Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
April 7, 2004Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 7th day of April, 2004, 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:
- Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Ned S. Holmes, Houston, Texas
- Alvin L. Henry, Houston, Texas
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas (absent)
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas
- Mark E. Watson, Jr., San Antonio, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE
Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G S
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Meeting's called to order. Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Cook has a statement to make.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, a public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the office of Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551, 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 FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Mr. Cook.
First order of business, is approval of the Committee minutes, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So moved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Second.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Motion by Commissioner Holmes, second by Commissioner Holt. All in favor, please say, Aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Any oppose?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, motion carried. All right.
Committee Item Number 1, Chairman's Charges.
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In the regulations committee, one of the Chairman charges, of course covering the implementation authority and direction given by the 78th legislature, House Bill 1989, the freshwater stamp, the east Texas hatchery project, I'd like to bring you up to date on that.
The Department has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Parks Wildlife Foundation of Texas to assist in site selection and evaluation of partnership proposals for a new fish hatchery in that area of east Texas.
Mr. Durocher and his staff of folks in working with the Foundation have sent out 300 letters to a variety of east Texas county government, cities, etc. to determine their possible interest in partnering on this project.
Formal request for proposals were requested by 40 of those groups. Out of the 300 and some odd we sent out, we got 40 responses back, saying yes.
We would like to put forward a request to get the information for that. The deadline for proposal submission was set at the end of business on May 27.
So those entities out there who are interested in possibly partnering and working with us on the project — we should have their initial proposal by just prior to the next Commission meeting.
The Foundation will evaluate the proposals and submit a recommendation to the agency on or before August 16. Formal Commission action will take place at the August 26 meeting.
A second charge in the Regulations Committee was to develop a year—to—date fishing license option. To address this charge, we have proposed a year-to-date fishing license to be included in our FY '05 license package.
Mr. Gene McCarty will present this proposal to you for your review today, in the Finance Committee.
Thank you, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Bob.
I had and opportunity to go up there to the freshwater fishery center a couple of weeks with former chairman Ed Cox, who it is very aptly named for. And I think it's a good template for what we're doing with the new hatchery.
It certainly keeps the process objective. And if you have any questions about it, you can ask Bob.
That was a pretty healthy response.
MR. COOK: There was a lot of enthusiasm. And again, I think Mr. Durocher and his folks there in that Jasper area where the current hatchery is, have great relationships with the people in that area, river authorities, cities, counties, communities, chambers of commerce.
We're going to have a lot of interest in this project, and it's going to allow us I think to stretch our dollars there and go into the future with a great hatchery in that part of east Texas, that will serve our purposes for many decades to come.
Again, my compliments to Mr. Durocher and his staff for having that kind of relationship and doing the job they're doing.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: One comment on the Chairman's charges. What I tried to do here — I know all of you had seen them and reviewed them — I tried to tie them to the land and water conservation resource plan.
We've got a ten—year plan. Everybody worked hard on getting it. So I'd like the charges to certainly reflect the job we've already said we're going to do, and the idea being that we could monitor it along the way, and hopefully have those delivered.
Next item, Committee Item Number 2, Proposed Fur-bearing Animal Proclamation.
MR. BERGER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. I'm Mike Berger, director of the wildlife division.
I'm here today to brief you on changes that we are proposing to state fur—bearer regulations. These changes represent the department's continuing commitment to simplify the regulations whenever possible, without jeopardizing wildlife resources.
The proposed changes would be to remove some unnecessary definitions from the rules, to remove the bag and possession limits on recreational harvest of fur—bearing animals.
Condense the means and methods section by eliminating the allowed equipment section, because there is a section that disallows equipment. So both are not necessary.
It would also allow the sale by trappers to out—of—state fur buyers. At present, it's only allowed to sell to in—state fur buyers. This would allow trappers to sell to out-of-state fur buyers. Those that do would be required to report all their out-of-state sales to us.
The last item there was something that you have adopted before. I put it up there just to show you it was another simplification of these regulations. You previously allowed the year—round sale of fur—bearing animals that would be taken by trappers during the commercial season.
There are some other issues and requests from trappers that have been raised. We are not recommending those at this time.
They would involve the distinction between trappers and fur dealers, as well as the difference between commercial harvest and recreational or hunting harvest.
We feel that these issues would be better addressed by considering statutory changes rather than regulatory changes.
We're also concerned that some of the changes that they would recommend, such as allowing them to sell directly to any member of the public, would require us to treat trappers and dealers the same, in order for us to get the annual reports of how many animals are taken.
We use that information to determine our annual harvest and our populations levels.
We feel that that would probably increase the regulatory and reporting burden, both on the trappers and on the staff, more than is necessary.
So those are the issues, and I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Any questions for Mike?
Mike, is this a follow-up on several meetings back. We had somebody from the trappers' association come, and tell us about their concerns?
MR. BERGER: Yes. This is an additional simplification, getting rid of things that are not really necessary, and simplifies the whole process.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Mike?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It makes a lot of sense. Just simplify it now. Get of out it as much as we can.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: It's a good trend, I think is what Commissioner Holt's saying. Keep it up. Simply where we can.
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.
Thank you, Mike.
And John Herron is next up with the proposed raptor proclamation.
MR. HERRON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. My name is John Herron. I'm the program director for the wildlife diversity program.
Today I will be speaking to you about our regulations for falconry.
The recommendations we're bringing forward to you are based on recommendations of an ad hoc falconry advisory board that we have, made up of falconers and the Texas Hawking Association.
I know the changes are large. Just as a quick bit of background. A falconer, in order to be able to take and possess a raptor, which is otherwise a protected bird, has to have both a federal and a state permit to do this.
The changes that I'll be talking to you about today basically bring our regulatory language more in line with federal language, clarify some distinctions we have, such as defining what an apprentice, general and master falconer are.
The idea here is, while we're adding language, really in terms of simplification, this is just making our regulation clearer and showing that the requirements we have are similar to what is already in federal rule.
The changes we're proposing for the most part are minor language, as I've said, that are already in federal.
We've made some changes to the regulation specifying what an apprentice, general and master falconer are. We have three different permits we issue based on experience.
I'll touch on that in a little more detail, briefly, but the point is to make it clearer in regulation exactly what it is to be an apprentice, general, master and to explain to people who are applying what it takes to qualify for those and have that clearly stated in regulation.
We're also adding some language allowing apprentice falconers to assist master and general falconers when they display their birds for educational permits.
The purpose of the falconer regulations, first and foremost, is to allow people to possess raptors for the purpose of hunting. But since these folks already have these birds, it's a valuable tool to use to show school kids and others exactly what a hawk or a falcon is.
So we do allow falconers to use these birds for educational display as well. You'll often see that at Wildlife Expo, out here where John Carter has his display. Several of the falconers are often there with their birds as well.
The point is we'll allow apprentices to assist with this as well. Currently, that is not allowed.
We're adding a provision that an apprentice falconer must track their own wild bird. Sounds like an unusual requirement. But this was something recommended be the Falconry Advisory Board.
One of the important things in the apprentice program is teaching a falconer the skills they need under the supervision of a master or general falconer.
And one of those skills a falconer needs is to know how to trap a bird. If your bird flies off, you have to retrap it. So rather than allow an apprentice to start off the commercially—bred bird, we think it's important that they actually go out there and catch their first bird.
Ironically, working with a wild bird is easier than working with a captive—bred bird. A captive—bred bird is often imprinted on people. It acts differently than a wild trapped bird does.
Really most apprentices start with a wild trapped bird. We're really just clarifying this in regulation.
We're also clarifying what the trapping year is. Our current regulations say that a falconer can trap only a certain number of birds in a year, to protect the resource.
But we never said what that year was — calendar year, fiscal year. So what we're putting in regulation now is clearly stating that that is from July 1 to July 30 of the following year, which corresponds with the permit year, the timing that a permit is valid.
We're adding some provisions regarding raptor propagation. These are people who are allowed to captive breed and sell raptors.
We're basically saying that one has to be a general or master falconer to be a breeder or propagator, that apprentices do not qualify. Again this is recommended by the board.
Finally, we're including a provision — there is already something in regulation that says for several species of raptors — that you must band the bird.
Up until now, we would issue the band first, if someone thought they were going to trap a bird, and then they would go. But if they were unsuccessful, they were in possession of a band that they would have to return.
So now we're just putting in regulation that basically we would issue the falconer the band after they have taken the bird into possession, which should simplify things for everybody.
Just to show you what the type of requirements are, we're talking about — this one for apprentice falconers — basically we're repeating what's already in federal rule:
That an apprentice has to be at least 14 years of age or older; must have a sponsor; has to pass a written falconry test, that they can possess one of three very common species of raptors, and they may replace up to one bird a year.
These have always been the rules, but what we were finding was that there was sometimes confusion when we were telling someone that they did not qualify to apply for an apprentice. So by putting these explicitly in our regulations, we think it will be clearer for everybody.
And just to show you what the requirements are for general and a master falconer as well — one of the things we're adding to the regulation is that under the two years of apprenticing to become a general falconer, again we never really said what was experience.
So we're clarifying that this basically means that in those two years, the individual will have actually flown their bird and hunted with it both those hunting seasons.
With that we'll be coming back in May to discuss this in further detail with you, after we've gotten public comment, and I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: How many falconers are there in the State of Texas?
MR. HERRON: Not very many. Probably about 200. It's not an easy thing to do. A lot of people dream of being a falconer, but taking care of a bird takes a lot of time during the day.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Were there any other issues the Advisory Board raised or wanted on the agenda?
MR. HERRON: No. I cannot think of anything that we've not brought forward. I've got Jennifer, and she'll correct me. And Steve's here from the Texas Trapper Association.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Nothing in here that crosses with the federal. You've got that cleaned up.
MR. HERRON: Nothing at all. One of the things we're looking forward to in coming years — you may see us again on this — is now that the peregrine's been delisted, I suspect we'll be coming forward at some point, allowing falconers to use wild peregrines again.
And there is some discussion about doing away with the dual permitting system, and we've been in discussions with the Fish and Wildlife Service — basically states do most of the work right now.
We do the site inspections; we do the tests. So it may well be in the future, the feds may do away with their permit and just defer to the states to do this.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes. You mentioned there's a limit of either two or three falcons? How do we enforce that. In other words, do we keep an inventory of a falconer and his two or three animals? And is that by means of the leg bands?
MR. HERRON: We only band a few species. But whenever a falconer takes a bird into possession, they have to fill out a form and report that they have that bird.
As soon as they've taken possession, we and the Fish and Wildlife Service have those forms on file. So if a complaint did come up, a game warden would be able to go in, see what birds they have in possession and see what records we have on file.
So it's by species, sex. It's fairly specific. There's not a lot of room for wiggle there.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: But the individual birds themselves are not identifies by means of —
MR. HERRON: Not any more. At one point we did require all falconry birds to be banded. We currently only require it for goshawks, peregrines and Harris hawks, which are rather unique and a high demand species.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I noticed that in the proposed regulation, you can replace one. I would assume then, that if I have three and I lost one, you have an obligation to report that?
MR. HERRON: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And then at that point you're entitled — but not until that reporting mechanism has occurred.
MR. HERRON: When they've lost a bird, they're supposed to report it to us immediately. And then based on your level — if you're an apprentice you can replace one; if you're a general, you can replace two a year; if you're a master, you can replace three.
In fact many falconers, once they've caught the bird, often only keep it for the hunting season, and then will release that wild bird again. Actually, it does better in the wild during the winter months than it does in captivity.
So you often see falconers cycle through those birds — catch them, hunt them for a season and then release them back into the wild. This does not include — falconers can also have non—native birds that they don't have to have under our permits.
Sometimes they'll have captive—reared Arabian birds and that sort of stuff that are in addition to what we have.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Non—native birds don't apply to the —
MR. HERRON: Correct. This really relates to a falconer who's taking a native bird that our department has authority over.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Holmes?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Are there many birds imported from abroad?
MR. HERRON: I don't think we see them imported so much any more. But there certainly are non—native species that are in the captive—breeding type of thing. So there's several Asian and European varieties of birds that can be purchased commercially.
I don't think we really see the import and export of birds caught in the wild overseas. That is not the case.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at one time had an issue about birds that were being caught and sold overseas. I remember that, if that's what you're referring to in south Texas. There were a few incidents.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It goes both ways.
MR. HERRON: There's always been a few situations where — particularly with internationally or nationally endangered birds — a few people who will try to do things illegally. They get a lot of attention, but it's really a very, very rare occurrence.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Okay. Phil?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Very quickly. I'd like to see if they want to raise the limit on the number of birds they can keep. I doubt with those numbers there's any resource issue there.
In the past, I've seen falconers with six or seven birds. They're really active. They keep going. So to me, limiting to two or three is not really necessary, if they're demonstrable responsible people, which they would have to be to get to that point.
You could ask them if that's something they'd want us to consider from the resource standpoint. I certainly encourage you to —
I'm glad you're moving on the peregrine fund. I think the people that started the fund have been the falconers, and they're the best advocates for conservation in that arena. So anything we do to encourage them is great.
MR. HERRON: Yes. I think a big reason the peregrine has come back has been the captive breeding techniques that the falconers developed.
