott has mentioned, we also have submitted a plan to USDA for them to fund the sampling for next year. They in their plan want us to go even further, to look for it at a 1 percent prevalence, rather than two. I think this is perfectly reasonable. If we didn't find it at 2 percent, then we need to go further on.
We've also got some of our ecoregions that we didn't reach those samples for, you know, the target for a variety of reasons. Obviously, the Trans-Pecos is one. We don't have very high densities out there, but that's right next-door to New Mexico. So that one's going to be a challenge.
And again, in our USDA proposal, to meet that 1 percent prevalence type of surveillance, it basically triples our numbers. So there's still going to be a challenge in front of us, but, again, I just cannot emphasize and crow enough about what a good start we got.
I'll be glad to answer any questions, you know, from the committee.
MR. COOK: I think I'd like to comment just from the standpoint of the people in the Department who worked hard on this all across the divisions, particularly in state parks and in our wildlife management areas, and did a great job. We had a lot of people out there, as well, looking for suspect animals and issues like that, who did a good job.
I think ‑‑ Scott's point that working with the hunter and landowner groups that we work with in developing this plan and, now, refining this plan and looking back and saying, "Okay; Having learned what we've learned, where do we go from here," I think, is a great step for us to take early this summer and to get our plans laid out.
I appreciate what you've done.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: I can't help but comment that the ‑‑ more than twice of the samples submitted did come from Texas Parks and Wildlife wildlife management areas, state parks and Texas Parks and Wildlife-sponsored public hunts.
Have you got, Scott or Ken, any suggestions on how to adjust that ratio to get more cooperation from private landowners? I think that as long as this ratio continues, that ‑‑ am I wrong in saying that the results are going to be skewed somewhat to ‑‑ I mean, we only have a certain amount of wildlife management areas, a certain amount of state parks and a certain amount of areas where we conduct public hunts.
And if Parks and Wildlife is submitting over 1,300 of those samples, they will have to necessarily come from those same places in the future. To get an accurate read of what's out there, we're going to have to do a better job of getting samples submitted by private landowners.
DR. WALDRUP: Yes, ma'am. That's entirely true.
MR. BORUFF: And I guess the strategy that we hope to continue is work closely with the landowners. I mean, clearly, one of the things that we want to be able to do is to work in a rational, conservative fashion but to also take to heart the serious nature of the disease ‑‑
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Sure.
MR. BORUFF: ‑‑ if it shows up. So we don't want to cause any panic, but we also want to work very closely with the landowners to come up with a plan that they see as viable to them in case this disease shows up in the state of Texas. So we continue ‑‑ would continue to go that direction.
MR. COOK: Scott, Dr. Waldrup, am I correct, just in seeing the flurry of information exchanged on this, that in the states where they have found CWD and are doing extensive testing, the infection rate appears to be significantly lower than some of the numbers that we originally heard? We originally heard some numbers like, you know, 12 percent, 15 percent and 20 percent. It sounds like, from what I'm seeing in here, now it's probably more in ‑‑ what they're finding is more in the range of 3 or 4 percent. Is that correct?
DR. WALDRUP: Actually, Mr. Cook, it has changed over the last year. Historically, for the last 20 years in Colorado and Wyoming, there ‑‑ those numbers have been fairly static. In the ‑‑ 1- to 2-percent of the elk in the endemic area are positive and 5 to 8 percent of the mule deer are positive. Wyoming does have one area that has white-tails, and white-tails tend to be about 8 to 10 percent in that one specific spot.
In Wisconsin, in that southern area, it has hung around 2 percent and has been that way for awhile. Illinois ‑‑ you know, we didn't ‑‑ Illinois didn't find their first one until last September. And they've tested 3,500 samples and found seven last I knew. So again, that's less than 1 percent.
Even in New Mexico, if you look across the state, it was very high right there around White Sands, but across the state, it's about 1 percent. Utah, again ‑‑ they were just doing routine samples and found the one positive to this point in time. So it's kind of a low percentage rate. So it's ‑‑ at the moment, at this point in time, it runs the gamut from very low to up to 10 percent in some places in Wyoming.
MR. COOK: I think, Commissioners, the point here that we're all hearing is that the learning curve on CWD is almost right straight up and ‑‑ nationwide. And we are participating in that, and we're getting a lot of help from folks and anticipate more.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: The way that it ‑‑ the way it appears to be developing and being found in more and more places, does that increase your feeling that ‑‑ or decrease it ‑‑ this is something that has been around a long time and that we're just now focusing on it and are just now really identifying it?
DR. WALDRUP: Commissioner Angelo, I think the jury's still out on that. Again, obviously, as more and more states test, if we continue to find that trend, then I would certainly agree that that's what has happened. It's a disease that was out there at a very low prevalence, and we just really didn't know what it was.
Now, we have had some states ‑‑ for example, Louisiana samples 1,000 deer this year. I haven't heard the exact distribution. And they did not find any. I know Arkansas was also testing.
Right now, we hear about the positives. Sometimes, it takes six months or so to hear about all the negatives that states have done. So I think the jury's still out on that, but that's a valid question.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ken, of the approximate ‑‑
I'm sorry. Were you ‑‑
DR. WALDRUP: No. That's ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Of the approximate one-third of those animals tested that were from private lands, what percentage of those came from captive, versus free-ranging?
DR. WALDRUP: Chairman Fitzsimons, I don't have a direct answer for you, and this is the reason, in that the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab, who does that testing, guards the confidentiality of that very, very closely. And so we ‑‑ they have been very free to give us the information, say, on a county level, but as ‑‑ when it comes down to specifics and when an individual's name is attached to that form, as I say, they guard that information quite closely.
So I'm not trying to dodge your question, and there's a very legitimate reason why I can't give you a specific answer. But I don't actually know ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. And that's the real challenge I see, because we don't want to create any disincentive to test; we want incentives, as Chairman Armstrong pointed out, for private operators to test. At the same time, when you look at that first slide, there's a distinction made professionally by animal health professionals between captive and free-ranging. And we see that we have states that have it captive and not free-ranging.
And one more piece of information ‑‑ I don't know the answer to how you maintain the incentive because certainly confidentiality is part of that. But maybe some of my fellow Commissioners have an idea.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: If ‑‑ well, I mean if we had greater participation by the private sector, regardless of whether it's free-ranging or captive, you would get some indication there, in that those white spots would be colored?
DR. WALDRUP: Yes, ma'am. That's true. And I think, also, once ‑‑ to me, August is the target date because ‑‑ we had a very strong influx of the scientific breeders into our program last summer, and August seems to have been a real spike in that. So we will find out some of these as we do those reviews on those ‑‑ that one-year review on those herds.
Another thing that my agency is still wrangling a bit with USDA about ‑‑ we feel very strongly that the captive herds ‑‑ the scientific breeders plus the other captive herds in the state that are in our program should be accounted for in our surveillance.
To me, every captive facility that does not have a death should count, not just the number of heads that go to the lab. As of yet, USDA has been a little slow on the uptake about that one, but we're still fighting that one pretty hard. But, again, I feel very strongly that all those animals that are under constant surveillance ‑‑ that's valuable information.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: In a sense, that counts for more. Because they are under constant surveillance, you know more.
DR. WALDRUP: I feel that way.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think that's a good point.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Of the 300 or so that came from the private sector, does that ‑‑ is there any way that you can extrapolate that to mean that 300-some-odd deer are the number that died in either captivity or free-ranging or ‑‑ is there any way you can ‑‑
DR. WALDRUP: No, ma'am, because I think that number also includes private hunters that, you know ‑‑
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: That participate?
DR. WALDRUP: ‑‑ harvested animals here in Texas but sent samples in just for their own information.
MR. BORUFF: In fact, out of the 336 samples provided by the private sector, 120 of those samples were provided under the ‑‑ in the Triple-T program, the requirement under Triple-T, to do testing before deer are moved, and an additional four were done by scientific breeders. So about 40 percent of the deer that are in that slide under private sector actually came as the result of requirements we have under the Triple-T and scientific breeder programs.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Doctor, I know that in the cattle business, you can have a certified-free-of-brucellosis herd. Are you aware of any states that have started any trend to where if you did sufficient testing over a long period of time, perhaps you could then have a "certified free-CWD herd"? Is that ‑‑ is there any state even moving in that direction?
DR. WALDRUP: Commissioner Ramos, are you talking about the entire state, or herds within the state?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well, our herds within the state ‑‑ herds like we have within the state of Texas, you can have a certified-free-brucellosis herd. And perhaps that might be an incentive for landowners to do the testing in hopes that after so many years, you then are classified as a CWD-free herd. And what I'm asking is: Are other states headed in that direction?
DR. WALDRUP: Well, again, let me point out something here in Texas. We do have a ‑‑ you know, my agency has that program, but it's for captive herds. There's not any plan to gain free-ranging status in any other states, and I don't know of a state that's doing that.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Because it seems to me that those landowners that are out there aggressively testing ‑‑ the sooner they get their samples in and the sooner they get tested ‑‑ there should be some incentive down the road to compensate that type of a landowner. And I was just wondering if any state had recognized that and perhaps had that as an incentive.
MR. COOK: Ken, something along that pattern is true, I believe, in the breeder herds around where with ‑‑ in a state that has, for example, not found CWD, breeders with three years of testing can import. And we modeled our rules basically after several of the other states'. That ‑‑ if they have tested clean for a three-year period, then we will accept their deer.
DR. WALDRUP: Yes, sir. That's true, although I would point out, Mr. Cook, that Texas actually led this.
MR. COOK: Yes.
DR. WALDRUP: We weren't following many states. They're following us.
MR. COOK: I was ‑‑ I ‑‑
DR. WALDRUP: But ‑‑
MR. COOK: I stand corrected. That's good.
DR. WALDRUP: ‑‑ we ‑‑ again, that's more for captive herds.
MR. COOK: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I know that we did some testing as part of the TTT program. Is there any ‑‑
Scott, maybe this is better directed at you. Now that the deer season's over, is there any procedure or any plan to where we might be able to get additional samples even during the off deer season? I ‑‑ and I just asked that generically, and I don't know if other states have done or had special programs to where you might be able to accelerate some of the testing during the off- or outside of the hunting season.
MR. BORUFF: I don't know that we have any aggressive plans to go out and harvest deer. I do know that we continue to plan to pick up or look at clinical deer that show up with symptoms that might smack of CWD, but we will not be going out and specifically harvesting during the off-season.
MR. COOK: We would have to ‑‑ it's also important here, I think, to point out that, you know, in that time frame that you're talking about, these deer that show all the signs that ‑‑ a landowner or land manager would need to call us. And somebody with one of our collecting permits would need to go collect that deer. We don't want them collecting deer and bringing them to us and saying, This deer looks sick.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Right. Well, it ‑‑ and my last comment is: It appears to me that although we've had some good results, we should not feel that because of that, we should back off.
In other words, like you said, Doctor, this is merely a jump-start. We've just started the program. And I commend you all for your cooperation.
DR. WALDRUP: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER RISING: I had a ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Rising?
COMMISSIONER RISING: I had a concern about the relatively low sampling rates in the New Mexico border areas and the high plains. Have we identified the factors responsible for the low ‑‑ the relatively low numbers? Have we been able to look at that to see why our sampling rates are ‑‑
MR. COOK: I can speak to that to some extent. Number One, deer populations, mule deer ‑‑ there's no white-tailed ‑‑ mule deer populations are very low in that area. We don't have any public hunts in those areas. And in addition, we do not ‑‑ for instance, we ‑‑ for all practical purposes, we don't hunt ‑‑ along that border, we don't have any public hunting areas that I can think of at all.
For instance, in that ‑‑ and one reason I had Scott go back to the slide: In that 111 counties that have zero samples, I can tell you just based on kind of old information that there's a bunch of those counties that don't have white-tailed deer. So we're never going to get some samples from some of them.
DR. WALDRUP: That's right.
MR. COOK: So ‑‑ but when we get into that central part of the state there and the south and, you know, there in the east, well, those white counties concern us.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Mark?
COMMISSIONER WATSON: I'd like to go back to Commissioner Ramos' comments about the certification of, you know, herds. You know, Texas Animal Health Commission today does issue certificates for tuberculosis-free exotics.
DR. WALDRUP: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: And I don't know what you mean by, "Captive herd," but I've got one of those certificates. And so why couldn't we ‑‑ I guess you consider it a captive herd it if's inside of a high fence. But I mean I've got one of those certificates. So why couldn't I, you know, take enough white-tails and get a similar certificate about CWD?
DR. WALDRUP: Part of the difference, Commissioner Watson, is that on your particular facility, you have either a surveyed or monitored status, which ‑‑ for tuberculosis, and that's based on a percentage. The reason we feel very uncomfortable right now in doing that for CWD is that we just don't know enough about the disease.
We do have, for example, right now in scientific breeders, those who have elk ‑‑ we've got, I think, nine herds here in the state that have official CWD status. We've got two white-tail scientific breeder facilities that have officially a one-year status right now and that are up toward Texarkana and others that, obviously, will be pending especially this summer.
So we do offer a CWD-free status for herds that meet those criteria. For example, Commissioner Wood, you know, with my agency ‑‑ her fallow deer herd has three-year status now for CWD. So we do have that ongoing, and with all the white-tailed herds that are now enrolled with us, over 220 of them ‑‑ presumably quite a few more will achieve status as we get past this one-year or the first-year date.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: Well, it just seems like to me if we could expand that ‑‑ I mean these are penned deer, I assume, that you're talking about.
DR. WALDRUP: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: And I think that ‑‑ for those of us who have high fences particularly, I think that would be a great incentive if we would be able to achieve something like that if ‑‑ as long as we, you know, submit a certain number of samples over a certain period of time.
DR. WALDRUP: Well, we're certainly amenable to that as long as we've got the scientific information to back it up. And the reason we can do that for TB is that ‑‑ theoretically, if you've got 100 white-tails, or 100 axis, deer and I put a TB-infected animal in the middle of them, over time, I have a very good idea of how that disease is going to spread. So then I can mathematically calculate, again, at any point in time how many I need to sample.
