Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee

Jan. 27, 2010

Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 27th day of January 2010, 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:

APPEARANCES:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:

P R O C E E D I N G S

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We'll now call the Regulations Committee to order. First order of business is approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes which have already been distributed. Do we have a motion?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: So move.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Hughes?

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Second.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second, Commissioner Morian. All in favor?

(A chorus of ayes.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Hearing none, motion carries. Committee Item Number 1, update on Parks and Wildlife progress in implementing the Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan. Mr. Smith?

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a couple of things I want to share with you all. We promised you at the November meeting we would come back with a quick update as to where we stood on the issuance of the water spinach cultivation permits.

And I think our law enforcement team and inland fisheries team had a very productive meeting with growers over in Rosharon in December to kind of explain and walk them through the new regulations and how they were going to be handled. I think the best information that we have right now that we have had 30 growers approach us for permits. We've issued 12. We have another 18 that we are still processing right now. We've done inspections on — I don't know — 45 or 50 facilities associated with those proposed permits. By and large we think the communication is going well.

There's also some very standardized emergency management procedures that have been put in place — expectations as to what the growers will do in the event that there's some kind of a catastrophic weather event as well. So so far, so good on that front. But I just wanted to give you a little progress that I think we're making some headway on that again thanks to the inland fisheries and law enforcement teams.

A couple of new strategic purchases that have been made by the Law Enforcement Division that I think are going to have really important benefits to the agency as a whole. There's been a new mobile command unit set up with state-of-the-art communications and satellite radio technology. Given the division's role in disaster response and emergency preparedness we are frequently deploying large numbers of game wardens to places and we need a state-of-the-art mobile command center to help communicate — and so very, very excited about that.

Secondly — and this may be the only way to get Pete Flores to issue a little bit of a smile on his face today — is the — is when he saw the new Cessna Turbo 206 that was purchased by the agency and we took possession of in December.

And I want to say a word about that because, you know, that was something that almost every division inside the agency contributed to the purchase of. And so with law enforcement, wildlife, our fisheries divisions, and state parks kicked in. This is a plane that we desperately needed.

You know, the average age of our aircraft fleet — and I use that a little loosely to refer to our two planes and two helicopters — is almost 30 years of age. And they are impeccably well maintained by Lee Finch and his team, but, nonetheless, they're aging. And this new plane is going to give us a lot of help out in West Texas on our survey work out there where — you know, if Clay Brewer is out or Billy Tarrant flying looking at bighorn sheep in West Texas or doing patrols out there we need to make sure we have a plane that can handle it. So we're really excited about this and ought to be ready to put into operation in March and look forward to the chance to get you all out there to see that real exciting development on both fronts.

Duck season ended last weekend so it seems appropriate to say a few works on that front. I'm not sure if all of you are aware of our long history of partnership with DU Canada and, you know, a recognition by this agency and others that if we are going to take care of the country's waterfowl populations we need to invest in the breeding grounds up in both the boreal forest and in the prairie provinces and the wetlands there.

And so since 1985, you know, the agency through the Migratory Bird Program has invested $2 million in protecting habitat up in that area for breeding grounds — influenced, you know, well over a quarter million acres up there. And we — and DU Canada has leveraged those dollars nearly five to one. So I think we've seen a very, very good return on investment.

We, in the last couple of years, have invested a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year. Next year unfortunately we're probably going to have to look at paring that back because of the obvious financial climate that we're looking at. But I just want you to know this is an important program that we need to continue committing to at some level. It will serve us well.

We really can't have any discussion about this because it's not on the agenda, but because it relates to waterfowl I just want to say so that you're apprized of this — as some of you are aware of the big Exxon Mobil spill on the Sabine-Neches Waterway around Port Arthur in which we had, you know, about 10,000 barrels of oil that were spilled out of that collision. Our kills and spills teams from the agency and coastal fisheries and wildlife and law enforcement teams have been very active in working with GLO and others on this.

We thought that that oil was pretty well contained with booms and the work being done by the skimmer boats. We are now concerned though that because of a number of factors that we may see oil start to get into some areas on the Murphree Wildlife Management Area where we are wintering thousands of ducks. And so we're going to be prepared to take very, very quick action in the next couple of days if need be on that front, and I'll keep you apprized of that going on. So just something that's very much on our mind today as our colleagues in the field are out dealing with that.

So, Mr. Chairman, I think with that report I'll turn it back over to you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Carter. Committee Item Number 2, Proposed Rule Review of Chapter 58 Oysters and Shrimp — Permission to Conduct Rule Review and Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Ann Bright.

MS. BRIGHT: Good morning, Commission. For the record my name is Ann Bright; I'm general counsel. And I'm here with what is fairly routine. We're required by the Government Code to review all of our regulations at least once every four years. We make sure that the reasons for adopting them continue, and then we also publish a notice of proposed review in the Texas Register in case the public also has comments on these chapters.