We're thinking we're going to see — addressing the peregrine fund first, the Service is allowing in western states for states to allow a limited number of peregrines to be taken from the nest.
We're expecting to see federal rules published that would allow Texas and states further east, that are in the migratory path, to take what we call, passage or migrating birds.
I don't think it's going to be in time for us to put a new regulation into effect to allow it this fall. But at least it will get us in place for next fall.
Regarding the possession limit, certainly no disagreement. The one thing we have to work out is — the limits we have are also in federal rule. So while we could increase a limit, federally they'd still be limited to one, two or three birds.
That may be something we could address further down the road, as we combine our regulation and —
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: How would do a memorandum of understanding with Fish and Wildlife that our regulations would be at least as stringent as federal, and then we would have one permit instead of two.
MR. HERRON: Yes. I've been working on a committee with several other states. We've been working on draft language.
It would actually be federal regulation that would say, here are the requirements that states must meet to issue falconry permits. And basically would just require us to provide them data, the forms that we were talking about, and who has what birds.
Because they have an obligation as well. These are federally protected species. As long as they're getting the information they need, we don't see a reason for us to issue a permit and them.
Oft times, the few problems we have seem to be that disconnect where someone's able to get their state but not their federal permit in a timely way. We're more than willing in Texas to take on that little additional work required with the form work.
As I said, we're doing 95 percent of it already.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Thank you, John.
For those of you who wonder why we're spending so much time on the raptors — I've got to tell you, knowing a few of these falconers, particularly Peter Jenning, who I think you know, one of the founders in the peregrine fund.
This is something that's really hard to fake. These people are really good. There are not any casual falconers.
This is a group that — unlike some advisory committees, this is one group that I'm very interested in what they have to say about subjects outside their area of falconry, because they're serious outdoors people and naturalists.
I'm glad we're working so closely with that Falconry Advisory Committee. It's a very good group.
Any other questions for John?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Thank you, John.
If there are no further questions or discussions, without objection I authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Next up, Item 4 - Migratory Game Bird Proclamation.
Dave Morrison, filling in for Vernon Bevill.
MR. MORRISON: Good morning. Thank you, sir. My name is Dave Morrison. I am the waterfowl program leader for the Wildlife Division.
Today we're here to discuss proposed changes to the 2004—2005 migratory bird hunting regulations.
For the most part, migratory bird regulations being proposed are unchanged from last year, with the exception of adjustments for calendars.
However, we are suggesting modifications to the central and south dove zones, particularly around San Antonio.
We should add that proposed dates currently being proposed may be altered significantly depending on federal rule—making processes and breeding and habitat surveys that have yet to be completed.
We proposed maintaining the same season length and bag limits for doves, by zone that the Commission approved last year, except the south zone will open on September 24, which is the first Friday after September 20.
And we're suggesting slight modification in the south zone boundary being considered. We're proposing to move this boundary line from interstate highway 10 to U.S. highway 90 and South Loop 1604 and moving that area from the south zone into the central zone.
The reason for this is trying to take advantage of a big bunch of white-wings that are in the San Antonio area. This matter has been discussed with the Service, and we don't believe it's going to be any problem in the discussion.
However, a final decision on this matter will not be forthcoming until later this year, particularly around June.
But we're still concerned about the possibility of some strings being attached by the Service to monitor this change to look at the late impacts on late—nesting doves.
With respect to special white-wing dove area in the south zone, we're proposing the first cool two weeks in September, as we have in the past. The last two splits are similar to last year, but the bag limit is unchanged from previous years.
The September teal season can be either nine or 16 days, based on breeding population surveys. The population estimates allow for a 16 day season. We suggest September 16 through the 26.
If those same surveys recommend a nine—day season, we would recommend September 18 through the 26. Current Commission policy is to have the season as late in September as possible, and these season dates meet these criteria.
Changes for rail and gallinule are being proposed to allow for rail and gallinule season to run concurrently with the 16—day September teal season.
The first split of the rail and gallinule season coincide with the 16—day September teal season. The remainder of the days will be taken during the regular duck season.
With respect to snipe, we're proposing to move that season a little bit later to open on October 30 and run through February 13, provide additional days later, particularly in February, when we think that snipe hunting can be at its best here in Texas.
With respect to duck season, no changes are being proposed at this time. All dates that are going to be presented are based on a liberal package.
Understand that we're still early in this game, and lots of things can happen between now and the final approval of these dates. A lot of the surveys have yet to be done, and we're still waiting on that.
Should another option be selected, the dates will be adjusted to reflect these changes.
These are the dates for the three duck zones in Texas — the high plains mallard management unit, north zone, south zone. The dates here are simply adjusted for calendar and represent the most liberal season under the liberal package.
The bag limit for the liberal season is shown here with species and sex restrictions as indicated. I should point out that at a recent Central Flyway Council meeting, a recommendation was passed and has been forwarded to the Service for consideration.
This is called the hunter's choice option. Key elements of the hunter's choice option are one — going from a six—bird to a five—bird bag limit.
Another important aspect, and this is a key aspect is that this type of bag limit structure would eliminate closed or partially closed seasonal species like canvasback or pintails that we've experienced in the past.
If the hunter's choice option is selected, as I said, it would go from six ducks to five ducks with species, sex restrictions as follows. You take three scaups in a day, two wood ducks, two redheads.
Where the change comes in this other group of birds: mottled duck, hen mallard, pintail and canvasback. Under the hunter's choice, only one of those birds can be taken. You take one hen mallard or one mottled duck or one pintail or one canvasback.
You can use the mallard hen as the buffer, to try to reduce the harvest on these species that the Service has a little bit of concern with. For all other birds, it will be five.
Proposed seasons and bag limits for both dark and light geese in the west zone are the same as last year, simply adjusted for calendar. No changes are being proposed for the dark geese season in the east zone, or for light geese either.
We have maintained the north and south segment at this time. This proposal is predicated on a liberal duck season framework.
Should duck frameworks be something other than liberal, we should give some consideration to reuniting the north and south segment for the light goose in the east zone.
We continue to recommend a conservation order, with basically the same season dates as last year, essentially starting the day after the duck or goose season closes in the respective zones.
And again we have maintained the north and south segment of the east zone.
With that I'd like to conclude my presentation. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Dave, I've got a couple of questions. The Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee — I know they've dealt with a few of these questions.
It was my understanding that their recommendation was that the central zone, as in your example there with the south end of 1604, that that actually be moved all the way to 57, and to include that area south of 90 in the central zone.
Because right now there's a lot of outfitters and hunters and other folks. They're open on one side of 90, and you've got all these birds. There are just as many birds on the other side. Those from San Antonio know the situation.
There was some recommendation there that would increase opportunity. Would that require some sort of biological data to clear that with the Service?
MR. MORRISON: Bottom line, when you start looking at zone changes, the Fish and Wildlife Service does get involved.
I know that Jay Roberson has looked at some of that stuff. I think Jay is here. He may be better equipped to handle this.
But the bottom line — when you start fooling with zones, whether it be for ducks, dove or what have you, the Fish and Wildlife Service does have to look into this, and particularly when you start getting to that south zone area.
Because within that south zone, there are — based on past history, you can open that season no earlier than September 20, because of the concern of late—nesting birds.
So when you start wanting to shift that south zone, the need for following up with data to support that you're not impacting those birds does become more apparent.
Right now we're in the middle of doing some tremendous dove—banding work that is going to address a lot of these questions. I know that that's been looked at. But beyond that, that's as far as —
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: This is a piecemeal zone change. I mean, it's a very small one, but it is an actual zone change. Right? They would be in the central zone —
MR. MORRISON: Again, in June Mr. Cook is going to have to make a decision. Should the Service put these restrictions on, that we're going to have to evaluate the impact on late nesters.
Mr. Cook's going to have to make the decision. Are we willing to go that step? Because that is still part and parcel to the proposal.
But should the Service come back and say yes, We will grant you this zone change. However, this is what you're going to have to do to implement this zone change. At that time we'll have to determine do we have the wherewithal to meet their criteria.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: And by that, you mean the data.
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. COOK: If they make us do a huge amount of work for data collection, we probably won't be able to have the manpower to do it. If it's a reasonable amount, we'll do it and move on, if we believe it's beneficial to us.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes. Dave, we on the Commission are always looking at opportunities for the youth to get an edge on hunting. Have we focused at all in looking at these seasons, perhaps incorporating a youth—only season?
I know historically we've never done that. Is that something we might look at in the future?
And I know that to a great extent the Fish and Wildlife Service determines the seasons, but have we looked at that or considered perhaps looking at a youth—only season, where we can get more of the youth involved.
MR. MORRISON: We do have the youth—only duck days. It's the weekend typically preceding the opening of the duck season. So we do have the youth duck hunting days.
With respect to the dove season, it gets into a situation with federal frameworks. The earliest you can open a season for doves is September 1.
There has never been a stipulation on the part of the Fish and Wildlife Service to add days to the dove season, specifically for that purpose.
They have done that for waterfowl. But there's never been a position taken by the Service to open it up additional days for dove hunting. So currently we have a 74—day season for duck hunting. We actually get 76. We get those extra two days for duck hunting.
So that was an additive impact. They have never made that same offer from the standpoint of dove hunting, because the position here in Texas is that we open the dove season on September 1.
That's the earliest you can open the season by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. So unless they're willing to add days, because you can't open any earlier. So you'd have to put them on the back end, when nobody's going to take advantage of them. It's a dilemma.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I'd like to see us address the issue. It's something that would be helpful to the youth of the state. Obviously, we're subject to whatever they decide, but it would be at least an overture. Maybe with time —
MR. MORRISON: We can certainly take it through the SRC, the Service Regulation Committee. They will meet in June. We do have two representatives from the Central Flyway that do carry the responses from the various states to the Service Regulation Committee.
I will be certain to pass that along to them to at least approach that to find out what options they may be willing to provide.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: We already have open dove season now, at least in the south zone. The late one went all through the Christmas vacation. So you wouldn't want to take anything away from —
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I'm just talking about expanding it, not taking anything away.
MR. COOK: Mike, that was discussed some back when they did the duck addition, when they added the time for youth, which like Dave says, was an additive. That issue on dove was discussed.
It's kind of like what Dave says, we're starting it as early as we can. Period. So even if we got — there was some discussion about —
MR. BERGER: The Service really doesn't even have the authority to open before September 1, because we have our treaties with Canada and Mexico on migratory birds. The earliest you can open it is September 1.
So if you had a day at the start — the opening weekend, say — that was for youth only, you would be
MR. COOK: Shot.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: You would get a result different from what you intended.
MR. BERGER: I just wanted to say on moving the dove zone, we are talking about an incremental, where we will be required to provide some data, but it would be minor data compared to what it would be to move it to where you talked about farther south.
We would probably have to collect data in advance for several years. I think we're going to starting trying to amass that data. But it would take several years of data for the Service to even consider a move that far to the south for that zone.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: It's important I think for a couple of reasons. Number one, we've learned through the public hunting program, and I think we all know intuitively, that dove hunting is probably the easiest entry hunting experience, for most people certainly a lot cheaper than duck hunting or quail hunting or other things people would be able to start out with.
And the public hunting opportunities are important.
Number two, I think it's pretty clear that the white-wing has saved itself by moving. Rather than saving its habitat where it was, it moved.
Anybody that's experienced those flights of literally hundreds of thousands of white-wings outside of San Antonio, it's pretty impressive.
It's a great advertisement not only for the resource, but hunting opportunities close to a major city. My guess is it's the same here in Austin.
So anything that we can do to match that opportunity with the reality — I know you're working with the constraints there of the Treaty and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
One question. I understand the Treaty for September 1. But the September 20 on the south zone, that's official Fish and Wildlife regulation? That's not treaty.
MR. MORRISON: That's based on previous research that indicated that this is the imaginary line where the impact on late season nesting doves will be minimal.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I see.
MR. MORRISON: So, yes, that is a Fish and Wildlife Service framework issue.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: But we open the special white-wing early in September right down there on the border.
MR. MORRISON: Special white-wing season essentially was kind of a gimme, if you will.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: We need more gimmes.
MR. MORRISON: Granted that was a gimme from many, many years ago, and that was the one exception that they granted. Because at the time it was predominantly it was a white-wing season. So that was kind of a gimme.
We recognized that the harvest was predominantly white-wings, late—nesting issues wasn't that big of an issue. So that was the reason for the first gimme.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: But I think the point is — and Commissioners Ramos and Holmes just hit on it — there may be an opportunity for a new season. But there're more white-wings outside the special zone now than there are within it.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: We're just saying let's focus on that. If it happens, great, it's another opportunity for the youth, and if it doesn't happen, we understand.
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir. I'd by happy to.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Phil?
MR. MONTGOMERY: Quick question. A few years ago, we had flexibility on length of season versus bag limit. Are the comments you're getting now from constituency groups generally supportive of the choices we've made?
MR. MORRISON: Back when that was essentially a one—year process, because we were going from this very restrictive season, getting into better habitat conditions, and so it was just kind of a trial and error.
Since 1996 we've been under the adaptive harvest management process. Basically, adaptive harvest outlines season length and bag limit. This hunter's choice is a step away from this adaptive harvest management.
In answer to your question, we don't really have those options of more days, less ducks. The options are pretty well spelled out.