That's the difficulty with CWD right now. We just don't know that period of transmission. We don't know completely how it moves through the population. So it's very difficult to calculate those flash pictures, if you will, at some given point in time. We're moving to that. I wish I could tell you today that we have those numbers. We'd certainly like to do that, but we just don't have the science to back it up at the moment.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: Well, I think, when you get there, you need to let us know because ‑‑
DR. WALDRUP: Believe me, we will.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: ‑‑ we're ready.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I think Commissioner Ramos' and Watson's points are well taken, and I'm glad to hear we're moving in that direction. I think it's important in public policy and especially in the regulatory position to always have the carrot in addition to the stick. Sometimes all we can remember to bring is the stick.
And I think it's analogous in the cattle industry because in states where you lose, as we've all learned recently in Texas, your brucellosis status, having that certified-free herd's worth even more. And I think we have to recognize that distinction on that map that there are states with captive only, captive and free-range and ‑‑ I don't know. Were there any that are free-range only, with no captive?
DR. WALDRUP: Illinois at this point.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. So I think that's worth working toward. And you've set the foundation with our importation regulations. Thank you for your help.
Any other questions on CWD?
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: I have ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Chairman?
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: ‑‑ one more comment. If that ‑‑ if nobody else has any other comments, I just want to wrap this up by thanking Texas Animal Health, Commissioner Wood and Dr. Waldrup and all the folks over there. I think it has been a very cooperative and productive relationship over the last year or so, and I think that's the way we're supposed to do it, and I'm very pleased.
The staff here has done a wonderful job. The public has remained calm, and I think this common-sense approach that we have taken has gone a long way to ensure that there has not been any undue reaction to this disease.
And I think a lot of the questions that we're asked today will be answered in the end when we have a live test. And can you give me any feeling about where we are in that regard?
DR. WALDRUP: Madam Chairman, at the moment, there is not a live test that's validated by USDA for white-tails. There is a type of live animal test that's validated for mule deer, but it's not a blood test. It's called a tonsil biopsy. It does require the chemical immobilization of the animal.
You actually have to take a biopsy from the roof of the mouth and try to ‑‑ hope that you recover some lymphoid tissue in that biopsy, and then it's tested in the lab just like a brain stem is tested. I do know USDA is working on that for white-tails, and as soon as they validate it, my agency would certainly accept it.
There is a company right now that is marketing a blood test for CWD, but that test is not validated at all by USDA, and we would not accept, you know, that. Now, hopefully, that company can advance their research further. Believe me, there's no one in this state that would like a live animal test, like a blood test or saliva test or something, any more than I would; it would make my life a whole lot easier.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Ours, too.
DR. WALDRUP: But I'm afraid that at this point, an easily applicable live animal test is at least two years away.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That was two, or three?
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Two.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Two?
DR. WALDRUP: At least.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: At least.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: At least.
Any other questions? Obviously, of great interest, but we have a few more items today.
Scott, do you have anything else?
MR. COOK: Mr. Chairman, at this time, I think we're going to ask Clay Brewer to join Scott and give us an briefing update on the managed land deer permit proposals for mule deer that our task force from west Texas has been working with. Clay has been an integral part of that from Day One and, sometimes, up into the night. And so we have got some news there that I think you'll need to hear.
MR. BREWER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Regulation Committee members, my name is Clay Brewer, and I serve as the Wildlife Division Program Leader for mule deer, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope. The purpose of this briefing is to apprise the Regulations Committee of the status of potential regulatory changes that would expand the MLDP program to include mule deer.
To give you a little background, a mule deer MLDP program was proposed by landowners at the August Commission meeting. The TPWD Mule Deer Committee responded to the request by drafting a proposal. Goals of the committee were to create a single program for all mule deer, including those in the Trans-Pecos, panhandle and western edge of the Edward's Plateau, and to keep the program simple by developing a single level.
At that time, TPWD field staff began working with the Trans-Pecos task force to develop a draft proposal for consideration by the public. And so we started with what TPWD staff put together and used that as a starting point to work with the task force. And this has been accomplished.
Similar to the white-tail MLDP program, the mule deer program is habitat focused and incentive based. The program requires a wildlife management plan, and requirements of the plan include three years' population data, two years' harvest data, three habitat management practices and harvest quotas for antlerless and antlered mule deer.
The incentives of the program are tied primarily to the extended season, and I think it's important for you to understand that most of those people that support this program are very interested in hunting the rut, which typically occurs a week or so after the current general mule deer season, but not always. In fact, this year, we picked up a little bit of that ‑‑ a little bit of the rut, but the peak of the rut occurs ‑‑ typically occurs a week or so after the current general season.
The proposed extended season would begin one week prior to the opening of the general season and extend through December 31. Unlike the white-tail program, no enhanced bag limit from the current two per hunter is proposed. These people are very interested in the extended season ‑‑ that is the issue at hand ‑‑ and not really concerned with the increased bag limit.
And, finally, the Trans-Pecos Task Force is recommending that the program be re-evaluated after five years.
MR. BORUFF: We'll be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Clay, the re-evaluation ‑‑ from what I read the other day, it's actually a sunset; it terminates. Correct?
MR. BREWER: That's correct. It just forces us to take a hard look at it, and I might tell you why that came up. Part of that's probably my fault.
We were kicking this thing around, and we were high-centered and couldn't get off of it. And I was trying to encourage these guys to move forward, and so what I said was, Try this thing; Let's get it going, and then we can take a look at it. And somebody said, Well, that's a good idea; Why don't two of us try that. And I said, Well, that's not quite what we're looking for; It's either everybody or nobody or ‑‑ you know, two won't work. And so that's kind of where that came from.
So that just ‑‑ to me, I don't think that should be a sticking point. We'll take a look at it. And at that time, we'll do it again, if that's what we need.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, I commend you for a creative solution, because I ‑‑ it had occurred to me from listening to the members of the task force and reading their comments and letters that that also addresses another concern about high fences. It's the concern that this may create a bias in favor of high fences. And the Commission has been consistent in always trying to maintain a strict neutrality and have our policies not, you know, have that sort of bias.
And I guess economics would dictate that no one would make that significant investment ‑‑
MR. BREWER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ in that part of the world ‑‑
MR. BREWER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ for five years. And I think that was a creative way to address that.
MR. BREWER: Chairman?
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: What other ‑‑ I know the high fence question was one of the things, but what other objections did the people that didn't want to see it happen have?
MR. BREWER: It's the issue of hunting the rut. It is a heated issue. Landowners in the Trans-Pecos are very conservative. And if you'll look at our mule deer populations in Texas compared to those ‑‑ and compare ours to other western states, I think you'll see that we have the healthiest numbers wise as well as composition wise.
So they've always been very conservative, and there are other issues. Some believe that ‑‑ I mean, mule deer are not the smartest animals in the world, and you see the best bucks during the rut. And so typically, what, you know, December, January or that time frame, you start seeing the better bucks.
And so there is some concern about quality suffering not initially but long-term, that the quality will eventually suffer. So a very ‑‑ that was the main point of contention between those guys, and it was pretty ‑‑ fairly well split.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Other than saying that it's going to be re-evaluated, does it need to be more specific that it is a sunset deal, that it's gone if it isn't reinstated?
MR. BREWER: Well, I'm not sure ‑‑
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: I think that's the way it reads.
MR. BREWER: ‑‑ that's the way it reads.
MR. COOK: It reads, "Termination."
MR. BREWER: Okay.
MR. COOK: I'm clear on that point. But back to Commissioner Angelo's point, that I'm not sure I know the answer to. That ‑‑ I mean, having spent a little bit of time out there in Black Gap and other places, they ‑‑ the mule deer are different in the rut. And how do you ‑‑ how do we address that? Is it part of the wildlife management plan ‑‑
MR. BREWER: Well, it's our ‑‑
MR. COOK: ‑‑ or are the parameters set by the individual landowner?
MR. BREWER: No. It's ‑‑ a biologist will make those harvest recommendations. And the way the program works ‑‑ I mean, the only way I know how to say it is: If I make harvest recommendations to you, what difference does it make when you harvest those animals as long as you're abiding by those harvest recommendations?
And so we would work with the landowner to develop the habitat management practices, the harvest recommendations and those things. And then ‑‑ and I'll tell you there ‑‑ a lot of those people are very interested in doing some culling those that ‑‑ and there are very few of them that have doe problems. They wanted a little more time.
So the original proposal that we put together had two weeks before the season, the season and two weeks after. And so it really didn't shift a whole lot. It picked up the holidays, but ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It would seem that there's ‑‑ there are two edges ‑‑ two sides to this is that that rut opportunity would ‑‑ I know, as a manager myself, would give me an opportunity to work on some portions of that population ‑‑
MR. BREWER: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ that I wouldn't otherwise be able to ‑‑
MR. BREWER: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ remove. But it's certainly open to abuse, on the other side, of taking underage ‑‑ superior, underage bucks.
MR. BREWER: You hit it right on the head. And I might say that the line was drawn in the middle with this group, and it was tough. What ‑‑ how we got off center ‑‑ how we started going down the right road on this thing was the data requirements. Some of those guys just flat would not sign off on it unless there were some pretty stiff data requirements, and so it addresses what you just said, and that is: Trying to make sure people are playing by the rules and, you know, doing ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: For those of us who've learned to age white-tails on the hoof over the last ten or 15 years ‑‑ and it has been a slow process for the white-tail community, and more and more hunters, I think, can do it ‑‑ is it as easy with mule deer?
MR. BREWER: It works the same way, except you typically under-estimate them or ‑‑ excuse me ‑‑ over-estimate them by a year.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, over. So that would be a problem?
MR. BREWER: Well, to me, as long as you're consistent ‑‑ and that's addressed by the same guy doing it year after year ‑‑ then to me, I mean, it's ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. At the risk of ‑‑ Commissioner Ramos and I can talk about deer all day.
MR. COOK: I think the key ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I'm hesitant here. Okay, Commissioner.
MR. COOK: The key, I think, on Mr. Angelo's question, though ‑‑ and the question posed by the group because ‑‑ it came up the other day in our call ‑‑ is that ‑‑ if the harvest recommendation is two mature bucks ‑‑
MR. BREWER: Right. That's what it is.
MR. COOK: ‑‑ whether you take them the first week or the last week or the middle week or one now and one then, is not, you know, a problem for the population, for the age structure or for the sex ratio or whatever, it's two bucks.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: That's right. And I guess that was my point. Is the issue that the quality of the deer would be impacted by an extended season because we would have an over-harvest, or that there would be an over-harvest of the mature deer?
MR. BREWER: Those that are concerned about that feel like ‑‑ that only the best bucks will be harvested through time and that eventually, the quality will decline. So ‑‑
MR. COOK: That's not a problem if you take them ‑‑ is that as much of a problem if you take them older, in the older age class?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Isn't that the same problem that currently would exist with our white-tails? It would not be any different?
MR. BREWER: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And it's going to be subject to the management of the landowner and the judgment of the hunter?
MR. BREWER: That's correct. And so, you see, it's no different.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: It's no different.
MR. BREWER: It was just an issue with some of those guys on that MLDP committee. So they were just concerned about that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: One advantage is that it makes everybody a little bit better hunter when you have to pay attention.
Any other questions on the mule deer MLD?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Come on.
MR. BREWER: I might say one last thing I failed to mention. This does apply to the panhandle. Whether it's 16-day county or nine-day, it really doesn't matter; we're going to use the same proposal for all mule deer in the country. So ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Scott?
MR. BORUFF: Well, at your direction, we would publish this recommendation in the Texas Register and go out to have six public meetings, three in the panhandle and three in the Trans-Pecos, within the next month, which would allow us to assimilate that feedback and come back to you in the May meeting for action if you so direct.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Very well.
Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Are we done with the Chairman's charges? We're just getting through Number 1.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: I believe so.
MR. BREWER: Do you need a motion?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, I do, but I'm ‑‑ we need to ‑‑
MR. COOK: Scott, do you have anything else for us?
MR. BORUFF: Surplus deer. Did you want to just ‑‑
MR. COOK: You might make a comment there, yes.
MR. BORUFF: Once again, my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director of Operations and Acting Division Director for the Wildlife Division. Just to convince you that I have completed my transition into this new role, I'm going to talk to you a little bit about our surplus deer proposal.
This was a group of proposals, some five or so, which were generated at the request of the leadership to help deal with surplus deer issues in the state of Texas. And we had two primary constituent groups out there that were interested in talking about these issues and trying to find some relief for their surplus deer problems.
The first were urban communities. And one of the proposals that has gone out which we were able to accommodate under our existing rules was a catch, haul and slaughter operation under a depredation permit specifically for urban areas.
And in fact, we have issued a depredation permit in the last month to Lakeway, right outside of Austin, which will allow them to harvest deer, transport those deer to a slaughter house, have them processed and then donated to charity. I talked with them last week. They've already harvested some 200 deer under that depredation permit. Those deer have been processed and have been distributed through Hunters for the Hungry to charitable organizations.
The second option that we were looking at for urban relief was to be ‑‑ was the Mexico option, which was exercised a couple of years ago by the Agency. Unfortunately, Mexico has not stepped forward and indicated any interest in resuming or continuing that program. We do continue to have conversations with Mexican officials about it, but, at this point, we don't see that as a looming possibility.
The other three options that we put on the table were for ranch owners that were looking for relief for surplus deer. And the first of those was under the ADCP, the Antlerless Deer Control Permit, to extend the season from ‑‑ add September and February to the ADCP opportunity.
The second one for the ranchers was means. And under the ADCP, we suggested the possibility of harvesting from a helicopter and donating those deer to charity. The third and last option for ranch owners under the ADCP would be to add forked bucks ‑‑ currently, only does and spikes are eligible ‑‑ so that under this option, they would have ‑‑ be able to take management bucks at six or eight points or less at the discretion of the Commission, of course, as to where that would go.
We received quite a bit of comment on these particular options, and not all of it positive. In fact, some of these have been quite controversial. We have decided to continue to take feedback from the public and as many sources as we can get, and we hope to be able to give you a more comprehensive update next Commission meeting.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Mr. Chairman?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Angelo?
