Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee Meeting
Nov. 2, 2005Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 2nd day of November, 2005, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas (absent)
- Ned S. Holmes, Houston, Texas
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas (absent)
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas (Committee Chairman)
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- 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
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Let me convene the Conservation Committee. But also suggest that we recess for the executive session. So we are opening this Committee meeting. But I would like to propose that we recess to executive session to take the executive session first. So we will now recess for executive session.
Therefore, I would like to announce that pursuant to the requirements Chapter 551, Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an executive session will be held at this time for the purpose of consideration of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Texas Open Meetings Act and consultation with the General Counsel under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act. And we'll meet here when we finish the executive session.
(Whereupon, the meeting was recessed, to be reconvened following an Executive Session.)
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay. Let me start up. I would like to resume the regular Conservation Committee meeting, now that we are through with executive session. We will go back to the top of the agenda. Item 1, approval — excuse me. It is not Item 1. First we need to approve the minutes. Do I have a motion to approve the minutes?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So moved.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Second?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Second.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: All in favor, aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Opposed?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay. Item 1, Land and Water Plan update. Scott Boruff.
MR. BORUFF: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director of Operations for the Agency. My pleasure to be up here today to share with you our progress towards the Land and Water Plan goals and objectives. The Land and Water Plan was a direct result of the Sunset directive in the 77th Legislature which required the Agency to develop a ten-year-or-longer strategic plan for Operations. The original plan was adopted in November of 2002.
This last year, the Chairman directed us to do an update. We at that point decided that the most appropriate way to do that was to incorporate our increasing focus on water. We stepped out and created ten water basin working teams, and used those teams as the vehicle for reviewing the document. I guess I had better use this.
The document for the new Commissioners, who unfortunately are not here, is very integrated into the entire process that the Agency goes through, in trying to put conservation on the ground. As you know, we have an Agency mission, which I am not going to re-articulate here, but out of that mission comes two main documents. A natural agenda is the document that the Agency has used for quite some time as the strategic document for funding, vis-a-vis the Legislature.
So that document kind of describes how money flows to the Agency. However, it was not a conservation-based document that drove the operations of the Agency. The Chairman and Mr. Cook directed those of us and the staff to go out and put this plan into action. And so as you see here, really, there are two strategic plans for the Agency.
One called the natural agenda, which is really financially important for us, and the other Land and Water Plan which is what we use as our operating guidelines for the Agency. Obviously, particularly in the Land and Water Plan, there are eight objectives, and a whole subset of main goals and a whole subset of objectives which given the resource constraints that we have, that we do not focus on all of them, all the time. We do not have the resources to do that.
So the way we decide what to move forward on is reflected in the Chairman's Charges which you hear at each one of these Committees. The Chairman lays out for us what we are supposed to work on for the next period of time. We are in the process of developing Division operating plans, which will when completed, and we hope to be completed in about six months with these operating plans, on a division-by-division basis provide specific measurable action plans that each division each year can measure their progress towards specific goals that are driven by the Chairman's Charges, which then in return, reflect the Land and Water Plan.
We will then move, in the next annual cycle, to actually linking individual performance plans of all the staff of the Agency back up through this chain. So that ultimately, the hope and the desire is, that the individuals out in the field who are providing conservation services for Texas will understand how their activities fit into the bigger picture at Texas Parks and Wildlife. So this system, I think, will be important for us to kind of pull together what we do. And it will allow us in the future to reflect to the Commission what specifically we are doing and how are measuring success.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It sounds like also that it draws down some of that decision making so that they can test those decisions on the ground against the plan.
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir. Correct. Particularly, once we get to the individual performance plan level. I mean, obviously at that point, if something is in your individual performance plan, it should be reflected all the way to the top, including the Land and Water Plan, and should be measurable, so we can determine success. The idea would be, once those Division operating plans are in place, we would come back on an annual basis and share with you folks what the annual action plans were. Get your either endorsement or your directive to move somewhere else with the limited resources that we have available.
The plan has eight goals. We did add one goal. There were seven goals in the original plan. We have added one, and I will articulate why when we get to that particular goal. Before I get to the actual discussion about what we have done, I would like to say that we are really four primary philosophies that we looked at as we tried to redo this. The first was to simplify.
We have had and heard clearly from an operations perspective, the need to make what we do simpler and easier to understand for the people of Texas. So everything we do in here is an effort to simplify. We have been asked to focus on conservation and recreation on the ground, what really matters out there. And to keep our sites on the mission at all times.
We have been instructed to increase opportunity and incentives to participate in the great outdoors of Texas. And the business, the plan, the goal that we added at the end, reflects this last philosophy, which is to utilize accepted and acceptable business practices in everything that we do.
Goal number one is to improve access to the outdoors. And in order to save time here, I am not going to go through all the objectives. Those were available in your Land and Water Plan. But some of the things that we have done in working towards improving access to the outdoors, for example, a couple of weeks ago, we opened the 8,300-acre Government Canyon State natural area or state park outside of San Antonio. That facility is currently open four days a week, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
We have completed the headquarters at the World Birding Center in Bentson. And are completed with construction at the World Birding Center Headquarters at Weslaco. We still are working through some details with the local community, but we hope to open that World Birding Center site in the next few months. Just as exciting, we finished phase one of the Sheldon Lake Environmental Education Center, which you have heard much about here.
I am not going to spend a lot of time on it, but phase one is completed. We are bringing thousands of school children into that facility each year to talk to them about conservation and recreation. Just today, you heard about another addition to the Bastrop State Park. We have already acquired about an additional 260 acres. We have also acquired 421 additional acres recently for Government Canyon.
One that is of particular interest, I think to Commissioner Montgomery, we have developed the Zedler Paddling Trail on the San Marcos River, right outside of Luling. It is a six-mile canoeing trail, which was a cooperative community-based effort with the City of Luling and the Zedler Mill Restoration Steering Committee. And Zedler Mill is an old mill in the City of Luling on the San Marcos River. This trail will be open in the spring of 2006, so we are getting close. Hopefully here in a few months, that trail will be formally opening.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Melissa Parker is going to invite everybody on an inaugural paddling this spring.
MR. BORUFF: That is correct. Melissa Parker, in the Fisheries Division has been our point person on this, and is a good example of how our folks are doing a great job out there, implementing your directives.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Scott, we should add the Cedar Hill Loop trail to this list.
MR. BORUFF: I have got it somewhere else. I will say that —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. I was going to ask, how about Palo Duro?
MR. BORUFF: I've got that somewhere else.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Oh, okay.
MR. BORUFF: One of the things we noticed, as we went through this, was the interesting interrelationship of these goals. Many of the things that we do in the Agency, you cannot clearly identify as belonging, if you will, to one of these goals. There is multiple impacts of much of what we do. So, what you will see is some things mentioned two or three times here, and then some that should be mentioned two or three times, that we just didn't want to take up your time.
Goal number two, which is to conserve, manage, operate and promote Agency-owned sites to maximize recreational, biodiversity, and cultural appreciation. I wanted to share with you, number one, that we have completed resource management plans, habitat management plans, and numerous park and historical site utilization plans, including Seminole Canyon State Park, Monihans Sandhills, Fort Lancaster, and others. This has been one of our major interests here, is being sure that our state parks are used to demonstrate good habitat management and good conservation practices, in addition to offering recreation opportunities to the public.
We have successfully completed the first bond package. If you will recall, a session before last, Prop 8 was passed. The Agency was approved for $101 million in that first year, 2001. We received about $36 million in bond program, which have been expended or are encumbered. In the next session, which was three years ago now, we didn't get any additional money. However we just in the last session got an additional $18.1 million which we are in the process of having issued, and we'll get to work quickly expending those bond funds.
Just for your information, we spend about 80 percent of those bond funds on state parks. The other 20 percent are spread amongst the other divisions. This is primarily a state park bond issue.
Another example is, we started Family Fishing Celebration. This is our second year of the Family Fishing Celebration, which allows folks to fish without a fishing license in state parks in bodies of water that are in a state park. So folks without fishing license can take their kids into a state park.
I know Walt and his crew are currently working on trying to find sponsorship for poles, rods and reels for example. We would like to get into the parks some rods and reels, so that if somebody shows up and they want to fish, and they never have before, they don't have to have the equipment, and they don't have to have the fishing license.
Obviously, we have begun the process of looking at how we are going to utilize the money that we generate from the Freshwater Fishing Stamp with the East Texas Fish Hatchery and the entire freshwater fisheries system. That program is moving forward nicely. We also have initiated a green building program in the Infrastructure Division which forces us to look at ways to improve our conservation efforts when we build buildings and those kind of things.
Last on your slide, but not least, is this Life is Better Outside outreach campaign, which was just recently approved by this Commission, where we were going to try to get Texans more involved in the outdoors. An innovative ad agency effort. We are working with GSD&M to try to put this thing into place and get more folks out into our parks.
We have also developed 15 interpretive master plans at various park facilities. We have a Freshwater Fisheries Center educational building, funded with $2 million of private funds, which will hopefully break ground not too far into the future.
Goal 3, very important for us, obviously, given the extent of private land holdings in Texas, which is to assist — and by the way, there is a change here for those of you that saw the first goal back in 2001. This used to say, assist private landowners. The revision says just assist landowners, because obviously, we assist non-private landowners.
We help the Forest Service and other public agencies to manage their land. So this now is a little broader goal. And one of the things that was very important to us, was to increase the amount of acreage under wildlife management plans, which is a major tool for us to get the private sector involved in conservation. I might point out that under the old plan, which was approved in 2001, there were 9.8 million acres of land under wildlife management plans in Texas in 2001. As of last month, there are 17.1 million acres in land.