MR. MONTGOMERY: On the mourning doves I believe we had some choices.
MR. MORRISON: We had the 15 and 60 or the 70 and 12. And those are still maintained.
MR. MONTGOMERY: People are happy with that? Where we come down on that?
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: What did the Migratory Bird Advisory Committee have to say about the reduction of bag limit from six to five in return for the —
MR. MORRISON: This essentially is a very new concept. This recommendation just came out of the recent meeting in Spokane a couple weeks ago in March.
This is something that's been kind of kicked around for the last couple of years but has never really reached the stage that it's at.
Because there's some things on the horizon that we're seeing, the Council made the decision we want to keep this on the front burner with the Service.
The likelihood of the Service actually accepting this is pretty slim, simply because it is such a major deviation from adaptive harvest management, but the Central Flyway Council firmly believes that the proliferation of these seasons within seasons — partially closed seasons — and with the concern of other species — mottled duck being one — that you could see more and more species added to these partially closed seasons.
Right now it's only pintail and canvasback. But what happens if something happens and they decide, Okay, we want mottled ducks. Scaups are seeing some decline. Well, we'll throw scaup in there.
All of a sudden you've got four species that are closed or partially closed. We're trying to take a proactive approach within the Central Flyway to address this before it becomes a bigger problem.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I'm still philosophically opposed to bag limit reductions, but I see your point, that if not the exception starts to swallow the rule, and then when you read the fine print, you find out that it's really not — it's six of two or three species maybe.
MR. MORRISON: In reality, I understand that. We've had a lot of comment from duck hunters in Texas, saying, Let's go from six to five. So that part for duck hunters in the state of Texas is probably not going to be a big issue.
I think that if you look at it from the perspective that this ruling could be a liberalization, because we're getting away from that closed season on pintails. So a guy can shoot a pintail if he chooses to.
So I view it just a little bit differently that we're trying to take a more liberal approach for the long term. And I don't believe that it'll be tremendous hue and cry going from six to five.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: So the point being that you may have a bag limit of six, but because of all the special closures, in practical reality you don't. But if you —
MR. MORRISON: It gets too complex for a poor old duck hunter out there. Duck hunting regulations are pretty complex as it is.
If you start throwing in, Well, we're going to close the first 39 days for canvasbacks, the last 39 days for pintails, you're going to have a calculator to figure out what day is it.
And that's the whole purpose behind the hunter's choice. It's a simplification process so that we don't lose duck hunters.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I'm for that. I just don't always be in the position of trading bag limit for simplification.
Any other questions for Dave? This is pretty complicated stuff.
Are we going to run this through the Advisory Migratory Board?
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Billy Osborne's group there — they work really hard at this and we need them. That's a broad base group. And I really want to know what they think.
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir. No problem. Thank you, folks. Really appreciate it.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Dave. Thank you for your presentation.
I don't believe any actions are required by the Committee at this briefing. Good.
Item Number 5 - Proposed Candidate State Parks for Public Hunting.
MS. FITE: Good morning. Mr. Chairman, member of the Regulations Committee. My name is Vickie Fite. I'm the public hunting coordinator.
I'm here today to brief you on the candidate state parks proposed for hunting for the upcoming year, and to establish an open hunting season on public hunting lands for 2004—2005.
Candidate state parks proposed for the hunting season of 2004 and 2005 — last year we hunted on 42 of our state parks. This year we're going to be hunting on 44.
The proposal includes two additions. Seminole Canyon last year was dropped out of the program due to drought conditions. They took a one year hiatus. This year we're bringing them back on for hunting again.
The second one is Guadalupe River, north unit. This is a parcel of undeveloped park land that is separated from the developed portion of the park by the river.
The unit will offer hunts in five different categories. It will have an additional 30 permits added to the program.
The reason why we're calling this a separate unit is that the hunts have different means and methods. They fall on different dates from the other hunts that are on the lower part of the Guadalupe River State Park, and the bag limits will be different.
There's also a separate entrance that will be used for that part of the park. So we are calling it a separate unit.
Special drawn permits. I want to take a moment to give you a quick overview of where we were last year and where we propose to be this year, as far as our special drawn permits.
Last year overall, which includes both the WMA's and the state parks, there were 6,051 special drawn permits that were proposed. This year there are 6,188 permits that are being proposed, which is an increase of 137 permits.
In parks alone last year, there were 1,948 permits that were proposed. This year there are 2,000 permits that are being proposed, for an increase of 52 permits on parks.
Last year in our youth categories, overall which is both the WMA's and the state parks. We had 724 special drawn permits this year. There are 790 special drawn permits being proposed, which is an increase of 66 overall permits for youth.
The last item of business that I have is to establish an open season on public hunting lands.
In order for public hunts to be conducted on TPWD public hunting lands, during the period of September 1, 2004 through August 31, 2005, an open hunting season must be established.
Chapter 62 and 81 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife code gives the Commission the authority to open seasons for hunting on state parks, wildlife management areas and public hunting lands.
We will come back to you in May for full adoption by the Commission at that time.
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, at this time I would be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Would you briefly describe how we advertise or promote hunting on public lands?
MS. FITE: Yes, sir. I can do that. Actually we have a booklet that is mailed out. There are over 40,000 of them that are mailed out to participants that took part in the program in the prior year. We also do a flyer each year, that is available at our licensed vendors that is a tri-fold.
It talks about all of our public hunting opportunities, including the drawings, the old Type II lands, which are now called the annual public hunting lands, and also our big time Texas hunts. That is available at the licensed vendors.
This year, we're going to do a small poster, that we're going to make available for each one of the vendors, that basically says, Do you need a place to hunt? It talks about public hunting lands and the phone number and the website on where to get more information about hunting on public hunting lands.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: I'm particularly interested in the poster or something that will indicate to potential hunters that these are available.
The main complaint that I hear from the people around the Houston area — groups talk about the lack of availability. And many of them, when I've asked about public hunts, don't know about them or don't know how to approach them or avail themselves of the possibility.
So anything that we can do to assist there would be beneficial. I like the idea of a poster at the actual place, the vendor, should be a big help.
MS. FITE: Yes, sir. And we try to do news release each year that tells them, hey, it's fixing to be time to sign up for the drawings. We make that available each year to tell them the deadlines and those types of things.
Also to remind them about the $48 annual public hunting permit which allows them access to over a million acres of land. We do try to make an effort that way. Plus the information is up on our website.
Maybe we can do something to make it a little more prominent on the front page, to where right before the seasons are going to open, or right before the time that this becomes available, that it will stand out a little more there also.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: One of the additional items that I would propose would be sure to the extent possible that correspondents from the local papers — I know that they're aware, but anything that we could do to get them to assist in publicizing this.
I know in the Houston area, Shannon and his group do a good job of informing generally what's going on and what's available. But any assistance that we can be given there from the media would be very helpful.
MS. FITE: Okay, sir. See if we can do some more news releases this year.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: I don't see Government Canyon listed here. What are our plans about Government Canyon?
MS. FITE: There were no proposals to hunt Government Canyon. We've run into some problems with Government Canyon due to the close proximity of the neighborhood on Government Canyon.
We had dove hunts there in the past. There were complaints about the houses having pellets falling in their yards and on their roofs and stuff. So it was removed from the program, and nothing was brought forward again this year on Government Canyon.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: Government Canyon is 8,000 acres. There's bound to be ample room for us to hunt there.
MS. FITE: We're taking a real hard look, along with the leadership team, as to what parts are hunted, what's offered and are there other available species or other opportunities that we might be able to incorporate in the public hunting program.
The leadership team is going to issue a report on that. I've been working very closely with them on that. Hopefully we'll get some insight on that.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: Is it Phil Gramm's house?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Don't let anybody say that this is not a fearless commission. Certain commissioners are fearless.
MR. COOK: We should certainly look at the possibilities of including Government Canyon and interpreting the data.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I would agree with that, and Commissioner Watson is right. That is a big area, and all the flat in front of the escarpment where the hill country starts, there is a lot of country in there.
Now with this other change on 1604, I would hope there would be a public dove lease somewhere there in 1604. That would certainly be —
COMMISSIONER WATSON: There's certainly a lot of animals there.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I think the question for you and maybe Walt, Herb used to call the Bermuda triangle. How are we doing with the potential conflicts between other user groups and the public hunts?
MS. FITE: On the seven state parks that are out there.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We're pacifying the situation?
MS. FITE: We're taking a look at that. That is actually one of the questions on the survey as to the parks and close proximity, your hunt dates comparing them — try to do a better coordination on that.
Basically the problem has fallen in the fact that December and January are usually the off season for a lot of the parks. So we're trying to get as much hunting done during that period.
We're trying to stay away from the holidays where we can, but sometimes that's usually the only time we have for kids to hunt. And a lot of those times are during our youth hunts in — and as Herb would say, the Bermuda triangle — but the Edwards plateau area.
So we are aware of that. We're still looking at it. We're working on it.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Commissioner Ramos.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: In looking at the youth hunts, you're exactly correct. You focus primarily over Christmas and holidays. But I don't see too many seasons during the summer to where maybe we can have youth hunts during the summer.
That may be the wrong type because of the volume of people that we have. But that's really when our youth have a lot of time on their hands.
MS. FITE: Right. The only thing that we would really have available that would be further into the year would be like the squirrel season, which is May 1 through 31.
During the summer, we kind of stay away from a lot of it because of the heat and of course the use that the parks sustain during the summer. But we are looking at every avenue, especially small game, where the youth hunts are included.
Mr. DABNEY: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. Walt Dabney, state park director.
We've gotten questions over the last five years that I've been here on, could we hunt more here; could we hunt more there; could we do some different species.
One of the things we've done right now — it's underway — is with our natural leaders program, we identified a project to review the entire state parks system and look at every location and see are there additional times we could hunt.
Are there additional species we could hunt. This was brought about — if you'll remember, I talked about in the past by — by the bow hunting community that came and said we need more opportunities.
Well, we don't look at just bow hunters or muzzle gun people or rifle folks. So we're looking at everything to see if it makes sense.
The problem we have — whether it's Government Canyon or whatever — when you increase a hunting season, we have to in almost every case close that park to other uses.
You cannot have folks walking trails or riding bikes through there and have people with rifles out there. It just isn't going to work. You know that.
So we have to be very careful that we do not displace a whole lot of other people to accommodate a few folks to hunt.
We're going to try to do our best. We will have a comprehensive look at this. I am very committed to seeing this happen. Bob and Scott are as well. And we're going to do a thorough job on it.
And I think we'll be able to bring that study to you and show you that we've looked at every place including Government Canyon, Commissioner, to see where we can.
At Government Canyon we also have the city of San Antonio and some other players down there that have some definite interests in what we do on that location. But we will look at every place.
It's not just a state park review. We've got four folks working on this, several of them are from outside our division, so I think it'll be a good study.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I commend you for your commitment to public hunting, Walt. I don't know if we're alone from other states, but I doubt that most states are as committed as we are to public hunting in state parks and —
But I think Commissioner Watson makes a good point. There's some kind of hunting that's certainly going to bring in a lot more people for a shorter period of time, like dove hunting.
It would certainly be a lot more appropriate in a place like Government Canyon than deer hunting. We have the issue of proximity and high powered rifles. I think you're doing a good job of mixing and matching to the right spot.
I have one question, though. I was involved — as many of you were — in the anniversary of the Federal Wildlife Refuge and had the opportunity to ask some of the leadership at Fish and Wildlife and the Secretary of Interior why we could not coordinate our public hunting program, which frankly is much more involved than the feds public hunting program in Texas.
Why couldn't we integrate those properties in our public hunting program. It would certainly add a lot of acreage. They're committed to it.
Is there any opportunity for a memorandum of understanding or some way that we could integrate those properties?
MS. FITE: Bob, do you want to address that?
MR. COOK: This may deserve a longer discussion. The answer to your question is, yes.
We have had that discussion with them. We have an ongoing discussion with the feds about hunting on their land.
The message we're getting there in some cases is, we don't have the resources or the people to fool with it. You do it. Which means that we would take our resources — people, time, expenses and do it. There's a huge proposal on the table right now.
And I have a meeting in this room in about ten days or two weeks with the U.S. Forest Service, whose lands in east Texas are currently open to hunting at no charge and are [indiscernible] by many, many people and have traditionally been so.
They want us to take over their property. We already have hundreds of thousands of regular Forest Service land in our public hunting program that we administer.
There comes with taking over that responsibility a significant commitment of resources. You all know me. I'd be glad to talk to them. And I have sent the message to the U.S. Forest Service — you bet, come here, talk to us.
They're going to come right here in this room, sit down with us and talk to us about this. But I'm interested to see if, through our permit, which those hunters now do not have to have to hunt in the Forest Service.
All of a sudden we're going to charge them $48 to go hunting on a place they've hunted their entire lives. We need to be offering something better. We need to be doing something better for the resource.
We're already enforcing the law. We enforce the law there just like we do on the private property that's very intermixed in those holdings. So those are some of the issues involved.
For me just to accept U.S. Forest Service land into our hunting program just to see our number of acres go up and you all go, this is good, and our number of acres increased — I'm not telling you the whole story.
I would like to be able to tell you the whole story and be able to say to you that I think we can take over that situation.