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Scott, it has been brought to my attention that a bill was introduced by Represent Keel to permit communities to trap deer and move them to willing landowners' properties without going through the normal requirements of testing and so on. What's the status of that in your opinion?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir, indeed, there has been a bill filed to that extent. I went personally last week and testified when the bill came up for hearing. I certainly represented our concern that it would remove or, at least, delete the authority of the Commission to regulate white-tailed deer in Texas if indeed we allowed every county and municipality in the state to do so.
There was quite a bit of testimony from the local folks there. Obviously, I don't have a crystal ball, and I'm not reading in ‑‑ able to tell you where that went. I'm fairly confident that we will be able to help the urban groups without having to ‑‑ that bill go through.
And in fact, I expressed that at the hearing that we were committed to health and human safety, as well as habitat and that is indeed why we issued the depredation permit some two or three weeks ago, which allows those folks to take all the deer they want over the next year, and we will probably renew that depredation permit next year if they need it.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Well, you know, that is getting to be a big, big problem in a lot of communities. And ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ at some point, I didn't have a whole lot of sympathy for them, because they were not willing to do some of the extreme things, like killing the deer, that they needed to do. The people that were living in those areas were unhappy with the situation but were unwilling to do anything and were looking for somebody else to solve their problem for them.
But on the other hand, I think ‑‑ you know, I think it's good that you've made that commitment to allow ‑‑ I ‑‑ we do need to try to come up with as innovative solutions as we can, because it is a problem. And it's a health problem, it's a wildlife problem, and it's ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ an across-the-board problem. And this type of legislation would not be helpful overall to the situation, I don't think. But it's an example of what can happen if we aren't able to come up with something that they consider viable ‑‑ some viable options.
Now, I've been told that the program you mentioned of them trapping them and bringing them in and having them slaughtered is okay except that it has created a bigger expense for them than they had hoped and that that's why they're still looking for some more radical solutions. Is that ‑‑ have you heard that?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir. Indeed, I mean, there are two issues. The first one is the political issue of the local citizenry having, in the case of Lakeway, evenly split on a referendum there about whether or not they could harvest deer.
The second one and probably of more interest or, at least, equal interest to the community leaders is the cost. And in fact, in the process of floating out these five options, we've come up with a couple of interesting options.
For example, we are in communications and conversations right now with the Texas TDCJ, the Criminal Justice Department, which ‑‑ they currently have two facilities in Texas, at Huntsville and at ‑‑ I'm blocking on where the other ‑‑ Gatesville, that process meat for the prison system. So they already have meat processing facilities.
We are trying to come up with an agreement with that organization and with the USDA and FDA that would allow them to accept donations of the deer that are harvested from the communities or where ever and then process that meat for the prison system in Texas. So it would be a win/win. It would reduce the cost to municipalities by about 50 percent.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: How much of the cost that they have to ‑‑ that they're having to handle is based on things that we require, if any?
MR. BORUFF: Well, what we hear from Lakeway ‑‑ it's the only one I've dealt with in recent days ‑‑ is it's about $105 to capture the deer, transport it and process it for donation. About $50 of that is the processing fee. So the remaining $55 or $60 is the capture and transport.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: None of that's resulting from any regulations we have, though. Is that right?
MR. BORUFF: It's not resulting from any regulation. It's a result of their desire to move those deer, and we're trying to provide them with a tool to allow them to do so. And we're working closely to try to reduce the cost for them.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: So the processing fee reduction would come about if the prison system ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: If the prison system will allow and ‑‑ I think FDA is the real holdup there: If FDA will approve the prison system to process that meat. That's what I heard. I just talked with the TDCJ folks last week.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But they're presently processing their ‑‑
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: They ‑‑ the cities are paying for the processing cost ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: That's right.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: ‑‑ before it goes to the homeless.
MR. BORUFF: That's right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Scott, this pending legislation ‑‑ how ‑‑ do they address the health issues of CWD and what we're doing?
MR. BORUFF: No. That was ‑‑ the second-biggest issue for us other than the fact of authority over the white-tailed deer herd was the fact that there was no ‑‑ in the bill, there was no vision of any kind of oversight by the Agency. And that included things like disease issues, law-enforcement issues, biological and habitat-related issues.
So it really pretty much would have ‑‑ would gut our ability to deal with habitat, law-enforcement and disease issues and everything else related to white-tail deer.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: As part of the ‑‑
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: It's essentially exempted from all those regulations.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Because it seems to me that if our idea is to identify and to track deer that are being moved and we do that through tattooing or otherwise ‑‑ at a minimum, if that's the program, we ought to be able to tattoo or otherwise track them because, otherwise, if we had an epidemic in an area, we wouldn't be able to identify the source.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: That's exactly the reason you decided last year that under the Triple-T and the scientific breeder program, along with the rules that TAHC has put in place, those animals would have to be tested.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So the legislation as it currently exists specifically exempts them from any ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: Any legal oversight from the Agency at all.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Including the Texas Animal Health Commission, I assume.
MR. BORUFF: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The proposed legislation ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Proposed legislation ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: The proposed legislation was in essence to create the opportunity for 254 counties and 3,000 municipalities to each have their own deer regulations unsupervised ‑‑
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: I want to be clear about this. In this legislation, was there an opportunity for the Texas Animal Health Commission to testify?
MR. BORUFF: The Animal Health Commission was not there at the hearing of the first bill. We certainly would encourage them and welcome their participation if the bill comes up again.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: You know, I would doubt that anybody expected this to pass. What I ‑‑ to me, it reflects kind of a desperation feeling on the part of some of the people that are concerned about the overabundance of deer in these municipalities, because I can't imagine that they really thought they could pass this.
MR. BORUFF: Well ‑‑
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: It brings the public spotlight more on the problem is what I ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well ‑‑ and I'm sensitive to that, but I've even more sensitive to move deer that potentially could create a problem ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: ‑‑ and defeat the whole purpose of this ‑‑ all the effort and money that is being spent and then basically attack the value of our deer herds in the state.
MR. BORUFF: I'm fairly confident that most of the members of that sub-committee are keenly aware of the problem this would present.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, Commissioner Angelo, I think, makes a very good point, which is that this is all really a symptom of a problem that we've been very reluctant ‑‑ at least most of the political subdivisions I've dealt with have been very reluctant to deal with it at the root or at the cause. And I know that some subdivisions have attempted to either restrict or prohibit feeding of deer and have been unsuccessful in doing that.
MR. BORUFF: Lakeway among them.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And so they seem to perpetuate the problem and then, as the problem gets unmanageable, look for unrealistic solutions.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: One ‑‑ you said that the cost of trapping and transporting is roughly $55?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, ma'am.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: And ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: At least it has been in Lakeway.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: And then on top of that is processing cost?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, ma'am.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: In a sharpshooter approach or whatever ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: We're not talking ‑‑
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: ‑‑ harvesting ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: Yes. We're talking live harvest in the city limits and then trailering those deer to a slaughter house.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Right. And I appreciate that, but I'm trying to get a handle on understanding options that these municipalities might have. What does it cost ‑‑ what are the costs of hiring sharpshooters or ‑‑ I don't know what other means there are, but I've heard that that's one option. What would that cost?
MR. BORUFF: I don't have hard numbers, Madam Chair, but I do know that it's more expensive to do that than it is under the method they're currently utilizing in Lakeway. At least that was what they told us.
MR. COOK: There has been some data reported on that, and particularly in some of the eastern states, and I don't remember the numbers right off. I think the cheapest that I saw on just getting the deer killed with a sharpshooter was like $35 a head or something like that. I ‑‑ there was some stuff in the Journal about it.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Well, if you could get it down to $35 a head and you sell it to the prison system, those municipalities might be able to make a profit.
MR. BORUFF: Well, I agree, except what you would hear from the municipalities I assume ‑‑ I don't know if any of them are going to be here, but ‑‑ is that, you know, live ammo in town is not going to fly.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Or it is going to fly. That's the problem.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: I think they are ‑‑ it is an option that people around the United States are using. And so it's not out in left field to suggest that.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Well, you know, one of the things that I wanted to make clear that I hope I did when I started is that these people have got ‑‑ they've done a lot to create the problem.
MR. BORUFF: Exactly.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: And until they're willing to take the means necessary to solve the problem, I wasn't particularly interested in being concerned about it, but I think more of them are beginning to be willing to take some extreme measures. And therefore, I think where they are willing to do that, we need to try to cooperate with them and help them every way we can. And that was the point I wanted to make.
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir.
One last thing. I might let you know that since we have issued the depredation permit to Lakeway, I think, we have had three or so other communities ask for depredation permits. So we're in the process of reviewing those, and we'll apply the same standards.
Clearly, one of the things we would work with the communities to do is, hopefully, come up with some kind of longer-term solution rather than continuing to kill those deer in the community and have them recruited from nearby ranches, for example. So we will continue to try to address the issue of health and human safety with the communities, but we will also continue to take seriously our charge to take care of the habitat and the resource.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Scott.
Commission Avila pointed out to me that I'm just moving right along here. My first ‑‑
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: We haven't got to Item 2 yet.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We're not to Item 2 yet.
Is that it for the Chairman's charges, Bob?
MR. COOK: I think that pretty well covers the Chairman's charge.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: I don't think we got the minutes approved.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. And ‑‑ well, we'll do that right after I ‑‑ right after we deal with the ‑‑
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: After lunch?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ MLD mule deer recommendation only. If there's no further question or discussion regarding the MLD mule deer recommendation from the task force, without objection, I authorize staff to publish that item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Now we need to go back and do a little housekeeping on the approval of the committee minutes from the last meeting.
Gene, take note that there are two typos from the Regulations Committee minutes of the previous meeting at the last page. The first full paragraph should read, "The Chair recognized Ken Kurzawski." And at Item 4 action, the second-to-last line should read, "About the level of detail," rather than, "As the level of detail."
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And there's one other typo?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is there one other, Commissioner?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: At the first page, my name was misspelled.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, that's inexcusable.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And make a special note.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Commissioner Ramos requested that the minutes be corrected.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Motion to approve the minutes?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So moved, as amended ‑‑ as corrected, rather.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Second?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I second.
COMMISSIONER AVILA: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Now, moving on to Item 2, Ron George, the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation.
MR. GEORGE: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, I'm Ron George, Deputy Director of the Wildlife Division. The purpose of this briefing is to discuss proposed changes to the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation that will be considered for adoption tomorrow. There will be presentations by the Wildlife, Coastal Fisheries and Inland Fisheries Divisions.
The first of the Wildlife Division proposals relates to the possession of a wildlife resource and simply states that when Department personnel remove the head of a deer for CWD testing, we will provide the hunter with a receipt, a PWD-905.
The Wildlife Division's White-tailed Deer Committee has suggested a total of five issues that should be considered for adoption. The first of these deals with the wildlife management plans and would change the wording from, "Population census," to, "Population data," and this would allow the use of browse surveys and other indicators of herd status to be used with or in place of census data.
Under current regulations, ADCPs, or Antlerless Deer Control Permits, may be issued only by a Conservation Scientist 6 or higher. This proposed change would allow any employee authorized to write wildlife management plans to approve these permits. This would provide better customer service.
Until last year, ADCP application sheets had a December 10 deadline, but this was not in the regulations. This proposal would establish an official deadline and allow staff to more efficiently handle permit requests.
The deer range in Harris County is mostly in the northern part of the county, which is piney woods habitat. The proposed change in the reg shown in the slide would give Harris County the same deer regs as other adjacent piney woods counties. We have received three public comments opposed to this proposal.
The final proposal related to white-tailed deer is to add a muzzle loader season in San Jacinto, Trinity, Walker and Harris Counties, those counties shown in yellow. There are currently 11 other southeast Texas counties with a muzzle loader season.
The Wildlife Division Sheep Team and the Texas Bighorn Advisory Committee have proposed making bighorn sheep skulls ‑‑ proposed marking bighorn sheep skulls with a unique identifying plug. This would make Texas consistent with other western states and help prevent illegal possession and transport of skulls. This proposal would apply only to skulls found after adoption of the regs. I would state that skulls taken legally during harvest under permit are already plugged.
Current regulations allow pheasant hunting in seven coastal counties. This proposal is to close the pheasant season in four of those counties: Wharton, Fort Bend, Brazoria and Matagorda. This would limit pheasant hunting along the coast to only those counties with huntable pheasant numbers. This would leave the season still open in Chambers, Jefferson and Liberty Counties.
The Department received a petition for rulemaking this past year that would change the pheasant hunting season length in 37 panhandle counties from 16 days to 30 days and reduce the daily bag limit from three cocks to two cocks. Staff anticipates no biological impact on the pheasant population from this proposal, but the proposal would allow additional hunting days ‑‑ the additional recreational opportunity.
We have received six comments from the public in favor of that and 19 opposed. If this proposal is adopted by the Commission, we would recommend that 30-day season to start on the first Saturday in December.
Lesser prairie chicken hunting is currently allowed in eight panhandle counties; the annual harvest in recent years has been less than 200 birds. Staff attributes the long-term decline in the population and the reduction in their range ‑‑ at one time, the range of the prairie chicken ‑‑ around 1900, prairie chickens were found as far south as San Angelo. And in the 1800s, they came down nearly to Austin. But the population distribution has declined over time to these two areas.
We believe this decline is mostly due to habitat loss, and not hunting. There is a multi-state effort underway now to try to recover these populations, but the numbers of birds seem to continue to decline. Since we ‑‑ since staff proposed closing the season several months ago, we've continued to look at the data, and those two areas seem to be functioning differently.
If you look at the number of leks, or booming grounds, that we've recorded over time from 1942 to the present, the number of leks in the northeastern counties has remained stable, as indicated by the horizontal line. The number of leks in the southwestern counties has declined, as shown by the declining line, and it is a statistically significant decline.
So the number of leks is down in the southwest and stable in the northeast. If you look at the number of males per lek, you seem to see the same pattern: The northeast counties are stable; the southwestern counties, which originally had more birds per lek, have declined significantly over time. So these two areas are functioning different biologically. An option to closing the entire lesser prairie chicken season would be to close the season only in the southwestern counties if the Commission so desired.