So since 2001, we have gone from 9.7 to 17.1 million acres under wildlife management plans. In 2001, there were 2,600 pieces of land, properties. That has increased to around 4,900. The numbers you see here, are a one-year span of time. So in one year, we have gone from 4,300 to 4,900 pieces of property. 15-1/2 million to 17. But I thought it might be interesting for you to hear that since we started this plan, we have really gone a long way towards the goal of doubling acres under the wildlife management plan.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That goal originally was a 2002 number?
MR. BORUFF: 2001.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The 2001 number to double the 9.7?
MR. BORUFF: There was a little confusion there, and I want to clear that up. The original number in the plan said 14 million acres.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. BORUFF: That was a result of a reporting tool that we had at the Legislative Budget Board which requires us to report certain parameters around which we do business. The 14-million-acre number included both approved, signed wildlife management plans to the tune of about 10 million, and other non-binding recommendations to the tune of about 4 million. Those were not signed, approved wildlife management plans.
So if you want to compare apples to apples it was about 9.8 and now it is about 17.1. I have stopped reporting on the others, because while those are important, I think, for folks to be able to get advice out there, they are not something that we measure success by. Our success is measured by folks that are committed to doing good conservation practices on their land.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: How much of the 17 is Trans-Pecos?
MR. BORUFF: I don't have that exactly, but I do have an interesting number. Since you folks approved the mule deer plan in the last regulatory cycle, we have 36 ranches around the State; most of them in the Trans-Pecos, a couple up in North Texas. But mostly in Trans-Pecos, with 1-1/2 million acres under plans for mule deers.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And another 1-1/2 in the pipeline, right?
MR. BORUFF: Actually, I think it is a little more than that now. Of course, there again, until they are signed, I don't consider them real. But there is interest out there, obviously. And in the short time we have had the mule deer option out there, we have got a million and a half acres in the pipeline. These numbers, this 17.1 million acres are quarterly numbers that I have the Wildlife Division report to me.
I don't have the most recently quarterly numbers which would include a large piece of this, I think. This 1.5 million acres. So I suspect when we report back to you next year, this number will be close to the goal which, under this plan, is 20 million acres by the year 2008. It looks like we are well on our way, and probably will exceed that 20 million acres.
One of the things you are going to see in a minute though, is in order to do this, we didn't have any new FTEs and we didn't have any new money. So the Wildlife Division had to change the way it did business a little bit. Those folks are up to their eyeballs in trying to take care of the folks that they have under wildlife management plans, and I am going to share some of that with you in a minute.
We also began to implement the recommendations from the first phase of the science review, which I reported to you, I think, the meeting before last. It was completed. I want to take just a second to — actually I am going to do that in another one. This is one of those that goes across. We have developed new survey practices in the Wildlife Division. For example, we now do about 67 percent fewer deer surveys than we did before.
Now the way we are accomplishing this, and continuing to get the data that is important to us, is we are looking to our partners and landowners to provide us with the data that they collect. They are already out there collecting data as a prerequisite for their wildlife management plan. So rather than us duplicating that effort, and sending our own staff out to recount deer, we are using landowner data as a component of our data that drives these wildlife management plans.
We also have an Invasive Species Management Program, very successful. And this is both for animals and plants. But the one I just want to briefly talk about here is the hydrilla problem that we currently are experiencing on Lake Conroe. Last year, we had a similar problem, and the year before last, on Lake Austin here. And the Inland Fisheries Division came up with an innovative approach to address the hydrilla, but not put the lake in danger of being de-vegetated.
The same principal is going to apply to our approach at Conroe. We are going to go up there, and use a multi-pronged approach, which would include some mechanical, chemical, and the use of diploid grass carp in order to try to control the hydrilla. As I said earlier, another important component of this is our increased focus on water management aspects of the wildlife management plans.
I have directed the Wildlife Division to work closely with Inland and Coastal Fisheries to incorporate in all wildlife management plans in the future, water issues. And that is not to say that they haven't addressed water issues in the past, but the primary focus has been on terrestrial management. So in an effort to bring water to the forefront, we are saying wildlife management plans should have an aquatic component; a component any time it is possible.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And that would include landscape management, not just necessarily ponds and rivers.
MR. BORUFF: Absolutely. It can include things like the removal of exotic plants that are depleting the water.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Watershed management.
MR. BORUFF: Exactly. Yes, sir. Goal 4, which is to increase participation in hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. This year, we increased hunting opportunities for youth. We put on 174 hunts, and we had almost 1,600 kids participate in the Texas Youth Hunting Program.
We started a program called Becoming an Outdoor Family. And this was based on our successful program, Becoming an Outdoor Woman. And this program takes families that don't have a lot of experience in the outdoors and teaches them basic camping skills, shooting skills, fishing, kayaking, and so forth. Our very first workshop was held just last month at Perry Haines. A great turnout and well received. And we anticipate many more of these seminars in the near future.
Once again, I could mention the Zedler Paddling Trail here, because that does also increase participation. I am not going to spend much time on that. One that I thought you would be particularly interested in, our Hunter Education Deferral Program. And for those of you that don't remember what that is, that is an opportunity for folks who have not been able to get their Hunter Education Certification to hunt this year, basically on the promise that they will get that certification by next year. We sold over 2,000 of those deferrals already this year.
Probably more important, because we have a whole year under our belt, last year we sold 10,000 licenses under this program. Sixty percent of those that purchased this opportunity, this opportunity to hunt without this had not purchased a hunting license in the last three years. So almost two-thirds of these were new hunters that had not been hunting in the last three years. I think this program has proven to be very successful at getting new hunters out into the field and allowing them to experience hunting.
The trail system development at Cedar Hill, which you mentioned earlier continues to move forward nicely. We are trying to work closely with the local officials up there, Audubon, which has a facility right next door to us. And we are trying to put together a trail system that would span county-owned land, state-owned land and Audubon-owned land. We had added two youth-only weekends to the spring Rio Grande turkey season, to expand opportunity this year.
And we developed the Texas Urban Fishing Program in seven metropolitan areas. And those are generally fairly small impoundments in a relatively large urban area. They are generally stocked several times a year. In fact, it looks here to me like some of them are stocked every two weeks year-round. Which gives folks in that local community an opportunity to go fishing right there close to home, as opposed to having to travel far to do so.
I might mention here that we completed our license stamp restructuring last year, which eliminated three stamps and created the two new stamps. The Upland Game Bird Stamp and the Migratory Game Bird Stamp. Part of our simplification in our effort to increase participation in the outdoors.
We have also refurbished the website. Texas Parks and Wildlife's website to a more user-friendly information base. In fact, now you can download onto your cell phone or your PDA all of our information off of our website. Goal 5 is enhanced the quality of hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. I think Mr. Wolf explained to you this morning our expanded Antler Regulation Program. Where we were going from the six counties to an additional 15 counties, and have another 40 counties slated to come on board next year.
The Coastal Fisheries Division has been looking at its flexibility capacity for raising fish, as Dr. McKinney mentioned earlier today. Redfish are in pretty good shape. That has been the focus of our breeding program in the Coastal Fisheries Division for quite a while. But I think they are looking now at how they could move to other species that might get in trouble as we move down the road, flounder being an example of something that I know Doc and his shop are looking at, in terms of being able to produce those kind of fish in the future.
As I have mentioned, we have expanded our Eastern Turkey hunts. We are in the process of restoring aquatic vegetation in seven impoundments around the State, and right now that has resulted in about 1,000 acres of new native vegetation in those impoundments, which obviously is good for the fishermen of Texas.
We have trained about 10,000 boaters in boating safety this last year, and reached about another 40,000 with other events that we have out around the State. Once again, we are planning a new fish hatchery in East Texas. And as I talked about a little before, we started these Invasive Species Management Programs, primarily hydrilla.
Goal 6, which was to improve science data collection and information. As I said earlier, we have completed the first phase of that review by the American Fisheries Society for the Fisheries Division and the Wildlife Management Institute for the Wildlife Division. I have got a lot of sound bites here. I am not going to take up a lot of your time.
But there were a lot of complimentary statements made about all three of those divisions in the science review. But nonetheless, there were some recommendations about things that we should change. For example, don't do so many deer surveys; use the data you have got from private landowners. I already talked about that a moment ago.
Also, I mean, this is a very important one to us. Because this science is the basis of what we do. And particularly, as we move forwards in water, and the relationship between water and science has become obvious, I am going to talk a little bit more about that in the next goal, because the next goal is our water-based goal. We did, by the way, obtain favorable review by the National Academy of Science for the work plan and methodologies that were developed under Senate Bill 2, relating to in-stream flow studies.
So that was a nice endorsement of the work that our science groups have already done. And we did obtain a favorable review by the American Fisheries Society for our Kills and Spills Team procedures that we utilize for dealing with those kinds of kills and spills. As Commissioner Parker mentioned this morning, on the 17th and 18th of this month, we are going to have a Coastal Fisheries seminar in Corpus Christi, at which we look at the 30 years of scientific collection of data. And this once again is in the wake of the review, the science review which suggested that we do that.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Scott, that National Academy of Sciences review of our in-stream flow methodology is huge. Because we have been criticized by a lot of people who don't like the numbers we have come up with as to what is required for in-stream flows. And on another subject, bay and estuary, we don't have that same review for bay and estuary.
But on in-stream, we have got the National Academy of Sciences saying the methodology we used is correct, and pursue it. And that is important. Now they just have to be mad about the number. They can't be mad about how we got there.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I heard you loud and clear, and again, compliment Bob and Larry and you on pushing the science review through to its logical conclusion. But to me that does include taking the recommendations from the three rounds of work we did, and making sure that we implement them.