And then at the end of this process we either re-adopt, adopt with changes, or request that these be either re-adopted, adopted with changes, repealed or based — based on this review.

We've got one group of rules that are a little bit out of sequence. We're probably going to get them back into the regular cycle with the others. Some of you remember that we went through this a couple of years ago. But for various reasons these end up kind of a little bit out of that cycle.

We're now asking permission to review Chapter 58, Oysters and Shrimp. We're also requesting — because these chapters are actually in pretty good shape as a result of the fact that we do the statewide every year. We're also requesting permission to publish any cleanup changes in conjunction with the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation. And I think you're going to be hearing a couple of things about those today, such as separating out commercial from recreational — that sort of thing. And that concludes my presentation.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Terrific. Thanks, Ann.

Any questions or discussion by the Commission? Good.

Thank you, Ann. No further questions or discussion I authorize staff to begin the rule review and publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Committee Item Number 3, 2010-2011 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation — permission to publish. I think we're starting with Robin Riechers.

Good morning, Robin.

MR. RIECHERS: Good morning. Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the name — for the record my name is Robin Riechers and I'm here to present the coastal fisheries changes to the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation.

Our first proposal that we scoped this year was again regarding the snook fishery here in Texas, which I explained to you last time is really comprised of fat snook and common snook. And we were actually looking for an opportunity for more people not necessarily to have more fishing opportunity but for more take of fat snook by lowering the minimum size limit on common snook.

As a reminder to you, we're currently at a one-fish bag limit and a two-fish possession limit. And the current regulation sets the minimum size limit at 24 inches and the maximum size limit at 28 inches.

What we were scoping was the opportunity to drop that minimum size limit from 24 to 22 inches which, as I just indicated, would allow for some more additional take home of fat snook because they basically mature right in that range of 22 to 23, 24 inches. We felt like that would have minimal impacts to common snook.

Since the time of your briefing book — publication of your briefing book we had our scoping meetings and had gotten public comments. At this point we have 32 people in opposition to that. Only four people came out to support that notion. And of those 32, two of those people basically represented larger organizations — the Lower Laguna Madre Fly Fishing Association and the Snook Foundation.

And basically their concern was that those minimal impacts — they were concerned about those impacts that we called minimal to the common snook population and were concerned that, in fact, some of the progress we've made regarding common snook would be taken away if we went forward with this rule proposal.

So at this time staff would recommend that we remove this proposal from further consideration under Statewide this year. We want to work with these groups and talk with them and look at, you know, some future strategies for management of these — this snook fishery as well as any research opportunities that they may be able to help provide us with. So that's what we would recommend on this part of the proposal.

Our additional scoping items — we had two of them. One of them was the strengthening of commercial reporting requirements. And, as you remember, this basically was where we had some issues of depending on how the sale was occurring — whether it was going from boat to person or boat to restaurant or boat to a dealer — who really was in charge of that reporting requirement.

And so we want to make very explicit who's responsible when. And we also are including the inland fisheries landings that occur into our trip ticket system within the context of this publication of that rule. So we're trying to get that all under one umbrella.

The other thing Ann just mentioned is the separation of the commercial and recreational statewide proclamation. And we're proposing to separate those into two distinct proclamations. No real change associated with the rules in that context, just pulling them apart from each other.

In regards to comments in those two — on those two items, we had two comments just saying they would like for us to find a more simplified reporting form. It is somewhat complex. We deal with a large array of species and we certainly will look for ways to simplify that. I'm not sure that we can but we will certainly look towards that.

The other one basically is a comment regarding — it's actually some fishermen down in the lower coast area who wanted to be able to group multiple days of catch and then sell them. And, of course, we've worked with enforcement, and there's not really a good way to do that without people getting over the bag in possession limits or us not being able to enforce those bag in possession limits if we were to allow that.

So our staff recommendation then is to forward those two proposals as we scope them for — to the Texas Register for publication and further consideration. With that, that concludes my presentation.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Robin. Appreciate it. I think next is Ken, moving inland. Ken?

MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski of the Inland Fisheries Division. Although I'm with the Inland Division the changes I'll be discussing with you concern fishing in both freshwater and saltwater.

We have some minor clarification to some of the wording in Section 65.72 of our Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation. We have received occasional comments from anglers and staff on some of the wording in there, so we thought we would take this opportunity to clarify that. The wording isn't causing any major problems that we know at this time, but we thought we'd take this opportunity to eliminate this possible source of confusion for anglers.