There is a ‑‑ this is not a clear-cut decision among our staff. Our staff ‑‑ some staff feel if we close the lesser prairie chicken season, a lot of landowners who currently manage for lesser prairie chickens will no longer have an incentive to do so. There's also the concern that if we close the lesser prairie chicken season, we'll never get it open again.
And there ‑‑ the time is right, though, for doing something for lesser prairie chickens, probably better than it has been in two or three decades. There are several entities working on this. There's a multi-state coalition that ‑‑ everybody that has lesser prairie chickens has staff on this issue, trying to work on it together rather than state by state.
There's a high plains partnership initiative through the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Dale Hall, the regional director at Albuquerque, asked me to inform the Commission that he would love to come before the Commission and give a briefing on the works of the high plains partnership and what might be done for short-grass prairie species of all kinds, including lesser prairie chickens.
Our "Playa Lake" joint venture which has been in place for a number of years but has been a waterfowl joint venture has now been changed to an all-bird joint venture, which would include lesser prairie chickens. Some provisions of the farm bill that we haven't had in the past would also be available to help landowners to manage for habitat. So we have a number of factors going on here.
And finally, in January, the staff proposed to open the hunting season on Mearn's or Montezuma quail and allow two birds as part of the aggregate daily quail bag. This would have allowed quail hunters to take all four species of Texas' native quail and would legalize the occasional Mearn's that is taken by accident.
However, based on the limited biological data we have to support opening the season and the fairly strong opposition we've received, staff recommends withdrawing this proposal. We have received zero comments for and 58 comments against that proposal from the public.
And, Commissioners, that concludes my report.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ron?
MR. GEORGE: Yes, sir?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: On the lesser prairie chicken ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: Yes, sir?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ issue, what difference do you discern in the southwest and the northeast as far as land use? From looking at your graph, it's clear that the northeast is ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: The northeast is mostly large ranches still used for cattle grazing. The southwest is being broken up for crop land, and that's been going on for decades. It's shin oak country; shin oak held those sand dunes. Some federal farm program crop improvement plans in the past helped pay to break that out of range land and turn it into crop land. Some of it was farmed in sorghum for a year or two and then no longer farmed for grain sorghum and became ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It's a habitat conversion ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ issue?
MR. GEORGE: A habitat conversion issue.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Let me ask you a question as to what we might be able to do there. If in the northeast ‑‑ I'm familiar with the high plains partnership and have worked with them on a few projects. And I'm concerned that we knock the blocks out from under people who are specifically trying to manage for lesser prairie chickens.
MR. GEORGE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And there's nothing to manage and there's no reason to do it when we pull this out from them in the southwest area. The northeast area I ‑‑ you know, I agree with staff that we probably let them continue to do a good job.
MR. GEORGE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But in the southwest, could we look at a permit system tied to property for those that are intending to make the choice for habitat?
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: I might comment on that. I've hunted in those southern four counties and seen it go down to where it wasn't worth going to hunt. And so for the last few years, I haven't. And the guys that I've hunted with before have given up on it.
MR. GEORGE: Right.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: And the big change has been the habitat. The programs that inspired and paid people to destroy the shin oak was a big part of it.
MR. GEORGE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: And so ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: And farming.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Also, the change in farming. There's very little grain grown in that area any more. I wondered what if anything anybody's doing now to try to enhance or ‑‑ reverse that trend already. Are any of the landowners doing anything that we know of to try to improve the habitat for the prairie chickens in those four counties? I haven't seen any evidence of it ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: Right.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ but I don't ‑‑ you know, I don't have a ‑‑ I haven't made a big survey, either.
MR. GEORGE: Right. In any part of Texas where a farmer ‑‑ a landowner gets most of his income from farming as opposed to ranching, farming accounts for a much larger proportion of their income than hunting does, for example. The reverse might be true for range land that is managed for cattle and hunting leases.
So you already have lesser prairie chickens being a very small part of the economic incentive for managing there, but there are landowners that would be interested in re-establishing native grasses on some of those lands for livestock production. And as I indicated earlier, there's a far greater, more coordinated effort to manage for short-grass prairie species than there ever has been in at least the last two or three decades of all of those various organizations.
So if that were ‑‑ those organizations were working together and if there were an incentive for that person who wanted to manage for lesser prairie chickens and we close the season, we'd remove that incentive. One consideration, a second option ‑‑ a third possibility would be for the ‑‑ to leave the season open in both areas for a set period ‑‑ three years or five years ‑‑ and see what could be accomplished by those various groups working together.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, the reason that I suggested the idea of a permit tied to the land is that ‑‑ I'm not as familiar with that country as you are, but I am familiar with it. And there is country that is suitable for farming and other that is not ‑‑ other land that is not.
And at that decision, the landowner is dependent on hunting and livestock. And if the trend continues there that has in other parts of the state, where the hunting is in range country, is a greater component of the economic incentive than the livestock, it would seem to me that we should have a direct incentive for management.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: You know, I don't think very many of ‑‑ in fact, I don't know of any of them that charge for people to hunt.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: At the places that I've known, they've always just let you hunt. And I'm sure there may be some that charge, but it's not ‑‑ there hasn't been any financial incentive to speak of that I know about.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Is there a market for leases to hunt prairie chickens? Is there an economic incentive out there to encourage it?
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: I doubt it. I doubt it seriously.
What do you think, Ron?
MR. GEORGE: I don't ‑‑ I'm not aware of it. In the northeast, there is an economic incentive in that some of those landowners in that area are charging people to come look at prairie chickens. There's actually ‑‑ there's at least one ranch doing it and another ranch talking about doing it.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Could we offer an incentive like a longer pheasant season or bigger bag that would create a byproduct for the management of prairie chickens by giving ‑‑ putting some other economic incentive other than ‑‑ if there's not a market?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is there a cross-over in the habitat management? In other words, are there other benefits ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: Generally, not.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Generally not?
MR. GEORGE: The pheasants are mostly north of Lubbock. The prairie chickens are southwest of Lubbock. They're not in the same habitat.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is there a quail habitat benefit?
MR. GEORGE: There are some scale quail in that southwestern country. Just how big an economic incentive there is with quail in that country I don't know. Scale quail have been down for many years but have only recently come back up.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Are there any tools under the new farm bill that we could ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: ‑‑ use to facilitate the ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: The farm bill offers probably the best actual cash dollars to the private landowner, and it's something that we probably haven't exploited or encouraged as well as we have in the past.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes.
MR. GEORGE: Under this high plains partnership initiative, there is a possibility of getting additional staff, technical guidance staff, that would be our employees but paid for through federal dollars that would be able to provide on-the-ground assistance to people in that area. And there's a number of actual cost-sharing possibilities for the landowner.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: You know, I guess I've kind of changed my mind over the last couple of months of thinking about this. And my first reaction was you might as well close it because it's not a real season, anyway.
MR. GEORGE: Yes.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: But the more I've thought about it and from listening to the conversation today, too, the only people that care about the birds right now are the people that hunt them. That's what it amounts to almost. There's ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: And those that ‑‑
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ the few ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: ‑‑ want to see them.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ bird watchers that want to go see them.
MR. GEORGE: Right.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: So maybe closing it is not the solution. You know, that may just leave only the bird watchers.
MR. GEORGE: Right.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: And ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: The only other state that currently hunts lesser prairie chickens is Kansas.
MR. COOK: That's kind of the dilemma here. You know, clearly, we're looking at a population that has been on a 20- or 25-year decline. It is not hunting ‑‑ it is not connected to hunting. We know that. Everybody knows that. And so the dilemma that staff has in trying to come to you with a reasonable recommendation and keep you informed about what's going on is a real one for us. And we just wanted to be sure that you ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We all recognize it's habitat. What's your recommendation on how to turn the habitat end of this issue, though, because ‑‑
MR. COOK: Well, Chairman, I think your thought there of possibly ‑‑ I mean, you know, whether we go with staff's recommendation of closing the south and leaving the north open at this time or leaving both open, but of ‑‑ having staff look at, say, like a ‑‑ I hate to say it this way, but ‑‑ managed lands prairie chicken-type ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. COOK: ‑‑ program that would again ‑‑ whether it's in combination with quail, with deer, pheasant or whatever it might be with in combination that gives that ‑‑ those landowners participating in those programs, in our approved habitat management ‑‑ wildlife management programs, a season and bag limit accordingly.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
MR. COOK: I think we can look at that. I'm not sure what the incentive is ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's just sort of the template I'm interested in seeing.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: That's where I was heading. We should ‑‑ programs, looking at the full range of options and maximizing incentives for the landowners who are willing to make commitments for habitat.
MR. COOK: We're working closely with the feds on this. And, you know, there was ‑‑ they have been petitioned ‑‑
Correct me if I'm wrong, Ron.
They have been petitioned to list the species ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: Right. In 1995, they were petitioned. In 1998, I believe, they said it was warranted to list them as a threatened species but precluded, because there were so many other species ahead of them in line. And so we're under a definite threat of it being listed. Probably the only reason it hasn't been listed yet is because of this multi-state effort; these five states that have lesser prairie chickens are now coming together ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
MR. GEORGE: ‑‑ and working to try to find a solution.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, in light of the fact that it is not a result of hunting, I think it's even more important that we focus on the habitat here and not take a knee-jerk reaction of closing the season that really doesn't change people's habitat decisions one bit. We want to influence management.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We're taking away a tool that may ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Exactly.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: ‑‑ restore them. And if we don't do something and they end up on the endangered species list, we're going to create the wrong incentives for preservation.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: A self-fulfilling prophecy at that point.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes. It seems to me we ought to ‑‑ our team ought to be challenged to fully exploit the farm bill and try to ‑‑ as best we can.
MR. GEORGE: Staff can certainly look at that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other ‑‑
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I think what you're hearing is that we're all very open to linking incentives to other species, too.
MR. GEORGE: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Can I ask a question?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Go ahead, yes, Commissioner Angelo.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: The ‑‑ you said, Ron, that you had a fairly good, relatively speaking, number of objections to lengthening the pheasant season. What is there ‑‑ was there a common thread to those objections?
MR. GEORGE: This issue has come up numerous times over the last 20 years that I'm aware of. Again, we're dealing with farmers, not ranchers, and the issue is they'd just as soon not ‑‑ the farmers would just as soon ‑‑ that have pheasants would just as soon not have a big crowd out there for a lengthy period of time. They don't object to hunting a weekend or maybe two weekends, but when you get beyond that, we normally hear from those folks that they are opposed to a longer season.
The sportsmen themselves, of course, would like a longer season; that would give them more opportunity. I did talk to one of the hunting guides in that area, and he, of course, was very supportive of this proposal to have a longer season and a smaller bag limit. You know, he could meet his clients' requirements maybe in a shorter period of time but would have more clients over time. So he was very supportive of that.
But even the resistance to a longer season, I guess, just surprised me, and ‑‑ in that area. But it has just kind of been kind of a tradition there that they've always wanted a fairly short season.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Is the resistance because it may have an impact on the population, or just the idea of people being out there?
MR. GEORGE: I think it's just the idea of being ‑‑ people being out there.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes. That's just ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: They may bring up the issue of the birds in their argument, but ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Do we have some factual basis to believe that extending the season would not substantially impact their population?
MR. GEORGE: We're ‑‑ biologically, a longer season won't have any impact. As long as ‑‑ a cocks-only season, which is what we have, is a very, very conservative season. We could probably hunt a much longer period as long as people hunted only cocks. When those states that have a long season ‑‑ I worked in Iowa as a pheasant biologist for years.
And about in ‑‑ the season would be about two-thirds through, and you'd begin to get calls from people saying, You've got to have an emergency closure of this season; There are no cocks left in the state.
MR. GEORGE: And, you know, we'd say, Well, we think there are some there; They're just wary. And you'd go ahead and close when the season did close and run its course. About two weeks later, the cocks are all out on the road side strutting. You know, they're ‑‑ they realize the season's closed. And ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: So I don't think there's any chance of over-shooting cock pheasants.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: In light of that, is there any reason for the reduction in bag in the trade for the 30 days?
MR. GEORGE: That ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Could you stay with three cocks and ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: That would be completely up to the Commission. That was merely the proposal that came during the rulemaking. I will tell you that we have had a series of years of lower-than-normal pheasant numbers.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
MR. GEORGE: And that trade-off makes sense just for that. As far as the actual impact on the population going from three cocks to two cocks really doesn't ‑‑ won't make a difference.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Don?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: From an economic standpoint, would extending the season be of an economic benefit for the landowners? In other words, a longer season ‑‑ would that necessarily attract more out-of-state hunters? Or ‑‑
MR. GEORGE: Correct. Generally ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: ‑‑ more revenues to the state?
MR. GEORGE: Generally, if a landowner is charging for pheasant hunting, a longer season would give them an opportunity to charge for more hunters. It's probably those people that are not charging for pheasant hunting that are so opposed to it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. GEORGE: They want to have a few people knocking on their doors, and they just don't want them knocking on the door for a longer period.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: But from an economic standpoint, it would be better for the state?
MR. GEORGE: Yes. From an economic standpoint, it would be better for the ‑‑ not just the landowner that's charging but also for, you know, all the other expenses involved with pheasant hunting for a longer period of time.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ron.
Any other questions or ‑‑ our pace is, if possible, slacking.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Good discussion.
MR. COOK: It is a good discussion.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ron, is that it for your presentation?
MR. GEORGE: That's it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions?
MR. GEORGE: But there are also Coastal and Inland Fisheries that ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. GEORGE: ‑‑ have presentations.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I won't skip them.
MR. OSBURN: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, I'm Hal Osburn, Coastal Fisheries Division Director. I'd like to brief you today on some proposed changes to the statewide hunting and fishing proclamation from the Coastal Fisheries Division.
The center of our attention this past year has been our spotted sea trout fishery. Texas does have a good fishery, and it also has a large one; it is the most sought-after species on the coast, and we've got about 1 million that are harvested annually just by our sport boat fishermen. And, obviously, that contributes significantly to the $2 billion economic impact of the sport fishery on the coast. I'm proud to say that we did not get to this successful condition by accident.