So speaking for myself, I really support that and encourage them, and I suspect the rest of the Commissioners feel the same, for exactly the reason our Chairman is saying. Is it just puts us on such a strong foundation, to implement policy and management.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You see now we are going to argue about how we do it, not if we protect those in-stream flows. A big difference.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: That is the argument we want.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I think a quality professional peer review is critical.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What did you say?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Peer review by the National Academy of Sciences.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. National Academy of Sciences is exactly the sort of review that you want when you go into federal court when you get sued by somebody that says you didn't do it right.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: You want to be credible in the science.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Exactly.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: That is the key piece.
MR. BORUFF: Goal 7, which is our water goal. Maintain or improve sufficient water quality and quality to support the needs of fish, wildlife and recreation. As I said, when we got ready to do this exercise, this was the goal that we used to put together our teams. Because we already had a good terrestrial model out there. We were and are continuing to be in the process of developing an aquatic model that will overlay the terrestrial model. Not that we are going to replace the terrestrial model, but the importance of water has caused us to look at supplementing our model.
In this last year, we have had successful negotiations with Texas State University. And this is in light of the River Center Project, which we have been involved in for several years, over in San Marcos, Texas, with Texas State University, in which we are co-developing a facility over there. And I say that loosely, co-developing.
We were directed by the Legislature to utilize about $3 million in funds to help build out the Texas River Center and develop programs over there. We have met that obligation. We have expended our $3 million. Part of what we got in return through negotiations this year is some office space, which will give us office space for the Inland Fisheries Division for the next eight years, and will include utilities. So that is a nice side benefit for us.
Just as important, and probably more important in the long haul is we were able to acquire 33,000 acre-feet of water a year from the oldest water rights in Texas, which are Texas State University's by the way, which are just about complete. There is just a little bureaucratic component that we are finishing up, but we hope to by the end of the year have those 33,000 acres of water in the Texas Water Trust. It will be only the third water put in the Texas Water Trust.
We also have water rights from the Bramlett family, two separate water rights down in the Valley, which total about 1,200 acre feet of water a year. Those are already in the Water Trust; it was accomplished about a year ago. Obviously, relative to this ago, our Chairman currently serves on the Study Commission on Water for Environmental Flows, as well as the Texas Water Advisory Council.
Mr. Cook is involved in what we call the Big Six, which is Texas Water Development Board, TCQ and Texas Parks and Wildlife regularly meeting the executives from those agencies to talk about water primarily, in addition to other issues, but mostly water. And we have many of our staff, including Dr. McKinney and many of his staff that are working with many of the different water groups around the State. We are scheduled to release the third segment of our hour-long television series about water, called "The State," and this one will be called "The State of Springs." It is targeted to be broadcast in February of '07.
Once again, due in large part to the hard work of Lydia Saldana in the Communications Division. We are, as I said earlier, and I thought this was worth saying twice here, we are aggressively trying to integrate water management issues into all wildlife management plans.
The Golden Algae Task Force which was created legislatively, or at least the funding was created legislatively, session before last, even though the legislation no longer drives us, we continue to work with that task force, because Golden Algae is a, pardon the pun, a blooming issue in Texas. And so that is something that we continue to look at how to deal with Golden Algae, because it definitely affects water quality in the State.
Last, Goal 8, which is a goal we added in this latest exercise, is to continuously improve our business management systems, our business practices, and our work culture. As I mentioned earlier, we are developing these Division operating plans. I am not going to articulate a lot more about that.
I do think that will be in the future how we make these presentations, because in the future, rather than giving you generic terms like this, we would like to come back in and say here is an action plan that we have on the table for this year. We either completed it or we didn't. Here is how we intend to modify it, and so forth. The class that graduated last year from the Law Enforcement Academy was our most diverse class ever in Law Enforcement out of that Academy. There were 25 males and ten females in that class; nine Hispanics, three African-American, one Asian. There were 12 Criminal Justice-type degrees, 12 wildlife-related degrees, and the remainder, which looks like about ten or eleven other degrees. So quite diverse.
We are rewriting the boat registration system, which I think we have been doing quite a while, but I think we are getting close to boat registration system that will be easier, simpler for our customers to use out there. At Mr. Cook's direction, we recently have began once again looking at the license point of sale system. We would like to make you aware that we currently contract with MCI for our license point of sale system. That contract ends at the end of fiscal year 2008, which gives us about three years here to look at the opportunity to move to a totally Parks and Wildlife-owned-and-operated system.
We are currently going out to other states. We have heard that North Dakota, I think — North Carolina, I am sorry, has a system that is completely internet based. Folks go in there and they buy their licenses right on the internet. They get their fulfillment done, and we are trying to figure out how they do that. Mr. Cook has asked us to look at that as a serious option for us.
We spend $3 million, give or take some change, each year with MCI. Obviously, if we could migrate to an in-house system that was simpler for our customers and they could get to it easier, and it also saved us $3 million a year, it would probably be a good deal. Yes. And not to be too self-serving, but the last thing I put on this was our Land Transfer Process Review, which is my next presentation. But before I go there, I guess I would entertain any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I have a couple of questions. You said that we went from 4,300 to 4,900 wildlife management plans?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And how frequently do you review each one of those, or do we review each one of those plans?
MR. BORUFF: Wildlife management plans are typically reviewed annually in the field by the biologist, one on one with the landowner.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And 17 million acres, 4,900 plans, that averages around 3,500 acres a plan. I assume that you have got some really big land holdings that may drive that average up, and you have got quite a number of small ones —
MR. BORUFF: That drive it down.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Yes. But how much time will our people spend in the field with your in-house —
MR. BORUFF: Well, we might want to get Mr. Berger up here. I will take a shot. And then if I am off base, Mike can correct me. But I think this is a dilemma for the Wildlife Division right now. Typically, I think they have spent quite a bit of time. They go out and spend many hours with the landowner, or even a full day with each landowner, reviewing the wildlife management plan.
One of the dilemmas we have had in trying to increase this, as Mr. Berger has no new staff, or has gotten no new funds. So I think they are looking at changing the way they do business. They have been moving more and more towards a shorter amount of time with the landowner, telephone, fax and those kinds of things.
MR. BERGER: Well, you are right. The answer is, it depends. It depends on the landowner, and how much time he really requires annually to do that. But a lot of the plans that are data-submitted by the landowner from his surveys and his review of what is going on, on his property. And that is reviewed by our biologists. And it may take a phone call or a fax, or may take a visit with him.
Sometimes it takes several visits to create a relationship between the biologist and the landowner in order to get the plan developed the first time. So that there is no pat answer, I guess. But it does take time to work these plans, and in some cases, unfortunately, I don't think we get back to the landowners as often as we might like to do.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Do you think that the Department is appropriately compensated in fees for the time that that staff person spends with the landowners?
MR. BORUFF: There are no fees.
MR. BERGER: There are no fees.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. That is what we are driving at.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And would that be a sensible thing to charge for? Actually, why wouldn't we have some type of application fee?
MR. BERGER: That is surely something we could do and that we have talked about from time to time. There are a number of individual consultants out there who are writing wildlife management plans for landowners as well, particularly when they want MLD permits. And we then review those plans that are written by another person, or an MLD, and accept those. So some of those are already being done for a fee, because at certain times of the year, we have a little wait, that the landowner requests some assistance. And we are up against some of these deadlines to where we have to review plans, or issue permits.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I'm thinking in terms of a really modest application fee. In effect, not a point where we develop the entire plan for them. But something based on acreage with a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $500 at ten cents an acre or something such as that.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I think the concern I have heard, Commissioner, is that we are trying to incentivize people to get into this program. I mean, this is kind of the heart of our program with private landowners in the State of Texas. And obviously, we are not going to do a lot of conservation without the help of the private landowners. And so what I hear from the field is that there might be a chilling effect on moving people into wildlife management plans, if we started charging for that.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: At $100 to $200 to $300?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Having been one of the people that started pushing the wildlife management plan long before I came on the Commission, and I think our success speaks for itself. I mean, put it this way. We are on a lot faster pace to reach our goal in this area, than we are in just about any other area of our ten-year plan.
And what I am concerned about is that if we don't have enough biologists out there, my experience is, the biologists that I work with is at capacity, and he takes these plans seriously. And he goes out and he makes sure that there is real integrity in all the plans. I am afraid we are going to undermine the integrity of the program if we don't have enough biologists out there to really make a wildlife management plan mean something.
And I understand the point that we are trying to get people in. But by god, they are coming in faster than we thought they would. And I think that the people that are in the plan would like to know that there will be enough biologists to make this plan work. And instead of looking at it as collecting a fee for compensation, as a way to hire new biologists to meet that demand.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Commissioner Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Berger?
MR. BERGER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: When you go out, we are talking about wildlife management plans. Now what are most of these plans pointed at? What species?
MR. BERGER: The real answer is whatever the landowner wants to emphasize.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What species?
MR. BERGER: In most cases it is white-tail deer.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay. Back to my original statement this morning. You know, here we have got all of these deer across the State. We are writing all of these wildlife management plans. And basically, the deer hunter is getting a free ride. Because all he has to have is a general license, and then he calls our Department and says come out here and help me write a wildlife management plan. And then we go out there and spend countless hours, and we wonder where our money is going.
You know, it doesn't take a genius to know that if more money is going out than is coming in for a specific purpose, you are digging yourself more in the hole every day. Every time you send them one of those wildlife biologists out. And I would think that the Agency would take a look at some way of coming up with a method to get the deer hunter to paying his own way too. You know, because up to now, with all this wildlife management, we have got 4,600 of them? How many hours? 4,900 of them.