And the people who hunt there will see a responding improvement in the program in their opportunity — because there are some serious conflicts now among hunters. We have helped resolve some of those conflicts.
We have seen the populations and the habitat on some of the Forest Service properties that we manage — that we work on the habitat — improve dramatically over where they were.
But it is a serious commitment in resources to do such a thing on how many hundreds of thousands of acres of land are we talking about, Mike?
MS. FITE: If we take in the entire forest — if I may — it'll put us over 645,000 acres. And the only forest that we have in its entirety right now is the Sam Houston Wildlife Management Area.
We have parcels of WMAs within the Angelina, the Davy Crockett and the Sabine National Forest. There are WMA areas out there, but by no means are they the entire forest. We also have part of Caddo National Grasslands.
MR. COOK: One of the big issues for me and for our folks here as a land manager — if this was a contiguous, solid block of land, that would be one issue. It is in no form or fashion a contiguous, solid block of land.
It's interspersed throughout from one end to the other with private land holdings, residences, homes, including pets and domestic livestock, etc., etc.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Bob, do they have any idea how many hunters hunt currently on that land? Do they have some method of checking in, checking out, or is it just —
MR. COOK: You're talking about the Forest Service.
MS. FITE: The Forest Service. No.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: You just show up and start hunting.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: You've convinced me to look at the refuge system.
MR. COOK: We have very similar issues with the Corps of Engineers on some of the tracts we currently operate and some of the tracts they want to give us, there's not one single federal — with the possible exception of the national park.
The federal agencies who own and manage land in Texas are wanting to give much of that responsibility to us.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Can we get them just to turn over the land to us?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Without the resources.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Would that be something we'd really be interested in. Can we really manage the whole thing.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: It has to be exclusive, because you can't still have people coming in for free through the backdoor and us managing the other side. You can't have it that way.
Back to the refuges, you make a good point. If it's near an existing property, it's obviously a lot more practical to manage public hunts.
Walt, we do have refuges that are — it's not contiguous — very close to other properties that are open for public hunting. Correct? Federal refuges.
Mr. DABNEY: Yes, sir. The only point I would make, is unless you're going to have the scenario like Bob described, where it's wide open, you don't know who's in there or where they are or anything, which we cannot operate with.
Every time we add a piece of land, it's extremely labor intensive. Unless you're going to have a free-for-all, we limit the number of people. We tell them exactly where they going to be.
And when we tell them that, we literally have to take them out to that spot in the morning. We pick them up in the morning, we take them back in the afternoon.
So my whole staff is tied up. Every time we add a new site to this hunting program, the staff is tied up with hauling people out to hunt all day, taking care of their game. Many of them haven't a clue how to do that as well. And so we're fully involved in that.
And so when you add more lands — if we were to take or somebody was to give us responsibility for Fish and Wildlife or Forest Service lands — we're going to control it — some staff has got to be present there to run the hunt.
It's not just adding acreage. Bob's exactly right. It's a big deal. You wouldn't turn them loose on your ranch without anything. And you've got people there that are at least controlling how the hunt is taken care of.
We can't do any less, especially when we're on narrow boundaries in close proximity to people who have nothing to do with us.
MR. COOK: In closing, let me say that we have had a long—term a very, very positive working relationship with the U.S. Forest Service, the Corps of Engineers. They've been good partners.
They are in a severe budget crunch. And that is why a lot of this discussion is coming up between their state managers, their state executive office.
They're looking for ways to keep these properties open and have some control and management. They like the programs that we have — they love our public hunting programs. They would love it to be part of it. But it's not a freebie.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: If we do all the work for free.
Do you have any numbers on hunter days for just R.W. Madison state park?
MS. FITE: I can get that for you. I have to do a report each year. I can get that for you.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: If we're optimizing what we have, then there's a reason to look at other opportunities. But until we optimize what we've got —
MS. FITE: I would guess it's around 29,000 hunter opportunities.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: That's impressive.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Just a thought. It sounds to me that clearly there's a budget pressure to move that over to us. It might be a situation conducive to private concessions — let a private operator do it under a concession arrangement.
The politics of it would be pretty sensitive, I would think.
MR. COOK: I think if we're going to be involved, and we're going to expect people to pay into our program, we need to be offering something better — habitat—wise or opportunity—wise.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: They have to have some reason.
MR. COOK: They need to feel good about the results of the program.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I like Commissioner Brown's thought on looking at the whole package and all the things we might do for maybe other revenue opportunities that help offset —
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: The income — at least offset that cost.
Vickie, you can tell the Commissioners are committed to public hunting. It's something we hear a lot of in Texas. And you're doing a great job. Any other questions, Vickie?
MS. FITE: No. On a positive note, we sat down at the table with the Nature Conservancy last week. And they're interested in becoming a player in our public hunting program, where possible.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Good.
MS. FITE: So that would added opportunity that we could bring to the table hopefully next year.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Now there's a summer hunting opportunity for all dads in the Davis Mountains.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: So the public record's clear, I meant private concessions which are open to the public but operated by private operators, not taking it away from the public.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Vickie on state park hunting which we expanded.
MS. FITE: We're doing our best.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
MS. FITE: All right. Thank you.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: All right. Great. Thanks for the presentation. No action required by the Commission on that.
On to Item Number 6 - Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski with inland fisheries division. This morning I'd like to go over our proposed changes to the inland fisheries regulations and advise you of the public comment we've received on those proposed changes.
The first change was on San Augustine's city lake. Our proposal there was to change the limit for largemouth bass from the current 18—inch minimum to a 14 taking inch slot.
We have an abundance of small bass there. And our goal there was to increase the opportunity for anglers to harvest some of those fish.
The only public comments we received on that we're through our web survey. Most of the people were in favor of that. We just received a few comments against.
In fact on all our proposals, the only comments we did receive were through our web survey. We didn't receive any comments at the public hearing or by phone or emails. People saved most of those for the license changes.
Our next change is on Lake O' the Pines and Pat Mayse. We had a combined regulation, experimental regulation, for hybrids and white bass, and we're proposing to change that limit back to the statewide limits for white bass and hybrids.
We didn't see any positive benefits from that change. The comments received on that were predominantly in favor of that change.
Next one was on Lake Murvaul in Panola County. It was to change the reservoir definition to encompass a downstream tailrace area. That would extend the enforcement of the special regulation that is in place there for largemouth bass, a 14—21 inch slot.
This would eliminate concern and confusion among anglers. Comments received on that were all in favor.
We have a proposed change for Lake Pflugerville, which is a new reservoir scheduled to open in 2005. We are proposing to implement an 18—inch minimum when that reservoir is open for 18—inch minimum length for largemouth bass, and also restricting to pole and line.
And this is to protect those initial year classes from over—harvest when the reservoir is open. All comments received on that were predominantly in favor, except for one against.
Finally the last proposal we had to make some changes to a regulation on community fishing lakes. The current regulation there that the channel and blue catfish have a 12—inch minimum length limit and a five—fish daily bag.
Our proposal was to remove that length limit and maintain the five—fish daily bag. We're doing that to try and increase opportunity for anglers there.
In some of the smaller ones we're doing catfish stocking. We're interested in anglers harvesting those fish soon after they're stocked.
We did receive some against on this one. Interestingly, among persons that did make comments there were seven who specifically entered some comments for and seven against.
So the ones that did comment, did think it was a great idea and were real interested in us expanding opportunities, especially promoting angling for kids.
The ones that were against were concerned about removing that minimum length limit and any impacts that would have on reproducing populations. Certainly on most of the smaller lakes, that's really not a factor.
On some of the larger CFLs and some of the state park lakes that are in the CFL program, we believe there isn't a biological issue — that five—fish bag — even removing the 12—inch minimum will still protect those populations.
We don't have any concerns that the populations will be impacted negatively there.
Those are all the proposals and the comments received to this point. Do you have any questions?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Phil?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: If I caught that right, on one lake we're excluding the tailwaters and one we're including it. What's the rationale? What's the impact of including it in the definition, or excluding it from the reservoir definition?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, the first one where we're excluding it — they're sort of related.
When we had that special regulation on Lake O' the Pines and Pat Mayse, which were hybrids and striped bass, there was some fishing going on below the tailraces of those reservoirs, when that special regulation was on.
We also wanted to include that area down below, so they have the same regulation. So since we're removing the special regulation, we don't need those tailwaters included in that definition now.
In Murvaul we do have that special regulation on the reservoir, and we would like to include the area below so those waters will be the same — the regulation will be the same on both spots, for the same rationale.
Since we're removing the special regulation, we don't feel the need to include it any longer.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So it's for enforcement reasons is the primary —
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right. They were both tied to enforcement with the special regulations.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Ken?
COMMISSIONER HENRY: On the list I noticed you had 13 of 36, 36 for and 13 opposed.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Correct.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: I'm interested in the large number of opposition. What was it basically again?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Just seven of those 13 made comments. And as I said, the persons that did make comments against it were concerned about removing the minimum length limit having a negative impact on the reproduction of the population.
In most of the smaller CFLs that's really not an issue. There's not a lot of reproduction going on, and we're stocking those. Maintaining the five—fish bag will maintain a biological benefit to that population, even if the minimum length is removed.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Tailgating on Donato's interest as far as youth is missing again, here it's concern. I noticed in your display, you portrayed kids fishing here when you mentioned that. Was there any particular interest with the young people, with regard to the change in this regulation?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, the comments where people spoke in favor of it did mention that they think it's a good thing to promote fishing for kids in the smaller CFLs.
I don't know if there were any particular — I can't say if there were any kids commenting on it. But the person who did speak in favor, did think that would be a positive benefit for kids — fishing in smaller CFLs.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: How's the golden algae coming?
MR. KURZAWSKI: It seems to be on the downswing. Didn't have any major outbreaks this year. It didn't develop in Lake Texoma to the level it had in some of the other reservoirs. So we're thankful for that.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Any other questions for Ken?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Ken.
I think Paul's next up on coastal.
MR. HAMMERSCHMIDT: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Paul Hammerschmidt with the coastal-fisheries division.
My presentation today will be on proposals for the statewide hunting and fishing proclamation for saltwater.
The first proposal that we put forward was to require degradable panels in perch traps. These provisions will be similar to those that are required in crab traps.
During public comment period, we had one set of comments during the public hearings. The rest were received through our web interview program. We received 45 public comments on this one. Forty—two for and three against. Two of the comments from the people who were against did not understand the mortality issues on ghost fishing of traps in saltwater. They felt that they would make great reefs.
We documented in the past significant mortality in traps that are left in the water over time. So we feel it's still really important to have these degradable panels in there to make the traps unfishable if they stay in the water for any length of time.
We did have another comment. This individual was for the proposal, but they recommended that perch traps be used for recreational purposes only. Currently they can be used commercially.
The second proposal was to allow the use of minnow traps in saltwater. Currently they're only a freshwater device. People really do use them out there, but they're technically illegal. They're good for small killifish and things like that for bait.
We received 42 public comments on this proposal. Thirty—seven for and five against. Two comments again didn't believe in the issue of mortality of ghost fishing traps.
We also had two comments. One individual was for and one individual was against the proposal. But they both recommended that minnow traps only be allowed for recreational purposes.
We also had two comments that indicated that we did not recommend similar proposals in degradable panels for minnow traps, and they would like to see that happen, as well as the tagging requirements that are also required for perch traps.
The organization SCOT said they had no problem with the use of minnow traps, but they would not support the proposal if these two provisions were not included.
The final proposal was to allow the use of what we're calling the folding panel trap — what's typically sold in sporting good stores as a star trap in saltwater for the harvest of blue crabs and other crabs.
It works similarly to the little hoop nets that you see out there off of piers. There's no real biological issue with this one.
We had 37 public comments total. Thirty—one were in favor of it; six were against. Three of the six actually made a comment saying, there are too many traps out there.
Of course, their reference was to the full—size crab traps that are used by both commercial and recreational fishermen.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: And the definition you're creating would obviously be consistent with what's already being sold out there.
MR. HAMMERSCHMIDT: Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Good. Because we've already got one.
MR. HAMMERSCHMIDT: It's being very consistent. There are several designs along these lines. Folding panel traps seem to be as all—encompassing as possible for the different variations on this particular piece of gear.
That's it. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Ned?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: What was your view about the minnow trap not having a degradable panel?
MR. HAMMERSCHMIDT: It's probably an important issue relative to all of our other ways we do business.
Unfortunately with the large variety of designs, it would be better if we researched that a little bit more to come up with a design of a degradable panel that would not affect the fishability of these immediately.
The other fish traps usually have fairly large mesh. When you cut a hole in it to make the degradable panel, or you add a wire, it doesn't affect the fishability of it.
But if you take the small minnow traps with the little quarter—inch mess, and you cut a big hole in it, then it makes a difference.
I think it would be better if we got a chance to look at that a little bit more and decide what was the best approach.
Just off the top of my head, looking at some of the ones that I've kind of looked at the stores, the easiest way would be to use the wire requirement or the twine requirement, where the trap latches together.
But some of those fall apart completely into two halves. Some of them are plastic jugs that they use. Some of them are large rectangular traps that have just hinged doors on them. So those are things we'd have to look at.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: There's still a mortality issue.