And the bottom line here, we want to ensure our descriptions of bag and length limits can be easily understood as we move forward. Currently the wording here in this one particular section that was causing the problem was the description of making it ‑‑ you could interpret it to say that it was unlawful to attempt to take fish where there are length limits in place. Certainly we have a lot of length limits — statewide limits for game fish — things like that. That wasn't the intent of that. That certainly wasn't the way, you know, we were enforcing it.

To clarify that we're sort of separating out those two portions of that — separating out this to attempt to take fish in one clause and then possession in another clause. So that should clarify that — make it easier for our anglers to understand. Are there questions on that?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions? Thank you, Ken. Appreciate it.

Mitch Lockwood, you're up. Good morning, Mitch.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. For the record my name is Mitch Lockwood, and I'm the Whitetail Deer Program Leader and for the last several months have been serving as the Big Game Program Director as well.

At the November Commission meeting you'll recall that Clayton Wolf informed this committee of an idea we've been considering to open a mule deer season in two additional counties over in the Panhandle. And so at this time we're proposing that change.

To refresh your memories, we have three different mule deer seasons in the state. Most of the Panhandle has a 16-day season that begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Those ten counties in the western Panhandle have a nine-day season that also begins the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving. And then in the Trans-Pecos we have a 16-day season that begins the last Saturday in November, which is always the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving.

If you look up there in the northeast you'll notice Wheeler County does not currently have an open season. We propose a 16-day season there in Wheeler County. And then to the southwest you'll see that Dawson County does not currently have an open season. And so we propose a nine-day season there in Dawson County.

I should state that we do not have data that's indicating a rapidly increasing population of mule deer in these counties. In fact, we don't monitor mule deer populations at such a fine scale at the county level. Actually we're aware that mule deer numbers are low in large portions of these counties because much of that country is in ag production where there's not mule deer habitat to speak of. However, there are some pockets of mule deer habitat in these counties where there are some mule deer that could be hunted, especially since we do offer a conservative harvest strategy of buck-only hunting that would not affect population recruitment or expansion.

And so, with that, we propose this conservative mule deer season in these counties and attempt to offer some additional hunting opportunity without adversely impacting that resource.

Since the November Commission meeting Commissioner Hughes asked Director Smith for the Wildlife Division to consider whether or not there's any biological ramifications to beginning that Trans-Pecos season a day early. And, again to refresh your memory, the Trans-Pecos — we have a 16-day season that begins the last Saturday in November, which, again, is always the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving.

So I believe the idea here is to offer hunters a — to take advantage — a little bit more advantage of that long Thanksgiving weekend by perhaps starting it on a Friday. And so I did visit with our field staff about that. I asked them to consider some potential biological ramifications — maybe some sociological concerns — what sort of public feedback would we expect.

And after giving it some thought staff certainly don't see — predict any biological concern from adding one day to the mule deer season. We really don't know what to expect in the way of public comment on this item because we haven't really had an opportunity to scope this yet. We haven't received this type of request in the past. Our field staff haven't heard landowners or hunters ask for some modification to this season, so we really don't know without soliciting some public comment on what kind of feedback we might get.

It would offer — create a new season structure — new for big game species — or big game hunting, which typically would start on a Saturday and close on a Sunday. But, again, biologically we don't have concerns with an additional day.

So, with that, I'm seeking the guidance of this Committee as to whether or not we should include this rule modification to this proposal that would be published in the Texas Register and then set up some — or schedule some public hearings out in the Trans-Pecos in the next couple of weeks to try to get some comment on this.

And, just to clarify, if we made this change — officially proposed it what it would say is instead of the Trans-Pecos season starting the last Saturday in November we would specifically say the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving, which — but still end on a Sunday as it currently does. So it would go from 16 days to 17 days.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: If I could give a little feedback on that — a little insight to the reason I see it. I've been a long-time landowner in West Texas and noticed over the course of time that particularly youth hunting opportunity, it's very difficult for youth to get out on a — in a three-weekend season and shoot. All the major metropolitan areas — San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston ‑‑ are six to 12-hour drives to get youth out there on a Friday afternoon and back on a Sunday.

A lot of my ideas — and I actually wrote a letter to Lee Bass back in early 2000 requesting that saying, Hey, it's hard for youth to get out hunting — can we get another day over the Thanksgiving weekend — over the holidays to get youth out, give them an opportunity to hunt, and then get them back for school starting on Monday.

And that's kind of the idea here. Again, it's less [indiscernible] opportunity, but hopefully particularly great youth hunting opportunity — give them an opportunity to come out. And if it doesn't affect the — if there's not a resource issue I think it's something I'd like to see considered. MLDP in West Texas changed this to some extent, but there's still a lot of properties that are not under MLDP and it may — it should create the youth hunting and hunter opportunity that we're not taking advantage of right now.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Next, to either one of you, is the rut timing in those counties such that if you opened the season the Saturday before Thanksgiving, would that not be helpful or would that throw you out there too early?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Historically — I can say I think the rut normally starts after the main — after the mule deer season closes. And I think it closes — well, 16 days after it opens — which is usually around the 10th, 12th, 13th of December. And that's about the time that the rut starts, at least in the region that I hunt in West Texas.