How many hours does it take to do those? My lord, you are talking about a lot of money. And we are not even charging for it. To me that is practically absurd not to charge for this.
MR. COOK: Well, I think —and certainly, we are absolutely willing to explore that possibility. Because like the Chairman says, if additional funding from a revenue stream like this gave us the opportunity to add some staff for this purpose, that would be excellent. I want to touch on a couple of things.
In thinking back and knowing some of the individuals involved, I know that about peak, some of the biologists, this is their 100 percent full-time job. That is what they are. That is what they do. About 100 of these plans is tops. I mean we have had a few guys with a few men and women out there serving in this role as extension biologists, technical guidance biologists, who do 100 plans. And I am telling you, it is daylong, day and night.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I totally agree with you. If we had a revenue source —
MR. COOK: So they are spending, in that case, kind of over the average because once you get a guy, once you have got a guy in the plan, that has been in the plan five, six or seven years, well no. A couple of hours, you know. Visits, stop and see him at the coffee shop. Have lunch with him. No big deal.
But still, it is good to go back out to the ranch every few years and say, well, let's see what this habitat has done. And we think we are doing all these good things. But let's look and see. Let me look at your age, weight antler data. Let me see if your deer are getting heavier. All that stuff. Now, as far as funding, I think it is worthwhile knowing that all of the funds that the Wildlife Division, the Law Enforcement Division, that we operate with is revenue from hunters who pay for their hunting license, including landowners.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: There is no free ride.
MR. COOK: Including people who buy ammunition. And we get that Pittman-Robertson reimbursement from the Feds. So the funding stream is pretty direct. I think for this, what we are talking about here is maybe for this specialty service, for this what some would call consulting service, maybe there is an opportunity. And we are certainly, absolutely, we are going to look at that, and —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We don't want to scare any new people off.
MR. COOK: Yes, that is —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: My experience, listening to the biologists in the field, and watching their work is that it is — and these are the people you really do want to be spending time with, are the new participants. Because they are the ones that are getting their feet wet, and are really not familiar with it, or property —
MR. COOK: Yes. I would say that out of every four or five contacts you have, you may only get one of them in the plan.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I would totally agree. I would totally agree with that. You are 100, you are 1,000 percent correct. And you are also correct in not wanting to frighten other people away from this service that we have been putting on that has been free. But in the same token, we are charging an Upland Bird Stamp for the quail hunter and the pheasant hunter and the turkey hunter —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Freshwater fisheries for the fishermen.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And the stamp for the freshwater fisheries, but the —
MR. COOK: I would think that you would like to have a deer stamp. Then we will look into it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I would be happy to pay —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We already introduced the deer stamp for public hunting, and now you are going to spend it on wildlife management plans. That is how you spend money.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You know what I am saying is that you know, let's not go in the front door. Let's go in the side door. Don't mess with the good work that these people are doing with wildlife management plans to any way throw a damper on those. Because those are tried and true, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
They have done a fantastic job. Other states would love to have wildlife management plan systems like we have. What I am saying is, everybody that comes to the table ought to pay his own way.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, you are right. When a service is free, the demand is unlimited. You are right. And we still have to do something.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And we don't want to deter that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: You all are going to lose your Chairman of this Committee in 30 minutes and we have a lot to cover. Can we — is there any further —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I would like to make one comment.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We can't come to any decisions right now.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Ned is started.
MR. BORUFF: Just so you will understand it, like money in this state, people are the same in terms of the way they get allocated by the State. If you have got money, you have got to have appropriations. And if we got millions of dollars tomorrow, we might need new FTEs. We operate under an FTE cap in the Agency. We generally don't hit it, so I am not suggesting that we necessarily would have no FTEs. But that would be a consideration. Just because you have the money, doesn't mean that the State will authorize you to have the staff.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: If we went to them with a plan —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Can I ask one question, just for clarification? On the managed deer, or well, on the managed mule deer permit — I was researching that for my own personal interest, and I was under the impression that Parks and Wildlife had to do the game study. But then in your reference this morning to the managed quail permit you indicated that the landowner can supply the data.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Both.
MR. BORUFF: Both. It is a combination.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay. So —
MR. COOK: In fact, typically —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I can supply my own data for the managed —
MR. COOK: Typically Commissioners, what happens is, when that technical guidance, when that biologist goes out there and helps that landowner, shows that landowner how to establish those surveys; when to do them, the time of day, the techniques to use, so that we get comparable data from all of the landowners, so that we can work with them, so we can compare their data against everybody else's data —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So all the data doesn't have —
MR. COOK: Once it starts happening and that landowner takes over that role of collecting the data, age weight antler data, whatever it might be.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Can I add one thought to this discussion of user fees. I think there is a big difference between new breeders this morning who are a private industry not necessarily accomplishing a conservation objective of ours, but generating an industry benefit for them, where there is an externality that affects everybody else, then we need to charge and be sure that we are managing that, versus what one would term this as privatizing conservation on a statewide basis, which is something that is, to me, very good for the State to spend some money on. We may or may not be able to charge for it. There may or may not be an offsetting financial benefit —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But we can't meet their increased demand is my concern.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Different problem. But I am just saying, philosophically, this morning we were saying let's charge user fees. I just think there is a philosophical difference between —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. I think you are right. But we still have got to meet the new demands somehow.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It's nomenclature.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Well, the record — I think there is a philosophical difference in why you are charging what you charge. Pure private benefit, and we need to provide a regulatory aspect. We should charge. Here, we are outsourcing conservation. There's a difference in —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Clearly on this one. We will look into it.
MR. COOK: Just to wrap up, Mr. Chairman —
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: That is conclusive. Okay.
MR. COOK: Just to wrap up, Mr. Chairman, the Chairman of the Commission has instructed us to do this review once a year in November. So we will be back next November with a new update.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Would it be possible to circulate the written —
MR. BORUFF: Absolutely. Yes, sir. We will get those out this afternoon.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I will tell you, in the aggregate, it is very impressive to see all the accomplishments. It is nice to hear. Because we go through them one at a time usually. But hats off to everybody who contributed to that list.
MR. BORUFF: This presentation was 40 pages longer, and we had to cut it down to this so we wouldn't be here all day. We do a lot more than this, but we were just trying to hit the high points here.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I would really like to have a copy of that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I like to have seen the Division plans as they come up, so we can get a little more into the meat of it. But this is a good overview. Okay. While we on Chairman's Charges, you had one item you wanted to cover in Chairman's Charges.
MR. COOK: Basically all I was going to say in Chairman's Charges is that we are going to address a couple of these items, Land and Water Plan and the land transactions. And I believe the other issue we should hold until later.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Scott, so you are up for Land Transaction Process Review, agenda item 2.
MR. BORUFF: For the record, my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director for Operations. I am here to talk to you folks about the Land Transaction Review Process that was mandated by the Chairman and Mr. Cook in the wake of the Big Bend Ranch issues that came up on the last Commission meeting.
The goal of the Land Transaction process is really pretty straightforward. And that is for us to conduct our affairs openly with ample opportunity for public comment, and in a process that is understandable, fair and consistent with our mission. And to that end, when we were asked, when staff was asked to do this review, we decided to pull together a panel of folks to talk about and give us some ideas about what we might do relative to this. We pulled together a fairly large group which included a lot of our NGO partners including the Sierra Club, and Audubon, the Conservation Fund and the Nature Conservancy among others.
We have pulled a private landowner group in, Texas Wildlife Association. And we have pulled in a couple of our sister agencies, the General Land Office and the Texas Historical Commission. So we had a nice broad representation from outside the Agency as well as many key staff from inside the Agency. This group met and looked at the four kinds of land transactions that typically occur in the Agency. And those include sales, transfers, trades, and acquisitions or purchases.
The resultant recommendation from staff is that, and I am going to go through these one at a time. They are fairly similar, with the exception of purchases. Let's talk about land sale process. The recommendation from the staff is that in the future, we would do land sales over at least two Commission meetings. All of these transactions would be consistent with the Land and Water Plan.
However, there was a recognition that there might be rare exceptions to that where the Commission might direct us, for example, to purchase land that is not necessarily in the so-called Golden Triangle, because it might have extraordinary conservation value. But that by and large, all the sales and other transactions we do should be consistent with the Land and Water Plan. In sales, we would — and one of the problems we had here is sales sometimes the genesis of sales varies.
Sometimes, as in the Big Bend case, we had a landowner that approaches us, or a potential landowner that says they want to buy something we have got. There are occasions where we decide to sell something for various reasons, typically, usually it is to try to clean up our operational issues. But in general, what we are saying is that whatever the genesis that the first briefing at a Commission meeting should not be the time when something is decided.
In the future, the policy would reflect that we would come to you with a briefing and kind of tell you what is up, whether that landowner has come to us or whether the staff is proposing the sale. If the Commission directs us to move forward, and assess that land sale, we would then go out to public meetings, after that Commission meeting. We would then post, prior to the Commission meeting at which action would take place, which typically might be the next Commission meeting, but it might be two or three Commission meetings down the road.
Typically, it would be the next Commission meeting. We would post 30 days prior to that meeting. State law requires seven days. We historically at the Agency have used a nine-day posting, just to give ourselves a couple of days wiggle room. But the consensus of both the staff internally, and our partners outside was nine days isn't a lot of time for somebody to figure out what is going on and give us feedback.
So our recommendation is that we create a policy that gives 30-days posting prior to the Commission meeting at which action would take place. That is one change. The second change is that we would in the future, in that 30-day posting provide detail that would be sufficient for folks to identify the property and the sales price, and the restrictions and other conditions. So that rather than have a posting that would say something like land for sale in Presidio County, we would say something like, 45,000 acres of land for sale for $45 an acre with a conservation easement, et cetera.