MR. HAMMERSCHMIDT: There will still be a mortality issue. Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: And the folding panel trap was already legal.
MR. HAMMERSCHMIDT: It was not a defined gear in the rule. But in those types of year, there was no need for a degradable panel, because their normal position is open. So even when they're not operating and they're abandoned or lost, they won't fish.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I'll make sure my son's is in compliance.
All right. Is that it for Paul. Any other questions for Paul?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Mike, you're next up.
Thank you, Paul.
MR. BERGER: Good morning again. Mike Berger, the director of the wildlife division. Here to discuss the proclamation changes regarding wildlife.
One issue you've heard a lot about is pheasants. We have a 30—day season for pheasants in the panhandle that was adopted a year ago in April 2003.
However, due to a printing error in the hunting annual, the starting dates were incorrect. And you modified the opening date to be consistent with that annual and simplify it for people in the panhandle.
So this proposal moves the season dates back to where they were originally to be, starting the first Saturday in December and running for 30 consecutive days.
The public comment was all through the net and was 83 for and two against.
The next change has to do with pronghorn antelope — a definition change. Pronghorn hunting permits are issued to landowners based on herd units.
Historically the permits have been issued for a specific tract of land within those herd units. Under this system, landowners who had two or more parcels within a herd unit got permits for each separate parcel of land.
So with this new definition — and that caused some hardship — so with this new definition the landowner with multiple parcels of land within a herd unit can use the permits on any of his parcels, as long as they're within that herd unit.
Public comment on this was 81 in favor and two opposed.
Spring eastern turkey. This is in accordance with our charge to maximize the hunting opportunity whenever the resource can afford it.
The eastern turkey restoration project has been very successful. And we're happy to be able to keep expanding the area.
This proposal would open the southern half of Montgomery and Tyler Counties, that are currently only open in the north now, and would add the entire Hardin and Liberty Counties to the spring eastern turkey season.
This would be effective next season, not this season.
We also have a proposal, again because the restoration has been very successful and continues to be more successful, to expand opportunity from half a month to a full month.
So next season the proposal would be to have the season from April 1 to April 30, effective in 2005.
On this public comment was 98 for and three opposed.
For Rio Grande turkeys, there are few areas where some pockets of turkey habitat extend just barely across a county line. This would offer fall hunting opportunity for turkeys in two counties — Johnson and Denton Counties.
The comments were 92 for and seven opposed. Two of the opposed that showed up at the public hearing were opposed to the four—bird bag limit, not the opening of the counties.
Of course the four—bird limit applies across the state, except for eastern turkeys, where there's a one—bird bag limit.
For white—tailed deer, we're proposing some new doe days in eight counties. Those are the counties shown in red, and those currently are three—deer counties, one buck and two does by permit only.
We determined that these counties can sustain a limited, either sex harvest. Therefore, we're proposing those eight counties to have four doe days, that start on Thanksgiving and run through the Thanksgiving weekend.
Again, this is in support of your charge to expand hunting opportunity wherever we can.
There were 136 in favor of this proposal, and 13 disagreed. Some were at the public hearings and disagreed with the proposals.
They didn't think the doe harvest could sustain this level of harvest. And we understand there will be a petition presented tomorrow to you with a number of signatures from Grimes County and perhaps others that opposed the doe days.
Our feeling is right now there is a harvest of approximately one doe per one thousand or one doe to 1500 acres.
Our experience in some of these other counties, where we've added doe days is that while it might double the harvest, you're still only talking about a doe for 500 to 750 acres. We believe the resource can withstand that.
The buck harvest is higher than that number. Animals are born in the same fifty—fifty ratio. So the does are there, we believe, in adequate numbers to sustain at harvest.
The last proposal has to do with white—tailed deer and the simplification of the late youth—only season. We have an early youth season just prior to the opening of the general season. And we have a late youth season after the close of most of the general seasons.
And there was some discrepancies and difficulties and confusion because of the late season — various requirements that were put on youth. So we proposed some changes to make the early season and the late season identical.
Whatever the rules are in the general season would apply to both the front end and the back end.
So in this case, blue counties would have either sex hunting, and there would be no permit required for taking either sex, unless it was an MLD property or where LAMPS permits were issued, in which case those permits would still be required.
They would be required during the general season. They would be required during the youth season.
The red counties are where antlerless deer are available by permit only. And that permit would still be required, whether it was the early season or the late season.
And the yellow counties are part blue and part red. Just a split there. Anyway, the youth would have expanded opportunity both before and after the general season to do this.
In public comment, there were 111 in favor and 12 disagreed.
That's our recommendations.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: My first question, Mike, has to do with the pronghorn. And you may want to get Brewer up here to help you.
I think I'm correct in my observation — tell me if I'm not — pronghorns are an excellent indicator of rangeland habitat quality in Trans—Pecos, and certainly in their eastern extremity.
MR. BERGER: Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I know some of that country, where we've worked [indiscernible] with some that eastern population.
If I'm correct the permit system — essentially when you're working with a population that can't sustain an open season. Is that right? Is that fair?
MR. BERGER: Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: If we're trying to promote habitat conservation on private land, what's the best way to use this pronghorn [indiscernible] to give incentive to private landowners?
Would it be through a wildlife management plan that allowed them to essentially be outside the permit process? And if they're managing good habitat for pronghorns, have their own recommended harvest?
I'm just thinking of ideas. I don't always want to be in the permit system, because that shows we're not moving the ball, it would seem to me. We've had good rains out there, it might be the opportunity to —
MR. BREWER: My name is Clay Brewer. I'm the bighorn, mule deer and pronghorn program coordinator.
I think it's important to know that permit utilization in the Trans—Pecos is about 50 percent anyway. So it's not a matter of loosening things up. They're very conservative in nature anyway.
So it couldn't have to do with bag limits, possibly with maybe some changes in season lengths. But I think you'd meet some resistance there as well. I don't know. It may take some creative thinking. I don't know what the answer is.
Permit utilization is about 50 percent right now. It's higher than that in the panhandle.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: It is higher in the panhandle.
MR. BREWER: Yes. It's about somewhere around 80 percent, something like that.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: And of course it's so tied to rainfall, I know, and conditions for fawning. I understand that's the critical issue for pronghorn.
MR. BREWER: Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Where's our best opportunity to really advance pronghorn populations.
MR. BREWER: Probably in the Trans—Pecos. But when I left the other day, we got six inches in Fort Stockton in two days. So we're doing okay.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: This is a good time to be looking.
How's the permit system work? How are they awarded? How often?
MR. BREWER: We fly every year about June or July, and permits are issued based on where these animals are observed — based on accounts and the amount of habitat that the landowner possesses within that herd unit.
In this particular proposal that Mike just discussed, all we're doing is standardizing what was occurring in the panhandle, because of the small property tracts. But it's based on annual flights that we conduct every June and July.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Are there many landowners that have contained herds, so to speak — that the herd stays on the —
MR. BREWER: No, sir. Not really. And I think it's important to note that the herd units — most of them were formed early in the '70s — some of them before that, based on the locations of net wire fencing, highways, things of that nature, physical boundaries that prevented that movement.
Some of that has changed. Some of its changing again. New ownership. New net wire fences coming in. So it's pretty interesting. In some areas, we're actually going back in time.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Really? You mean people are putting up fences that —
MR. BREWER: That would prevent movement. However, having said that, we are working with a lot of landowners to prevent that from happening.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Seems like a good opportunity for wildlife management plans —
MR. BREWER: Oh, you bet.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: — for those that are interested in pronghorn.
MR. BREWER: I will tell you this. We are currently reevaluating all of our herd units, trying to redefine those, which should help.
There was some question on this issue about — and several complaints this year regarding two separate herd units and what prevented animals from crossing those boundaries and that type of thing.
So we're trying to take a hard look in existing herd units — the older herd units that were established years ago. But it's still a good system, still a good way to do business. We just need to work out some of the kinks.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Is there a rule of thumb about the amount of geography required for a herd unit? Or is it basically determined by physical boundaries, like highways?
MR. BREWER: I can tell you it takes a lot of country to support pronghorns. And I can show you records where transplants were done in San Saba County in the '50s.
Historically two—thirds of Texas was pronghorn antelope habitat. But we know from experience what it takes to support pronghorn.
Depending on where it's located and the type of habitat — you know, ten thousand acres on up, in some cases 20 thousand acres to support a viable population. It takes a lot of country.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: It's one of the first casualties of fragmentation.
MR. BREWER: Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: That's why I think it's an interesting one to look at to promote not only co—ops, private conservation and other opportunities there. If you've got a lot of pronghorns, you're doing a good job.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: One more quick question. How many animals would there typically be in a herd?
MR. BREWER: It varies. Some of the herd units are larger than others. It can be anywhere from 100 on up, just depending on location. It's kind of a tough question.
I can provide all that information — the data by herd unit, what was counted — if you would like.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Just curious.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: They can cover you up. I've asked those sort of questions before. You get careful after a while.
How many pronghorn permits last year?
MR. BREWER: We had close to 800, if I remember correctly.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: And 400 harvested, roughly.
MR. BREWER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Do we have a program where we are trying to reestablish the pronghorn in certain areas that we —
MR. BREWER: You mean aggressive transplanting. No, sir. That's not happening right now.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Is that something that's doable?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Well, it's habitat issue, isn't it?
MR. BREWER: Yes, sir. And as you know, the lack of rainfall has really hurt over the last few years. Most areas that have maintained population have done so because of that habitat. A little bit of rainfall would help.
MR. COOK: Well, it's a twofold issue. Clay, correct me if I'm incorrect.
One is having good habitat to put them on. Another real important issue right now is hardly anybody has surplus antelope as far as the species that we're dealing with in Texas.
MR. BREWER: Lots of people want them, but nobody's willing to give them up.
MR. COOK: Through the years — you may be aware of this, we have done several thousand head of moving animals within the state from areas where we had good populations.
For instance Rocker—B at one point in time over a two—year period, we moved about 1200, 1300 head of animals from the Rocker—B onto 20, 30, 40 different sites across the state that we thought were good habitats. That was 20 years ago or so.
Then we brought in animals from Wyoming and Colorado — two sites we thought were good. Right now, the sources are just not available anywhere.
Like Clay says, if we get the rainfall and we get the people involved in good habitat management — the basic herd units are there. We could populate this thing.
We could get it back in shape. But looking and eight, nine year drought of record, it's been tough.
MR. BREWER: We reached a 20—year low several years ago.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: In 1975 when I was at Black Gap, they were there. You could see them at Stillwell store — 50, 60 miles from the closest antelope from there on, I would imagine.
MR. BREWER: That's right.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Is there increased interest by landowners and hunters in pronghorn?
MR. BREWER: There doesn't seem to be a big push. In fact, the interest — I would say probably the reverse, from best I can tell. Antelope season used to be a big thing in the Trans—Pecos.
I don't know whether it's because of declining numbers and opportunities in years past. Actually I would say the reverse, probably.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Because if you follow the hunting press at all, there seems to be increased interest in some other areas in eastern New Mexico and Wyoming.
MR. BREWER: Well, the interest is still there. And if you look at how many people apply for a Rita Blanca grassland, the interest is there.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Okay. So we've got to get the habitat to catch up.
Thank you, Clay. Any other questions?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: We'll just stick to pronghorns today for you, Clay.
On the LAMPS — do we have to be concerned that LAMPS is almost a default from wildlife management plan?
One of our jobs here is we've set for ourselves over the next ten years to increase wildlife plan management acreage. Is LAMPS essentially alternative to that for some people? Does that keep them from getting in wildlife management?
MR. BERGER: Well, for some people it is. But it's a function, too, of tract size. Where most of the LAMPS permits are issued, in east Texas you have small tract sizes.
And the folks that are taking advantage of it traditionally have not been interested in a wildlife management plan. They're interested in killing a doe, being able to take a doe on their property. So that's why —
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: So it's not really keeping land out of wildlife management plans.
MR. BERGER: No, it's not that kind of thing. We're trying to move to building co—ops that would have management plans on a larger area and move them into that wildlife management program and MLDs, so that they can have a more comprehensive matter.
But when you're talking properties that are 50, 100, 200 acres, all interspersed together, it's difficult to get a management plan for deer that's meaningful on property that size.
LAMPS works for that to give them opportunity to take a doe and continue to work with them, to try to advance some conservation on their land.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: So it can be stepping stone, rather than an alternative.
MR. BERGER: Yes.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Good. Any other questions for Mike on hunting fishing proclamation?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Thank you. We'll get a chance to talk plenty about white—tailed deer regs later.
Thank you, Mike.
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.
Item 7 we're going to skip until the chairman of the White—tailed Deer Advisory Board, Chairman Emeritus Bass can join us and help with that presentation.
We'll skip down to Robin, item 8, oyster fishery proclamation/rule review.
MR. RIECHERS: Chairman Fitzsimons, my name is Robin Riechers of the coastal fisheries division.
The item before you proposes final adoption of the proposed changes to Chapter 58, Subchapter A, the oyster fishery proclamation and readoption of all other sections unchanged, as proposed under the rule review process.
The proposed changes that we're bringing before you today primarily affect the business practices in dealing with the oyster lease program and clarification of penalties within that program.