MR. LOCKWOOD: I believe I can answer this one. If you get much tougher with your mule deer biological questions I'll ask our mule deer coordinator to come help me out here. But I actually asked them to consider that. What if we just start the same weekend that we start in the Panhandle? And then the next question is, Well, would it be 16 days still or 23 days?

I should state that 23 days we're quite certain would receive much resistance from the public on that, remembering the days of going from nine to 16 days in that area and then mule deering on DP days as well. And so with the 16-day season starting basically one week earlier than it currently does then the next concern that we think hunters would have is what you just touched on.

They would then — it would pretty much take them out of any opportunity to hunt the rut. There are — our season structure right now does allow for some years to catch the front-end of that rut. There are some years where we may not quite catch it. But if we start a week early we're fairly certain we'd miss that opportunity, and we're not sure that would be real popular.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Maybe we should just move Thanksgiving.

MR. LOCKWOOD: In the Panhandle, of course, the rut is a little bit earlier and so that's why that season does start a little earlier. Because we want them to catch a little bit of the rut but not too much.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think it's very consistent with our mission and, you know, makes a lot of sense. As long as it doesn't have a negative biological impact so I'm fully supportive of it. Any other discussion on that?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I've got a question.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Please.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What happened in 2000 when you ‑‑ what did the Commission do when your first suggestion was made? Do you remember?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Actually I have a copy of a letter from Bob Cook. It was Bob — no —

MR. SMITH: Was it Bob or Andy Sansom that wrote you back?

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Andy Sansom, yes. And at the time they cited low mule deer numbers in the Trans-Pecos. They were concerning about extending the season any days at that time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: On the — switching from the ‑‑ this Trans-Pecos issue to the Dawson and Wheeler Counties, Mitch you said that the Department does not monitor the numbers on a county basis, but we know the numbers are low. How then can we say that there won't be any negative impact on the resource if we really don't know what's there?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, as you know, a buck-only harvest strategy won't restrict recruitment in that population and population expansion. A doe harvest certainly would. But a buck harvest wouldn't. A buck-only harvest could potentially have an impact on buck age structure where we could potentially have a situation similar to whitetail deer in East Texas where we now have antler restrictions because buck — the hunting pressure relative to buck availability was too high to allow many bucks to reach maturity.

So there could be some potential in those counties where this could have an impact on age structure. We're doubtful of that but it's possible. But as far as population numbers growing the buck certainly plays a role in that, but buck harvest wouldn't prevent does still from conceiving and producing young.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Should we consider as a part of the process an antler restriction or not?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I don't believe so. And the reason, Commissioner, for that is not only — we don't only not monitor populations at that fine a scale but we don't manage them at all at that fine of a scale. And so we're managing, as you know, with whitetail deer by the resource management units, the RMUs.

But we have some mule deer compartments, the same concept in West Texas. In fact, we'll talk in the next year on how similar those are RMU mule deer compartments. But we have good data for a compartment — we have good population data, we have good harvest data for a compartment, we have good age structure data. And the age structure data there would rival the age structure data, as you recall, in, say, Shackelford and Throckmorton Counties with whitetail deer with a very high proportion of buck population being mature. And it'd be pretty hard to defend an antler restriction in that case.

We could have a very site specific impact — very local impact on age structure in a county, for example, or a portion of a county if there's ten bucks and five of them get harvested every year. But for the compartment we don't see an impact on that population. Does that make sense?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And then I have one other question. Why is staff proposing nine in Dawson and 16 in Wheeler? Why not nine in both, for example, if you're still concerned about the numbers?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, what we would like to have is — again, this is similar to our previous whitetail proposal by RMU. We believe that we need to have a consistent harvest strategy throughout an entire compartment so we can look at the effects of that harvest strategy on that population.

If we have two different harvest strategies in one population then it would be difficult to determine any impacts of either regulation on that population. And so in Wheeler County I think it's pretty easy to justify a 16-day season. It's the Dawson County where one might think that there's a coin toss between 16 and nine days. But as I admitted early in this discussion we admit that there are low numbers of mule deer in Dawson County, and even though it's a buck-only harvest strategy nine days makes more sense for Dawson County.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Mitch, I have one more question, likely unrelated. But in these — if there still counties closed in the Panhandle can a landowner, rancher manager apply for a wildlife management plan and get an MLDP in a county that's closed to — whatever — mule deer or whatever it may be, of if it's closed it's closed?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, we looked into that when we were in some Grayson County discussions last year. And if a season is closed to hunting then mule deer permits may not be used in that county.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Other questions? Mitch, thank you.