The three main reasons for our success. One was the commercial sale by the legislature or ‑‑ the ban on the commercial sale by the legislature in 1981. We've also had through the Commission a series of modifications to the fishing rules, affecting the sport fishery with increasing conservation.
There has also been a steady growth in the angling ethics in the industry in the catch-and-release. And I will tell you that without that catch-and-release ethic, the limits that we currently have would be too liberal.
Let me show you an example of how we know the fishery has improved. The length frequency here from our creel surveys from 1974 to '83 is a period when you had a 12-inch minimum and a 20-fish bag limit. And you can see the fishery is dominated by 12-to-14-inch fish.
In 1984, the limits went to 14 inches and a 10-fish bag, and the harvest shifted to primarily 14-to-16-inch fish. In 1991, we went to 15 inches and a 10-fish bag, and, since then, the fishery is dominated by 15-to-17-inch fish with the average fish landed being almost twice the weight as those from the '74 to '83 period.
But as we monitor this fishery, we do see changes occurring. Angling ethic effort has increased across the coast in private boats and, in particular, in the guide industry. We've got about 300 percent more guides licensed now than we did 20 years ago, and guides now account for about 40 percent of the trout harvest.
Not only are there more anglers fishing longer, but those anglers are also getting more efficient, particularly in targeting larger trout. Our sampling data show us that the proportion of trout greater than 25 inches has been declining for some time. So as we see increasing fishing effort and efficiency, as well, we think that this is something that management should react to.
One of the factors that have been fueling the changes in this fishery has been the increasing use of live croaker for bait. Croaker increase your chances of catching larger trout; in general, the larger a trout gets, the more likely it is to seek out fish for food. The croaker also has a swim bladder that emits a sound that's actually attractive to the trout, so they use their auditory skills to track down their bait.
The majority of our live bait dealers on the coast now sell croaker, and it has become an important part of the economic impact of that fishery. But croaker as bait is not a biological concern for the croaker themselves for staff, and the reason is that the harvest for bait, about 6 million fish annually, is minor compared to the shrimp trawl by-catch which we continue to have concerns about.
Over the last 18 months, staff has looked for options to keep this fishery healthy in the future, both in terms of quality and quantity. We've had a number of town hall meetings, several mail surveys and very successfully used the spotted sea trout work group to try to come up with some optimum approaches. Based on our data and the public input, staff recommended in January a boat limit on guided trips equal to the daily bag multiplied by the number of customers, and the guide could still fish and retain fish; that boat limit would be applied statewide for all species.
Staff also recommended an increase in the guide fee from $75 to $200. And for the saltwater guides, they would have to show proof of their coast guard for-hire captain's license, which is required for them in that area. And finally, staff recommended establishing a maximum size limit of 25 inches with one trout per day over that size.
The public comments received since January showed overwhelming support for the boat limit, for the coast guard requirement and for the fee increase, and the majority of comments also favored the one-over-25-inch proposal.
Several organizations also commented. The Coastal Conservation Association and the Texas Saltwater Guides Association gave full support to the proposal. The Saltwater Fisheries Enhancement Association, Coastal Bend Guides Association and Texas Recreational Fisheries Alliance also supported all of the proposals except for the one trout over 25 inches.
We also had substantial comments regarding alternative management proposals. In fact, a majority of these wanted more restrictions, such as a higher minimum size limit or a lower bag limit. Staff believes there could be some biological benefits associated with these additional restrictions, but we want to first build a greater consensus among our general anglers before proposing these.
Raising the minimum size limit in particular has been challenged by anglers concerned that trout are not surviving when thrown back, and I'd like to briefly show you some of our data that provide for us direct evidence that most trout do survive when released. From 1984 to 1991, trout 12 to 14 inches were protected while 14-to-15-inch fish were not. Coincidentally, those two groups had the same relative abundance in the trout population.
After 1991, 14-to-15-inch fish were protected, which resulted in their relative abundance increasing dramatically. If those fish were not surviving when they were caught and released, we would not see that increased abundance.
Staff believes that releasing fish over the maximum size of 25 inches will also be successful in increasing large trout abundance even though right now, that rule change will affect only about 3 percent of the guided trips and 1 percent of the private boat trips. One of the proposals that we heard from some of the organizations and folks was two trout per day over 28 inches; however, our data show very little conservation value from that proposal.
One of the big benefits of the 25-inch maximum size is that our growth data indicate that that fish is five years old and in prime spawning condition. Additionally, the fish should live for another four years, meaning that anglers will have more frequent encounters with these larger fish, and the increased spawning activity will help the overall population.
In fact, the cumulative effect of all of these rule changes is estimated to be a 13-percent increase in spawning biomass, a 39-percent increase in trout greater than 25 inches and, in general, a greater distribution of large trout among more anglers. Based on these findings of fact and the public comments, staff continues to recommend adoption of the original set of proposals.
That concludes my presentation. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Phil?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Can you comment on the boat limit and how we expect to allocate ‑‑ how we set the number and how we allocate the licensed ‑‑ the number of boats?
MR. OSBURN: The ‑‑ anybody, any guide that ‑‑ anybody can get a guide license in the state. I may not have understood your question.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: You've got a ‑‑ you had a boat limit ‑‑
MR. OSBURN: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: ‑‑ in one of your recommendations. And I was curious about how we go about setting that limit and then allocating spots once we set it.
MR. OSBURN: Well, it would be on a guided trip which a ‑‑ the wardens can identify whether the trip is a guided trip. The boat limit would be just the number of customers times the bag limit.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Not limiting the number of boats that ‑‑
MR. OSBURN: Not limiting the number of boats ‑‑
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay.
MR. OSBURN: ‑‑ no. Just the fish on that day's trip.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Al?
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Mr. ‑‑ Hal, how does the staff recommendation jibe with the sea trout work group's recommendations?
MR. OSBURN: The ‑‑ we had about 23 people on the work group. And at our last meeting ‑‑ when we look at the folks that gave us their individual recommendations and those that mailed us in some comments ‑‑ we did have some absences, but, for those that we were able to identify their opinion, we actually had the majority of the folks wanting to do an increased minimum size and a reduction in the bag limit. They wanted to be more restrictive than staff had proposed.
They almost all agreed with the boat limit and with the other guide proposals. And the ‑‑ and they also all generally favored establishing some maximum size limit, but it varied from 24 to about 27 inches.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Were guides represented in this group?
MR. OSBURN: Yes, sir. There was five guides on there that ranged from Beaumont down to Port Isabel. So we had a good representation. We had several bait camp dealers and a pretty good range of stakeholders.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: As you probably know, we ‑‑ this Commission has received a number of comments from guides on the issues that are being discussed. And I think it's fair to say that most of those that we received were anti- the proposals. And did you have an opportunity to react to some of those?
MR. OSBURN: Yes, sir. And I think, tomorrow, you will have a number of guides here to talk to you. And they are a diverse group, and there are two different organizations the ‑‑ that we know of. The upper coast has the Texas Saltwater Guides Association. And, once again, they were fully in support of the rules. The Coastal Bend Guides wanted to see that maximum size be higher than 25 inches.
But when we looked back at our mail survey that we sent to every guide in the state and asked them about these proposals ‑‑ we did that last fall ‑‑ we actually had ‑‑ 75 percent of the guides recommended a maximum size limit lower than 28 inches. So we had ‑‑ 63 percent of them said that they ‑‑ that you should only have one fish over whatever the maximum size is. And so those two numbers kind of indicate there is some broad support out there, but they may not be as vocal as some of those that have contacted the Commission.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commission Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes.
Is the increased use of the live croaker as a bait impacting the harvest data? In other words, is that something we should be concerned about, or no?
MR. OSBURN: Well, its biggest impact has been on the larger trout. When we see ‑‑ when we look at our data, we see those trips and, in particular, those guide trips that are using live croaker have a much higher incidence of getting their bag limit or of catching a larger fish.
So big fish in general are not common in the harvest, and that's why most of the anglers are focused on what's the minimum size, what's the bag ‑‑ you know, the minimum size is most important for them, and the maximum size is more an opportunity to kind of level the playing field for those that have the skill and the incentive to be trying to track down the larger trout, which are very susceptible to the live croaker as bait.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So ‑‑
MR. OSBURN: I hope I answered your question.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well, I guess what ‑‑ I guess the flip-side to that is: If we were not using live croakers, then it would be much more difficult to harvest the larger trout?
MR. OSBURN: Yes. And it would be more difficult to land ‑‑ catch trout in general, because croaker will catch the small trout, as well. But the concern for us was on the large trout in terms of the quality of the fishery at this point, and that's why folks have asked us on the work group ‑‑ the work group was very clear in saying, "Please continue to monitor this fishery, come back to us and bring us back together on the 16-inch and the minimum size, the lower bag limit to seven and eight," a very common theme on that Spotted Sea Trout Work Group.
And I attribute that to those folks having endured us educating them through a five-meeting process and showing them basically everything that staff has to offer in terms of the biology of this animal. And I ‑‑ and in general, they became convinced that there were some biological benefits for the fishery to look at those rule changes, but we're not prepared to offer them today.
MR. COOK: Hal, I think it might be worthwhile, though, just to note ‑‑
And Mr. Henry's comment about some of these folks being very vocal and very ‑‑ I mean, they're, you know, very set in having their solution to these issues all across the board, that there is ‑‑ a bill has been proposed to, I believe, prohibit the use of croaker. And we don't think that's necessary at this point in time, as Hal has pointed out.
But, Hal, any thoughts on that?
MR. OSBURN: Yes, sir.
Senator Jon Lindsay out of Houston has filed a bill that would establish a 10-inch minimum size on ‑‑ using croaker for bait, which essentially eliminates the use of croaker for bait. And a lot of the guides ‑‑ and you will hear them tomorrow ‑‑ will tell you that their fishery ‑‑ the lower Laguna Madre, in particular, concerned that their fishery is being very negatively impacted by the increasing use of croaker.
Those guides are vocal that we're not doing enough, we did not go far enough, in the rule changes. They would have loved to see us ban those croaker ourselves.
Once again, we would rather manage from the simplest solution first, and then, allowing folks to use whatever bait they want but limiting the number of trout that they can keep that day, that levels the playing field, and it makes it to where you're not penalizing somebody for being a good fisherman. But the angling ethic ‑‑ people are learning that fishing is about the experience; it's not about filling your freezer with meat. And that's the audience that we think will be most vocal in the future of this fishery.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Are we testifying for Sen. Lindsay's bill?
MR. OSBURN: Well, we don't have a pro or con position on any of the legislation, but we will speak to the resource issue when we're asked to. They have not come ‑‑ it has not come up for committee hearing.
MR. COOK: We cannot ‑‑ we are not allowed to speak in favor of or in opposition to any proposed legislation.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: But we're providing info to them.
COMMISSIONER RISING: But it ‑‑ but, Hal, from a biological standpoint, it doesn't appear that the croaker being ‑‑ are being affected by the use of them as live bait?
MR. OSBURN: None at all.
COMMISSIONER RISING: We may be asked to comment on the biological status of the ‑‑
MR. OSBURN: I would ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RISING: ‑‑ croaker fishery.
MR. OSBURN: I would hope that they would be interested in that part.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: And do I understand that there is a disparity between the upper coast and the lower coast fishermen or guides on this issue?
MR. OSBURN: It really does depend on who you talk to. There is a number of the folks out of the upper Laguna Madre who have prided themselves on their big trout fishery, and they should; they wanted in general to have more liberal maximum size limits, but, once again, we have a lower Laguna Madre contingent that is very much concerned that their large trout are in trouble, and they wanted to see us go even further.
So even local folks there are not united on this, but I think that as we continue discussions with them, we're going to get more and more consensus on this fishery.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hal, how practical is it to ‑‑ because I've sat in on a few of those work groups and heard the idea of regional or bay-by-bay management. Is that practical?
MR. OSBURN: I think it is practical. It is more difficult for law enforcement. It opens up an abuse opportunity. But it would also require ‑‑ but, you know, the game wardens have to deal with a lot of abuse possibilities, and they've got ways to deal with that. I trust that they can overcome that problem.
The thing that we are most, I guess, adamant about is that any regionalization should come only ‑‑ come about only through local support: The chambers of commerce, the city councils, the county commissioners. They need to understand that they are ‑‑ that they want this, that they are coming to you and saying ‑‑ because regionalization assumes that one area is going to be more restrictive than another.
And they can get biological benefits and a fishery benefit from that approach, but they have to accept the fact that the ‑‑ psychologically, people may think, Well, I'm not going there to fish, because I can't catch as many. Over time, it may be and you can certainly make the case that people would go there because, My chances of getting my limit are greater. And that would be the rationale for the regionalization.
I would, frankly, like to see some local areas be willing to try that. It's a good scientific experiment for me to monitor. But we are going to facilitate any groups that want to talk about doing that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. Good. Thank you, Hal.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: No.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: No? All right.
Any other questions for Hal?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
Ken, you're next up.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski, with the Inland Fisheries Division. And this morning, I'd like to brief you on the proposed changes to the freshwater fishing regulations and public comments on those.
The first one is a proposal to change the regulations for white bass from the current 12-inch minimum length limit back to the 10-inch minimum length limit, which is a statewide limit. The daily bag would remain at 25 fish per day. Of the public comments that we received on this from our survey off our web site ‑‑ we had 30 for and five against. And other comments ‑‑ e-mail and phone calls, we had three for and six against.
This was really the only proposal we had any substantial comments of either for or against on. Some of the people who were against the change had ‑‑ expressed the desire that ‑‑ they enjoyed harvesting some of these larger fish. We certainly can appreciate that, but we don't feel the length limit was that instrumental and that it's more environmental conditions. And we think that rolling back to the 10 inches won't have much impact there.
Our next small reservoir: Lost Creek Reservoir in Jack County. We are proposing to change the 16-inch minimum length limit for bass back to the 14-inch minimum, which, once again, is state wide. The bag would remain five fish. From our web site comments, most people were in favor of that change.