As a brief recap, there are two components to the oyster fishery — the public reef fishery and the private lease program. The lease program makes up about one—third of the landings in value of the fishery and accounts for about $3 million dockside value each year.
The lease program is confined solely within the Galveston Bay complex. And when you add the public reef fishery and the lease program together, that Galveston Bay complex accounts for over 90 percent of all the oyster production in Texas.
There are 43 separate leases. The program is designed to allow for oysters to be removed from polluted areas to non—polluted areas, to allow them to cleanse themselves or depurate for a period of time and then to be harvested and used as a viable resource.
Based on our discussions when we proposed this item in January, I thought that I'd quickly review the changes that were made to this program in the 77th legislative session.
First, the term of the lease agreement was set at 15 years. And the first terms started on March 1, 2002.
The rental fee per acre was changed from $3 to $6 per acre, or an amount set by the Commission. A clause for a late payment penalty was added, which basically says if they don't pay by March 1, it's that amount plus 10 percent.
If in fact they do not pay after 90 days, the lease is terminated, and it reverts back to the Department.
In addition, Senate Bill 305 also set renewal and transfer fees at $200 — just a flat fee — any time you renew or transfer the lease.
In addition, it also basically created the authority for us to require a new lease survey any time those leases are renewed.
The reason we did this was we were on old [indiscernible] technology and based on new technology, we could get a much better marker on those corners of those leases. And basically we put that requirement on the leaseholder.
Also if for any reason that lease is terminated or it is not renewed — in fact on the renewal process, those leaseholders have first right of refusal, if we determine the lease is still viable.
If they refuse the right to renew, or it is terminated because of late payment, we actually have the authority to create an auction system to auction off those leases.
Again the proposals before you to date are broken down into two categories. One is clean up of business practices of managing the lease program and those clarification of penalties.
In the business practice category, we're proposing to reduce the time from five to two days that an application is due prior to the beginning of the transplant season.
This is just reducing our time to process that. We've certainly been able to hurry that up with better technology. And we think we can do that and not require that to be in our office quite so quickly.
Secondly, we're explicitly adding the ability to add the number and what vessel can be used on any lease within that permit, when we permit that transplant operation.
This is really been going on out there, but we're wanting to put it into our proclamation so that there's no confusion on that requirement to the leaseholder.
Within that section, we also want to make a wording change to 58.408-A. We use the word transport there. Due to some law enforcement concerns using that word, we would like to change that to transplant. We used that throughout the other portions of the code.
We're recommending that amendment or change in today's language. Our reasoning there is we want those activities to be broad over all the activities of transplanting, not just the actual transportation from one location to another. So we're just wanting to make sure we clean that language up today.
Lastly, we're lengthening the time of reporting of information to our office after transplanting. Specifically, we're requiring that a reporting requirement occur when harvest is done.
Right now there is end date to when they have to report that harvest. And we want to go ahead and put that in the proclamation as well.
In the clarification of penalties area, we propose to specify that when transplanting or harvesting, the permit must be on board the vessel and that any violation of that permit result in a five—day suspension.
That five—day suspension is in line with any other minor permit violations that we would have in that code. Some of the major ones actually within that section can give you up to a 45—day suspension, but this is one of the minor violations.
Lastly, we're allowing harvest by non—mechanical means in both the recreation and the commercial oyster fisheries.
We've had no public comment to date on any of these proposals. But I remind you as I did when we brought it to you first for proposal, these changes are in line with what we've proposed in the oyster fishery management plan.
We did carry it to our oyster advisory committee before initially proposing these changes to you.
I'd be happy to answer any questions at this time.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Is there any discussion?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: The right of first refusal — can it be following an auction process, so it is at the auction price rather than at the prior lease rate? I think we had some concerns that the lease rates were effectively under market.
MR. RIECHERS: We'd probably have to get a legal ruling on that. But I don't believe that was certainly the intent of the first right of refusal.
The intent was that whatever the acreage price was set at by this Commission, that person would have first right of refusal at that price, and then it would go into an auction system.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: So what's our authority then to set the price? Do we have to rehear and reset prices on them, if they come up?
MR. RIECHERS: Actually at any point in time, the per acreage fee is paid to us March 1 of each year. I believe it's within our authority to change the price any time within that 15—year lease.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I thought it was restricted to $6.
MR. RIECHERS: $6 or an amount set by the Commission.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Higher or lower?
MR. RIECHERS: Higher or lower. I think you're right — whichever's higher is the way it works.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: $6 is the minimum.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Mr. Ramos?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Have our violations every had any monetary sanctions? I notice the only remedy here is cancellation of the permit. We've never had like a plan of X number of dollars per violation or anything?
MR. RIECHERS: There would be fines associated with any sort of —
MR. STINEBAUGH: Mr. Jim Stinebaugh, director of law enforcement. Yes, sir. We have fines, Commissioner Ramos.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I'm just wondering why — maybe I'm looking at the wrong one, but in Section 58.60, it talks about the withholding of permits. But that's not an exclusive.
In other words, you lose your permit and in addition to that we'll have a criminal charge.
MR. STINEBAUGH: Right. We also seize and can sell the oysters and things in these matters.
MR. RIECHERS: Part of the reasoning here is due to the nature of this program, where we're transplanting from polluted areas to non—polluted areas, and the health risks associated with that kind of activity, and the extra manpower on our part to have to govern those kinds of activities, we really have tried to up the burden.
This is really working with the leaseholder group to create these, so that we do have a good handle on that and we feel like we can manage it in a reasonable way.
That we're not creating extra health risks. We're in fact creating a marketable, viable product that otherwise would not be used.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I just wanted to make sure that we had sanctions other than just the suspension of the lease.
MR. STINEBAUGH: We do, and we work that quite a bit. And there are quite a number of guys fined in oyster season.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Phil?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Two other things, I guess. Back to the pricing question. Personally I'd like to see us figure out how over time to move to some kind of market pricing.
I realize that the legislation may make that difficult. But just as a broad objective, see if it's the right way to do it.
I understand that the state actually owns the shell, that we don't recover the value of the shell at this point. Again, we've got a program that's ongoing. But it seems to me we ought to set as a course of action to investigate ways to recover that value for the state.
MR. RIECHERS: Based on your comments at the last meeting, in fact we've already set up some workgroups with industry. That will be for late April and early May. We're going to go out there, and that's one of our discussion items with them.
We do have the authority for a shell recovery program now in code. And we're going to be talking with them about that. We're looking at what some of the other states are doing. Try to see if there's maybe a place we can work there to create a shell recovery program.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Mark?
COMMISSIONER WATSON: Now, Robin, you say there're 2,800 acres.
MR. RIECHERS: 2,300.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: So we're getting $13,000.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: And it's worth three million.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, that's ex-vessel value. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: Seems like to me we may have the short end of the stick.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Time for Mark to mark it.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: What would it be in Louisiana?
MR. RIECHERS: Louisiana is actually less.
MR. RIECHERS: When we looked at cost recovery on the efforts that we put, basically the State Auditor's report led to this legislation.
It was around $21 to $24. I believe it was $21. But it was somewhere in that range for the cost of recovery.
They started out talking about a fee in that range. By the time it went through the legislative process, we were at $6.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: It still seems like there's an awful big difference between 13,000 and three million.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I don't understand the ins and outs of this area at all, other than we're at regulated price that's way below market. And the right way for the state to recover value is to move to an auction process which lets the market set the price.
To me the broad objective is going to have to happen in the legislative session. We've got long—term leases, so it's not something likely to happen any time soon.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: But long—term leases are not unlike some licenses. They can be bought out.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Yes. But as a broad objective, we ought to try to move to market. The state has a lot of value it's not capturing.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I agree. What does it take to do that? Does it necessarily take legislation?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I don't know.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: The $6 is the minimum.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Didn't you say the $6 number can be changed on an annual basis within that 15—year lease?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, sir. We've tried to. When we set those new lease terms up and new lease contracts, we tried to leave the availability for that open. Yes, sir.
You could consider a pricing change before our next meeting, possibly.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Ned.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Have we had any auctions that have produced a price in excess of $6?
MR. RIECHERS: We haven't had any auctions of these leases. No, sir.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: But also I think what we would find is that there are very few leaseholders. I'm sure that this is a very closed community.
I think it would be interesting to come up with a proposal and say we're going to charge $20 an acre and see what happens.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: You'll be at that public meeting.
MR. COOK: Robin, the potential here — let's put it in this perspective. At $6 an acre, we're taking in how many dollars?
MR. RIECHERS: Roughly $8,000. No, I'm sorry. $12,000.
MR. COOK: $12,000. At $20 an acre —
MR. RIECHERS: At $21, you're going to bring in about another $32,000.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: What do other states do?
MR. RIECHERS: Predominantly, they charge a per acre lease fee. We're in line with what the other states are doing right now. At least one other state does do it based on production off the leases.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: What state would that be?
MR. RIECHERS: I think it's Virginia, or it could have been Oregon.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Well, Virginia, that's a pretty big oyster.
MR. RIECHERS: And in context, Louisiana and Texas make up 70 percent of the total oyster production in the U.S. right now. Between those two states, we're the big states.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Robert?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Are the holders of the leases able to transfer this to someone else? And do we have any idea what the cost — they may be getting $300,000 for a lease that we're leasing for six bucks.
Are they able to do that? And do we monitor that? Do we have any control over that?
MR. RIECHERS: We don't have any control. They are able to do that.
Some of the reason this got brought up in the legislature last time — this is anecdotal, but there was at least some anecdotal information to say that one of those leases transferred for around, I'm going to say, $180,000, is what our [indiscernible] would be.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: We're trying to set some values here, just on what they're doing.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So what you're saying is that our lease does not have a prohibition of assignment or subleasing.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Nor do they have to even notify us, if in fact they do that.
MR. RIECHERS: They have notify us now. That was one of the changes, where we actually do go through a notification —
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: But there's no provision to capture that — the one you and I call the downstream value. There's nothing to capture that.
Could we maybe get a briefing on what Virginia or Oregon or whatever state it is that's getting a royalty on production values.
MR. RIECHERS: We'll go out and look and see what they do and bring that back to you. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER WATSON: If we get a 10 percent override on the dock value, we'd be a lot better off.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Got them all stirred up, Robin. Good job.
All right. That was Item 8. 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 we have one item we skipped. So we will recess the Regulations Committee until after lunch. Mr. Bass and Clayton Wolf can give us the report from the White—tailed Deer Advisory group. Now, I'll pass the gavel to Chairman Ned Holmes.
(Whereupon, the meeting was recessed to reconvene later.)
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: So we reconvene the Regulations Committee at 1:10 and have Item 7 on the agenda, Clayton Wolf's presentation.
MR. BASS: Just for the record, the real reason I'm here is because Donato invited me to dinner tonight.
Since part of Clayton's presentation is a review of the White—Tailed Advisory Committee, which I find myself the chair of now, I thought I'd help Clayton interpret for you some of the sentiments of the Committee on things, and then as well be able to get a direct sense of the Commission.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Excuse me, Mr. Chairman. Would you ask this gentlemen to identify himself.
MR. BASS: I'm Lee Bass. I'm here to represent Texas animals, white—tailed in particular.
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman, for the record. My name's Clayton Wolf, and I'm the big game program director in the wildlife division.
Before I begin my presentation, I do have one introduction I'd like to make. We have a made a selection on our new statewide white—tailed deer program coordinator.
And he's in the room. It's Mitch Rockwood.
Mitch, stand up and say hello to everybody.
We're pleased with our selection. And I hope to share all this fun that I'm having with Mitch, so you will see more of him.
This afternoon I'm here to present regulations proposals that were developed by the Commission's White—tailed Deer Advisory Committee.
The first proposal is a proposal to eliminate double—tagging. Double—tagging is a term that we use to describe the process of putting more than one piece of paper or filling out more than one document that are necessary after harvesting a deer.
If you hunt on MLDP properties in Texas, properties that receive LAMPS permits or some other permits, you know that not only do you have to complete all the information on that permit and cut out the date.
But then you've got to do the same thing with your license tag or a bonus tag. And additionally, if not using a bonus tag, you have to fill out the back of your license log with some more information. Much of this information is redundant.
And I might add, this is a proposal idea that our staff brought to the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee.
We were thinking about putting this on the agenda for this next regulation cycle, and it was so popular, we included it in the package with the Advisory Committee's permission. So they're kind of sponsoring this on our behalf.
The proposal is to eliminate the requirement to complete the license log and utilization of a license tag for deer taken under authority of the permits listed on the screen here.
In essence, if you harvested a deer under any of these permits, you would not have to place a license tag on the animal or a bonus tag. You would not have to fill out the back of the license log.
The animal would still have a paper on it for all the necessary information for law enforcement.
The other complex matter in dealing with permits is keeping up with your bag limits. If you harvest a deer with an MLD and you utilize a bonus tag, you do not have to fill out your license log.
However, if you don't use a bonus tag, you have to complete your license log. Theoretically you could kill one buck in a one—buck county with an MLD, and the back of your license log will reflect that.
But in fact you are allowed to kill another buck in a one—buck county.
This has caused us quite a bit of confusion, not just for hunters but even for staff in trying to interpret these rules.
So along those lines, the proposal also includes that deer taken under the authority of these permits do not apply to the statewide deer bag limit.