So that the public out there, when they see these postings, would know what is going to come before you. There was a recommendation that wholly encompassed parcels be open to the highest bidder, with surrounding landowner. And that is a piece of land that is completely surrounded by the land in question having the right of first refusal. And I have heard some feedback from the Commission about some concern about this one. And I assume we will hold those comments until the end of the presentation unless you want to comment now.
The last piece of this is that clearly housekeeping exceptions may be approved by the Executive Director. And those are generally very small acquisitions that would have no serious conservation implications that might just clear up a boundary for example. In those cases, we could come forward and get a quick decision. But that would be rare. Land transfer is essentially the same process. Transfers would be consistent with Land and Water Plan.
Briefing in executive session at the first Commission meeting. Assuming the Commission directed us to go forward, we would go out for public comment. We would then post 30 days prior. We would in the posting give lots of information about what land we are proposing to transfer, and what the purpose of the transfer was. There again, housekeeping exception is in place. I think you are going to hear about after Mike's presentation, one such transfer that is being proposed. And you will get some detail on that here in a few minutes.
Land trade, once again, a very much similar process. Two Commission meetings at least. Trade is consistent with the Land and Water Plan. Briefing in executive session. Presuming you instruct us to go forward, out for public comment, 30-day posting. Detail would include purpose of the trade, and proposed rationale. Clearly, housekeeping exceptions are allowed. The big difference in the minds of everyone, staff, NGOs, partners in the State and otherwise was the caution that would be needed in purchases and acquisitions.
There was not a lot of concern about the two Commission-meeting process, so I have included it there. We still would, assuming that they were consistent with the Land and Water Plan. And I would like for the record to make it well known that at least for the last year, we have not taken anything to this body that hasn't been vetted through the Land and Water Plan. And I know that the Chairman always asks us, as soon as we get into executive session, is this consistent with the Land and Water Plan? So this was pretty much a no-brainer.
So we would go in for a briefing at the first Commission meeting. Were you to direct us to move forward, we would go out for public meetings, but we would not give a lot of information. We would not divulge the name of the owner, the exact location of the property or the price, for obvious reasons. If you do, the price will probably go up, et cetera. We would once again do a 30 day posting prior to the Commission meeting at which action is contemplated.
But once again, it would not be with a lot of detail. And clearly, small housekeeping exceptions could be approved by the Executive Director. Our recommendation, the staff's recommendation is to proceed to develop Agency policies consistent with this presentation regarding land transactions.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Any questions or comments?
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I have one. I would like to see us change policy with regard to sales of in-holdings.
MR. BORUFF: It is the next to the last board on this slide.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I think those should be right to first offer, rather than right of first refusal. Right of first refusal will chill the market. Right of first offer will give the adjacent landowner the option of purchasing, but would free us up to deal with other bidders and not de-motivate those other bidders the way that right of first refusal will.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good point.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I think that Donato had an excellent suggestion earlier.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: In regard to being on the agenda?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes. The agenda item, land sale, that it be brought by the Chairman, or what else did it say? Did you read that?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes. I have got it here. I think I have got it.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: John, while you are looking for that
MR. BORUFF: We already do that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We already do that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You already did that?
MR. BORUFF: We could articulate that if you so desire.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: It is not there.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is right. Articulate it.
MR. BORUFF: All right. We will articulate that. We don't put anything on the agenda that we —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What do you mean, articulate?
MR. BORUFF: Put it in the policy, in writing.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. There you go.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: One other question was — my one other thought and Bob and Scott and you and Jack, you always — this all assumes that transactions will conform to our timing. Real estate deals don't always conform to timing.
I would like to have an override mechanism for the Executive Director and Chairman to override this process, if in their judgment, we have got to shift timing to do something that is consistent with Department objectives. Because there may be times when you have just got to move quicker and you can't — you will lose a deal we ought to make, over this schedule and this process.
So I think it is a good process. It certainly prevents — you know, we have as generals have successfully fought the last battle on this one, but the next battle may be different, and we may need to change something. And I do think we ought to be —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, there ought to be some notice though, if you are going to do that.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: That is fine.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I disagree with that Phil, because we will be right back, I can feel the door slamming on my tail again. We're riding back in the same saddle.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Well, we disagree. We don't have to all agree. I just think in some cases, we want our Executive Director and Chairman to have the right to come to us and say we need to change the — we are going to move by exception and do something different here.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But you have to do it by notice. It would still be at two meetings. You know, the meeting where you discuss the override, and then you have the next meeting.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: But you still have the public notice requirement.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Sure. It doesn't change that.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It doesn't matter what we do, you still have that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Just so everybody in the world knows what is going on.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: I am not suggesting we do anything in secret or change that part. I am just suggesting that we give our leaders the latitude to change this if needed. I think they are only going to do it in extraordinary circumstances. They are not going to come every time and change it. I don't think we ought to lock ourselves into something that is too rigid and lengthy all the time, if it is not —
MR. BORUFF: I will point out this. We went through this exercise. What you see on these slides reflects with the two exceptions what we have done at least in the six years since I have been here. And I hear that it has been done for a long time. The two exceptions are that we are going to do a 30-day posting, and we are going to include a lot of detail. The other things that you see here is typically how we have done business. And in fact, the Big Bend sale was one of those sales where we got out of this system. We got out of this model.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It was an exception, because of the timing issues.
MR. BORUFF: The timing.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Because of the end of the fiscal year.
MR. BORUFF: That is correct.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, but I think it is important that as John Parker said, we don't allow ourselves to be put in that box.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: What other way that you can deal with to satisfy John's concerns and all of ours, about public involvement, and having it in a public meeting, and we don't do this. I guess we have not done any especially in call for that meeting, but you can post it. A special meeting.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We did that when we closed the borders on the deer importation. We can do it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: We are just a government agency. We are more like a school board or a UT Board of Regents. You know, there are certain things that you have got to do to satisfy the folks.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: My point is, that you don't necessarily have to wait from May to August or from November to January.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. You can do that by a specially called meeting, if it really is an emergency, and you are going to lose the opportunity.
MR. COOK: Right. It could be dealt with that way.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: The Chairman can always — that will solve our problems, which is timing. My whole issue was timing. The process is good, and it is helpful.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Scott.
MR. BORUFF: I want to be sure I know what I am supposed to be doing.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: He always says that.
MR. BORUFF: My understanding is that we are going to go with this proposal with two modifications. One being that rather than having a right of first refusal, we will offer a right of first offer, which means that we would go offer that in-holding the chance to purchase the land at a set price. And were that not to happen, we would go out to general bid.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: If the price changes, you come back, but by a certain percentage. Whatever you want.
MR. BORUFF: Right. And the second change is that we will put in writing the fact that the Commission or Mr. Cook needs to put this on the agenda before it would show up on the agenda. Is that — do I understand that correctly?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: The Chairman.
MR. BORUFF: The Chairman or Mr. Cook?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: No, just the Chairman.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Just the Chairman.
MR. BORUFF: The Chairman or —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: That is what it says.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You know clarify, what happened —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes. That was a good idea that Donato had.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: What's going to happen is, as happened last time, is you are going to get it on the agenda, because you don't want people talking about it outside the public domain. You want to get it on the public agenda. Because that is really when you are able to talk about it. So a warning to the next Chairman, whoever that may be.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Number 3, Walt Dabney.
MR. DABNEY: Chairman, Commissioners, I am Walt Dabney, State Park Director. And I am going to follow Scott with his articulation of this new procedure with the first run through the procedure.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You are actually going to do it now?
MR. DABNEY: Yes, sir. We are going to practice doing it.
MR. BORUFF: That policy has been implemented.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: This is unbelievable. You have a policy, and you are going to implement it.
MR. DABNEY: This is orchestrated.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: You have an arrow sticking in your back, Walt.
MR. DABNEY: I would tell you before I start that we have, who have waited patiently all day, the leadership of the Houston Parks Department, including Director Joe Turner, who is back there, who have shown up to demonstrate, certainly their interest in, although it is not a public hearing today. But they are very interested. And we have been working with them closely on this.
There is a proposal to transfer Lake Houston State Park which is half, literally in the city limits of Houston and half in Montgomery County, to the City of Houston. Lake Houston State Park is nearly 5,000 acres located in New Caney, in both Harris and Montgomery County. The park was purchased from Champion Paper in 1981 and was actually opened to day use in '92 and overnight use in '95.
There are lakes, although there is no Lake Houston in Lake Houston State Park. We have been trying to figure out how it got its name, because Lake Houston is south of here some two or three miles, I think. But anyway, if this happens, the City of Houston might choose to look at a different name that doesn't include Lake Houston.
But anyway, it is a beautiful place. A lot of it is in the flood zone, floodplain. Lots of trees on this site. Lots of opportunities there. We have had it, as I said, since 1981, but as Commissioner Holmes has point out, we haven't done much with it. It is awkward in its setup now. There are two creeks, and then the east fork of the San Jacinto River there.
The development in the park to reach the primary development, which are the cabins and the overnight facilities, the camping and so forth, you wander in through a neighborhood to get there. The reason you do that, although you could access the park off of a roadway, you can't get across the creek to where the development is, without a significant road bridge. And right now, there is only a foot bridge.
We have never had the development funds to make this happen, and won't in the foreseeable future. Lots of activities, as we pointed out. There are more activities if this transfer did happen that could be furnished by concession operators like canoe rentals and that kind of thing. This place has absolutely huge potential.