The next small reservoir: Lake Waxahachie in Ellis County. We have ‑‑ currently have a 14-to-18-inch slot limit and are proposing to change that to the 14-inch minimum length, which is the statewide limit, and retaining the five-fish bag. The comments on that were mostly for that one.
The last proposal we have is just to change the ‑‑ or define the boundary between the reservoir and the river in Toledo Bend Reservoir. That would be set at the U. S. 84 bridge, which would aid both the anglers and enforcement there. And all the comments we received on that were in favor of that change.
Based on these public comments, our recommendation is not to change any of the proposals as presented.
That's all the proposals we have on the freshwater side. I'd be happy to answer any questions if you have any.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: The freshwater guide fee increase ‑‑ does that come under this presentation? Or does that ‑‑
MR. KURZAWSKI: I ‑‑ all the comments that we received were covered by Hal Osburn. We did receive some comments on the freshwater side. We did have a public hearing up in ‑‑ near Texoma with a number of striper guides. I guess the way it worked out ‑‑ on the freshwater side, a lot of the full-time guides were in favor of the fee increase; some of the part-time guides were not in favor of it.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: We got a good bit of, of course ‑‑ well, I won't say, "A good bit," but we got several very cogently presented and strongly worded messages from the smaller guides, the guides that weren't full-time ‑‑
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ who felt like it was a real problem. And I'm sure we'll hear some of that tomorrow, but I wondered if you all ‑‑ how you've analyzed that.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, as I said, it ‑‑ mostly, it was because of the full-time guides were interested in ‑‑ and even getting rid of some of those part-time guides. We're hoping it's not that big of an increase so that it won't drive that many people out of the business.
We do ‑‑ as Mr. Osburn mentioned, we did do a survey of all of the guides. And there was some acceptance of that ‑‑ general statewide acceptance of that increase. And we believe that once it goes into effect, it may not have that big of an impact. Hopefully ‑‑ we don't want to ‑‑ the guides provide a valuable service, and we certainly wouldn't want to see a great decrease in those numbers.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: We had some pretty impassioned please to not do it. So ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: Mr. Angelo, I'm Phil Durocher, the Director of Inland Fisheries. And I know when the discussion was going on awhile ago with the guides and you mentioned that you had had some pretty strong ‑‑ but what was failed to mention that, I believe, a lot of those came from the freshwater guides.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: That's right.
MR. DUROCHER: And the big concern that they had was that there was some ‑‑ guides were being regulated to deal with some issues on the coast, and they were being dragged into it. I don't think that's necessarily the case, but that's the impression that they have.
Unfortunately ‑‑ and I don't know the last conversation we had with general counsel ‑‑ there may be some opportunities for us to separate freshwater guides from coastal guides if we're dealing with different issues. We didn't think that we had that authority to do that. My understanding is that there's some legislation proposed now that would separate or allow us to separate saltwater and freshwater guides, and then we can deal with those issues separately. But right now, they're carried along with whatever changes are made.
The boat limit? That's not an issue, I don't think, with the freshwater guides. Most bass guides don't keep the fish, anyway. And the people that would be impacted are the stripers and the hybrid guides, and we stock all those fish. So they ‑‑ we should be limiting their take. So the fee, I believe, was the biggest issue.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Well, you know, I think, we ought to be real careful not to be doing something that achieves the ‑‑ what Ken mentioned of helping the full-time guides to get rid of their competition ‑‑
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ because that ‑‑ to me, that's just not right.
MR. DUROCHER: Well, let me just say that when the discussion started on these fees, they were much higher than where we are. The proposal that came from these coastal guides was a much higher fee, and we have some of the freshwater guides that would like to see a much higher fee. We think where we ended up is a reasonable recommendation.
MR. KURZAWSKI: I guess, from the comments ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: When's the last time you raised it? Do you know?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Sir?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: When's the last time you raised that fee?
MR. KURZAWSKI: I believe that's ‑‑ 1991 was the last time we raised this fee.
MR. DUROCHER: Yes. It went from 50 to 75. And ‑‑
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right.
MR. DUROCHER: ‑‑ I think it was quite a few years ago.
But the issue is, you know, that there is some concern on the coast about the pressure that guides are putting on some of those fish. We don't have those concerns in freshwater. The guides provide a valuable service. I mean, a lot of people wouldn't fish without the services provided by guides, so we certainly don't want to do anything to hurt the guides in freshwater, and I don't think this will.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The comment was made in one of the letters I received ‑‑ and maybe the rest of you received it ‑‑ that the ‑‑ there hasn't been the exponential increase of freshwater guides that there has been in saltwater. Is that right?
MR. DUROCHER: I would say that that's probably right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And, hence, not the pressure on the resource?
MR. DUROCHER: That's right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. DUROCHER: And it ‑‑ the guides in freshwater are not organized like they are. And in saltwater, the guides are pretty much in the same territory. I mean, we have a group of guides that work 800 lakes in the state. So ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. DUROCHER: ‑‑ you know, they never see each other. They don't know each other, and their issues are all different.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: What, if anything, are we doing to look at the possibility of ‑‑ and I know you have done this, so I shouldn't say, "What if," because I know you have ‑‑ finding some way to get the people that participate in the fishing tournaments to pay a more representative fee that would help in terms of funding and ‑‑ to offset the cost of some of the things that we do?
MR. DUROCHER: The big issue with us there has been the ‑‑ before, I think, we go in that ‑‑ we go that way, we need to find out how many tournaments there are and what the impacts of these events are on the resource. I mean, we don't even know that yet.
There will probably be some requests for some ‑‑ for an interim study after this legislative session ‑‑ to ask us to take a look at tournaments and come back with some recommendations for the next session. And we would hope to have some recommendations then. The amount of money that we ‑‑ I mean, we don't know, but, just from the estimates that we have, the amount of money we could generate without completely putting these people out of business is not all that much.
I mean, let's say you have ‑‑ you know, we say 6,000 events a year, but a lot of those are just little, local club events. There's not a lot of revenue generated, anyway. And so you may have 2- or 300 large events. And how much would you have to charge them to generate any significant revenue, and how would you do it?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Ken?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I was just going to ask ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: What are other states doing with tournaments? Is there a trend nationwide to charge a fee for tournaments, or do we know?
MR. KURZAWSKI: There was a few ‑‑ well, there's maybe 15 states or so that charge or have some sort of tournament permit that's usually a pretty minimal fee, and it varies state to state. Most ‑‑ in the south, there aren't that many states. Most of them are in the midwest or in the north.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: What about Florida?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Florida does have a permit that if you ‑‑ they have a ‑‑ I believe it's a 22-inch size limit ‑‑ maximum size limit on bass. And if you want to have a ‑‑ in the tournament, if you want to harvest those, you need a permit. And they have that in place for that, so it's sort of a limited use. It just allows you to harvest those or ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: There's ‑‑
MR. KURZAWSKI: ‑‑ catch and release those.
MR. DUROCHER: Yes. There's not much of that. Some people require permits, but it's just ‑‑ it's not to generate revenue. It's to gather information.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Hal, didn't I understand you to say it was Florida that probably has more bass tournaments than any other state besides Texas?
MR. DUROCHER: I would ‑‑ oh, maybe. I really don't know, but it's popular. It's popular all over the southeast, not just Florida and Texas. You know, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia ‑‑ it's a very popular activity in the southeast.
It's like I said when I made the briefing ‑‑ when I gave you the briefing: It has become a traditional form of fishing. It's not something outside the box anymore. Tournaments have become a part of our business.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: To follow up that question, either Phil or Ken, do the other states gather data, whether or not they charge a separate permit fee or not? Is there any trend there, or are we outside the norm in not gathering that data from tournaments?
MR. KURZAWSKI: A few other states have instituted voluntary tournament reporting like we did; they've had varying success. None of the ‑‑ a few of the states use it as just to regulate the number of tournaments in a particular area. I don't know of much individual gathering ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'm just ‑‑
MR. KURZAWSKI: Maybe Oklahoma. Oklahoma has had sort of a volunteer reporting where they have used the information, similar to what we have tried to do in the past.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Nobody has a mandatory?
MR. DUROCHER: I'm just not familiar with it. I'm not saying they don't. I just ‑‑ I'm not familiar.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, I ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: But I can certainly find out.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You know, Phil, you know how I feel about this. You know, I think it's totally inappropriate that we have, you know, an activity of this significance that we really don't know ‑‑ I mean, you don't have any idea of how many fish are being caught. You know, you say you think there's 6,000 tournaments; there may be 10,000 tournaments.
MR. DUROCHER: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We just don't know. And I think that there are high dollars involved in a certain number of these tournaments; I mean, these guys don't pull up at Lake Fork with their $35,000 pickup pulling a $40,000 boat, you know, just because, you know, they don't have anything else to do with their money.
And, you know, I don't think it's ‑‑ you know, as I've told you before, I don't think it's an appropriate use of the resource for us to put fish out there in Lake Fork that belong to all of the people of Texas and have Johnny Morris come on and put on a million-dollar bass fishing tournament and 80 or 90 percent of the fish they catch get killed. And, you know, I just think that we certainly ought to know the extent of it, if nothing else.
And I think there's a lot of support for gathering that knowledge and the Parks and Wildlife being, certainly, compensated for whatever expense it takes to get the knowledge. And ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: Well, hopefully, before the next session, we will. And I have been traveling around the state talking to these groups and telling them that, you know, This is going to happen; So you all need to work with us, and let's figure out what's the best way to get this information, and don't tell me voluntarily, because we've been down that road and that didn't work.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Didn't show up.
MR. DUROCHER: There's going to have to be some incentive for them to present ‑‑ to give us that information. And I'm confident that we will have something developed ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Phil ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: ‑‑ two years from now ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HENRY: ‑‑ you ‑‑ every time this is discussed, we generally get the same kinds of information. Would it be possible for you and your staff to get basic information from such similar agencies in the states that have significant numbers so we could just get an idea of what others are doing in the area, whether or not there are registrations or licenses or whatever among the states that we know that have significant numbers of these?
MR. DUROCHER: We had ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Because if it's going to happen, we need some basis ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: ‑‑ to start thinking about it before we can begin to make some decisions.
MR. DUROCHER: I had that ‑‑ we had all that information. You know, like I said, we proposed some legislation back in '92 to do this, to require a permit.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Is that counter to what you said to me a little earlier, Bob? We do propose legislation?
MR. DUROCHER: No, not this year.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Support and oppose is what he said we didn't do ‑‑ couldn't do.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: We do propose?
MR. DUROCHER: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Is that what you're saying?
MR. DUROCHER: No. We had legislation that was introduced was that they would give us this information, in '92.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Okay.
MR. DUROCHER: And it was done by bass groups that supported it, but it was defeated. And we were trying to get information.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: How difficult would it be to make the contacts with other state organizations ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: We can do that.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: ‑‑ to get some basic information from them?
MR. DUROCHER: We had that ‑‑ I had all that information when we looked at this before. And it's ‑‑ it might be outdated. So I'd have to go back and look again, but we'd ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HENRY: I think that would be a good idea.
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, sir. It's going to happen.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Particularly if it's going to happen.
MR. DUROCHER: Right.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Phil, it's ‑‑ we just established a Freshwater Fishing Advisory Group.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: There you go.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: I think this would be a very appropriate question to bring up in that group to address it. I mean, it seems to me that figuring out a way that is workable with these groups where they could provide us with that kind of information which, I think, everybody agrees we need to have to determine what's going on out there is reasonable. If we can figure out a way to do that, we should.
MR. DUROCHER: We had the advisory board in '92, and they certainly supported that legislation, but we're going to go back to them again. We're meeting ‑‑
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Sounds like it's time to try again.
MR. DUROCHER: They'll be in this room Monday.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Mr. Chairman, I'd suggest that these are some of the kinds of issues and ideas that we may want to work into Chairman's charges for the next biennium. And depending on how our budget looks and our ‑‑ we may have to do some adjusting, but it's certainly an initiative that we support and that we agree we need more information on, and we're working on it.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well, in line with that, Bob, is: As tough as it is financially and with revenues being where they're at, I think we need to be innovative and look at areas such as this. We don't want to kill the industry, but we want to be able to be compensated if it's in fact having an impact on our fish and our resource.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: I think it's also important to be mindful that many of these communities around these lakes really depend on these tournaments. And so this isn't a cut-and-dried issue; I mean, there are a lot of ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Absolutely.
CHAIRMAN ARMSTRONG: ‑‑ points of view and a lot of impacts here, and I hope that they're all at the table so we can find a workable path.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: As I've said, it's just like a hunting season to a lot of small, rural communities ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ and helps them pay their bills.
Any other questions for the Freshwater Fisheries, Phil or Ken?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, gentlemen.
Now, that concludes the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation presentation by staff. And if there are no further questions or discussion, without objection, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Now on to Item 3 on the agenda: Candidate state parks for public hunting and establishment of an open season on public hunting lands.
There you are.
MS. FITE: Mr. Chairman, members of the Regulations Committee, good morning. I'm here to address the candidate state park proposals that are open for public hunting and to establish an open season on public hunting lands for 2003/2004.
The Commission was briefed in January on the 42 parks that were proposed for state ‑‑ that were proposed for hunting in the 2003/2004 season. Since then, the proposals for the 42 parks were presented at 17 public meetings, and they were also posted on the web ‑‑ Departmental web site for public comment.
We received a total of three comments. Two of the comments requested that we allow more public hunting on the weekends on state parks, and the third one recommended that we allow more public hunting in general and that we bring more of our parks to the table to address public hunting issues on those areas, also.
In order for the public hunts to be conducted on TPWD public hunting lands during the period of September 1, 2003 through August 31, 2004, an open hunting season must be established. Chapters 62 and 81 of the Parks and Wildlife Code gives the Commission the authority to establish an open hunting season on our state parks, wildlife management areas and public hunting lands.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my presentation.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Vickie.
Any questions on public ‑‑
I have one on public hunting and that's maybe a little bit off your presentation that came to mind in a discussion with some folks from U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Do ‑‑ are we able now under ‑‑ do we need to change anything in order to add the refuge system to our dove hunting ‑‑ public dove hunting program that we have ‑‑
MS. FITE: On ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ with federal lands?