MR. LOCKWOOD: If I may seek a little clarification, on the front end in the Trans-Pecos you referenced youth hunting, but I think what you're saying for the proposal is we wouldn't limit it to just youth on that Friday, would we? Or do you?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I don't think we would unless there's opposition to that on the Commission. I think the answer's no.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Okay.

MR. SMITH: So we will go ahead and include that in the statewide package and put that out there for rule review and get public input on that and come back in March. Okay. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Any other discussion? Okay. No further questions or discussion I authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Item 4 is Pronghorn Antelope Update. Mr. Billy Tarrant.

MR. TARRANT: Chairman and members of the Commission, my name is Billy Tarrant. I'm the district leader for the Wildlife Division, Trans-Pecos District. I'm here today to briefly update you on the status of pronghorn in the Trans-Pecos Ecological Region.

Since we standardized our population estimate in 1977, pronghorn estimates in the Trans-Pecos have fluctuated from approximately 5,000 to just over 17,000 animals. Typically these variations are tied to habitat conditions and precipitation patterns. As you can see there, in the late '80s we had several years back to back of above-average rainfall and associated with good fawn crops and peak numbers out at over 17,000 estimated. And then after the drought of the '90s we — in 2001 we bottomed out at just over 5,000 animals.

We started to climb back out of that hole with some favorable precipitation. And in 2008 TPW Wildlife Division staff documented a significant die-off of pronghorn in the Marfa Plateau while doing surveys. We reasoned this loss of more than 2,000 animals was associated with basically eight months without a drop of rain followed by an unseasonably hard freeze in May.

In 2009 we expected to recover somewhat from that drop with some reasonable reproduction based upon the habitat conditions. However, in that same area affected by the die-off we reported a 9 percent fawn crop last year. It's important to note that given the reproduction throughout that we saw last year throughout the Trans-Pecos we fully expect this next year will be a all-time low for pronghorn in the Trans-Pecos.

Based upon these concerns the Trans-Pecos pronghorn working group first met in September of 2009. This group is composed of Trans-Pecos landowners, hunters, outfitters, wildlife veterinarians, wildlife biologists, and researchers all concerned with the status of pronghorn in the Trans-Pecos. Among other recommendations this group recommended sampling hunter harvested pronghorn and testing for mineral deficiencies and internal parasite concentrations.

In spite of only having a couple of weeks we managed to complete one of the largest pronghorn disease samplings efforts ever undertaken. This was a joint effort of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Wildlife Division personnel, Sul Ross State University, Borderlands Research Institute students, cooperative landowners and outfitters. And I would like to especially thank the TPWD Wildlife Division folks that traveled from across the state on short notice during their busiest time of the year to help with this important effort.

We collected samples from 102 pronghorn from 50 ranches throughout the Trans-Pecos Ecological Area. We tested copper and selenium levels, since these minerals can be related to reproduction. Selenium concentrations appeared about normal — what we'd expect. However, some copper levels that were recorded were very low, and this could be tied to high parasite concentrations.

We also looked for internal parasites and fecal samples and the abomasum or the fore-stomach that's present in ruminants. Of 82 abomasums analyzed only four did not contain Haemonchus contortus, or the Barber's pole blood worm. The average blood worm total for all abomasum sampled was 510, and the highest number counted in a single abomasum was 4,080.

If you look in the center of this photo you can see the worm — that's a female worm — with a typical barber's pole appearance. It shows a helix of blood that the parasite is consuming. This is a photo of a cleaned abomasum. Each of these red spots indicates a location where a worm was attached to the abomasal wall. As I understand it, even if this animal was treated and all parasites removed each of these spots will scar and impede nutrient uptake. So thus pronghorn with high levels of Haemonchus are being affected both by blood loss and by decreased ability to uptake nutrients.

Very little literature exists concerning Haemonchus concentrations in pronghorn. We do know that numbers above 2,000 per animal can affect health and survival in sheep and goats. Pronghorn managers understand the importance of our traditional recognized limiting factors such as precipitation, habitat quality and quantity, barriers to movement, and predation.

This parasite appears to be an additional factor affecting population dynamics of pronghorn in the Trans-Pecos. However, relationships between parasite loads, climate, and habitat are not understood. Similarly, the effects of pronghorn movements and distribution on parasite numbers are not clear. We feel further research and surveillance are needed to determine causes and make appropriate management recommendations.