In essence, if you do not harvest deer with one of these permits, you are restricted to the statewide bag limit. You would put your license tag on there, and you would fill out your license log. And you could harvest up to five deer, depending on the county.
If you harvest a deer under the authority of any other permits, the control mechanism is the Wildlife Management Plan or the formulas that are used to issue those permits. So there is a control mechanism on both ends.
And finally, like I said, if this proposal is adopted, this will eliminate the need for bonus tags, therefore the proposal includes eliminating bonus tags.
This proposal received 119 comments for and 15 against. Just to summarize some of those against — most of those it appeared there was a lack of knowledge about the issuance mechanism for permits.
Folks thought that we just randomly distributed LAMPS or MLD permits and didn't realize there was a limited number or some kind of control mechanism that was biologically based.
The next proposal is to extend the period of validity for Level II and Level III MLDPs.
Currently Level II and III MLDPs are valid to the last Sunday in January or during an open season. For instance in south Texas, where there's the late antlerless and spike season.
So you really have one level of complexity within these permits, in that the ending dates are different, depending on the county that you're in.
Additionally, ADCPs run through the last day in February. And many ranches in Texas received ADCPs and MLDPs.
So while they're harvesting, their MLDPs may be valid through the last Sunday in January or possibly the 1st of February, then they're no longer allowed to use those permits.
So they can shift gears, utilize ADCPs, but the ADCPs are only valid on antlerless and spike deer. So you can see where this is kind of confusing to keep up with.
The proposal to remedy this is to extend the period of validity for Level II and III MLDPs through the last day in February.
We theorize that many of our ADCPs cooperators would no longer need to apply for antlerless deer control permits, could use MLDs to achieve all their harvest objectives, putting one piece of paper on each deer.
The public comment on this proposal was nine for and eight against. I do need to note that the rest of these proposals did not get put on our web survey until a later date, because of some time constraints.
That's why the volume of comments is a little bit lower than the others that went out with our statewide hunting and fishing news release.
To summarize the comments against, there were some concern about shooting shed antler bucks if they utilized permits late in the season.
At least one individual commented that if antlerless deer needed to be harvested, that the harvest should be on the front end of the season, as opposed to the back end of the season.
Bottom line though is if a cooperator is unable to achieve their harvest in a timely manner, this allows them the flexibility with that extra month of time to meet their harvest objectives.
We have several proposals that deal with MLDP provisions within the Triple T proclamation.
These can be quite complex, so I want to take a moment to first summarize what the existing regulations are before going into proposals. If you'll be patient, because this is complex.
Level III MLDP cooperators may be approved for trap, transport and transplant permit or release without inspection, provided they meet certain criteria.
Basically in Texas, if you want to get Triple T deer, the norm is to get a site inspection. A biologist comes to your property.
They determine there is sufficient suitable habitat on the property, so the addition of animals doesn't result in some kind of negative impact on the plant community.
However, there are two instances where a person can receive deer without that site inspection. One is inconsequential release, which I'll discuss later.
The other one are provisions provided for MLDP cooperators, provided that they meet certain criteria.
One of those is that the tract must have been receiving Level III MLDPs for three years. Basically what we're talking about is knowledge of the property.
Although this would exempt the property from a site inspection for that winter, these criteria basically indicate that the biologist does have knowledge of the property through working with that cooperator.
Anybody that we issue MLDPs to, we've made at least one site visit on that property. And after three years, we've made numerous site visits. So there is a knowledge of the property and what the carrying capacity is.
The important factor is that the release of deer does not cause the population to exceed the level prescribed in the Wildlife Management Plan.
This is a key component to keep this program habitat—based and make sure the addition of deer do not have a negative impact on the plant community.
Right now the rules indicate that the release does not include bucks. I'm not going to elaborate, but I will describe in a few minutes why this probably doesn't make that much sense and could be changed.
Finally, one of the more complex parts of this, the removal of deer prior to importing new deer — that's Triple T deer — does not cause a population to be reduced more than 50 percent of recruitment below the prescribed population level.
That's language right out of our rules. I think it can be best described with an example a lot easier.
If your wildlife management plan says that at the end of the hunting season you need to have 100 deer on your property, so you need to reduce that population at least to 100.
If your data indicates that you recruited 20 fawns on the property that year, that's your recruitment. So half of the recruitment obviously would be ten animals.
Therefore if you want to make room for more deer, you can only take that population level down to 90, basically down to half of recruitment below your target level.
Bottom line is there is a limit on how far you can push the population down to make room for new deer.
And just to reiterate, the most important aspect of this to keep it habitat—based is that the population at the end of these activities cannot exceed that prescribed in the wildlife management plan.
Now the proposals. There's a proposal that deals with these Triple T releases right now. Tracts that have been receiving Level III MLDPs for three years are the only tracts that qualify.
The proposal from the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee is that a tract that is currently issued Level II or III MLDPs and has the data required for Level III MLDPs can qualify.
In essence we've gone from three years of participation to one year of participation. We've included Level IIs, but they have to conform to the same data requirements of Level III.
That is three years of population data and two years of harvest data. So the biologist does have a good data set to work from, so in essence they can sit at their desks and make a call on if the Triple T is to be approved or not approved.
We had six comments for this proposal, five against. Almost all the comments against where people did clarify why they opposed this, folks thought there should be a site inspection regardless.
There's a proposal to include buck deer in these provisions. You'll recall that I indicated the release of deer under these provisions can only include doe deer. But the most important aspect is the total number of deer on the property.
Therefore, the proposal is that buck deer can be included. It's not a matter of whether it's ten does or it's ten bucks.
But the fact that it's ten animals coming on the property, and each animal basically eats about the same volume of forage. So it keeps it habitat—based. Comments six for and one against.
There's a proposal to remove the harvest limitation on these properties receiving Triple T deer. As you can see on the screen here, we have the rule that deals with the 50 percent recruitment below the target population.
The proposal is to basically eliminate this requirement. There would be no limit on how far that population could be pushed down prior to importing more deer.
You still would have the cap on the top end that's habitat—based. But bottom line, no limit on how many deer can be removed prior to importation of new Triple T deer from another site.
WE had five people speak in favor of this and seven against.
The proposal to remove antlers from all Triple T bucks prior to shipment. Currently antlers must be removed from all these bucks, except if it's between February 10 and March 31.
Typically that's when seasons are closed. But if these previous proposals are adopted on MLDP properties, the season will be open until the end of February.
It's been the tradition of this Commission not to allow for the shipment of antlered bucks during these open seasons. So this proposal basically is made to adjust for the extension of that season.
To simplify it, the proposal is to remove the antlers from all Triple T bucks prior to shipment.
In addition there's a safety factor for the trappers and also the deer. Many operations saw the antlers off when they catch the deer under the net for their own safety, and then for the deer's safety when putting them into a trailer.
MR. BASS: There was some discussion that if it was the same landowner — for instance, if we had a property divided by a high fence, and it wanted to move some of the deer from one side to another, why make him take the antlers off.
The antler prohibition I think has typically been historically a concern that somebody catches a great big deer and ships it off somewhere and some soul can get into a canned hunt or something that's not fair chase.
If it's just a landowner moving it from one side of the fence to the other side, and he owns and controls both sides, why get into the antler removal there.
We had that discussion, and I guess it was late in the day, and it didn't kind of get resolved into being an addendum to this. But that was an exception that seemed to pass muster in the committee room, even though it's not up here.
MR. WOLF: Thanks.
Eleven for this proposal and zero against.
We also have a proposal from the Committee to suspend permit issuance for one year for certain violations.
Currently if a MLDP cooperator exceeds the harvest recommendation that's in their plan, and if the biologist chooses not to issue permits, they cannot receive permits for the next three years.
The White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee thought that this was a bit excessive and proposes that the suspension be reduced to one year, if in fact the biologist chooses not to issue permits.
We've had eleven comments on this. They're all for.
And our final proposal deals with inconsequential release. You'll recall I told you there are a couple instances where a site inspection is not required.
One of those was covered by our MLDP provisions. This is the other one.
Currently Triple T releases is allowed at a rate not to exceed one deer per 200 acres without a site inspection. We've termed this inconsequential release, although you won't see that in the rules.
Once that stocking has reached one deer to 200 acres, they can receive no more stocking. So in essence it's a once in a lifetime, no site inspection stocking.
The proposal is to allow an inconsequential release at the same maximum intensity of one deer to 200 acres, at a frequency of every four years or a change in ownership of the receiving property.
We had eight comments for this and six against.
There were a couple of comments at our public hearings, where the commenters indicated that in their opinion, the inconsequential provisions were not consistent with the department's stocking policy, which basically governs the movement of all deer in Texas.
This caused us to take a little closer look at the stocking policy at our stocking records and what had taken place and also visit with field staff.
In fact we did have some issues that we think are habitat—based. This particular proposal might warrant a little bit closer scrutiny.
And that's my last proposal. I'll take any questions now.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I've got a question to follow up on your comment there, Clayton, on the last issue.
As I understand it the Advisory Board's pretty clear on their commitment to the biological basis or habitat as a foundation for the policy. I mean, that's stated policy.
If I understand this last proposal, it assumes an inconsequential release without one of the two ways that you can base that assumption. You either base it on data, or you base it on a site visit. Right?
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: And unlike your first or second proposal, where you're making the change for Level III MLDPs, those people obviously are under a wildlife management plan and wouldn't be a Level III MLDP.
In this case you could have no wildlife management plan in the receiving —
MR. WOLF: No, sir. That's not correct. The regulations do require that a stocking plan is necessary for all release sites. And our rules indicate that a wildlife management plan can serve in lieu of a stocking plan.
However, the inconsequential releases do not have to necessarily abide by the recommendations in the wildlife management plan. And that's the difference between the Level IIIs.
If Level III says your maximum capacity is 100 deer, then you can't go over 100 deer.
Under inconsequential release, a property or co—op can come to us and ask for a wildlife management plan, because the requirement is an approved plan.
And the plan may in fact indicate that the properties are saturated or fully stocked. But once they've received their approved plan, they are good to go for an inconsequential release on that property.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: The onsite visit without necessarily the data.
MR. WOLF: That's correct.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: So you could have a situation where the exception follows the rule.
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir. I think in fact what we've learned through time — inconsequential releases have taken place since the year 2000, I believe.
And probably when folks were thinking about this — you know, a deer to 200 acres scattered across the landscape is some very little intensity.
However, looking at some of our stocking records, something probably we didn't foresee, is that there are some co—op with quite a bit of acreage that have received shipments of 60 to 100 deer to go into some co—ops that have very fragmented habitats.
The animals don't stay distributed across the landscape. So the real stocking intensity could be much higher, depending on where those deer end up. They're going to end up where the pockets of habitat are.
So I don't necessarily think that folks envisioned this when this was first talked about. IN addition, at our Advisory Committee meeting, we did not brief the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee on the stocking policy which governs all stocking in Texas.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: So at the very least it seems that we ought attempt to be consistent.
MR. BASS: A little background. I think when this first came up, the concept was you throw one more deer on the King Ranch that's 800,000 acres, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans. That's obviously an extreme example. The principle's illustrated.
There are a number of instances where people would want to apply for a handful of deer — eight, 12, whatever.
Going through the same rigmarole as if somebody was going to do 100 deer was a strain on staff. If it's inconsequential to put one deer on the 800,000—acre King Ranch, what point does inconsequential become of consequence.
Through a process, one deer to 200 acres is where the point on the continuum was drawn, rightly or wrongly.
I think what Clayton's referring to is — what wasn't really anticipated at that time — was, one deer on 800,000 acres that's all farmland with a one—acre piece of habitat in the middle of it is of consequence.
Because you're really putting one deer on one acre instead of 800,000. So that was part of this that didn't get put into the calculus at the time.
Frankly I'm not sure that in our committee meeting, we really focused on that potential aspect of it a month or two ago when we discussed this. I don't remember talking about it at that time.
MR. WOLF: No, we did not.
MR. BASS: Another aspect of saying, if one deer was put on a ranch 20 years ago, putting one more today can't be of any consequence. This once—in—a—lifetime thing didn't seem reasonable, when the average lifespan of a deer is six or eight years.
So the four—year number in the proposal came from — the average age of the deer you're going to throw out there is probably three or four years old. You add another four years to it, that deer will not be around any more.
So if his spot was inconsequential before, and he's no longer there, why shouldn't someone be able to put it back.
The change of property was, does this become a deed restriction. That kind of sounded silly. You mean I can't do this because the guy I bought it from did it. You didn't tell me that. So those concepts went into this proposal.
Now what Clayton has brought up, the potential inconsistency with some other things, where it really can be a loophole that is of impact on habitat. I don't think we discussed it in committee.
I guess it really kind of raises the question does the whole concept of inconsequential release and does one per 200 the right place on the continuum to put the dot. That whole issue needs to be backed up and looked at again.
Mr. Chairman, you're correct in that the Committee is very sound in resolve that the touchstone of all these things that we try to go back and touch on is the biology and the habitat.
The habitat's the top of the food chain — kind of an inviable touchstone to run everything by and see if it holds water.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: And if everything's driven by habitat, then it doesn't make any sense really to undermine that.