MS. FITE: ‑‑ our public dove hunting?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Uh-huh.
MS. FITE: We ‑‑ it's not addressed, of course, in this presentation, but we usually start that process around May where we go out and try to get the private landowners. And at that point, we can bring on other lands such as, yes, the refuges and those types of lands. We can certainly try to create a partnership and bring those lands into our program at that point.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, they were very interested in our program and the success of our public dove hunting program, which I think has been a great, great program and brings a lot of people into hunting some of those ‑‑
MR. COOK: We would have the authority to add those lands if the refuge system was agreeable, I believe ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Great.
MR. COOK: ‑‑ under our ‑‑ under the action that you will take.
MS. FITE: Right.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER AVILA: Do we currently deer hunt those areas?
MS. FITE: Which areas, sir?
COMMISSIONER AVILA: The refuges?
MS. FITE: We don't have a lot of the refuge ‑‑ we don't have them under our system. They handle their own hunting as far as they have a public hunting program that they go through their own means of allowing hunters to go out there. Some of them have drawings by mail and other methods of getting their hunters. So we don't handle their hunting at this point.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Because ‑‑ is there any coordination or communication between our public hunting people and theirs?
MS. FITE: Basically, we direct people to their agencies in order to get their information out. There have been times in the past when we have had that information available that our phone bank staff have been able to tell people like ‑‑ deadline dates and things like that, but they handle their own drawing systems.
MR. COOK: No. This is ‑‑ there is ‑‑ I think, in answer to your question there, there is a lot of coordination between the state and the refuge system across the nation. In Texas, of course, most of that hunting is waterfowl ‑‑
MS. FITE: Right.
MR. COOK: ‑‑ geese, ducks, et cetera, but like, I think, up on the Haggarman [phonetic], there's some deer hunting on some of their areas.
MS. FITE: Right.
MR. COOK: There's just a few ‑‑
MS. FITE: There's some archery, and they're hunting up there.
MR. COOK: Most of their ‑‑ most of the refuges, of course, are associated with the coastal counties ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. COOK: ‑‑ and those areas, and that's what most of the hunting is, I think.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. So it seems that it would be appropriate ‑‑
MR. COOK: To be managed by ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ for the dove hunting program probably to fit.
MS. FITE: Sure.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I continue to be concerned about the youth of the state ‑‑
MS. FITE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: ‑‑ and the access to hunting, and so forth. Does our public hunting program prioritize or in any way favor youth hunts to where we take care of the youth to a greater extent than we may do to the adult population, or are they in competition with everyone else and have no edge, as you might say?
MS. FITE: Well, actually, we do have the hunts that are specifically geared toward the youth hunt. We have the youth hunting categories that ‑‑ the youth is the one that hunts. An adult has to go along with them, but the youth is the primary hunter, especially for our big game. We have youth hunting weekends that are set in the waterfowl season that we allow both ‑‑ in some cases, both the youth and the adult to hunt. We have youth squirrel seasons.
We have ‑‑ so they are a priority to us; however, they are able to hunt during the general season, also. We don't handicap them in any way to not allow them to hunt during the general season.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I would be interested in having data that would indicate ‑‑
MS. FITE: Sure.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: ‑‑ for example, from a hundred hunts that we have in any particular area, what percentage of that would be actual youth hunts in reality as compared to theoretical. In other words: To where ‑‑ and I'm not trying to be critical, but, at least, I personally feel that we need to be more sensitive to the youth and to some extent maybe be more liberal in our hunts with them as compared to the adult population.
And I would be interested in statistics to show whether we see a greater percentage of youth hunts ‑‑ in other words, if the statistics show that 5 percent of our hunts in the state are youth, that would bother me. And I would like to see whatever percentage it is to get it up as high as we could.
MS. FITE: Okay.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And that's just my ‑‑
MR. COOK: I believe we can provide that information over time that will indicate an increase in that program and opportunity, as well.
MS. FITE: I can tell you this: Of all of our drawn permits, 12.2 percent of them are youth permits that are drawn. Over all of our drawings on our state parks, it's 9.2 percent of the permits that are offered that are strictly youth.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And the definition of "youth" would be what age group?
MS. FITE: That's going to be eight to 16.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Eight to 16?
MS. FITE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Okay.
MS. FITE: We do offer some hunts by regular permit in our $40 permit system. Under our $40 annual public hunting permit, I believe, we provide 13 days of youth hunting out there. And we do not have the eight-year-old minimum there. So we do have a window of opportunity for some of our small game, our waterfowl hunts and quail hunts to where younger kids can go along, also. We even have rabbit hunts that we allow the younger children to be ‑‑ take part in, also.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Vickie.
MS. FITE: Sure.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions on the public hunting lands?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: If there's no further questions or discussion, without objection, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
MS. FITE: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Clayton, you're up with the scientific breeder proclamation.
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman and members, I'm Clay Wolf, the White-tailed Deer Program Leader. I have up here with me Dave Sinclair; he's the Chief of Wildlife Law Enforcement. He's here to assist in answering any questions that deal with law enforcement issues, primarily the second proposal.
We've got two proposed changes to the scientific breeder proclamation that we're going to ask you to consider for adoption. The first proposal actually has a history dating back to the middle of the summer last year, and so I'm going to briefly recap the sequence of events to kind of jog everybody's memory on what has taken place.
In August of 2002, this Commission adopted a regulation which required that a scientific breeder must get written authorization from the Department prior to releasing captive deer into the wild. This authorization would be issued after a game warden, a wildlife biologist or a veterinarian did a visual inspection of the herd from which the animals would be released and basically certified that the animals looked healthy.
Now, when we notified the scientific breeder community of this requirement, there were numerous comments that they did not feel like they had ample opportunity to comment on the proposal. So on October 2 of 2002, the Wildlife Division issued a letter basically authorizing the release of scientific breeder deer, and that was to remain effective until we rescinded that authority. We basically used this letter so that they could operate as normal and we had an opportunity to receive more public comment on this issue, as well as several others.
We began the public comment process. We had four public meetings: Cotula, Kerrville, San Antonio and LaGrange. We discussed this issue, as well as some of the triple-T regulation proposals. We wrapped up on October 31 in this room here by convening the MLDP triple-T task force to discuss this issue, among others.
Now, the issue that was brought to our attention by those representing the scientific breeder community was that they felt that a private veterinarian probably would not want to assume the additional perceived liability associated with signing off on a document that said that a deer herd looked healthy. They had a valid point in that chronic wasting disease has a long incubation period, animals can have chronic wasting disease and still appear to be healthy; additionally, there is no live animal test, as you heard Dr. Waldrup testify this morning. Therefore, they felt that they would assume additional liability if they indicated that a deer herd was healthy and, in fact, there was CWD in that deer herd and it was released into the wild.
The scientific breeder representatives offered an alternative, and that was to require that scientific breeders be enrolled in a Texas Animal Health Commission monitoring program in order to release deer into the wild. The task force agreed with that recommendation.
Therefore, our proposal is to eliminate the written authorization requirement to release captive deer into the wild, and, in turn, we propose that no person may release a deer obtained or possessed under the authority of a scientific breeder permit to the wild unless that person can prove that the deer either came directly from a facility enrolled in a current valid herd health plan approved by the Texas Animal Health Commission or the deer meets CWD entry requirements established by the Texas Animal Health Commission. Obviously, this would apply to out-of-state imports.
The second proposal deals with pen diagram requirements. Currently, someone who applies for a scientific breeder permit must submit a diagram of the physical layout of the facility; additionally, they must submit that diagram with their annual renewal paperwork even if there are no changes to that facility, but they are not required to submit changes in pen diagrams until an annual renewal if they have changes during the middle of the report period.
The issue at hand here is the accuracy of this diagram, especially as it pertains to inspections by Law Enforcement Division. Game wardens conduct inspections basically to verify a scientific breeder's inventory of deer and, basically, make sure that they have the deer in the facility that they're supposed to have in that facility.
They base this inspection based on the facility where they need to go look for these deer. If a scientific breeder has constructed additional pens either adjacent to that facility or somewhere else on the ranch and we are not aware of that because we have not been notified, then, obviously, this could become an impediment to getting an accurate inventory of the deer that the scientific breeder is supposed to own.
Additionally is the status of these animals. The deer that are held in a scientific breeder facility are private property, but the regulations are clear that if deer are liberated from a scientific breeder facility, they become wild animals and cannot be retrieved. So in addition to enhancing the ability of law enforcement to conduct the inventory, we think that our proposal will also protect the privately held status of these deer.
We propose to eliminate the requirement for submitting the pen diagram annually. They would submit that the first time. If there are no changes to the facility, then they do not have to submit any other diagrams. However, if the facility is enlarged or added to, no person may put deer into the new portion of the facility until they submit an accurate diagram to the Department.
And I think I clarified at the last Commission meeting that there's no approval process involved here; basically, we just need the revised diagram mailed to us or faxed to us. We would also recommend, though, that the individual that sends that in follows up to ensure that we did receive it.
Now, you'll recall that we withdrew these two proposals at the last Commission meeting so that we could republish them with more clear text. During the first comment period, we basically had only two inquiries, neither for nor against. During the second comment period, to date, we have received no comments on either of the two proposals. And we'll take your questions now.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: One question I have: If ‑‑ is our concern more in expanding the pen as compared to taking the existing diagram and then chopping it up, as you might say, into smaller pens? So would this regulation require both that ‑‑ if you have an existing diagram and you add three new pens, or is it only limited to if you take the existing diagram and you want to double it?
MR. WOLF: The way I understand it, basically, any cross-fencing within the perimeter that we have on hand really doesn't concern us. Because it doesn't take on new acreage; those animals are still within that captive facility. It's when animals leave the facility as we know it, the perimeter, and are actually put into another pen.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So if you're doing cross-fencing within the existing diagram, then you don't have to report that?
MR. SINCLAIR: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Good. Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Clayton, can you go back to that previous slide on release?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: There we go. Now, if we no longer are going to require the written authorization, which I understand, with the problem with manpower and just the regulatory burden to the scientific breeder permitee, then are we essentially going onto an honor system there that any release will meet the criteria?
MR. WOLF: Well, our scientific breeders are required to report the disposition of their deer ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. WOLF: ‑‑ those that are born at the facility, those that they purchase and those that they release. So, obviously, when the game wardens conduct their inspections and verify the dispositions of the animals, if they've indicated that they have released animals, then they would have to be enrolled in the monitoring program with the Texas Animal Health Commission. Obviously, if ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It's similar to what you just ‑‑ what you have right up there? That's the criteria?
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: So the permitee has to make a report that affirmatively represents that their releases have been in compliance? In other words, if we ‑‑ they tell us it has been done in compliance instead of us going out there and making sure it was?
MR. WOLF: The way I understand the process and ‑‑ if you'll recall, when we had the scientific breeders enroll, we were shooting for that ‑‑ I think it was 160 scientific breeders to get an adequate sample. Basically, they call the Texas Animal Health Commission and say, I would like to enroll. I guess maybe I might want to defer to David. I hadn't thought about the ‑‑ you know, how that verification would take place.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I guess what I'm saying is there's a difference between, "This is what I did with my deer," and affirmatively representing that, "What I did was in compliance."
MR. WOLF: Yes.
MS. SINCLAIR: Mr. Chairman, I'm ‑‑ and members, I'm David Sinclair, Chief of Wildlife Enforcement. There is a purchase permit that has to be activated by the seller or the buyer of the deer. And we plan on putting a check-box on that purchase permit where they'll designate that they are an approved facility. So ‑‑ and it's also signed. So they're attesting to the fact that they are, and we receive that in advance, before the deer are moved.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And does that also cover the issue of release when they report? That's my specific question.
MS. SINCLAIR: I think that it would ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MS. SINCLAIR: ‑‑ because the buyer's name is on that same document and the buyer or a buyer's agent signs that document.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I guess what I'm saying is I have no problem with an honor system as long as it is clear that the burden is upon the permitee to make the representation that what they've done has been in compliance with the rules; that takes the pressure off of you for man power, and ‑‑ if that's where we are.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Is there any regulation that ‑‑ for example, if you bring an animal into a pen from out of state and you've satisfied the entry requirements, is there any requirement as to how long that animal has to stay in the pen? In other words, theoretically, it could come in and go out?
MS. SINCLAIR: The ‑‑ it could be brought into a pen and liberated. We do not have any period of time that the animals have to be held ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: You don't have a ‑‑
MS. SINCLAIR: ‑‑ under Parks and Wildlife regulations.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Not even under the ‑‑ because it seems to me that if ‑‑ well, maybe I'm not familiar enough with the valid herd health plan. But the valid herd health plan of the Texas Animal Health Commission does not incorporate a time restriction on animals coming in?
MS. SINCLAIR: And I'm not familiar with that. I'd have to defer to Dr. Waldrup if there is.
MR. WOLF: But are you referring to out-of-state imports versus ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes.
MR. WOLF: On the out-of-state imports, obviously, the animals have to meet the entry requirements. And, I think, as Mr. Cook had mentioned this morning, for instance, in a state that has ‑‑ does not have CWD, the person would still have to prove that they've been monitoring that herd for three years. So the person shipping the deer to Texas would have to be enrolled in a monitoring program that we ‑‑ that the animal health commission approves of.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So that's ‑‑
MR. COOK: Bottom line, they could release them that day if ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: If they come from an approved ‑‑
MR. COOK: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: ‑‑ facility?
MR. COOK: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: A very quick comment. The way you explained the notice and receipt requirements indicates we might have general counsel look at to tighten it up so it's very clear that notice has to be given in the form that we are contemplating receiving it.
MR. WOLF: You're talking about on the pen diagram requirements?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes, the pen diagram.
MR. WOLF: Okay.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Because if somebody wanted to hide that, if you leave that squishy, kind of ‑‑ the way it sounded like it might be easy to get around that.
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All right. Any other questions on the scientific breeder proclamation?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Gentlemen, thank you.
MR. WOLF: Thank you.