In closing, these numbers — these high numbers of blow worms may be symptomatic of something that is missing in the habitat or changes in the climate. And even if it's not there are — there may accepted habitat management practice that can help mitigate these losses. And at this point we really don't know and more research is definitely needed to — and surveillance to figure that out. Thank you for your time. Do you have any questions?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: What are we currently contemplating in terms of further research? I mean, what's our plan?

MR. TARRANT: At this time Dr. Louis Harveson, who's a member of the Trans-Pecos pronghorn working group, and Sean Gray, who is our new pronghorn and mule deer coordinator or leader — have turned in a proposal with Dr. Ken Waldrup with the Texas Health Services to look at kind of a more of a monitoring and surveillance situation — also look at fawn survival. We feel like this — if these worms — one of the places — times of the year that they really affect pronghorn is during parturition. And that's something that we seem to anecdotally notice through time is that you see these fawns get up and run the running, and then they disappear.

And so need to look at fawn survival and also go ahead and test again. We will be testing again this next year. This is the coldest winter we've had in a while, and that may play some of it. We haven't seem to have as cold a winter as we have in the past, so we'd like to test again this next year just like we did before, and that will be part of the research as well.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So right now we feel like we can adequately isolate these variables to come up with good science on it.

MR. TARRANT: We hope. It's really an unknown. Chairman, I think since we dove into this it seems like the realm of parasitology and the realm of range management don't often cross. And so we're kind of charting some unknown territory here as far as what the effects may be or what we can find. We're hoping to find some management practices or at least maybe something missing in the habitat that will allow us to treat the situation.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Am I right that this worm has a high prevalence in goats?

MR. TARRANT: Huge. Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Do you think that the increase is the numbers of goats?

MR. TARRANT: We think — historically in the Trans-Pecos we had high levels of sheep and goats back in the '40s and — but since then we have not. We have a few in the areas — well, basically, as you can see, we've had this — this isn't just a centralized location where we have this problem — this is Trans-Pecos-wide. And all you really have anymore are house herds — show goats, things like that. Primarily it's all cattle as far as livestock operations.

So — and by the way we are — one of things that we're doing right now is we're working with some counterparts with the University of Georgia to test this worm from a DNA standpoint to see what type of strain it is. At that point we may be able to tell whether it is a sheep and goat strain or whether it's actually a pronghorn strain. And also that can tell us apparently the level of resistance it has to chemical warmers, because apparently these are really, really, really bad parasites that can adapt to warmers very quickly. And that's something else we're looking at.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And at the same time you're doing this research or you're going to look at other ruminants that may have the same — I think it exists in all of them.

MR. TARRANT: It does. And, in fact, this last year we went ahead and did kind of an informal sampling effort on mule deer in the Trans-Pecos. Just — I think our total was about 12 — we've looked at 12 or 15 mule deer and we've yet to find it in any number at all — just most of them had virtually none.

And also we just recently finished sampling the, did some sampling in the Panhandle as well and we did find some worms. There were not; this was just last week, and we're not sure yet what species those are. We think that they may be Haemonchus in a different life stage. But, regardless, the numbers were much, much lower.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Commissioner Bivins.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Actually that was my question ‑‑ if they've gone beyond the Trans-Pecos.

MR. TARRANT: We — early on in this process — obviously we had an idea in which direction we wanted to go with sampling the abomasums because we picked it up on some necropsies earlier in the year. So I actually had requested information from all the pronghorn managers in other western states about this problem because it doesn't show up in the literature very much.

And it's interesting to note that there wasn't much to be said. Those folks — those conservation agencies that had veterinarians on staff were concerned when we talked about it. And once we got our results to them they were also extremely concerned about the fact that we'll be presenting hopefully this year at the pronghorn workshop in Laramie, Wyoming, our findings. But Arizona now apparently has just picked up the reins and is going to do some sampling as well, so they obviously have some concerns too.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Is all your testing done on males or do you harvest some females also and test them?

MR. TARRANT: In the Trans-Pecos we only harvested males. It was just hunter-harvested animals. As I understand it in the Panhandle we harvested all females. What's interesting about these results is these are high numbers on animals that were in theory selected because they were healthy animals with — you know, they weren't sickly at all and still came up with extremely high numbers.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES: You may have said, but do we have a historical count on the number of worms in the stomach of the antelope or is that the first time —

MR. TARRANT: No. In 1967 actually Tommy Hailey did document Haemonchus contortus in the pronghorn in the Trans-Pecos, and we're still trying to track down that original — that data. But it looks like he may have made a subjective call based upon, you know, none, very low, moderate, and high, and if there's any chance that he may — in fact, we talked to him personally last week — Sean did, and if he has those numbers I can't think of anything better to look at than some numbers that would be from 1967 till now.

MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, if I could just add one thing to Billy's presentation. He was going to be joined today by John Means, who some of you may know, who's the past president of the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He's comes from a multi-generation ranching family out there in Van Horn — serves on our Private Lands Advisory Board.

And John asked me just to convey to the Commission he had a death in the family and couldn't make it at the last minute — but just how serious the ranching community and landowner community in West Texas is taking this issue. And he wanted to just impress upon all of us from his perspective just how dire a situation the landowner community perceives this, but also in a similar vein how well the landowners are working with the Department and Sul Ross on this and how enthusiastic they are about continuing to cooperate with the agency on this and are very, very pleased about how that is going.

And from his perspective just wants to make sure that the agency continues to prioritize this from a resource and a research perspective. And so John couldn't be here today to share that, but I wanted to make sure that you heard that from, again, one of our best and most respected partners and somebody who is absolutely an opinion leader in the cattle industry and the ranching community in West Texas about just how important this is to that community out there. So very, very pleased with the cooperation with our team out there and looking forward to us to continue on this.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Billy, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Okay. Item Number 5, Proposed New State Falconry Regulations, Raptor Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Matt?

MR. REIDY: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Matt Reidy; I am a regulatory wildlife biologist for South Texas District. I'm also a falconer with about 12 years' experience, so that's why they have me up here talking to you all about the falconry program.

The raptor proclamation is what we'll be discussing today. In 2009 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted an extensive revision of the federal falconry rules. In this all states are required to comply with these new falconry rules as soon as possible. State rules may be more restrictive, but they cannot be less restrictive than the federal rules.

Staff with Parks and Wildlife has worked closely with the Falconry and Raptor Council to develop proposed new state falconry regulations. And to give you an idea, the falconry regulations have not been overhauled like this in 50 years, so this was a pretty big undertaking.

The proposed new rules will establish standards for the capture, possession, housing, and use of falconry raptors, eligibility and application requirements for falconry, raptor propagation, and non-resident trapping permits, identification of falconry raptors, transportation of raptors, sale of hybrid raptors and captive-bred raptors, reporting, notification, and record-keeping requirements.

Before we really get started with comments, the federal — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service migratory bird chief — he reviewed our regulations and also on January 7th, 2010, they came out with some additional minor changes to the federal regulations. We published ours December 25th in the Public Register, December 25th, 2009. They came out with some more minor changes January 7th.

So we had to — that necessitated some modifications on our part. Some of those modifications — those modifications include allowing apprentices to trap prairie falcons and ferruginous hawks — those were not on the list previously — they now are — and some other clarifications like banding requirements of certain species, facility standards regarding provisions of water to raptors.

Previously water was required — clean water was required for all raptors. We realize now in northern part of the state when water — where it freezes at night having water there may be detrimental to the raptor at all times. So they backed off on that to where requiring — having water where it's — when it's necessary for them.

Also use of raptors in educational programs — raptors can used with a falconry permit for educational programs and they can also be used for advertising of educational programs, but they cannot be used for commercial advertising.

And then also the definition of the word "imprint" — the definition now stands as a raptor that is two weeks of age that is kept in captivity isolation from other raptors at two weeks of age and where it considers itself either a human or considered as human birds like imprinting of a chicken.

Public comments — we actually had several comments that came in last night and this morning. We're at a total of 32 comments in favor and 14 comments opposed to specific items — not to the whole thing, just specific items — and then one that was totally opposed.

The one that was totally opposed reminded us that years ago we used to shoot raptors and was wondering why that wasn't — didn't occur anymore. So we kind of look at that totally opposed as a — yeah, one of those.

But the 14 comments opposed to specific items is what we're really more interested in. It's broken down a little more. Five commentors misunderstood the proposed rules. Four commentors requested non-substantive changes that staff agrees with. They were just little clarifications. And then three commentors requested changes that were prohibited by the federal regulations. So we cannot be less restrictive than those.

Some of the things that the staff disagrees with as far as the comments — one commentor stated that the state has no authority to regulate abatement activities — abating of depredating wildlife with trained raptors. The state does have the authority to regulate abatement activities. We have an abatement — we have the authority to regulate hunting and harassment of wildlife, therefore, we have the authority to regulate that. There are federal abatement regulations out there as well.

Another was that falconers should be allowed higher bag limit during open seasons for upland birds. That sounds like an idea. We actually would like to further scope that with the Falconry Raptor Council as well as the Upland Game Bird Action Committee. So we'd like to table that for now and maybe discuss that later.

Another comment was limiting trapping — the trapping seasons for kestrels — American kestrels during the breeding season. We feel like that's not an issue. Raptors can only be trapped at less than one year of age. Those birds are not breeding birds at less than one year of age. So that's — we're not — there's not really a conflict with these — with the breeding birds because we're not allowed to trap breeding raptors older than one year of age.