Again, literally in the city limits of Houston and nearly 5,000 acres of land. We don't generate a whole lot of revenue there, and that is in large measure because of the awkward arrangement of the park right now. We have four full-time classified employees. We had an operating cost of approximately just under $200,000 and revenues of $41,000-$42,000.
The House allowed us, under House Bill 2108 to consider transfers of properties within the State Park system to subdivisions of the State, cities or counties. We have done a number of those. You have approved a number of those over the last few years. Yesterday, for example, we transferred Nimitz, not pursuant to 2108, but Nimitz is now with the THC.
We also transferred Copano Bay yesterday to a navigation district down there, which was not a big operational charge for us, but had some significant capital repair costs that we were going to be facing. In House Bill 2108, any city or county could petition the Commission here to consider a transfer of one of our sites that they could operate as well or better than we can, as long as it continues to be used for the same thing. The City of Houston has made such a request to take over operation of the entire site.
We are in negotiations right now to put a proposal together. If it is approved by you to move on with that, pursuant to the request. They want to contract with us, after, if this occurs, to continue to use our central reservations system, which we do with LCRA and now the City of Kerrville after we transferred Kerrville Shriner State Park. They will also work with us on making sure that none of our employees are hurt in this deal. They would either become City employees or we would find another location for them.
The deed, as we have done before, has a reversion clause in it, that if pursuant to the agreed upon stipulations in the deed for the transfer, that is not followed through on, it would come back to Parks and Wildlife. So it doesn't get turned into something else. You can't sell off 400 acres of it to be something different. It is a pretty straightforward thing, and that it is what —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It guarantees that all 4,900 acres be open as a park?
MR. DABNEY: Yes, sir. It will.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: With the same hours that we have today, the same or better?
MR. DABNEY: We haven't worked out that detail yet, but I can't imagine it would be any different.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: There are no highways or freeways going through it?
MR. DABNEY: There are no highways or freeways going through it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I know there is not now. In the future.
MR. DABNEY: There is a potential for the Grand Parkway — in fact, not a potential, a high likelihood — I wish I had a map here to show you. It would go across the northern end, if this were the park, it would go as far north as it can. This end down toward the San Jacinto River is more floodplain. So they are going to have to push it as far north, or they are going to have to bridge it all.
That will cut off a piece of this land north of that freeway, which we have always suggested should be sold in that case. And then take that money and possibly buy additional floodplain lands down there. There is a — I do have a map, but I am —
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Walt, we plan to allow it today and any restrictions that are passed on.
MR. DABNEY: I don't know that our deed could — I don't know that we could do anything —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is a condemnation. They can't control that.
MR. DABNEY: We can't stop that parkway. We have expressed concern in the past for it, and wanted to minimize the impact. There was proposals to bridge all the way across it, which is a heroic effort that is probably a waste of money. Push it as far north as you can. Take that other land and trade it for something better.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It is shown right on the boundary.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Right on the boundary? Is that right?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Look, who knows where it is going to go.
MR. DABNEY: We don't. And while it is shown on the boundary —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It could go on the boundary. It could miss it.
MR. DABNEY: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Which would be a real shame. It needs to touch it at least.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So you could get some access to it.
MR. DABNEY: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: I mean, I think it is really important that the parkway goes in, and actually provides access.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Joe Turner is here, and as I understand, he is not going to be here tomorrow. I thought it was a little out of order, but if there was anything to be asked of him or said —
MR. DABNEY: And this isn't on the agenda for public hearing tomorrow, so —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It is not on the agenda? This is briefing.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We are just going to authorize staff —
MR. DABNEY: Yes.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: My plan is to authorize staff to begin the process.
MR. DABNEY: To begin public notice and begin the process.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The first of two meetings. I get it.
MR. DABNEY: And I am going to tell you when the public meeting is.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: We need to keep on in the interest of the time, if that is okay with you all. Out of all respect for you all, I think we are prepared to move forward to consider this. So we need to go ahead —
MR. DABNEY: All of these issues, including the parkway, the City is very aware of, and would work, if it is their control, would work with the Grand Parkway to minimize that and get the best deal. Commission, our proposed next step is for you to authorize us to begin formal negotiations with the City of Houston. They are prepared to do that. And that is why they are here to show you that support today.
We do have a public hearing scheduled in the Houston area for the evening of December 5. That will be publicized. A number of the folks in this room will be there. We would prepare a draft transfer instrument and would return in front of you in the January Commission meeting to present that proposal, just as we have done six or seven times in the past with these other transfer proposals.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Thank you. If there is no further questions or discussion, I would authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process. I apologize you all. I had no idea we would be going this late. I have got to leave in ten minutes. And I wonder if you would leave Eagle Mountain Lake on the agenda so we could deal with that before I go while we have got five of us here. In fact, you might do — do you mind doing that one now? We are going to jump to Agenda Item 9.
(All talking at once.)
MR. BORUFF: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director of Operations. We are here today to seek direction from the Commission on the disposition of Eagle Mountain Lake State Park outside of Fort Worth. This request comes as a result of one or more expressions of interest in the property. And staff is looking for direction from you as to where you would like us to go. And I will turn this over to Mr. Jack Bauer to talk to you about some of the specifics.
MR. BAUER: Jack Bauer, Director of Land Conservation at Parks and Wildlife. Background, we purchased this property in 1980 for the purposes of park use. It was not developed or opened to the public. It has been identified by the General Land Office as unused and underutilized, both. We went through the process at your direction to consider selling it in 2002.
I think we were up at four meetings, and the end result of that was you directed us to reject all proposals. Through that process, we saw five proposals, one county, one NGO, and three development companies who wanted to develop the site. In February of '04, we leased the minerals, following your direction to have it considered for lease and put up for board for lease in November, which was done.
That mineral interest again, the lease went to Antero. It was later required by XTO Energy. It includes 100 percent of 350 mineral acres out of the 400-acre tract. We have constructed or the leaser has constructed two pads, and there are two wells completed. There is a potential as we understand, from the leaser, a potential for four wells.
Productivity has only been hooked up to plumbing since September 1. It is not sufficient to make forecasts. And it is also too variable to really predict. Our royalty interests on production that we would have is 25 percent. The property value in 2002 when we were considering it to be sold was in the range of $2.2 million to $2.6 million for the surface only. And we had a series of proposals that included some level of conservation, all the way to full development of its economic development potential.
We would propose to, if we are going to consider looking at it again, that we go through a fairly involved and sophisticated process to really understand what the value of this property is, to include its mineral and surface estate restricted and unrestricted. And with that, I will hand it back to Scott.
MR. BORUFF: Commissioners, we have really identified four options here. One is no action at all, which if that is your direction would be the end of this today. The second option is to look at some options that we might have if you were to direct us to go forward with the potential sale, which would include the options you see there under the word "bid," so we could look at an appraisal for the property with minerals or without minerals, the property with conservation restrictions or without conservation restrictions. Or just sell it outright.
The third option, really, is a land exchange opportunity, which would also require an appraisal, as would the sales option. The fourth option is to seek approval from the Legislature to sell and use that revenue to acquire another State Park site. That would also require an appraisal.
So the top action, no action at all, would stop here. Any of the others would probably require us to move forward with an appraisal, so that you would have information around which to base your decision.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay. Any discussion?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: An underutilized asset, we ought to know the value of it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And that appraisal would be both estates, surface and mineral or combined?
MR. BORUFF: Multiple options. There are multiple options as you see, and at your direction, we could get all —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, in order to look at any of those options, you have to have both appraisals.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: How many appraisals are we going to get?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You have to have one for the land and one for the minerals.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes.
MR. BAUER: That is correct.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Right. And one for conservation restrictions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Exactly. One for conservation restrictions, so we can look at that option.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: And we proceed in accordance with our new methodology and our new policy. A potential land transfer to consider this.
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: A new process.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: No further discussion, I will authorize staff to obtain appraisals, explore options and begin the public input and notice process. We will go back to Agenda Item 4, Ann Bright. Thank you both.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You need a Vice-Chairman? Just give me the script.
MS. BRIGHT: Good afternoon. I am Ann Bright, General Counsel. I am here to discuss a proposed Big Bend Ranch State Park Task Force. The Parks and Wildlife Code authorizes the Chairman to appoint advisory committees. There are also a number of advisory committee requirements in the Government Code. And if you will recall in August, the Commission adopted rules, establishing 24 advisory committees.
Those rules became effective September 28. And the rules also included some general requirements for advisory committees. There is a recommendation that the Big Bend Ranch State Park Task Force be established. It would include people who have an interest in Big Bend Ranch, including members of the public, representatives of governmental bodies and representatives of non-governmental organizations.
It would also be subject to the General Advisory Committee requirements, including annual evaluation, selection of a presiding officer by the members, a limit of 24 members, and a four-year life unless extended by rule. So staff is recommending that proposed rules regarding the Big Bend Ranch State Park Task Force be published in the Texas Register for public comment. And we would bring this back to you in January for consideration of adoption.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Any questions or comments?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I asked her to post this because I wanted, as I mentioned at the last meeting, who can forget the August meeting? The problems with that park continue. And so —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: What happened to Mr. Stratton who was going to pay for it and give it back.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Still waiting for the money on that one. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Thank you, Ann.
If there are no further questions, I authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register.
Carolyn Vogel, are you ready to give us a briefing on the land trust conference?
(All talking at once.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We have got a new Chairman.
MS. VOGEL: Chairman Fitzsimons, Commissioners, Mr. Cook, thank you for the opportunity this afternoon to briefly give you an update on a program that was incubated here at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is now at a stage of maturity that is going to stand on its own. And to tell you just a little bit about the Texas Land Trust Council and the land trust business in Texas. History of the Land Trust, and by the way, I forgot to identify myself.