MS. SINCLAIR: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I know you've put in a lot of work.
If there are no further questions or discussion, without objection, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Our next item is Dave Morrison: The migratory gamebird proclamation.
MR. MORRISON: Mr. Chairman, Commission members, my name is Dave Morrison; I'm the Waterfowl Program Leader for the Wildlife Division. Today, I'm going to be presenting proposed changes to the 2003/2004 migratory gamebird proclamation, and this includes both the early and late seasons.
For the most part, the regulations remain basically unchanged this year except for calendar adjustments; however, I should point out that if federal regulations do change these year, all of these proposals could be altered significantly.
One shift that ‑‑ one change that we are suggesting is shifting the September teal season one week later. The proposed dates for this year's September teal season would be September 20 through the 28th. In the past, the Commission has elected to set the September teal season basically around the Saturday nearest September 16th. Although this is a good season during a 16-day teal option, it is not the best season under a nine-day option. So what we're proposing in the future is to set the September teal season as late in September as possible and maximize the number of weekends.
With respect to the duck season, no changes are currently being proposed for this year, with the exception of calendar shift. The seasons that we are proposing are based on a liberal season package; however, should things change this year, that could all go away.
I do need to point out that the surveys that we use to set the regulations are currently in jeopardy. In the past, the fish and wildlife service planes have been granted waivers to fly overweight in the bush country of Canada. This year, those waivers have not been approved. If we cannot get those waivers approved prior to the time we start flying the surveys, we could lose anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of our survey routes in the Canadian provinces, and this could have an impact on our adaptive harvest management proposals.
The dates you see there are basically the dates for the three zones of Texas: The High Plains Mallard Management Unit, the north zone and the south zone. The dates you see there are simply calendar shifts from last year.
We are not recommending any change with respect to the bag limit for duck species, either. We have maintained the restriction on pintails and the closure on canvas-backs. Should conditions change and these restrictions not be warranted, then we'll come back at a later date and propose those changes.
In the western goose zone, we're not proposing any changes with respect to the goose seasons with the exception of calendar shifts. At the recent Central Flyway Council meeting, a recommendation was approved that essentially would reduce the dark goose season in the west zone of Texas from 107 days down to 95 and reduce the bag limit from five to three. Now, that is the recommendation that has been approved by the Central Flyway Council; that will now go before the Fish and Wildlife Service, and what action Fish and Wildlife Service takes is still unknown.
However, I would suggest that the Fish and Wildlife Service probably will support that recommendation, because the mid-winter indices for the dark geese, particularly the short grass prairie Canada geese, has been on the decline for the last several years. So that is something that may be coming into play this coming season.
In the east zone, we're not proposing any changes to the dark goose hunting, nor are we proposing any changes to the light geese. We have maintained that north and south segment in the east zone; however, if the duck season framework is anything other than liberal, we would propose eliminating that designation.
Once again, a conservation order for light geese will be offered. We are proposing that we continue with this conservation order with the same season dates as last year, as well as the methods of take.
There has been some research being conducted in the arctic that is suggesting that the light goose conservation order may be having some impact. The survival rates of light geese have been declining, and, in some places, they're seeing potentially as high as a 20- to 25-percent reduction in those populations. All this work is still preliminary, and they're still working on it, but it is promising that the light goose conservation order may be having some impact.
This proposal also provides for some extended falcon hunting operations ‑‑ falconry hunting in the north and south zones. There will be no additional falconry season in the high plains simply because we use all the dates during the regular gun seasons.
For dove season, we are proposing to retain the same season lengths and bag limits that the Commission approved last year. One note that should be made is that in the south zone, the season will open on September 20, which is a Saturday. In the past, we've opened the Friday prior. But the framework provides for openings no earlier than September 20 in south zones. Since September 20 this year falls on a Saturday, the season will open on a Saturday.
For the special white-winged dove area in the south zone, we're proposing that the season open the first two full weekends in September. This year, September 1 falls on a Monday. As a result, we're going to push ‑‑ recommend pushing that season to the first two weekends in September. During those first two weekends of September ‑‑ of the September season, the bag limit will be ten in the aggregate to include no more than five white-winged or two white-tipped. This is no change from the past.
The remainder of that special white-winged dove area in the south zone is September 20 through November 5 and December 20 through January 7. During those two splits, the bag limit will be the same as the south zone.
With respect to the Sandhill crane hunting recommendations, we're proposing no changes in the Sandhill crane hunting other than calendar shifts.
With that, I conclude my presentation. And I'll be happy to take any questions.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Mr. Chairman?
The duck season that's proposed is the ‑‑ what is the latest date that we could have the duck season to close in January? Is that the date we've got, or is it something later than that?
MR. MORRISON: Currently, under a liberal framework, we can go as late as January 27 ‑‑ I believe it would be ‑‑ this year. In the north zone, we're proposing that. In the high plains, it's a little bit of a modification. But in the south zone, we're still proposing to close on about the Sunday nearest the 20th of January. That option of extended frameworks is only available in a liberal package. Now, with moderate, restrictive or very restrictive, that option is not available, and it goes back to the Saturday nearest January 20.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: As I recall, last year, in order to effectively extend the teal season, we had a little gimmick there that ‑‑ I mean, it permitted a few more days in September ‑‑
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ but it ended up with us closing the season earlier in January than we might otherwise have been able to do. I had several people call me about that for the ‑‑
MR. MORRISON: In essence, what it did last year ‑‑ we closed on a Wednesday. We could have run as late as a Sunday.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Right.
MR. MORRISON: You know, we put those days on the September side.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Now you're talking about those six days longer potentially ‑‑ is that right ‑‑
MR. MORRISON: I'm sorry?
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ from the 21st instead of the 27th?
MR. MORRISON: Well, under a liberal package, we can go until basically the last Sunday in January. And this year, the last Sunday in January would be January 25.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: The 25th?
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: And we're talking about closing it on the 21st. So that's still only four days' ‑‑
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: ‑‑ difference?
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER ANGELO: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Dave, have you had much comment on the south Texas extended ‑‑ the late season? Because ‑‑ I know in my part of the world, it's pretty popular. That's about the only time we had any birds.
MR. MORRISON: The comments have been kind of split, to be perfectly frank. Some people still believe that we need to hunt as late as possible. I think that, you know, personally, from a ‑‑ from when the birds are here, I think that in south Texas the best hunting is going ‑‑ is not going to be later in January. I think that your opportunity to harvest birds in Texas in the south zone diminishes the further, the later, you go in the year.
Now, certainly, some places in the north part of the state, north Texas, the hunting opportunity may be later ‑‑ better later. I don't necessarily subscribe to that. So it depends on who you talk to. Most people are going to say it's better later, because it gets colder and all that, but, to be perfectly frank with you, I think that moving it later may minimize the amount of birds that you can harvest.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is there any change on the census issue of ‑‑ I've been reading about that there was some concern that a lot of the counts were based on locations that were no longer realistic or appropriate on the mourning dove census. Is there any move by the feds to improve that census?
MR. MORRISON: Well, I think the Fish and Wildlife Service is looking at a lot of different options with respect to the mourning dove issue. I think that we are looking at ‑‑ one of the biggest things we need to find out is survival rates and those kinds of things that ‑‑ we're in the process of beginning a tremendous banding program that's going to encompass not only Texas but lots of states in the central flyway.
And it's going to be a national survey, and that's trying to address some of the issues that you're talking about. With respect to the survey lines, the dove-call counts, those basically have been in place for years.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. MORRISON: And yes, there are some concerns that some of the call rates that we currently have may be going through places that are just not dove habitat any more, but ‑‑ that is a concern. But one of the biggest concerns that we need right now is to look at survival rates. We need to look at harvest rates. We need to start getting some answers from the biology of the bird with respect ‑‑ that can only be answered from banding surveys. And we're moving in that direction right now.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And what's the time frame there? Because we're still basing our regulatory decisions on those old survey lines and call counts. So what's the time line to getting newer and better data?
MR. MORRISON: Hopefully, we can get this banding program kicked off this year, and in the next three to five years, start gathering that information and try to answer some of those questions within the next five years.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: My concern is that because dove hunting is such an important part not only of our hunting economy but to me, it's really the entry level for a lot of people into hunting; we're shown these long-term gradual declines in mourning doves and then the whole concept of, you know, trade bag per day is 12 to 15 and your getting a longer number of days is really based upon that data which, from what I've read, may not be the best data.
MR. MORRISON: That's true, but it's the best that we've got right now.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. MORRISON: And you still have to understand that mourning dove is still one of the most abundant species out there. Even with small declines, they are still one of the most abundant bird species out there. And that is why there has been a ‑‑ not only in the central management unit, but in the eastern management unit, they're all putting together banding proposals.
And we are working as we speak ‑‑ I mean, we're buying wire, and we're doing all that stuff right now ‑‑ to start trapping birds and to start slapping some bands on them, to try to gather some of this information that is going to address some of the questions that you're talking about.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good. Well, my hope is that it'll show that we can expand our days and our bags, because of your ‑‑ the point you made, that it's abundant bird.
MR. MORRISON: I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. I'm hoping.
Any other migratory bird questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Dave.
MR. MORRISON: Thank you, very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And that item ‑‑ if there are no further questions or discussion, without objection, I authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
And our last item is a briefing from Bob Carroll on our six-county antler restrictions update.
MR. CARROLL: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Bob Carroll; I'm a Wildlife Division District Leader. I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the six-county experimental antler restriction regulation.
We sent an opinion survey out last summer, in June 2002. In this survey, we sent out 37,778 surveys to landowners, hunters and wildlife co-op members. We had 8,139 of these valid responses returned. There ‑‑ the survey was put out as a series of statements, and the participant was asked to answer yes or no. There's three of these I'd like to share with you that, I think, are ‑‑ have importance.
The first is: "I support the newly adopted buck harvest regulation that includes antler restrictions." 70 percent responded yes. The next is: "Most of the bucks I see in the six-county area are young bucks." Again, the response was 86 percent, yes, on the positive side.
The last is: "I typically passed up spike-antlered bucks and waited for bucks with more points." 71 percent responded yes to this. This is of particular interest to us because last year, if you'll remember in the data we presented to you, it tended to indicate that 30 years of one-buck bag limit in these counties might inadvertently be protecting spike-bucks. That was the reason that we asked this question, and it tends to support that assumption.
We had 17 check stations in the six-county area; these were voluntary check stations. We had 600 deer brought in during a season to these check stations. 334 of them had a spread greater than 13 inches, 257 had at least one unbranched antler, and nine had six points on one antler with a spread of less than 13 inches.
We also asked hunters if ‑‑ and encouraged them that if they did kill a deer that did not meet those qualifications, would they please bring them in to the check station. Well, we had a number that did that. Also, the wardens ‑‑ in their regular enforcement duties in the counties with the hunters that they ran into that had deer that did not meet these minimum qualifications, they took inside spread measurements on them and the points and gave that data to us.
This is a combination of their information and what we've gathered at the check stations. As you can see here, there's 41 of them, and 20, almost half, were within one inch of meeting that minimum antler spread regulation. To us, this indicates that the hunters were at least trying out there to abide by this regulation.
This is a very important chart that we'll be looking at annually each year of this regulation. What we have here in the red bars is an average of percent harvest by age class in the 1990s. This is where we started this from. The yellow bars is additional data that was gathered from our check stations this year. This is where the first year ended up.
As we wanted to do ‑‑ in the year-and-a-half and two-and-a-half-year-old age classes, we wanted to reduce the harvests. And in the three- and the four-year-old-plus age classes, we wanted to increase that harvest. And that's exactly what happened this first year.
The green bar is the goal that we set going into this. We felt like, If we can achieve this goal, this would be a success. So the way you would read this basically is: The red bar's where we started, the yellow bar is where we are, and the green bar is where we're headed.
There's one other set of information that I would like to show to you. This was presented to you last year at this same time. Just to explain this and bring you up to date in case you don't remember this chart, this ‑‑ what you see in front of you right now is the year-and-a-half-old age class. And this at ‑‑ on the bottom axis of this chart is inches spread. As you can see there, the most number of deer in the year-and-a-half-old age class were in that 8-inch category.
Then you have the two-and-a-half-year-olds that's added, and then you have the three-and-a-half-year-old, and then you have the four-and-a-half-plus-year-old that's added to this. Now, I want you to pay particular interest to the seven-to-twelve inches area in this chart. That's where we had the bulk of our harvest taking place, and that's where we wanted to reduce the harvest the most.
I'm fixing to show you the same data like this presented for this last year's harvest. And I would like for you ‑‑ as I switch charts, I would like for you to pay particular attention to the seven-to-twelve-inch categories.
MR. CARROLL: We did reduce the harvest on that segment.
MR. CARROLL: So this regulation is proceeding as we expected it to. We're very comfortable with it and pleased with the outcome so far. And I'll be glad to answer your questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Bob, I went to several of those meetings with you, and I started out a skeptic, as you know, mainly because I couldn't understand the regulation the first time I read it. But I mean, I commend you for your work. And I saw you work with the local ‑‑ well, it was driven by the local landowners and wildlife management co-ops. And I want to thank them for all their help, because my guess is your data wouldn't be that good without the co-ops.
MR. CARROLL: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good job.
MR. COOK: Bob, our plan for the Commission is to continue this program. We brought in a set of landowners here and brought in our wardens from these counties and our biologists and technicians from these counties and all had a good visit and talked about the thing, where it has ‑‑ where we had some concerns.
And the bottom line is we're planning on continuing this program for the full three-year period of this study until we can come back to you with what we believe will be a complete evaluation of the impact and what it has done and how it's accepted. Good job.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Bob. Great job.
That was a briefing item. Any other business to come before the Regulations Committee?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none ‑‑
Do you have something?
COMMISSIONER AVILA: No.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Commissioners, I'd entertain a motion to adjourn.
COMMISSIONER AVILA: Move to adjourn.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Second?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Can I have a second?
COMMISSIONER RISING: Second.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: All opposed?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Then we are adjourned at 11:45. The gavel returns to the Chairman. Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 11:45, this meeting was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: April 2, 2003
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731
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