And another comment was to continue to allow paper reporting. We are requiring all electronic reporting of acquisition of raptors, loss of raptors — things like that. This — we'd like to continue just allowing only electronic reporting. The Feds require now electronic reporting entirely. To limit paper movement — things like that — we'd like to stick with just electronic reporting since personal computers and internet access is pretty prevalent across the state.

Some of the comments that the staff does agree with ‑‑ oh, wait. I forgot two ‑‑ ones that were added this morning that the staff disagreed with. One of the comments was to disallow apprentices' use of Cooper's hawks. Cooper's hawks are also on the list to allow apprentices. From a biological standpoint the number of birds that may be taken is minimal. We don't see really issue with that, you know, over — overly regulating the falconry community.

Another one was to disallow unannounced inspections by game wardens at falconers' facilities. We do realize that, you know, game wardens are — game wardens with probable cause can enter into a premises, so we disagree with allowing — disallowing unannounced inspections.

Some changes that staff does agree with — allowing abatement sub-permittees to act without direct supervision of the primary permittee. To allow abatement groups to do their jobs they have sub-permittees that can use those raptors so they can — the primary permittee can send his employees out to do that work and he doesn't have to be on site during that time. So they can have several sites working at the same time.

Another request was to allow apprentices to trap ferruginous hawks. With that new federal — with those new federal modifications, apprentices are not allowed to trap ferruginous hawks, so that was taken care of.

And then the other one was to retain the current temporary transfer rule. Currently with our current regulations another falconer can temporarily care for someone else's bird for 30 days with a signed and dated letter and then a copy of their electronic acquisition form. We would like to maintain that where it's just a 30-day window like that so that it's much easier for a — for wardens to check on that and for falconers to understand what's going on.

And that is — our recommendation is Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the repeal of 65.261 through 65.267 and 65.269 through 65.277 and adopt new 65.261 through 65.277 concerning the raptor proclamation with changes necessary to the proposed text as published in the December 25th, 2009, issue of the Texas Register. Happy to take questions.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How prevalent is the abatement with raptors process — I mean, how many —

MR. REIDY: It's growing. I'm not sure how many there are. I can get that information for you. We don't require a permit through the state — it's just a federal permit.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.

MR. REIDY: And I can probably get that information for you, but I don't have it offhand. But it's — I'm pretty sure it's a growing segment.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I think it's a fascinating idea. I was just curious if it's on the upswing or —

MR. REIDY: It seems to be — seems to be. With this — the new abatement federal permit came out — I think it was two or three years ago, so it's just kind of starting to gain momentum.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Also would be fun to watch.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Commissioner Hixon could not be here today due to illness, but she asked — she passed along a couple of comments from a man named — I assume it's a man — Sheldon Nicolle, N-I-C-O-L-L-E.

MR. REIDY: We have received his comments two other times as well. And I spoke with him on the phone yesterday.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Did you get these same observations about some perceived ambiguity and —

MR. REIDY: I believe so. If you don't mind handing them to me to make sure we have them all.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'm not pushing his agenda. I just wanted to mention one of them I think may have some merit.

MR. REIDY: Okay.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Over on page 177 of our books ‑‑ it'd be under 65 — proposed 65.267(a)(5) — where it says, An apprentice falconer may conduct abatement activities under the supervision of a master falconer. If you go over to 263(d) on page 173 — it's up in the upper right-hand corner where there's a definition for direct supervision —

MR. REIDY: Uh-huh.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Do —

MR. REIDY: We have a clarification — that is the clarification here on this page that allow abatement sub-permittees to act without direct supervision of primary permittees. We're going to fix that to allow apprentices, as well as general falconers, to act without that direction for the abatement activities. So we have acknowledged that —

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.

MR. REIDY: — that comment.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Let's see. And then I think over on page 181 of the book under proposed 65.268(iv) — little four — there's a question raised about what's meant by in the aggregate there. And I understand you may be clarifying that.

MR. REIDY: That was — we're going to — the way the proposed rule was to — in aggregate is very confusing so far as a temporary care of someone's raptor in the aggregate certain number of days. We've decided to remove that aggregate and just — it's a 30-day temporary care transfer. That's it — nice and simple. We've spoken with law enforcement and they would prefer it to be a nice and simple 30 days. That's what you have — no aggregate to worry about later down the road.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.

MR. REIDY: So we've acknowledged those comments as well.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good. Thank you very much. That's all I have.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other comments? Questions? (No response.) Thank you, Matt.

MR. REIDY: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. And that concludes the business of the Regulations Committee.

(Whereupon, at 10:55 a.m., the meeting was concluded.)

C E R T I F I C A T E

MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: January 27, 2010

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 43, 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.

2/05/10
(Transcriber) (Date)
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731


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