I am Carolyn Vogel. I am the Land Trust Program Coordinator here in the Private Lands and Public Hunting Program in the Wildlife Division. And again, thank you for your few minutes here. The history of the land trust business in Texas. From the 1950s to the mid-90s, many national organizations, which I know you will recognize, the Nature Conservancy of Texas, Audubon, the Trust for Public Land, the Conservation Fund and Ducks Unlimited established Texas office or a regional office of their operations.
In 1983, the Texas Natural Resources Code added Chapter 183 which allowed the use of conservation easements. The Conservation Easement Act was adopted. In 1994, your predecessors, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners initiated a program here to educate landowners about conservation easements and to facilitate the work of the nonprofit land trust organizations in Texas. To that end, in 1996, we had our first statewide conference on conservation easements, which I believe set the tone for what was to come when 300 people, much to my surprise showed up to attend this two-day conservation easement conference.
The landowners and professional community. From that time forward, our Agency has provided many trainings, statewide conference and other workshops for the land trust business in Texas, landowners, and technical and professional advisors to landowners and other governments working in the arena of long-term and permanent conservation. In 1998, the Texas Land Trust Council was created as an outside entity working closely with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The Council has a board, and that board has done a lot of support of the different initiatives of the Texas Land Trust Program here. The purpose of the Council, as it was organized here at Texas Parks and Wildlife list was to sustain and promote the conservation efforts of Texas Land Trust. In 2000 and 2001, the Governor's Conservation Task Force recommended the creation of a statewide purchase of development rights program.
And another indicator again of the growth of the work of these nonprofit Land Trusts, in 2002, we hosted the National Land Trust Alliance Rally here in Austin with 1,700 participants. As I continue the history, we look back again to 2002, and the initiation of a Parks and Wildlife Land and Water Resources and Conservation and Recreation Plan which established and continues to support the development and outreach for sustainable land trust organizations and the creation of additional local land trusts.
And I will go back to what I said earlier in history. I mentioned a lot of the national organizations that from the 1950s to the mid-90s established Texas office. What we have seen in the last ten or 15 years is the establishment of more local and regional land trust organizations. And that is really to support, you know, whether it is a couple of counties, or a watershed organization or the creation or the discussion today of creating an ag land trust for Texas, is it is really important in this business, that it is peers talking to peers. And it is local citizens that are driving local conservation.
And often, the way they do that is to establish a local land trust organization. This year, the Senate, Senate Bill 1273 created a Purchase of Development Rights Program, the Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program, which is housed at the General Land Office. So a little bit more in, as I noted, the growth of, and you will notice from the 1990s to date, and since I got into the program almost ten years ago now, that we have many local land trust organizations, in fact 26 from the 1990s that have been established in Texas.
And when I say local land trust organizations, I am talking about 501(c)(3) nonprofit groups that come together to affect conservation at their local or regional level. We now have over 40 operating land trust organizations in Texas. As you can see on this map, the red dots are the state or national groups that are operating in Texas, and then the green dots are these local and regional more recent land trust organizations. My update didn't get on here.
Annually, Texas Parks and Wildlife does an inventory of the lands that are protected and conserved through the efforts of these 40-plus nonprofit land trust organizations. This is the 2003 inventory, which shows over a million acres. And I would like to share with you a new figure that in fact, I just was able to add or to include this morning, and it didn't get on this slide, but if you will note, the fee simple ownership in the conservation easements, we now have over 342,000 acres of land protected through conservation easements in Texas.
Again, a little bit of an update. And I can certainly share that new data with you from our current inventory, our 2005 inventory. Again, these are acres, either in direct ownership, through fee simple, or through conservation easements. The category transferred or acres, for instance, the Chunatis [phonetic], which the Conservation Fund worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife and then transferred.
And there are also, some of the organizations may transfer the lands that they have acquired to an interest — may have acquired to another organization or to a city or county for a parkland. For instance, the work of the Trust for Public Land does. And this category of other, is a large category of acreage. And those are managed leases, acres, for instance that Ducks Unlimited works with the landowner in a managed lease arrangement. So again, over a million acres conserved through the efforts of the nonprofit land trust organizations.
And that brings me to what I am doing here today, in addition to talking to you about how the program was incubated and nurtured along its way at Texas Parks and Wildlife, is what is the future for the land trust business in Texas, and the Land Trust Council. Next February, the Texas Land Trust Council, which has its 501(c)(3) nonprofit will open its doors here in Austin.
And I had the opportunity after a 30-year career at Texas Parks and Wildlife to be the Executive Director of the new Texas Land Trust Council, beginning February 1. And I will certainly invite all of you to our opening of that program. We have secured office space here in Austin. We will continue the program that was begun here at Texas Parks and Wildlife by your predecessors.
We will continue to work with the land trust organizations to help expand their organizational and stewardship capacities, whether they are purchasing land, holding conservation easements, they are making a commitment to perpetual permanent stewardship of those lands. And their capacity to do that, and how they operate and how they build that capacity is of utmost importance to conservation in Texas. And part of that is a system, helping them adopt a system of national standards and practices that have been promulgated by the National Land Trust Alliance.
And in fact, there is now, the National Land Trust Alliance Board in September adopted a plan to prepare a governing and accreditation body so land trusts now in the country and there are over 1,500 land trust organizations in the United States, these land trusts will now have an opportunity to go through a voluntary accreditation program. I had the honor of sitting on that national team that is helping the National Land Trust Alliance put together this accreditation program for land trusts. And our role here in Texas with the Texas Land Trust Council will be to prepare these organizations to go through that accrediting process.
We will continue to serve as we have here, through our different training and outreach programs, and serve as a clearinghouse of conservation information. And working hand in hand with you all and other governments, providing technical assistance, whether it is to landowners, technical advisors, governments, and the public. And I wanted to point out one thing that was addressed in our Land and Water Plan here at Parks and Wildlife and that has been a lot of the emphasis of the program is to help support the development of these new local and regional land trusts.
And in fact, just to note, a couple of the ones that are in development now, there is a new land trust in the El Paso area. In fact, it takes in a little of New Mexico. Frontera Land Alliance. I am working with a group in an eight-county area around Bryan/College Station. They are in a steering committee stage, and they are putting together their board to create the Brazos Valley Land Conservancy.
I was out in Marfa, Texas, just a week ago, and I met with a group of citizens in the Nature Conservancy. And the outcome of that is the citizens are moving forward to create the Marfa Land Trust to look at local land conservation issues right there around Marfa. And also, an opportunity and something that has certainly had some of its — is being driven and motivated by the need for an agricultural land trust, is that Purchase of Development Rights Program that has been initiated here in Texas. And the American Farm Land Trust is working with the Texas Farm Bureau, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Wildlife Association. And hopefully, the outcome there will be the creation of an ag land trust.
I do believe that is a very important capacity that we need to fulfill here in Texas. Those are my remarks. And if you have any questions I would be glad to — what we passed around is a directory of the 40-some-odd land trust organizations that are operating in Texas.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, I have got to tell you, Carolyn, if everybody could just set out their goal in this very diligent and methodical way reach it and then leave the nest, that is amazing. But no, you have done it.
And the history, I am glad you did that. Because we forget how far you have come. And my hat is off to you for spreading your wings and leaving the nest. For many people, it is too easy to just stay where you are with that free office rent. So no, I am impressed.
MR. COOK: I think one of the things, mostly Mr. Chairman I would like to point out and thank Carolyn for, you know, part of this process of people in Texas understanding and benefitting from and utilizing land trusts is just getting past that — kind of that first brick wall of, oh, that is not for me and my family.
And part of that is having our staff who are out there all the time working with these landowners. We talked about the management plans a while ago, knowing that that is part of the package. That that possibility of the conservation easement and getting involved with a land trust is part of the package that they might have available to keep their family, keep their land in a agricultural or rural operation. And it has been helpful. It has been helpful to our staff to have this kind of connection or association. We will continue that, and thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You are going to do great things.
MS. VOGEL: Well, thank you. And I appreciate this incubation period here at Texas Parks and Wildlife, and I look forward to the future working with you all and with the broader conservation community in Texas. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Carolyn.
Okay, next. Oh, do we need to take any action on that?
MR. COOK: That was a briefing.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. Oil and gas lease recommendations, Corky?
MR. KUHLMANN: Good afternoon, men. This is the oil and gas leases for this session. The authority for leasing mineral rights on Parks and Wildlife lands lies at the board lease, the General Land Office, and the Board of Lease has requests recommendations from the Parks and Wildlife Commission. This is a geographic area of the leases that are up this time.
There are four sites. Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, 587.5 acres, Cleburne State Park 568 acres, Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area, the Le Gruller [phonetic] area, 30.38 acres of the area. That is not the total area. And 568 acres of Mustang Island State Park.
This is going to be no surface occupancy except for Mustang Island and any surface use must be approved by TPWD, but we can refuse. $150 an acre minimum lease, 25 percent royalty, $10 an acre delay rental and three-year lease for an anticipated minimum revenue of $245,000-and-change. This is the motion we see tomorrow. Can I answer any questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, let me ask you about the Mustang Island. Because I have had a few questions from members of the public on that. Traditionally — I shouldn't say traditionally — where possible, we always have offsite drilling locations. No surface occupancy as you say. The exception here is there is no way —
MR. KUHLMANN: The exception here is that there are some pad sites already built on the site that we might let them use.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Wait. They are existing pad sites, so these would be re-entries?
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir. Well, no I can't speak for whether they will be re-entries.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The property, the land has not been reclaimed since the original drill site. Is that right? Help me here.