But I don't want to overblow this. We're not talking about a significant amount of deer right now in this program. We're talking about an average — I did the arithmetic once — 18 or 20 animals over 60 some odd releases.
MR. WOLF: Yes. When we initiated this prior to CWD testing, it seems CWD testing's affected all of Triple T.
Initially we were talking about 63, 45 sites in the first two years that got inconsequential releases of 1,100 dear on those 60 and 40 sites.
Recently we're talking more along the lines — in the last two years 17 sites and 10 sites receiving 300 deer, approximately. Something along those lines.
Obviously some of that is tied to CWD testing. I guess we assume that that's what's causing the decrease.
But also in fact is sites that are available. Some of these sites, once they got their one—time inconsequential release, they're no longer available any more.
Although I think there's quite a few acres in Texas that have not received their inconsequential release yet.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: So backing up, having to look at this, is not going to — at least right now is going to have a huge impact on sites with a number of deer.
MR. BASS: One solution is to say one deer per 200 acres of deer habitat. How do you know that the guy's —
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Site inspection.
MR. BASS: I've seen deer out in my coastal field. And then you've got to do a site inspection.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: You make a good point there, is that it's about the site inspection. You can do multiple releases. It's not one per property. It's only without a site inspection.
So I don't think we should get too carried with the exception, and let that desire to avoid a site inspection drive the policy.
MR. BASS: This is a very small issue, even amongst the deer queers on my committee. Please strike that.
MR. WOLF: And the other issue is of course the reason we investigated this is the Department stocking policy was referenced.
The rules do state that all of the translocation of deer are governed by the stocking policy.
So I think if we were to go back and reinvestigate, it would be also a thorough of this Commission's stocking policy and the history the basis and what—not, which appears to be habitat—based also.
There probably is a little bit of room for interpretation on some of those terms in the stocking policy, that we'd have to work through and make sure that we are doing as this Commission wishes.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Any other questions, comments?
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Thanks for taking the hard job; those can be long meetings, I think.
Anything else, Clayton?
MR. BASS: It think it would appropriate to at least have some dialogue about a concept that came up in the Committee, and we've talked about it in two meetings.
We've dubbed it — Triple T is trap, transport and translocate.
As of a year ago, there's a TTP — trap, transport and process, where the animals are trapped and then basically become butchered and go into charity or the prison system, I think are the two avenues by statue out of the last legislature.
The concept that we've had a couple of hours of discussion of it, we've kind of dubbed TTH — trap, transport, hunt.
The basic concept is this. All the deer that are in any of these TT and another initial programs are deer that the wildlife management plan on the place where they reside deem to be surplus animals. So they are tagged to move on in some form or fashion.
The concept — I've heard it kicked around some campfires for several years — but we've talked about it in committee twice — that there would be a managed property, high—fenced of habitat where deer that are destined to move on would be translocated to.
Then they would be hunted under some format. Probably day hunts. Ideally the locations would be close to urban centers, where they were more accessible to individuals who have a desire to hunt, but maybe don't have the opportunity to hunt.
The idea is that the fee for doing so would be very affordable in the context of what hunting costs in Texas today. Maybe $100 or less for one day. Maybe a couple hundred dollars, if it's a two or three—day experience, whatever.
There are initially a lot of knee jerk reactions of how this thing can go wrong. It would not be good that it happened in any way, what any of us would consider a canned hunt, or lack of fair chase type experience.
In other words, you put ten deer in a coastal field that's 300 acres, and anybody that's a decent shot with a high powered rifle can kill them all from standing in one spot.
You put them in a bunch of good brush. They're still wild deer, and it's going to be a challenge. They have an opportunity to hide, to move about in a manner to which they are accustomed.
I think the sentiment of the Advisory Committee is that it is something worth pursuing or at least worth further discussion.
Things that kind of pop out as being avenues that seem more favorable than less, is that at least initially, it's something that's done probably not on Department property, but on property that the Department has an active oversight role in, maybe a lease situation, private operator.
But there's a lot of governance from the Parks and Wildlife to give it the good housekeeping seal of approval and to be sure that all the little things that nobody can think of sitting in a room like this, get handled in way that are appropriate and would pass the 60 minutes test.
You read it on the front page of the newspaper. You say, some people may not like it but there's nothing wrong with it. It's defensible and something that you can feel good about.
Feeling that it perhaps should have a strong youth component, although probably not be an exclusive youth program, just because of viability.
Feeling that if it was attempted, that initially, kind of the toe test in the water, that you may be able to find participants — 500, 1000 deer, something like that — maybe less, year one.
But that once everybody was comfortable that it wasn't going to be the end of the world, there could potentially be thousands of deer made available for a program like this from highly managed, actively managed ranches throughout the state. So it could be big.
Any of the other kind of —
MR. WOLF: You've covered most of the points in the discussion.
MR. BASS: The things that have come up have not been reasons not to do it. There've been more reasons to do it this way versus that way.
I think there are individuals on the Committee that had a very strong knee jerk initial reaction — not only no, but hell no, that are now saying, You know, we really should try this.
This could really be good, in terms of getting hunting opportunity for people who have the desire but not the means. It's not just financial means. A lot of it's just time.
If you could go do it in a one—day deal, because it's close to an urban area, maybe it's attractive. The youth aspect's attractive to most people.
It's something we've wrestled with. I'm not sure there's a lot farther for us in the Committee to push the middle of the road without some idea from the Commission — is this something we should be working on.
Is this something we're not ready for, so let's back burner it. Is it a good use of our time or not. I think any kind of feedback — not necessarily today — but any kind of feedback that we can get would be helpful for the Committee.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: In light of the evolving discussion that you describe — because I've of course heard various sides of the TTH — I certainly am open to it. It makes a lot of sense.
We have, as you pointed out, a serious surplus deer issue. And I don't care if we hear about it from Hollywood Park, Lakeway or wherever —
MR. BASS: No matter what we've done to liberalize hunting regulations and try to expand hunting opportunity for deer in this state over the last ten or 15 years at least — our deer population is still growing. We are not keeping up with it.
We're dealing basically with a regulatory system — the old license with the tags on it you put in your wallet — that was developed in an era where there were too few deer, too many hunters — figuring out how to conserve the resource and then allocate scare resource amongst too much demand.
The situation's flipped now. We've got too much supply, too little demand in the great big picture. And that's why there's been a need to develop all these permits, some of which we saw — the alphabet soup kind of group of permits that we'd see all the initials for.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Well for the reason you've pointed out, I think's it worth pursuing.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I think it would be great to pursue, because to me the biggest long—term challenge we've got is getting urban dwellers out recreating, hunting and fishing in the outdoors, and come up with some way approximate to the big urban centers to do that.
It seems to me that all the practical issues, the big political issue would be to make sure it really is a fair chase, natural setting, so that it's not going to get the bad press. It might be if it were something other than that.
I've been wondering in the back of my mind how are we either open up a market, create an affordable market for hunting as the people get priced out. I keep hearing that all the time. I know that everybody's conscious of it.
You may have an angle on it here and deal with surplus, too, which is —
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Mark?
COMMISSIONER WATSON: Well, I think that there's no doubt that we have too many deer. I think, though, that if we do this, I think we're really, really taking a big chance if we release these deer into small, high—fenced areas — 300 acres is pretty small.
The next step is we'll just go ahead and take a bunch of 160 bucks and release them out for some guy from New York to come out and pop in a ten—acre pen.
I think that if you want to do it — I think we're really, really going to be criticized pretty severely, if it wasn't a real significant —
I don't know what the right number is
MR. BASS: One thousand acres is good habitat. It's kind of a concept that's been thrown around the table in the Committee.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I think Mark's got a point. It's not so much if you do it. It's how you do it.
MR. BASS: That's really what the Committee's gotten down to. The concept's not a bad one, but there's a lot of ways to do it poorly.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I certainly am in favor of this. My only concern is similar to what Mark is talking about, and that is that we cannot create a slaughterhouse type of environment.
In other words, the whole idea of hunting is that you have a true hunting experience. To the extent that we could do that — that's a loaded statement right there because of the manpower involved in it, one, and ensuring that we don't compromise the idea of the habitat.
In other words, if we're releasing or moving deer to be hunted, that that environment where the deer are going to have sufficient habitat to where if the hunts were unsuccessful, that you would not be creating a problem.
Just because you move 50 deer to 1,000 acres doesn't mean you're going to shoot 50. You may only shoot five. And as long as that's factored into the formula —
MR. BASS: The safety net was there's also the TTP. So at the end of the hunting period, if 50 deer came in and 40 went out — whoever's running this thing is responsible for getting the other ten out the door.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: You know the other thing, especially for the youth. I keep advocating the youth, and we all are sensitive to that.
But I think we need to think outside the box. And I certainly would support something along those lines.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: You've got a lot of work to do to work out those details. Your Committee has —
COMMISSIONER WATSON: I think that one of the things we've got to do is that make sure we're trying to create deer hunters and not deer shooters. We've got plenty of deer shooters. And I think what we're trying to do is have more hunters and have the experience.
COMMISSIONER HENRY: Conceptually, I'd like to support the concept. I'm not going to try to tell you how to do it for the same reason that I don't play poker with Lee.
I think from hearing what I've heard from people around the Houston area and in other places as well who complain about not having the ability or the facility to hunt, and given the concerns that we've expressed around this table in the past few years, concerning the apportioning of hunters between this group as opposed to another group, be it along economic lines, class lines, urban or rural, the time lines and others.
Given the changing and demographics in the state, the changes in population and all and following our land and water conservation plan, particularly the I—35, I-45, I-10 corridors, and the concerns that we have about this 70 percent of the population, I'd like to see us look at it and look at it in terms of what can we do, given the concerns that you've expressed, and the knowledge that's not only around this table, but in your Committee and other places, what can we do to put a plan like this in place.
Maybe it's not something we do in a year or two. Maybe a year or two of a toe in the water approach, trying it out somewhere to see what it's like, using your experiences and your knowledge to make sure that it is well thought out and well planned and well executed.
I think it can help us solve some big problems that we're going to face in the future from urbanites from the ethnic populations that are increasing in this state with regard to hunting availability, as well as our concern for youth that all of us are interested in.
MR. BASS: You know, one of the things that somebody came up with in committee is, it's not just a problem of urban people not having an opportunity that live in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio.
It's the Falfuriases, the Corsicanas — it's the towns under 10,000 people, whose grandparents don't have the farm anymore. It's kind of any incorporated area almost. But you're right, there is that triangle that's a huge, huge number.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Well, you make a good point, Al.
As everybody's is probably tired of me pointing out by now, we're trying to tie everything back into the plan we already said we were going to do.
If I don't do anything else in my time as chairman, I can say, well, this is part of what we said we were going to do. And I think TTH fits that in concept. But as you've heard, you're going to have some tough taskmasters here to vet it through. Absolutely keep working on it is what I think.
It's worth your time to work on it, is what you're hearing.
MR. BASS: The question, I think has been answered, is there enough interest at the Commission level, that it's a good use of the Committee's time to try to push it down the road and bring you something that's got more flesh on the bones than the real simple skeleton that I offered you today. It says the right size is in excess of X acres and this kind of habitat.
It's a problem with those things — it's kind of like pornography; it's hard to describe it, but when you go and look at it, you know what it is. You know this works, and this just doesn't look right. Philosophically, as somebody pointed out to me, we really already do this with birds, with fish — almost everything but deer.
Part of the difference is a lot of those animals are reared in captivity and then liberated to be hunted or fished and these are critters that are wild just being put in a situation when they're more vulnerable.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: I don't know. Going from Lakeway to a 1000-acre ranch might by a step up.
MR. BASS: In seriousness, there's some discussion that those deer, the Lakeway deer, maybe should be ineligible because you don't want deer that when they hear a car door or hear a human voice think — food and walk up and try to — it takes two to be fair chase. Right? Somebody's got to run for there to be a chase.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Well, you're making some good points that — you're going to have a lot of work there to answer all those detailed questions.
MR. BASS: I'll take that as a — we should push it on down the road and see if we have something we're comfortable enough with bring back for another round. And by the way, any of you are welcome to come to my committee meeting if you're not having enough fun. I'm done.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Well, let me get the housekeeping straight here.
MR. BASS: Right.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: The TTH issue, you're ready to go back and work on that, so that's not —
MR. BASS: You want to kick that back downstairs somewhere.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: And kicking back also the inconsequential release. And then for tomorrow — we'll probably put on the agenda tomorrow — I didn't count them all. Was it seven — all but the last one?
MR. WOLF: It's my understanding that I would have to present all since they were published, but basically would indicate that this committee has recommended that one, that is the inconsequential, go back to the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee, and not be adopted.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: We're addressing the outstanding issues we've already brought up.
MR. WOLF: Right. That's good.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Okay. With that clarification then, if there are no further questions or discussion — anybody else? We can talk about deer forever.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I just want to thank this committee for doing such a great job. This is a very challenging arena.
CHAIRMAN FITZSIMONS: Best man for the job; you proved it. Good job.
I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Any other business to come before the Regulations Committee?
The Regulations Committee is adjourned at two o'clock.
(Whereupon, at 2:00 p.m., the meeting was adjourned.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: April 7, 2004
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 132 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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