MR. KUHLMANN: That I couldn't answer.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is this new surface destruction?
MR. BAUER: If I could assist. Jack Bauer, Land Conservation Program. There are disturbed areas on Mustang Island.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: How many?
MR. BAUER: There are some. It is a very large park.
MR. KUHLMANN: The total park is a little over 4,000 acres.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right.
MR. BAUER: There's also old pad sites there. And we feel, this particular lease has come up now —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Is it west of the road or on the beach side?
MR. BAUER: This is behind the road.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Behind, meaning west.
MR. BAUER: Away from the beach.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Bayside.
MR. BAUER: And we feel that there are many places already disturbed where adequate pad sites can be offered.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. BAUER: And that is typical for us. We do this at many of our sites.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Can we go back to the map? Okay.
MR. KUHLMANN: It is the area hatched in red.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes. And is that the highway? So that is the lease. That is not the pad area.
MR. BAUER: That is the lease.
MR. KUHLMANN: That is the lease. That is the lease, the red area.
MR. BAUER: 568 acres.
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir.
MR. BAUER: Well, I thought you said 4,000.
MR. KUHLMANN: No. I said the total park area is a little over 4,000. They are just leasing the 568. And if you look in the conditions, we do have the right to tell them no surface occupancy.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. So you have a veto, essentially.
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir. Oh, yes sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: If you don't have an appropriate —
MR. KUHLMANN: Land surface use agreement, we tell them they can't enter. It is an either/or. On Mustang Island, it is an either/or.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. KUHLMANN: Anything they do on site —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I am familiar with your surface use agreement. I have seen it before.
MR. BAUER: And I think you agree, it is a pretty good surface use agreement.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You know, I don't know who wrote it, but it is good.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: What type of production is currently in that area?
MR. KUHLMANN: That I really could not address either. I do know that they are doing a lot of seismic in the area. And this particular lease went up about a year ago, and nobody bid on it.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Do you have active inquiries on it now?
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes, sir. In order for one of these properties to come up, a company has to nominate it through the GLO Board of Lease. They have to pay a fee. They have to supply the documentation that the word is what they want to lease. And then it comes to us from the Board of Lease. And the Board of Lease asks for our recommendation and generally we will adhere to it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And there is a separate seismic permit. In other words, they can't just by execution of the lease conduct seismic even though you can't have the — you have control of the surface and the separate seismic.
MR. KUHLMANN: Right. And — yes, sir. And on the other hand, we will not let anybody do seismic survey unless you do have the lease.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. BAUER: And the idea there is if we didn't do that, the State would not have the opportunity to offer a bid to get the highest opportunity for it. So if we gave a seismic permit, with the option to have it leased, now we are losing the option of having that bid.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. What is the next step here though, if you go forward?
MR. KUHLMANN: After this, then the GLO will put these properties up for lease. And then people will bid on them. And the people, whatever company nominated the lease, doesn't necessarily get it. They are going to have to do it in an open market bid to get it, even though they paid the fees to have it nominated through the GLO. And recently, they have been bringing substantially more than the $150 an acre minimum.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: In our lease form, the surface use agreement is non-negotiable. That is what they bid on, right?
MR. KUHLMANN: Actually, the GLO does have the option not to accept — Jack, correct me if I am wrong, but they have the option not to accept our recommendation. I don't know that they have ever done it that I know of, but they do have the option to say, well no, we want them to have surface use. They have never done that.
But in the case of Mustang Island, it is an either/or. We can grant them if we see fit. If they don't agree to our surface use agreement then we can tell them to stay off, no surface occupancy. And that is even after they lease it.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: But didn't you just say that could be overruled by the GLO?
MR. KUHLMANN: Before the lease.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Before the lease. Okay.
MR. KUHLMANN: This will go back to the GLO now, and they will either lease it out with our recommendations —
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Or not.
MR. KUHLMANN: Or make their own.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay. All right.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And did you ever say how many acres of this site you thought were already disturbed?
MR. KUHLMANN: When we say, the acres, it is just that there are pad sites and roads to them. That is the only —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: That is the only disturbance, on the back side.
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes.
MR. BAUER: There has been oil and gas operation on this piece of property for generations. And there are remnant and old — well, there are existing operations there that are still producing. There are well pads where there were drills welled and they weren't productive. But there is a number — and there is also some disturbed areas that weren't necessarily relating to oil and gas operations that would make excellent pad sites.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: If there are no further questions or discussion, I will place the item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. Next up, Jack. I think you are still up. Number seven, land donations. Item 7.
MR. BAUER: Yes, sir. Jack Bauer, Director of Land Conservation Program. This one relates to land donations at two facilities in Harris County. Sheldon Lake State Park and San Jacinto Battle Ground and State Historic Site. At Sheldon, you were probably aware that Sheldon was originally opened, and Sheldon Lake Wildlife Management Area through the '50s, '60s, '70s, the city grew up around it.
Through coordination with federal aid, Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife Division and State Parks Division in the mid-90s, there was an agreement to change administrative control of the site from a Wildlife Management Area to a State Park. And that was done, following by subsequent development, master planning for a change in use from WMA use to resource, education and outreach especially for youth for the city, largely at the motivation and direction of Commissioner Henry.
What is prompting this particular donation is the City of Houston's plans and preparations construction of a new water treatment plant upstream from the Carpenter's Bayou, Sheldon Lake State Park. That construction is completed, and in that construction there was considerable impact to wetlands. And so in a coordination loop with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers those impacts were identified, a wetland mitigation plan was put into effect, which all the resource agencies participated in getting completed.
And the results of that was a recommendation for the developer of the City of Houston to acquire a forced wetland site and have it donated as a component of Sheldon Lake State Park. So this is consistent with the Shinta [phonetic] tract addition that was completed and approved by the Commission in 2002 after the San Jacinto Pipeline failure that resulted in a river fire. The tract is a heavily forested tract. And it would come with not only the permit restrictions that was required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but it would also have some stipulations that staff recommended before we would accept the property.
One, have it newly fenced for security, it be clear of all title, encumbrances, clear evidence that there are no environmental hazards on the property, and it came also in the permitting process, with a guaranty of access to some water out of Lake Houston, and a future use for the site for primarily watershed protection. So there is not currently anticipated a lot of public use on this tract. And because we can use it in that way, there was no anticipation of future owing them expense associated with it.
The other facility where we have had a proposal to accept a donation is at San Jacinto. San Jacinto is adjacent to the San Jacinto River and the Houston Ship Channel. The northern end of the tract, where is the boundary the green polygon there, is fairly jagged, is part of the park that was historically the community of San Jacinto. And we have briefed the Commission on a desire to have some of that platted community come into the park for protection.
The other piece of property of interest here, is the yellow tract, which is a 100-acre conservation easement that we got — we got a conservation easement for the purposes of protecting the archaeological and human remains from the Battle of 1836. The green-dotted polygon there is where the primary battle occurred. And in the retreat by the Mexicans to the southeast, there are significant remains across and onto this 100-acre conservation easement site.
The owner of that site is well, it came to us under Diamond Shamrock which is now, has become Oxy, Incorporated. They maintain, even though we have a conservation easement on the surface for use, for public use, and to preserve the human remains there, and the archaeological remnants there, they do have a pipeline that crosses it, and they, in the proposed donation, they would give us the fee ownership of it, and retain that easement for repair and monitoring of their pipeline. There are also three small lots that are submerged lots that were part of the Community of San Jacinto that are proposed for donation.
These donations would come to us, first the three lots from the San Jacinto Battleground Association and the 100-acre fee portion of our conservation easement from the fee owner, Oxy, Incorporated. These additions are consistent with the preferred boundary that we have briefed the Commission on, and the existing master plan. No additional staff would be required to manage this new ownership.
The proposed recommendation that you would see tomorrow in the form of a motion would give Executive Director Cook authority to accept these donations. I would be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Any questions on the donations?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How did the township lots become submerged?
MR. BAUER: There is about 12 foot of subsidence that is in that part of the Coast. And most of that — it is interesting to note that most of that area has been built up with dredge soil over the construction and repairs and maintenance that the Corps had done on the ship channel. So actually, most of the artifacts are even on lands that are not submerged, or are well under the surface.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, Jack.
MR. BAUER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: If there are no further questions or discussion, I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. Our last item, Committee Item 8, utility easement recommendation, Corky.
MR. KUHLMANN: I apologize, I failed to introduce myself a while ago. Corky Kuhlmann, project manager with the Land Conservation Program. This item has to do with the City of Galveston has requested that utility easement on the west end of Galveston Island State Park. It is — the purpose of it is to place water mains, and it will not have a negative impact on the park. It is about 30 feet by 888.
In addition to receiving appraised value for the utility easement, the City of Galveston has agreed to tie Galveston Island State Park into a new 16-inch water main, eliminating their need for the park to operate its own water plant. And this will represent a substantial savings to the Park.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That is a good deal. Well done.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: How much are they going to sell you the water for?
MR. KUHLMANN: Sir? Overpriced.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Give us the water.
MR. KUHLMANN: I tried that.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Did you really?
MR. KUHLMANN: They not only said no, but —
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: But no.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Ask not, receive not.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It doesn't work like CoGen? They have to buy back our water plant? Okay.
MR. KUHLMANN: So this is the motion you will see before you tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you very much. I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. And Corky, thank you. That takes care of the Conservation Committee. Any other items to come before us? Number 9 we have already done.
(All talking at once.)
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You guys are trying to trip me there. I am moving things over to Ad Hoc Infrastructure. Chairman John Parker.
(Whereupon, the meeting was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Conservation Committee
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: November 2, 2005
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 93, 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.
(Transcriber) (Date)On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731